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The Wrongologist

Geopolitics, Power and Political Economy

Saturday Soother – January 11, 2020

The Daily Escape:

Road in Yosemite after rain – December 2019 photo by worldpins

Did we just avoid a war, or was a future war thrust upon us? You have to go way back to find a time when the thought of an overseas conflict united Americans behind the plan.

Today, all we have are questions about which war we consider to be a war worth fighting. Certainly it wouldn’t be a war on climate change, or vote suppression, or spiraling health care costs. Those aren’t considered just wars in today’s politics.

One Party is always willing to fight the other when the topic is intervention in the Middle East. Doug Collins, the mouthy Republican Congress Critter from Georgia, who’s willing to self-promote on any TV channel, went on Fox (Lou Dobbs) to criticize Democrats:

“They’re in love with terrorists. We see that they mourn Soleimani more than they mourn our Gold Star families, who are the ones who suffered under Soleimani. That’s a problem.”

That led Preet Bharara, former US Attorney, to clap back at Collins: (emphasis by Wrongo)

“No American is “in love” with terrorists or “mourns” the death of that Iranian general on an airstrip in Baghdad. Many of us do, however, mourn the death of decency, honesty and reason here at home.

I realize that you are a politician and that hyperbolic, hyperpartisan claptrap is the unfortunate fashion of the day. But even allowing for the new normal of nastiness in political rhetoric, your casual slur of countless good Americans hits a new bottom. Americans can, in good faith, differ about the legality or efficacy of killing Soleimani. That doesn’t make them unpatriotic or lovers of terrorists. It is hostility to differences of opinion that is un-American.”

More:

“You are a pastor, an attorney and a sitting member of Congress. Therefore, the evidence would suggest you should know better. To utter such garbage, which you know to be false and defamatory, goes against all the training and teaching you must have received. But you got your cheap shot across, and perhaps that’s all that matters to you.”

Iraq War veteran Sen. Tammy Duckworth (D-Ill) chimed in about what Collins said:

“I’m not going to dignify that with a response. I left parts of my body in Iraq fighting terrorists. I don’t need to justify myself to anyone.”

Collins then recanted:

“Let me be clear: I do not believe Democrats are in love with terrorists, and I apologize for what I said earlier this week.”

But, even though Collins appeared on Fox on Friday morning, he didn’t apologize. Instead, he later apologized on his Twitter feed, which has less than 300k followers.

Let’s give Preet the last word: (emphasis by Wrongo)

“…I am not making some old and familiar naive call for a return to “civility” in our politics. I don’t have much hope for that….I just want people like you to knock off the worst scurrilous nonsense…..If we are going to come together, protect the homeland and heal the hearts of people who have suffered the scars of terrorism, we need our leaders to do better than lazy trash talk.”

Collins was deployed as a Navy Chaplain to Iraq in 2008, so he knows better. He’s certainly seen Democrats die fighting terrorists. Yesterday, Wrongo said Democrats can’t let Republicans slide, they need to be called out when they are wrong, like Bharara and Duckworth just did to Collins.

Sometimes, Wrongo wonders if all this is happening because he didn’t forward at least a thousand Facebook messages to ten people. If so, Wrongo apologizes, America!

Time for all of us to de-stress from the first week of the new decade. Let’s hope most weeks are calmer than what we just lived through. To help calm things down, it’s time for our Saturday Soother!

Start by brewing up a mug of Panama Esmeralda Geisha Natural ($19.95/4oz.). Wrongo knows that’s expensive, but the stock market had a great week, even if Gen. Soleimani didn’t, so you can afford it. It’s from Paradise Roasters in Minneapolis.

Now, grab a seat by the window and listen to something soothing. Today, we hear Beethoven’s “Für Elise” played on glass harp by Robert Tiso. The score was not published until 1867, 40 years after the composer’s death. And it may not have really been dedicated to Elise:

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

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Dateline London — Banana Republicanism Edition

The Daily Escape:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Saturday Soother – April 21, 2018

The Daily Escape:

Bluebells in Hallerbos, Belgium – April 2018 photo by shinbaninja. Bluebells bloom only for about 10 days.

Welcome to the weekend. Let’s take a detour from the continuous drip, drip, drip, of Comey, Stormy, Syria, Cohen, Russia, and North Korea. Instead, take a look at an example of GOP maliciousness that passed under the radar, like a cruise missile, but aimed at American consumers.

The NYT’s Thursday business section reported about Senate Republicans passing a piece of legislation that will eviscerate a little bit more of the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau’s (Bureau) supervision in the financial sector: (emphasis, brackets and link by Wrongo)

The Senate voted on Wednesday to overturn an Obama-era rule that restricted automobile lenders from discriminating against minorities by charging them higher fees for car loans, in the latest attempt by Republican lawmakers to roll back financial regulations.

Republican lawmakers, along with one Democrat, Senator Joe Manchin of West Virginia, seized on the Congressional Review Act to overturn guidance issued in 2013 by the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau. The 1996 law [Congressional Review Act] gives Congress the power to nullify rules formulated by government agencies but has primarily been used to void recently enacted rules.

After the Government Accountability Office determined late last year that the consumer bureau’s 2013 guidance on auto lending was technically a rule that could be rolled back, Republicans, led by Senator Patrick J. Toomey (R-PA), targeted it for rescission by using the Congressional Review Act. The House is expected to follow suit and also use the Congressional Review Act to void the guidance.

Republicans have been against the Bureau, which was established under the 2010 Dodd-Frank law since it was passed. Trump’s pick to lead the agency, at least on an interim basis, Mick Mulvaney, has largely frozen its rule-making and enforcement.

Democrats and consumer watchdogs criticized the Senate’s move. Rion Dennis of Americans for Financial Reform, said:

By voting to roll back the CFPB’s work, senators have emboldened banks and finance companies to engage in racial discrimination by charging millions of people of color more for a car loan than is justified….Lawmakers have also opened the door to challenging longstanding agency actions that are crucial to protecting workers, consumers, civil rights, the environment and the economy.

Senator Richard Blumenthal, (D-CT) warned that rescinding the Bureau’s guidance would lead to a flood of unfair, predatory lending:

This truly repugnant resolution ignores the unacceptable, undeniable truth that consumers’ interest rates are regularly marked up based on their race or ethnicity — a disgusting practice that continues to run rampant across the country…

A 2011 report from the Center for Responsible Lending analyzed loan level data and found that African-Americans and Latinos were receiving higher numbers of interest rate markups on their car loans than white consumers. The Bureau issued guidance in 2013 urging auto lenders to curb discriminatory lending practices and used that guidance to justify lawsuits that they brought against auto finance companies.

The Department of Justice can still bring lawsuits against auto lenders for discriminatory practices, even if the guidance is nullified. But legal experts say the government could be less successful in bringing such cases without the guidance from a government agency saying the practices are viewed as improper.

Why are Republicans so mean-spirited? This is just gratuitous maliciousness towards African-Americans and other people of color. Who benefits, except a few huge GOP donors in the financial services industry?

This is another example of why TURNOUT in November is all that we have left to save the Republic.

No way to spin it, we’ve had another tough week, so it’s time for a Saturday Soother. Let’s start by brewing a yuuge cup of Sumatra Tano Batak ($21/12 oz.). The beans come from the northern part of the Indonesian island of Sumatra, and are valued for their complex earth and fruit notes. That comes from using unorthodox fruit removal and drying practices called “wet-hulling.” Then the beans are roasted by PT’s Coffee in Topeka, Kansas. According to them, drinking it invokes the experience of eating cherries in a flower garden next to a patch of fresh, fragrant, just-turned earth.

Sounds like it could be the Fields of Wrong on a warm April day.

Now settle back in a comfy chair and listen to the most underappreciated jazz singer, Johnny Hartman. He’s Wrongo’s favorite of that era. Here he is singing “I’ll Remember April” from his 1955 album, “Songs from the Heart”. It was Hartman’s debut album:

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

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Saturday Soother – March 18, 2017

The Daily Escape:

(Ancient Pagoda in Myanmar – photo by Steve McCurry. McCurry is best known for his iconic 1984 National Geographic magazine photograph “Afghan Girl”.)

This isn’t the millennium we thought we’d have. The 21st century was supposed to be a time of enhanced social justice, and a push toward further global integration. We thought that the arc of history bent unmistakably toward a bright Information Age.

Instead, where are we? Lurching forward towards the second decade of the century with the reins of government in the hands of an ultra-nationalist, someone who wouldn’t shake hands with Angela Merkel, the Chancellor of Germany at the close of their meeting. We also learned more about the tin ear that Republicans have when it comes to enacting a health insurance program. Here is the topper: In a conversation with the National Review’s Rich Lowry, Speaker of the House Paul Ryan (R-WI) bragged about how conservatives now have a once-in-a-generation opportunity to take health coverage away from the most vulnerable Americans:

So Medicaid…sending it back to the states, capping its growth rate. We’ve been dreaming of this since I’ve been around — since you and I were drinking at a kegger…I’ve been thinking about this stuff for a long time. We’re on the cusp of doing something we’ve long believed in.

Not the college experience that most of us had, but for Ryan, it was a time to dream about how, someday, he would take health care away from millions of poor people. The media thinks that this guy is the best and brightest that the Republicans have, and cover him like a serious, sober policy wonk focused on reducing deficits and poverty in market-oriented ways. They refuse to believe that a major elected official would devote his life to the Randian belief that the poor deserve what’s coming to them because they lack the brilliance of a John Galt. It’s one thing to have these thoughts at 20, and an entirely different thing to still have them at 47 years old.

To reiterate what we talked about earlier this week, Speaker Ryan’s health bill, if enacted, would lead to 24 million fewer people having health insurance by 2026, according to the Congressional Budget Office. Of those 24 million, 14 million would lose health coverage because of the changes Ryan wants to make to the Medicaid program.

No wonder Charlie Pierce calls Ryan the “zombie-eyed granny starver”. Many Americans voted for this. Perhaps they now understand buyer’s remorse.

Time to get soothed, if it is possible this week. Grab a cup of Hula Daddy Kona Coffee (just $100/Lb. via the web), sit in the sun room with Wrongo, and watch the 20” of snow melt on the fields of Wrong.

We’ll listen to Dvořák’s “Romance for Violin and Orchestra” performed by Tanja Sonc with the Slovenian Philharmonic, conducted by Keri-Lynn Wilson. Dvořák originally composed this in September and October 1873 as the slow movement of a string quartet in F minor. He re-scored it for violin and orchestra sometime before December 1877. Here is Romance of Violin and Orchestra, Opus 11:

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

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February 24, 2017

The Daily Escape:

(Baby duckling from Amazed By Animals)

Republicans in Arizona came up with a legislative response to Democratic and Independent protesters now that their party has started seeing energized protests at town halls and in their downtown areas. (There was a 15,000 person protest in Tucson in January) They plan to criminalize protests by seizing the assets of anyone involved even in lawful assembly.

On a party-line vote of 17-13, Arizona Republican state senators voted to give police new powers to arrest anyone who is involved in a peaceful demonstration — even before anything bad actually happens. From the Arizona Capitol Times:

SB1142 expands the state’s racketeering laws, now aimed at organized crime, to also include rioting. And it redefines what constitutes rioting to include actions that result in damage to the property of others. But the real heart of the legislation is what Democrats say is the guilt by association — and giving the government the right to criminally prosecute and seize the assets of everyone who planned a protest and everyone who participated.

It’s beginning to sound like you could join a protest in Arizona, and face RICO charges if someone so much as breaks a window.

With their new-found political power, Republicans will no longer tolerate dissent, and they plan to use the police power of the state to crush those who disagree. Sen. John Kavanagh, R-Fountain Hills, said that chilling effect is aimed at a very specific group of protesters:

A lot of them are ideologues, some of them are anarchists…But this stuff is all planned.

There’s more: By including rioting in racketeering laws, it actually permits police to arrest even those who are planning events. Kavanagh added:

Wouldn’t you rather stop a riot before it starts? Do you really want to wait until people are injuring each other, throwing Molotov cocktails, picking up barricades and smashing them through businesses in downtown Phoenix?

The bill now moves to the Arizona House. While that moves forward, we have moved into an era of authoritarian rule in America.

And you are watching it happen in real-time.

Americans have the right to peacefully assemble, we have the right to free speech, and to petition the government for a redress of grievances. Even though the Tea party was very vocal for the last 8 years; GOP legislators didn’t think that their protests needed to be shut down, or their organizers prosecuted.

Republicans are making a hash of the Constitution, they have no intention of acting in the best interest of all of their citizens. This is a violation of their oath of office. Taking away our right to protest by penalizing potential protesters with threats of asset forfeiture and/or intimidation, is not our America.

Here is Peter Garrett with “It Still Matters”. You may remember Garrett as the lead singer of the Australian band Midnight Oil. He was also a Labor Party member of the House of Representatives for New South Wales from October 2004 to August 2013. Here is “It Still Matters”:

Tell Arizona Republicans that the Constitution still matters to the rest of us.

Sample Lyrics:
Watching the parade on the news last night
I was one that walked that road before
When everything feels like its crumbling
Like the writing’s on the wall

It still matters to me
I hope it matters to you

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

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Saturday Soother – February 4, 2017

“True terror is to wake up one morning and discover that your high school class is running the country.” Kurt Vonnegut

Welcome to the weekend, we should be at least concerned, if not terrified. After all, look at who is in charge. Its those jerks you knew back in the day.

We have just driven into a long, dark tunnel in the back seat of the Trump Express. Will we ever see light at the other end? When a president is out of his party’s mainstream by this much, he just provides cover for the rest of them to act out accordingly.

A few things that happened this week that you should consider, none of which will be the worst thing that Trump puts in motion over the next four years:

  • The House and Senate approved a measure that scuttles a new regulation aimed at preventing coal mining debris from being dumped into nearby streams. The Senate’s 54-45 vote on Friday sends the measure to President Trump. What’s more, the law prevents the executive branch from imposing substantially similar regulations in the future.
  • On Thursday, the House repealed a Social Security Administration regulation to keep people with severe mental illnesses from buying guns. Rep. Kevin Brady, R-Texas, and Chair of the House Ways and Means Committee said:

The agency should be focused on serving all of its beneficiaries, not picking and choosing whose Second Amendment rights to deny…

On the gun issue, the GOP is taking away Obamacare, so you won’t be able to afford treatment for your mental illness, but hey – go buy a gun!

To paraphrase Mitt Romney, coal companies are people too. They need the profits from dumping industrial waste in the water supply just as much as a human needs clean water. Why should we prioritize humans over corporate folks? Maybe you’re just prejudiced against legal persons.

Republicans seem to know intuitively that the faster and more boldly they move, the harder it will be for Democrats to change the rules later. As long as Republicans control both the House and the Senate, Trump will leave big, black heel marks all over our democracy.

So, calm down. It’s gonna get worse. Take a break with a hot cuppa DECAF coffee and settle back for half an hour to listen to music. Here is Mendelssohn’s Violin Concerto E Minor OP 64 first performed in 1845. It took Mendelssohn six years to write. Today we hear it performed by three-time Grammy Award-winning violinist Hilary Hahn playing in June 2012 with the Frankfurt Radio Symphony Orchestra at the Korean Art Centre Concert Hall, Seoul Korea:

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

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