Monday Wake Up Call – June 8, 2020

The Daily Escape:

Banksy – June, 2020

Banksy is a well-known British graffiti artist whose identity is secret. But he’s become well-known, gaining attention for his politically charged works. The above appeared in an Instagram post where Banksy says:

“At first I thought I should just shut up and listen to black people about this issue. But why would I do that? It’s not their problem, it’s mine. People of colour are being failed by the system. The white system. Like a broken pipe flooding the apartment of the people living downstairs. The faulty system is making their life a misery, but it’s not their job to fix it. They can’t, no one will let them in the apartment upstairs. This is a white problem. And if white people don’t fix it, someone will have to come upstairs and kick the door in.”

Well said. We all should know where the responsibility lies for fixing the problems of racism.

Let’s hope that Americans understand the threat and the opportunity posed by this moment. Racism and the indiscriminate use of violence by police are burning the fabric of our society. How the fire is put out is entirely in our hands.

And the demonstrations continued over the weekend, mostly peacefully, at least as Wrongo writes this. These rallies have quickly become the focal point of a nationwide movement against systemic racism, and for police reform. They’re becoming better organized, and are unlikely to end soon.

Thousands gathered on Capitol Hill on Saturday to join a protest organized by Freedom Fighters DC. It drew one of the largest crowds since protests began there:

Source: Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call

Sen. Angus King (I-ME) joined the protesters outside the Dirksen Senate Office Building. Roll Call reported that: (brackets by Wrongo)

“…he [Sen. King] drew connections between the current uprisings and his experience at the 1963 March on Washington. He was a 19-year-old student at Dartmouth College and was on hand for Martin Luther King Jr.’s “I Have A Dream” speech at the march on Aug. 28, 1963.”

At the time, Wrongo was also a 19-year-old student, studying at Georgetown in DC. Sen. King says that this is a “full circle moment” for him, and Wrongo agrees. It’s a full circle moment for America. We appear to be on the verge of something big, politically.

More from Sen. King:

“This is what America is all about. First Amendment rights of people to peaceably assemble and petition the government for the redress of grievances. This is a 400-year-old grievance…”

Roll Call reported that protesters and police kept each other at a distance and largely avoided skirmishes. King noted that Saturday’s crowd was about 80% white and young, which he called “significant” in comparison to Dr. King’s 1963 March on Washington.

Having a large element of white support for the DC marches is important to building the political momentum for change. As Banksy said, “People of colour are being failed by the system. The white system”.

Kellie Carter Jackson, says in the Atlantic:

“Since the beginning of this country, riots and violent rhetoric have been markers of patriotism. When our Founding Fathers fought for independence, violence was the clarion call. Phrases such as “Live free or die,” “Give me liberty or give me death,”…echoed throughout the nation, and continue today.

More from Carter Jackson:

“Black rebellion and protest, though, have historically never been coupled with allegiance to American democracy. Today, peaceful demonstrations and violent riots alike have erupted across the country in response to police brutality and the killings of George Floyd, Breonna Taylor, and Ahmaud Arbery. Yet the language used to refer to protesters has included looters, thugs, and even claims that they are un-American.”

Particularly by Trump and Barr.

In reality, if we are to fix what’s wrong, it’s going to be fixed town by town and city by city. That means that domestic policing in the US needs to be reinvented from the ground up. It will be a huge job, since there are more than 18,000 police departments in the US.

It’s time to wake up America! We’re again seeing a grand revealing of what’s been behind the curtain since 1619.

We’re waking up to: “this is what’s going on in America?” Hopefully, it’s not too late.

And with COVID-19 added to the mix, we’re looking around, saying: “Wow. Why is everyone so vulnerable? Why is everyone living paycheck to paycheck? “What’s with the police brutality?”

Time to wake up and get busy. It will take an overwhelming turnout in November to right this sinking ship.

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Sunday Cartoon Blogging – June 7, 2020

There have been many kinds of protests by athletes about race, gender, and unequal use of power in American sports history. With the killing of George Floyd, many athletes have decided to use their voices and iconic positions in our society to speak out, hoping to change our society.

Here are a few examples from the past that seem heroic today.

1967: Jim Brown, Bill Russell, and Lew Alcindor meet to show support for Muhammad Ali, who had refused induction into the US Army as a conscientious objector. Two weeks later, Ali was convicted of draft evasion, sentenced to five years in prison and stripped of his heavyweight title.

1968: It’s an iconic image, two American athletes raise their fists on the podium in Mexico’s Olympic stadium during the playing of “The Star Spangled Banner”. African-American athletes Tommie Smith and John Carlos used the black power salute, and were asked to leave the US Olympic team.

1996: Denver Nuggets guard Mahmoud Abdul-Rauf decided to stop standing for the national anthem. NBA commissioner David Stern suspended Abdul-Rauf for his protest. They later came to an agreement: Abdul-Rauf could close his eyes and look downward during the anthem, but had to stand.

2012: To protest the death of Trayvon Martin, members of the Miami Heat, including Dwayne Wade and LeBron James, donned hooded sweatshirts before their game on March 24, 2012.

2014: Chicago Bulls star Derrick Rose came onto the court for warmups wearing an “I Can’t Breathe” T-shirt, supporting Eric Garner, who died when a white police officer used a choke hold to arrest him. Garner’s death was ruled a homicide, but a grand jury declined to indict NYPD Officer Daniel Pantaleo.

2016: San Francisco 49ers quarterback Colin Kaepernick refused to stand for the national anthem before his preseason game against the Green Bay Packers. When asked to justify his actions, he told the media that he couldn’t show pride in a flag for a country that oppressed black people and other people of color.

In 2020, people are finally coming around to Kaepernick’s position. We see many examples of police and protesters kneeling together as a sign of solidarity and de-escalation of possible conflict on America’s streets. Michael Jordan, long an apolitical athlete, just announced he will donate $100 million over the next 10 years to “organizations dedicated to ensuring racial equality, social justice and greater access to education.”

Also in 2020: While Washington DC Mayor Muriel Bowser isn’t an athlete, she renamed 16th Street “Black Lives Matter Plaza” and had “Black Lives Matter” painted in large yellow letters on the street which leads straight to the White House. Bowser said:

“We want to call attention today to making sure our nation is more fair and more just and that black lives and that black humanity matter in our nation.”

Trump responded by complaining that the mayor keeps asking “us” for “handouts.” Apparently, Trump doesn’t realize that it’s the federal government’s job to partially fund the district.

DC, where the streets have two names:

Trump’s photo-op was too revealing:

America’s twin viruses are hard to take:

And it’s only June:

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Sunday Cartoon Blogging — Protesting and Looting Edition — May 31, 2020

Last Monday night in Minneapolis, 46-year old George Floyd was arrested. Police officer Derek Chauvin handcuffed him and pinned him to the ground, crushing his throat. Floyd died an hour later.

What happened next has played out time and time again in American cities after high-profile cases of police brutality. Vigils and protests were organized in Minneapolis and around the US to demand police accountability. Google the name of any large city in the US along with “police brutality” and your search will return many pages of results.

But while Minneapolis investigators waited to charge Chauvin, unrest boiled over. News reports soon carried images of property destruction and police in riot gear. This has now morphed into the Minnesota governor calling out the National Guard.

Wrongo can’t claim to understand race issues in America, but he thinks that we should take a minute to re-read Dr. King’s “Letter from a Birmingham Jail”. In his letter, MLK identified “the great stumbling block in the stride toward freedom” not as the KKK, or the South’s White Citizens Councils. He said it was white moderates, people who:

  • Are more devoted to order than justice
  • Prefer the absence of tension to the presence of justice
  • Say they agree with your goals, but not your methods for achieving them
  • Constantly urge patience in the struggle, saying you should wait for a more convenient time

If you have watched the news for the past 40 years, you know that the Moderate is one stumbling block to universal justice. The Moderate’s tools are things like Non-Disclosure Agreements, loyalty to the team, and to the power of the hierarchy. Moderates may not be at the top of the power pyramid, but as long as Moderates can kiss up and kick down, they’ll hang in there, waiting for a better time to think about bringing justice to all Americans.

When it comes to violence in our cities, as Elie Mystal says in The Nation, it’s hard to name a city in America where the police aren’t working for white people. The police know it. And deep down, white people know exactly whom the police are supposed to protect and serve, and they know it’s not black and brown people.

Disagree? Go to any white suburb in America. Cops aren’t wandering the streets, people aren’t being arrested and neighbors aren’t being sent to prison. It’s easy for most of us to think that the George Floyd’s of America are simply a tragic cost of doing business, that a looted Target is evidence of the need for more policing.

We can hold more than one thought in our heads. People should be free to demonstrate, and that sometimes leads to rioting. Both are forms of protest. Wrongo doesn’t condone looting. But it’s also a form of protest. If you argue it’s not, then refresh your memory about the Boston Tea Party, when white protesters dressed up as minorities and looted to make a point about taxes.

If you are upset about protests, and were also pissed off at Colin Kaepernick taking a knee, you are probably a Moderate. People first need to be able to identify racism when they see it before they can understand the racial issues underpinning what happened in Minneapolis this weekend.

If you woke up today angry, confused, or frustrated about the direction our country is heading: VOTE!

Wrongo has looked hard for fun cartoons, without success. Here’s the best of the week. Sadly, her hope can only be aspirational:

How times have changed:

From 2016. All you need to know about demonstrating in America:

For Sunday, we include a rarely heard protest song written in 1966 by Malvina Reynolds (1900-1977). She wrote “Little Boxes” and many other songs. She wrote “It Isn’t Nice” as an answer to those who value order above justice. Here, “It Isn’t Nice” is sung by Barbara Dane and the Chambers Brothers:

Sample lyric:

It isn’t nice to block the doorway,
It isn’t nice to go to jail,
There are nicer ways to do it,
But the nice ways always fail.
It isn’t nice, it isn’t nice,
You told us once, you told us twice,
But if that is Freedom’s price,
We don’t mind.

It isn’t nice to carry banners
Or to sit in on the floor,
Or to shout our cry of Freedom
At the hotel and the store.
It isn’t nice, it isn’t nice,
You told us once, you told us twice,
But if that is Freedom’s price,
We don’t mind.

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

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Monday Wake Up Call – May 4, 2020

The Daily Escape:

Flathead River with Mission Mountains in background, MT – photo by Jay Styles

Can the Republicans force the economy to open? Bill Barr thinks so.

“Justice Department officials have spoken on conference calls with leaders of conservative groups, who have flagged individual cases as worthy of the department’s review. Some cabinet officials have signaled that they back the effort by participating in private calls with conservative allies, according to multiple people involved with the calls.”

The COVID-19 outbreak sparked many states and municipalities to order their citizens to stay at home and businesses to close in order to slow the spread of the illness, and to protect the public, but do the states have the authority to do it?

According to the Incidental Economist:

“Terms like isolation and quarantine have legal meaning, and relate to the government’s powers to act in the public’s interest. Isolation is a targeted approach for individuals already diagnosed with a disease while quarantine restricts the movement of individuals or groups exposed to an illness, some of whom may not be sick.

Both strategies restrict the movement of individuals and are considered a severe deprivation of liberty.”

Last Friday, New Mexico Gov. Michelle Grisham (D) quarantined the town of Gallup, at the request of the city’s mayor, because the city is a COVID-19 hotspot. Grisham invoked New Mexico’s Riot Control Act. The order shuts down all roads to and from Gallup.

We can expect that this will lead to legal battles over whether governors can close individual American cities.

Last week, AG Barr issued a memorandum directing an effort to monitor state and local shutdown policies. Barr wrote: (emphasis by Wrongo)

 “We do not want to unduly interfere with the important efforts of state and local officials to protect the public…But the Constitution is not suspended in times of crisis.”

Actually, it has happened many times before.

  • Both GW Bush and Abraham Lincoln suspended habeas corpus.
  • John Adams helped pass the Alien and Sedition Acts of 1798, those four laws “restricted the activities of foreign residents in the country and limited freedom of speech and of the press”.
  • FDR built internment camps and imprisoned Japanese Americans.
  • Woodrow Wilson presided over the passage of the Espionage Act followed by the Sedition Act. People couldn’t say anything: “…insulting or abusing the US government, the flag, the Constitution or the military.” Violators could receive 20 years in prison.

And now, Barr barges in. Since Wrongo isn’t a lawyer, we’ll have to leave the arguments to those who are qualified. But it seems that in the past, all the Constitution-breaking has been done by presidents, not governors. What we have is a federal vs. state powers question.

So far, the DOJ has intervened in only one case, a “religious freedom” complaint, a lawsuit by a Baptist church in Greenville, MS.

Conservatives are perfectly willing to be inconsistent. They are champions of “states’ rights” until the state in question happens to lean blue. Speaking of inconsistency, remember that it was Trump who when asked why he wasn’t going to issue a nationwide ‘shelter in place’ order, said that it was up to the states.

The Trump administration delegated responsibility to the states with one hand, yet allows the DOJ to threaten governors with legal action. We also have religious conservatives who seem to forget the basis of Christianity, and are willing to put their neighbors at risk. Finally, there is a worrying increase in right-wing civil disobedience (while carrying weapons) that could easily ignite a real civil problem.

Once again, shopping is patriotism. Legitimate fear is unconstitutional. This isn’t unprecedented. After 9/11, GW Bush told everyone to go out and shop. Shopping is apparently how Republicans show their love of country.

Taken together, we as a nation have truly lost our way.

Wake up America! Insist that by November, the states have prepared well enough that it is safe to vote in huge numbers to get these birds out of office.

To help you wake up, let’s listen to Bruce Springsteen and his wife, Patty Scialfa playing two songs from their home studio, “Land of Hope and Dreams” and “Jersey Girl”. This was part of the Jersey 4 Jersey benefit for the New Jersey Pandemic Relief Fund.

This is dedicated to daughter Kelly, a former Jersey girl who can use a pick-me-up. Remember, dreams will not be thwarted!

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

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Stimulus Money is Going to Churches

The Daily Escape:

View of Mt. Rainer from Reflection Lake WA – 2018 photo by NathanielMerz

Here is the 7-day look at the national numbers for COVID-19:

The rate of growth in deaths as a percentage of cases continues to rise, while the rate of increase in cases picked up slightly on 4/6, although overall, it is slowing vs. 7 days ago. Testing is still growing, although the rate of growth in tests is now about equal to the growth in cases.

A little-noticed part of the $2 trillion stimulus package allows the federal government to provide money directly to US churches to help them pay pastor salaries and utility bills. From NPR: (emphasis by Wrongo)

“…the $2 trillion economic relief legislation…includes about $350 billion for the Small Business Administration (SBA) to extend loans to small businesses facing financial difficulties as a result of the coronavirus shutdown orders. Churches and other faith-based organizations are among the businesses that qualify for aid under the program, even if they have an exclusively religious orientation.

So, we’re not simply speaking of not-for-profit subsidiaries of churches such as charities. The Trump administration is saying churches themselves will qualify for direct loans. Apparently, the program is based on the average monthly payroll of a church school or the parish, which is extrapolated to eight weeks. The cost of maintaining staff for that period becomes the loan amount.

From the SBA’s statement:

“Faith-based organizations are eligible to receive SBA loans regardless of whether they provide secular social services….No otherwise eligible organization will be disqualified from receiving a loan because of the religious nature, religious identity, or religious speech of the organization.”…

The SBA’s regulations currently exclude some religious entities. Because those regulations bar the participation of a class of potential recipients based solely on their religious status, SBA said it will decline to enforce those subsections and will propose amendments to conform those regulations to the Constitution.

The SBA is quoting a 2017 Supreme Court decision, Trinity Lutheran v. Comer, which was the first time the Court said the government is required to provide public funding directly to a religious organization. Chief Justice Roberts wrote for the majority in the 7-2 decision. The key argument was that Trinity Lutheran faced discrimination solely because of its identity as a church. That, the Court decided, was discrimination. From the opinion:

“There is no question that Trinity Lutheran was denied a grant simply because of what it is….A church.”

The grant was for refurbishing the church’s playground.

But in this case, the SBA is offering direct funding of religious entities with money provided by tax dollars from the rest of us. We’re likely to see this in the courts soon.

This isn’t the first time that the Trump administration provided funds directly to churches, synagogues, mosques and other religious organizations. In 2018, the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) changed its rules to make houses of worship eligible for disaster aid.

First Amendment watchers have reacted. Alison Gill, legal and policy vice president of American Atheists said:

“The government cannot directly fund inherently religious activities….It can’t spend government tax dollars on prayer, on promoting religion [or] proselytization. That directly contradicts the Establishment Clause of the First Amendment.”

If they want Federal funds, shouldn’t they pay Federal taxes?

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Saturday Soother – Bill Barr Edition

The Daily Escape:

Peyto Lake, Jasper NP, Alberta CN – 2019 photo by TheMilkMan26

America needs a Trumpectomy, and that won’t happen until January 2021. The problem is that Trumpism is like a metastasized cancer, and maybe even excising Trump won’t be enough to cure the country.

When the story broke that AG William Barr had intervened in the sentencing recommendation for Roger Stone, most of the country was in an uproar. Career DOJ prosecutors left the case, and most of us were angry and in disbelief that Trump was directing the DOJ’s case along with his accomplice, AG Barr.

The Justice Department was also in disbelief. NBC News’ Ken Delanian reported that Department of Justice employees almost walked out en masse on Wednesday over Barr’s actions. Barr responded to the criticism from inside and outside the DOJ by telling ABC News that Trump’s constant tweets “make it impossible for me to do my job.” The first blush reaction to Barr’s statement was that Barr was complaining about Trump getting in his grill.

A much more realistic (and troubling) take is that Barr is defending his action as “perfect”, and the only reason that he’s taking flack is a completely unrelated tweet from Trump.

Barr’s criticism of Trump is about as real as professional wrestling. He’s a fan of executive power, and too aware of Trump’s personality to have done this without coordinating with the White House.

And if that wasn’t enough, the NYT reported on Friday that Barr assigned yet another outside prosecutor to scrutinize the DOJ’s criminal case against Michael Flynn, Trump’s former national security adviser. This is yet another case of political interference by the DOJ into the work of its own career prosecutors.

Flynn pleaded guilty, but at the start of the sentencing phase, he hired a new attorney, Sidney Powell, a darling of the right wing media, who is also a FOX contributor. She is contesting his guilty plea.

Barr said just the other day that he would not be bullied or swayed for political reasons, and would only act in the name of maintaining the highest judicial standards. Now, the question for Barr is: How did he pick the Stone and Flynn cases for the DOJ to pursue?

Flynn’s judge, Emmet Sullivan, wrote a 92-page opinion in December laying out why the things that Barr just hired another counsel to second-guess won’t affect Flynn’s guilt. Why is the entire Right wing is going to the mats to defend Flynn, a guy who was secretly on Turkey’s payroll while acting as Trump’s NatSec advisor?

Their hero is a guy who was selling out the US for $600K.

It’s important to remember that Flynn, Manafort, and Stone broke the law repeatedly. Barr is working to undermine our judicial process on their behalf. Now, you can prosecute the bad guys, but don’t mess with the president’s friends. Do that and you’ll be out of work, or worse.

This of course, changes how prosecutors will do their jobs.

Successfully performing the Trumpectomy will be an all hands on deck effort. We can’t give up hope. Wrongo returned from his military service in 1969, and protested the Vietnam War until it ended in 1975.

We need to resist Trumpism until it ends. Let’s close with two excerpts from Thomas Merton’s “Letter to a young activist”, written during the Vietnam War in 1966:

“This country is SICK, man. It is one of the sickest things that has happened. People are fed on myths, they are stuffed up to the eyes with illusions. They CAN’T think straight. They have a modicum of good will, and some of them have a whole lot of it, but with the mental bombardment everybody lives under, it is just not possible to see straight, no matter where you are looking.”

Sound familiar? Merton goes on to say:

“Vietnam is the psychoanalysis of the US. I wonder if the nation can come out of it and survive. I have a hunch we might be able to. But your stresses and strains, mine, Dan Berrigan’s, all of them, are all part of this same syndrome, and it is extremely irritating and disturbing to find oneself, like it or not, involved in the national madness.”

We’ve been here before, and with huge voter turnout, we can beat Trumpism.

We really need today’s Saturday Soother. To help you begin, let’s brew up a mug of Kona Bourbon Pointu Laurina, ($62.50/8oz.). Wrongo know that’s expensive, but use some of your Trump winnings to buy it from Hula Daddy, an artisanal coffee grower in Kona, Hawaii.

Now put on your headphones and listen to “21st Century USA” by the Drive By Truckers from their new album “Unraveled”. This isn’t designed to soothe you, but to fire you up:

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

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Saturday Soother – January 18, 2020

The Daily Escape:

Polar Bear, Churchill, Manitoba CN – October 2019 photo by Colin Hessel

For a lot of people, this will be a long weekend with the federal holiday for Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. on Monday (his actual birth date was Wednesday, the 15th).

Thousands of pro-gun fanatics are expected to march at the Virginia state capital on MLK Day. Prior to VA governor Northam’s declaration of a state of emergency, those pro-gun lobbyists were expected to brandish weapons and look as menacing as possible to lawmakers who want to reform the state’s gun laws. Now, the state of emergency means the state capitol grounds at least, should be gun-free.

Naturally, the choice of MLK Day for a pro-gun march wasn’t a coincidence.

MLK Day was carefully chosen for the rally, since many of the people hyping it are white nationalists. The Virginia Citizen Defense League says its motives for choosing MLK Day for its annual pro-gun rally are innocent. They say the date was picked because it’s a federal holiday, which allows more gun owners to be able to come.

But King was assassinated in 1968 by a gun-wielding right-winger, so it’s difficult to imagine there’s no ulterior purpose in using the same day for gun-wielding right-wingers to celebrate themselves.

Maybe they think it ought to be James Earl Ray day.

On top of that, Tuesday brings “All Impeachment, All the Time”, so we won’t get much of a break from the Lev Parnas show this week.

Charlie Pierce talks about how low and grubby high crimes can be: (emphasis by Wrongo)

“The proper historical analogue to this event is not the impeachment of Bill Clinton, but the impeachment of Andrew Johnson. The Clinton impeachment was the isolated case of one man’s clumsy foibles within the confines of the civil and criminal justice systems. No other constitutional principle was under discussion. No constitutional institution was at risk. The balance of powers was not in danger of coming unraveled unless Clinton had been removed from office for such relatively flimsy charges, political accelerants aside.

Andrew Johnson disobeyed an act passed by Congress specifically to rein in his powers. This was a full-speed collision between Article I and Article II powers. That’s what the impeachment of this president* is, too. If anything, the actions addressed by this impeachment are even cruder than Johnson’s were, and Johnson was drunk a lot of the time. The current impeachment is shot through with actions that remind you how closely cupidity and stupidity rhyme. When the House managers walked the articles across the Capitol, the Founders walked with them, although many of them were probably astonished at how low and grubby high crimes can be.”

We’ll see what the next week brings in both Richmond, and in the Senate. Keep your powder dry.

It’s pretty cold here in New England, and we expect substantial snow on Saturday afternoon. So, now’s the time to make sure we take a break from another trying week, and spend a few moments in peace before the snow storm. IOW, it’s time for another Saturday Soother!

Let’s start by brewing up a mug of organic Conscientious Objector Coffee, created for those who follow their conscience ($17/12 oz.). It comes from Oakland, CA’s Highwire Coffee, who says it has sweet creaminess and fruitiness upfront, with a cocoa finish. Yum!

Now settle back in a comfy chair by a window and listen to AndrĂ© Rieu and his Johann Strauss Orchestra play “The Beautiful Blue Danube” by Johann Strauss II. It was recorded live at the Schönbrunn Palace in Vienna. If you watch, you will see marvelous dancing by members of the famous Austrian Elmayer Dancing School, the orchestra having fun, and the audience enjoying a bit of schmaltz:

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

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Saturday Soother – December 7, 2019

The Daily Escape:

Crater Lake, OR on Thanksgiving, 2019 – photo by hglwvac9. This is the fourth time we’ve featured Crater Lake.

An issue that gets no traction in the US media is what should be done with ISIS fighters who have been captured in the fighting in Syria and Iraq. In November, a federal judge ruled that a New Jersey-born woman who joined the Islamic State five years ago, was no longer an American citizen, and would be denied re-entry into the US. She had burned her US passport in 2014, and declared herself to be a part of the caliphate. She used social media to encourage others to join. She then married an Australian-born ISIS fighter who was killed in 2015, and then married a Tunisian-born fighter who was also killed.

GZero has an article by Willis Sparks that reviews the pros and cons of allowing ISIS members to return to their home country. They come from more than 100 countries, many thousands are held by Turkey, while there are more than 10,000 women and children (mostly family members of ISIS fighters) still living in camps inside Syria.

Turkey says it intends to send most home. Syria won’t keep them either. This creates a policy dilemma: Should these terrorists and/or their families be allowed to return to their native countries? Or should countries refuse to allow them back? Sparks offers the arguments on both sides. First, arguments to bring them home:

  • Repatriated fighters and their families should stand trial as terrorists at home. That’s better than allowing them to remain at large.
  • Some of the women were coerced to join the fight. Yes, many who claim to be victims may be lying, but it’s better to allow a guilty person to return home to stand trial than to leave an innocent person to a potentially terrible fate they don’t deserve.
  • Thousands of children were born into ISIS fighter families in Syria. They’re guilty of nothing. Many are sick and/or at risk of death inside refugee camps, where they can also be radicalized.
  • Governments must abide by their own laws. Many of the fighters and family members are still citizens of the countries they left, and therefore have the rights of citizens. In many countries, like the US, the children of citizens are also citizens, even if they were born elsewhere.

Arguments to reject them:

  • A citizen who declares war on his or her own government and carries out or enables the murder of innocent people should forfeit some rights — especially the right of citizenship.
  • While some of them may have been tricked or coerced to go to war, how are courts expected to separate fact from fiction so far from the battlefield?
  • It is not the responsibility of governments to rescue people from their bad decisions.
  • Government’s responsibility is to protect all its citizens, not just those who chose terrorism. The greater good argues for protecting all against the few.

The debate will become more important in the near future, because the detention of thousands of people in camps in countries that don’t want them can’t be sustained.

Wrongo’s view is that it isn’t our government’s responsibility to rescue people from their bad decisions, but is it right to abandon them? We have a few ethicists and religious among our readers. Hopefully they will weigh in.

But enough! Xmas is just around the corner, and there is work to be done, menus to dream up and for the non-Scrooges among us, presents to buy. We need to turn our attention away from impeachment and Bidenpartisanship to preparation for the onslaught. First, let’s take a few minutes for ourselves in our weekly Saturday Soother. Start by brewing up a fine cup of Panama Esmeralda Geisha Portón Oro Yeast ($69.95/60z. Sure, it’s expensive, treat yourself for the Holidays!) It’s from Klatch Coffee of Los Angeles, CA.

Now settle back in a comfy chair, and listen to the wonderful Anna Netrebko sing “Solveig’s Song” from Grieg’s Peer Gynt Suite No.2 accompanied in 2008 by the Prague Philharmonia conducted by Emmanuel Villaume:

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

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Dateline London — Banana Republicanism Edition

The Daily Escape:

Royal Albert Hall, London, noon sound check for tonight’s DJ Spoony’s Garage Classical show. The show is sold out – October 2019 iPhone photo by Wrongo

The yelling of Republicans in the House can seem muted when you’re 3,000 miles away in England. This, from the Guardian:

“House Republicans who tried to storm the secure area in the Capitol where Laura Cooper, the top Pentagon official on Ukraine was testifying, have effectively shut down the interview, according to a senior Democratic lawmaker…More than two dozen House Republicans, led by representative Matt Gaetz, tried to force their way into Cooper’s deposition, even though they are not members of the three committees leading the inquiry…”

The “secure area” is what’s called a SCIF, or Sensitive Compartmented Information Facility. These are sealed conference rooms that are protected from electronic intrusion. They exist so that members of Congress can receive highly classified information about how the nation collects information on its adversaries, and on very sensitive intelligence operations. They exist all over the government, in the military, and in the defense contracting industry. Meeting attendees have to leave their electronic devices outside of the room, under the supervision of a security-cleared attendant.

Some, but not all of Gaetz’s Congressional storm troopers surrendered their devices at the door of the SCIF. Those that didn’t caused a serious security breach. Despite their mob efforts, the deposition itself took place, but after a five-hour delay.

This single party effort to disrupt testimony is significant, and possibly symbolic of where the GOP is today. Cooper’s testimony is on the DOD’s response to Trump’s refusal to provide funds to Ukraine, funds that had been duly appropriated by Congress.

This is the effort by a mob to suppress evidence. From Marcie Wheeler: (brackets by Wrongo)

“In short, a bunch of Republican Congressmen (and a handful of [Congress] women) are staging a faux riot in order to prevent the DOD from telling Congress how the White House prevented them from following the law that prohibits the White House from withholding funds without a good reason….”

Rep. Bill Pascrell (D-NJ) tweeted this:

Hat tip to Rep. Pascrell for the term Banana Republicanism.

Marcie also reported that nine of the 43 rogue Congress critters actually sit on the committees that are conducting the inquiry inside the SCIF. Those nine are in the room all the time. They can ask questions of the witnesses. They can file minority reports if they disagree with the majority findings. So they can’t expect anyone to believe that they’re shut out of hearing the classified testimony.

In fact, it is most telling that they apparently aren’t leaking anything to the press, or to their colleagues!

Here in the UK, Boris Johnson, the British “Trump-light” head of government, reluctantly follows the dictates of the law despite his desire to force feed Brexit to his country. In the US, Trump and his Banana Republican cohort no longer bother to pretend.

Some of these rioters sit on the Judiciary Committee. Others apparently sit on the Armed Services, and Homeland Security Committees. Their actions should lead to getting booted from those committees and instead, being relegated to the Joint Committee on the Library of Congress, or to the Joint Committee on Printing.

The press should be asking GOP House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy if he’s going to remove these people from the committees that handle sensitive information for violating security protocols.

A question for Mac Thornberry, (R-TX), ranking member of the Armed Services Committee:

“Should Matt Gaetz, Mo Brooks, Bradley Byrne lose their seats on Armed Services for the manner in which they violated security protocols?”

A question for Mike Rogers, (R-AL), ranking member of the Homeland Security Committee:

“Should Mark Walker, Debbie Lesko, and you, lose your seats on the Homeland Security Committee for violating security protocols?”

This kind of breakdown in the orderly function of the House represents an existential threat to this country. If an opposition party can freely intimidate witnesses and shut down depositions without consequences, then the Constitution’s power of impeachment is useless.

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The Supreme Court Goes Back to Work

The Daily Escape:

Pyramids viewed from Cairo Street, Egypt – photo by Hossam Abbas

The Supreme Court’s new term begins next Monday, and much of America’s culture wars will move in front of the bench for adjudication. Some of the issues being litigated include abortion, gay rights and gun control. It’s no secret that conservatives control the court, and its liberal wing is in retreat. This could be a momentous year in shaping the country’s socio-cultural future.

On Monday, October 7th, the justices will hear arguments in the case Kahler v. Kansas, regarding whether the 8th and 14th Amendments allow a state to abolish the insanity defense. Four states, Kansas, Utah, Idaho and Montana have abolished the insanity defense. It shouldn’t be a surprise that Kansas says yes, and so does the Trump administration.

Also on Monday, they will hear Ramos v. Louisiana, regarding whether the 6th Amendment guarantee of a unanimous jury verdict to convict someone applies to the states. Currently, Louisiana and Oregon permit non-unanimous juries.

On Tuesday, the court hears a case concerning whether gay and transgender people are protected by federal civil rights laws that bar employment discrimination. Three workplace discrimination cases will be heard. Two of the three cases ask whether “because of sex” in Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 prevents an employer from disadvantaging employees on the basis of their gender identity or sexual orientation. Fewer than half the states have laws against firing workers because they are gay or transgender. Now the Supremes will decide if the federal civil-rights laws protect the 8.1 million LGBT workers in America.

It may not surprise you that the Trump administration says Title VII doesn’t apply to gay and transgender workers, contrary to the view of the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission.

On November 12th, they will visit Trump’s effort to end DACA, the Obama program that protects mostly Hispanic young adults from deportation. The case is Department of Homeland Security v. Regents, University of California, where three cases were consolidated for argument in which lower courts decided that the Trump action violated the federal Administrative Procedures Act.

Also scheduled for Nov. 12 is a case in which a US border patrol officer shot and killed an unarmed Mexican teenager who was not on US soil, but hiding in a culvert between the US and Mexico. The question is whether federal courts can award damages to the family for the agent’s actions.

On December 2nd, they are scheduled to hear a major gun rights case. The case is NY State Rifle and Pistol Assn. v. City of New York. The challenge is to the city’s ban on the transport of licensed and unloaded guns outside the city limits. But the city amended the law, and is arguing that the case is now moot, since it has given the challengers what they sought. The case may be dismissed.

Among possible cases that have not yet been scheduled are two appeals regarding Republican-backed abortion restrictions enacted in Louisiana and Indiana. If the court were to take either or both of those cases, it would raise the possibility of a ruling that further curbs abortion rights.

The Louisiana case concerns a challenge by an abortion clinic to state requirements that doctors who perform the procedure must have “admitting privileges” with local hospitals. It is similar to a Texas law that the Supreme Court struck down in 2016, when Justice Anthony Kennedy sided with the court’s liberals. But last year, Kennedy retired and was replaced by Bret Kavanaugh.

It would be extraordinary if they take up this case and then overrule a precedent set just three years ago. The only thing that’s different is the composition of the court.

Looking further ahead, we may see contentious arguments on the limitations of presidential power. Likely subjects include the president’s push for the power to remove the director of the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau; executive privilege in battles over Trump’s tax returns; and use of a national emergency designation to use money appropriated elsewhere to fund the border wall.

And finally, there’s impeachment. In April, Trump tweeted that if “the partisan Dems ever tried to impeach”, he would “first head to the US Supreme Court”. There is little doubt that the Supremes would move quickly to hear such a case.

It wouldn’t be smart for Trump to expect them to come to his rescue during impending impeachment proceedings. In 1993 Chief Justice William Rehnquist wrote for a unanimous court that impeachment authority “is reposed” in Congress, “and nowhere else”.

Then, if the House of Representatives actually impeached Trump, Chief Justice John Roberts will find himself playing a constitutionally required role: presiding over the president’s removal trial in the Senate.

All in, a pivotal term for the Supremes and for America.

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