More Untruths by Covid Skeptics

The Daily Escape:

World Trade Center site, NYC, with the Oculus in background – photo by Merrill Dodd

(New columns will be light and variable, as Wrongo and Ms. Right are taking a spur of the moment vacation. Regular programming will resume on April 20, provided the world doesn’t blow up before then.)

A quick note about the Coronavirus. Epidemiologist Elizabeth Jacobs shows us that while we were told by politicians that a strict lockdown to prevent the spread of Covid was causing increased suicides, that’s turned out to be untrue. According to preliminary data from the CDC suicides in the US decreased in 2020.

The fact is that Covid became the third leading cause of death in the US, behind heart disease and cancer, while deaths by suicide went down. Here’s a chart from JAMA:

The US had 2,677 fewer suicide deaths in 2020 than in 2019, a 5.6% decline.

But total deaths increased by 17.7% year over the year, largely driven by Covid. Suicide dropped from the country’s 10th leading cause of death to the 11th.

The data are preliminary and are subject to revision because states are late in reporting.

But really, you Covid skeptics and lockdown opponents? Another effort to mislead people. You say the vaccines are bad for you, and so are masks. Lockdowns destroy our economy, and all of these are an assault on personal freedom. And heaven forfend, let’s never speak about vaccine passports.

Does anyone else think that the reason the British variant has become the leading form of Covid infection in the US is because non-compliance with virus prevention techniques by so many Americans has allowed the variants to spread?

Here’s a musical interlude to kick off Wrongo’s extended break, and your weekend: The group Too Much Joy hasn’t released an album since 1996. They never were a big name, and the new album, “Mistakes Were Made”, was crowd-funded, with only 500 copies made. Some say they sound like the Clash fronted by Randy Newman. Here is Blinding Light of Love”, a cut that is a sarcastic take on the 21st Century:

See you in 10 days.

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Monday Wake Up Call – Extremists in the Military Edition, February 22, 2021

The Daily Escape:

Lake Willoughby VT – February 2021 photo by John Rowe Photography

For decades, domestic extremists have flaunted their ties to the US military, seeking to attach themselves both to the military’s credibility, and their tactical skills.

The January attack on the US Capitol showed us that the ties between US military members and the extreme right are deeper and more pervasive than we thought. Among the Capitol crowd were many military emblems: Some waved Marine Corps flags, many wore military gear, or specific unit patches signifying their time in service.

The AP found that at least 21 active-duty US Army and law enforcement personnel were present at the riot. We know that about 207 people have been arrested so far. The Military Times reported that 32 of the participants in the US Capitol coup had previously served in the military. If you want to get a current reading on the attitudes of the military to the Capitol coup, read the 640 comments on the article. It’s chilling.

How big is the problem? Last year, the FBI told the Pentagon that it had opened criminal investigations that involved 143 current or former service members. Sixty-eight of those involved domestic extremism and the vast majority involved veterans, not active-duty troops. Importantly, the Defense Department has no central database for tracking the allegations or disciplinary actions related to extremism.

Also, military regulations allow service members to have extremist affiliations and use extremist rhetoric if a service member doesn’t act upon them. In fact, the Pentagon reported in 2020 that only 21 service members had been disciplined or discharged over the previous five years for extremist activities. It’s doubtful that reflects the true scope of the problem.

According to a Pentagon report delivered to Congress last October:

“Despite a low number of cases in absolute terms, individuals with extremist affiliations and military experience are a concern to US national security because of their proven ability to execute high-impact events….Access to service members with combat training and technical weapons expertise can also increase both the probability of success and the potency of planned violent attacks.”

Military leaders say tackling the problem is difficult because the Constitution protects freedom of speech, and the law prohibits criminalizing affiliations that are deemed fundamentally political in nature, rather than a threat to harm the public. New defense secretary, Gen. Lloyd Austin, vowed at his confirmation hearing in January to:

“…rid our ranks of racists and extremists, and to create a climate where everyone fit and willing has the opportunity to serve this country with dignity.”

And Pentagon spokesman John Kirby told reporters on Feb. 3:

“Extremism has risen to a top priority as the new secretary called in the service secretaries and Joint Chiefs of Staff…directing them to conduct a 60-day stand-down for leaders to speak with troops about the problem….”

Monitoring the potential extremist activities of 1.3 million active-duty service members is challenging. It’s difficult to distinguish between the casual gestures of some troops and the real warning signs of potentially illegal extremist activity by others.

Another concern is that 35 US Capitol Police officers are being investigated for their actions during the Capitol riot, and six have been suspended. In addition, the NYT reports that at least 30 police from around the country took part in the rally before the Capitol riot. Many are being investigated, and three have been arrested on federal charges related to breaching the Capitol.

The military appears to be less politically representative of society, with a long-term downward trend in the number of officers identifying as Democrats. Instead, identification with the Republican Party has become the norm. The junior officer corps, apart from its female and minority members, appears to be overwhelmingly hard-right Republican. And military personnel have for the past decade been voting in greater percentages than the general population.

In many ways, the military and civilian police seem to have, as Samuel Huntington wrote in 1957, “the outlook of an estranged minority.”

Time to wake up America! We can’t bury our heads in the sand, hoping that the linkage between the military, our police, and groups like QAnon and the fringe of the GOP won’t grow stronger. We need to call out the problem whenever and wherever we see it.

To help you wake up, listen to the group Kiwi Jr.’s “Maid Marian’s Toast” from their brand-new album “Cooler Returns”:

Sample Lyric:

now you’ve got something we want

it’s the Twenties and you’ve got something we want

so you’ve made the decision to make the decision

now spare us all from these half-assed revisions

you’ve got something we’ve always wanted

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Monday Wake Up Call – December 28, 2020

The Daily Escape:

Fallen Leaf Lake, near Lake Tahoe, CA – December 2020 photo by MDodd

Here at the Mansion of Wrong, we made it through Christmas with zoom calls and some good cheer. But before the year ends, Wrongo wants to share a few thoughts on what happened in the past week.

First, if anyone other than Trump were president, the White House would have commemorated a difficult holiday season for hundreds of thousands of families grieving from losses due to Covid. There would have been a small moment calling for national unity: A speech, tolling bells, a moment of silence. Anything, to show people that the president gets it, that they aren’t alone. But not this guy.

Second, Trump pardoned four former Blackwater military contractors who killed 14 Iraqis in 2007. All four had been convicted in federal court, one sentenced to life in prison, the other three to 12-15 years.

One terrible thing stands out: Not one Republican in Congress has raised an objection to these pardons of convicted war criminals. This again shows the dishonor and hypocrisy of the American right. Some in the GOP are even calling these criminals “American heroes“, and are actually defending them.

Imagine the GOP’s outrage if a Democratic president did this.

Here we are, watching the rule of law shredded by Trump, who’s hiding behind yet another poorly conceived founding idea in the Constitution. We need to amend the pardon power. OTOH, can we design a system that the GOP won’t corrupt? They systematically misuse all of the levers of government. So perhaps we should do away with “pardons” and leave the president with “clemency”.

Third, as you know, Trump opposes the Covid “relief” bill and wants it to be amended to include a $2,000 check, not a $600 one. Whatever his motives, he’s right about this. The bill is packed with pork, with just a few crumbs for the people. It’s totally inadequate to our current economic circumstances.

Trump’s call for additional stimulus money has split the Republicans into two camps: those who oppose his plan, and those who as always, are simply silent. House Democrats tried to jump on board by offering an amendment to the bill raising the one-time payment to $2,000, but House Republicans blocked it from being taken up.

This does nothing for the people, but Dems get to say that it’s the Republicans’ fault.

Trump seems to want to collaborate with McConnell to sabotage getting a bill that the Dems want. He and McConnell have been batting the Dems back and forth like a badminton bird, while Trump gets to talk about the good stuff he’d like to do for the people.

Finally, are you surprised that the world’s most loathed industry is coming to our rescue with a vaccine? Or, that they did it in record time?

“…before the coronavirus pandemic started, the two best-known faces of the pharmaceutical business were the imprisoned Martin Shkreli and the…opioid makers at Purdue Pharma. The rest of the industry was perhaps best known for the skyrocketing prices of its medicines. In a Gallup Poll of the public’s view of various business sectors, pharma was ranked at the bottom, behind the oil industry, advertising and public relations, and lawyers.”

In a year where almost everything else went wrong, the vaccine development effort was something that mostly went right.

This also highlights just how badly the US screwed up almost everything else the government did to fight the pandemic. If you think that’s wrong, look at these numbers: Nearly one in every 1,000 Americans has died of COVID. CNN reports that the:

“Census Bureau estimates for the last week of December place the US population at around 330,750,000. On Saturday afternoon, the national death toll from Covid-19 reached 331,116.”

Trump is much worse than any of his predecessors, and that’s truly saying something. He will have killed more Americans than were killed in WWII by the time he leaves office.

People need to focus long enough to realize just how evil Trump has been for America.

Wake up America! It is probably optimistic to say that we may be back to something approaching a new normal by next Christmas, but let’s hope so.

To help you wake up, listen to Imagine Dragons do a live cover released in December 2020, of “I’m Dreaming of a White Christmas”, written in 1942 by Irving Berlin for the film “Holiday Inn”:

 

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Trump Failed to Protect Government Networks

The Daily Escape:

Old cabin in winter – photo by Julie Williams

Various thoughts about US cyber security: First, along with the news about the cyber hack of the US government, comes news that Trump’s twitter account was hacked in October:

“Dutch prosecutors have confirmed that Donald Trump’s Twitter account was hacked in October despite denials from Washington…. The hacker…Victor Gevers, broke into Trump’s account @realDonaldTrump on 16 October by guessing the US president’s password…”

The password? MAGA2020. Gevers told the Dutch paper De Volkskrant that the president was not using basic security measures, like two-step verification:

“I expected to be blocked after four failed attempts. Or at least asked to provide additional information,”

The current US government-wide hack is a true disaster. The cyber security firm FireEye working with the FBI, has reported that the hack was caused by an infiltration of its network security via a software product made by the firm, Solar Winds. Reuters reported:

“On Monday, SolarWinds confirmed that Orion – its flagship network management software – had served as the…conduit for a sprawling international cyberespionage operation. The hackers inserted malicious code into Orion software updates pushed out to nearly 18,000 customers.”

Reuters earlier had reported that a researcher informed SolarWinds last year that he had uncovered the password to SolarWinds’ update mechanism, the vehicle through which its 18,000 customers were compromised. The password was “solarwinds123.”

That isn’t even as strong as Trump’s password. Right now, the damage is uncertain, but it seems extensive. NYT reported:

“…the Treasury and Commerce Departments, the first agencies reported to be breached, were only part of a far larger operation…. About 18,000 private and government users downloaded a Russian tainted software update…that gave its hackers a foothold into victims’ systems, according to SolarWinds, the company whose software was compromised.”

FireEye’s analysis shows that once the virus had infected the targets, it started ‘phoning home’ within 14 days. Sounds like quite a few people in the Trump administration were asleep at the switch: (brackets by Wrongo)

“Two of the most embarrassing breaches came at the Pentagon and the Department of Homeland Security….[who] issued an obfuscating official statement that said only: ‘The Department of Homeland Security is aware of reports of a breach. We are currently investigating the matter.’”

Tom Bossert, Trump’s original Homeland Security advisor in 2017, has an op-ed in the NYT that claims the hack was the work of the Russians. Whether that’s true or not, he’s correct about what has happened since:

“The magnitude of this ongoing attack is hard to overstate. The Russians have had access to a considerable number of important and sensitive networks for six to nine months….For those targets, the hackers will have long ago moved past their entry point, covered their tracks and gained what experts call “persistent access,” meaning the ability to infiltrate and control networks in a way that is hard to detect or remove.”

It will take years to know for certain which networks the hackers are monitoring. Politico reports that Trump has tried to gag the administration’s intelligence community leaders from reporting on the extent of the breach to Congress:

“During a National Security Council meeting on Tuesday night, national security leaders were instructed not to reach out to Capitol Hill for briefings on the massive hack without explicit approval from the White House or ODNI, according to people familiar with the episode.”

This is more dereliction of duty by the Trumpers.

We shovel money at the NSA, the CIA, and Homeland Security, but rarely ask what we get in return. How much compromise of our systems will it take to get accountability from these bureaucrats? It’s staggering that we continue to spend on a bloated military when the most crippling attacks we’ve faced in the past 20 years involve box cutters and computer hackers.

It’s hard to know which was worse: That the federal government was blindsided by a state controlled intelligence agency, or that when it became evident what was happening, White House officials said nothing.

This much is clear: While Trump was busy complaining loudly about the voter hack that didn’t happen in an election that he clearly lost, he’s been silent about the fact that someone was hacking our government. He can hide from this for another five weeks, and after that Biden will doubtless dig into it.

Republicans have spent six weeks crying fraud about the presidential election. But for this? Absolute silence. If this had happened during a Democratic administration, we’d have Republican hearings and talking points for the next 10 years. Where’s their outrage?

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Monday Wake Up Call, Electoral College Votes Edition -December 14, 2020

The Daily Escape:

Pipestone River and Lake Louise Village, Banff NP, Alberta, CN – 2020 photo by Frank King Photos

Trump will lose in the Electoral College today. But that won’t mean Trump’s attempted coup is over. A group of his most loyal GOP backers in Congress are plotting a final-stage challenge on the floor of the House of Representatives on January 6 to try to reverse Biden’s victory.

The way our election system works is that after the Electoral College meets today, Congress still has to certify the votes that were cast by it. At that time, Congress can in fact, refuse to accept the votes of either individual electors or entire state delegations.

If Congress were to refuse Electoral College votes, then those refused votes aren’t counted, and the candidate who has the majority of the remaining electoral votes becomes president. It isn’t necessary for the winning presidential candidate to get 270 electoral votes to win. That candidate only needs a majority of the electoral votes actually certified by Congress. The process is based on the Twelfth Amendment, but that is ambiguous:

“The President of the Senate shall, in the presence of the Senate and House of Representatives, open all the certificates and the votes shall then be counted.”

It does not say what to do if there is a dispute over a state’s electoral voters. In 1887, Congress enacted a statute to address the ambiguity of the Twelfth Amendment; it says that for Congress to refuse to certify any electoral vote, at least one member of the House and one member of the Senate have to lodge a specific objection to the counting of the specific vote(s) in question. If this happens, then the joint session of Congress would be adjourned for two hours, during which time, each legislative body would separately debate the objection(s), and then vote them in or out.

This happened in 2005, after the 2004 election. At that time, it was the Democrats who messed around with what used to be thought of a purely “Ministerial Process”, that is, those formalities that nobody pays much attention to, because no one thought that our representatives would try to game the system.

Back in 2005, Rep Stephanie Tubbs Jones, (D-OH), got Sen Barbara Boxer (D-CA) to agree to join in her objection to the Ohio Electoral College vote. Bush had won Ohio by 118,000 votes over Kerry. While they didn’t want to actually toss Ohio’s EC votes out (since doing so would have flipped the outcome of the election), both Houses adjourned to vote on the objection.

Although the House has 435 seats, ultimately only 31 House members voted to exclude Ohio’s electoral votes, so Tubbs lost. Only Boxer voted to challenge Ohio’s electoral votes in the 100-seat Senate. The final Senate vote was 74-1 (many Democrats abstained), so Bush won.

You’re going to be hearing a lot more about this “Ministerial Process” that will take place on January 6, since many House Republicans are going to object to the certification of a ton of 2020 electoral votes. Luckily, Democratic control of the House should prevent this particular flaw in our electoral system from keeping Trump in office.

The key question is how many Senators will also jump on the Trump Train. If they do, then that requires all the Senate and House Republicans to go on record regarding whether they support Trump’s coup attempt.

So, it’s not over today, and it won’t be over even after the GOP dead-enders in the House and Senate lose their effort to obstruct the election results.

It’s time to wake up America! You no longer have any political norms.

Our political system is devolving. It’s certain that at least a few Republicans will refuse to certify Biden’s win in the Electoral College on January 6.

Imagine if in the not-to-distant future, we have Republicans controlling both Houses. Imagine if they then refuse to certify the election of a Democratic president.

The GOP is no longer a responsible political Party. They’ve become an extremist organization bent on keeping power at all costs. We are witnessing an attempted coup. Just because it won’t succeed doesn’t diminish the importance or the severity of what’s happening. Trump and the GOP are laying the groundwork for authoritarianism in the US.

To help you wake up, listen to this rendition of Leonard Cohen’s “Hallelujah”, performed in 2016 by a 1,500 person chorus in Canada. The song is led by Rufus Wainwright. Imagine a world where strangers can come together to make something beautiful:

 

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No Blogging Today

Happy Sunday! The world headquarters of Wrong has been without power, internet or telecom since last Tuesday, because tropical storm Isais actually did more damage in northwest Connecticut than did the ledgendary storm Sandy.

This means that Wrongo will not be resuming his crummy columns today as originally intended. He is writing this note on his mobile phone with his thumbs, a completely unstainable proposition.

Our incompetent power utility has promised we will return to the 21st century by Wednesday, so please continue to talk among yourselves.

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Are Trump’s Pandemic Failures Incompetence?

The Daily Escape:

Mt. Fuji Japan, in springtime, with pink phlox in bloom – May 2017 photo by mysuitcasejourneys

It’s finally beginning to sink in just how wretched America’s going to look after the fight against the pandemic over the next month or two.

Our failed response will lead to many more deaths than would happen if we had been prepared. Is this failure caused by incompetence, or something much, much worse? It may not be worth debating, since people will die either way.

Let’s look at a few jaw-dropping examples. The Pentagon has just ordered 100,000 body bags. Sounds as if we really DO know how to do federal procurement, even though the lack of personal protective equipment (PPE) for healthcare workers is approaching emergency levels. We’re missing PPE because the Trump administration wouldn’t take responsibility for ordering those items centrally, to get the best price and the fastest deliveries.

Worse, Trump repeatedly assured Americans that the government had 10,000 ventilators in reserve to ship to the hardest-hit hospitals when needed. But many of the federal government’s remaining undistributed ventilators are broken! Apparently, 2,109 of them are unavailable because the contract to maintain the government’s stockpile lapsed last summer. Work on repairing them only began in January.

Isn’t cutting through red tape supposed to be a GOP strength? Didn’t they find the time to gut auto emissions just last week? But this $38 million ventilator repair contract simply couldn’t be expedited.

And CNN reports that Trump simply “took a gamble” that warmer weather would cause the virus to dissipate, siding with aides who were pushing back on the dire warnings coming from doctors on the coronavirus task force. Here’s Trump on February 10:

“You know, a lot of people think that goes away in April with the heat…as the heat comes in. Typically, that will go away in April. We’re in great shape though. We have 12 cases — 11 cases, and many of them are in good shape now.”

April is here, and 12 cases have become 214,039. The Coronavirus isn’t going away.

Did Trump just “get it wrong”? Are we looking at incompetence, or an inability to escape the GOP’s worldview about states’ rights?

More: As Abbott Laboratories began shipping its new 5 minute tests, the question of which states should get the new tests became an issue: (emphasis by Wrongo)

“During a Tuesday meeting of the White House coronavirus task force in the Situation Room, Vice President Pence and other officials discussed diverting new tests to areas where there are relatively few cases, according to two individuals familiar with the matter who spoke on the condition of anonymity to describe internal deliberations.”

The final consensus in the meeting seemed to be, “Let’s send it to the South and low density areas.”

Sure, forget about America’s current pandemic hotspots, where the virus has sidelined many first responders and health-care workers. Send the scarce resources to states where Trump can win in November.

That’s more than incompetence, its misappropriation of vital resources and self-dealing. What’s the point of forcing tests on people who think the virus is a hoax? There are plenty of spots clamoring for tests. Supply should follow the demand, unless you’re trolling for votes.

With the shortage of tests, testing has stalled at about 100,000/day, nationally. So long as the virus keeps spreading at a near-exponential rate, we will fall further and further behind, and fail to catch more new infections.

And the longer this continues, the longer it will be until the total lockdowns can be lifted.

The lag in delivering more and faster test results deprives hospitals of workers who could be responding to medical emergencies. It sows uncertainty among hospital officials who must decide what precautions for their staff to take. The competition for the new tests is so intense that governors and mayors are personally calling Abbott executives to try to get deliveries.

We need tens of millions more tests, and tens of millions more masks. The health care workers on the front lines need tens of millions more sets of gowns and gloves.

But this administration can’t seem to do anything that is rational and decent. Through incompetence, greed, and self-interest, they are botching this crisis at every possible point.

The Republicans were able to find $500 billion for Boeing, the airlines, and other large corporations, but just couldn’t see how to find a couple of $ billion to provision the sorely needed tests and PPE for America. Trump has blown every crucial decision he needed to make so far in this crisis.

Wrongo’s message for Republicans: There is something worse than having a Democratic president appoint judges for four years, and that’s having an incompetent in charge of the federal government during a national crisis that is unprecedented in living memory.

The man is beyond infuriating and demoralizing, he’s lethal.

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Monday Wake Up Call – March 16, 2020

The Daily Escape:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

What could go wrong?

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

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

Trump has failed AGAIN.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Time to wake up America! As John Pavlovitz says:

The bill for MAGA has come due, Trump supporters.

It’s time to pay up.

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

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

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

Sample Lyric:

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

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

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Random Tuesday Thoughts

(Wrongo and Ms. Right are away until July 9th visiting our CA family. Expect the next column to be posted then.)

The Daily Escape:

White Sands National Monument, NM – 2019 photo by Bernard-F

#1: Wrongo watched the video of Trump walking across the Korean DMZ. While most foreign policy professionals will have a cranky reaction to the event, it represents progress. Both sides had stopped negotiations and in fact, were not even talking, after Trump walked out of the Hanoi meeting.

Whether it is a breakthrough that leads to a deal remains to be seen. OTOH, Trump took his daughter Ivanka and Tucker Carlson to the DMZ, while sending John Bolton (who he called “Mike”), and Mike Pompeo on to other tasks. Anything that drives the GOP neocons crazy can’t be all bad.

The incoherence of Trump’s global strategy shows itself in extending himself to North Korea, a country that has nuclear weapons, and the means to deliver them. The US has no agreement with NorKo to contain its weapons of mass destruction. We don’t even have a peace agreement after the War that ended in 1953, but we’re talking.

Contrast that with Trump’s walking away from the signed Iranian nuclear deal, which was negotiated to prevent an exact North Korea-type situation from happening. Inexplicable.

#2: Forbes has a very interesting article on new solar power capacity in California:

“Los Angeles Power and Water officials have struck a deal on the largest and cheapest solar + battery-storage project in the world, with a prestige solar battery supplier, at prices that leave fossil fuels in the dust and may relegate nuclear power to the dustbin.”

Cheaper than fossil fuels, the new plant will be built north of LA, in Kern County. LA officials said that it will be the largest and lowest-cost solar and high-capacity battery storage project in the US. When up and running, it will operate at half the estimated cost of power from a new natural gas plant. The plant is expected to deliver its first megawatt by April 2023.

#3: Reuters reports that Trump’s “deal” with China may not be a deal at all. In their article, China warns of long road ahead for deal with US after ice-breaking talks, Reuters quotes the official China Daily, an English-language daily often used by Beijing to put its message out to the rest of the world. It warned there was no guarantee there would ever be a deal: (emphasis by Wrongo)

“Agreement on 90 percent of the issues has proved not to be enough, and with the remaining 10 percent where their fundamental differences reside, it is not going to be easy to reach a 100-percent consensus, since at this point, they remain widely apart even on the conceptual level.”

#4: Next, it’s that time of year again where Americans camp out for days in order to visit with a pop-up rural clinic nurse. Why? Because we have the most expensive “health care” on earth, and a system absolutely designed to keep it that way:

“They were told to arrive early if they wanted to see a doctor, so Lisa and Stevie Crider left their apartment in rural Tennessee almost 24 hours before the temporary medical clinic was scheduled to open. They packed a plastic bag with what had become their daily essentials after 21 years of marriage: An ice pack for his recurring chest pain. Tylenol for her swollen feet. Peroxide for the abscess in his mouth. Gatorade for her low blood sugar and chronic dehydration.”

A view from the volunteers:

“…a clinic volunteer….patrolled the parking lot late at night and handed out numbers to signify each patient’s place in the line. No. 48 went to a woman having panic attacks from adjacent Meigs County, where the last remaining mental-health provider had just moved away to Nashville. No. 207 went to a man with unmanaged heart disease from Polk County, where the only hospital had gone bankrupt and closed in 2017.”

With Republicans doing everything they can to break the Affordable Care Act, and then refusing to fix it, this is what their actions have caused. Rural hospitals are closing, people in rural counties have no health care. And the GOP tells them to blame Democrats. The reality is that Republicans in these states have cut funding for the programs that kept red state rural clinics and hospitals operating.

#5: Columbia University reported that scientists have discovered a gigantic aquifer of relatively fresh water trapped below the Atlantic Ocean. This undersea aquifer stretches from Massachusetts to New Jersey, extending more or less continuously out about 50 miles to the edge of the continental shelf.

The water was trapped in mile-deep ice 15,000 to 20,000 years ago. When the ice melted, sediments formed huge river deltas on top of the shelf, and fresh water got trapped there. It would have to be desalinated for most uses, but the cost would be much less than processing seawater.

See you next week!

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Should America Intervene in Venezuela?

The Daily Escape:

Bald Eagle on the Housatonic River, CT – February, 2019 photo by JH Clery

On Sunday’s Face the Nation, Trump was asked about Venezuela and whether he’d negotiate with President Maduro to convince him to exit. Trump put military intervention squarely on the table:

“MARGARET BRENNAN: What would make you use the U.S. military in Venezuela? What’s the national security interest?

DONALD TRUMP: Well I don’t want to say that. But certainly it’s something that’s on the- it’s an option.”

This seems to be part of a larger Latin American plan. The WSJ reports that the Trump administration’s plans include regime change in Venezuela, Nicaragua and eventually Cuba. This is a multiyear neocon project that has at least some bipartisan political support. It may require military force, as Trump indicated to CBS that he’s willing to consider. One thing that the WSJ reports is this:

“US law-enforcement officials say they have evidence Mr. Maduro directed state resources to create what they allege has become one of the most powerful international narco-trafficking operations in the world, and with links to Hezbollah, the Lebanese group designated by the US as a terror organization.”

So, there you have the first Western Hemisphere argument to “fight them over there, rather than fight them here”.

As we said on Saturday, nothing unites a country like a sovereign enemy on its borders. Venezuelans may hate Maduro, but they also hate the US. China and Russia may be worried about the $50 billion and $17 billion Venezuela owes each respectively. Turkey has also supported Maduro. Although they all are Maduro’s allies, it is unclear if they would be willing to help, should the US intervene.

The consequences of all of our former interventions should be screaming at us. But, John Bolton, Mike Pompeo and Donald Trump seem deaf to the messages. Bolton said:

“We think stability and democracy in Venezuela are in the direct national interests of the United States right now…The authoritarian regime of Chávez and Maduro has allowed the penetration by adversaries of the United States, not least of which is Cuba.

Some call the country ‘Cubazuela’, reflecting the grip that Cuba’s military and security forces have on the Maduro regime. We think that is a strategic significant threat to the United States and there are others as well, including Iran’s interest in Venezuela’s uranium deposits.”

Maduro is no prize. The Economist reports: (brackets by Wrongo)

In the past five years GDP has fallen by half. Annual inflation is reckoned to be 1.7m%…which means that Bolívar savings worth $10,000 at the start of the year [will] dwindle to 59 cents by the end….People are malnourished and lack simple medicines, including antibiotics. Hospitals have become death traps for want of power and equipment. Blaming his troubles on foreign conspiracies, Mr. Maduro has rejected most offers of humanitarian aid.

Juan Guaidó, head of the Maduro opposition, and President of the National Assembly, has support from the EU, and the Lima Group of 12 Western Hemisphere countries (including Argentina, Brazil and Canada). The US recognized Guaidó early.

The question is, should we intervene at all? And if the answer is yes, how should we intervene?

The US is still Venezuela’s main trading partner. Last week, we imposed curbs on purchases of the country’s crude oil, and a ban on imports from the US of the diluents that must be blended with the extra-heavy oil from the Orinoco Belt to allow it to flow through domestic pipelines. The first hits Venezuela’s oil exports, while the second curbs their production. This will reduce revenue from oil exports by more than $11 billion.

By ordering that payments for Venezuelan oil be put in bank accounts reserved for Guaidó’s government, the US hopes to asphyxiate the regime, expecting that the armed forces will then switch sides to Guaidó.

Venezuelans face the dreadful task of having to topple their own government. This primarily means persuading their army to change sides. Other nations can pledge moral support to Juan Guaidó. But sanctions and US threats may prove counterproductive.

Venezuela poses no threat to US security. Since GW Bush, we’ve found excuses to attack Iraq, Afghanistan, Libya and Syria. We’ve imposed economic sanctions on Russia, Iran and Myanmar. The gain for our security has been negligible.

Military intervention has become an occupational disease of America’s leaders.

The urge to help Venezuelans in need is natural. Doing nothing is painful and seems callous. But will intervening really help? Even states with despotic leaders are sovereign. They must make and correct their own mistakes, and ultimately, be strengthened by doing so.

Regime change in Caracas is one possible outcome of our intervention. Civil war is another.

It is a certainty is that American lives and money will be lost.

Trump must choose wisely if intervention is on the table.

Any bets on that?

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