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The Wrongologist

Geopolitics, Power and Political Economy

Monday Wake Up Call – Giuliani Edition, October 14, 2019

The Daily Escape:

Autumn in the Yukon, view of Tombstone Territorial Park, Canada – September 2019 photo by tmsvdw

Wrongo has resisted any assertion that there is a Grand Theory that ties together all of Trump’s self-dealing. Mueller’s investigation was able to make several connections, but so far, Trump has skated on all but Mueller’s allegations of obstruction.

We’re again hip-deep in possible Trump malfeasance, this time about Ukraine, and how the Donald and Rudy Giuliani attempted to influence the Ukraine government, and to induce an investigation into the Bidens.

Michelle Goldberg, in Sunday’s NYT lays out Rudy’s involvement over several years in an effort to keep like-minded and friendly bureaucrats in power in Ukraine. Those efforts ultimately led to 2019’s broad inquiry into Trump, Rudy and a series of shadowy “associates” who are linked both to Ukraine and to Russian power brokers.

Goldberg focuses on a Ukrainian legislator, Serhiy Leshchenko, who was elected to Parliament in 2014. He was also Ukraine’s most famous investigative journalist, focusing on government corruption. This year, after Volodymyr Zelensky won the presidency, Leshchenko advised him during the transition. From Goldberg: (brackets by Wrongo)

“In 2016, Leshchenko had helped expose the “black ledger,” an accounting book of hundreds of pages found in [former Ukraine president] Yanukovych’s former party headquarters. Among its many entries, it showed $12.7 million in secret payments to Paul Manafort. At the time, Manafort was running Donald Trump’s presidential campaign, but before that, he was one of Yanukovych’s most important advisers.”

After the election, Giuliani began attacking Leshchenko. On May 10th, Giuliani described the ledger as a “falsely created book” and Leshchenko as part of a group of “enemies of the president, in some cases enemies of the US.” And in an interview on CNN, Rudy accused Ukraine’s leading anti-corruption organization, the Anti-Corruption Action Center of developing:

“…all of the dirty information that ended up being a false document that was created in order to incriminate Manafort.”

Why would Trump’s personal lawyer be defending Paul Manafort? More from Goldberg:

“In Giuliani’s fevered alternative reality, Ukraine’s most stalwart foes of corruption are actually corruption’s embodiment. Deeply compromised figures with vendettas against the activists — particularly the ex-prosecutors Viktor Shokin and Yuriy Lutsenko — are transformed into heroes.”

It gets worse. Marcy Wheeler (who all should be following) dissects John Dowd, former Trump lawyer who now represents the two Rudy “associates”, Parnas and Fruman. Marcy talks about John Dowd’s October 3 letter to the House Intelligence Committee, in which he describes that there is no way he and his clients can comply with an October 7 document request, since much of it would be covered by some kind of legal privilege: (emphasis by Wrongo)

“Be advised that Messrs. Parnas and Fruman assisted Mr. Giuliani in connection with his representation of President Trump. Mr. Parnas and Mr. Fruman have also been represented by Mr. Giuliani in connection with their personal and business affairs. They also assisted Joseph DiGenova and Victoria Toensing in their law practice. Thus, certain information you seek…is protected by the attorney-client, attorney work product and other privileges.”

Marcy concludes: (emphasis by Wrongo)

“Parnas and Fruman do work for Rudy Giuliani in the service of the President of the United States covered by privilege, Rudy does work for them covered by privilege, and they also do work for Joseph DiGenova and Victoria Toensing about this matter that is covered by privilege.”

This is reminiscent of the Joint Defense Agreement (JDA) that Dowd orchestrated between 37 Trump-affiliated individuals investigated by Mueller, when Dowd was Trump’s lawyer. Now, Dowd represents the Ukrainian grifters.

But there’s more. By the time Dowd sent the letter, DiGenova and Toensing, married lawyers who are always on FOX, were on record as representing Dmitry Firtash, a Ukrainian oligarch who was named in some early Mueller warrants targeting Paul Manafort. And in March, Giuliani said that Firtash was “one of the close associates of Semion Mogilevich, who is the head of Russian organized crime, who is Putin’s best friend.” More from Marcy: (emphasis and brackets by Wrongo)

“Yesterday, Reuters closed the circle, making it clear that Parnas and Fruman work for Firtash, [and] the former [worked] as a translator for DiGenova and Toensing’s representation of Firtash.

DiGenova and Toensing, who work with Rudy seeking opposition research on Joe Biden, also represent Firtash! Marcy closes with this:

“In other words, the President’s former lawyer asserted to Congress that the President and his current lawyer are in some kind of JDA… [that includes some connected with] the Russian mob, almost certainly along with the President’s former campaign manager [Manafort]….”

Wake up America! We’re seeing that Giuliani was running what is essentially a mob operation, apparently with the concurrence of Trump. The long term damage of such corruption is incalculable.

If we’re lucky, we can end this soon.

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Monday Wake Up Call – Immigration Judges Edition, September 30, 2019

The Daily Escape:

Monsoon season, AZ – September 2019 photo by FHatcher

The immigration crisis has many threads, but one that hasn’t gotten the focus that it needs is the ongoing problem with the immigration courts. From the NYRB: (brackets by Wrongo)

“Trump’s attempts to close possible paths to immigration have meant ramping up activity in [Immigration] court. Some immigration judges operate out of courthouses, others work out of detention centers, and some have been transferred—both in person and virtually—to courts along the border. Over the course of a week in the Rio Grande Valley….It was common to see people be forced to leave the US after hearings lasting minutes.”

According to the AP, the Trump administration has hired nearly 200 new judges and plans to add at least 100 more. Nearly half of currently sitting immigration judges were appointed by Trump, and about half of these new judges had previously been attorneys for ICE.

Immigration judges are employed by the Justice Department, not the judiciary. They make the decisions about who gets to stay in the US, and who has to return to their home countries.

We’ve all heard about the immigration court backlog. It’s becoming so large that the government may have to suspend asylum hearings until it can be brought under control.  The Hill reports about the backlog:

“It was 542,411 cases in January 2017, when President Donald Trump took office, and it increased to 1,007,155 cases by the end of August 2019, with an average wait for a hearing of 696 days. In addition, there are 322,535 pending cases that have not been placed on the active caseload rolls yet. When they are added, the backlog will be more than 1.3 million cases.”

The three largest immigration courts are so under-resourced that hearing dates were being scheduled as far out as August 2023 in New York City, October 2022 in Los Angeles, and April 2022 in San Francisco.

One result is that judges have been taking a harder line under Trump than in the Obama administration, denying 65% of asylum cases during the 2018 fiscal year, compared with 55% two years earlier.

Trump’s transformation of immigration law started under former Attorney General Jeff Sessions. Now, under William Barr, the DOJ has taken legislation passed over the years and used it to drive large-scale changes to immigrant rights.

Unlike the judges in federal or state courts, immigration judges can be fired or reassigned by the AG, and they face sanctions if they don’t process cases rapidly.

Currently, the AG can override decisions issued by immigration judges once they are appealed to Executive Office for Immigration Review (EOIR). An interim rule, issued by the DOJ that took effect Monday, delegates that responsibility to the EOIR director. The director, who is not confirmed by the Senate, can now decide cases pending before the appeals board.

The new rule has caused an uproar among career employees who said their independence has been usurped by a political appointee. In fact, the NYT reports that the union representing the nation’s immigration judges filed two labor complaints against the Justice Department last week. The National Association of Immigration Judges, representing the 420 judges, filed one of the complaints after the Justice Department moved to decertify the union.

DOJ claims that the judges were management officials and therefore ineligible for collective bargaining, an argument they pursued unsuccessfully in 2000. The judges and the Trump administration have frequently clashed, and the union has for years pushed for independence from the Justice Department altogether.

The simple fact is that as more and more cases are placed on a single judge’s docket, immigrants assigned to that judge are inevitably required to wait longer and longer before an available time slot opens up for their hearing. And the asylum seeker isn’t represented by a lawyer, and the case is usually decided in less than five minutes.

The entire immigration problem needs to be addressed, and Democrats must go further than just talking about the humanitarian crisis at the border. Taking a hard look at the immigration judges’ backlog, and funding at least on a temporary basis, many more can partially alleviate the humanitarian problems.

We have to act to prevent a catastrophic collapse of our immigration court system, a collapse that could force America to stop accepting asylum applications until the backlog can be brought under control.

Wake up America! That just may be what Barr and Trump are angling for.

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Wake Up Call – Climate Edition, September 23, 2019

The Daily Escape:

Greenland shows its melting glaciers – September 14, 2019 photo by Steve Mueller. Mueller gives a personal testimony, describing similar flights over Greenland in the 1970s, 80s, and 90s when ice & snow covered most of it. Sadly, that’s no longer true today.

Wrongo rarely writes about climate change, because he’s had very little hope that the world will act to solve, or delay the reality in front of us.

Until now.

There is something very hopeful when young people around the globe are calling out those in power and calling out the rest of us who have exacerbated the warming problem through our commitment to economic growth at any price. That price includes income inequality and the ever-accelerating use of our planet’s resources to fuel that economic growth.

The emergence of young people as activists adds a different dimension to the argument. They are worried about what kind of world we’re leaving them. The movement is personified by the 16-year-old Swedish teenage activist Greta Thunberg. On Monday, she spoke to the UN Climate Change Summit, and did not mince words. She implored world leaders to act urgently:

“I shouldn’t be up here. I should be back in school on the other side of the ocean. Yet you all come to us for hope. How dare you. You have stolen my dreams and my childhood with your empty words.”

Anger is an energysaid the Sex Pistols in 1972. And we’re seeing both anger and all of its kinetic energy on display by these kids. It’s reminiscent of teenagers in the 1960s and 1970’s in the US, first with the Civil Rights movement, and later, with less effect, in the Vietnam War protests.

Time will tell if this social movement ends up helping to create big policy change, or if it’s just another footnote, a bit like Occupy Wall Street. But, It’s given Wrongo some hope that it is still possible to battle against entrenched money interests, at least on the question of climate change.

Returning to the climate consequences as shown in Steve Mueller’s photo, The Economist’s cover story this week is about climate. They point out that temperatures in the Arctic are warming twice as fast as the global average:

When floating sea ice vanishes, it exposes deep blue waters, which absorb more solar energy than the white ice does. In turn, this speeds up melting: it’s a classic positive-feedback loop. The ice recedes to an annual minimum extent every September. The record low was set in 2012.

Some sceptics point to cold snaps in North America as evidence that concern about global warming is overblown. They should be told that such days are caused by chilly air escaping polar latitudes. Which in itself, may be another consequence of a warming Arctic.

A good analogy is the problem supertankers face if they try to make a U-turn. It takes a tremendous amount of energy and time to overcome the ship’s momentum, to slow the tanker from cruising speed to a point where a u-turn can begin.

For climate change, we must overcome our momentum, reversing how we create energy, how we manufacture our goods, how we travel, how we heat and cool our homes, and how we provision our foods.

The next challenge is if this can be done while continuing to expand the global economy, keeping in mind that the global population may be 50% larger by 2100.

Back in corporate life, Wrongo used to talk about things that could be fixed “If your life depended on it” and those that couldn’t be fixed even if your life did depend on it.

If the problem can be fixed if your life depended on it, you fix it or die, no excuses. This is where we are today. Maybe it’s not our lives that depend on it,  it’s those of our grandchildren. They are counting on us to rise up now, in a global movement to make change.

Wake up America! The kids couldn’t be clearer:  They do not want pats on the head, where we tell them how “inspiring” they are.

For Boomers and Millennials, the climate problems posed in the second half of the 21st century can still seem largely hypothetical. But for those born after 2000 like Greta Thunberg, and 2.6 billion others, it’s more like half their lives. This gives a huge moral weight to their demands.

But it will take more than political activism. The kids want our leadership, our votes, and most importantly, our action to confront this crisis.

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Monday Wake Up Call – September 16, 2019

The Daily Escape:

Rainy morning, Emerald Lake, Yoho NP British Columbia CN – 2019 photo by mrgoomba7

On September 14, explosions rocked the Saudi’s Khurais oilfield as well as the Abqaiq refinery, one of Saudi Arabia’s most vital petrochemical installations. Several hours later, the Houthis claimed that they had targeted both facilities with ten drones. In reality, it now seems that 17 drones or cruise missiles hit the Saudi plants.

There is a continuing debate on who launched the attack. Pompeo tweeted that it was the Iranians:

Perfect positioning by America’s First Diplomat!

While Pompeo says Iran did it, the Arms Control Wonk reports that the Houthis have both the technology and ability. The US, Israel and Iran also have the capability to conduct such an attack.

Saudi Arabia and the US will no doubt eventually figure out who owned the missiles used in the attack, but that won’t resolve the question of guilt, or complicity to everyone’s satisfaction. Some are saying that the Abqaiq oil field is too far from Yemen for them to be the culprit. Yet, the US supplied these photos of the damage, including an arrow helpfully pointing to north (it’s pointing left, while the shadows mean the sun is in the east):

The boxes showing damage mean the missiles came from the west, where Yemen is located. Iran is located to the Northeast, as are Israel and Iraq.

But please wait, and let Washington tell you what to believe.

The most important takeaway is that Saudi Arabia has no real defense against this kind of attack. In mid-June 2019, a cruise missile fired by the Houthis hit the terminal of Abha Airport in Southern Saudi Arabia, wounding 26 passengers.

The Saudis use two US air defense systems, the Patriot, and the Hawk missile systems. Both are deployed in Saudi’s northeast, facing the Persian Gulf. They do not provide defensive cover for the attacked oil refineries if the missile or drone is fired from the south or west:

The Patriots are useful against cruise or ballistic missiles. The Hawks are for aircraft. But no system could protect all of the Saudi’s oil field facilities if 17 missiles are fired at once.

Despite the hopes of DC’s Iran-hating Neocons, it is possible that the attack originated in Yemen. The Saudi war in Yemen was launched in 2015. It costs Saudi Arabia several billion dollars per month. The Saudi budget deficit again increased this year and is expected to reach 7% of its GDP.  They need much higher oil prices to help prosecute the Yemen war.

Also, Saudi Arabia is planning to sell a share of its state owned oil conglomerate, Aramco, which may be worth $2 Trillion. But who would buy a share of Aramco when its major installations are not secure, and has endured crippling attacks?

Assuming this attack isn’t a one-off, the Saudis probably will need a cease-fire or a peace deal with Yemen before it can sell Aramco shares for a decent price. It is likely that the Houthis will demand reparations payments from the Saudis in order to make peace.

The first Saudi attempts to negotiate happened two weeks ago. The Hill reports they asked the Trump administration to work out an agreement with the Houthis:

“The Trump administration is preparing to initiate negotiations with Iranian-backed Houthi rebels in an effort to bring the four-year civil war in Yemen to an end….The effort is reportedly aimed at convincing Saudi Arabia to take part in secret talks with the rebels in Oman to help broker a cease-fire in the conflict, which has emerged as a front line in the regional proxy war between Riyadh and Tehran.”

But it hasn’t led to anything.

Back in DC, we’re hearing that the US must have some response to the missile attacks.

Why?

America wasn’t attacked. We’re not even sure who carried out the attack, and there is at least a small probability that it was some disaffected group within Saudi Arabia itself.

We do not have a mutual security agreement with Saudi Arabia, although we are strategic partners.

Now the poor helpless Saudis will want their best friend Trump to attack Iran, much to the delight of Israel and the Neocons. And a refinery attack showing Saudi’s lack of defenses may get Trump off the dime.

How on God’s green earth is this in our national interest?

Trump and Pompeo are trying to position us on the Sunni side of a region-wide sectarian civil war. That would be a disaster for us and for all in the Middle East.

Wake up, America! Most who work in DC in any power capacity have been dreaming of war with Iran for decades. Yet, somehow they haven’t made it happen.

Let’s hope that continues.

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Monday Wake Up Call – September 9, 2019

The Daily Escape:

Cape of Good Hope, 6:00pm, South Africa – September 2006 photo by Wrongo

Last week, the NYT’s Thomas Edsall discussed an award-winning academic study focused on the nihilism of the Trump GOP’s hardcore supporters. The paper illustrates that among this slice of the American electorate, the temptation to cause or support chaos may be overwhelming. Edsall says the study argues that a segment of the American electorate that was once peripheral is drawn to “chaos incitement” and that this segment has gained decisive influence through the rise of social media:

“The rise of social media provides the public with unprecedented power to craft and share new information with each other….this technological transformation allows the transmission of a type of information that portrays….political candidates or groups negatively…and has a low evidential basis.”

The study says that the chaos-inducing information transmitted on social media includes conspiracy theories, fake news, discussions of political scandals and negative campaigns.

The study’s authors, Michael Bang Petersen and Mathias Osmundsen, both from Aarhus University in Denmark, and Kevin Arceneaux, a political scientist at Temple, conducted six surveys, four in the US, interviewing 5,157 participants, and two in Denmark, interviewing 1,336. They identified those who are “drawn to chaos” through their affirmative responses to the following statements:

  • I fantasize about a natural disaster wiping out most of humanity such that a small group of people can start all over.
  • I think society should be burned to the ground.
  • When I think about our political and social institutions, I cannot help thinking “just let them all burn.”
  • We cannot fix the problems in our social institutions, we need to tear them down and start over.
  • Sometimes I just feel like destroying beautiful things.

The responses of individuals to three of the statements are horrifying:

  • 24% agreed that society should be burned to the ground;
  • 40% concurred with the thought that “When it comes to our political and social institutions, I cannot help thinking ‘just let them all burn”;
  • 40% also agreed that “we cannot fix the problems in our social institutions, we need to tear them down and start over.”

Despite interviewing 5,000+ Americans the study doesn’t conclude if the results represent the actual percentage of Americans who share this view. They did use a YouGov nationally representative survey of Americans. They say the data are weighted to achieve national representations on gender, age, education and geography.

As bad as this sounds, what if we reframed the “need for chaos” as “a need for things to change in ways that work for everyday people“? Instead of casting them as evil or as deplorables who wish to destroy nice things, we could see them as people who have been left out, or cheated by the system.

In that light, it might be reasonable for the marginalized on the left and right to wish for major changes in our system. So, let’s treat this study as an example of one dead canary in a coal mine. At this point, it’s a potentially terrifying glimpse of what may be America’s (and the entire developed world’s) future.

Nihilism is a symptom of needs not being met. Our current neoliberal capitalism is a prime cause behind this nihilism. Our system must change to be more inclusive, to create more “winners”.  We won’t blunt nihilism with more trickle down policies.

Time to wake up America! Our society has to change, or die.

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Monday Wake Up Call – August 5, 2019

The Daily Escape:

Crater Lake NP viewed from Watchman Lookout Station, Oregon – 2016 photo by atheleticamps

Wake Up America! With El Paso TX, Dayton OH, and Gilroy CA last week, we’re starting to see what Red Hat Hatred means in the US. We’ll soon hear that these are more lone wolves who snapped, and that’s why we need to spend more on mental health, and to keep guns away from those sickies who really just need meds and counseling.

But, “lone wolves” should not be acting in lockstep with the Trump regime. Zealots and militants do that. In real life, wolves hunt in packs, so the term “lone wolf” makes no sense whatsoever.

From sociologist Kieran Healy: (emphasis by Wrongo)

“It’s traditional to say that there are ‘no easy answers’, but this is not really true. Everywhere groups face the problem of holding themselves together. Every society has its enormous complex of institutions and weight of rituals that, through the sheer force of mutual expectation and daily habit, bring that society to life. But not every society has successfully institutionalized the mass shooting. Only one place that has done that, deliberately and effectively. The United States has chosen, and continues to choose, to enact ritual compliance to an ideal of freedom in a way that results in a steady flow of blood sacrifice. This ritual of childhood is not a betrayal of “who we are” as a country. It is what America has made of itself, how it worships itself, and how it makes itself real.”

This is the society we’ve become. Will Republicans do anything? Of course not. Shooting at St. Ronnie didn’t get them to act. Shooting at Steve Scalise and other Congress persons didn’t help. The common factor is no modern-day Republican politician (since Lincoln and Garfield) have actually been killed. So, unless targeting Republicans becomes the norm, they’ll never budge.

OTOH, look at this billboard about the Squad! Have at it, boys! More guns! The fact that American voters countenance this double standard is beyond disgusting. At this point, the right wing’s reaction to this endless carnival of mass murder by angry white dudes comes in a few cascading flavors:

  • The ‘thoughts and prayers reaction, which is the shortest and slipperiest response, but if pressed, they’ll offer up: That’s just the cost of freedom.
  • Or, that mass shooting deaths are less than 1% of gun deaths, let alone actual murders, in the US, so what ya gonna do? They say that the vast majority of people killed by guns in the US are shot one or two at a time, not in large groups.

But, that’s not something any reasonable person should consider a winning argument. And as for Trump, there’s really nothing for him to say. He can’t play the role of healing the nation that we have normally expected from our leaders, because he bears real responsibility for the violence.

The Second Amendment has failed America, says Joel Mathis of The Week:

“The Second Amendment of the US Constitution is a failure because the right to bear arms — the right it so famously defends — is supposed to protect Americans from violence. Instead, it endangers them…. Data shows that people who own guns legally are more likely to kill themselves than they are to kill an intruder. People who own guns legally are more likely to kill a family member — on purpose or accidentally — than they are to kill an assailant. And people who own guns legally don’t actually use those weapons in self-defense all that often.”

Mathis goes on to say that: (emphasis by Wrongo)

“On balance, guns do more harm in America than good. The damages are easily measured, while the benefits are mostly theoretical and rare. This means the Second Amendment, as currently observed, doesn’t actually work under the terms of its own logic.”

Wake up! Americans should be able to gather at places like churches, schools, shopping malls, and concerts without fear that they’ve made themselves easy targets for the latest angry man possessing the tools to kill dozens of people within a few minutes.

To help you reflect on the Second Amendment, here is CPE Bach’s Cello Concerto in A Major, Largo movement, with Tanya Tomkins on a 1798 baroque cello. She’s playing along with San Francisco’s Voices of Music. This is a very somber piece, seemingly perfect for reflecting on mass shootings:

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

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Monday Wake Up Call – July 29, 2019

The Daily Escape:

Sunrise, Llyn Padarn, North Wales – photo by risquer

Wrongo wants to take a look back at a revealing moment in the White House last week. Trump hosted survivors of religious persecution, including Nadia Murad, a 26-year-old Iraqi-born human rights activist and 2018 Nobel Peace Prize winner. Sadly, the event revealed Trump at his worst.

Roger Cohen, writing about the meeting in the NYT:

…”I cannot forget Trump’s recent treatment of Nadia Murad, a Yazidi woman who won the Nobel Peace Prize last year for her campaign to end mass rape in war. The Islamic State, or ISIS, forced Murad into sexual slavery when it overran Yazidi villages in northern Iraq in 2014. Murad lost her mother and six brothers, slaughtered by ISIS.”

More from Cohen: (emphasis by Wrongo)

“She now lives in Germany, and has been unable to return home, a point she made in her July 17 White House meeting with Trump. ‘We cannot go back if we cannot protect our dignity, our family,’ she said.

Allow me to render the scene in the present tense. Trump sits there at his desk, an uncomprehending, unsympathetic, uninterested cardboard dummy. He looks straight ahead for much of the time, not at her, his chin jutting in his best effort at a Mussolini pose. He cannot heave his bulk from the chair for this brave young woman. He cannot look at her.

Every now and again, in a disdainful manner, he swivels his head toward her and other survivors of religious persecution. When Murad says, ‘They killed my mom, my six brothers,’ Trump responds: ‘Where are they now?

This isn’t fake news, there’s a video of the event. More from Cohen:

“They are in the mass graves in Sinjar,” Murad says. She is poised and courageous throughout in her effort to communicate her story in the face of Trump’s complete, blank indifference.”

When Murad mentions Sinjar, Trump says:

“I know the area very well, you’re talking about. It’s tough.”

Whatever. Toward the end of meeting, Trump asks Murad about her Nobel Prize:

“That’s incredible….They gave it to you for what reason?”

Murad responds:

“For what reason?” Murad asks, suppressing with difficulty her incredulity that nobody has briefed the president….I made it clear to everyone that ISIS raped thousands of Yazidi women,” she says. “Oh really?” says Trump. “Is that right?”

Trump, who can’t stop whining about his victimhood at the hands of the Democrats, the media, and the alleged “deep state”, can’t show a hint of compassion for a woman who was brutalized. Also, he shows a total lack of understanding about anything that Murad said. About being raped, about losing her family, about her work to end mass rape.

We’ve watched how far the presidency has fallen in the past three years. We often talk about “presidential temperament”. The word temperament comes from Latin, meaning “due mixture”. All politicians love attention and approval from the public, but being president should also mean working for the best interests of the nation as a whole.

But we currently have a president who can’t seem to display humanity. With Murad, he demonstrated an inability to understand the moment, or the importance of understanding another person’s pain.

Time to wake up America! We need our next president to display the temperament to lead us back towards unity. Our greatest leaders have always done just that, often in times of division.

We’ve become inured to Trump’s daily lowering of the bar of expectations for both the presidency, and for the possibility of unity as a people.

But it’s now time to turn our backs on this president. We need to move on.

We all have moments when it is difficult to summon the anger that the latest presidential outrage requires, but we need all of our focus between now and November 2020 to bring the country back to something approximating normalcy.

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Monday Wake Up Call – July 22, 2019

The Daily Escape:

Grinnell Glacier Overlook, Glacier NP, Montana – 2019 photo by e_met

Americans don’t like geopolitics. Columns about the world situation have been Wrongo’s least-viewed since the start of The Wrongologist blog in 2010. Today may be time for Americans to wake up, and think about our evolving and dangerous situation with Iran.

You know the basics: The US pulled out of the Iran Nuclear Deal in 2018. We reinstituted sanctions, the most important of which came into effect in November 2018, covering sales of oil and petrochemical products from Iran.

Since then, Iran has found it difficult to sell its oil, since the payments would be cleared through a vehicle called SWIFT, which is the payments backstop of the international trading system. SWIFT provides a network that enables more than 11,000 financial institutions worldwide to send and receive information about financial transactions in a secure, standardized and reliable environment.

No one wants to buy oil, and settle the deal through SWIFT because the US will become aware of the deal, and penalize the bank(s) or companies that worked with Iran. Another payment system is emerging, INSTEX, which will circumvent US sanctions, but it may be too little, too late, given the precipitous impact sanctions have had on Iran’s oil sales.

Things have now heated up. First with the seizure of an Iranian-flagged oil tanker by the UK in Gibraltar two weeks ago. It was ostensibly on its way to deliver oil to Syria, and the US asked the UK to seize the ship. What followed was tit-for-tat: On Friday, Iran seized a UK flag oil tanker in the Straits of Hormuz.

The US media is calling Iran seizure an unprovoked “attack” on a British flagged ship. Britain justifies its Gibraltar action as just keeping the sanction regime in place.

Here’s where things become dangerous. The neocons in Washington and in the media are seeking immediate and tough action, portraying Iran as an imminent threat to free trade, and to the West’s oil supply. Trump regrettably, is ignorant of Iran and Middle East history, and may not have the ability to avoid employing military force.

There is a dangerous delusion within the Trump /Bolton/Pompeo National Security team: They believe we are so militarily dominant that Iran will not dare fight us.

That is a strategically dangerous place to land. Our best option is to resolve the current tanker seizures with diplomacy. The UK and Iran could agree to resolve the situation and release the respective ships. All other options involve shooting and possibly, a military escalation involving others, including China and Russia.

If key Iranian infrastructure is targeted, nobody really thinks Iran will sit passively, and let us attack critical targets.

Iran has a robust, if not totally modern, military that could engage in counter strikes on US/UK targets in the Middle East. That would certainly involve our naval assets in the Persian Gulf. Now, suppose US aircraft are downed inside Iran (Iran has Russia’s S-300 antiaircraft system, but not the newer S-400). Trump would come under intense pressure to escalate. Any US pilots that survived being shot down, would give Tehran a big bargaining chip. Would Trump bargain, or would he continue to fight?

Iran would be damaged, but it would survive. The religious leadership’s hold on Iran would be strengthened. Trump’s political fortunes could take a hit from that portion of his base that is against foreign entanglements, as well as the other 60% of America.

The DC neocons are certain we can bomb Iran into submission. That is a fantasy, just as it was in Vietnam and Iraq.

All indications are that the Iranians aren’t going to cave. They’ve proven for decades to be very pragmatic. They may choose to talk. If Trump is smart, he’ll take a sit-down with the Iranians before things get out of control, and before the DC neocons and their Israeli friends push things beyond a point of no return.

He might get a deal that looks suspiciously like the Obama Nuclear Deal. Then, he can come back and claim he got the best deal ever, a deal only The Donald could get!

If he sticks to his “I have to win, I have to be seen as beating the other guy” as his game plan, we are in for a long, dangerous summer.

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Monday Wake Up Call – July 1, 2019

The Daily Escape:

East Inlet Pond, Pittsburgh NH – photo by Wes Lavin. The East Inlet area has one of the few remaining virgin stands of forest in the east.

How did Boeing, a company known for meticulous design and manufacturing, screw up the 737 Max so badly? Bloomberg is reporting that Boeing outsourced software development for some of the 737 Max’s software to Indian companies. There are concerns that decision may have contributed to Boeing’s two deadly crashes.

Bloomberg says that starting in 2010, Boeing began relying on Indian software engineers making as little as $9 an hour in their design program. The software engineers were supplied by the Indian software developer HCL Technologies, which now has annual sales of $8.6 billion. The coders from HCL designed to specifications set by Boeing but, according to Mark Rabin, a former Boeing software engineer:

“It was controversial because it was far less efficient than Boeing engineers just writing the code.”

It turns out that the HCL engineers were brought on at a point when Boeing was laying off its own experienced software developers. In posts on social media, an HCL engineer who helped develop and test the Max’s flight-display software, summarized his duties:

“Provided quick workaround to resolve production issue which resulted in not delaying flight test of 737-Max (delay in each flight test will cost very big amount for Boeing).”

This may be resume inflation. Boeing insists that HCL had nothing to do with the Max’s Maneuvering Characteristics Augmentation System (MCAS) software. HCL said that it:

“…has a strong and long-standing business relationship with The Boeing Company, and we take pride in the work we do for all our customers. However, HCL does not comment on specific work we do for our customers. HCL is not associated with any ongoing issues with 737 Max”.

It isn’t unusual for US companies to use outsourced talent. Prior to his dynamic blogging career, Wrongo was CEO of an outsourcing firm. Our clients were the US government, and several big tech and office product companies, including Dell, Microsoft, and Xerox.

But managing outsourcing is tricky, both for the company moving the work out-of-house, as well as for the outsourcer. Unless the parties develop detailed plans, procedures, and follow strict quality control, even top people can produce work that fails to meet design standards.

The typical jetliner has millions of lines of code. From Rick Ludtke, a former Boeing flight controls engineer:

“Boeing was doing all kinds of things, everything you can imagine, to reduce cost, including moving work from Puget Sound, because we’d become very expensive here….All that’s very understandable if you think of it from a business perspective.”

More profits over people.

In 2010, HCL and Boeing opened a “Center of Excellence” in Chennai, saying the companies would partner to create software used in flight testing. This is typical for big companies. Boeing also has a design center in Moscow. From Cynthia Cole a former Boeing engineer who headed the Engineer’s Union from 2006-2010: (emphasis by Wrongo)

“At a meeting with a chief 787 engineer in 2008, one staffer complained about sending drawings back to a team in Russia 18 times before they understood that the smoke detectors needed to be connected to the electrical system…”

A big reason for offshoring is price. Engineers in India make about $9 — $10/hour, compared with $35 to $40 for Indians in the US on an H1B visa, and higher for a US engineer. Anyone who understands offshoring knows that the cost of rework needs to be added to the apparent hourly cost, and in some cases, that can push the real price closer to $80/hour.

For the 787 Dreamliner, much of Boeing’s work was outsourced. It is well-known that the 787 entered service three years late, and billions of dollars over budget, in 2011. That was due in part to confusion caused by their outsourcing strategy.

Was another globalist lesson learned by Boeing with the 787? Not really, if the 737 Max troubles are any indication.

So this cheap labor story is another black eye for Boeing. It goes along with the Justice Department’s criminal probe, and the FAA’s continuing concern about the Max software. Boeing also has disclosed that the company didn’t inform regulators of the MCAS problems when they first learned about them, because engineers had determined it wasn’t a safety issue.

This is more of the crapification of America’s best companies as they chase lower costs. This time, people died.

Wake up Boeing! The high-value, high-risk elements in your product must be sourced at home.

If America had a real Justice Department, Boeing’s management would be in jail.

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Monday Wake Up Call – June 24, 2019

The Daily Escape:

View from Angels Landing summit, Zion NP Utah – 2019 photo by SurrealShock. 86,000 people visited Angels Landing over the four-day Memorial Day weekend in 2018.

On Sunday, the NYT reported: (emphasis by Wrongo)

“In the last decade, private land in the United States has become increasingly concentrated in the hands of a few. Today, just 100 families own about 42 million acres across the country, a 65,000-square-mile expanse, according to the Land Report, a magazine that tracks large purchases. Researchers at the magazine have found that the amount of land owned by those 100 families has jumped 50 percent since 2007.”

The West is a patchwork of public and private lands. Land ownership in the West has always been concentrated in the hands of the federal government, which owns about 50%. Now we learn that the rest of the West is quickly moving into the hands of a very few people.

The large purchases by these new private landholders come as the region is experiencing the fastest population growth in the country. That drives up housing prices and the cost of living. Some locals are fearful of losing both their culture and economic stability.

Rocky Barker, a retired columnist for The Idaho Statesman, has said this is a clash between two American dreams, pitting the nation’s respect for private property rights against the notion of beauty-rich publicly-owned lands set aside for the enjoyment of all.

In the West, there is an evolution of an economy based in minerals extraction, to one based on recreation; from a working class culture to a more moneyed one. The NYT article focuses on one family, the Wilks brothers, Dan and Farris, who made their money ($3.5 billion) in fracking. They sold out, and bought a vast stretch of mountainous land in southwest Idaho.

The Wilks brothers see what they are doing as a duty. God had given them much, and in return, “we feel that we have a responsibility to the land.”

The Wilkses now own 700,000 acres across several states, and have become a symbol of the out-of-touch owner. In Idaho, they have closed trails, and hired armed guards to patrol their land, blocking or stymieing access not just to their property, but also to some publicly owned areas. They also hired a lobbyist to push for a law that would stiffen penalties for trespass, and the bill passed.

This has made locals angry, as they have hiked and hunted on these lands for generations. Some emailed the Wilkses, asking permission to cross their property. They were surprised to receive a response suggesting they first visit PragerU, a right-wing website that was financed by the Wilkses and share their opinions of its content.

This is an example of a test for land use. Should you have to tell landowners your political views before you get to use their land?

Welcome to the future. Concentration of land ownership is a natural consequence of our free market capitalism. Our capitalist system isn’t designed to prevent concentration of ownership, whether it be of corporations or land.

That requires politicians who are not beholden to corporations and capitalists.

Our ancestors left Europe because by the 1600s, much of the land had already been bought up and was either inaccessible, or available in small lots for rent. America has been in the process of being divided up in the same way since the 1700s.

We talk about wealth inequality, and this story shows again that it is much more than numbers on a ledger. It is the power to own vast chunks of America, to decide how that land will be used, and to charge for that usage if they desire.

Battles over both private and public land have been a defining part of the West since the 1800s. For years, fights have played out between private individuals and the federal government.

OTOH, Americans in the West have made private ownership of wilderness a sacrament. They even contend that private use of public lands should be a right. Now, when the results of concentrated private land ownership become clear, when suddenly, a river or a mountain range they’ve enjoyed using for decades has a fence around it, their bellyaching begins.

But when the Wilkses, who made their money in fracking talk about how they feel they have a responsibility to the land, that has to be seen as hypocrisy.

The people in the West should Wake Up and give thanks for every inch of every national park. They should willingly pay additional taxes to keep our national parks in prime condition.

And they should finally see the wisdom in higher income taxes on corporate profits, and in Elizabeth Warren’s taxes on individuals with greater than $50 million in assets .

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