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The Wrongologist

Geopolitics, Power and Political Economy

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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Monday Wake Up Call — Onward Christian Soldiers Edition

The Daily Escape:

Sunset, Tucson Mountains, west of Tucson – January 1, 2020 photo by eleminohp

What’s America doing in Iraq? Everyone with an internet connection knows that Trump authorized a lethal drone strike on Iran’s Gen. Qassam Soleimani, a senior member of the Iranian military who was on his way to a meeting with Iraq’s Prime Minister.

You may not be aware that the meeting was called by Iraq’s PM at the behest of the US, as reported by the normally reliable Elijah J. Magnier:

The information that #Iran Qassem Soleimani had an appointment with the PM in Baghdad and came to #Iraq to meet him the next day with established appointment, following a request of Trump for mediation, has been read to all MPs today by the #Iraq/i PM himself.

It seems that the PM’s request of Soleimani was in writing. Let’s be clear about what America did: We assassinated two key military and political leaders on the sovereign territory of Iraq without the permission of the Iraqi Government. The key Iranian guy was heading to a meeting about calming tensions between the US and Iran. It’s a classic hit that could have been in “The Irishman”.

No one argues that Soleimani wasn’t our enemy. Democrats were caught flat-footed by Trump’s action. Most of the 2020 candidates tried to walk a thin line, glad Soleimani was dead, but deploring the process. Biden said it could leave the US:

 “On the brink of a major conflict across the Middle East.”

Bernie:

“Trump’s dangerous escalation brings us closer to another disastrous war in the Middle East that could cost countless lives and trillions more dollars.”

Warren:

“Trump’s reckless move escalates the situation with Iran and increases the likelihood of more deaths and new Middle East conflict.”

And House Leader Nancy Pelosi:

“American leaders’ highest priority is to protect American lives and interests. But we cannot put the lives of American service members, diplomats and others further at risk by engaging in provocative and disproportionate actions.”

Some Dems claim that this is Trump’s “Wag the Dog” play. Plenty of Republicans celebrated Soleimani’s death as a decisive blow against terrorism. Their comments can be summed up as: “Boy, we showed those Iranians who is boss”.

Are we getting the real story? Here’s a series of tweets by Hussain Abdul-Hussain, a ME journalist who says the reports that the Iraqi government voted to expel US troops is not correct:

Continued from Abdul-Hussain: (emphasis by Wrongo)

…to kill Soleimani). What happened is different.

1- Iraqi PM Abdul-Mahdi sent a letter to Parliament in which he argued US troops exist in Iraq, not based on a treaty ratified by Parliament, but on 2 letters from past cabinets to the UN. Hence, Parliament has no role in ejection.

2- Iraqi PM’s trying to trade disarming Shia militias for limiting scope of US troops. He wrote: “Whoever wants to become a political power, has to surrender arms, join armed forces, and forgo any political allegiance (i.e. to Iran) other than to military and commander-in-chief.”

(He’s talking about the militias that attacked the US Embassy)

“3- #Iraq parliament barely had a quorum for session on ejecting US troops. Sunni and Kurdish blocs boycotted the session (thus taking America’s side over Iran), and thus quorum was 170 of 328 (half + 4)…

4-The text Iraqi Parliament voted on was not a legislation, but a non-binding resolution.”

/snip/ (brackets by Wrongo)

“6- In his letter to Parliament, [PM] Abdul-Mahdi clearly states that Iraqi interest is to maintain neutrality between America and Iran, and that if Iraq antagonizes America, it risks losing its international status (and implicitly oil revenue, just like Iran).

7- NYT is, by far, much more pro-Iran than Wash Post. The post reported that “tens of thousands” mourned Soleimani in Ahwaz. NYT made the number of mourners “hundreds of thousands.”

Abdul-Hussain concludes:

“The most probable outcome of #Soleimani‘s killing is more of the same: Low-intensity Iranian warfare against America, Iran never engaging in direct war, but maintaining her proxy war, fighting America to the last Arab. But with Soleimani out, Iranian proxy war will be much weaker.”

Wake up America! We should be asking: “What’s our end game with Iran and Iraq?” That’s the question that Trump should have asked before giving the green light to kill Soleimani. Getting that answer should be a non-partisan request of the Trump administration.

The game remains the same. Republicans say here’s another very bad man who had to go. Democrats are saying he was a very bad man, but have you people thought through the consequences of taking him out?

The question of why, in the minds of Trump and his generals, Soleimani had to die this week is what needs to be explained to the American public.

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Monday Wake Up Call – December 23, 2019

The Daily Escape:

Hoboken, NJ Santa Run, 2019 via

Nothing about politics, economics or power today, unless you think that this season has a power to bring joy to the world for at least a brief period of time. Around the mansion of Wrong, it will be a busy time, with many, many guests (a total of 98, but not all at the same time) passing through. The last of the group leaves on January 5th.

While Wrongo can’t be sure, this may be the last post until the New Year, assuming all remains quiet at Mar-a-Lago.

Here are a trio of seasonal musical selections for your holiday enjoyment. First, spectacular guitar work by Don and Wendy Francisco and Jerry Palmer, playing a medley of “What Child is This?” and “Greensleeves”:

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

Next, “Hark the Herald Angels Sing” performed in 2011 by the chorus at King’s College Cambridge:

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

Third, the Piano Guys playing “O come, O come, Emmanuel” for Piano & Cello:

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

From Wrongo and Ms. Right to all of you, best wishes for peace on earth, and a fact-based New Year!

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Monday Wake Up Call Afghanistan Edition – December 16, 2019

The Daily Escape:

Light snow and morning fog, Yosemite NP CA – December 2019 photo by worldpins

Wrongo and Ms. Right visited the WWII museum in New Orleans last week. In most ways, it was the last war that engaged all of America. At the start of the war, we were woefully under resourced, our army had more horses than tanks. People became deeply involved in the war effort.

During the war, Wrongo as a very young boy, managed to lose our family’s sugar ration card. Businesses gave their production capacity over to the country’s war needs. President Roosevelt was on the radio each week, keeping support for the war effort high. WWII lasted for six years, from 1939-1945.

You know where this is going: Last week, we learned that our government has covered up the reality of how we were doing in Afghanistan, much like our government covered up the truth during the Vietnam War.

We learned this due to work by WaPo reporter Craig Whitlock who has given us an indispensable look into our continuing failure in Afghanistan. The documents include transcripts of interviews with soldiers, diplomats, and others with direct experience in the war effort. Excerpts:

“We were devoid of a fundamental understanding of Afghanistan — we didn’t know what we were doing,” Douglas Lute, a three-star Army general who served as the White House’s Afghan war czar during the Bush and Obama administrations, told government interviewers in 2015. He added: “What are we trying to do here? We didn’t have the foggiest notion of what we were undertaking.”

“If the American people knew the magnitude of this dysfunction. . . 2,400 lives lost,” Lute added, blaming the deaths of US military personnel on bureaucratic breakdowns among Congress, the Pentagon and the State Department. “Who will say this was in vain?”

More:

“What did we get for this $1 trillion effort? Was it worth $1 trillion?” Jeffrey Eggers, a retired Navy SEAL and White House staffer for Bush and Obama, told government interviewers. He added, “After the killing of Osama bin Laden, I said that Osama was probably laughing in his watery grave considering how much we have spent on Afghanistan.”

The WaPo documents contradict years of public statements from US presidents, military commanders and diplomats who assured Americans year after year that we were making progress in Afghanistan and that the war was worth fighting:

“Every data point was altered to present the best picture possible,” Bob Crowley, an Army colonel who served as a senior counterinsurgency adviser to US military commanders in 2013 and 2014, told government interviewers. “Surveys, for instance, were totally unreliable but reinforced that everything we were doing was right and we became a self-licking ice cream cone.”

Bush, Obama and so far, Trump, have all failed us miserably for the past 18+ years. The war has cost America $975 billion-plus tens of $ billions spent by the VA on the wounds of Afghanistan veterans, a price that will rise for the next six decades. The most serious costs are the 2,434 US deaths and 20,646 wounded in action.

The Afghan mess was made worse by piling lie upon lie. We now know that the top brass in the military knew all along that we were losing, and that three successive White Houses also knew.

The greatest tragedy is that the losing is still ongoing.

These revelations are an indictment of our senior military leaders. We had advantages in resources and technology in Afghanistan (we often outnumbered the insurgents on the battlefield) and still lost. But beyond that, it indicts our political leaders, who need to understand our strategy, and be a check on our military.

Time to wake up America! This is also an indictment of all of us, for not paying attention. For not insisting on ending it years ago!

We’ve managed to blow through vast resources that were desperately needed at home. We’ve stood by while our government fruitlessly sacrificed the lives of many of our men and women. We grew our National Debt beyond what we needed to do, and got stuck in another foreign quagmire.

When we finally feel either shame or anger about Afghanistan and that we were lied to, we can take the first steps to political reform.

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Monday Wake Up Call – December 2, 2019

The Daily Escape:

New snow at Minnehaha Falls, MN – November 2019 photo by memotherboy.

Cook Political Report’s Dave Wasserman lays out a grim, but possibly likely 2020 scenario, one where Trump loses the popular vote by five million or more votes, and still wins the Electoral College:

“The ultimate nightmare scenario for Democrats might look something like this: Trump loses the popular vote by more than 5 million ballots, and the Democratic nominee converts Michigan and Pennsylvania back to blue. But Trump wins re-election by two Electoral votes by barely hanging onto Arizona, Florida, North Carolina, Wisconsin and Maine’s 2nd Congressional District — one of the whitest and least college-educated districts in the country.”

In 2016, Trump’s victory hinged on three states he won by less than a point: Michigan (0.2%), Pennsylvania (0.7%) and Wisconsin (0.8%). All three of these relatively white states with aging populations also have high shares of white voters without college degrees, a group that has trended away from Democrats.

It’s been no secret that six states — Arizona, Florida, Michigan, North Carolina, Pennsylvania and Wisconsin — are best-positioned to decide which candidate reaches 270 Electoral votes and wins the presidency.

Democrats contend that they won the Senate and governors’ races in Michigan, Pennsylvania and Wisconsin in 2018. And in the House, they flipped two seats in Michigan and four in Pennsylvania.

But Trump could lose Michigan and Pennsylvania and still win the Electoral College, so long as he carries every other place he won in 2016. And Wisconsin is in play, because Democrats won Wisconsin’s governor’s race by just a single point, and failed to gain a House seat. If Wisconsin’s Trump voters turn out in 2020, it could easily stay red.

And should a 269-269 Electoral vote split occur (not impossible), the process moves to the House, with each state delegation having one vote. A majority of states (26) is needed to win. Trump would win, since the GOP holds the majority in 26 states, while Democrats control 22. Two states, Michigan and Pennsylvania, are tied.

The Senate would elect the Vice-President, with each Senator having a vote. A majority of Senators (51) is needed to win, so the GOP would win in the VP in the Senate, as well.

There are a lot of scenarios that could happen in 2020, including a “blowout” victory by Dems. In this scenario, it’s possible the Democratic nominee could win Georgia, Iowa, Ohio or maybe even Texas. But the most likely scenarios see Wisconsin as the state that decides the presidency. Running up the score in California isn’t going to help Dems when it comes to beating Trump.

This makes it of utmost importance that Democrats select a presidential nominee that can energize both the Party’s base, and enough independents to overcome the GOP’s natural advantage in the states that voted for Trump in 2016. That’s going to be harder than it seems. A November Economist/YouGov poll showed this: (emphasis by Wrongo)

A Majority (53%) of Republicans think Donald Trump was a better President than Abraham Lincoln. pic.twitter.com/CrsiYeLUdJ

— Jesse Ferguson (@JesseFFerguson) November 29, 2019

Interestingly, 75% of the country rated Lincoln as better than Trump, showing that the GOP is completely out of step with the rest of us. But, despite an approval rating in the low 40s, Trump has a path to re-election.

Keep this poll in mind whenever the Democratic Party suggests that Democrats can win over Republicans. There may be a few persuadable Republicans, but the majority of Trump’s party actually believes that he is a better president than the guy who kept the nation together by winning the Civil War. Lincoln’s worst day was probably better than Trump’s best.

Time to wake up Democrats! You keep waiting for demographic change to swing many Red states, but most of the change is occurring in noncompetitive states, particularly California and Texas, which threatens to further widen the chasm between winning the popular vote and winning the Electoral College.

Dems need to compete as if our lives depend upon it, in all of the House and Senate elections, in addition to local elections and the presidency!

They need to, because our lives actually do depend upon changing the course we’re on.

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Monday Wake Up Call – November 25, 2019

The Daily Escape:

Delicate Arch, Arches NP, Moab UT – 2019 photo by rallymachine

Wrongo learned last week that the GOP thinks he’s just another agent of Soros, like most other non-Republicans. Sadly, the mailbox didn’t contain his weekly globalist payoff check, so we’re still stuck writing this blog.

We should be framing the debate about 2020 not in terms of policies, but by asking the question Ronald Regan asked: “Are you better off today than you were four years ago?” For the Evangelicals who wished for a right-wing Supreme Court, the answer is “yes”. For the 1%, and corporations who were awarded a gigantic tax cut, their answer is a strong “yes”.

But for most Americans, after four years, the answer isn’t yes, it’s a hard “no”.

Yes, the unemployment rate in the US is the lowest it’s been in 50 years. More Americans have jobs than ever before. Wages are climbing, but people tell a different story: Of long job hunts, trouble finding work with decent pay, or predictable hours.

How do we square the record-long economic expansion and robust labor market with the anecdotal stories we all hear? Quartz reports on a new jobs index that shows a way to make sense of both stories. Researchers at Cornell, the University of Missouri, Kansas City, the Coalition for a Prosperous America and the Global Institute for Sustainable Prosperity, working together:

“…..unveiled the US Private Sector Job Quality Index (or JQI for short), a new monthly indicator that aims to track the quality of jobs instead of just the quantity. The JQI measures the ratio of what the researchers call “high-quality” versus “low-quality” jobs….”

They developed a ratio of higher-wage/higher-hour jobs versus lower-wage/lower-hour jobs, and tracked it back in time using federal data. The Index reveals that job quality in the US has deteriorated substantially since 1990, and even more so since 2006.

Overall, the JQI found a shift from US high-wage/high-hour jobs to low-wage/low-hour positions. Since 1990, the US has been creating an overabundance of lower-quality service jobs. The JQI reveals that 63% of the production and non-supervisory jobs created over the past 30 years have been in low-wage and low-hour positions. That’s a marked change from the early 1990s, when nearly half of these jobs (47%) were high-wage.

Since 1990, America has cumulatively added some 20 million low-quality jobs, versus around 12 million high-quality ones. We now create more bad jobs than good. This helps explain why our GDP growth isn’t nearly what economists say we should expect from a full-employment economy.

Also, the poor jobs come with fewer hours worked. People in low-quality jobs clock 30 hours a week. Compare that to an average 38 hours a week for high-quality jobs. That seven-hour gap doesn’t sound like a lot, but it adds up to about 480 million hours per year.

Those unworked hours represents the equivalent of about 12 million jobs forgone each year. A key reason is that employers limit worker’s hours to keep from having to pay benefits.

Overall, the growing total of jobs that offer lower-than-average incomes means that job growth, as reflected by a super-low unemployment rate, provides less spending power than in the past. The economy is getting a lot less bang for its buck.

Maybe the Democrats’ presidential candidates should base the campaign on asking the Ronald Regan question again in 2020.

Time to wake up America! Look behind the headlines. Ask the candidates what they plan to do about the fact that our economy isn’t providing quality jobs. The $15/hour wage, although useful, isn’t enough to grow the economy.

To help you wake up, listen to Tones and I, a 19 year-old Australian singer-songwriter who has the number one global hit “Dance Monkey”. Today we’re featuring her song called “The Kids are Coming”. This song is sending an important message and portrays the reality of our time, that young people believe we’ve been poor stewards of their futures:

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

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Monday Wake Up Call – Veterans Day Edition, November 11, 2019

The Daily Escape:

Normandy American Cemetery, Colleville-sur-Mer, France – 2016 photo by Wrongo

Wrongo’s service occurred during the Vietnam War. His father was a WWII veteran. His grandfather, a WWI vet. Wrongo salutes all who have served!

While none of his kids have served, we all carry scars of our nearly two decades-long mistaken adventures in the Middle East. For some, it is poorer roads, bridges and airports. For others, it’s a huge budget deficit that won’t be paid off, even by Wrongo’s grandchildren’s children.

Of the 2.7 million who served in Iraq or Afghanistan, the Department of Veterans Affairs says that 35% have some form of disability. Over 970,000 Iraq and Afghanistan veteran disability claims have been registered with the VA. Over 6,900 US troops have died, as have approximately 7,800 contractors. These 20 years have also produced around 2,000 amputees.

From the Economist:

“Iraq and Afghanistan vets represent less than 1% of the population, and America lost eight times as many soldiers in Vietnam in less than half the time, when its population was two-thirds the current size.”

The Economist tries to tell us that the body count in Afghanistan is a great result. That’s neoliberal BS. People died, people were wounded and many thousands continue to suffer from post-traumatic stress.

Since we ended the compulsory draft in 1973, Americans are no longer connected to our wars, or to our veterans. These wars have been funded by debt, so younger Americans will pay for wars that they hardly know about, or why they happened.

This disconnect helps explain why the country’s civilian-military relations are so distant. It also explains why America has gotten locked into long and unproductive conflicts.

Some think that Trump will get us out of Afghanistan in the coming year. Some think that Trump was correct to cede northeastern Syria to Turkey and Russia.

But, as we sit here on Veterans Day 2019, the messages from the Trump administration are very mixed. The Guardian reports that two weeks after ordering a complete evacuation of US troops ahead of a Turkish incursion into northeastern Syria, Trump has changed his mind.

He’s now said some US troops should stay to “secure the oil”. That’s oil that is the rightful property of Syria. Reuters reports that Defense Secretary Mark Esper said:

“The United States will repel any attempt to take Syria’s oil fields away from U.S.-backed Syrian militia with overwhelming force, whether the opponent is Islamic State or even forces backed by Russia or Syria…”

Pentagon spokesperson Jonathan Hoffman said that US forces may continue this effort for years to come.

So, we’re “protecting” Syrian oil fields to deny access to ISIS and/or to the Syrian government? For years to come?

Here we go again with oil fields in the Middle East. It’s the same old story: oil companies are again directing the use of our troops, and how we should spend our taxpayer’s money. That’s the money that could have been used for many more important things. Follow the oil, and you’ll know Trump’s military policy in the Middle East.

It isn’t honorable for America to squat down uninvited in another country. It isn’t honorable to take control of Syrian oil fields while saying we’re stopping ISIS from using it. FYI, the US bombed that oil infrastructure years ago. It isn’t producing much oil today.

With this much dishonor, most of it at the Pentagon and the White House, no one who is signing up now to serve voluntarily should believe that what we’re doing in the Middle East is defending the Constitution.

We should honor the service of our veterans, and that of those currently in uniform, but that’s not all that we have to do. It’s time to wake up America!

We need to see that Trump’s so-called “bring the troops home” stance only means that he hasn’t opened a new theater of war for the last 3 years. He’s continued to shuffle a few of our existing pieces around. Has he closed any of our 800+ military bases around the world? No, in fact, more have been added. Has he stopped any of the active wars that the US currently is engaged in around the world? No. Has he reduced the military budget? No, he has increased it.

The American people are sick and tired of these military quagmires. It’s time to take action at the ballot box in 2020 against the war mongers in both parties.

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Monday Wake Up Call – November 4, 2019

The Daily Escape:

Lake Sabrina, CA – November 2019 photo by Wild_NDN

All of a sudden, there are ongoing protests throughout the world. This seems to be an enormous story, maybe the biggest story of October, despite America’s focus on impeachment. And there’s some, but not a lot of media coverage. Here’s a map of the locations, and primary causes, of recent unrest around the world:

When you see the map, it’s clear that something’s happening. In some places, protesters are mainly demanding more political freedom, like what we’ve seen in Hong Kong. In others, like Iraq and Lebanon, people are sick and tired of corruption and unemployment. They want to throw out the old guard.

The map shows 14 countries, but others report as many as 22 countries experiencing protests in 2019. Can we find common threads to these protests?

They don’t show ideological consistency, although they do show similar tactics. Unlike Occupy in the US, these protesters have demands, which vary with each protest. In some places, they involve millions of people. They do not seem to be internationally driven, although the local powers that be often say that they are.

A Chinese friend of the Wrongologist who lives in Hong Kong provides lots of coverage on local violence. For our media, violence is always “breaking out,” or protests always are “descending into” it, but we rarely hear deep explanations for why it occurs.

Let’s look at a few reasons that transcend individual countries:

Economic Slump

This argument is true for Chile, Ecuador, Venezuela and Haiti in Latin America. It is also true in Iraq in the Middle East. Despite their differences, each country saw commodity-driven economic growth, followed by a slump or stall. Haiti, despite its own economy largely being stagnant, saw billions in aid from oil-rich Venezuela come in, then disappear when Venezuela had its economic issues.

Income Inequality

Jeffrey Sachs frames income inequality as social unhappiness and distrust, in Why Rich Cities Rebel: (brackets by Wrongo)

“Three of the world’s more affluent cities have erupted in protests and unrest this year. Paris has faced waves of protests and rioting since November 2018…after…President Macron raised fuel taxes. Hong Kong has been in upheaval since March, after Chief Executive Carrie Lam proposed a law to allow extradition to the Chinese mainland. And Santiago [Chile] exploded in rioting this month after President Sebastian Piñera ordered an increase in metro [subway] prices….taken together, they tell a larger story of what can happen when a sense of unfairness combines with a widespread perception of low social mobility.”

Gallup finds that while Hong Kong ranks ninth globally in GDP per capita, it ranks 66th in terms of the public’s perception of personal freedom to choose a life course. The same is true in France (25th in GDP per capita, but 69th in freedom to choose) and in Chile (48th and 98th, respectively).

It appears that traditional economic measures of well-being are insufficient to gauge the public’s real sentiments. The protesters perceive the politics behind the prices, and that’s what they are moving against.

Income inequality also shows up as withdrawal or repricing of government services. From the NYT:

“In Chile, the spark was an increase in subway fares. In Lebanon, it was a tax on WhatsApp calls. The government of Saudi Arabia moved against hookah pipes. In India, it was about onions.”

In Ecuador, the focal point of the protests was a demand for restoration of fuel subsidies. From The Financial Times (paywalled):

“The mass protests that have broken out during the past year in Asia, Europe, Africa, Latin America and the Middle East…are usually leaderless rebellions, whose organization and principles are not set out in a little red book or thrashed out in party meetings, but instead emerge on social media.”

Social media is the enabler for leaderless movements. When the Hong Kong demonstrations broke out in June, Joshua Wong, the most high-profile democracy activist in the territory, was in jail. In Moscow, Russia arrested leader Alexander Navalny, but demonstrations continued without him. In Lebanon, France and Chile, authorities have searched in vain for ringleaders. In Iraq, Muqtada al-Sadr, has emerged as the leader of the movement to replace Prime Minister Mahdi.

Underneath it all, whether we’re talking about people wanting political freedom or economic security, these riots are about class, wealth, and income. They are about the fact that all of these countries have very rich people who make the rules.

And their rules never favor the non-rich.

It is unclear if any of these protests will effect change. History rarely favors the man in the street.

Pro tip: If you are going to riot, take the time to head over to the part of town where the rich live, and riot there.

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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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