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The Wrongologist

Geopolitics, Power and Political Economy

Stimulus Bill Blocked By Rogue GOP Senators

The Daily Escape:

Late winter, NH – February 2020 photo by Betsy Zimmerli

Just when you think that the two Parties and the White House have found agreement on a massive stimulus bill, a few rogue Republicans decide that there’s too much welfare in it for them. From NBC News:

“A handful of Republican senators on Wednesday threatened to delay the $2 trillion coronavirus spending bill over a proposed increase to unemployment insurance.

Sens. Tim Scott, (R-SC), Lindsey Graham, (R-SC), and Ben Sasse, (R-NE), said that the bill “could provide a strong incentive for employees to be laid off instead of going to work” because some people could theoretically make more by being unemployed. Senator Rick Scott (r-FL) jumped onto the obstructionist bandwagon as well.

More from the Senators’ statement:

“If the federal government accidentally incentivizes layoffs, we risk life-threatening shortages in sectors where doctors, nurses, and pharmacists are trying to care for the sick, and where growers and grocers, truckers and cooks are trying to get food to families’ tables.”

The fight is over an additional $600 per week payment to each recipient on top of their unemployment insurance payment. The proposed benefit also extends to workers who typically would not qualify, such as gig economy workers, furloughed employees, and freelancers.

Imagine! These Senators are so out of touch, they think you can receive unemployment payments if you quit your job.

This is hypocrisy in action: These Republicans obstructionists pretend to be suddenly concerned about either deficit spending, or about government fraud and abuse after they blew a trillion dollar hole in the our last budget to give unneeded money to their wealthy benefactors.

The bill was supposed to be voted on late yesterday, but the Senators who are objecting could hold up the bill by forcing votes on amendments. Sen. Chris Murphy, (D-CT), tweeted:

“Let’s not over-complicate this…several Republican Senators are holding up the bipartisan Coronavirus emergency bill because they think the bill is too good for laid off Americans. “

From Charlie Pierce:

“Right on cue, of course…Bernie Sanders threatened to block the bill unless the stooges dropped their opposition. Which, of course, is exactly what every Republican everywhere would like. The stooges are running a bluff. They don’t want to be the people who block this. They just want to talk about blocking it. If Sanders does them the incredible favor of blocking it himself, thereby pulling Mitch McConnell out of the ditch into which the Democratic minority has rolled him, they’ll all get re-elected.”

So the question is what is Majority Leader McConnell prepared to give up to pass the bill? And are Chuck and Nancy prepared to give up anything in order to move the bill on to the House?

It seems likely that McConnell wants to meet their demands with no real Democratic pushback. Is that likely to happen?

So, a few Republican supporters of our capitalist super heroes want to reduce the crumbs provided to ordinary workers. They have a small point about people not “earning” more from the government than they did on the job. The problem is that each state has its own unique unemployment insurance system, and it would be a nightmare to adjust each payment for each worker just to make Lindsay Graham feel good.

That’s the trouble with grifters. They simply can’t understand that there are people who aren’t always grifting.

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Monday Wake Up Call – March 23, 2020

The Daily Escape:

Great Wave off Kanagawa – Japanese woodblock print by Hokusai c. 1829. The wave could represent a tsunami of COVID-19 cases, or could it represent the rising of malign intent by Trump towards our democracy?

Are we in the midst of a national emergency or not? Is a tsunami of COVID-19 cases about to inundate America, or not? Let Wrongo answer: It’s a national emergency. When there’s a national emergency, does the federal government let the states take care of the problem? It does not.

Here’s America’s worst excuse for a leader on twitter Sunday afternoon:

He says it’s not the federal government’s job to lead in a national emergency. As Haberman and Baker said in the NYT: (emphasis by Wrongo)

“For years, skeptics expressed concern about how he would handle a genuine crisis threatening the nation, and now they know.”

Any other president, even the weakest, would have acted differently. Despite the fact that his policies are generally pretty standard right-wing Republican, Trump has managed to make a national disaster worse than it had to be.

Now all Americans should know how it feels to be Puerto Rican.

Bloomberg reports that Trump’s directive for governors to buy their own medical supplies to fight the coronavirus ran into a big problem when the federal government outbid them for the products! Earlier that day, Trump said that his administration is not a “shipping clerk” for medical gear that the states require to fight the virus.

Another example from the NYT: (emphasis and brackets by Wrongo)

“…on Saturday {Trump] sought to assure an anxious American public that help was on the way…and that private companies had agreed to provide desperately needed medical supplies to fight the fast-spreading coronavirus.

But Mr. Trump [said] he would not compel companies to make face masks and other gear to protect front-line health workers from the virus….. Mr. Trump said the clothing company Hanes was among those that had been enlisted to start churning out masks, although the company said they would not be the N-95 masks that are most effective in protecting medical workers.”

Trump could simply order companies like Hanes to make them, but instead, Hanes is making masks that don’t actually protect medical personnel. Capitalism @ work!  At a time of national emergency, Trump is letting the market do it, and simply declaring victory.

Another: In the on-going (Sunday) negotiations on the Coronavirus bail-out package, it turns out that Treasury Secretary Mnuchin and the White House are demanding that the relief package include $500 billion to be provided to corporations at the discretion of Treasury Secretary Steve Mnuchin.

The best part is that it permits the Treasury secretary to withhold the names of corporate recipients for up to six months. How is it possible to use taxpayer money for corporate bailouts and demand that taxpayers can’t know who’s received the funds?

Finally, here’s an example where Trump is unhappily, showing leadership. He wants to suspend habeas corpus, the Constitutional right to appear before a judge after arrest, and seek release:

“The Justice Department has quietly asked Congress for the ability to ask chief judges to detain people indefinitely without trial during emergencies — part of a push for new powers that comes as the coronavirus spreads through the US.”

The DOJ is looking for broad authority, including the ability to ask chief judges to detain people and to pause court proceedings during emergencies. It would apply to:

“any statutes or rules of procedure otherwise affecting pre-arrest, post-arrest, pre-trial, trial, and post-trial procedures in criminal and juvenile proceedings and all civil process and proceedings,”

This means you could be arrested and not brought before a judge until they decide that the emergency or the civil disobedience is over. Shouldn’t we be even more careful about granting new powers to the government if we’re in a national emergency?

We can hope that the House will block this nonsense.

We should remember that the US government was founded for the very purpose of solving some rather serious problems that the individual states couldn’t handle. That role of federal leadership has worked for 230+ years, but that doesn’t work for Trump.

You should be asking why.

It seems certain that at some point, Trump will say that the states were unable to solve the virus emergency, so he’s stepping in. He’ll try to use COVID-19 to assume extraordinary emergency powers between now and the election. That’s beyond frightening.

More will die because Trump won’t lead in the fight to contain the Coronavirus. And in the background, he’s busy laying the groundwork for emergency powers.

Wake up Democrats!

It’s time to ask, what are the DC Democrats doing to block all of this?

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Monday Wake Up Call – March 16, 2020

The Daily Escape:

Blue Lakes Trailhead, near Telluride, CO – August 2018 photo by Will Colebank. See 360° view here.

Remember last Monday? Since then, we’ve had a week of body blows to both the national psyche, and the economy. Thank God that the market was closed last week. Oh, wait a minute…it was open.

Please, Trumpheads: Try not to kill us while attempting to govern! The administration is literally making a pandemic worse by once again not thinking through their policies. From the WaPo:

“Airports around the country were thrown into chaos Saturday night as workers scrambled to roll out the Trump administration’s hastily arranged health screenings for travelers returning from Europe.

Scores of anxious passengers…encountered jam-packed terminals, long lines and hours of delays as they waited to be questioned by health authorities at some of the busiest travel hubs in the US.”

Q: How do you spread a virus faster?
A. Pack a bunch of people into an airport virus screening line for six or seven hours.

This dog’s breakfast was caused by the administration’s “enhanced entry screenings”, one of Trump’s travel restrictions aimed at slowing the spread of the coronavirus within the US. Passengers on flights from more than two dozen countries in Europe were routed through 13 US airports, where workers checked their medical histories, and examined them for symptoms.

What could go wrong?

Is it a surprise that there was no advance staff coordination to assure that people could get through a crowd of suspected Coronavirus carriers reasonably quickly? It’s similar to Trump’s 2017 chaotic implementation of the Muslim travel ban that triggered confusion and protests when travelers were detained, or sent back with almost no warning from US airports.

In some airports, the immigration line for US citizens was longer than the one for non-citizens. How can intelligent people not think any of this through? It’s clear from the long lines that there was zero planning for this policy’s implementation.

Trump has failed AGAIN.

It’s likely this clusterfuck will speed disease transmission rather than not having a travel ban at all. This is another example of “we’ve gotta do something”, and they settle on an action that exacerbates the problem!

Second, what kind of crazy, messed-up world do we live in where the most reliable information about the coronavirus comes from anyone but the government? Where Rep. Devin Nunes (R-CA) tells everybody to go out to a restaurant, when the NIH’s Dr. Anthony Fauci is saying just the opposite?

Or, take Republican candidate for the Nevada Clark County School District Board of Trustees, Katie Williams. Williams is a former Ms. Nevada who was recently stripped of her title for posting political content supporting Trump on social media. She also ventured into pandemic denial when she tweeted this reply to Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez:

This is America, and I’ll do what I want” = “I’m too selfish to do anything that doesn’t benefit me.” Paul Campos puts his finger on the problem of 21st Century peak Republican asshole:

“The COVID-19 crisis is a classic collective action problem. Stopping it from overwhelming the nation’s health care system so that it causes hundreds of thousands or even millions of preventable deaths requires people to act as if society actually exists, and to recognize that the fact that they themselves may face a relatively low mortality risk is irrelevant to the much higher risk faced by the tens of millions of their fellow Americans.”

Expecting Americans in general, and Republicans in particular, to voluntarily engage in the kind of behavior that’s important for the greater good is not only unrealistic, it’s foolhardy.

Back to Williams: Can you imagine Nevada parents wanting one of the most selfish people in America on their kids’ school board?

Time to wake up America! As John Pavlovitz says:

The bill for MAGA has come due, Trump supporters.

It’s time to pay up.

The deferred invoice for you selling your souls is here….

This President didn’t create this virus,
but he ignored it,
denied it,
minimized it,
joked about it,
weaponized it,
politicized it,
exacerbated it.

To help you wake up, listen to King Crimson’s “Epitaph”, from their 2018 live album, “Radical Action”. The vocalist is Jakko Jakszyk:

Sample Lyric:

Confusion will be my epitaph
As I crawl a cracked and broken path
If we make it, we can all sit back and laugh
But I fear, tomorrow, I’ll be crying
Yes, I fear, tomorrow, I’ll be crying
Yes, I fear, tomorrow, I’ll be crying

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

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Saturday Soother – Bill Barr Edition

The Daily Escape:

Peyto Lake, Jasper NP, Alberta CN – 2019 photo by TheMilkMan26

America needs a Trumpectomy, and that won’t happen until January 2021. The problem is that Trumpism is like a metastasized cancer, and maybe even excising Trump won’t be enough to cure the country.

When the story broke that AG William Barr had intervened in the sentencing recommendation for Roger Stone, most of the country was in an uproar. Career DOJ prosecutors left the case, and most of us were angry and in disbelief that Trump was directing the DOJ’s case along with his accomplice, AG Barr.

The Justice Department was also in disbelief. NBC News’ Ken Delanian reported that Department of Justice employees almost walked out en masse on Wednesday over Barr’s actions. Barr responded to the criticism from inside and outside the DOJ by telling ABC News that Trump’s constant tweets “make it impossible for me to do my job.” The first blush reaction to Barr’s statement was that Barr was complaining about Trump getting in his grill.

A much more realistic (and troubling) take is that Barr is defending his action as “perfect”, and the only reason that he’s taking flack is a completely unrelated tweet from Trump.

Barr’s criticism of Trump is about as real as professional wrestling. He’s a fan of executive power, and too aware of Trump’s personality to have done this without coordinating with the White House.

And if that wasn’t enough, the NYT reported on Friday that Barr assigned yet another outside prosecutor to scrutinize the DOJ’s criminal case against Michael Flynn, Trump’s former national security adviser. This is yet another case of political interference by the DOJ into the work of its own career prosecutors.

Flynn pleaded guilty, but at the start of the sentencing phase, he hired a new attorney, Sidney Powell, a darling of the right wing media, who is also a FOX contributor. She is contesting his guilty plea.

Barr said just the other day that he would not be bullied or swayed for political reasons, and would only act in the name of maintaining the highest judicial standards. Now, the question for Barr is: How did he pick the Stone and Flynn cases for the DOJ to pursue?

Flynn’s judge, Emmet Sullivan, wrote a 92-page opinion in December laying out why the things that Barr just hired another counsel to second-guess won’t affect Flynn’s guilt. Why is the entire Right wing is going to the mats to defend Flynn, a guy who was secretly on Turkey’s payroll while acting as Trump’s NatSec advisor?

Their hero is a guy who was selling out the US for $600K.

It’s important to remember that Flynn, Manafort, and Stone broke the law repeatedly. Barr is working to undermine our judicial process on their behalf. Now, you can prosecute the bad guys, but don’t mess with the president’s friends. Do that and you’ll be out of work, or worse.

This of course, changes how prosecutors will do their jobs.

Successfully performing the Trumpectomy will be an all hands on deck effort. We can’t give up hope. Wrongo returned from his military service in 1969, and protested the Vietnam War until it ended in 1975.

We need to resist Trumpism until it ends. Let’s close with two excerpts from Thomas Merton’s “Letter to a young activist”, written during the Vietnam War in 1966:

“This country is SICK, man. It is one of the sickest things that has happened. People are fed on myths, they are stuffed up to the eyes with illusions. They CAN’T think straight. They have a modicum of good will, and some of them have a whole lot of it, but with the mental bombardment everybody lives under, it is just not possible to see straight, no matter where you are looking.”

Sound familiar? Merton goes on to say:

“Vietnam is the psychoanalysis of the US. I wonder if the nation can come out of it and survive. I have a hunch we might be able to. But your stresses and strains, mine, Dan Berrigan’s, all of them, are all part of this same syndrome, and it is extremely irritating and disturbing to find oneself, like it or not, involved in the national madness.”

We’ve been here before, and with huge voter turnout, we can beat Trumpism.

We really need today’s Saturday Soother. To help you begin, let’s brew up a mug of Kona Bourbon Pointu Laurina, ($62.50/8oz.). Wrongo know that’s expensive, but use some of your Trump winnings to buy it from Hula Daddy, an artisanal coffee grower in Kona, Hawaii.

Now put on your headphones and listen to “21st Century USA” by the Drive By Truckers from their new album “Unraveled”. This isn’t designed to soothe you, but to fire you up:

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

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Saturday Soother – Acquittal Edition

The Daily Escape:

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

(Sunday cartoons will appear on Monday)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Saturday Soother – January 11, 2020

The Daily Escape:

Road in Yosemite after rain – December 2019 photo by worldpins

Did we just avoid a war, or was a future war thrust upon us? You have to go way back to find a time when the thought of an overseas conflict united Americans behind the plan.

Today, all we have are questions about which war we consider to be a war worth fighting. Certainly it wouldn’t be a war on climate change, or vote suppression, or spiraling health care costs. Those aren’t considered just wars in today’s politics.

One Party is always willing to fight the other when the topic is intervention in the Middle East. Doug Collins, the mouthy Republican Congress Critter from Georgia, who’s willing to self-promote on any TV channel, went on Fox (Lou Dobbs) to criticize Democrats:

“They’re in love with terrorists. We see that they mourn Soleimani more than they mourn our Gold Star families, who are the ones who suffered under Soleimani. That’s a problem.”

That led Preet Bharara, former US Attorney, to clap back at Collins: (emphasis by Wrongo)

“No American is “in love” with terrorists or “mourns” the death of that Iranian general on an airstrip in Baghdad. Many of us do, however, mourn the death of decency, honesty and reason here at home.

I realize that you are a politician and that hyperbolic, hyperpartisan claptrap is the unfortunate fashion of the day. But even allowing for the new normal of nastiness in political rhetoric, your casual slur of countless good Americans hits a new bottom. Americans can, in good faith, differ about the legality or efficacy of killing Soleimani. That doesn’t make them unpatriotic or lovers of terrorists. It is hostility to differences of opinion that is un-American.”

More:

“You are a pastor, an attorney and a sitting member of Congress. Therefore, the evidence would suggest you should know better. To utter such garbage, which you know to be false and defamatory, goes against all the training and teaching you must have received. But you got your cheap shot across, and perhaps that’s all that matters to you.”

Iraq War veteran Sen. Tammy Duckworth (D-Ill) chimed in about what Collins said:

“I’m not going to dignify that with a response. I left parts of my body in Iraq fighting terrorists. I don’t need to justify myself to anyone.”

Collins then recanted:

“Let me be clear: I do not believe Democrats are in love with terrorists, and I apologize for what I said earlier this week.”

But, even though Collins appeared on Fox on Friday morning, he didn’t apologize. Instead, he later apologized on his Twitter feed, which has less than 300k followers.

Let’s give Preet the last word: (emphasis by Wrongo)

“…I am not making some old and familiar naive call for a return to “civility” in our politics. I don’t have much hope for that….I just want people like you to knock off the worst scurrilous nonsense…..If we are going to come together, protect the homeland and heal the hearts of people who have suffered the scars of terrorism, we need our leaders to do better than lazy trash talk.”

Collins was deployed as a Navy Chaplain to Iraq in 2008, so he knows better. He’s certainly seen Democrats die fighting terrorists. Yesterday, Wrongo said Democrats can’t let Republicans slide, they need to be called out when they are wrong, like Bharara and Duckworth just did to Collins.

Sometimes, Wrongo wonders if all this is happening because he didn’t forward at least a thousand Facebook messages to ten people. If so, Wrongo apologizes, America!

Time for all of us to de-stress from the first week of the new decade. Let’s hope most weeks are calmer than what we just lived through. To help calm things down, it’s time for our Saturday Soother!

Start by brewing up a mug of Panama Esmeralda Geisha Natural ($19.95/4oz.). Wrongo knows that’s expensive, but the stock market had a great week, even if Gen. Soleimani didn’t, so you can afford it. It’s from Paradise Roasters in Minneapolis.

Now, grab a seat by the window and listen to something soothing. Today, we hear Beethoven’s “Für Elise” played on glass harp by Robert Tiso. The score was not published until 1867, 40 years after the composer’s death. And it may not have really been dedicated to Elise:

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

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Sunday Cartoon Blogging – December 8, 2019

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Trump has nothing to fear:

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

Elephants can’t spell:

People now think Trump is a comedian:

Biden goes viral in a bad way:

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Is Anything Besides Impeachment Going On?

The Daily Escape:

Sunrise, Churchill, Manitoba, Canada – October 2019 photo by Colin Hessel. Hat tip to blog reader Marguerite S.

While America is focused on our impeachment gridlock, we’ve missed a few things Trump has done that have far-reaching impact.

First, the US solar industry has lost 62,000 new jobs and $19 Billion in investments because of Trump’s two year-old tariffs on imported solar panels. The job loss is more than the 53,000 total number of workers employed in US coal mining, an industry Trump favors. Maybe those 62,000 people can just apply for the roughly 250 new coal mining jobs Trump created. The $19 billion in lost investment equates to 10.5 gigawatts in lost solar energy installations, enough to power about 1.8 million homes.

Despite the tariffs, global solar panel prices have continued to fall due to oversupply in China, but US solar panel prices still are among the highest in the world. That makes it more difficult for solar to compete with other forms of electricity generation such as natural gas.

Trump’s tariffs have had the greatest impact on newer solar markets such as Alabama, the Dakotas and Kansas, because they make solar uncompetitive.

Second, Trump announced revisions to the small arms export rules. The National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA) is currently in reconciliation negotiations. One of the differences between the House and Senate versions is an amendment that could loosen export controls on firearms. In November, the administration gave Congress notification of the proposed rule changes, which will go into effect on December 20th if Congress does not block it.

The US exports firearms and related technology on a large scale. From 2013 to 2017, the State Department reviewed approximately 69,000 commercial export license applications for firearms, artillery and ammunition reported at a value of $7.5 billion. Roughly two-thirds of these applications were for firearms.

Trump’s proposal would transfer control over the export of firearms and related technology from the State Department to the Commerce Department. The new rules could loosen the global trade in small arms, particularly in Latin America and the Middle East.

Export control is a complicated process with substantial paperwork designed to limit weapons or components falling into the wrong hands. The State Department currently manages this process for firearms. Moving control to the Commerce Department means that exports of these weapons will be subject to a less rigorous approval process.

Many observers, including the UN, have noted that the widespread availability of small arms is a “key enabler” of conflicts around the world. Despite calls for states to exercise tighter arm controls, the Trump administration is proposing to do just the opposite.

There are downstream effects of the proposal. It may make it easier for Latin American organized crime or terrorists in the Middle East to get guns and ammo more easily. Perhaps Trump wants to improve the Second Amendment rights of ME terrorists and Latin American gangs. Or maybe, he’s just in the tank for US gun manufacturers.

Third, a new Pew survey finds that only half of American adults think colleges and universities are having a positive effect on the country; 38% say they are having a negative impact, up from 26% in 2012. The increase in negative views has come almost entirely from Republicans and independents who lean Republican:

Since Trump was elected, Republicans who say colleges have a negative effect on the country went from 37% to 59%. Over that same period, the views of Democrats and independents who lean Democratic have remained stable, and overwhelmingly positive.

Democrats who see problems with the higher education system cite rising costs most often (92%), while 79% of Republicans say professors bringing their political and social views into the classroom is a major reason why the higher education system is headed in the wrong direction. Age is an important factor: 96% of Republicans aged 65+ say professors bringing their views into the classroom is the major reason why higher education is headed in the wrong direction.

Higher education faces a host of challenges in the future: Controlling costs, ensuring that graduates are prepared for the jobs of the future, and responding to the country’s changing demographics.

Trump and the GOP’s willingness to see everything from impeachment, to solar panels, to college education as an ideological battle are making addressing America’s problems impossible.

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Dateline London — Banana Republicanism Edition

The Daily Escape:

Royal Albert Hall, London, noon sound check for tonight’s DJ Spoony’s Garage Classical show. The show is sold out – October 2019 iPhone photo by Wrongo

The yelling of Republicans in the House can seem muted when you’re 3,000 miles away in England. This, from the Guardian:

“House Republicans who tried to storm the secure area in the Capitol where Laura Cooper, the top Pentagon official on Ukraine was testifying, have effectively shut down the interview, according to a senior Democratic lawmaker…More than two dozen House Republicans, led by representative Matt Gaetz, tried to force their way into Cooper’s deposition, even though they are not members of the three committees leading the inquiry…”

The “secure area” is what’s called a SCIF, or Sensitive Compartmented Information Facility. These are sealed conference rooms that are protected from electronic intrusion. They exist so that members of Congress can receive highly classified information about how the nation collects information on its adversaries, and on very sensitive intelligence operations. They exist all over the government, in the military, and in the defense contracting industry. Meeting attendees have to leave their electronic devices outside of the room, under the supervision of a security-cleared attendant.

Some, but not all of Gaetz’s Congressional storm troopers surrendered their devices at the door of the SCIF. Those that didn’t caused a serious security breach. Despite their mob efforts, the deposition itself took place, but after a five-hour delay.

This single party effort to disrupt testimony is significant, and possibly symbolic of where the GOP is today. Cooper’s testimony is on the DOD’s response to Trump’s refusal to provide funds to Ukraine, funds that had been duly appropriated by Congress.

This is the effort by a mob to suppress evidence. From Marcie Wheeler: (brackets by Wrongo)

“In short, a bunch of Republican Congressmen (and a handful of [Congress] women) are staging a faux riot in order to prevent the DOD from telling Congress how the White House prevented them from following the law that prohibits the White House from withholding funds without a good reason….”

Rep. Bill Pascrell (D-NJ) tweeted this:

Hat tip to Rep. Pascrell for the term Banana Republicanism.

Marcie also reported that nine of the 43 rogue Congress critters actually sit on the committees that are conducting the inquiry inside the SCIF. Those nine are in the room all the time. They can ask questions of the witnesses. They can file minority reports if they disagree with the majority findings. So they can’t expect anyone to believe that they’re shut out of hearing the classified testimony.

In fact, it is most telling that they apparently aren’t leaking anything to the press, or to their colleagues!

Here in the UK, Boris Johnson, the British “Trump-light” head of government, reluctantly follows the dictates of the law despite his desire to force feed Brexit to his country. In the US, Trump and his Banana Republican cohort no longer bother to pretend.

Some of these rioters sit on the Judiciary Committee. Others apparently sit on the Armed Services, and Homeland Security Committees. Their actions should lead to getting booted from those committees and instead, being relegated to the Joint Committee on the Library of Congress, or to the Joint Committee on Printing.

The press should be asking GOP House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy if he’s going to remove these people from the committees that handle sensitive information for violating security protocols.

A question for Mac Thornberry, (R-TX), ranking member of the Armed Services Committee:

“Should Matt Gaetz, Mo Brooks, Bradley Byrne lose their seats on Armed Services for the manner in which they violated security protocols?”

A question for Mike Rogers, (R-AL), ranking member of the Homeland Security Committee:

“Should Mark Walker, Debbie Lesko, and you, lose your seats on the Homeland Security Committee for violating security protocols?”

This kind of breakdown in the orderly function of the House represents an existential threat to this country. If an opposition party can freely intimidate witnesses and shut down depositions without consequences, then the Constitution’s power of impeachment is useless.

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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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