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The Wrongologist

Geopolitics, Power and Political Economy

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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Fed Study Shows Rising Financial Desperation in Poorer Zip Codes

The Daily Escape:

Aliso Creek State Beach, near Laguna Beach, CA – 2019 photo via

Simon Johnson observes at Project Syndicate: (emphasis by Wrongo)

“To defeat populism requires coming to grips with a fundamental reality: bad economic policies no longer necessarily result in a government losing power. In fact, it is now entirely possible that irresponsible populists may actually strengthen their chances of being re-elected by making wilder and more impossible promises – and by causing more economic damage.”

Johnson, former chief economist for the IMF, believes that structural economic factors, including automation, trade, and the financial crisis have left many people feeling neglected by those who control economic policy.

When politicians back policies that add economic uncertainty, or that discourage investment, we see lower economic growth, and fewer good jobs. Ordinarily, dissatisfaction shows up at the ballot box, holding that government accountable at election time.

But this is no longer reliable, because politicians wiggle out of the trap by saying that the media are biased, that the experts are wrong, and that the facts are not the facts. And the angrier people become, the easier it is to persuade them to accept that no one is to blame, and vote again for those who helped to cause their economic distress in the first place.

A new study by the St. Louis Federal Reserve Bank examined American financial distress by Zip Codes. It sheds light on a topic we regularly debate: Why are there so many signs of distress in a supposedly robust economy? And this time, will politicians be held to account?

Since 2015, the lowest income households have been taking on more debt. Their wealth has become even more concentrated in home ownership. The level of distress in lower-income households has also increased, despite the official story of increasing prosperity.

The study drills into Zip-Code level data to show that even adjacent Zips show striking divergence in wealth accumulation (or erosion). For instance, they looked at the percentage of people within a Zip Code that have reached at least 80%t of their credit limit on their bank-issued credit cards.

That is believed to be a good proxy for financial distress.

Before the 2008 crisis, analysts missed the rising levels of household debt. That debt was often funded by borrowing against home equity. Rapidly falling home prices after 2008 showed how fragile many of those borrowers were.

The contrast between national averages and Zip Code households is stark. Looking at averages, the recovery appears to be quite broad.  But zooming in by Zip Code showed a bifurcated economy still suffering from the 2008 crisis. The researchers found that looking at the value of assets and reliance on debt shows a clearer picture: (emphasis by Wrongo)

“…the poor and high-leverage ZIP codes that are more affected by wealth shocks may still be vulnerable. What’s more, trends in less affluent groups are masked in nationally aggregated statistics by groups with more wealth.”

May be vulnerable”? They will certainly be vulnerable when the next downturn begins.

Since 2015, debt and financial distress have been rising the fastest in these low-wealth areas, while it rose the slowest since 2015 for the wealthiest households. We already see softness in economic indicators like retail sales, home sales and housing construction. It’s reasonable to expect that the next recession isn’t far away.

We’ve had a long economic recovery, but its gains were not distributed as broadly as they had been in previous downturns. What we got was an uneven economic recovery, with most gains going to an increasingly narrow group.

More people are left out of this supposedly robust economy than the politicians and most economists think. The Fed study shows that the averages conceal plenty of pain. Maybe this isn’t an earthshaking idea. We all see income and wealth disparities in our communities, it’s not that unusual. But the fact that the differences are now extreme enough to show up in ZIP Code level data seem significant, and worrying.

So, will politicians pay any price in 2020 for the continuing maldistribution of gains since the 2008 recession? Or, will politicians tell the people that no one’s to blame, that the Laffer curve will surely work this time?

The miracle of modern Republican economic theory allows for both the Laffer curve, and “pulling oneself up by the bootstraps” not only to be truths, but to be the desired outcome.

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Monday Wake Up Call – May 6, 2019

The Daily Escape:

Torres del Paine NP, Chile – 2016 photo by Andrea Pozzi

After our granddaughter’s graduation in PA (summa cum laude), we had a few wines and beers, and talk turned to politics and the mess America is in now. Son-in-law Miles, (dad of next week’s grad) asked a very good question. “Is now really the worst of times? What about when Martin Luther King was assassinated?

Wrongo immediately flashed back to JFK’s assassination. He was a DC college student when JFK died. But his focus wasn’t on the loss of a president, or what that meant to the country. His focus was on what the loss of JFK meant personally.

That changed in 1968 with the assassinations of MLK and RFK. Wrongo was in the Army, stationed in Germany when Dr. King was killed. There was great tension in the enlisted men’s barracks. For a few days, it took a lot of effort in our small, isolated unit to keep anger from boiling over into outright fighting between the races.

By the time we lost RFK, it was clear that the Vietnam War would drag on, killing many of Wrongo’s friends. But, Wrongo’s job was to defend America from the Russians, with nuclear weapons if necessary.

It was difficult to see how or when Vietnam would end. It was hard to imagine Richard Nixon, Henry Kissinger, or Robert McNamara doing much to stop young Americans from dying in Asia.

The year 1968 also included the Tet Offensive. Mark Bowen in his book, Hue 1968, says:

“For decades….the mainstream press and, for that matter, most of the American public, believed their leaders, political and military. Tet was the first of many blows to that faith in coming years, Americans would never again be so trusting.” (p. 507)

When Americans finally saw the Pentagon Papers in 1971, they learned that America’s leaders had been systematically lying about the scope and progress of the war for years, in spite of their doubts that the effort could succeed. The assassinations, Vietnam, and Watergate changed us forever.

Our leaders failed us, it was clearly the worst of times. We were in worse shape in 1968 than we are in 2019. Back then, it felt like the country was coming apart at the seams, society’s fabric was pulling apart. Then, May 4th 1970 brought the killings of college kids at Kent State, which was probably the lowest point in our history, at least during Wrongo’s life time.

Last week, we acknowledged the 49th anniversary of America’s military killing American students on US soil. We vaguely remember the Neil Young song “Ohio” with its opening lyrics:

“Tin soldiers and Nixon coming, we’re finally on our own…”

That’s why the decade from 1960-1970 was the worst of times. We got through it, but we have never been the same.

In 1968, we saw that change can arrive suddenly, fundamentally, and violently, even in America. Bob Woodward spoke at Kent State last week, on Saturday, May 4th. He offered some brand-new information about Nixon’s reaction to the student shootings: (emphasis by Wrongo)

“In a conversation with his chief of staff H.R. Haldeman in September 1971, Nixon suggested shooting prisoners at New York’s Attica Prison riot in a reference to the Kent State tragedy. “You know what stops them? Kill a few,” Nixon says on a tape of the conversation.”

Woodward continued:

“We now know what really was on Nixon’s mind as he reflected…on Kent State after 17 months….Kent State and the protest movement was an incubator for Richard Nixon and his illegal wars.”

Woodward meant that what was coming was a war on the news media, creation of the “Plumbers” unit to track down leaks, and attempts to obstruct justice with the Watergate cover-up.

Many of us see 2020 shaping up as another 1968. Some see Nixon reincarnated in Trump.

We haven’t faced this particular set of circumstances before, so we can’t know just how it will go. Will it be worse than the 1960s, or just another terrible American decade? Is it the best of times, or the worst of times?

Are we willing to fight to preserve what we have anymore?

Wake up America, you have to fight for what America means to us. Constitutional liberties are under attack. The right to vote is being undermined. Extreme Nationalism has been emboldened.

To help you wake up, listen once again to “Ohio” by Neil Young in a new solo performance from October, 2018. He’s added some documentary footage and a strong anti-gun message:

You may not know that Chrissie Hynde, the future lead singer of The Pretenders was a Kent State student, and was on the scene at the time.

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

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Saturday Soother – Muller Report Edition

The Daily Escape:

Maui, on the back road to Hana – 2013 photo by Wrongo

The hot takes on the Mueller Report are in, and just like before, there remain two camps. One is glad he got away with it, and the other is unhappy he can’t be fired. Virtually the entire GOP apparatus has been mobilized to defend Trump, and focus blame on the media, the deep state, and liberals.

But Trump is not portrayed as an angel, in fact, the report rips him apart. There are technical and legal reasons why a recommendation not to prosecute Trump was made by the Office of Special Counsel (OSC). Moreover, the OSC believes that Congress can (presumably should?) exercise its “authority to prohibit a President’s corrupt use of his authority in order to protect the integrity of the administration of justice.” They say that Congress “may apply the obstruction laws to the President’s corrupt exercise of the powers of the office,” and that doing so would “accord with our constitutional system of checks and balances and the principle that no person is above the law.” (From Volume 2, page 8 of the Mueller Report)

The OSC lays out the reasons why the DoJ isn’t the “right” authority for dealing with a criminal president. The OSC is also very clear that it does not have confidence “after a thorough investigation of the facts that the president [would be cleared of] obstruction of justice.”

Since the OSC has completed the most thorough investigation of that subject that we have, the clear implication is that while they believe Trump is guilty of committing corrupt and obstructive acts, they don’t reach that conclusion, because they are not charging him.

And this is why they make the case that an impeachment by Congress is the proper forum.

So, Mueller basically punts, and leaves it to the Congress. Trump has not been vindicated, or exonerated. He just wasn’t charged. In this country, a person is innocent until proven guilty. For sitting presidents, that can only be accomplished through impeachment.

The Democrat’s leadership has already said that impeachment is off the table. But Wrongo’s theory is that Nancy Smash will do investigations this term, and find out if there is any more bad news that can help defeat Trump in 2020.

If not, then impeachment could be pursued during his second term. Plan A and Plan B are both in place, and ready for execution.

Conduct the investigations by the various House Committees. Let’s see what is revealed, not only what else goes into the record, but what we learn by observing the behavior of the many Trump administration actors.

The Mueller investigation may have ruled out conspiracy with the Russians, something that Wrongo was unconvinced about. But it was a shot across the bow that should lead to closer examination of future campaigns. The redacted OSC report is bad enough for the President politically. How much more damage might be done if/when the Congressional committees reveal more?

What with the Mueller Report and the Notre Dame fire, western culture seems to be on the skids here in the spring of 2019. No time like right now for an unredacted Saturday Soother!

Start by brewing up a coffee that you probably haven’t had before, Café Granja La Esperanza Sudan Rume Natural ($37.50/8oz.) by PT’s Coffee in Topeka and Kansas City, KS. Wrongo is certain that long-time reader of the Wrongologist, Monty, can write a review for all of us.

Now settle into a comfy chair and listen to music played on the great organ at Notre Dame Cathedral. We now know that the organ was not damaged by fire or water during the conflagration, and was removed intact from the cathedral. Here is Organ Sonata No.1, Op.42 by Alexandre Guilmant, played by Olivier Latry. Latry was awarded the post of one of four titulaires des grands orgues of Notre-Dame when he was 23 years old. That means he has a key to get into the Cathedral and practice on the organ. Watch him play:

Latry was interviewed shortly after the fire happened. He was in Vienna, and said:

“I decided to fly to Paris for a few hours on Sunday. We just have to see the church, even if we are not allowed to go in, which is still forbidden at the moment. It feels like a nightmare we have not yet woken up from. Slowly, hour by hour, I understand the reality more and more. This is very hard.”

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

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Monday Wake Up Call – March 25, 2019

The Daily Escape:

Ice climbing remnant glaciers on Mt. Kilimanjaro, Tanzania – 2018 photo by Christian Pondella. The climber, (upper right) Will Gadd, said: “We were climbing ice that is easily 10,000 years old and isn’t going to be there next week….We camped up on top of Kilimanjaro for about five days, and some of the things we climbed on, we came back and they had fallen over.”

Now that the key non-findings of the Mueller Report are known, the first thing we are hearing is that Mueller found no conspiracy with Russia. Unless the House committees turn up something that Mueller didn’t, there won’t be any legal consequences for Trump, his spawn, or what remains of his inner circle.

The Attorney General’s conclusions are that the Mueller report says Trump neither colluded with Russia, nor obstructed justice. This will help Trump and the GOP, who are already crowing, “EXONERATION!

Like many others, Wrongo is disappointed that Muller didn’t give us a quick, clean end to the horror of this administration. This disappointment marks the third time in the past 20 years that Wrongo has felt the country was wobbling on its axis because of the GOP.

The first time was in 2000 when the Supreme Court gave the presidency to Bush II. That was a terrible outcome for our democratic process, one that led to a gigantic strategic error, as Bush 43 took us into war in the Middle East.

The second was Trump winning the presidency in 2016. Everything that has happened since that November night was predictable, and again, we are a weaker, and a more divided country as a result.

Now, the Mueller report represents the third time that America has been divided by our anachronistic system. Now, we’ve had three occasions where we trusted that our system would make crucial decisions that had enormous impact on our democratic system, and in each case, our trust was misplaced.

Today’s news was the worst case scenario. While Wrongo has never believed that Russian election interference changed the outcome of the 2016 election, he thinks there was a quid pro quo with the Russians regarding a possible Moscow Trump Tower in 2016.

We all hoped AG Barr might rise to the occasion. Instead, Barr (and not Mueller) made the call on obstruction. Instead, Barr (not Mueller) cast the lack of proof on collusion by narrowing it to solely collusion with “the Russian government.” Apparently, the Trump Tower quid pro quo wasn’t on the table.

That said, we have to hope that all of this may turn out for the best.

Barr’s letter may not be the final aria sung by the metabolically challenged diva. She may return to the stage in due time. The Mueller/Barr punt says this is now Congress’s job to sort out.

Wake up America! Now we must acknowledge that we’re in a war to reclaim our system of government. To win the fight requires America to take control of the Congress and the White House away from the GOP in 2020.

And it can’t be by razor-thin margins, or there’s a decent chance the Democrats will be outplayed again.

This is a necessary battle. If it isn’t won, our country will continue to spiral out of control. It isn’t just about getting Trump out of office through the democratic process. This is a fight to reaffirm who we are as a country.

This is a battle we have to fight.

Let’s go.

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Monday Wake Up Call – February 11, 2019

The Daily Escape:

The Piedmont Kilns, Wyoming. They were built in 1869 to supply charcoal for the iron smelting industry in Utah. Part of a ghost town, three remain.

A wave of bankruptcies is sweeping the US Farm Belt, and Trump’s trade disputes are adding to the pain. The primary cause is low commodity prices that American farmers have experienced for the past few years. Throughout much of the Midwest, US farmers are filing for Chapter 12 bankruptcy protection at levels not seen for at least a decade.

From the WSJ:

“Bankruptcies in three regions covering major farm states last year rose to the highest level in at least 10 years. The Seventh Circuit Court of Appeals, which includes Illinois, Indiana and Wisconsin, had double the bankruptcies in 2018 compared with 2008. In the Eighth Circuit, which includes states from North Dakota to Arkansas, bankruptcies swelled 96%. The 10th Circuit, which covers Kansas and other states, last year had 59% more bankruptcies than a decade earlier.”

Those states accounted for nearly half of all sales of US farm products in 2017, according to USDA data. Since 2000, China’s share of our agricultural exports has increased from two percent to about 19% in 2017. China has become our largest agricultural trading partner.

The rise in farm bankruptcies tracks a multi-year slump in prices for corn, soybeans and other farm commodities caused by a world-wide glut. Prices for soybeans and hogs further declined after Mexico, along with China, retaliated against US steel and aluminum tariffs by imposing duties on our AG products, and then slashing purchases.

Farmers generally supported Trump’s tariffs when he started the trade war in 2018. China’s retaliation was to virtually cease purchasing American agricultural products. As an example, China moved the sourcing of soybeans from the US to Brazil. When a low margin business like farming loses 20% of sales, only those who aren’t in debt can survive. And most US farmers owe quite a bit to their bankers.

The Trump administration recognized the potential problem, and approved funding to bridge farmers across the decline in Chinese purchases, but the trade war has gone on for longer than anticipated.

Now, bankruptcies are way up, and exports to China are way down:

Source: Econbrowser

Unfortunately, we keep importing from China. But in the past year, the Chinese have stopping buying as much of our goods. Clearly, the bull our farmers got isn’t in their barn, but in the White House.

Republicans are saying that the surge in farm bankruptcies isn’t Trump’s fault, that the problem with the farm product glut started years ago. But, if Republicans want to give Trump credit for the good employment numbers, and a still-robust stock market, they have to blame him for the bad as well.

Time to wake up America! Disruption without a strategy brings chaos. And think back to the SOTU, when Trump said how he stood between us and socialism. But Trump’s picking winners and losers with his trade wars. He’s using tax-payer money to subsidize farmers damaged by his self-imposed trade wars. That sounds eerily like socialism to Wrongo.

Wake up to the fact that farmers are pawns in Trump’s capricious tantrums against China. Those who have played chess know that most of your pawns are gone by the end of the game.

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Tax Abatements Are Killing School Budgets

The Daily Escape:

Egmont National Park, NZ – photo by vicarious_NZ

A new report shows that US public schools in 28 states lost at least $1.8 billion in tax revenues last year as a result of tax incentives granted to corporations. The study analyzed the financial reports of 5,600 of the nation’s 13,500 independent public school districts.

Good Jobs First examined the first full year of reporting under a new accounting standard for school districts, adopted by the Governmental Accounting Standards Board (GASB), the body that sets accounting rules for all states and most localities. The new rule, GASB Statement No. 77 on Tax Abatement Disclosures, requires most state and local governments to report annually on the amount of revenue they’ve lost to corporate tax abatements.

This is extremely important, since most local schools are very dependent on revenue from property taxes, but they rarely have influence over corporate tax abatements granted by their towns, and/or the cities or counties where they are located.

And local voters have had no way to see how much they are forced to pay in additional taxes that were lost to enrich the pockets of corporate employers.

Good Jobs found that the 10 most affected states could have hired more than 28,000 new teachers if they were able to use the lost revenues. Or, they could have avoided higher home property taxes, or provided their teachers with better resources, or higher pay.

States and cities have long used abatements and other tax incentives to lure companies, or to keep them from leaving, and/or to encourage them to expand locally. Often, those companies make their choice of location based on the quality of local schools and colleges.

These abatement deals are made by local politicians and are meant to boost local economic development. Their proponents say the lost tax revenue is worth it, because they grow the local economy. But it is difficult to know whether the benefits outweigh the burdens.

And until GASB 77, it has been impossible to see just how much a school system may have lost because of a company’s tax break. The new rule is especially helpful in understanding local schools finances, because it requires the reporting of revenue losses even if they are suffered passively by the school system as the result of decisions made by another body of government.

Of the five districts that lost the most, three are in Louisiana. Together, they lost more than $158 million, or $2,500 for each student enrolled. The School District of Philadelphia, which only last year regained local control from the state after climbing out of a deep fiscal crisis, lost the second most revenue at $62 million.

Overall, nearly 250 school districts lost at least $1 million each, and in four districts, tax abatements reduced classroom resources by more than $50 million.

But most school districts have not yet complied with Rule 77, which was implemented in 2015. Good Jobs First estimates that another $500 million of subsidies and abatements are currently unreported.

Most of us believe that our governments are supposed to govern in the interests of the “general welfare,” that when voters put people in positions of power, based on the legitimacy of our electoral process, is the limit of our responsibility as voters.

We accept that somebody has to say what the rules are, and then enforce them.

But in our neoliberal economic times, voters have to remember that our governments often act as wholly owned subsidiaries of the 1%. It takes suspension of belief to accept that our republic, ruled as it is by an oligarchy, is working for the general welfare of all of our citizens.

Why do we think that, our “governments”, all of which are subject to capture and ownership by the few, are going to somehow provide decency, comity, or fairness to all of us?

We need to abandon the article of faith that the free market, one without government oversight, promotes the best economic outcome for all of us.

Today’s inequality says the opposite.

We need a new vision of the role of government. But it isn’t really a “new” vision. It is simply a return to insisting on the “promotion of the General Welfare for all” as the paramount object of government.

Here’s another thought from Gordon Wood, in his book, Creation of the American Republic:

In a republic each individual gives up all private interest that is not consistent with the general good, the interest of the whole body. For the republican patriots of 1776 the commonweal was all encompassing—a transcendent object with a unique moral worth that made partial considerations fade into insignificance.

The last outcome that American revolutionaries wanted was to be ruled by oligarchs. But, here we are.

We need to reform our capitalism.

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Sunday Cartoon Blogging – September 9, 2018

Will we ever have another week like this one? Let’s hope we won’t. Wrongo senses that, we’ve finally achieved peak “SQUIRREL!!” It’s hard to imagine our attention being diverted as many times in one week as happened last week: Kavanaugh, Kaepernick, the Anonymous Op-Ed, Bob Woodward’s book, and the tech giants trying to explain to Senators, who barely understand their business, how they’ll fix the misuse of their platforms.

We start with Kavanaugh’s uncanny ability to pass through the Senate undetected:

Kaepernick’s Nike ad and the Anonymous article brought out the best in Trump’s supporters:

Trumpie misreads the chart:

Nike protest hurts a few people:

Robert Mueller finds best way to make The Donald quiet as a mouse:

White House staff meeting goes to a bad place:

Despite all the White House turmoil, Mike Pence has been real quiet lately:

Adios Burt:

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The GOP’s History of Non-Accountability

The Daily Escape:

St. Peters Basilica, Rome, Italy – photo via @archpics

(Wrongo and Ms. Right are ensconced in a 1791 colonial home in the middle of nowhere, Massachusetts. The house was a half way point and overnight stop on the Hartford CT to Albany NY stage coach in the early 1800’s. It was a way station on the Underground Railroad in the late 1850’s. Now it is a VRBO rental, mostly used by large family reunions, and our family qualifies.)

Did the Trump campaign ask for help, or were they merely the beneficiaries of Russia’s efforts in the 2016 presidential election? We won’t know for sure unless or until Robert Mueller’s investigation makes it into the public domain. But here in the Berkshires, Wrongo read a column by Dylan Matthews that places the possible Trump wrongdoing in an historical perspective with other GOP stalwarts like Richard Nixon. And not just Watergate, where Gerald Ford pardoned tricky Dicky, but more:

The reason is a culture of elite impunity, where…political leaders face absolutely no accountability for misdeeds….It encompasses many decades during which political officials have evaded accountability for broken laws and illicit foreign contacts, and business and corporate elites have skirted punishment for outright fraud. It’s a problem that, ironically, Trump hammered home in the campaign: that there’s a different set of rules for elites than for normal people. It just happens that Trump knows that because he, for decades now, has been taking advantage of elite impunity.

Matthews makes the point that the Russia scandal reminds us that a presidential candidate has collaborated with a foreign government against the American government before, and gotten away with it:

In the summer of 1968…Republican nominee Richard Nixon and his aides actively sabotaged efforts by Lyndon Johnson’s administration to negotiate an end to the Vietnam War. They got away with it, prolonging a war that wound up killing more than a million people in the process.

As Matthews says, this is part of a larger, longstanding and troubling trend of Republican non-accountability:

It wasn’t even two decades later that the next Republican administration conspired with a foreign government…Iran’s. This time, the actions weren’t just horrendously immoral but illegal as well; elongating the Vietnam War was, alas, not a crime, but funding the Contras with Iranian arms deal money was. So was lying to Congress about it. Fourteen members of Reagan’s administration were indicted, and 11 were convicted.

It didn’t end there:

Before leaving office, President George H.W. Bush pardoned six people…all high-ranking policy officials like Secretary of Defense Caspar Weinberger, National Security Adviser Robert McFarlane, Assistant Secretary of State Elliott Abrams….National Security Council official Oliver North and National Security Adviser John Poindexter had, at that point, already gotten their convictions tossed out, not because they were innocent but due to a complication resulting from Congress giving them immunity to testify.

Matthews quotes Lawrence Walsh, the independent counsel who investigated Iran-Contra:

What set Iran-Contra apart from previous political scandals was the fact that a cover-up engineered in the White House of one president and completed by his successor prevented the rule of law from being applied to the perpetrators of criminal activity of constitutional dimension.

Many of the Iran-Contra perpetrators remain on the scene in Washington. Poindexter ran George W. Bush’s Information Awareness Office. Elliott Abrams, who had other transgressions under Reagan, when he supported El Salvador’s military dictatorship, worked as a National Security Council official for George W. Bush.

GW Bush had dozens of policymakers who lied about WMD. They systematically violated US law forbidding torture. Consider Abu Ghraib, where low-level soldiers and officers were court-martialed, while the people responsible for the policy, John Yoo and Jay Bybee, got off scott-free.

And Democrats weren’t above non-accountability. Obama didn’t prosecute Bush officials about the Iraq WMD lies. He didn’t prosecute CIA officials who tortured. Obama’s administration didn’t bring charges against Jose Rodriguez, who authorized the destruction of 92 tapes showing the CIA torturing detainees. Gina Haspel, who Rodriguez has said drafted the order to destroy the tapes, and who ran a CIA black site for torture in Thailand, is now the director of the CIA. Obama’s Department of Justice was notoriously lax with Wall Street. Once, Obama’s White House counsel Kathy Ruemmler jokingly asked Deputy AG Lanny Breuer, “How many cases are you dismissing this week?”

Matthews closes:

With that history — with such a clear record that…political officials involved in criminal activity and illicit deals with foreign powers will ever face any consequences — why on earth wouldn’t someone like Trump, a man who lacks any willingness to sacrifice his self-interest in order to do the right thing, work with Russia?

So both parties have contributed to this culture of permitting wrong conduct without consequences.

The possible implications for the Mueller investigation is frightening. At what point will bringing prosecutions be impossible because the GOP office holder will simply yell “partisan witch hunt“, and have one-third of America agree without seeing the evidence?

And will the bad guys simply wait for the next GOP president and get pardoned?

Unless we’re willing to fight that system, many more Republicans will evade accountability in the future.

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Sunday Cartoon Blogging – Peter Strzok Edition

If you had your fill of Trey Gowdy during the Benghazi hearings, you can be excused for vomiting if you watched the FBI’s Peter Strzok’s hearing last week.

In the hearing, the Republicans wanted to make America believe there was an FBI conspiracy to prevent Trump from being elected president. How did the FBI go about it? First, by mounting an investigation of what nearly everyone now acknowledges was a comprehensive effort by Russia to help Trump get elected. But then, the FBI kept that investigation completely secret from the public, to prevent news of it from affecting the outcome of the election.

You also have to set aside the fact that the Director of the FBI may have thrown the election to Trump when he violated FBI protocols, and announced 11 days before the election, that the Bureau was reopening the investigation into Hillary Clinton’s emails.

There doesn’t seem to be any evidence that the FBI engaged in a conspiracy, and the GOP’s claim is contradicted by everything the FBI actually did.

And so far, Republicans have not produced any evidence that Strzok, or anyone else, took any official action that was biased or inappropriate with respect to the Trump campaign.

Fake news, folks. But Gowdy’s committee managed to set a new low during their show trial of Strzok:

This is where we are: The American right have become Trumpers. The head Trumper is free to say and do whatever he likes, and so are his lackeys in Congress.

Today, there is no institutional check on Republicans, except another Republican, Bob Mueller. Ultimately all he can do is provide a report to Congress, which the Trumpers will ignore, regardless of the validity of any accusations it contains. The fate of the nation now hangs on the midterms. And since the electorate failed the country in 2016, we shouldn’t be too hopeful about the odds.

On to cartoons. Strzok tells it like it is:

Trump’s move to remake Supreme Court goes a little too far:

Trump’s new guardian is Judge Kavanaugh:

Trump was poorly received in UK:

Trump took on Germany at the NATO meeting. It wasn’t hard to know why:

Trump’s moving on to his Monday meeting with Putin:

The first Helsinki meeting will be very private:

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