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The Wrongologist

Geopolitics, Power and Political Economy

Monday Wake Up Call – September 10, 2018

The Daily Escape:

Cordillera Huayhuash, Peruvian Andes – photo by mh-travelphotos. The area has very few people, and is a popular trekking destination. It includes six peaks above 6,000 meters.

Whenever Wrongo writes about Syria, the Wrongologist Blog records its fewest reads. Maybe people think that what’s happening in Syria just doesn’t mean much to America. Maybe people think that we’ve already given up on our original goals, and we’re already letting the Russians run the place.

Both of those thoughts would be er, wrong.

The WaPo reported about our new plan: (emphasis by Wrongo)

President Trump, who just five months ago said he wanted “to get out” of Syria and bring U.S. troops home soon, has agreed to a new strategy that indefinitely extends the military effort there and launches a major diplomatic push to achieve American objectives, according to senior State Department officials.

Although the military campaign against the Islamic State has been nearly completed, the administration has redefined its goals to include the exit of all Iranian military and proxy forces from Syria, and establishment of a stable, nonthreatening government acceptable to all Syrians and the international community.

You remember al-Qaeda, the guys who took down the NY World Trade Center? (We’ll remember that tomorrow). Well, the first step in the new US “diplomatic push” is to prevent an imminent Syrian army operation against al-Qaeda aligned groups in Syria’s Idlib province:

While the US agrees that those forces must be wiped out, it rejects “the idea that we have to go in there…to clean out the terrorists, most of the people fighting….they’re not terrorists, but people fighting a civil war against a brutal dictator,” as well as millions of civilians, said US special representative for Syria, James Jeffrey. Instead, the US has called for a cooperative approach with other outside actors.

He went on to say that:

The US will not tolerate an attack. Period.

Jeffrey had just visited Turkey to consult with Turkish president Erdogan about the upcoming Idlib attack by Syria, Russia and Iran. The result of the meeting was a plan that Erdogan presented at the Tehran summit that Erdogan attended with President Putin of Russia and President Rohani of Iran.

The parties didn’t agree to the US/Turkish plan, and the attacks on Idlib have already begun.

Jeffery said that the Trump administration’s plan for Syria involves more than the defeat of ISIS. It also was focused on reducing Iranian influence, and preventing Assad from controlling all of Syria’s geography. Jeffery said that Trump supports the strategy, contrary to Trump’s previous statements about withdrawing US troops after defeating ISIS:

…we’re no longer pulling out by the end of the year….That means we are not in a hurry…

America needs to wake up. Those who voted for Trump did so in part because he wasn’t the warmonger that Hillary was. At some point, they’ll have to admit that Trump’s new Syria policy puts us in direct conflict with Russia and Iran on the ground in Syria. That isn’t something that could be implemented without Trump’s agreement, and with less than 60 days to the mid-terms, is this just a political calculation?

It’s difficult to know if Trump truly cares about what happens with Assad, but we know that he has a burning desire to confront Iran. And his new Syria policy is all about Iran. And he’s already tweeted warnings to Assad and Putin to leave Idlib alone.

Does anyone reading this believe that he’s thinking geopolitically? And since Putin, Rohani, and Assad have already defied Trump’s tweeted warnings, Americans should be thinking that there’s liable to be a strike at least against Iran, in the next few weeks.

You know that all the neocons around him, like Bolton and Pompeo, will goad him on. And after that, it could be game on.

Perhaps Trump is bluffing. We have no realistic means to prevent the operations against Idlib by Russia, Iran and Syria. The US military understands that an attack on Syrian and Russian forces would likely escalate into a direct conflict between nuclear powers.

We can’t assume that the “resistance” inside the White House either agrees with the US military, or is capable of averting such a risk.

Wrongo’s solution? Not one more drop of American blood should be wasted in either Iraq or Syria.

Withdraw completely from Syria. Hand over our in-country bases to the Syrians. Encourage and assist the Kurdish insurgents and the Syrian Defense Forces to reintegrate into Syria. Pass the intelligence we have on the jihadis we have assisted over the years to Damascus.

Then we have to hope that Trump moves on to focus completely on more important issues, like Colin Kaepernick’s shoes.

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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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Willfully Ignoring the President’s Orders

The Daily Escape:

Monument Basin, Canyonlands NP – 2018 photo by baffledsloth

The NYT published an anonymous op-ed from a senior Trump administration official who claims to be part of a group of senior officials that deliberately ignore Trump’s orders on certain decisions.

It means that a bunch of unelected Republican termites are running the country. It reaffirms what both the Bob Woodward book is saying, along with the many similar reports from staffers in the White House.

But what good does it do us to know this? And what are the motives of the anonymous writer?

He/she says they are telling us this because it’s in the national interest for us to know that a few Republican guardians are watching out for the country. Despite what they think, this shows Republicans at their absolute worst, trying to have it both ways. They’re happily getting items on the GOP domestic agenda through the Congress, but they say they are trying to protect us from the worst of Trump’s excesses.

The insiders are merrily going about implementing the hard-right policy choices that Trump supports — tax cuts for the wealthy, gutting regulations, ruining our health insurance, and packing the Supreme Court with a generation’s worth of ideologues. But they don’t like Trump’s temperament and occasionally off-the-rails instincts about the Constitution and foreign policy.

Wrongo thinks that the author has sacrificed country, honor and decency for tax cuts and a more robust military. And is writing this now simply a ploy? Scott Simon had the following take:

I think @potus may be happy to read this. The criticisms are nothing he hasn’t heard. But the article is no call to action. It says, if you like tax breaks & court picks, ‘we will do what we can to steer the administration in the right direction.’

OTOH, David Frum at The Atlantic, says:

This Is a Constitutional Crisis. If the president’s closest advisers believe that he is morally and intellectually unfit for his high office, they have a duty to do their utmost to remove him from it, by the lawful means at hand.

But while the conspirators thought about invoking the 25th Amendment, they did nothing about it.

The takeaway is that conservative conspirators inside the WH have chosen to disobey the orders of the President of the United States. This is an overt refusal to accept any boundaries and limits to their power. Justifying that by saying they are patriotic, should be terrifying.

If an insider thinks that Trump is unfit for office, he/she should testify before Congress. But that won’t happen, because Trump is about to get them everything they’ve ever dreamed of. Progressives and Democrats know that Trump is an egomaniacal monster. Republicans: Please, don’t tell us that you know that too, and that we ought to work with you to stop him.

You created this monster, you stop him. But, they have no intention of doing that. It wasn’t the purpose of the op-ed. Chris Hayes had it right when he tweeted:

The op-ed is an attempt to take out an insurance policy for the GOP and conservatism if and when things get much, much worse. It’s a very public hedge meant to preserve the reputation of the GOP’s entire political and governing class.

Now, for the NYT: There isn’t any argument that would explain publishing this op-ed. It doesn’t serve the country. In fact, it’s entirely self-serving for the author and the Times. It tells us that Republicans in the administration are orchestrating a slow-rolling coup, but that’s ok, because the GOP is patriotically watching out for us.

The NYT op-ed has done nothing to advance our thinking about Trump, or about the people around him.

At the same time, if Trump is too distracted to know that his orders aren’t being followed, is it really a coup? Trump could do more than just request that his orders be carried out. He could follow-up and see what is being done. Apparently, he doesn’t. It seems clear to all that Trump wasn’t capable of doing this, and/or he doesn’t give a fuck.

What is clear, besides Trump being incapable of performing duties of president, is the NYT is failing the country in our current moment of need.

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Weasel Words

The Daily Escape:

The Spricherstadt at dusk, Hamburg, Germany. It’s the largest warehouse district in the world. Its buildings still stand on timber-pile foundations – 2018 photo by brotherside

In honor of the Kavanaugh hearings, here’s a list of words, terms, and phrases which should trigger at least a healthy dose of skepticism whenever you hear them said in public.

Much like the answers we are getting from the current Supreme Court nominee, the following words are most often part of a polished, rehearsed patter used by politicians and lobbyists. Wrongo publishes this list as a public service:

Think outside the box” — this term is often used when there isn’t a solution to the problem at hand, except by spending more money, which politicians have no interest in doing. It shows that the speaker has given no thought to the issue. It is often used at TED talks by people trying to fake originality.

Bootstrapping” — implies that all human economic problems can be solved by sufficient individual effort.

Modernize”— often used to extract further funding for a beloved government project, or to encourage privatization, when no more money can be found. For example, “Our air fleet is very old, it must be modernized, so let’s invest in the F-35.” Or, “We’d like to build new prisons, but where would the money come from?” Answered by “I’ve got it, let’s privatize!

Innovation” — the Holy Grail buzzword for neoliberals: “We must innovate, or die”. The use of the term often discounts existing effective methods that work just fine. For instance, the internet-enabled thermostat, and the light bulb apps used in the internet of things. What makes them so great? And they haven’t gotten to the best part yet, where the company stops providing software updates to the light bulb/thermostat so that you have to buy the new one.

Reform”— what politicians say we must do, whenever they disagree with a current policy or law.

New ideas”— usually used by politicians to discredit a concept they dislike. For example, Nancy Pelosi will say that she “is open to looking at new ideas, such as single payer.” Sadly, single payer isn’t a new idea. It’s been implemented successfully by many other countries for decades.

Civility” — means the other side is mean, and we’re not. George W. Bush giving a candy to Michelle Obama at the “Can McCain rise from the dead?” party in the National Cathedral was a trivial example of civility.

Streamline” — means to weaken federal regulations that used to protect and benefit most Americans on behalf of major corporations.

Overhaul” — is streamline’s nasty brother.  Overhaul means that the politicians will definitely try to cut your benefits.  “Streamline” is used when they want to sugarcoat their plan.

Enabling growth” — is used when politicians want to give more taxpayer money to the “job creators”.

Free Market” — means we must boost productivity at all costs. We’ve got to get more growth, so its time you agreed to work for less.

Bring stability to…” — Iraq, Afghanistan, and Iran. We say this whenever we want to intervene to destabilize an existing government. You may ask: stability of what? And for whom?

Food insecurity” — is the sanitized way politicians say people are desperately hungry. Or possibly, malnourished, and/or suffering from diseases related to poor nutrition, or possibly just slowly starving to death.

Skin in the game” — means the government isn’t giving you all the money needed for the project. Don’t confuse it with “Kin in the game”, Trump’s heartfelt desire about White House staffing.

Disrupt” — let’s forget about doing things the way we’ve always done them. Let’s use the internet to deal directly with the end users, disintermediating existing companies and their workers.

Leverage” used as a verb — often substituted for the much simpler, more concise word “use” by people who think they sound smart in staff meetings.

Proactive”, “Perimeter”, and “Paradigmare simply used to sound important.

Hypothetical” — an idea or question that I don’t want to address. See below.

Kavanaugh’s weasel word of the day on Wednesday was hypothetical. Regarding whether Trump can pardon himself:

The question of self-pardons is something I’ve never analyzed… It’s a hypothetical question that I can’t begin to answer in this context. http://bit.ly/2MLPT3b

On subpoenaing the President, Sen. Feinstein asked:

Can a sitting president be required to respond to a subpoena?

Supreme Court nominee Kavanaugh:

That’s a hypothetical question…As a matter of the canons of judicial independence, I can’t give you an answer on that hypothetical question.”

Kavanaugh calls it a “hypothetical”. Nothing hypothetical about that at all. By not saying yes, Kavanaugh means the answer is “no”.

The Dems can’t stop Kavanaugh’s joining the Supreme Court. But they need to mobilize midterm voters around his nomination, and all that it represents.

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Will Nike/Kaepernick Adverts Change The Discussion?

The Daily Escape:

Sunrise, Grand Teton NP – 2018 photo by BrandonUlp

“Believe in something, even if it means sacrificing everything.” That’s the tag line in a new Nike advertising campaign featuring Colin Kaepernick.

Branding is about identity. Successful branding requires authenticity. The spokesperson must represent the brand authentically, and vice-versa. What Kaepernick and Nike have done is create a truly authentic campaign defined by who Kaepernick is, and what he stands for.

For readers who do not follow either Trump or sports, Colin Kaepernick is the football quarterback who refused to stand for the National Anthem. Trump has used the failure of professional athletes to stand to try to destroy their image, and that of the National Football League, unless/until there is zero expression of dissent during the National Anthem.

There couldn’t be a better campaign to elevate Kaepernick’s legacy in America’s consciousness. Sticking to his beliefs has cost him his job in sports. He hasn’t worked as a professional quarterback since 2016. In fact, he has a lawsuit underway accusing the NFL of collusion, since he received no job offers in 2018. That lawsuit will be going forward after the arbitrator appointed by the NFL and NFL Players Association rejected the NFL’s attempt to have Kaepernick’s case dismissed.

Nike and Kaepernick have taken the essence of a particular player, in this case, his dissent, empowerment, and integrity, and created a brand. It serves as a lesson every athlete needs to learn: You should be more than the game. Professional basketball players already know this, and are on social media celebrating their viewpoints all the time.

Despite not having played in the league in two years, Kaepernick is among the most recognizable names and faces in the NFL. His football jersey is among the top 50 sellers.

The Holy Week of McCain showed us that we remain chronically short of heroes.

We want leaders, we’re yearning for inspiration. We don’t consider most celebrities who hawk goods to be our heroes; they seem clearly in it for the money. Then, there’s Colin Kaepernick. A man of color standing up for what he believes, a straight arrow who has not been featured in the tabloids for mistakes of character. He’s a man who’s risked his career, and his salary for an idea.

Could he be the hero we’re looking for? Highly unlikely, but he’s one of the few willing to challenge the system.

We’re living in a time when stepping out of line seems very risky. There’s groupthink everywhere, and everyone’s afraid of negative social media repercussions, especially corporations. While a few giant corporations have stood up to the Orange Overlord, the NFL has zero desire to challenge him. They fear viewer backlash in an already challenged TV ratings environment.

So Nike weighs in. Nike isn’t simply calling the NFL’s bluff. It’s calling Donald Trump’s as well.

Change starts with the actions of a few individuals. Kaepernick is trying to change professional football’s mentality, which argues that the players are interchangeable, that only the coach, and the owners matter. Their pitch is that you’ve got to sacrifice your identity for the team.

Trump plays on that. He berates the NFL owners, and re-frames the protest by Kaepernick and others against police brutality, saying its about patriotism and support of “the troops”. But, those who refuse to stand for the Anthem will tell you that their message has nothing to do with the flag or the military. Trump’s choosing to make it about the flag and the military, and as usual, many Americans are buying Trump’s pitch.

The story on Kaepernick’s side is of freedom of speech, of fair treatment for African-American men and boys. Which will prevail should be clear, despite the anti-Nike and anti-Kaepernick thoughts on social media today.

We have 62 days until America votes whether to take the House away from the Republicans, or, to leave them in charge. Believe it or not, that fight will be helped by one guy and a company who decided they’d refuse to bend to Trump’s rabble-rousing.

The Trumpists say they’ll refuse to watch the NFL. They’ll say they refuse to buy Nike gear. But, they’re sure to do both in massive numbers.

Nike has made a business move, not a social move. Here is what Nike’s first ad looks like:

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Tuesday Wake Up Call – September 4, 2018

The Daily Escape:

The Desert House, near Joshua Tree NP, CA – photo by Lance Gerber

Wrongo’s back! However, he’s neither tanned, rested, nor ready. And he returns with a message: Wake up America, summer’s almost ending, and there’s no use pretending that the country isn’t in a mess.

Today, let’s focus on the Mueller investigation. We’ve seen many guilty pleas by people close to Trump, and we have the Manafort trial(s) still to assess. It’s still early days, but so far, nothing definitive connects the president to any conspiracy.

The New Yorker had an interesting column by Jill Lepore reminding us of the Nixon investigations:

In May, 1974, John Doar, the special counsel to the House Judiciary Committee, called the Yale historian C. Vann Woodward into his office and asked him to figure out just how badly Presidents had behaved in the past, and how they had answered accusations against them.

Doar gave Woodward two months to pull together a report, cataloging every charge of Presidential misconduct from 1789 to 1969. There was one question to answer: Was Richard Nixon worse than the worst of them?

Woodward divided the work among 14 historians. They excluded allegations that appeared to be merely partisan or ideological, and confined themselves to the:

Responses of the President, on his part or on the part of his subordinates, to charges of misconduct that was alleged to be illegal and for which offenders would be culpable.

They found a lot. Every President except William Henry Harrison, who died in office after one month, had been accused of some form of misconduct. More from Lepore:

Most of it was petty, bumbling, and shabby: favoritism and graft, wheeling and dealing, mainly done not by the President but by the men around him…The Post Office (for a long time the largest part of the federal government) was quite often involved.

  • James Monroe was twice embroiled in congressional investigations relating to the White House furniture.
  • Andrew Jackson once accepted the gift of a lion from the Emperor of Morocco. (He sold it and gave the money to charity.)
  • James Buchanan appears to have had a hand in Democrats’ attempts to rig the elections of 1856 and 1858; in 1860, after Republicans gained control of the House, they launched an investigation, and leaked its findings to the press.

The historians who undertook the project dropped everything to work on it. Lepore says they:

Found not much to tell on F.D.R.; quite a lot under Truman…

Serious malfeasance really began with Jackson, reached a pitch with Buchanan, then quieted down until the Presidencies of Grant and Harding, but all of these seem quaint compared with what Nixon stood accused of.

Woodward, reviewing his 1974 findings, made a list of Nixon’s never-befores:

Heretofore, no president has been proved to be the chief coordinator of the crime and misdemeanor charged against his own administration as a deliberate course of conduct or plan. Heretofore, no president has been held to be the chief personal beneficiary of misconduct in his administration or of measures taken to destroy or cover up evidence of it. Heretofore, the malfeasance and misdemeanor have had no confessed ideological purposes, no constitutionally subversive ends. Heretofore, no president has been accused of extensively subverting and secretly using established government agencies to defame or discredit political opponents and critics, to obstruct justice, to conceal misconduct and protect criminals, or to deprive citizens of their rights and liberties.

Nixon has been the leader of the pack of Presidential malfeasance, until now.

Woodward’s study gives us perspective regarding our current situation. The conviction of Paul Manafort, Donald Trump’s former campaign manager, tars him, and Michael Cohen’s guilty plea, implicates Trump. Cohen pleaded guilty to violating federal law at Trump’s direction, making the President an unindicted co-conspirator. If Trump were not President, he would very likely be charged with a crime. A total of seven in Trump’s orbit have now plead guilty to various crimes.

We’ll see where Mueller’s work takes us, but what can be proven, and what Congressional Republicans are willing to do about it, both remain to be seen.

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Trump Says Google Is Against Him

(Wrongo is taking off for the rest of the week. So unless SHTF, the next post will be a Wake-Up Call on Tuesday after Labor Day. We all need a break, and late August is usually pretty slow as far as news goes. Try to enjoy the heat wave, or whatever your weather brings.)

The Daily Escape:

Detail from above the doors of Strasbourg Cathedral, Strasbourg, FR – 2008 photo by Wrongo. Strasbourg is one of Wrongo’s favorite European cities.

Remember the dog in the movie “Up” who was constantly distracted, yelling “Squirrel!, all the time? That’s the media when Trump tweets.

When he was first elected, we had the daily squirrel. Now we’ve achieved hourly squirrel. The WaPo reports that:

Early on Tuesday morning, President Trump accused Google of rigging search results for “Trump News” against “Republican/Conservative & Fair Media,” and wondered, “Illegal?” Then, he promised that the situation would be “addressed.”

This is today’s Conservatism in action: A constant search for new conspiracy theories to advance their agenda of victimhood. Trump was repeating a claim that first appeared in the conservative news site, PJ Media, which published a piece with the headline, “96% of Google Search Results for ‘Trump’ News Are from Liberal Media Outlets.”

Google, naturally, denied Trump’s accusation. According to Google, the rankings are supposed “to promote original journalism, as well as to expose users to diverse perspectives.”

Google News results are ranked on a variety of factors, and the results are personalized to an extent. Many factors contribute to their results, including the “freshness” of content, and the extent to which it contains original reporting, as opposed to commentary on the news.

Wrongo’s experience with Google shows that they constantly down rank sites by changing their algorithms.  Last year, there was a big dust-up when Google changed its algorithms to promote main stream media and demote independent outlets. “Deemed to be leftie” sites like the Wrongologist have taken traffic hits due to Google’s downgrading non-MSM sites in their search rankings.

But, Trump isn’t completely wrong.

Facebook has a partnership with the Atlantic Council to help FB work on deleting what they call “inauthentic content”. The Atlantic Council is a NATO-backed think tank. Its board includes people like Henry Kissinger, Michael Morrell, the former acting CIA Director, and Gen. Michael Hayden. It is funded by the UAE, the Abu Dhabi National Oil Corporation, Chevron, and a long list of other corporations.

If you use Facebook, do you really want this cast of characters controlling what you see, or do not see? Do you trust them with creating your news feed?

But it could mean much more than that. No one is sure what methodology FB is using. And that could have serious First Amendment implications.

There is a lot here to argue about on both the right and the left. We’ve tumbled to the fact that in the US, companies can do much more than the government regarding censorship. Is this a strength or a weakness?

The First Amendment was originally an Anti-federalist addition to the Constitution designed to contain federal power, giving an equal chance to citizens to organize and publicize resistance to an autocratic regime.

It’s more worrisome that Facebook is working with the Atlantic Council to develop rules about what is false news than if the Atlantic Council was working with the US Government to do the same thing. Why? Because every four years, the government is subject to recall by voters.

The big question: Is the Atlantic Council/Facebook agreement a permitted form of private/government censorship? Is it a way to circumvent the First Amendment?

After all, these are private sector organizations. They can take any political perspective they want, just like FoxNews, and its parent, the News Corporation do every day. Since Citizens United, we call that the right of a corporation to Constitutionally-protected free speech.

There’s an ongoing petition at White House.gov to replace Facebook, Google, and Twitter’s “community standards” with First Amendment protections. No worries, nothing will come of that.

One way to look at this is: If you don’t like Google because you think it’s “biased”, then don’t use it. And if Trump and his fellow travelers what a search engine that always places them first, why don’t they simply build one, and see if the “market” makes it a success?

At the end of the day, the important question is how to ensure that the public cannot be forced by both private as well as public interests to find and read information from only a short list of approved providers.

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Our Small President

The Daily Escape:

Bryce Canyon NP at sunrise – 2018 photo by ThePeachster

McCain will lie in state in Arizona’s capitol. Then, he will lie in state in the Capitol Building rotunda in Washington. Two former presidents will give eulogies at his funeral. Wrongo mused with a relative about why John McCain is being treated so differently from most other politicians who die in office.

She said: “America has no heroes.”

John McCain was a senator. His own party never fully trusted him. Democrats never knew what to make of him. He was occasionally with them, but he was against them on everything else. He called himself a maverick; he was certainly a pain. Why are we celebrating McCain as an American hero?

We are at the confluence of two tides in our history. First, we lionize our soldiers. We thank them for their service, we call them warriors. McCain spent 5+ years in a POW prison. He was tortured, and survived. So he is a heroic face for a war that we lost, a war we are still conflicted about, 40 years later.

In our intervening wars, there are individual soldier-heroes, but few stand out to us. The wars grind on, and the stories of the war heroes of our current time are fuzzy. The soldiers serve multiple tours, or we hear that they are coping with terrible post-traumatic stress. We have few contemporary genuine military heroes.

Second, our politicians have long since ceased to be heroic. McCain served six terms in the US Senate. He was old school, and some this week are calling him the “last lion” of the Senate. That tells us that despite the longevity of several other politicians of McCain’s (and Wrongo’s) generation, those who remain are merely ordinary.

The media wants us to believe that every American politician who dies is a great American. They seem to think that if that ever breaks down, America may stop being Great. This quasi-religious veneration of politicians is unbecoming of us as a people. It has transformed the majority of public offices into ones that are attractive mostly to people who are unfit to hold them.

In today’s politics, we’re usually trying hard to avoid electing the greater fool among the terrible options available to us. Most of the time, we have done that. But here we are: Donald Trump can’t carry John McCain’s jock, but he’s our president. This is from John Pavlovitz:

As the funeral for Senator John McCain approaches, we find ourselves in yet another occasion of national consequence; one our supposed Commander-In-Chief is intentionally excluded from because he is beneath the dignity and capability the moment requires.

More:

This moment plays itself out whenever there is a national tragedy, whenever compassion or decency or strength or goodness are required; whenever an adult leader would be called upon to actually lead us.

In those moments, he does not lead—he tweets.

It would have required very little energy, or thought, to issue a statement recognizing and honoring Sen. McCain. It would have taken almost nothing to keep the flags over the White House and other federal building flying at half-mast, but he couldn’t do even that.

Unsurprisingly, these minimal efforts are a bridge too far for Donald Trump.

There’s something to be said for being able to display grace and compassion upon the untimely passing of your adversary. After all, you’ve outlived him.

Where will we find our heroes in the next few years? It seems almost certain they will not come from Congress or the White House.

McCain was far from the hero that we are portraying him to be, now that he’s gone. But it shouldn’t require something heroic from Trump or his advisors to do the right thing.

Our culture is on the skids, led by our small president and his party.

Let’s give the last words to Pavlovitz:

In the meantime, just as today, we’ll all have to work together to fill in the spectacular gaps in leadership and compassion and intelligence and dignity that used to be filled by our Presidents.

We simply don’t have one right now.

UPDATE:  After the column above was written, the White House, facing a national outpouring of scorn, relented, and once again lowered flags on the WH grounds to half staff in honor of John McCain. Politicians on both sides, along with veterans’ groups, slammed President Trump as vindictive and petty.

The message was sent, and received by our small president.

Despite re-lowering the flag, and providing a military escort for McCain’s coffin, the point remains that Trump isn’t capable of compassion, or dignity. He’s not a leader.

 

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Monday Wake Up Call – McCain Edition

The Daily Escape:

Sedona AZ, view from Airport Mesa. Sedona is one of the most beautiful places in America – via Silver Spur Tours

Sen. John McCain died in Sedona, AZ on Saturday. He is remembered as a prisoner of war who suffered greatly, and then went on to a long career as a politician. Most media and politicians are paying tribute to him as a hero and a “giant of the Senate”.

Wrongo is of two minds about McCain: First, he lived a full life, he served his country for decades. As a prisoner of war, he suffered as no human being should ever have to suffer. In the end, we need to see that he was flawed, and made some terrible decisions that hurt the country he loved.

Yet, he deserves our sympathy for his losing fight with brain cancer. His family deserves our sympathy in their time of loss and grief.

Wrongo doesn’t want to kick his corpse, but here are a few things to reflect upon in his political life. From The Guardian:

Wednesday marks the 10th anniversary of McCain unveiling Sarah Palin, a say-anything, gun-toting political neophyte, as his running mate in the 2008….It was an act of political desperation that left Washington aghast. It delivered a short-term boost in the polls. But it also opened the Pandora’s Box of populism.

The Guardian quotes David Brooks about the Palin nomination:

I don’t think he could have known it at the time, but he took a disease that was running through the Republican Party – anti-intellectualism, disrespect for facts – and he put it right at the center of the party…

The Guardian reminds us that, a month later, in September 2008, McCain held a four-point lead over Barack Obama, and had a pretty good shot at winning the White House, which slipped from his grasp.

Today, McCain is respected more by Democrats than by Republicans. A Fox News poll shows that McCain has a 60% favorable (29% unfavorable) rating among Dems, and a 41% favorable (48% unfavorable) rating among Republicans.

This is largely due to one moment from the campaign, now seen everywhere, where McCain is seen admonishing a supporter who refers to Obama as an “Arab”. McCain shakes his head, takes the microphone and says: (brackets by Wrongo)

No ma’am. He’s a decent family man, [a] citizen that I just happen to have disagreements with on fundamental issues and that’s what this campaign is all about.

The crowd applauded. Yet, later at the same rally, a supporter says he is “scared” by the prospect of an Obama presidency. Again, McCain replies with integrity:

He is a decent person and a person that you do not have to be scared as president of the United States.

But, on this occasion, the crowd boos and jeers in what we now hear at any Trump event.

And on election night, while conceding to Obama, McCain said that he had called Obama to offer congratulations, the crowd booed, and McCain begs: “Please.”

Moments later, when he referred to Obama leading the country for the next four years, there were more boos and another entreaty of “Please, please”. More from The Guardian: (emphasis by Wrongo)

From the vantage point of 2018, it looks and sounds like a member of the old guard fighting to hold back the populist tide – a tide that would eventually overwhelm both his party and nation.

That tide was amplified by the selection of Palin as nominee for vice-president. Although viewed from Trumplandia, her gaffes now seem quaint.

Subsequently, we saw the Republican’s anti-Obama obstructionism, the rise of the Tea Party to political power, and the emergence of a growing and toxic mix of cultural and economic resentment. What seemed to be angry but marginal voices at those McCain campaign events, now occupy center stage in the Republican Party. The Guardian concludes with:

And yet, future historians seeking to understand the man and his time will surely revisit that when McCain forced a smile and introduced ‘the next vice-president of the United States, Governor Sarah Palin of the great state of Alaska’.

They will consider what it foretold, and ponder why a man of decency and honor opened the door to demagoguery in America.

McCain didn’t “open the door to demagoguery”, but he held it open for Republicans at a critical point in our politics.

For all his lapses of judgement, Wrongo will miss McCain’s occasional appeals to American values, American principles, and duty to the public good. McCain could, and did, speak to this better vision, even if he didn’t always vote for it.

Let’s remember him as a veteran, and as a senator who saw his party fall into the abyss, knowing that, given his position in the Party, he was more than a little bit responsible.

So Wake up America! There’s no need to make saints of sinners. McCain wasn’t a saint.

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Sunday Cartoon Blogging – August 26, 2018

The majority of Americans under 18 live in households that receive “means-tested assistance” from the US government. In 2016, according to the most recent data from the Census Bureau, there were approximately 73,586,000 people under 18 in the United States, and 38,365,000 of them, 52.1%, resided in households in which one or more persons received benefits from a means-tested government program.

Those programs include the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (food stamps), Medicaid, public housing, Supplemental Security Income, the Special Supplemental Nutrition Program for Women, Infants and Children, Temporary Assistance for Needy Families, and the National School Lunch Program.

And when the Census Bureau excluded school lunch programs from its calculations, the percentage of those under 18 who lived in a household receiving means-tested assistance (44.8%), still exceeded the percentage in any other age bracket.

We have now had four straight years: 2013 – 2016, during which a majority of those under 18 lived in a household taking means-tested benefits.

The primary reason for this is that most in this category are single parent households headed by a woman. Many can’t find employment paying a decent wage with some benefits. Many have to choose between full-time work and childcare. Some are working 2-3 part time jobs but still can’t cover their expenses.

But, the economy is good, the stock market is great, so why worry about these banana republic statistics, America? On to cartoons.

Trump sings the Lynyrd Skynyrd song, “What’s That Smell?”

Speak to a Trumpist, and you’ll find a reasonable, fact-driven human being:

Trump tweets about “widespread” killings of white farmers in South Africa. Here’s the truth:

Immigration unmasks the hate:

DeVos shows that she’s a helper:

Mitch reserves his looks of disgust only for Democrats:

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