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The Wrongologist

Geopolitics, Power and Political Economy

Sunday Cartoon Blogging – February 16, 2020

It is clear that Trump, aided by attorney general Barr, is using the power of the Justice Department to investigate and persecute his enemies, and intervene in the judicial process to help his friends.

This isn’t acceptable. It’s out of bounds. It’s unethical and it’s un-American. This is what autocrats do.

Trump didn’t like the jury decision that convicted his buddy Roger Stone, so he’s attacking the jury foreman on Twitter. This woman now has the president of the US gunning for her.

This has never happened before. We live in a country that is supposed to protect our rights. That doesn’t just happen. It requires all of us to demand that our institutions do not abuse their power.

Some of you would love to check out mentally, and let Trump and Barr slide. But our privileges come with responsibilities. Are we willing to stand up for the Constitution? Are we willing to stand up for America? On to cartoons.

America knows the truth about Trump and Barr:

Barr’s investigations could become a moving target:

Our future:

Dems are in training for November:

Biden looks for answers:

And he gives Dems a heads up:

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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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Monday Cartoon Blogging – Iowa Caucuses Edition, February 2, 2020

We had a very consequential week, followed by a consequential weekend. Sunday was both the Super Bowl and Groundhog Day. It was also a very rare eight-digit palindrome when written as 02/02/2020, the first since 11/11/1111.

We had the “deal of the century” that isn’t, and the Chiefs won the Super Bowl. But the Constitution died.

And so did Kobe Bryant and his daughter, along with seven others. It doesn’t take a basketball fan to feel shocked and saddened when a Dad and his 13-year old daughter are suddenly killed. Of course we know about Kobe Bryant, a basketball genius who, in his retirement, helped young people and championed women’s basketball. His life story was complicated, but if you think that people can work hard and redeem themselves, Kobe Bryant is your prime example:

The movie that’s always on repeat:

Peace? Or pieces?

Brexit happened, the UK is now going it alone:

Failing to call witnesses shows that the GOP’s loyalties have shifted:

Beauty is in the eye of the beholder:

Brown paper bags have replaced the MAGA hats for GOP Senators:

With Iowa voting tomorrow, it’s important to know your enemies:

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Hot Takes on the Democrats’ Debate

The Daily Escape:

Autumn, Zion NP, Utah – November 2019 photo by robvisserphotography

Wednesday’s two hour debate hosted by MSNBC and the WaPo gave 10 Democratic presidential candidates yet another chance to introduce themselves at a point when there is less than three months before the first votes in Iowa and New Hampshire.

But, while Wrongo likes them all in the abstract, none of them is world-class. They each have strengths, and while it is still early, and most still have time to grow into the role of top-tier presidential nominee, none is there yet.

A note about the Ukraine impeachment hearings: Shouldn’t the other candidates be willing to defend Biden against the attacks by House Republicans and the administration? Shouldn’t they spend some time attacking the Republican Party as a corrupt entity that must loose power?

Or, are they worried that the Bidens actually may be a little dirty?

The candidates seem to be relying on a calculation that detailed policies are the right way for their campaigns to win the nomination and ultimately, the election. For Wrongo’s money, the candidates should be attacking Trump, the undemocratic Senate, and Supreme Court. Warren gets closest, with her stressing corruption in the corporate and political domains. But most Democratic primary voters aren’t into the wonky details of “my plan vs. her plan”.

Here’s Wrongo’s take on how they did.

  • Warren, Buttigieg and Sanders finished in the top tier. Sanders in particular seems to be a better candidate since his heart attack, while Mayor Pete barely squeaks into this group. Warren led the field in talk time with 13.4 minutes to Mayor Pete’s 12.8. Sanders was in fourth place, with 11.8 minutes.
  • Harris, Booker and Yang are in the second tier. All had strong performances, but Harris in particular seemed to return to the form she showed in the first debate. It’s interesting, but it may not be enough, particularly since she isn’t currently top-three in her home state of California. Yang and Booker made the most of their limited talk time. Yang got 6.9 minutes, vs. 11.5 for Booker and Harris.
  • Biden, Klobachar and Steyer finished in the third tier. Biden talked for 12.6 minutes, and had good moments, but the gaffes remain. Steyer did well, but should drop out, as should Klobachar.
  • Gabbard trailed the field.

A few words about trying for consensus with Republicans. When candidates like Biden, Mayor Pete, Booker and Klobachar talk about unity and consensus, Wrongo hears them saying they will not fight for real change to our corrupt system.

Regarding Biden: He’s from an era where the Parties weren’t as ideologically coherent and polarized as today. There were both conservative Democrats and liberal Republicans, so a liberal Democrat could find common cause with liberal Republicans on certain issues or, with conservative Democrats on other issues on the basis of partisan allegiance.

That doesn’t exist anymore because those guys are gone. Policy success on an issue now depends largely on partisan and ideological alignment.  So, all that “working with the other side” means in practical terms, is an expectation of failure.

For Biden, the question should be: “Why aren’t those Republicans who are willing to work with you not defending you now, when you’re at the center of a fabricated scandal?” The basic premise of his candidacy is that his personal connections with Republicans will overcome their ideological or partisan viewpoints, so he’s operating under a delusion.

In sum, the Democrats running for the presidential nomination are beginning to look like Richard Russ’s novel “Empire Falls: The leading Dems are The Old Crank at the End of The Bar, the Slightly Senile and Slightly Pervy Retired Priest, the Woman Schoolteacher Who Knows Everything and the Cub Scout Going for His Presidency Badge. It’s somehow not that lovable here in reality.

A final word about the impact of the impeachment hearings, and how they overlap with the debates. The initial debate question was about the Ukraine scandal and impeachment. From Charlie Pierce: (emphasis by Wrongo)

“This is an unprecedented moment. A sitting president is under an impeachment inquiry, and likely will undergo a trial in the Senate, while also running for re-election….sooner or later, the issue of whether or not this president should be removed before the voters pass judgment on him is going to come to a very sharp point….”

These aren’t simple calculations. So far, there isn’t sufficient evidence to get 20 Senate Republicans to vote to convict the President on impeachment articles.

And the Mueller report didn’t grab the American public, so it will be ignored by Republicans.

The questions are:

  • Whether what we’ve heard will change the minds of enough Independents and a few Republicans?
  • And/or, will it fire up enough Democrats so that they turnout and overcome Republican efforts at voter suppression next November?
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Saturday Soother – November 16, 2019

The Daily Escape:

Nevada falls above and to the right of Half Dome, and Vernal falls just below it. Yosemite NP – August 2019 photo by crosbic23

(Wrongo and Ms. Right are heading out for a family weekend, so Sunday cartoons will appear on Monday)

Wrongo is ambivalent about the impeachment play by Democrats. It could result in nothing, and if it does, that could hurt either the Democrats or, the Republicans.

Anyone who thinks that they know how this will end, really isn’t telling the truth. We’ve had two days of testimony, and while there are thousands of pundits willing to tell you what it all means, and whether it will make any difference, Wrongo assures you that it’s far too early to know.

The Democrats’ case is a slow build, meaning that its impact won’t be felt after a day or two of testimony. It’s more of a long march, maybe like MLK Jr’s march to Birmingham. It’s intended to make the majority of Americans aware of the wrongdoing, and then get them to join in a march to the doors of the Senate, where they will insist on a guilty verdict.

Or, it may not happen that way.

Next week, the Intelligence Committee will hear again from EU Ambassador Sondland. He might admit that yes, there was another phone call in which Trump pressed him to get “the deliverables” in exchange for the military aid. That would be a John Dean moment.

It would destroy Trump’s defenses, along with those of Republicans Rep. Nunes and Rep. Jordan. It would leave them saying only: “that’s very bad, but not impeachable”. Many Republicans are saying that already.

The question is whether the ambassador is a truthful person. We should expect that he will try to say that he “misunderstood” Trump’s “perfect” instructions, and that Trump himself NEVER linked the aid to the deliverables. He might say that he, Sondland, was guilty of erroneously conditioning the aid.

It will then be up to the Democrats’ staff attorneys to demonstrate that this is completely implausible, particularly given the deposition by David Holmes, a junior staffer who listened to Sondland’s unsecure cell phone call to Trump from a restaurant in Kyiv.

Let’s hope the Dem’s lawyers are prepared, because Sondland needs to offer some bogus explanation, or Trump will be in the first real trouble of his Mueller/Ukraine year of living dangerously.

It’s not hard to know who to root for here, but the outcome is far from certain.

That’s plenty to think about over the weekend, so it’s time for a Saturday Soother, a short break from the news overload that hit everyone’s inbox this week. Let’s start by brewing up a vente cup of Guatemala Finca Columbian coffee ($20/340 grams) that comes from Santa Barbara’s Handlebar Coffee roasters. They are owned by a couple who are former professional cyclists, and who discovered Santa Barbara while riding in the California Amgen Tour. They moved there in 2008.

The musical selection today may not be to everyone’s taste. Here is “Life During Wartime” by the Talking Heads, recorded live in 1983:

Wrongo presents it because it captures the moment we’re in with these lyrics:

This ain’t no party, this ain’t no disco, this ain’t no foolin’ around”

No time for dancing, or lovey dovey,

I ain’t got time for that now…

This is America in the year of impeachment, just before the year of elections.

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

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Saturday Soother – October 12, 2019

The Daily Escape:

Crawford Notch, White Mountains NP, NH – October 2019 photo by mattmacphersonphoto

Wrongo wants to get away from US politics. Lately, it’s nearly impossible to judge what is real, and what’s not. A few things to consider:

First, regarding Turkey’s move into Syria: At the UN on Thursday, a resolution was offered in the Security Council condemning Turkey’s invasion of northern Syria. The resolution’s principal sponsor was the EU. But, the resolution was blocked by the US and Russia. Think about it: America just joined with Russia to veto a UN resolution that would have condemned the slaughter of the Kurds who helped the West defeat ISIS in Syria.

How often do you think that the US and Russia have been on the same side in UN vetoes?

Second, on Friday night, Trump went to Minneapolis to another of his campaign rallies. He spoke for 102 minutes. Among other things, he repeated a debunked right–wing blogger’s claim that Rep. Ilhan Omar married her brother to enter the US. Trump then widened his attack to target Somali refugees in Minnesota:

“As you know, for many years, leaders in Washington brought large numbers of refugees to your state from Somalia without considering the impact on schools and communities and taxpayers….You should be able to decide what is best for your own cities and for your own neighborhoods, and that’s what you have the right to do right now, and believe me, no other president would be doing that.”

In September, the Trump administration issued an executive order giving state and local governments more freedom to reject refugees.

Trump removed any doubt, that this is going to be the worst, most racist presidential campaign we’ve ever seen. Is America ready for this?

Trump went on to say that Joe Biden only got to be vice president because he knew how to “kiss Barack Obama’s ass.” Don’t you wonder if Mike Pence feels the heat from Biden? This causes Wrongo to ask the question: “What’s the difference between an ass-kisser and a brown noser?”

Answer: “Depth perception”.

Third, the Ukraine story has many more levels than we have imagined. We learned on Wednesday that two of Rudy Giuliani’s “associates” were arrested for funneling foreign money to Republican politicians. It seems that both had also been helping Giuliani investigate Joe Biden. Despite the Trump administration’s contention that the two “associates”had nothing to do with the White House, the WaPo reported: (brackets by Wrongo)

“John Dowd, a lawyer for [both men and former Trump lawyer] told Congress in a statement earlier this week that they had been assisting Giuliani in his work on behalf of the president. The two also claimed in interviews and social media posts to have attended an eight-person session with Trump in Washington in May 2018 to discuss the upcoming midterm elections.”

According to the indictment, they funneled money from an unnamed Russian businessman to various US political candidates.

Is everything we are hearing about Ukraine connected? Giuliani’s fingers seem to be all over the US/Ukraine relationship. Think Paul Manafort. We know that Rudy Giuliani was consulting with Manafort as he pursued his schemes. And Manafort’s lawyer Kevin Downing, who was coordinating with Rudy, represented the two “associates” in their court appearance yesterday.

It’s beginning to look like we’re headed for a Constitutional crisis.

Anyway, it’s the weekend, and we’ve got to rest and recuperate so that we can face whatever Trump has in store for us next week. It’s time for a Saturday Soother.

Let’s start by brewing up a mug of Sumatra single source coffee ($9.99/12 oz.) from Topsham, Maine’s coffee roaster Wicked Joe. The roaster says its full bodied and earthy, with notes of dense chocolate and spices.

Now, settle into a comfy chair and listen to “A Small Measure Of Peace” from the soundtrack from the 2003 film, The Last Samurai, composed by Hans Zimmer:

The film closes with: “As for the American Captain, no one knows what became of him. Some say that he died of his wounds. Others that he returned to his own country. But I like to think he may have at last found some small measure of peace, that we all seek, and few of us ever find… “

A small measure of peace is Wrongo’s wish for all of us.

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

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Barr May Never Face the House Judiciary Committee

The Daily Escape:

Sunset at Malin Head, Donegal, Ireland – 2019 photo by jip

(There will not be a Saturday or Sunday column this weekend, or next. Wrongo and Ms. Right are traveling to two different states, attending the college graduations of grandchildren Elise and Conor.)

After the contentious Senate Judiciary Committee hearing on Tuesday, AG Bill Barr has canceled his scheduled appearance before the House Judiciary Committee. There is plenty of speculation about what happens next.

House Judiciary Chairman Jerry Nadler (D-NY) had previously said that he would subpoena Barr if he refused to testify. If Barr ignores the subpoena, as the Trump administration has done regarding document production, Democrats on the committee have indicated that they will move to hold the AG in contempt of Congress. From the LA Times:

“A contempt finding is how Congress may respond when someone refuses to testify or provide information as part of a House or Senate investigation. The Supreme Court has repeatedly upheld that Congress has a right to compel people to comply with its oversight efforts.”

In the past, just the threat of being held in contempt (not to mention Congress’ power over funding the government) was usually enough to convince an administration to comply with a request, or at least negotiate a compromise.

No longer. The Trump administration has no intention of complying with subpoenas from Democrats.

If Barr was held in contempt of Congress, what happens next? Congress has a few options. The most common is that it can send a criminal contempt referral to a US attorney. If prosecuted and convicted, the punishment is up to a $10,000 fine and a year in jail.

The last administration official to be held in contempt of Congress was Anne Gorsuch, Neil Gorsuch’s mother, who was head of the EPA in the 1980s. The House issued a subpoena, Ms. Gorsuch said “no thanks”. Congress referred it to the DOJ for enforcement, and the US Attorney refused to carry it out.

So the finding of regular contempt is enforced by the DOJ, and the DOJ has the discretion to not prosecute the finding.

If they fail to do it, the House would fall back on their inherent contempt power. Yes, there is such a thing. The long dormant inherent contempt power permits Congress to rely on its own constitutional authority to detain and imprison someone who is held in contempt until the individual complies with congressional demands.

Problem is, the inherent contempt power hasn’t been used since 1935. The inherent contempt power is not specified in a statute or constitutional provision, but has been deemed implicit in the Constitution’s grant to Congress of all legislative powers.

The Sergeant At Arms is Congress’s proper arresting authority, however, there is no jail in the Capitol. There are holding cells at the Capitol Police Dept., but they are not appropriate for a long term detention. And even if the Sergeant At Arms did arrest Barr, it is likely that he would quickly be released.

Here’s what we’ve learned this week: Congressional enforcement of a subpoena has no teeth if it is used against a member of the Trump Administration. So, there will never be a consequence for Barr, or any other member of the Trump administration disobeying a subpoena.

Democrats need to think very clearly about their messaging in the face of their anger at William Barr. Saying that “Trump is terrible and we are powerless” is not a winning message.

Saying “vote for us and we’ll fix this when we win in 2020” is better, but doesn’t sound like a great message either.

The Mueller Investigation game has already been won by Republicans. Democrats can try to test the system. If it works, we still have a country.

But, if they try, and it doesn’t work, we’re back to saying: “Trump is terrible and we are powerless”.

Things are moving a lot faster than most Democrats realize. It isn’t clear that traditional politics (compromise, etc.) will survive. And it’s even less clear what is going to replace it.

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Will The GOP Ever Disavow Trump?

The Daily Escape:

Grand Prismatic Spring, Yellowstone NP – 2018 photo by dontyakno

Wrongo hasn’t written much about the Trump/Russia investigation. Most of those pieces have shown skepticism about Russian interference in our election process. There is, however, clear evidence that the Trump campaign reached out to the Russians more than 100 times. While that’s unusual, it isn’t on its face, criminal, although the Trump campaign failed to alert the FBI about those contacts.

There are investigations underway by Mueller, the Southern District of NY, and several House committees. Trump has castigated each, calling them a witch hunt and fake news. Nearly all Republicans have sided with him about these multiple investigations.

It isn’t unusual that the GOP is indifferent to the range of possible Trump wrongdoing. On Tuesday, the WaPo’s Greg Sargent helpfully cataloged the things that Republicans in Congress think should not be investigated about Trump by the Democrats in Congress:

  • Materials relating to any foreign government payments to Trump’s businesses, which might constitute violations of the Constitution’s emoluments clause.
  • Materials that might shed light on Trump’s negotiations about a real estate project in Moscow, which Trump concealed from the voters even after the GOP primaries were in progress. Michael Cohen is going to prison for lying to Congress about the deal.
  • Parenthetically, and not part of Greg Sergeant’s list, Marcy Wheeler thinks that the most important crime in the Trump era is a probable quid quo pro in which the Russians (and Trump) seemed willing to trade a new Moscow Trump Tower for sanctions relief should Trump win the presidency.
  • Materials that might show whether Trump’s lawyers had a hand in writing former Trump lawyer Michael Cohen’s testimony to Congress that falsified the timeline of those negotiations.
  • Materials that might illuminate/prove Trump’s suspected efforts to obstruct the FBI/Mueller investigation.
  • Materials that would shed more light on the criminal hush-money schemes that Cohen carried out, allegedly at Trump’s direction, and on Trump’s reimbursement of those payments. These most likely violate campaign finance laws.

Sargent’s list is based on the House Judiciary Committee document requests, so is limited to people who’ve already been asked for documents. But, it doesn’t capture many other items such as the role of Cambridge Analytica, or Paul Manafort’s sharing of presidential polling data with the Russians.

On Thursday, Axios tried to put the Trump investigations and the political scandals in perspective. Their view is that much of what we’ve seen over the past two years have few precedents in presidential history. They cite Watergate, Teapot Dome and the Clinton impeachment, all defining moments of presidential wrong doing.

But, they close by saying that Trump may survive all of it, and that Republican voters seem basically unmoved by the mounting evidence.

Why is it so difficult for people of both parties to coalesce around either his guilt, or innocence?  How is it that we just forget about the breathtaking corruption of Trump Cabinet Secretaries Scott Pruitt, or Ryan Zinke?

Many of the Federal judges on the Russian investigation who have ruled against Trump’s associates. The judges say the Trumpies were selling out the interests of the US. That has consequences for Americans, including the constituents of the Republican members of Congress who want us to stop investigating.

It’s depressingly clear that 2020 will be another close presidential election. The Republican Party is willing to condone bad behavior and criminality when the perpetrator is one of their own.

How can America rectify this problem? Even if a Democrat wins the presidency, it is unlikely the Dems will win a majority in the Senate. So, the GOP will again use the same obstructionist game plan we saw during the Obama administration.

NPR had a short piece, “Why Partisanship Changes How People React To Noncontroversial Statements”. It reported on a study where people were given anodyne statements like “I grew up knowing that the only way we can make change is if people work together”.

It turned out that most people agreed with the statement, until they are told that it was said by someone in the other political party. Then they disagreed. If people can only agree with a meaningless statement when they think it was said by their political party, what hope do we have to find agreement when the stakes are high, like in the Mueller investigation?

Given the Republicans’ disinterest for seeking the truth behind the Trump scandals, the outlook for our democracy is grim.

We need to be clear-eyed about how much work, and how long it will take, to right the ship.

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Cohen, Manafort and Facebook

The Daily Escape:

The Moses Bridge, Netherlands – photo via @archpics. The bridge, which crosses a moat, is made from waterproof wood.

We’re all busy trying to figure out what the twin “guilty” findings about Manafort and Cohen really mean, but Steve Breen nailed it:

Michael Cohen clearly put Trump in trouble by saying that Cohen had worked in coordination with Trump to silence the two women that Trump had affairs with, in order to influence the 2016 election.

Republicans say that finding two of Trump’s inner circle guilty has nothing to do with Russia, or with Trump, and Wrongo remains skeptical about what Mueller will actually prove.

OTOH, Cohen worked on a Trump Tower project that was supposed to be built in Moscow. He worked on that project during the 2016 presidential campaign. You may remember that in 2017, Trump said that no such relationship with Russia ever existed.

Manafort was convicted of tax evasion. The taxes Manafort didn’t pay were on income from Russian proxies, one of whom, the president, was running Ukraine for the Kremlin. Manafort’s conviction on bank fraud was related to bank loans he tried to get at least in part, to pay back $20 million he owed to a buddy of Vladimir Putin. His business also employed a Russian intelligence officer for years, and once Manafort was the Trump Campaign Manager, he offered that intelligence officer private briefings on the Trump campaign.

So, there are links to Russia for both men. But, the big ugly shoe to drop is whether Michael Cohen can corroborate what McClatchy journalists Peter Stone and Greg Gordon said a few months ago:

The Justice Department special counsel has evidence that Donald Trump’s personal lawyer and confidant, Michael Cohen, secretly made a late-summer trip to Prague during the 2016 presidential campaign…

No real proof has emerged that ties Cohen to a visit to Prague, or to meeting Russians. Cohen could tell Mueller whether the trip took place, and if Cohen strategized while there with Russians about the Kremlin’s playing a role in the US election.

Wrongo is again, skeptical. He doubts that the Trump organization would have Cohen undertake such a mission. But, if true, It would prove that the Trump campaign and the Kremlin worked together to help Trump win the White House.

Let’s turn briefly to a related idea: Facebook’s role as a platform for the spread of both disinformation, and as a rallying site for angry groups. In under the radar item at the NYT, a landmark study about violence against refugees in Germany shows that the most significant variable among towns with instances of violence was use of Facebook.

The work by Karsten Müller and Carlo Schwarz, researchers at the University of Warwick, shows:

Their reams of data converged on a breathtaking statistic: Wherever per-person Facebook use rose to one standard deviation above the national average, attacks on refugees increased by about 50 percent.

The researchers scrutinized every anti-refugee attack in Germany, 3,335 in all, over a two-year span. In each case, they analyzed the local community by all relevant variables. One thing stuck out. Towns where Facebook use was higher than average reliably experienced more attacks on refugees.

That held true in virtually any sort of community — big city or small town; affluent or struggling; liberal haven or far-right stronghold — suggesting that the link applies universally. From the NYT:

The uptick in violence did not correlate with general web use or other related factors; this was not about the internet as an open platform for mobilization or communication. It was particular to Facebook.

This has huge implications: Does social media scramble users’ perceptions of outsiders, of reality, even of right and wrong?

We all believe that Facebook has had an impact on amplifying division in our society. We all are dimly aware that Facebook uses algorithms to determine what appears in each user’s newsfeed. That algorithm’s mission is to present content that maximizes user engagement.

Posts that tap into primal emotions, like anger or fear, perform best, studies have found, and so proliferate. Wrongo said this a few days ago:

…fake news spread on social media has been proven to have a bigger impact, and to spread further and faster than real news.

There are two powerful forces within Facebook’s algorithms: A combination of fear of social change, and the “us-versus-them” rallying cries. Everybody knows that they are common on Facebook.

What should we as society, do about it?

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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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