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The Wrongologist

Geopolitics, Power and Political Economy

Russia and Kavanaugh

The Daily Escape:

Moscow supermarket – October 2018 photo by Wrongo

The two topics in the headline are not related.

Wrongo and Ms. Right are back in the US, jet-lagged, and at home in the Mansion of Wrong. Our Russia trip was an eye-opener. In St. Petersburg and Moscow at least, Russia seems to be a wealthy country by global standards. People seem to be well-informed about their history, and about the current geopolitical climate in the west. They are consummate consumers.

We saw quite a few churches, but the Russians we spoke with didn’t seem to put much emphasis on their faith. Increasing their income and getting ahead in a career sense seemed to be the primary thing that interested them. “Pragmatic” best describes the people we met. They are strivers, and hope that their government won’t screw up what the citizens finally have going for them.

Mostly, we were struck by how similar the Russians we met are to the average American. We had lunch with a couple in Uglich, a poor town of about 30k residents that is about 125 miles north of Moscow. The town hasn’t benefited from the 18-year economic expansion in the Russian Federation, and has unemployment in the 25% range. It also has a declining population, and crumbling infrastructure.

The couple we met had both lost their jobs in the 1985 Perestroika period under Gorbachev. Thirty-three years later, the husband has a part-time government job, the wife is unemployed. They grow most of their food in their ¼ acre garden. Their refrigerator is covered with pictures of the grandkids, who visit every few weeks.

Their message to us was that people everywhere have the same hopes and dreams, but the politicians always want to demonize the outsiders.

We returned to American just in time to start calling Brett Kavanaugh “Mr. Justice Kavanaugh”.

It’s not worth dwelling on his confirmation process, or repeating stale arguments. It is time to gather ourselves, to register non-voters, and turn out all the votes we can on November 6.

It also isn’t the time to overthink the closing arguments for November, despite polls that show Republicans being energized by the Kavanaugh confirmation. But, it is important to understand GOP messaging for the midterms. From the WaPo’s article, ‘An angry mob’: Republicans work to recast Democratic protests as out-of-control anarchy:

Weeks ahead of the midterm elections, Republicans have cast the Trump resistance movement as “an angry mob,” a term used by many of them to describe a faceless amalgamation of forces that they say threaten the country’s order and, they hope, energize their voters.

Think back to the Tea Party protestors who disrupted town hall meetings in 2009. From today’s GOP viewpoint, they were just good citizens exercising their First Amendment rights. And all those people who chant “Lock her up!” at the encouragement of their dear leader? They really don’t mean anything by that, they’re also exercising their right to free speech.

But when a few liberals pound on the doors of the Supreme Court, that’s mob behavior, and it can’t be tolerated. In Trump World, crowds of marching alt-right men with tiki torches = some very fine people.

And crowds of protesting women in Washington = angry mob.

We should remember that the American Revolution wasn’t a polite discussion; it involved mobs making a point, too.

Democrats are on the edge of winning the House. Before Kavanaugh, they had a long-shot chance at taking the Senate. Right now, Dems need to be smart. Richard Nixon won because he scared Middle America with pictures of immoral hippies who were demonstrating against the Vietnam War.

Let’s assume that those of us who are already energized to vote can work to figure out how to reach those who are only half paying attention, or who plan to stay on the fence all the way until Election Day.

It is clear that accusations of the type made by Dr. Ford don’t resonate with GOP voters. Roy Moore’s near-pedophilia didn’t seem to change any Republican minds in Georgia. Whenever a Republican is under attack by the liberals, it’s always the time for the rest of them to circle the wagons.

There is no single, lock-step message that Dems should use to take both Houses in November. The best antidote for those “Energized by Kavanaugh” Republicans is for the rest of us to get, or stay, more energized.

There is zero to be complacent about. The Dems could remain in the minority in both Houses after the mid-terms if they fail to turn out their voters in November.

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Sunday Cartoon Blogging – September 23, 2018

When Wrongo saw the headline in the NYT that Deputy AG Rod Rosenstein suggested that he should secretly record President Trump to expose the chaos consuming the administration, he had difficulty believing it.

This is from the NYT’s article:

Several people described the episodes, insisting on anonymity to discuss internal deliberations. The people were briefed either on the events themselves or on memos written by F.B.I. officials, including Andrew G. McCabe, then the acting bureau director, that documented Mr. Rosenstein’s actions and comments.

So, no first-hand witnesses. Rosenstein disputed the NYT account:

The New York Times’s story is inaccurate and factually incorrect….I will not further comment on a story based on anonymous sources who are obviously biased against the department and are advancing their own personal agenda. But let me be clear about this: Based on my personal dealings with the president, there is no basis to invoke the 25th Amendment.

Turns out, Wrongo’s skepticism about the NYT was well placed. According to Marcy Wheeler, (who you all should read): (emphasis by Wrongo)

Not a single one of these people…was actually a witness to the episodes. Indeed, by description, none of them have even read the memos memorializing the events directly, but have instead simply been briefed secondhand.

So, where did the information come from? Wheeler quotes Andrew McCabe’s attorney, Michael Bromwich, about how the NYT might have gotten the memos. They were turned over to the Mueller investigation, but:

A set of those memos remained at the F.B.I. at the time of his departure in late January 2018…

The insinuation is clear: Somebody wants to set off the President. Someone at the FBI took McCabe’s memos and read them to people who could then leak them to the NYT. This is the NYT using third-hand sources to start another Saturday Night Massacre. Maybe it’s worth noting here that McCabe was fired for unauthorized disclosures to the news media.

Trump is desperate to release documents that will discredit the Mueller investigation. His effort to declassify a raft of documents has been sidelined this week by his administration. Now, out of the blue comes this helpful accusation against Rosenstein. As Wrongo predicted here, the Trump administration has wanted to make a move to fire Rosenstein, and now they have their excuse.

Trump needs to be careful. If he supports the use of McCabe’s contemporaneous notes to fire Rosenstein, then he can’t easily dismiss Comey’s notes on his meeting with Trump.

It looks like the NYT article was a leak from the White House. It’s time for The Times to think about firing the reporters and the editors who approved the article. On to cartoons!

THIS captures the week, month, and year:

Men, blaming women for men’s bad behavior since the Garden of Eden:

What the Judiciary Committee will do with witnesses:

More on the Judiciary Committee’s process of determining truth:

Mitch says that the GOP is pressing on:

The big double standard in DC:

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Let Dr. Ford Testify

The Daily Escape:

The Storseisundet Bridge, Norway. It is one of eight bridges on the Atlantic Highway — via themindcircle

Wrongo has tried to resist the developing story about Brett Kavanaugh and the woman who is accusing him of attempted rape during high school, Dr. Christine Blasey Ford.

And there are plenty of reasons not to write about it. It’s the subject of an all-out media blitz. Hundreds of new facts will be presented between the time this is posted, and it is read by all of you Wrong patrons. But, it’s an inescapable narrative, so here goes.

Since Dr. Ford is willing to testify, she should be asked to testify. Brett Kavanaugh has said that he would also like to testify in the matter. Marcy Wheeler offers an idea:

But she shouldn’t testify alone. Mark Judge should testify along with her. After all, according to her letter and the WaPo account, he was a witness to the event.

Mark Judge was one of Kavanaugh’s best friends in prep school. He apparently was in the room when the attempted rape took place. Ford describes Judge as watching Kavanaugh’s alleged assault, occasionally egging him on, and eventually jumping on top of her and Kavanaugh — a move that allowed her to escape.

Judge is now a conservative writer who has written for publications such as the Daily Caller and the American Spectator. From Vox:

He’s floated some controversial ideas in his writings — including asking in 2006 whether gay people are perverts….He’s also the author of several books, including one recounting his teenage years of alcoholism and addiction.

At the risk of assassinating Mark Judge’s character, he seems to, um, have a special interest in young women. He had a variety of posts to YouTube that have been taken down in the past day. You be the judge.

And why is it always that one guy who’s in the room when an alleged rape happens, and can testify for the defense that the alleged rape totally did not happen, turns out to be a just a bit creepy?

In any event, Mark Judge should also testify before the Senate Judiciary Committee.

Most Republicans are defending Kavanaugh with the usual tropes and memes about how it was all so long ago, and why does it matter? As Orin Hatch told the NYT:

It would be hard for senators to not consider who the judge is today, because that is the issue….Is this judge a really good man? And he is, and by any measure he is, and everybody who knows him says he is.

By all means, let’s ignore prep school indiscretions: She was a girl, and besides, she wanted it, and it’s much more important that we comfort the comfortable.

On the other hand, a whole lot of us, even when inebriated and underage, never thought we had permission to pull a woman into a room, force her onto a bed, and clamp a hand over her mouth to keep her from screaming.

It really can’t be all that hard to find Supreme Court justices who have never attempted rape. Whether Kavanaugh committed an act of attempted rape yesterday, or 40 years ago, isn’t germane. Attempted rape is just a rape that was stopped.

If that’s in his makeup, then it’s always going to be a facet of his character.

There are plenty of judges who are willing to overturn Roe. There are almost as many willing to shield Trump from Mueller. But, if Kavanaugh can be brought down by one “youthful indiscretion“, no Republican is safe. So the GOP will defend him to the death.

Nothing short of multiple additional accusations will stop him. Maybe not even that.

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Monday Wake-Up Call — Constitution Edition

The Daily Escape:

Spruce Knob, WV at sunrise – 2018 photo by zjustus88

Sept. 17 is Constitution Day, commemorating the signing of the US Constitution 231 years ago, the day that the Constitutional Convention adopted the Constitution as our supreme law.

We sometimes forget that the country was without a Constitution for 11 years after the Declaration of Independence, and for six years after the War of Independence ended. Somehow, we survived.

We also forget that there was plenty of conflict between the founding fathers at the Constitutional Convention. They had vigorous debates about the balance of power between the national and state governments. Two factions emerged: Federalists, who supported the Constitution and a strong central government, and anti-Federalists, who mainly supported strong state governments.

To placate the anti-Federalists and ensure ratification, the Federalists promised to pass a Bill of Rights to protect individual liberty and state sovereignty, which they finally did in 1791, four years after the Constitution was ratified.

Today there’s plenty of discussion about the Constitution, about what’s constitutional, and what’s not, about which of the Supreme Court justices are trampling on the Constitution and which are ripping it to shreds. It seems that there is nothing more important to the Republic than selecting the next Justice, in this case, Brett Kavanaugh.

Joseph Ellis in the WSJ Weekend edition, reminds us that:

Most members of America’s founding generation would have regarded this situation as strange. If you read the debates among the delegates at the Constitutional Convention of 1787, and then read their prescriptions for judicial power in Article III of the Constitution, it becomes clear that the last thing the 39 signers of the document wanted was for the Supreme Court to become supreme.

Ellis says that the founders thought that Congress should be “supreme”, and a majority thought that each branch of government should decide the scope of its own authority. He says that the founders’ had no interest in having the Supreme Court be the ultimate control point for the US government, since it’s our least representative body, and the one farthest removed from the ultimate authority (the People).

More from Ellis:

For most of American history, the Supreme Court only infrequently stepped forward to redefine the political landscape in decisive fashion. The two most conspicuous occasions both involved the great American tragedy of race.

For Ellis, the first of the two most significant cases was Dred Scott v. Sandford (1857), in which the Court tried to resolve the politically unsolvable problem of slavery. The majority argued that the framers of the Constitution clearly regarded slaves as property, and therefore the Missouri Compromise (1819) and the Compromise of 1850 were unconstitutional.

This meant that the federal government had no authority to limit the expansion of slavery in the western territories. Dred Scott deepened the sectional divide that led to the Civil War, and legal scholars and historians have long considered it one of the worst Supreme Court decisions in American history.

In 1954, the Supreme Court, in Brown v. Board of Education landed on the other side of the racial divide, striking down the legal doctrine of “separate but equal” that the justices had upheld as a justification for racial segregation in Plessy v. Ferguson (1896). The Brown decision signaled a crucial shift in the role of the Court, the first step on its way to becoming the dominant branch of the federal government in deciding the direction of domestic policy.

That led to 30 years of liberal decisions for the Court. The liberal agenda expanded the rights of criminal suspects, broadened the definition of free speech and, in Griswold v. Connecticut (1965), discovered a new right to privacy. Building on the right to privacy, the Court affirmed a woman’s right to abortion during the first trimester in Roe v. Wade (1973).

Ellis concludes:

…since Brown we have watched the Supreme Court bend the law in two different directions, landing on one side or the other of the political spectrum based on which political party could command a 5-4 majority. The only difference between the two sides is that liberals are transparent about their political agenda, while conservatives, using originalism to make problematic claims of detachment, are not.

Americans now know that the Supreme Court is biased, partisan, and often makes rulings based on ideology versus law. The word “unconstitutional” has become a catch-all term for whatever we don’t like about our government, or our society. This renders one of the most terrifying and powerful adjectives in American jurisprudence almost meaningless.

TIME TO WAKE UP AMERICA! We should spend Constitution Day trying to become better citizens. Maybe we start by learning our civic history.

The benefit should be clear: Knowledge lets us understand and appreciate nuance.

After all, America might not have many more birthdays left at the rate that we keep polarizing our ideas about the Constitution.

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Saturday Soother – September 15, 2018

The Daily Escape:

Putin and Xi making blinis at the Eastern Economic Forum in Vladivostok, RU last week. As usual, Putin looks like he knows what he’s doing. Xi, not so much.

Wow, what a week! We seem to say this all the time, and Wrongo thinks we have become inured to all the drama. On Friday, Hurricane Florence made landfall in NC. And what lies in her path? The New York Times reports that Florence’s path is strewn with toxic hazards, including:

…ponds of coal ash, toxic sites, and thousands of industrial hog farms with lagoons of pig waste.

THAT should be one stinky clean-up. Speaking of dirt, the Kavanaugh confirmation was delayed a week, and up popped a confidential memo about a possible sexual assault that occurred while he was in high school. Sen. Diane Feinstein (D-CA) sent it to the FBI, who say they do not plan to investigate. The details are salacious. Ronan Farrow of The New Yorker tweeted:

A woman alleged to two democrats that, during high school, Brett Kavanaugh held her down and attempted to force himself on her, placing a hand over her mouth and turning up music to conceal her protests.

Sadly, this accusation is too old, and since the accuser wishes to remain anonymous, it will have no effect on Kavanaugh’s confirmation.

Has the biggest rat turned on Trump? Paul Manafort has agreed to a plea and cooperation agreement in his continuing legal troubles with the Special Counsel. He has agreed to sit for interviews with Mueller’s special counsel team, testify in any future cases, and submit related documents. Whether he truly cooperates, and whether he has information of any value, remains to be seen.

Finally let’s turn to Donald Trump’s inexplicable claims about hurricane deaths in Puerto Rico. He denied that a mass casualty event, equivalent to 9/11 in its loss of life, ever happened. Political Wire reported:

President Trump tweeted that he didn’t believe that roughly 3,000 people died in Puerto Rico as a result of Hurricane Maria.

Said Trump: “3000 people did not die in the two hurricanes that hit Puerto Rico. When I left the Island, AFTER the storm had hit, they had anywhere from 6 to 18 deaths. As time went by it did not go up by much. Then, a long time later, they started to report really large numbers, like 3000.”

He added that it was “done by the Democrats in order to make me look as bad as possible when I was successfully raising Billions of Dollars to help rebuild Puerto Rico. If a person died for any reason, like old age, just add them onto the list. Bad politics. I love Puerto Rico!”

So, 3,000 people didn’t die in Hurricane Maria, but 3 million people voted illegally for Hillary in 2016.

We’re talking here about the President of the United States denying a carefully and professionally researched study of the hurricane death toll, while blaming his opponents, and without a scintilla of evidence to back up his claim.

He asserts that his administration didn’t screw up first, by neglecting the disaster, and second, by not staying the course to rebuild Puerto Rico’s electric grid. Plus, do you believe he actually raised “billions” to rebuild PR? He might as well say Wrongo personally donated a million dollars to PR relief.

The bottom line from this week is that the next two years will be about Trump defending himself from impeachment charges, while Kavanaugh gleefully repeals Roe v. Wade.

It’s way too much! Time to unplug from all the cacophony, and seek some Saturday soothing. Start by brewing up a pot of Finca El Socorro Maracaturra ($22.50/12 oz.) from PT’s Coffee Roasting Co in Topeka, KS.  The roaster says that it is richly sweet, balanced, and intricately layered. They say it tastes of frankincense (!), almond nougat, honeysuckle, and dried black cherry.

Now, find a comfortable place to sit where you can view the world outside, and listen to 2CELLOS play “Gabriel’s Oboe” from film “The Mission” by Ennio Morricone. Here, Luka Sulic and Stjepan Hauser, who are the 2CHELLOS, perform with the Zagreb Soloists at their “Back to the Roots” concert at the Lisinski Concert Hall in Zagreb, June 2015:

The American cellist Matt Haimovitz, has said that the cello’s range is closest to the human voice. Maybe that’s why the cello is Wrongo’s favorite instrument.

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

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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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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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