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The Wrongologist

Geopolitics, Power and Political Economy

Sunday Cartoon Blogging – January 20, 2019

Yesterday we wrote about Buzzfeed’s story that Michael Cohen lied to Congress about Trump’s efforts to get a Moscow hotel, and that Trump asked him to do it. After Saturday’s Wrongologist was published, Mueller’s spokesperson, Peter Carr issued a statement denying the Buzzfeed story:

Buzzfeed’s description of specific statements to the special counsel’s office, and characterization of documents and testimony obtained by this office, regarding Michael Cohen’s congressional testimony are not accurate.

Some are lamenting it as another case of fake news directed at Trump. Raul Ilargi, at The Automatic Earth, whom Wrongo admires, said:

Is this the worst day for fake news to date? It’s hard to keep track. It’s just that this one was taken up by so many hoping for, finally!  Impeachment. Please Lord make it stop.

But maybe what we saw really isn’t fake news. Marcy Wheeler reports that Buzzfeed’s story differs from the sworn testimony. She points out that a discrepancy between the Special Counsel’s Cohen sentencing memo and the Buzzfeed story is that the memo merely indicated that Cohen committed perjury to benefit the Trump messaging, not that he’d been ordered to do it. If Cohen was encouraged or directed to do it by Trump personally, it isn’t as obvious as Buzzfeed said it was.

So, there are differences in what Buzzfeed reported, and what is in Cohen’s testimony. That doesn’t mean that the Buzzfeed story is fake news. Mueller is probably defending the Special Council’s reputation against accusations of leaking. It also seems possible that Peter Carr may have been trying to tamp down the Buzzfeed allegation that Trump “directed” Cohen to lie, because that may be difficult to prove.

Cohen is a cooperating witness for Mueller. If and when Mueller makes a case that the Trump Tower deal was part of a larger election year conspiracy, they will need Cohen to testify, and have him describe how he kept Trump and Don Jr. in the loop for the possible deal.

The lesson is not to take much, if any news at face value. And not to get out too far over our skis when it comes to breaking news about Trump.

On to cartoons. Since we didn’t publish them last Sunday, today there’s a bumper crop.

Junk food for furloughed workers, good stuff for the plutocrats, paid by your tax dollars:

Choose your national emergencies carefully:

Pence helps Trump with the Wall narrative:

Two-faced Mitch:

Racism is mainstream in the Trump/GOP party, it’s not just Steve King:

The GOP will take some token actions. No vote to expel, or to run a non-racist in the 2020 Iowa primary:

We both lost our minds in 2016:

Demand for retail space is suddenly spiking:

Sometimes getting your story straight is tough, and has consequences. Ask Buzzfeed:

 

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Saturday Soother – August 25, 2018

The Daily Escape:

Landscape Arch, Arches National Park, UT – 2018 photo by FeloniousMuskellunge. It’s the longest sandstone arch in the world.

Manafort and Cohen: Guilty. Immunity for David Pecker, the owner of the National Enquirer, who paid Stormy Daniels. Immunity for the CFO of the Trump organization, who really knows were all the bones are buried in Trumpland. The walls seem to be closing in. In response, Trump said:

I tell you what, if I ever got impeached, I think the market would crash, I think everybody would be very poor.

Someone who Wrongo thinks is a very astute guy, said: “That’s the start of Trump negotiating with us.”

Maybe, but Trump is actually negotiating with the Senate about Jeff Sessions. The answer? They’re fine with replacing Sessions after the mid-terms. The pivotal signal came on Thursday, when two key Republican senators “told” Trump that he could replace Attorney General Jeff Sessions after the midterm elections. That would open the way either for firing Robert Mueller, or constraining his probe.

Here’s what Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-SC) had to say:

The president’s entitled to an attorney general he has faith in, somebody that’s qualified for the job, and I think there will come a time, sooner rather than later, where it will be time to have a new face and a fresh voice at the Department of Justice….Clearly, Attorney General Sessions doesn’t have the confidence of the president.

Sen. Chuck Grassley (R-IW), Chair of the Judiciary Committee, now says that he’d be able to make time for hearings for a new attorney general, after saying in the past that the panel was too busy to take up another confirmation.

The Republican’s plan is clear. Once Brett Kavanaugh is sworn in, they’ll have what they’ve wanted: Huge corporate tax cuts for the rich, two SCOTUS picks who will have a lifetime to work their pro-corporate agenda, all while finishing off FDR’s reforms and the Civil Rights Act and Voting Rights Act, for good.

And it would be just fine for the Republicans if the Orange Overlord gets the blame.

It’s all upside for the GOP now. Maybe getting rid of Sessions and subsequently firing Mueller is the excuse they’ll need to push Trump out, and bring in Pence. Maybe they’re fine with him sticking around. Maybe the Dems will help out if they take control of the House in January. Once Kavanaugh is on the Court, maybe the GOP will give Trump free rein. Sessions may try to hang on, but Trump has asked Sessions to investigate Trump’s political opponents:

Which is exactly what Sessions says he won’t do. This is the Republican’s game between now and the mid-terms: Kavanaugh installed, Trump unleashed, and the people who enabled him simply walking away.

Enough! Time to unplug from the news for at least an hour or two. Start by brewing up a cup of Difference Coffee’s unique offering of Esmeralda Geisha, in their Nespresso-compatible capsules (£50/10 capsules!). Notice its flavors of lemon tart and baker’s chocolate that resolve into a delicately plump mouthfeel and long, resonant, peach and lemon-saturated finish.

Now, put on your wireless headphones and listen to the Largo aria from the Opera Xerxes by G.F. Handel. He wrote it in 1738, but it was a failure, closing after just five performances. One hundred years later, the aria was resurrected, and became very popular. Here, it is not sung, but played by three cellos and piano. The artists are on Cello: Peter Sebestyen, Zoe Stedje, and Adam Scheck. And on Piano: David Szabo. It is performed in 2013 at Irish World Academy, University of Limerick, Ireland:

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

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Cohen, Manafort and Facebook

The Daily Escape:

The Moses Bridge, Netherlands – photo via @archpics. The bridge, which crosses a moat, is made from waterproof wood.

We’re all busy trying to figure out what the twin “guilty” findings about Manafort and Cohen really mean, but Steve Breen nailed it:

Michael Cohen clearly put Trump in trouble by saying that Cohen had worked in coordination with Trump to silence the two women that Trump had affairs with, in order to influence the 2016 election.

Republicans say that finding two of Trump’s inner circle guilty has nothing to do with Russia, or with Trump, and Wrongo remains skeptical about what Mueller will actually prove.

OTOH, Cohen worked on a Trump Tower project that was supposed to be built in Moscow. He worked on that project during the 2016 presidential campaign. You may remember that in 2017, Trump said that no such relationship with Russia ever existed.

Manafort was convicted of tax evasion. The taxes Manafort didn’t pay were on income from Russian proxies, one of whom, the president, was running Ukraine for the Kremlin. Manafort’s conviction on bank fraud was related to bank loans he tried to get at least in part, to pay back $20 million he owed to a buddy of Vladimir Putin. His business also employed a Russian intelligence officer for years, and once Manafort was the Trump Campaign Manager, he offered that intelligence officer private briefings on the Trump campaign.

So, there are links to Russia for both men. But, the big ugly shoe to drop is whether Michael Cohen can corroborate what McClatchy journalists Peter Stone and Greg Gordon said a few months ago:

The Justice Department special counsel has evidence that Donald Trump’s personal lawyer and confidant, Michael Cohen, secretly made a late-summer trip to Prague during the 2016 presidential campaign…

No real proof has emerged that ties Cohen to a visit to Prague, or to meeting Russians. Cohen could tell Mueller whether the trip took place, and if Cohen strategized while there with Russians about the Kremlin’s playing a role in the US election.

Wrongo is again, skeptical. He doubts that the Trump organization would have Cohen undertake such a mission. But, if true, It would prove that the Trump campaign and the Kremlin worked together to help Trump win the White House.

Let’s turn briefly to a related idea: Facebook’s role as a platform for the spread of both disinformation, and as a rallying site for angry groups. In under the radar item at the NYT, a landmark study about violence against refugees in Germany shows that the most significant variable among towns with instances of violence was use of Facebook.

The work by Karsten Müller and Carlo Schwarz, researchers at the University of Warwick, shows:

Their reams of data converged on a breathtaking statistic: Wherever per-person Facebook use rose to one standard deviation above the national average, attacks on refugees increased by about 50 percent.

The researchers scrutinized every anti-refugee attack in Germany, 3,335 in all, over a two-year span. In each case, they analyzed the local community by all relevant variables. One thing stuck out. Towns where Facebook use was higher than average reliably experienced more attacks on refugees.

That held true in virtually any sort of community — big city or small town; affluent or struggling; liberal haven or far-right stronghold — suggesting that the link applies universally. From the NYT:

The uptick in violence did not correlate with general web use or other related factors; this was not about the internet as an open platform for mobilization or communication. It was particular to Facebook.

This has huge implications: Does social media scramble users’ perceptions of outsiders, of reality, even of right and wrong?

We all believe that Facebook has had an impact on amplifying division in our society. We all are dimly aware that Facebook uses algorithms to determine what appears in each user’s newsfeed. That algorithm’s mission is to present content that maximizes user engagement.

Posts that tap into primal emotions, like anger or fear, perform best, studies have found, and so proliferate. Wrongo said this a few days ago:

…fake news spread on social media has been proven to have a bigger impact, and to spread further and faster than real news.

There are two powerful forces within Facebook’s algorithms: A combination of fear of social change, and the “us-versus-them” rallying cries. Everybody knows that they are common on Facebook.

What should we as society, do about it?

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Sunday Cartoon Blogging – July 29, 2018

They found water on Mars. It appears to be salt water. Maybe we’ll build a giant desalinization device, and a few survivors of this hell on earth can give a fresh start to humanity on Mars. Also, Russian scientists found nematodes in Siberia that have been frozen for nearly 42,000 years. With climate change, they were visible to scientists. A few came back to life in the lab:

After being defrosted, the nematodes showed signs of life, said a report today from Yakutia, the area where the worms were found. ‘They started moving and eating.’ One worm came from an ancient squirrel burrow in a permafrost wall of the Duvanny Yar outcrop in the lower reaches of the Kolyma River….Another was found in permafrost near Alazeya River in 2015, and is around 41,700 years old….They are both believed to be female.

Both of those news items are more believable than much of what we hear from Washington, DC these days. For example, Trump’s speech to the Veterans this week included his caution about believing the news media. That led to this cartoon by Darin Bell:

And consider the gloating about “historic growth” in GDP by Trump. John Harwood schools us on the data:

If you think that’s fake news, check out the data.

Trump went off on Iran. What could be behind President Rouhani’s provocations?

Michael Cohen stayed in the news again this week. He’s gonna get a TV series:

Tariffs are always a tax on consumers. Donny is here to collect:

Americans no longer have unlimited voting rights, or election security in the US. This is believable:

Establishment Democrats always react the same way:

Wrongo isn’t on board with the democratic socialism platform, but he believes that corporations should be subjected to tighter regulations. They should pay more in taxes. They should be forced to reimburse the people for the deleterious impacts of their activities, like cleaning up factory sites that have polluted the land.

And every American should have access to healthcare, childcare, and some form of employment. We could make the choice to provide a free education to every American if it were a higher priority than new bombers, or aircraft carriers. ICE should be reformed, not abolished.

Establishment Democrats are trying to scare voters away from candidates who support the democratic socialism agenda. They should relax, democratic socialism isn’t about taking everything what you have away, and making it government-owned.

When you consider the perils and benefits of democratic socialism, you should think about Europe. Five of the top 10 happiest nations in the world (according to the UN) are Scandinavian: Finland, Norway, Denmark, Iceland, and Sweden. And they are all democracies.

Ever since Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez upset the 4th ranking House Democrat by running on a democratic socialist platform, Dems worry that what worked in the Bronx won’t work in Kansas. They’re right, it won’t work in Kansas. That’s why candidates need to run on issues that are important to their districts. A voter in Kansas is probably more concerned over the price of wheat than he is about gay marriage.

But, running on the economy and jobs works everywhere.

Ocasio-Cortez campaigned with Bernie Sanders in Kansas. James Thompson, a centrist Democrat running for Congress in Kansas, said she might as well come out, because the local Republicans were going to call him a socialist anyway.

Democrats were called socialists in 1992 when Bill Clinton won. They shouldn’t panic – they should own the accusation.

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Saturday Soother – July 28, 2018

The Daily Escape:

Quote by John Maynard Keynes posted on the wall at the School of Economics, St. Petersburg State University, Russia – 2018 photo by Conor Morrissey

Welcome to the weekend. US GDP hit 4.1% for the second quarter of 2018. Trump was out there on Friday saying that the economic winning has only just begun, and that it’s due to the GOP tax cuts, and his moves to impose tariffs on our trading partners. He neglects to mention this year’s $1 trillion budget deficit that he and the GOP created. That’s what’s fueling our current growth, and it won’t last.

Speaking of tariffs, NPR reports that US ham and other pork products now face very high Chinese tariffs of between 62% and 70% after retaliatory tariffs by China. What happened next shouldn’t be surprising:

In recent weeks, the US Department of Agriculture has reported zero weekly export sales of pork to China….So our exports to the country have pretty much collapsed.

Does this mean cheaper bacon for America? As we have heard, “Trade wars are good and easy to win”. Apparently, the Stable Genius can bring home the bacon, but he can’t sell it abroad. Thoughts and prayers to all the pork producers who got conned.

US farm subsidies were about $23 billion last year. A year ago, the Trump administration proposed a $4.8 billion cut to that. Now he’s increasing the subsidy by a one-time $12 billion to make up for the effects of his tariffs.

OTOH, in the EU, farm subsidies for the 2021-2027 period are scheduled to be reduced by five percent to $420 billion. Maybe there will be some additional winning for our farmers, assuming we can export more to the EU. But the US isn’t above criticism: US dairy producers now have a whopping 1.39 billion-pound surplus of cheese; 4.6 pounds per American. Wrongo is doing his part to cut into the surplus, what about the rest of you?

And at the same time there is overproduction, there’s growing risk to our health due to overuse of antibiotics on dairy farms. America shouldn’t give up its food security and become dependent on other countries, but it’s time for clear(er) thinking about our agricultural policy.

The big news on Thursday night was that Trump’s former attorney, Michael Cohen, is now saying that Trump knew beforehand about the June 2016 meeting between his top campaign staff, his son and Russians promising dirt on Hillary Clinton. If true, it would add a lot to a case of Trump obstructing justice.

We’ll see if Mueller ever makes a case in the court of justice, vs. only in the court of public opinion.

Are you fed up yet with being told “what you’re seeing and what you’re reading is not what’s happening”? Or having Trump say that Putin is a good guy? Or, that North Korea is no longer a threat, that Canada is our enemy? Or, that some black football players hate America? Or, that immigrants are ruining everything? That our allies are out to get us, and there was no collusion!?

This takes Wrongo back to Cohen. Maybe he has the lead-up to the June meeting on tape as well.

In any event, we’ve closed the book on another hard week. Time to kick back, get soothed, and stare vacantly at all of the yard work we aren’t getting around to doing.

To help you relax, let’s open a cup of Martinez, California’s States Coffee & Mercantile’s new Reserve Cold Brew ($12/24oz. bottle). It is brewed from Tanzania beans, and is a ready-to-drink bottled black coffee. The brewer says it is richly sweet, with an umami undercurrent, and that adding whole milk mediates the umami impression, while amplifying the chocolate and spicy floral notes.

Wrongo says, go for it! Add ice and milk, and chug a couple to get your day started.

Now, settle back and listen to Ana Vidovic playing “La Catedral” by Agustín Barrios Mangoré on solo guitar. Mangoré, who died in 1944, was a Paraguayan virtuoso guitarist and composer, regarded as one of the greatest performers on the guitar. “La Catedral” is considered one of the most colorful, and difficult, works in the guitar repertoire. It is Barrios’ tribute to Bach:

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

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Sunday Cartoon Blogging – May 13, 2018

We just finished a week in which the Iran Deal died, Michael Cohen proved he was capable of fleecing major corporations, and Gina Haspel showed that she left her moral compass in a drawer at home. Here are a few cartoons to help you laugh off these events.

What are the unintended consequences from killing the deal?

Donnie and Bibi gave a party. Attendance was sparse:

Michael Cohen isn’t the prescription for fixing anything:

Reviews are in on Cohen’s fixing skills:

Gina Haspel has more to answer for:

Midterms messaging by both parties is converging:

The political convergence is eerie:

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Saturday Soother – May 12, 2018

The Daily Escape:

Cherry blossoms at Hirosaki Castle, Aomori Prefecture Japan. It was built in 1611. Photo by Huffington Post

Spring is in full flower on the fields of Wrong. Our pear, plum, cherry, quince and crab apple trees all bloomed on Monday. By Friday, most began shedding their flowers. While they were in full bloom, honey and bumble bees swarmed the flowers, making each tree sound as if tiny motors were running on every branch. We also had both Baltimore and Orchard Orioles working hard to strip the crab apple trees of their setting fruit. It was a delight to watch and listen while standing under the trees.

But now, the birds and the bees are moving on to more promising targets, just like Trump is doing with his foreign policy. He’s leaving behind the so-called “bad deal” in Iran, for what will almost certainly turn out to be a similar deal with North Korea. Some have started a victory lap on North Korea, saying that only Trump could have brought Kim Jong-Un to the table. Maybe, but declarations of victory are certainly premature. We have been at least this far with North Korea before.

Wrongo doesn’t buy the outrage in Washington about CIA Director-designate Gina Haspel. Few of us who work inside large organizations have the strength to stand up and refuse to take an action simply because it offends our moral sensibility. We balance the thought that it could cost our job, or our next promotion. And besides, the boss is telling me it’s OK to do it.

Wrongo despises the idea of torture, and believes that America must provide the world with leadership that, by our example, shows that torture is wrong. OTOH, at the time, Haspel was part of a large system that said torture was legal. She was faced with a dilemma: to choose between what she was ordered to do, and what she now says she wouldn’t do again. And don’t trot out that “only following orders” is no defense. Often, in a large system, not following orders leads automatically to dismissal.

Try not to have knee-jerk outrage for someone who, like you, hasn’t always been in a position with sufficient power to use their sense of morality as their guide to all actions.

And we can’t let the week end without a comment on Trump’s lawyer, Michael Cohen. The WaPo has internal company records that show Cohen’s $600,000 deal with AT&T: (emphasis by Wrongo)

Three days after President Trump was sworn into office, the telecom giant AT&T turned to his personal attorney Michael Cohen for help on a wide portfolio of issues pending before the federal government — including the company’s proposed merger with Time Warner, according to documents obtained by The Washington Post.

The internal documents reveal for the first time that Cohen’s $600,000 deal with AT&T specified that he would provide advice on the $85 billion merger, which required the approval of federal antitrust regulators.

You may remember that Trump said he opposed the ATT/Time Warner merger, so who better to retain than his personal lawyer?

You might ask, what insight Cohen, a real estate attorney and taxi cab owner could provide AT&T on complex telecom matters? And AT&T has now admitted they messed up by trying to use Cohen as a way to reach Trump.

Trump hasn’t drained the swamp, he’s simply released his own critters into it.

So on this Saturday, relax and see if you can get soothed before starting your yard work, or whatever other spring project awaits. Begin with a strong cup of “Thanks Mom” coffee ($20/12oz) for Mother’s Day from Bird Rock Coffee Roasters in La Jolla, CA. They say its decadent flavors of caramel, red cherry and apple blossom will surely create a Mother’s Day to remember.

Your mom’s mileage may vary. She may prefer dinner at a fancy restaurant.

Now, put on your Bluetooth headphones, sit in the sun and listen to “Moorland Elegies: No. 1. Come, Walk With Me” by Estonian composer, Tõnu Kõrvits. The Moorland Elegies is a nine-part cycle for mixed choir and string orchestra. The texts are poems by Emily Bronte. It is a sonic tone painting.

It is performed here by the Estonian Philharmonic Chamber Choir and the Tallinn Chamber Orchestra, conducted by Risto Joost in Tallinn’s St. John’s Church in October, 2015:

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

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