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The Wrongologist

Geopolitics, Power and Political Economy

Sunday Cartoon Blogging – June 17, 2018

Jeff Sessions isn’t the only Republican who is anti-immigrant. Arizona Republican State Representative David Stringer addressed the Yavapai County Republican Men’s Forum this week. He called immigration an “existential threat” to America: (emphasis by Wrongo)

60% of public school children in the state of Arizona today are minorities. That complicates racial integration because there aren’t enough white kids to go around.

Stringer helpfully explained what happens when there aren’t enough white kids:

And when you look at that 60% number for public school students, just carry that forward 10 or 15 years. It’s going to change the demographic voting base of this state…..Immigration is politically destabilizing.

He says 60% of the kids are “minorities”, but the math says they are the majority. Maybe he’s using the “nonwhites are 3/5ths of a person” rule.

On to cartoons. It was difficult to know if Singapore was real, or a reality show:

Kim and Trump agreed on one thing:

Kim debriefed the team back home:

The big thing we have to fear:

Sessions fails bible study. The Boss wasn’t amused:

Sessions asks excellent question in bible study. Gets correct answer:

California’s referendum on whether to break into three states isn’t necessary:

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Monday Wake Up Call – June 11, 2018

The Daily Escape:

Interior, Cuba’s Capitol Building, Havana – 2018 photo by Conor Morrissey

Two things to address on Monday. Take a look inside the program that separates the families of asylum seekers. The WaPo reports that:

A Honduran father separated from his wife and child suffered a breakdown at a Texas jail and killed himself in a padded cell last month, according to Border Patrol agents and an incident report filed by sheriff’s deputies.

The death of 39 year-old Marco Antonio Muñoz, had not been publicly disclosed by the DHS, and did not appear in any local news accounts. Muñoz was found on the floor of his cell May 13 in a pool of blood with an item of clothing twisted around his neck:

According to Border Patrol agents…Muñoz crossed the Rio Grande with his wife and three-year-old son on May 12 near the tiny town of Granjeno, Texas. The area is a popular crossing point for Central American families and teenagers who turn themselves in to apply for asylum in the United States.

Soon after Muñoz and his family were taken into custody, they arrived at a processing station in nearby McAllen and said they wanted to apply for asylum. Border Patrol agents told the family they would be separated. That’s when Muñoz “lost it,” according to one agent…

Unruly detainees are taken to local jails where they can be placed in more secure settings or isolation cells. Border Patrol agents found a vacant cell for Muñoz 40 miles away at the Starr County Jail in Rio Grande City. Muñoz was booked into the jail at 9:40 pm. He remained combative, and was placed in a padded isolation cell. Guards said they checked on Muñoz every 30 minutes, and observed him praying in a corner of his cell the following morning.

A guard who walked by the cell at 9:50 am said he noticed Muñoz laying in the center of the floor, unresponsive and without a pulse. Local sheriff’s deputies recorded the incident as a “suicide in custody.” But the capper is this remark by an ICE agent: (emphasis by Wrongo)

Another agent familiar with what happened said he couldn’t understand why Muñoz “would choose to separate himself from his family forever” by taking his own life.

This asshole’s salary is paid by you and me! It’s time we see these agents for who they really are.

Second, last week the DOJ filed a brief urging a Texas court to invalidate the Affordable Care Act’s crucial insurance reforms, including the prohibition on refusing to cover people with preexisting conditions. In their complaint, states (including Texas and other red states) point out that since Congress has repealed the penalty for going without insurance, the freestanding requirement to get insurance, which is still on the books, is therefore unconstitutional. And because it’s unconstitutional, the courts must invalidate the entire ACA. From the Incidental Economist:

There’s a strong argument to be made in the ACA’s defense. And the Justice Department has had a durable, longstanding, bipartisan commitment to defending the law when non-frivolous arguments can be made in its defense.

If the Justice Department can just throw in the towel whenever a law is challenged in court, it can effectively pick and choose which laws should remain on the books. That’s a flagrant violation of the President’s constitutional duty to take care that the laws are faithfully executed. More:

The President has a duty to take care that all the laws are executed, not just the ones he likes. And while there are cases in which the Justice Department has deviated from that principle, they are extremely rare.

The Trump administration has just announced that it doesn’t care that a law was passed by Congress and signed into law by the President. All that matters is that it hates the law and has a (weak) argument for casting it aside.

Time to wake up America! There is a revolution underway, and we’re being fed the elephant of authoritarianism one little slice at a time. This time, the revolution is televised every day, but we’re not connecting the dots quickly enough.

To help America wake up, here is Iris DeMent with “Living in the Wasteland of the Free”, from her 1996 album, “The Way I Should”:

This song is 22 years old, but still rings true. Iris says: “The poor have now become the enemy” and “Let’s blame our troubles on the weak ones“.

Today, both are true, and are simply sickening.

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

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Sunday Cartoon Blogging – June 10, 2018

Trump says Russia should return to the G-7, making it the G-8 the way it was before Crimea. He says that Obama let Crimea get taken by Russia instead of blaming Putin for invading, and it isn’t his problem. OTOH, the G-7 seem like it would prefer to be the G-6.

But we start this week with RFK:

Fifty years ago, RFK was buried at Arlington National Cemetery, his coffin carried by his sons and only surviving brother. He was a man of promise, of purpose. Someone who could have made a huge difference, but it was not to be. This puts Wrongo in mind of the last line of “The Great Gatsby” by F. Scott Fitzgerald:

And so we beat on, boats against the current, borne back ceaselessly into the past.

Wrongo didn’t know what Fitzgerald meant when he first read this line in high school, more than 50 years ago. Now, he realizes that as we age, there is more of the past. It is a beacon, a lighthouse, both a warning and a welcome.

We can’t know what RFK’s future would have been, or how it would have shaped the future of America. We can be fairly sure he would have beaten Richard Nixon in 1968, but even that isn’t a certainty.

California’s blue wave may not hit the beach:

Trump shows the G-7 he really does love Russia:

Some cakes in Colorado really do have two guys holding hands:

We are the only country with an uneducated person as the Education Czarina:

GOP proves once again that it has no moral core:

Trump’s new pardon box:

 

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Saturday Soother – June 9, 2018

The Daily Escape:

Rakotz Bridge, Kromlauer Park, Germany via @archpics

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Only pushback from freedom loving citizens will prevent it.

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

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

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

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Sunday Cartoon Blogging – June 3, 2018

Roseanne, Starbucks, Singapore, Trade War. We had a rockin’ good time last week. Let’s start by acknowledging that June 2nd was National Gun Violence Awareness day. These days, active shooter drill has a new meaning:

You may have missed that the White House made a coin for the Singapore Summit. Why?

Trump’s pardoning this week didn’t include those who could really use it:

Sessions tries to count all the captured kids:

Roseanne was invited to the Starbucks training:

Trump rushes into trade war without a strategy:

Trump didn’t get the numbers right in Puerto Rico either:

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Saturday Soother – June 2, 2018

The Daily Escape:

Claude Monet’s home, Giverny, France via @archpics

So much to think about as the week ends: It is one year since Trump pulled the US out of the Paris Climate Accord. The nuclear summit with North Korea is back on. Trump now has a trade war going on against Europe, China, Canada and Mexico.

It is difficult to see how the US emerges as a winner in any, or in all of these, when the other side always has the option to say “no”. But this weekend, let’s ignore Roseanne Barr’s tweet about Valerie Jarrett, and talk about Trump pardoning the racist conspiracy theorist Dinesh D’Souza.

On May 19, 2014, D’Souza plead guilty to making illegal campaign contributions to a Republican senatorial candidate. He confessed and admitted his guilt. D’Souza admitted that he violated federal campaign financing laws, and by pleading, he became a convicted felon.

As an admitted criminal he need to pay his debt to society for his transgressions. But D’Souza is a member in good standing of the Party of Personal Responsibility, so he was pardoned by Donald Trump. After all, the rule of law is based on the assumption that Republicans are patriots and Progressives are America-hating zealots. And, D’Souza had surely paid a price for his patriotism … or something. Let’s review what D’Souza said in court:

I knew that causing a campaign contribution to be made in the name of another was wrong and something the law forbids…I deeply regret my conduct.

This is the person Trump claims “was treated very unfairly by our government!” It is possible to claim that D’Souza was persecuted because of his politics, but there’s absolutely no proof that was the case. D’Souza pled guilty in order to receive the lightest possible sentence for the federal crime he admitted to.

The pardon serves Trump’s purposes in one important way: It sends a signal to members of the Trump followers who are under investigation by Robert Muller that they will not be held accountable by the federal government for crimes committed on Trump’s behalf while he holds office.

The true problem was captured in a tweet by David Frum about the D’Souza pardon:

And this is exactly why Trump’s contempt for democratic norms and values really matters.

But, enough of politics! It is time to take a few moments to untether from the internet, and get soothed by contemplating the natural world. So, turn off your phone (unless you are reading this on your mobile). Brew up a vente cup of Finca La Maria Geisha Natural from San Diego’s Birdrock Coffee ($51.00/8oz). Taste its bright notes of stone fruit and honeysuckle, its plump mouthfeel and flavor-saturated finish.

Now, sit in front of a large window, and listen to Beethoven’s String Quartet No. 9 in C major, Op. 59,  No. 3, published in 1808. Here it is performed live by the Jasper String Quartet at the Jerome L. Greene Performance Space in New York for WQXR’s Beethoven String Quartet Marathon on November 18, 2012:

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

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Monday Wake Up Call – Memorial Day, 2018

(Today, Wrongo repeats 2017’s Memorial Day column. It still seems all too appropriate for America)

The Daily Escape:

NYC’s Grand Central Station – 1943

“On Memorial Day we commemorate those who died in the military service of our country. In 1974, a sci-fi novel called “The Forever War” was released. It is military science fiction, telling the story of soldiers fighting an interstellar war. The protagonist, named Mandella, is sent across the galaxy to fight a poorly understood, apparently undefeatable foe.

Sound familiar? Today the forever war is not simply fiction. Our all-volunteer military has been fighting in the Middle East for the past 16 years in the longest war in American history. And there is little reason to hope that we will not be fighting there 16 years from now. Brian Castner, a former explosive ordnance disposal officer who served three tours in Iraq, observes:

Our country has created a self-selected and battle-hardened cohort of frequent fliers, one that is almost entirely separate from mainstream civilian culture, because service in the Forever War, as many of us call it, isn’t so much about going as returning. According to data provided by the Center for a New American Security, of the 2.7 million veterans of Iraq and Afghanistan, half have done multiple tours. More telling, 223,000 have gone at least four times, and 51,000 have done six or more deployments.

We can’t get our fill of war. In fact, since 1943, the year the picture above was taken in New York City, the US has been at peace for just five years: 1976, 1977, 1978, 1997 and 2000 were the only years with no major war.

So today, we gather to celebrate those who have died in service of our global ambitions. We watch a parade, we shop at the mall, and we attend a cookout. Perhaps we should be required to spend more time thinking about how America can increase the number of years when we are not at war.

Wrongo can’t escape the idea that if we re-instituted a military draft, and required military service of all young Americans, it would soon become impossible for the politicians and generals to justify the forever war.

So, wake up America! Instead of observing Memorial Day with another burger, get involved in a plan to re-institute the draft. It won’t stop our involvement in war, but it will unite American mothers and fathers to bring about the end of this forever war, and any future ‘forever war’”.

To help you wake up, listen to Curtis Mayfield doing his tune “We Got To Have Peace”, live on the Old Grey Whistle Test, a BBC2 TV show that was aired from 1971 to 1988. In 1965, Mayfield wrote “People Get Ready” for the Impressions, another of his politically charged songs. Here is “Got To Have Peace”:

Gotta have peace.

Sample Lyrics:

And the people in our neighborhood
They would if they only could
Meet and shake the other’s hand
Work together for the good of the land

Give us all an equal chance
It could be such a sweet romance
And the soldiers who are dead and gone
If only we could bring back one

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

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North Korea May Not Negotiate With Trump

The Daily Escape:

Waimea Canyon, Kauai, Hawaii – 2018 photo by Chaebi

North Korea made big news on Wednesday. From the WaPo:

North Korea is rapidly moving the goal posts for next month’s summit between leader Kim Jong Un and President Trump, saying the United States must stop insisting it “unilaterally” abandon its nuclear program and stop talking about a Libya-style solution to the standoff.

The latest warning, delivered by former North Korean nuclear negotiator Kim Gye Gwan on Wednesday, fits Pyongyang’s well-established pattern of raising the stakes in negotiations by threatening to walk out if it doesn’t get its way.

North Korea (NK) has been a challenge for several presidents, and Donald Trump will be no exception.

NK has nukes, and possibly, the means to deliver them as far as the east coast of the US. South Korea is armed, and our military backs them up. Neither side has a true advantage militarily. Whichever leader best uses diplomacy in the face of a military stalemate will win.

But that leader might not be Donald Trump. Kevin Drum notes this:

The upcoming summit meeting with North Korea has been orchestrated entirely by Kim Jong-un. It started with his outreach at the Olympics. Then he proposed the meeting with Trump. He halted missile testing. He met with South Korea and it was all smiles. He’s implied that he’s in favor of complete denuclearization. He released three American hostages. And he’s now planning a public spectacle of destroying North Korea’s nuclear testing site.

And what did Kim get in return? He got this from John Bolton on Fox last Sunday: (emphasis by Wrongo)

WALLACE: Now, the joint statement from the two Koreas on Friday called for…a nuclear-free Korean peninsula and some people have suggested the North Koreans will give up everything they’ve got. But in return, the U.S. would agree that we are not going to allow any nuclear-armed airplanes or nuclear-armed ships on the Korean peninsula.

Is that acceptable?

BOLTON: Well, we certainly haven’t made that commitment. And again, I’m looking at the Panmunjom declaration as they call it in the context of a series of earlier North-South Korean agreements. And again, looking at the 1992 joint declaration, when they said nuclear-free, they meant with respect to the two Koreas.

WALLACE: So, you don’t view this as involving any kind of commitment from the U.S.?

BOLTON: I don’t think it binds the United States, no.

Personnel is policy, and Trump’s recent personnel moves brought in new wacko hardliners in key positions. Trump seems to be under the impression that the Singapore meet-up is a surrender ceremony, while the NK’s see it as two nuclear equals attempting to negotiate a final peace deal.

And Bolton is playing his usual games. It’s been true since the 1990’s that Republicans have a reflexive need to press for whatever seems more “hawkish” than whatever the Democrats had tried when they were in control.

That includes Republicans saying that “regime change” is the only realistic option when states object to the US, or its objectives in their region. The GOP is always outraged that the feckless, effeminate Democrats haven’t backed regime change since Vietnam. Iran is the GOP’s latest experiment, where throwing away the JCPOA was their goal, and Trump delivered it.

Of course, all foreign policy troubles would be solved if only our Adversaries and Enemies were magically replaced by Friends and Fans, but for some reason, that never happens.

The NK’s are doing what they have always done whenever negotiations get to this point. What Kim is doing is so blindingly obvious and predictable that only pundits and politicians could be surprised by it.

Trump says his strength is that he is unpredictable. But, in the case of NK, he put all his cards on the table, assuming that his strongman tactics would lead to peace and a legacy. Instead, it looks like Kim simply upped the ante on being unpredictable. Kim may think Trump wants the deal more than NK.

Seventeen years ago, Clinton made a deal to give NK aid and trade in return for halting nuclear weapons development, backed by inspections and monitoring. It wasn’t a perfect deal, and NK broke it, at least in spirit. The US decided to break the deal explicitly because the incoming George W Bush administration wanted regime change. The Bushies blamed NK’s breaking the deal in spirit, and wouldn’t give NK the promised aid.

Remember when Trump flattered Kim, calling him “very honorable”? What’s a guy gotta do to unify a peninsula around here?

And Trump was THIS CLOSE to becoming president for a second term based on a foreign policy triumph and a Nobel, too. Such a shame. Well, there’s always Syria.

Or, Israel. Or, Iran. Or, Afghanistan.

So many deals to try, and so few skills.

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Sunday Cartoon Blogging – May 13, 2018

We just finished a week in which the Iran Deal died, Michael Cohen proved he was capable of fleecing major corporations, and Gina Haspel showed that she left her moral compass in a drawer at home. Here are a few cartoons to help you laugh off these events.

What are the unintended consequences from killing the deal?

Donnie and Bibi gave a party. Attendance was sparse:

Michael Cohen isn’t the prescription for fixing anything:

Reviews are in on Cohen’s fixing skills:

Gina Haspel has more to answer for:

Midterms messaging by both parties is converging:

The political convergence is eerie:

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Saturday Soother – May 12, 2018

The Daily Escape:

Cherry blossoms at Hirosaki Castle, Aomori Prefecture Japan. It was built in 1611. Photo by Huffington Post

Spring is in full flower on the fields of Wrong. Our pear, plum, cherry, quince and crab apple trees all bloomed on Monday. By Friday, most began shedding their flowers. While they were in full bloom, honey and bumble bees swarmed the flowers, making each tree sound as if tiny motors were running on every branch. We also had both Baltimore and Orchard Orioles working hard to strip the crab apple trees of their setting fruit. It was a delight to watch and listen while standing under the trees.

But now, the birds and the bees are moving on to more promising targets, just like Trump is doing with his foreign policy. He’s leaving behind the so-called “bad deal” in Iran, for what will almost certainly turn out to be a similar deal with North Korea. Some have started a victory lap on North Korea, saying that only Trump could have brought Kim Jong-Un to the table. Maybe, but declarations of victory are certainly premature. We have been at least this far with North Korea before.

Wrongo doesn’t buy the outrage in Washington about CIA Director-designate Gina Haspel. Few of us who work inside large organizations have the strength to stand up and refuse to take an action simply because it offends our moral sensibility. We balance the thought that it could cost our job, or our next promotion. And besides, the boss is telling me it’s OK to do it.

Wrongo despises the idea of torture, and believes that America must provide the world with leadership that, by our example, shows that torture is wrong. OTOH, at the time, Haspel was part of a large system that said torture was legal. She was faced with a dilemma: to choose between what she was ordered to do, and what she now says she wouldn’t do again. And don’t trot out that “only following orders” is no defense. Often, in a large system, not following orders leads automatically to dismissal.

Try not to have knee-jerk outrage for someone who, like you, hasn’t always been in a position with sufficient power to use their sense of morality as their guide to all actions.

And we can’t let the week end without a comment on Trump’s lawyer, Michael Cohen. The WaPo has internal company records that show Cohen’s $600,000 deal with AT&T: (emphasis by Wrongo)

Three days after President Trump was sworn into office, the telecom giant AT&T turned to his personal attorney Michael Cohen for help on a wide portfolio of issues pending before the federal government — including the company’s proposed merger with Time Warner, according to documents obtained by The Washington Post.

The internal documents reveal for the first time that Cohen’s $600,000 deal with AT&T specified that he would provide advice on the $85 billion merger, which required the approval of federal antitrust regulators.

You may remember that Trump said he opposed the ATT/Time Warner merger, so who better to retain than his personal lawyer?

You might ask, what insight Cohen, a real estate attorney and taxi cab owner could provide AT&T on complex telecom matters? And AT&T has now admitted they messed up by trying to use Cohen as a way to reach Trump.

Trump hasn’t drained the swamp, he’s simply released his own critters into it.

So on this Saturday, relax and see if you can get soothed before starting your yard work, or whatever other spring project awaits. Begin with a strong cup of “Thanks Mom” coffee ($20/12oz) for Mother’s Day from Bird Rock Coffee Roasters in La Jolla, CA. They say its decadent flavors of caramel, red cherry and apple blossom will surely create a Mother’s Day to remember.

Your mom’s mileage may vary. She may prefer dinner at a fancy restaurant.

Now, put on your Bluetooth headphones, sit in the sun and listen to “Moorland Elegies: No. 1. Come, Walk With Me” by Estonian composer, Tõnu Kõrvits. The Moorland Elegies is a nine-part cycle for mixed choir and string orchestra. The texts are poems by Emily Bronte. It is a sonic tone painting.

It is performed here by the Estonian Philharmonic Chamber Choir and the Tallinn Chamber Orchestra, conducted by Risto Joost in Tallinn’s St. John’s Church in October, 2015:

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

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