UA-43475823-1

The Wrongologist

Geopolitics, Power and Political Economy

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.

Facebooklinkedinrss

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?

Facebooklinkedinrss

Sunday Cartoon Blogging – August 5, 2018

Until Trump came along, the only time most of us had heard the term “enemy of the people” was in reference to Hitler, Stalin, or Mao. Our democracy is based on the premise that a free press is vital to the continued survival of the republic, and yet this president can whip up a friendly crowd into a foaming-at-the-mouth mass of rage-fueled zealots, without consequence. He’ll be the first to proclaim innocence if/when these ragebots go after reporters.

After all, isn’t it what they deserve for posting all that “fake news”?

America can’t condone his actions toward the press. Most importantly, the press’s job isn’t to be an echo chamber for any president’s BS.  Their job is to dig for the facts and call out the bullshit whenever they see it.

Donnie won’t be responsible when they get off the leash:

In Jeff Sessons’ world, “Religious Liberty” doesn’t mean what you think it means:

Sorry, Rudy, Mueller isn’t looking for collusion. Treason or obstruction, perhaps:

3D gun printers grab for both the First and Second Amendments:

3D printers are small potatoes in GunAmerica:

Donnie Distraction wants the mid-terms to be about MS-13, no collusion and the wall:

Lots of people are getting it. It’s going around, just like the flu:

Facebooklinkedinrss

Saturday Soother – August 4, 2018

The Daily Escape:

Sunrise, Moraine Lake, Alberta Canada – 2018 photo by theoxernius. This is the third picture of Moraine Lake that Wrongo has published, including one of his own. This spot is about a 5-minute climb from the parking lot, so everyone who goes near the place takes a similar photo. The distinctive water color is from the sunlight reflecting off of dissolved particles of finely ground rock called “glacial flour”. It’s one of the most beautiful places in North America.

Will Mueller breach the castle’s walls? Certainly not just by winning the Manafort trial. Trump has supposedly given Jeff Sessions a “couple of weeks” to end the Mueller probe. If not, Trump will move to fire Ron Rosenstein. As Wrongo has said, Trump has everything in place now to fire Rosenstein from a technical aspect: When the previous number three official as Justice, Rachel Brand resigned, the Senate confirmed Brian Benczkowski, a buddy of Jeff Sessions. He can fire Rosenstein. That brings us to now.

Will Trump move on Rosenstein? The negative political fallout could bury Trump. Interesting times.

Then there was this from Jeff Sessions:

Let’s be frank. A dangerous movement undetected by many is challenging and eroding our great tradition of religious freedom….We’ve gotten to the point where courts have held that morality cannot be a basis for law, where ministers are fearful to affirm holy writ from the pulpit, and where one group can actively target religious groups by labeling them hate groups. This President and Department of Justice are determined to protect and advance our heritage of freedom of religion.

Good Morning America subsequently tweeted:

Attorney General Jeff Sessions announces “Religious Liberty Task Force.” Sessions says the task force will “help the Department fully implement our religious liberty guidance,” including “making sure our employees know their duties to accommodate people of faith.”

That led to a tweet storm, of which this was the very best:

Has there been an instance where Christians have been persecuted in this country? Except by other Christians who thought the persecuted ones weren’t the right sort of Christian? We can find plenty of instances where Christians have persecuted others, but neither the Gay Cake decision, nor Hobby Lobby were about religious persecution. How can Christians be persecuted, when roughly three of four Americans self-identify as Christian?

There is a tendency by some Christians to think that Americans need to accept the Christian version of religion. Those Christians ignore the separation of Church and State, despite the fact that the 1st Amendment’s Establishment Clause clearly outlines the concept:

Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof….

Sessions is trying to solve a problem that doesn’t exist. American Christians have the freedom to exercise their religion as they deem appropriate (within reasonable limits, which applies to all faiths). What the GOP and conservative Christians don’t have is the right to use the government to help establish their flavor of conservative Christianity as America’s official religion.

If Church and State become one, religious faith becomes a weapon, to punish or persecute those who believe differently. That’s not our America, unless you want your America to look like a Christian version of Saudi Arabia.

When the power of government puts its thumb on the scales, it surely will create religious tyranny.

Another week of big issues for us to try and thread our way through. It looks like a hot weekend across the country. Good luck to the firefighters in California, it seems that their work never ends. For the rest of us, we can take an hour or so and try to forget about the world’s troubles (and Trump’s) for a while. If you can do that, you will almost certainly be soothed.

Let’s get started by brewing up a large cup of Hawaiian Kona ‘Volcanic Estate’ Coffee ($59.95/ lb.) It comes from the Big Island. There, the volcano Mauna Loa creates excellent growing conditions for coffee trees. Volcanic Estate coffee is grown at between 800 and 2,500 feet. It has a light acidity that is complemented by slight chocolate and fruit undertones.

Now, settle back in your favorite air-conditioned spot, and listen to an exemplary classical guitar performance by John Feeley. He is performing Bach’s Cello Suite no. 1 in D. Obviously, it has been transcribed for guitar:

Feeley performs for nearly 20 minutes without a break, and without a score to follow. Those who read the Wrongologist in email can view the video here.

Facebooklinkedinrss

Amidst Signs of Political Instability, Congress Goes on Vacation

The Daily Escape:

The Tillamook Rock Lighthouse, Cannon Beach, OR – AKA, the “Terrible Tilly”. The extremely harsh environment has taken its toll: It has been vacant since 1957.

There are two items related to the six-week holiday that Congress is about to take.

First, on July 15th Wrongo warned that House GOP Freedom Caucus leaders Rep. Mark Meadows (R-NC) and Rep. Jim Jordan (R-OH) were considering articles of impeachment against Deputy Attorney General (and Mueller probe boss) Rod Rosenstein. Wrongo said that Rosenstein was the firewall against Trump’s potential firing of Mueller.

And Reuters reported that on Wednesday, they filed their impeachment articles:

A group of Republican lawmakers on Wednesday introduced articles of impeachment to remove Deputy U.S. Attorney General Rod Rosenstein, escalating a fight over Special Counsel Robert Mueller’s investigation of alleged Russian meddling in the 2016 U.S. presidential election. Representatives Jim Jordan and Mark Meadows, who belong to the conservative House Freedom Caucus, joined nine other House members in accusing Rosenstein of hiding investigative information from Congress, failure to comply with congressional subpoenas and other alleged misconduct.

Rosenstein is the one Department of Justice official whose removal could allow Trump and his DOJ buddies to quash the Mueller investigation.

So is this the throw-down that has our democracy hanging in the balance? Maybe, maybe not. The House is scheduled to leave on Thursday for a recess that extends until after Labor Day.

Congress is taking their bi-annual six-week vacation to campaign to keep their jobs. And even when they return, it’s not certain that a Rosenstein impeachment will gain enough traction with Republicans to move forward, since Speaker Paul Ryan (R-WI) is against it, and AG Jeff Sessions said that Rosenstein has his “complete confidence”.

As it is, the House plans to use a big chunk of September trying to pass more tax cuts. House Ways and Means Committee Chairman Kevin Brady (R-TX) has let it be known that the House will debate three tax cut bills even though they have no chance of being enacted.

But all this gives the House Republicans something to talk about while campaigning back home that isn’t Trump’s dodgy trade deals, or being Putin’s poodle.

After the impeachment articles were filed, Jim Jordan announced that he will run to replace Paul Ryan as Speaker. Jordan desperately needs new things to talk about back home in Ohio. He faces charges that he failed to report sexual abuse that was reported to him as an assistant coach for the Ohio State wrestling team.

Is this anything more than a campaign publicity stunt, or just the latest installment of bad-faith politics by Republicans? We’ll find out in the fall.

The second vacation-related issue is: When does the GOP plan to work on avoiding a government shutdown? Stan Collender, a federal budget analyst that you should follow, says on his blog that the GOP has just 67 days left until the government shuts down again.

And the real number is probably half that if you factor in vacations and weekends. Collender puts the odds of an October 1st shutdown at 60%.

We already know that the House isn’t back until after Labor Day. The Senate will be in town for a while, as Mitch McConnell tries to force a vote on Brett Kavanaugh. Assuming they eventually go home as well, the Senate is very likely to be tied up for days in early September with the Kavanaugh confirmation.

Having a government shutdown in this political environment doesn’t seem like something Republicans will want to face just before the midterms. We can expect them to push things beyond the election with another Continuing Resolution, and a promise to pass spending bills in the lame duck session, should they lose control of either chamber of Congress.

You would think that Congressional Republicans would try to move heaven and earth to avoid a shutdown. But, Freedom Caucus members are quite happy with shutdowns.

They are convinced that shutdowns are good for them. Maybe so, but they aren’t good for America.

We are at an extremely unpredictable and unstable political point in America.

We have a paranoid President who, along with a delusional Congress, are making it impossible to focus on getting things done in DC.

Facebooklinkedinrss

The GOP’s History of Non-Accountability

The Daily Escape:

St. Peters Basilica, Rome, Italy – photo via @archpics

(Wrongo and Ms. Right are ensconced in a 1791 colonial home in the middle of nowhere, Massachusetts. The house was a half way point and overnight stop on the Hartford CT to Albany NY stage coach in the early 1800’s. It was a way station on the Underground Railroad in the late 1850’s. Now it is a VRBO rental, mostly used by large family reunions, and our family qualifies.)

Did the Trump campaign ask for help, or were they merely the beneficiaries of Russia’s efforts in the 2016 presidential election? We won’t know for sure unless or until Robert Mueller’s investigation makes it into the public domain. But here in the Berkshires, Wrongo read a column by Dylan Matthews that places the possible Trump wrongdoing in an historical perspective with other GOP stalwarts like Richard Nixon. And not just Watergate, where Gerald Ford pardoned tricky Dicky, but more:

The reason is a culture of elite impunity, where…political leaders face absolutely no accountability for misdeeds….It encompasses many decades during which political officials have evaded accountability for broken laws and illicit foreign contacts, and business and corporate elites have skirted punishment for outright fraud. It’s a problem that, ironically, Trump hammered home in the campaign: that there’s a different set of rules for elites than for normal people. It just happens that Trump knows that because he, for decades now, has been taking advantage of elite impunity.

Matthews makes the point that the Russia scandal reminds us that a presidential candidate has collaborated with a foreign government against the American government before, and gotten away with it:

In the summer of 1968…Republican nominee Richard Nixon and his aides actively sabotaged efforts by Lyndon Johnson’s administration to negotiate an end to the Vietnam War. They got away with it, prolonging a war that wound up killing more than a million people in the process.

As Matthews says, this is part of a larger, longstanding and troubling trend of Republican non-accountability:

It wasn’t even two decades later that the next Republican administration conspired with a foreign government…Iran’s. This time, the actions weren’t just horrendously immoral but illegal as well; elongating the Vietnam War was, alas, not a crime, but funding the Contras with Iranian arms deal money was. So was lying to Congress about it. Fourteen members of Reagan’s administration were indicted, and 11 were convicted.

It didn’t end there:

Before leaving office, President George H.W. Bush pardoned six people…all high-ranking policy officials like Secretary of Defense Caspar Weinberger, National Security Adviser Robert McFarlane, Assistant Secretary of State Elliott Abrams….National Security Council official Oliver North and National Security Adviser John Poindexter had, at that point, already gotten their convictions tossed out, not because they were innocent but due to a complication resulting from Congress giving them immunity to testify.

Matthews quotes Lawrence Walsh, the independent counsel who investigated Iran-Contra:

What set Iran-Contra apart from previous political scandals was the fact that a cover-up engineered in the White House of one president and completed by his successor prevented the rule of law from being applied to the perpetrators of criminal activity of constitutional dimension.

Many of the Iran-Contra perpetrators remain on the scene in Washington. Poindexter ran George W. Bush’s Information Awareness Office. Elliott Abrams, who had other transgressions under Reagan, when he supported El Salvador’s military dictatorship, worked as a National Security Council official for George W. Bush.

GW Bush had dozens of policymakers who lied about WMD. They systematically violated US law forbidding torture. Consider Abu Ghraib, where low-level soldiers and officers were court-martialed, while the people responsible for the policy, John Yoo and Jay Bybee, got off scott-free.

And Democrats weren’t above non-accountability. Obama didn’t prosecute Bush officials about the Iraq WMD lies. He didn’t prosecute CIA officials who tortured. Obama’s administration didn’t bring charges against Jose Rodriguez, who authorized the destruction of 92 tapes showing the CIA torturing detainees. Gina Haspel, who Rodriguez has said drafted the order to destroy the tapes, and who ran a CIA black site for torture in Thailand, is now the director of the CIA. Obama’s Department of Justice was notoriously lax with Wall Street. Once, Obama’s White House counsel Kathy Ruemmler jokingly asked Deputy AG Lanny Breuer, “How many cases are you dismissing this week?”

Matthews closes:

With that history — with such a clear record that…political officials involved in criminal activity and illicit deals with foreign powers will ever face any consequences — why on earth wouldn’t someone like Trump, a man who lacks any willingness to sacrifice his self-interest in order to do the right thing, work with Russia?

So both parties have contributed to this culture of permitting wrong conduct without consequences.

The possible implications for the Mueller investigation is frightening. At what point will bringing prosecutions be impossible because the GOP office holder will simply yell “partisan witch hunt“, and have one-third of America agree without seeing the evidence?

And will the bad guys simply wait for the next GOP president and get pardoned?

Unless we’re willing to fight that system, many more Republicans will evade accountability in the future.

Facebooklinkedinrss

Sunday Cartoon Blogging – April 15, 2018

Friday night, the US, UK and France launched what now looks like a symbolic attack on Syria. They took great pains to avoid hurting the Syrian government, its people or its allies. So far, there is no report of civilian casualties. Despite Trump saying the bombings were because Syria again stepped over a red line on chemical warfare, we haven’t seen solid evidence: a) that it was a gas attack, and b) that it was caused by the Assad regime. It seems illogical to Wrongo, but the UK and France joined in the exercise, and other western heads of state, like Trudeau in Canada said it was the right thing to do.

What did the bombings accomplish? The WaPo reports that:

Syria, Russia and Iran shrugged off strikes on Saturday by the United States and its allies against three Syrian chemical weapons facilities, which drew angry condemnations but no indication that there would be a wider escalation.

Here on Sunday, it looks like the only purpose of the attack was to “do something”. This is called the “Politician’s Syllogism”, a logical fallacy, taking this form:
1. We have to do something
2. This is something
3. Therefore, we have to do this.

Do we have any strategy at all in Syria? Two weeks ago, Trump said we were leaving. Today, we’re hip deep in the place. And does this bombing set a precedent? Will Trump send cruise missiles into Syria every time there is a gas attack? What if the gas attack is by the rebels, or the jihadis?

Remember that these bombings are happening while Trump’s travel ban prevents Syrian refugees from entering the US. And France and the UK are placing strict limits on refugees as well. Syria is in the middle of the worst refugee crisis in recent history, but, since a few of those who are fleeing might be terrorists, America’s door is closed. On to cartoons.

The war room worked late into the night on Trump’s priorities:

There are times when the dog must be wagged:

It’s a bit awkward to see that Trump can’t learn from history:

Trump had other priorities this week besides Syria:

Paul Ryan, man of action, bolts:

Facebooklinkedinrss