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The Wrongologist

Geopolitics, Power and Political Economy

Sunday Cartoon Blogging – October 27, 2019

Wrongo and Ms. Right will be heading back to the US on Monday morning, so this is the last post from London. The news from America was both typical and troubling again this week. But let’s start with a UK-based cartoon from the Financial Times that drives home the point about how long it’s taking to negotiate a Brexit deal:

Meanwhile, back in the USA, the GOP Congress Critters who broke into the hearing were simply following orders:

What happens when you have the best lawyers:

New White House Ukraine strategy:

Let’s send healing thoughts to Jimmy Carter, who broke his pelvis this week:

Nice message from London:

October 2019 iPhone photo by Wrongo

It occurred to Wrongo that the diversity in England is due at least in part to being the headquarters of the British Empire, followed by being a part of the EU for what is now 47 years. With Brexit, those who voted “Leave” wish for a country that is less diverse.

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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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Sunday Cartoon Blogging – October 6, 2019

Regarding the omnipresent Trump/Biden news, virtually all Republicans are on the same page:

  • The Bidens are guilty of something
  • They should be investigated
  • Trump committed no crime
  • The Democrats are out to get Trump

The right has worked with Fox State News to neutralize facts, so every issue is up for grabs, even things you know is true. Global warming? It’s undecided. Biden’s activity with Ukraine? Every newspaper has debunked it. And it wasn’t just Obama and Biden who wanted that Ukraine prosecutor gone, all of the European leaders and the head of the IMF wanted him out too.

But for Republicans, those aren’t facts, because something must have been going on. Now, Biden’s let Trump and the GOP define him. They say he should be investigated, because he must have done something wrong, everyone says so.

You’ve got to fight to win the news cycle these days. We can’t remember what happened yesterday, let alone last month.

But, once again, it looks like the Dems plan to work very slowly, sacrificing the narrative. All they have to say is, “he did it”.

Will they again grab defeat from the jaws of victory? On to cartoons. Here’s the meme of the week:

Views differ on what the Ukraine thingy means:

GOP is strangely silent on Trump’s actions:

New movie hits theaters this weekend. Most would like to wipe this horror show from their minds:

It’s more likely that Trump would say: “It would be unfortunate if somehow, he got shot in the leg“:

 

Rudy plans a spirited defense of whatever this is:

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Is The Trump/Ukraine Story A Trap for Dems?

The Daily Escape:

Hopkinton NH — September 2019 photo by Karen Randall

Wrongo has been skeptical of the House Democrats’ ability to investigate an administration that has zero interest in playing by the old rules.

He was skeptical of the effort to make Russian interference in the 2016 elections a means of impeachment of Trump. He was skeptical of Robert Mueller as the potential savior of the Democratic Party in 2018.

Now, we’ve stepped back into the waters of impeachment because of the Ukraine president’s convo with Trump. Are Democrats once again placing false hope in impeachment? Trump is corrupt in a completely ham-fisted way that makes his efforts at self-dealing blatantly obvious. Here’s Trump, talking to the Ukraine’s president Zelensky:

“There’s a lot of talk about Biden’s son, that Biden stopped the prosecution and a lot of people want to find out about that so whatever you can do with the Attorney General would be great….Biden went around bragging that he stopped the prosecution so if you can look into it … It sounds horrible to me.”

That fired up Democrats, since it appears that Trump was trying to pressure Zelensky by withholding US military aid unless Zelensky agreed to investigate both Joe Biden and his son, Hunter.

Here’s Wrongo’s take. For the past few months, Americans were finally concentrating on subjects like healthcare and college debt forgiveness. These ideas were getting both air time and traction, via the debates. The battalion of Democratic candidates were telling us their positions on these ideas, and others, like a wealth tax.

But the Democrats have now introduced impeachment 2.0, focused on the Trump/Ukraine story. By doing that, they have also rehabilitated a debunked Biden/Ukraine story, something that has been high on the GOP’s radar for years.

What’s the Hunter Biden/Joe Biden/Ukraine story? It begins with the 2014 appointment of Hunter Biden to the board of Burisma Holdings, a small Ukrainian energy company. In late 2015, VP Joe Biden traveled to Ukraine, in part to send a message to the Ukrainian government that it needed to crack down on corruption.

That message was somewhat undermined by Hunter’s work with Burisma Holdings, and with its owner, Mykola Zlochevsky. Zlochevsky had been Ukraine’s ecology minister under former Ukrainian President Viktor Yanukovych.

Hunter had joined the board of Burisma the same month that Britain’s Serious Fraud Office, an independent government agency, was conducting a money-laundering investigation into Zlochevsky and Burisma. But the British investigation ended after Ukrainian prosecutors refused to cooperate. They wouldn’t turn over documents needed in the British investigation, and without that evidence, a British court ordered the assets unfrozen.

According to an Intercept piece on May 10th, Biden, during a visit to Kiev in late 2015, did threaten to withhold $1 billion in US loan guarantees unless the then- prosecutor was dismissed. But the Intercept argues that Biden did Ukraine a favor by hastening the prosecutor’s departure, because he had failed to properly investigate corrupt officials, including Zlochevsky.

By getting the prosecutor fired, Joe Biden made it more, rather than less likely, that Mykola Zlochevsky, the oligarch who Hunter worked for, would be subject to prosecution for corruption. Yet, it never happened.

There is no evidence that Joe Biden did anything to shield Hunter or Burisma Holdings from scrutiny, as claimed by Trump and Giuliani. But it is true that Hunter continued to work to repair Burisma’s reputation. That isn’t a praiseworthy activity for a presidential wanna-be’s son.

And Hunter’s no saint. In 2014, he was discharged from the Navy Reserve after testing positive for cocaine. Later, he was involved in a hedge fund with his uncle, James Biden, Joe Biden’s brother, that went belly up.

This story isn’t going to die. As long as the impeachment inquiry against Trump lasts, the Biden story will be linked to it for many Americans. Even if impeachment happens, the Republicans will use this against Joe Biden if he’s the nominee. Joe has said that he never discussed Hunter’s business interests in Ukraine with him, but maybe he should have.

A question that Democrats should be asking is whether this is the hill that they are prepared to die on: Is Trump’s Ukraine effort sufficient for an impeachment? Is it anything more than a “he said, she said” debate?

Are the Dems prepared for another investigative loss, much like in Russiagate and the Mueller Report?

Presidents know that they have few constraints on their activities. GW Bush (or perhaps Cheney) realized that, and went on to exploit presidential power in ways that radically changed America. And when the Dems came into power, Obama and Pelosi ruled out pursuing Bush and Cheney.

Trump is on a much more dangerous path than Bush and Cheney.

Would taking Trump down restore the balance of power in our politics?

Is that worth the downside risk to the Democrats?

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Saturday Soother – September 28, 2019

The Daily Escape:

Salt Marsh, East Galveston Bay, Texas – 2019 photo by patrickbyrd

We can’t let the week end without talking about the Trump/Ukraine phone calls. Wrongo’s hot take is that it seems that Trump may have stepped on a rake, and he’s hoping that the bruise on his face won’t leave a permanent mark.

It is also possible that instead, it’s the Democrats who found a new rake to step on. Democrats are lazy. They want Trump out of the White House, but they don’t want to do the hard work of beating him in 2020.

And just when it was clear that the Mueller investigation couldn’t deliver for them, we have the Ukraine “favor to ask” story to move the impeachment ball toward the goal. Is it possible that Trump has baited the Dems into this? He’s been amazingly forthcoming.

Despite all the smoke, the investigation must answer three questions:

  • Did the President do something that rises to the “high crimes and misdemeanors” standard?
  • Was there also a cover up?
  • Who managed the cover up?

It remains to be seen what the answers are. Let’s hope the truth comes out. That is extremely important, regardless of the final outcome for Trump, or the Democrats.

This week was also the 50th anniversary of the Beatles “Abbey Road”. Were you around to hear it in 1969? Wrongo sure was. He remembers hearing their “Meet The Beatles” in 1964. The debates about which is their best album endures, but Wrongo lists “Abbey Road” and “Rubber Soul” as his faves.

Opinions may differ, but “Rubber Soul” (1965), “Revolver” (1966), and “Sergeant Pepper” (1967) was one heck of a three-album streak. Later, like all streaks, the Beatles lost their mojo, and broke up in 1970.

To many, the Beatles albums are music for Boomers. And some think the generation got stuck there. They believe any music that played after they turned 30 isn’t worth listening to. This says a lot about them. Just look closely at our current politics and politicians if you require an example.

But it’s a combined problem: Around 1980, rock radio stations stopped playing new music and put Boomer classics into a heavy rotation. Even Springsteen didn’t get much airtime until “Born in the USA” in 1984. If you weren’t listening to alternative radio you thought that nothing had changed.

Truthfully, many in each generation appear to be convinced that the world’s best music was recorded sometime between their 13th and 25th birthdays. Most people kind of turn into their parents along the way, criticizing whatever flavor of new music comes along. Meanwhile, after watching PBS’s Ken Burns’ “Country Music”, Wrongo is more convinced than ever that American pop music is a mostly unbroken chain of evolving and branching genres.

Fall has begun in earnest on the fields of Wrong. Tomatoes are done, the only thing still growing in our little garden is parsley. Today, around 7:00 am, we had a large, healthy coyote trot through the back 40. We’ve been hearing them howling nearby at night for years, but see them infrequently.

Sadly, we have to start our fall cleanup in earnest this weekend. But before we do, it’s time to begin our Saturday soothing ritual. Start by going online and buying a few pounds of Panama Elida Estate Catuai Natural ASD coffee ($32/16 oz.) from Branford, CT’s own Willoughby’s Coffee & Tea. The roaster says it has flavors of guava, red grape, pineapple, lychee, mango, ripe berries and red wine.

Since there can be no way to stop thinking about what’s going on in DC this weekend, let’s gear up for it by listening to something that isn’t on your Spotify or Pandora play lists, or on any of the middle-of-the-road stations you listen to, its Gary Clark Jr.’s song “This Land”.

From the LA Times:

“Protest and social justice haven’t previously been the central focus of Clark’s songs, with a few notable exceptions on his first two studio releases for Warner Records. He’s been celebrated mainly as a next-generation master of molten blues guitar and a new hope for old ways in the digital era, but his latest album, “This Land,” begins with a title song of genuine anger and deep, raging funk.”

The song is about being angrily profiled in his own home in rural California by a white neighbor, in front of his son and daughter. The neighbor asked Clark to take him to meet the real owner, or he’d call the police.

The song is about what was said to him, how he was treated, and how he felt after being treated that way. Clark didn’t join a hate group. He didn’t say death to all white people. He wrote a protest song about his experience:

The video is a must watch, and the music is a blend of blues rock, reggae, and hip-hop all in one. Those who read the Wrongologist in email can view the video here.

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Take Away Trump’s Legitimacy

The Daily Escape:

Wildflowers at St. Marys Lake, Glacier NP – July 2019 photo by zjpurdy

Wrongo arises from his sick bed to discuss Trump’s war on the four Democratic Congresswomen. Saying “America, love it or leave it”, or, “Go back where you came from” are almost as old as the country itself.

Love it or leave it” was a popular bumper sticker during the late 1960s. It was aimed at the anti-Vietnam War protesters who claimed that America was wrong to be fighting in Vietnam. The slogan possessed an internal logic. If you really hate where you are, why don’t you go someplace else?

The reality is that wanting policy change isn’t the equivalent of hating your country. Nixon and his supporters said that the (largely) student protesters believed that America itself was evil. That justified the slogan for the right, and we saw it everywhere.

Fighting for policy change today is perfectly acceptable. It says nothing about your love of country. Despite Trump’s shouting, dissent in no way equals hate of country.

By using “Go back where you came from”, Trump is tapping into one of the old reliable political tools, the fear and vilification of immigrants and their descendants. He’s using deeply entrenched roots in American history: Why don’t you just go back where you came from?

Or, as Trump’s North Carolina crowd said, “Send her back”. Send her back doesn’t just apply to Rep. Ilhan Omar. It means your black neighbors, the Guatemalan family at church, and the Hmong kids your son plays soccer with. It means your Indian co-workers; it means the Chinese couple in the park.

But it doesn’t include any of the roughly 580,000 illegal migrants from Europe.

From the Alien and Sedition Acts in 1798 to “No Irish Need Apply” signs in the 1830s, to the Chinese Exclusion Act of 1882, America has loved to hate immigrants. They were not only seen as competing for jobs, but as threatening the social, cultural and political order. Even in the 1830s people thought that they were taking jobs that should belong to Americans, and that they clung to their native language and refused to assimilate.

Sound familiar?

And once we stopped allowing Chinese immigrants, some of the jobs denied to the Chinese were subsequently filled by Mexicans. They were also viewed as different, clannish and hard to assimilate.

It’s good to remember that the US government has rules against saying to its workers “go back where you came from”. Here’s a quote from the Equal Opportunity Commission’s regulations:

“Examples of potentially unlawful conduct include insults, taunting, or ethnic epithets, such as making fun of a person’s foreign accent or comments like, ‘Go back to where you came from,’ whether made by supervisors or by co-workers…”

Isn’t Trump a government supervisor? Sure, but these rules don’t apply in Republican administrations. Robert Kagan in the WaPo:

“Trump has given us a binary choice: Either stand with American principles, which in this case means standing in defense of the Squad, or equivocate, which means standing with Trump and white nationalism. It doesn’t matter how you feel about Reps. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-N.Y.) and Ilhan Omar (D-Minn.). The truth is, they have done nothing and said nothing about the United States or about an ally (in this case, Israel) that has not been done or said thousands of times.”

Now, he’s going up against the entire Democratic Party. They’re quoting him directly. And the pit bulls at Fox News are saying that calling him out is grossly unfair.

It’s time for Democrats to stop debating Trump about whether he’s a racist. They simply need to keep saying it. Every day. Until November 2020. Along the way, which ever Democrat is nominated should say they have no intention of debating the liar and racist Trump. He doesn’t deserve the dignity and respect that the debate forum implies.

Instead, the Democratic nominee should buy time on all networks including Fox, and on all social media outlets in 5, to not-longer-than 10 minute pieces. In each, they can point out what Trump said he would do, and what actually happened.

Think how it might work for domestic policy: Trump gutted Obamacare with no plan for helping the people who lost insurance. His tax cuts helped corporations and the 1%, while doing nearly nothing for the rest of us. His tax cuts also blew a hole in our budget. He’s weakened our education department, and our environmental regulations.

The candidate would then present the solutions. Clearly, without the need for any ninety second rebuttals by the liar and racist Trump. The GOP will say we’re not following the rules, but Trump never follows “rules” of presidential behavior, why should Democrats?

He’s already proven that he will say anything (and possibly do anything) to get elected.

Stop legitimizing him.

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Trump Still Wants His Citizenship Question

The Daily Escape:

Sandia Mountains, New Mexico – 2019 photo by cameforthegames

On June 27, the Supreme Court held that Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross’s March 2018 order directing the Census Bureau to add a citizenship question to the 2020 Census questionnaire could not go forward. At the time, we all thought that there would be no such question on the census.

Now, that’s no longer true.

“President Trump and Attorney General William P. Barr began working to find a way to place a citizenship question on the 2020 census just after the Supreme Court blocked its inclusion last month, Mr. Barr said on Monday, adding that he believes that the administration can find a legal path to incorporating the question.”

More from Barr:

“I felt the Supreme Court decision was wrong, but it also made clear that the question was a perfectly legal question to ask, but the record had to be clarified…”

The ruling left open the possibility that the citizenship question could be added to the census if the administration came up with a better rationale for it.

Here’s a way to look at what the Administration means: The Supreme Court said we couldn’t do this. Our reasoning was stupid and insulting. So now, we have to come up with something better. Yeah, we said it was too late for that, but we’re working on a brilliant new reason.

And you shouldn’t make anything of the fact that the lawyers the DOJ had working on it just quit:

“Barr also acknowledged that the career Justice Department lawyers who had worked on the census question had little appetite to continue on the case after Mr. Trump inserted himself into the process…. The Justice Department announced a day earlier that it was replacing them, a nearly unheard-of move.”

On Monday, the plaintiffs in the case asked a NY judge to block the DOJ lawyers’ withdrawal because they did not demonstrate “satisfactory reasons” for the change. On Tuesday, the judge denied the request, except for two DOJ attorneys.

Barr also said that the Trump administration would soon reveal how it plans to add the question, but he wouldn’t detail exactly how it would be justified.

On Monday, Speaker Pelosi announced that she intended to schedule a full House vote “soon” to hold Barr and Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross in contempt of Congress for defying subpoenas for documents related to the census question. This had been recommended last month by the House Oversight and Reform Committee.

If Barr goes forward, the question will be provisionally added, and a new time clock for the case starts again.

But, Trump may have screwed the pooch. He admitted that the whole point was to favor Republican redistricting, which was exactly what his lawyers have said is not the case, because that’s unconstitutional. Trump said we need the census citizenship question for many reasons:

“Number one, you need it for Congress — you need it for Congress for redistricting,” he said Friday. “You need it for appropriations — where are the funds going? How many people are there? Are they citizens? Are they not citizens? You need it for many reasons.”

Trump apparently doesn’t realize that America bases redistricting on the population of the district, not the citizens in the district. Yet, there’s still a strong possibility that his question will be part of the census.

In the case mentioned above, four Supreme Court justices said they would vote for literally any position the administration takes on the issue. And a fifth vote (Chief Justice Roberts) searched in vain for any possible fig leaf that would allow him to join them. When he couldn’t, he sided with the liberals.

Americans should be outraged that the Trump administration willingly engaged in an illegal action, and then lied about it in federal court. They should be outraged that four members of the Supreme Court thought that was just fine. The Chief Justice thought it could have been fine, had they come up with a less blatant pretext, which he invited them to provide. Any Chief Justice worthy of the title would have simply ruled that the process couldn’t be salvaged.

The big story here isn’t the census question. It’s the DOJ’s legal team refusing to continue working on the case. This is unprecedented, and a really big deal.

The most plausible explanation for their quitting is that they told the Supreme Court it had to decide by June 30th, or the question couldn’t be included. If they now have to go back to SCOTUS, they would have to admit that was a lie.

We have to hope that the administration’s malevolence will be ruined by their incompetence.

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Monday Wake Up Call – Trump Credibility Edition, June 17, 2019

The Daily (no) Escape:

Did Donald Trump lose all credibility last week? First, more of the “Russia, if you are listening…” in which he solicited election help from foreign governments, before backing down a little bit.

Next, hours after an attack on two tankers in the Gulf of Oman, Trump said he knew who did it:

“Iran did do it and you know they did it,”
Donald Trump on “Fox & Friends”, June 14th.

This was before experts had much evidence, let alone time for analysis. Next, US Central Command released a video which they said showed:

“Iran’s Revolutionary Guard removing an unexploded limpet mine from one of the oil tankers targeted near the Strait of Hormuz, suggesting the Islamic Republic sought to remove evidence of its involvement from the scene.”

The video is of such poor quality that it’s impossible to tell what’s really going on, where the boat came from, or who’s on board. Trump and Pompeo want us to believe that Iran cruised over to a heavily surveilled tanker in broad daylight to remove a limpet mine, placed several feet above the water line.

Also, it’s hard to believe that military photography technology has again failed just when we needed it. We’re back to blurry Brownie box camera pictures. When Russian artillery was photographed in Ukraine, we saw blurry indistinct B&W photos. When Russia aircraft were photographed in Syria, we saw razor sharp color images. Why can’t the US Navy buy a few iPhones to use in videoing the “Iranians”?

Finally, it’s interesting that America’s Enemy du Jour always does exactly what we want them to do, and just when we want them to do it!

The captain of the Japanese tanker said he was hit from the air, not by a mine. A photo of the Japanese tanker shows two holes well above the waterline. Iran might have done this, or it might have been a false flag operation.

We should remember that in the past 20 years, the US has attacked nations based on similar information to this. There are groups other than Iran that would benefit from the US stepping up its anti-Iran campaign, moving from an economic war to a military one.

But let’s widen out to strategy: While Trump and Pompeo were itching for a fight with Iran, China’s President Xi was completing a three-day visit to Moscow. He hailed China’s strategic ties with Russia. At the same time, Chinese and Russian military commanders met to discuss deepening their strategic partnership.

Then, both Putin and Xi met with Iran’s President Rouhani and expressed their full support for Iran despite the smoking tankers, or the US evidence that Iran was behind the attack. And China afforded its highest diplomatic status to Iran.

A strategically-minded US president would have turned the situation with tankers burning in the Persian Gulf to an advantage. It could have been an opportune time to engage China and Russia in a diplomatic coalition to deal with threats to commerce and free navigation in the Gulf.

Both China and Russia understand the potential impact of a Persian Gulf conflict to their economies. They probably would have listened. Our European allies are waiting for real proof of what happened to those tankers before expressing an opinion, given the state of America’s credibility. Only the UK currently supports Trump.

Another opportunity missed, thus advantage to Iran, while limiting US options.

Trump’s (and Bolton’s) policies of piling on more strategic risk without any gain is driving our allies away, and pushing our peers/competitors closer together.

Trump is increasing our risk of conflict, and the ramifications are global.

The main issue is credibility. We can no longer trust our government. When you can lie without consequence, then there is no value to discussing policy. If Trump wants a war, he’ll have one.

We need to wake up the American voters, who are the only people who can change this.

Their record to date, however, isn’t promising. Hopefully, the world won’t be in tatters before the November 2020 election.

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Dysfunction in the House?

The Daily Escape:

Doubtful Sound, NZ – photo by patlue1101

Wrongo doubts that the way Congressional Democrats are going about their business will make them completely successful in 2020. The media would have us believe that the House is all about investigations. That is compounded by the way they are spinning their wheels about a decision to impeach Trump.

In reality, House Democrats haven’t been squandering time. In addition to the investigations, they’ve been passing legislation. In all, the House has taken up 51 bills since January, of which, 49 have passed.

Do you remember the House voting to end the longest government shutdown in history? Or, passing a bill to lower prescription drug prices, or to protect preexisting medical conditions? They also passed nine bills on veteran’s issues. You should remember HR-1, aimed at getting money out of politics and increasing transparency around donors, and expanding voting rights.

A complete list of what the House has passed is here. Despite Trump’s complaints about doing nothing on infrastructure, lots of legislation has been passed in the House.

The few things the House has been able to agree with Senate Republicans on include the bill to reopen the federal government, a resolution to end US involvement in Yemen (later vetoed by Trump), and the recent federal disaster aid agreement.

So why does the media make it seem like Congress isn’t getting anything done? The vast majority of their bills hit a dead end in the Republican-controlled Senate, and the media is only interested in the investigations, and the fight with the White House.

Trump’s attempts to thwart these investigations have turned into a mud wrestling contest between the administration and the Democratic committee chairs. Congress is attempting to perform its constitutionally mandated role of overseeing the executive branch, while Trump is attempting to obstruct their oversight.

A few individuals have agreed to testify, others, including AG Bill Barr and former WH counsel Don McGahn, have been held in “civil contempt” of Congress.

In the case of the Census question, the media gets it wrong. The DOJ handed over tens of thousands of pages about the Census question, but the media didn’t mention that those materials were not what was subpoenaed, and in some cases, not even relevant. Thus, Barr’s contempt citation.

Civil contempt has no teeth, unless enforced by the courts. Even then, after a federal court held that Trump cannot block a House subpoena targeting his accounting firm, Trump’s lawyers filed a brief asking a federal appeals court to reverse this decision. That case will languish until it is decided by the Supreme Court, most likely, next year.

We could nap from now until September, and wake up to find zero progress in Congress on their investigations. Nothing will happen until after the August recess, and most likely, we won’t see much until next year.

A decision to open an impeachment inquiry strengthens immeasurably all of Congress’s arguments for information. They would have an unambiguous Constitutional basis for their demands, much stronger than what backs their common legislative oversight demands. It all might still wind up in the courts, but Congress’s chances of prevailing would be enhanced.

Finally, Trump walked into a propeller on Wednesday when he said he would accept opposition research from a foreign government. It is illegal to accept foreign campaign contributions, although an exchange of political information isn’t unambiguously a contribution. Mueller didn’t decide if opposition research provided for free by a foreign government constitutes a “thing of value” and thus is an illegal foreign campaign contribution.

OTOH, you would think that Mr. Art of the Deal must know that if he accepts information that is useful to his campaign from a foreign government, it comes with strings attached. When he then says he’d do it again, he shows that he’s learned nothing from 2016, or from the Mueller Report’s conclusion about foreign government intervention in the 2016 election.

Trump has again invited the Russians and others to intervene in our elections. The question is will he get away with it?

Should Congress continue down the path of waiting on the courts to decide to get them the information they need to make a case? Or, should they launch an impeachment inquiry that limits the legal defenses of the administration?

Time has come for the Congressional Democrats to leave the “do little, say less” portion of their current term behind. We are already six months into the current Pelosi Speakership. That means just 18 months remain until the House is up for re-election.

The war for 2020 has already begun. Democrats shouldn’t worry about the political implications of an impeachment inquiry. It’s time to do what’s right by holding the Trump administration accountable.

It’s time to let America know what Democrats in the House are doing.

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Saturday Soother – May 25, 2019

The Daily Escape:

Man of War Bay, Dorset, UK – 2019 photo by bluecalxx

Yesterday at lunch with long-time friend and blog reader Fred, he asked about what we have lost in the time of Trump. I answered that America has lost experiencing the difference between following the spirit, and the letter of the law.

We always have had politicians who cut corners, but they understood their obligations as servants to the community at large. They were people who understood that they had an obligation to represent the best of our ideals to the rest of us.

Politicians now stick (barely) to the letter of the law: “If it doesn’t say I can’t do it, I’ll just do what I want.”

But this age didn’t begin with Trump’s 2016 win. In 1973, Arthur M. Schlesinger, Jr. wrote “The Imperial Presidency” in which he argued that the power of the presidency had exceeded the limits set by our Constitutional checks and balances.

Schlesinger was focused on the Nixon presidency. Yet, for all his flaws, Nixon was unwilling to tear down our government to save himself. Trump has shown us that when a president is absolutely willing to cross the line of what we formerly called the spirit of the law, nothing holds him back.This is a deep flaw in our Constitution.

And now, 35 years after Nixon, our government might just get torn down by Trump and his sycophants.

On Thursday, Trump gave AG William Barr authority to conduct a review into how the 2016 Trump campaign’s ties to Russia were investigated. The intention is to portray Trump as the real victim of the Russia investigation. Trump also granted Barr the power to unilaterally declassify documents of the CIA, FBI and other intelligence agencies. More from the NYT: (emphasis by Wrongo)

“The move — which occurred just hours after the president again declared that those who led the investigation committed treason — gave Mr. Barr immense leverage over the intelligence community and enormous power over what the public learns about the roots of the Russia investigation.”

The declassification process will be selective, in service of a predetermined narrative. Barr now has the ability to again control the narrative, much like his “summary” of the Mueller Report that mischaracterized the Report’s content.

And there won’t be any way to distinguish between selective declassification and flat-out lies. This is the equivalent of a judge who announces at the start of the trial that he’s going to allow every objection by the prosecution, while ruling against every defense motion. It will be a show trial.

David Frum at the Atlantic says:

“The mission he has assigned them: Fight to suppress documents properly subpoenaed by Congress to answer important public questions, then pick and choose US national secrets to defame career professionals who sought to protect the integrity of the nation’s elections against foreign adversaries who manipulated those elections in Trump’s favor.”

Worse, we the people will have to rely on the media to tell facts from spin without seeing all of the classified information. Information that caused the intelligence agencies to worry about the Trump campaign’s Russia connections in the first place. That evidence led them to request warrants. A federal court reviewed that evidence, and authorized and subsequently, reauthorized the warrants. Frum asks:

“Will that evidence be declassified?”

If you’re an FBI agent, and you’ve been chasing down what Deutsche Bank knew about Trump’s dealings with overseas oligarchs, and you hear that your ultimate boss, Barr, is about to investigate the investigators, you’re probably not sleeping well tonight. Particularly after Trump says that the investigators committed treason.

And that’s the point.

Time to downshift into our long Memorial Day weekend, beginning with that ritual we call the Saturday Soother. There is no need for coffee this weekend, we’re already overly amp’ed up by the news.

So, let’s move on to music to soothe the savage within. Find a comfy chair and your wireless headphones, and listen to a Mexican waltz, “Sobre las Olas” or “Over the Waves” by Juventino Rosas. It was first published in Mexico in 1888. You have certainly already heard the piece if you’ve been on a carnival ride. In 1950, the music was adapted for the movie The Great Caruso as the song, “The Loveliest Night of the Year”. Later, Mario Lanza recorded it, and it reached Number 3 in the 1951 US Billboard Charts:

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

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