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The Wrongologist

Geopolitics, Power and Political Economy

Protect The Post Office

The Daily Escape:

New from the folks at Vicks™.

(It’s nice to be back from the vacation that was extended a few days by the power outage. Wrongo got to play lumberjack, cutting up four trees that fell during the windstorm. The only limbs harmed belonged to the trees)

There isn’t much doubt that Trump wants to end both the Postal Service and voting by mail. It’s become clear that his plan of managed decay of the postal system is designed to undermine the 2020 election, increasing his chances of remaining in power.

Trump has called the Postal Service “a joke.” But, as the Economist points out: (emphasis by Wrongo)

“Far from being a joke, the USPS is the nation’s favorite government agency, viewed favorably by 91% of Americans. But it is losing money: $4.5bn from January to March, more than double its losses for the same period last year.”

More from the Economist:

“The USPS’s financial woes have three main causes, one acute and two chronic. The acute one is covid-19. At least 2,400 postal workers have caught the virus and 60 have died. More than 17,000 of its 630,000 employees have been quarantined. Although package volume and revenue has grown along with online shopping, the volume of first-class and marketing mail have both declined.”

Last week, Wrongo and Ms. Right voted by mail, an option this year in Connecticut because of the COVID crisis. We shouldn’t have to worry about whether our votes are counted, but, we know that Trump’s presidential campaign and the Republican National Committee have filed lawsuits in several battleground states, including Minnesota, Pennsylvania and Nevada to challenge local vote by mail rules.

And Politico reports that Trump is pondering possible executive actions to curb mail-in voting:

“…everything from directing the postal service to not deliver certain ballots to stopping local officials from counting them after Election Day.”

We’ve all experienced low-level delays in mail service, including packages waylaid in transit. Now, the Postal Service is openly saying that they are no longer able to keep up their level of service.

This is part of the Administration’s game plan. It’s a specific assault by the new Postmaster General, Louis DeJoy, a Trump mega donor, who has millions invested in competing delivery services. DeJoy and his wife own between $30.1 million and $75.3 million in assets in USPS competitors or contractors, including XPO Logistics, UPS and JB Hunt.

DeJoy started by implementing the cost-cutting directives that have created days-long backlogs in mail delivery we’re all experiencing. He’s also reorganized the Postal Service. His actions could motivate the Postal Service’s biggest customers to send their packages through competitors like UPS and FedEx.

This kind of collapse in an essential service would, at one time, have launched Senators and Inspectors General into hearings and investigations about specific post offices or delivery routes. But the outrage is limited to Democrats now.

If the USPS fails, three things will happen very quickly: the cost of sending a letter will go from $0.55 to north of $2.00, and that service will only be available within major cities. Rural areas will see much higher prices, if they get service at all. Prices for shipping small packages will jump. Package delivery service to remote areas will become very expensive. Will FedEx and UPS jump on the opportunity? You bet.

Delaying delivery of prescription medications can’t become a victim of Trump’s election strategy.

There is a legal concept called criminal negligence. It is defined as the failure on the part of a person on whom a duty is placed to take reasonable steps to prevent a certain bad outcome from happening.

You may not have explicitly known that you have that duty. For instance, as an operator of an automobile, you have a duty not to hurt others with your vehicle, even if you didn’t know that’s your duty.

Let’s extend the idea to Trump, DeJoy and the Republicans. When you have authority, if you do something a reasonable person should know would cause harm, you are responsible for causing that harm. Dismantling the Postal Service is broadly harmful to the people and potentially, to the Constitution.

Presidential power comes with duties to the country. He’s broadly responsible for the welfare of the American people, and for the consequences of his actions. We will look at other examples of Trump’s negligence in future columns.

Slowdowns of the US mail could mean thousands of ballots don’t get to voters in time to be returned for Election Day or that they don’t get to election officials in time to be counted. With the threat of coronavirus hanging over in-person voters, the election could hang in the balance.

Trump is abdicating his Constitutional responsibility. Let’s give the last words to Charlie Pierce:

“Destroying the USPS is the most Republican thing this administration has done, except for trying to gut Social Security and Medicare. These always have been in the game plan.”

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Monday Wake Up Call, Portland Edition — July 27, 2020

The Daily Escape:

Paradise Pass with Crested Butte in the distance, CO – 2020 photo by glacticspark

The second biggest story of the summer is the widespread support of the protesters, those people of all races and ages, who took to the streets to say something about racism in America. Portland is and seems likely to remain the epicenter of the Trump administration’s law and order response.

America’s First Amendment rights are under attack in Portland by Trump’s paramilitaries every day. How can that be? Few have heard of US Code 1357. It allows immigration officers to operate within 100 miles of any external US border. Hence Trump could call out border troops to DC, Portland, or Chicago.

USC 1357 gives DHS jurisdiction over about two-thirds of the US population. They can enter any building that isn’t a dwelling within 25 miles of the border without a warrant.

The regulation was adopted by the US Department of Justice in 1953. At the time, there were fewer than 1,100 Border Patrol agents nationwide; today, there are over 21,000.

These problems are compounded by a lack of personnel oversight by Customs and Border Protection (CBP) and the DHS. The CBP consistently fails to hold its agents accountable for abuses.

Portland has protests on most days of the year. It’s part of the DNA of the city. Now, it’s looking like Trump’s paramilitaries are trying to foment violence and create a backlash among the protesters. The NYT reports on how these troops were the instigators of recent violence: (emphasis by Wrongo)

“After flooding the streets around the federal courthouse in Portland with tear gas during Friday’s early morning hours, dozens of federal officers in camouflage and tactical gear stood in formation around the front of the building.

Then…the officers started advancing….they continued to fire flash grenades and welt-inducing marble-size balls filled with caustic chemicals. They moved down Main Street and continued up the hill, where one of the agents announced over a loudspeaker: “This is an unlawful assembly.”

By the time the security forces halted their advance, the federal courthouse they had been sent to protect was out of sight — two blocks behind them.”

What’s the end game for Trump in Portland?  His paramilitaries aren’t going to murder groups of protesters in cold blood, so what are they going to do? Have nightly tear gassing until the November election?

Trump’s paramilitaries are saying to Portland: “We wouldn’t have to violate your Constitutional rights if you didn’t insist on exercising them.”

There is libertarian support for ending the Trump paramilitary presence in Portland. Libertarians acknowledge that there is no police power in the Constitution. Policing is left to the states. To the extent the President can send federal officers into Portland or other cities, it should be limited to protecting federal property, not moving into crowds that are two blocks away.

The libertarian argument would say that the people of Portland and other cities have the right to decide who they want to elect to City Hall and how much funding they want to provide for their police. The federal government should only be brought in to defend federal property if the local police are unwilling or unable to do so.

Ironically, during the Obama administration, the GOP thought that the “arming up” of America’s internal security forces like the CPB was a risk to THEM. Now, when it’s impacting Democratic-voting cities, they’re all for it.

Trump’s election chances seem to depend on whether he’s Nixon reborn in 2020. Nixon ran on law and order and against violent demonstrations, largely by students who were against the Vietnam War. Protests never spread as broadly as this in the 1960s. To a great degree, the Vietnam protests were by white college age youth. That isn’t true of today’s protesters.

Trump’s law and order gambit is that Antifa Marxists will take over our cities and then, our suburbs. He’s clinging to the idea that there is an equivalent of the “silent majority” of 1968 still out there to elect him.

But Vanity Fair reported some new polling on the response to Trump’s anti-BLM efforts. If those polls are correct, the silent majority of 2020 is firmly on the side of Biden when it comes to issues of race and justice. Nixon’s ghost seems to have left the building.

Time to wake up America! People in Portland are not afraid of the protesters. They know that their safety isn’t in question. There’s no doubt this is a protest against the government, not their fellow citizens.

To help you wake up listen to Peter Green, guitarist of Fleetwood Mac who died this week, play “Albatross” from 1969’s “The Pious Bird of Good Omen”:

This reminds Wrongo of Santo and Johnny’s “Sleepwalk” from 1959.

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

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Where COVID Goes, the Economy Will Follow

The Daily Escape:

Hetch Hetchy, Yosemite, CA – 2020 photo by sfo2phx. This reservoir was created by damming the Tuolumne River in the Hetch Hetchy valley in 1923. The project remains controversial, since the valley was thought to be as beautiful as Yosemite.

Where is America going? It’s clear that wherever our economy is going mostly depends on where our Covid-19 pandemic goes.

Congress passed the CARES act to provide us with a financial bridge until August, when the Coronavirus was expected to be under control, and life would be able to return to something like normal. But the pandemic is now worse than we imagined in March. From the WaPo:

“Sunday marked the 41st straight day that the seven-day average for new daily coronavirus infections in the United States trended upward. Six months after the novel coronavirus reached America, more than 3.7 million cases have been detected, and at least 137,000 people have died.

Kentucky, Louisiana, Oregon and South Carolina all set new single-day records on Sunday….Idaho, Nebraska, Iowa and five other states have seen their seven-day average for daily new fatalities rise by more than 40% in the past week. More than 100 Florida hospitals have run out of ICU beds for adults.”

We’ve spent $ trillions, but we’re no better off than when the pandemic started. And we’re got a lot to think about as these programs start to end. Bloomberg prepared this timeline of what financial benefits are ending, and the likely impact on America:

These looming cutoff dates come amid signs the labor-market recovery has stalled. While the Senate is willing to send new financial bridging legislation to Trump, Republicans and Democrats disagree on number of issues, and Trump has his own demands. The WaPo reports: (emphasis and brackets by Wrongo)

“Senate Republicans were seeking to allocate $25 billion for states to conduct testing and contact tracing, but certain administration officials want to zero out the testing and tracing money entirely…. [the administration] is also trying to block billions of dollars that GOP senators want to allocate for the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, and billions more for the Pentagon and State Department to address the pandemic at home and abroad…”

Trump wants the states to own the responsibility for testing. The Coronavirus spending bill Congress approved in April included $25 billion to increase testing and also required HHS to release a strategic testing plan. The agency did so in May, but the plan simply asserted the administration’s insistence that states, not the federal government, should take the lead on testing.

Another sticking point is that Trump wants the legislation to include another payroll tax cut. The payroll tax is used to fund Social Security and Medicare, so cutting it is a stealth way to cut Social Security in a time of crisis. Trump is also trying to fund a new FBI building.

In May, the House approved a $3.5 trillion relief bill. Pelosi’s bill funnels $100 billion to help schools to safely reopen and calls for $1 trillion to be sent to cash-strapped states to pay essential workers and prevent layoffs. The impact of shortfalls in sales, income, hotel, and gas taxes are already biting.

The White House has said the final package shouldn’t exceed $1 trillion, showing how far apart the Parties are.

Axios has it right: (brackets by Wrongo)

  • We blew it on testing…America hasn’t built the infrastructure necessary to process [tests] and trace the results….
  • We blew it on schools. Congress allocated $150 billion for state and local governments as part of the CARES Act. [But] there was no money earmarked for schools to buy new safety equipment, or to hire additional teachers for [adding many] smaller classes.
  • We blew public health….Had we all been directed to wear them [face masks] in March — and done so…you might not be reading this post.
  • We blew goodwill. Millions of Americans sheltered in place, pausing their social lives for the common good. But many millions of other Americans didn’t. Some were essential workers….Some just didn’t care, or didn’t believe the threat.
  • All of this was complicated by mixed messages from federal and state leaders. Top of that list was President Trump, who claimed to adopt a wartime footing without clearly asking Americans to make sacrifices necessary to defeat the enemy.

That was the same mistake that GW Bush made with America after 9/11.

Michelle Goldberg in the NYT said this:

“Lawrence O. Gostin, professor of global health law at Georgetown, told me he doesn’t expect American life to feel truly normal before summer 2022. Two years of our lives, stolen by Donald Trump.”

We’ve lost more than two years. We may have lost the enonomy.

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Monday Wake Up Call – July 20, 2020

The Daily Escape:

Alpine lake, High Uintas Wilderness, UT- 2020 photo by anteaterpinkytoe.

Which is better: Gorbachev’s Chernobyl response, or Trump’s COVID response? It’s a high bar for Trump’s response to be worse than Gorbachev’s.

The Chernobyl disaster exposed the Soviet government’s ineptitude to both the Soviet people and the international community. The reactor’s core meltdown and its aftermath drained the Soviet Union of $billions in clean-up costs. It led to the loss of a primary energy source and dealt a serious blow to national pride. Thirty-four years later, the site remains a waste land.

Gorbachev would later say that he thought the Chernobyl meltdown, “even more than my launch of perestroika, was perhaps the real cause of the collapse of the Soviet Union five years later.”

But Trump is up for the challenge! From Umair Haque at Medium:

“America’s in free fall. It’s having a public health crisis, an economic crisis, a social implosion, and a political implosion all at once. And all those things have been brought to you by Donald Trump, whose negligence, irresponsibility, recklessness have allowed them to flourish.”

Nobody in the world is in free fall like America. America has the highest number of new cases in the world, higher than Brazil’s 50K, or India’s 30K. Even individual Red States have worse outbreaks than many of the world’s poorest countries with far higher populations.

The EU has about 5,000 new cases. America has more than fifteen times the number of cases Europe has. Texas alone had more than twice the number of cases, (more than 10K) and the population of Texas is 7% of the EU’s.

Trump nails the win over Gorbachev with his most egregious action, putting armed secret police on the streets of Portland, OR. Dozens of federal agents in full camouflage seized protesters, threw them into unmarked cars, and took them for interrogation without specifying a reason for arrest.

It appears that at least some of the agents involved belonged to the US Customs and Border Protection (the Border Patrol), a US government organization that has no business conducting actions against Americans in Portland.

Both the mayor of Portland and the governor of Oregon have asked them to leave. A US Attorney for the State of Oregon is calling for an investigation into the arrests.

Now, the acting head of Homeland Security, Chad Wolf, is vowing to ramp up these actions both in Portland and elsewhere. This is Wolf on the DHS website:

“Each night, lawless anarchists destroy and desecrate property, including the federal courthouse, and attack the brave law enforcement officers protecting it. A federal courthouse is a symbol of justice – to attack it is to attack America.”

We’ve seemingly reached a point where Trump’s brown shirt police force is reality.

Could it be that Trump is trying to foment unrest? His campaign can’t be happy that protests and urban unrest have quieted down across America in the last few weeks. Is Trump hoping this action will spark a revival of what we were seeing in June?

The calculation would be that an upsurge in protest will divert the country’s attention from the ongoing COVID-19 disaster while scaring moderate voters. It allows Trump to keep playing the law and order president, someone who will protect white suburbanites from scary black/brown anarchists.

This is the same week when Trump claimed Biden wants to abolish suburbs.

We’ve heard this Republican tune before during earlier presidential elections. It’s a mash up of Nixon’s law and order strategy, and Bush I’s Willie Horton strategy. It’s important to point out that both won their elections.

Trump is using Executive Branch agencies that he controls. AG Barr knows there is nothing “Constitutionally” Congress can do about this. They’re trying out various actions to see what they can get away with: for now, it’s the dreaded ANTIFA. Before that it was immigrants and asylum seekers. Later, it could be any opposition.

Time to wake up America! This is who and what we have become. The only question remaining is whether enough non-authoritarian Americans will vote in November to stop the madness.

To help you wake up, here is Big Country’s “We’re not in Kansas” performed live in 1991 in Bonn Germany:

Sample lyrics:

What did you learn in school today
Did you learn to run when the teachers pray
Did they teach you enough to know the state you’re in
Not enough to get out, not enough to win

What did you learn at home today
Did you learn to hate in the proper way
Did your liberated parents patronize your friends
Cos they had enough money cos they had the right skin

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

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Our COVID Data Is Inaccurate, And It’s Going to be Spun

The Daily Escape:

Sand Harbor State Park, Lake Tahoe, CA – 2020 photo by debarnec

Happy belated tax day! Two disturbing articles about both the accuracy and reliability of COVID-19 data were in the NYT yesterday.

First, the collection and reporting of data is increasingly reliant on outdated technology to deliver test results:

“Health departments track the virus’s spread with a distinctly American patchwork: a reporting system in which some test results arrive via smooth data feeds but others come by phone, email, physical mail or fax, a technology retained because it complies with digital privacy standards for health information.”

The problems are compounded by human error:

“These reports often come in duplicate, go to the wrong health department, or are missing crucial information such as a patient’s phone number or address.”

Before the pandemic, nearly 90% of laboratory test results for diseases tracked by public health departments were transmitted digitally. But the need for substantially greater Coronavirus testing has brought many more players into the public health arena, including companies that usually run employment screening tests, and small clinics that usually test for diseases like the flu and strep throat.

This has increased the share of lab tests coming to public health departments via fax and phone.

The result is unreliable information. The Times quotes Janet Hamilton, executive director of the Council of State and Territorial Epidemiologists: (emphasis by Wrongo)

“Nationally, about 80% percent of coronavirus test results are missing demographic information, and half do not have addresses…”

Hard to trace an infected person without an address. America’s health system is a jumble of old and new technology that make it difficult to track what’s really going on with the COVID pandemic.

Also, the Trump administration’s guidelines on demographic data haven’t taken effect yet. In June, they required laboratories to report a patients’ age, race and ethnicity, so public health officials could better understand the demographics of the Coronavirus pandemic. But, those rules won’t take effect until August, and they only state that laboratories “should” provide patients’ addresses and phone numbers. They do not mandate it.

Dr. Frieden, former CDC director says:

 “You’ve got hundreds of laboratories and thousands of tests. Nothing is interoperable because they haven’t been mandated to do that.”

Other countries have a unique number identifier for each patient, something that Congress refuses to provide in the US. Instead, data often come to public health authorities using only the information that laboratories need to track the record, not the details that public health officials need to help manage the disease.

Anyone who has healthcare knows that patients routinely fill out the same information on multiple forms in multiple offices. The need for doctors and testing services to use fax machines betrays the fundamental lack of modern technology in some health care settings.

And remember, it’s not for lack of money: There’s plenty of money in the US health care system.

The second item regarding COVID data is more troubling. The NYT reports that: (emphasis by Wrongo)

“The Trump administration has ordered hospitals to bypass the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and, beginning on Wednesday, send all coronavirus patient information to a central database in Washington — a move that has alarmed public health experts who fear the data will be distorted for political gain.”

From now on, HHS, and not the CDC, will collect daily reports about the patients that each hospital is treating, how many beds and ventilators are available, and other information vital to tracking the pandemic.

This is seen as an inherently political move by outside public health experts. The NYT quotes Nicole Lurie, who served as assistant secretary for preparedness and response under former President Obama:

“Centralizing control of all data under the umbrella of an inherently political apparatus is dangerous and breeds distrust….It appears to cut off the ability of agencies like C.D.C. to do its basic job.”

This is more disturbing than finding out that the data are terrible. Alex Azar, who runs HHS, is a Trump crony and has clearly used his position to be helpful to Trump’s re-election campaign.

If there ever was any hope for a dispassionate, reasoned, and scientific FEDERAL response from Trump, it is certain that these two problems, one with the quality of the data, and the second with how it will be spun as it is reported, show we’re doomed.

How many health care workers will have to die? How many people living in states run by Trump’s personal bootlickers will get the treatment that they need?

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We’re Not a Failed State, We’re a Failed Society

The Daily Escape:

Sand Dunes National Park and Preserve, CO – photo by exposurebydjk. These are the highest dunes in North America.

Wrongo has written quite a bit lately about America’s fracturing social cohesion, and increasing white grievance as the greatest threats to our democracy. Here’s Wrongo on social cohesion:

“In the past, we had a set of unwritten expectations that members of our society were expected to comply with, like voting, paying taxes, and displaying tolerance for others. Even those deminimus expectations are fraying today.”

The COVID pandemic has many here and abroad saying the US is a failed state. George Packer argued this recently in the Atlantic. The Department of Homeland Security (DHS) says calling America a failed state is:

“…not only wrong, it’s irresponsible at best and dangerous at worst…. So stop saying that.

Ok DHS, the US isn’t a failed state, but we may be a failed society. We seem to have decided that while we have the means to succeed, we no longer want to try. From Duck of Minerva:

“Failed states lack the resources, equipment, and government capacity to provide public safety and public services. States like Somalia, South Sudan, and Yemen fit this description. The governments of these countries can often barely project authority beyond the walls of their government buildings.”

This doesn’t describe America. We are the wealthiest, most powerful country on earth. We’re home to more Nobel laureates than any country. Our universities are the envy of the world. Our technology sector is the world’s most dynamic.

We’ve lost the will to use our vast strengths to make America a better place for its citizens. If America had the will, we would have blunted the COVID-19 threat, as have New Zealand, South Korea and Germany. Those countries all have far more social cohesion than the US.

And while it’s true that Trump has failed the country, our society no longer feels that we have responsibilities to each other, or to the nation. We have lost the willingness to make personal sacrifices for the good of the community.

Individualism is a crucial part of our national ethos, but it has morphed into selfishness precisely when we need to see ourselves as all in this together. The result is that we’ve shown that we’re incapable of mobilizing the capacity to address the worst threat to public safety of the 21st century.

COVID is the just the third major crisis in the 21st century.

The first was 9/11. Back then, rural America didn’t see New York City as filled with immigrants and liberals who deserved their fate, but as a place that had taken a hit for the rest of us. America’s reflex was to mourn, and mobilize to help. The ensuing Iraq War and partisan politics erased much of that sense of national unity, and fed a bitterness toward the political class that hasn’t faded.

The second crisis was the Great Recession. Starting out, Congress passed a bipartisan bailout bill that saved the financial system. Outgoing Bush administration officials largely cooperated with incoming Obama administration officials. The lasting economic pain of the Great Recession was felt only by people who had lost their jobs, homes, and retirement savings. Many have never recovered, and inequality has grown worse.

This second crisis drove a wedge between Americans: Between the upper and lower classes, between Republicans and Democrats, metropolitan and rural people, the native-born and immigrants, ordinary people and their leaders. Social bonds had been under growing strain for several decades, and now they began to tear. The lasting effect was increased polarization and discredited governmental authority.

Self-pity turned to anger. Anger at Muslims or Mexicans or gays or fancy-pants city folks (or all of them mashed together) offset by a group identity of white grievance. America’s tone changed to defiant anger and hostility.

This was the American landscape that the Coronavirus found: In the cities and suburbs, globally connected desk workers were dependent on the essentials, a class of precarious and invisible service workers. In rural America, it found hollowed-out towns in revolt against the cities. In Washington, Corona found a government that had lost its ability to rally, or work together for the common good.

In America’s president, Corona happily found Donald Trump, the perfect fit for this decaying society. When a corrupt minority rules a dissatisfied majority, there are consequences.

We have literally fallen on our asses. So much damage in a relatively short period of time. Our republic is much flimsier than we thought.

We need a second period of reconstruction in America. The first reconstruction failed because our society failed it. The second reconstruction must fix our failed society.

It will be long and difficult.

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Is Russia Paying to Have Our Soldiers Killed?

The Daily Escape:

Sunset at McWay Cove, Big Sur, CA – 2020 photo by maxfoster098. What’s the name of the red flowers?

The NYT reported that Russia’s intelligence agency offered bounties to the Taliban for US troops killed during our peace talks with Afghanistan. The report said US intelligence briefed Trump and his administration, but for months they did nothing about it, while Trump tried to get Putin accepted back into the G7.

Those reports were backed up by the WSJ, Fox, and the WaPo.

The NYT’s Charlie Savage got very specific, including dates, which would seem to indicate that some people in the Intelligence Community (IC) or in the White House have had enough.

Calling them “bounties” raises America’s emotional hackles. It’s a word that’s useful to Trump’s enemies, implying individual incentive pay for an individual death, something that’s really personal. That doesn’t seem likely or practical: How does an individual Taliban soldier prove he’s behind an individual US soldier’s death?

Most likely, any incentive pay would go to the group for coalition casualties confirmed in the aftermath of an attack.

Russia completely denies the story. The White House doesn’t deny that the IC reported it, but it denies that Trump was in the loop.

Press Secretary McEnany’s insistence that Trump didn’t know about it can be viewed as either a damning indictment, or a lie. Either way, it isn’t a good look for a guy running for president. And it appears that this is a serious leak of classified information from within the White House.

Was Trump kept in the dark by his National Security Advisor? Did he refuse to believe the IC reporting? Or did he decide to quietly confront Putin about this episode in the continuing shadow war?

That could be a reasonable response, assuming you think Trump had a game plan for Russia. Wrongo doesn’t think that, and the words of John Bolton and all the others who have exited the administration would say Trump has no plan.

Also, some history: During Charlie Wilson’s War, in the 1980s, we supported and supplied the Afghani Mujahedin with weapons to kill Soviet soldiers while they were in the process of withdrawing from Afghanistan.

Since we did it to Russia in the 1980s, it’s difficult for Wrongo to get worked up over this Russian ploy, assuming that it happened. Of course we paid wholesale for Russian casualties, while Putin is apparently paying retail for ours.

If it did happen, it shows that Russia isn’t America’s friend. It also shows that Putin is no longer trying to be Trump’s friend.

We don’t have to go to war with each other over this, but we should realize that our relationship will require sustained improvement across many years to be normalized. OTOH, when the Commander-in-Chief sends his troops into harm’s way, he has an affirmative duty to protect them.

Some think that the Russians fed the story to the US media to discredit Trump. Perhaps we should try to understand whether the Kremlin still wants Trump to be president.

From their POV, America’s instability will surely ramp up to a higher level if he is re-elected. That might be helpful to Putin. But, any thought that Trump will improve our relationship with Russia ended long ago. Russia may be thinking that the US Intelligence Community is the devil they know.

Some history about Afghanistan: In 1979, Brezhnev thought the Russian invasion of Afghanistan would be over in 6 weeks. Ten years later, minus 118 jets, 333 helicopters and a lot of dead Russians, they withdrew as had the British before them. The recipe for ruin in Afghanistan was/is:

  • Estimate the time and resources necessary to conquer and control the region
  • Double the estimate
  • Repeat as necessary until you lose

Then countries tumble to one of two exit strategies:

  • Withdraw after significant losses, as did the British and Russians
  • Leave an army of occupation as Alexander did, and as we have done

If we are going to get upset at US service members being killed by paid proxies, then we should ask, why are we still there? Why is this worth any more American lives and treasure?

Since we have no strategy, most Americans barely know what we’re doing in Afghanistan. But that won’t stop our chicken hawk politicians from trying to gin up anger on the part of Americans.

Regardless of its truth, this story hits Trump where it hurts. He has to react.

The idea of four more years of this is terrifying.

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Saturday Soother – June 27, 2020

The Daily Escape:

Mt. Rainer from the Whiteriver campground – 2020  photo by np2fast

Good morning fellow disease vectors!

Now that Florida and Texas have again closed their bars, you’re probably wondering: “Can Joe Biden’s lead in the polls get any bigger”?

Here’s your answer. On Thursday, the Trump administration asked the Supreme Court to invalidate the Affordable Care Act. They did this without any plan for replacing it, at what appears to be the height of new cases of the COVID pandemic. From Charlie Pierce:

“Imagine, for a moment, you’re a Republican. You already know that your party has hitched its wagon to the biggest ass in the history of American politics, and that he has proceeded to bungle a response to the worst public health crisis in a century, touching off a deep recession in the bargain….Perhaps you’re thinking to yourself this morning, y’know, maybe this isn’t the best historical moment to take healthcare away from tens of millions of Americans.”

Political gurus say that timing is everything.

Trump is doing this despite the fact that 487,000 new people signed up with HealthCare.gov last month after losing their company-provided health insurance coverage because of the pandemic-induced recession. That was an increase of 46% in sign-ups compared to the same month last year.

And Trump’s trying this stunt in the week when the US hit a new record for the highest daily total of reported COVID-19 cases – more than 45,500! He’s picked the perfect time to try again to throw an estimated 20 million Americans off of their insurance coverage.

This has been the GOP plan all along: we’re trimming the rolls of people on entitlement programs. We’re doing it through the courts, through legislation and by allowing the COVID-19 infection to spread.

It’s no longer clear which is the greater threat to lives in America: The Coronavirus, or Donald Trump.

This should remind all of us that we need to make Medicare for All, or another form of single payer insurance, a top priority after the November election.

Biden said it all in a speech this week: (brackets by Wrongo)

“Amazingly, he [Trump] still hasn’t grasped the most basic fact of this [COVID] crisis: to fix the economy we have to get control over the virus. He’s like a child who can’t believe this has happened to him. All his whining & self-pity…his job is to do something about it.”

We desperately need new leadership. Maybe we’ll get it next January.

Now it’s time to forget the Sahara Dust storm for a few minutes. You should also ignore the fact that the Dixie Chicks changed their name to “The Chicks”. How exactly does THAT rebranding improve our world, or their career?

Time to take our masks off, sit at an appropriate physical distance, and kick back: It’s time for our Saturday Soother.

Let’s start by brewing up a huge mug of Ethiopia Nano Genji Agaro Gera coffee ($21.00/12oz.) from Sacramento CA’s Temple Coffee roasters. The roaster says you will experience notes of nectarine and apricot with your first sip.

Now find a comfortable lawn chair, and settle in to listen to “Summertime”, written by George and Ira Gershwin, and Dubose Edwin Heyward, in 1935. It’s performed here by George Winston from his album “Restless Wind”:

It was also memorably performed by the late, great Sam Cooke in 1957, released as the B-side on the single of Cooke’s big hit, “You Send Me”.

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

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Pandemic Is Getting Worse

The Daily Escape:

Sunrise, Green County WI – June 2020 photo by Keith D. Leman

Last Tuesday, VP Pence rejected the idea that the country was seeing a second spike in coronavirus cases as the pandemic continued. He wrote an article in the Wall Street Journal, entitled “There Isn’t a Coronavirus ‘Second Wave’”.  

Maybe he thinks that’s the case.

The US and the EU have comparable populations, but the current state of their respective COVID-19 outbreaks are vastly different. New data released by the European Center for Disease Control and Prevention show that there are around 3,000 new COVID cases in the EU each day.

In America, we’re now recording about 30,000 new cases of the virus each day, ten times higher than Europe. And while some US politicians in the US say the difference is due to discrepancies in testing, the US and the EU are conducting roughly the same number of tests per million people.

And new cases are growing in the US. Here’s a look at the seven-day rolling average of new COVID cases in the EU and the US since March:

It looks like a second US wave is on its way, regardless of what Pence or Trump says. Everything out of the White House on the pandemic has been bullshít. The pandemic has revealed that we have no leadership, no self-control, and no willingness to sacrifice for the common good.

The federal government’s response to the virus has been misguided. We could have undertaken a national effort to produce N95 masks for every person. With those masks, which reduce the chances of inhaling the virus by 95%, along with proper instructions on how to wear and handle them, the country could have remained open, and people remained safe. Of course, that assumes mask wearing isn’t considered an affront to our freedoms.

Now, the country has opened back up. We are almost as ill-prepared as when the pandemic started. Many of us have gone back to our former ways, pretending the virus is gone. Yes, we can go back to work, but we need the protection of high-quality masks.

Here’s Calvin with some truth:

America is doomed.

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Monday Wake Up Call – Tulsa Edition, June 22, 2020

The Daily Escape:

Trump Tulsa loyalist – photo by: Jabin Botsford/The Washington Post

(Blogging for the rest of the week will be light and variable, as Wrongo and Ms. Right embark on our first trip since COVID entered our lives)

Wrongo’s initial reaction to the smaller-than-expected crowd in Tulsa on Saturday was that quite a few Trump supporters actually had common sense, despite what they might have said to the press about COVID.

CNN said the venue estimated that 6,200 people were in the arena. The blue section where the lone Trump supporter above is seated, is the highest level of the arena. It holds 9,000, and was largely vacant. Despite that, the Trump campaign said that 12,000 went through the metal detectors.

Wrongo was wrong about the Trumpets. It turned out that teenage users of TikTok were behind the early huge crowd estimates by the campaign:

“TikTok users and fans of Korean pop music groups claimed to have registered potentially hundreds of thousands of tickets for Mr. Trump’s campaign rally as a prank.”

And the NYT reports there’s a story behind the story:

“Mary Jo Laupp, a 51-year-old from Fort Dodge, Iowa, said she had been watching black TikTok users express their frustration about Mr. Trump hosting his rally on Juneteenth. (The rally was later moved to June 20.) She “vented” her own anger in a late-night TikTok video on June 11 — and provided a call to action. ‘I recommend all of those of us that want to see this 19,000-seat auditorium barely filled or completely empty go reserve tickets now, and leave him standing there alone on the stage’….When she checked her phone the next morning…the video was starting to go viral. It has more than 700,000 likes, she added, and more than two million views.”

This will be spun many ways over the next few days, but a few days ago, the campaign claimed the equivalent of a quarter of Oklahoma’s population had requested a ticket. Today, they blamed invisible Antifa’s for both the cancellation of the planned overflow outdoor speech, and that the indoor venue was not even half full.

This shows how far the Trump campaign has to go in the next 132 days.

Today’s real topic is AG Barr’s firing of the US Attorney for the Southern District of New York (SDNY), Geoffrey Berman. First, Berman was asked to resign, and he refused to comply. Then Barr said that Trump had fired Berman, so Berman then agreed to leave.

Wrongo has no position on Berman’s worth as a federal prosecutor. He was the Assistant US Attorney for the SDNY while Rudy Giuliani was the US Attorney. He later became a partner at the law firm, Greenberg Traurig. Still later, Rudy Giuliani also joined Greenberg Traurig.

The SDNY has pursued a series of highly visible cases that are Trump-adjacent. It handled the arrest and prosecution in 2018 of Michael D. Cohen. Then there was the indictment last year of a state-owned bank in Turkey. Turkish president Erdogan wanted Trump to quash the investigation. Bolton’s book says Trump promised Erdogan that he would get rid of the current leadership of SDNY, and then they’d “take care of it.”

Berman also has an inquiry into Rudy Giuliani and his henchmen, Lev Parnas and Igor Fruman.

Berman’s dismissal seems to be either questionable judgment, or an effort to obstruct ongoing investigations. We’re way past the point of optics. Trump and Barr are in a scramble to do ANYTHING to get re-elected. Their hope is to keep the conspiracy going for four more years.

And their latest effort, to short-circuit the ongoing criminal investigations of Trump’s affiliates and associates, is only the most recent evidence. If Barr continues down this road, he will make John Mitchell, Nixon’s disgraced attorney general, who did time for his transgressions, look like a man of principle.

When Barr was up for Senate confirmation, he was the old Washington hand everyone respected and who, we were assured, had nothing but respect for the law. Now it’s clear that he’s someone who had a pedigree and the right connections, but no moral center.

Trump plans to replace Berman with the head of the SEC, Jay Clayton. Clayton is a lawyer who doesn’t have any criminal experience. His former client, Deustche Bank, is party to a Trump tax return case that is before the Supreme Court.

Time to Wake up America! None of Trump’s people have a moral center. We have a few weeks remaining to register and turn out voters in such overwhelming numbers that these bastards are thrown out of office.

To help you wake up, consider this quote from John Adams:

“Our Constitution was made only for a moral and religious People. It is wholly inadequate to the government of any other.”

And right now, we have a government without ethics or morals.

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