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The Wrongologist

Geopolitics, Power and Political Economy

Saturday’s (No) Soother – March 14, 2020

The Daily Escape:

Mt. Pavlov and Pavlov’s sister, the Aleutians, AK – Pavlov is the most active volcano in the US. Hat tip: Ottho H.

We’re crossing a threshold between what we knew about public health, toward an unseen future. There’s no certainty about what that future will look like. As important as it is to remove Trump, his incompetence has made his removal our second national priority. He’s made beating the Coronavirus our number one priority.

This has a domino effect: We don’t just have a national health emergency, but soon, a recession. So many things cancelled. So much commerce deferred, and for how long? Think about how many working people are/will be out of work due to postponements and cancellations, due to small companies closing. Due to illness of family and deaths of loved ones.

Widespread illness is showing the cracks in our health care delivery system: In early January, America was among the best-prepared nations for an epidemic. Our large number of ICU beds, plus our stockpiles of drugs and medical equipment, made us the envy of many nations.

And we took an early lead: On January 6, the CDC issued a Level 1 travel watch for China. On January 7, the CDC established a 2019-nCoV Incident Management group. On January 8, the CDC began alerting clinicians to watch for patients with respiratory symptoms and a history of travel to Wuhan. On January 17, the CDC issued an updated interim Health Alert Notice (HAN) Advisory to inform state and local health departments and health care providers about this outbreak. We began screening passengers on flights from Wuhan to five major US airports.

On January 31, Trump announced blocking of entry of Chinese nationals and mandatory quarantines on US citizens who returned from affected parts of China.

Since then, we’ve had inaction and mistakes by the FDA and CDC, including screwing up the provision of desperately needed tests. Even now the CDC and FDA say there’s an inadequate supply of reagents used in the tests, a bottleneck that should have been dealt with in January.

Organizations require strong leadership. That allows established process and procedures to rule in an emergency. That’s why we need good elected leaders in charge of the experts. Today, it’s the other way around. This is inexcusable.

Here’s a thought about one of the detestable people who helped bring us to this new threshold between where we were, and where we’re going: Sen. Susan Collins (R-ME). In 2009, she singlehandedly removed $870 million in pandemic funding from the economic stimulus package:

From Grunwald’s tweet:

“Collins also deleted the pandemic flu preparations as a nonstarter”

Stop saying that Sen. Collins is a reasonable Republican. She’s proven time and again she’s not. It’s possible that there may not be any reasonable Republicans left. Please donate to Collins’s opponent, Democrat Sara Gideon.

Finally, haven’t we had enough of the lying and purposeful misinformation spewed by Trump? Eric Boehlert has a great idea: The media and the rest of us should stop listening to Trump:

“The President of the United States is actively endangering the American public, and at what point does the press decide that dutifully broadcasting Trump’s misinformation is not in the nation’s best interest. At what point does the press unplug Trump for the good of the country?”

His forum should be restricted to only FOX news. There is no reason to have presidential debates, since no fact-checking organization, much less any citizen, can keep up with Trump’s lies and misstatements. Sure, the GOP will complain that Biden (or Sanders) are chickens, that they’re too old to match wits with Trump. But the truth is, Trump should be denied a forum when and wherever possible.

He hasn’t earned being normalized by the rest of us. And don’t say we should respect the office – he doesn’t.

We need only one point to prove this: Trump did not push to do aggressive Coronavirus testing because more testing might have led to more Coronavirus cases being discovered. Trump made it clear the lower the numbers on Coronavirus, the better for him and his re-election this fall.

That disqualifies him.

Here’s a little tune to help you through the weekend. It’s “Enjoy Yourself (it’s later than you think)” by Jools Holland, The Specials, Hozier, Rhiannon Giddens and others performed in 2015:

And it IS later than you think! Those who read the Wrongologist in email can view the video here.

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Trump Shows No Leadership on the Virus

The Daily Escape:

Sunrise, Mesa de Anguila, Big Bend NP, TX – 2020 photo by pierceingramphotos.  

Trump spoke from the Oval Office about the pandemic on Wednesday night. It left most of us puzzled regarding whether our government is capable of more than a banana republic response to our public health crisis.

Trump offered no top-level guidance or policy, and no explanation for why testing remains largely unavailable. He issued vague promises of loans for businesses and tax deferments to individuals soon to have no jobs or incomes to tax.

Health care support for victims? Nada.

He labeled the Coronavirus a “foreign virus”. Several GOP Congresscritters are calling it the “China Virus”. What are Republicans trying to accomplish with this reframing?

His 30-day travel ban from Europe is a stop-gap way to wall off America from certain infected foreigners. Remember that in February, he did the same thing with China. He announced his European ban while saying it would not apply to the UK, where the virus has an established foothold. It also doesn’t apply to South Korea, which has the largest number of infections outside China. Again, what’s his point?

We hoped for a significant statement about controlling the spread of the virus in the US, but there was nothing. And since that was ostensibly the point of his little talk, it indicates that he either doesn’t know how to control the spread of the virus inside the US, or, doesn’t think that kind of program would help to keep him in office after November.

From Charlie Pierce:

“You knew it was all going to go terribly wrong in the first few sentences when the president* referred to the source of the pandemic as “a foreign virus”—This is the most aggressive and comprehensive effort to confront a foreign virus in modern history….the claim was as false as it was stupid. As the Washington Post helpfully points out, the administration*’s response to this outbreak has been to deny it, ignore it, downplay it, and now to use it as an excuse to ram through some tax cuts, a form of antibiotics that Joseph Lister never thought of.”

More tax cuts? Perhaps the one takeaway from the past two weeks, and from Trump’s Oval Office speech, is this:

“All the King’s tax cuts for all the King’s men
Won’t keep the Coronavirus from coming in”

People were expecting Trump to declare a national emergency but he didn’t, because he’s in a quandary. He doesn’t want to declare it despite the fact that we’re already in one. It would make a lie of his talking points that there’s nothing to worry about.

But remember last year, when he stirred up emotions about “an invasion of our country with drugs, with human traffickers, with all types of criminals and gangs“? He was happy to declare a National Emergency to get some of his wall built.

Emergency to stop immigrants? Sure. Emergency to save American lives? I’m thinking….

Here’s a long quote from David Frum:

“This crisis is not of Trump’s making. What he is responsible for is his failure to respond promptly, and then his perverse and counterproductive choice of how to respond when action could be avoided no longer….No American president, and precious few American politicians, have ever pointed so many fingers or hurled so much abuse as Donald Trump. What he means, of course, is: Don’t hold me to account for the things I did.

But he did do them, and he owns responsibility for those things….

More people will get sick because of his presidency than if somebody else were in charge. More people will suffer the financial hardship of sickness because of his presidency than if somebody else were in charge. The medical crisis will arrive faster and last longer than if somebody else were in charge. So, too, the economic crisis. More people will lose their jobs than if somebody else were in charge…More savers will lose more savings than if somebody else were in charge. The damage to America’s global leadership will be greater than if somebody else were in charge.”

Let’s close with Tom Sullivan:

“The only saving grace in this graceless, classless, heartless presidency is that this virus may end it…”

However, only if Biden wins in November.

Trump and the Republicans who enabled him in order to get their tax cuts and judges, must go.

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Surprising No One, Trump Blames Iran on Obama

The Daily Escape:

Hanging Lake Valley, CO – 2019 photo by henhooks

Circling back to Trump’s “standing down” speech, it seems like it was an exercise in gas lighting. Trump spoke for less than ten minutes, standing in front of his generals, who remained expressionless as he spoke. Occasionally, he seemed short of breath. Obviously he had a lot on his mind, but he sure didn’t look like someone refreshed from a two-week vacation.

This observation from the indispensable Marcy Wheeler captures the moment:

“Trump just pre-blamed Barack Obama for the failures most experts predict and have correctly predicted will come from Trump’s Iran policy. He suggests, falsely, that the current escalation is the result of Obama’s peace deal, rather than the demonstrable result of his suspension of it.”

Wrongo’s conservative friends repeat the lie that Obama sent planes full of American cash to Iran. They may be conflating the Iran deal with Iraq in 2003, when GW Bush sent them $12 billion in hundred dollar bills. That’s 363 tons of $ hundreds that disappeared almost immediately.

We know that Obama didn’t “pay” Iran $150 billion for the 2015 Iran Nuclear Deal. The deal, approved by China, France, Germany, Russia, UK, and the US, involved the release of $ billions of Iran’s assets, frozen after the 1979 Islamic Revolution, in exchange for the end of Iran’s nuclear weapons development. The NYT reports that, after Iran paid its debts, it had between $32 billion and $50 billion left.

Trump and the GOP always try to shirk responsibility for their actions, and yesterday, they blamed the Democrats. Trump and the GOP:

  • Blamed Obama’s successful nuclear deal for what has happened after Trump’s rejection of it
  • Claimed Trump couldn’t brief Democrats on the Soleimani assassination because the Dems couldn’t be trusted to keep the news a secret
  • Suggested that Democrats’ impeachment of Trump has hurt his ability to respond to the very crisis he created by killing Soleimani

Trump’s blame shifting tactics are particularly toxic because his policies are likely to fail. The only way Trump can sustain support while presiding over these preventable failures is to blame someone else, like the Democrats, and the Iranians in this case.

And the only way for him to continue to follow his failing policies is to pretend he’s not the cause of the failure.

That’s the Republican playbook. They haven’t been the party of personal responsibility for a long time. They just pretend they are. Did Nixon take responsibility for Watergate? Think of Reagan blowing up the debt with his tax cuts and violating the Constitution with his Iran Contra scheme. Or Bush 1st lying about being out of the loop on Iran Contra. Then came Bush 2nd and Cheney who refused to listen to warnings that Bin Laden was going to attack us, and then using that attack as an excuse to go to war with Iraq.

Like Trump, none of them ever took personal responsibility for their lies and incompetence.

Trump’s excuse for not briefing the Gang of Eight is particularly worrisome. They are the leaders of both Parties from both the Senate and House, and the chairs and ranking minority members of both the Senate and House Committees for intelligence. The president is required to brief them on covert operations by law.

Apparently, Trump briefed Sen Lindsay Graham instead.

But Trump doesn’t want advice from people he doesn’t trust, and so he didn’t bother to brief the Gang of Eight before the Soleimani mission.

As we said yesterday, Trump owns this decision, and all of its consequences. That raises the political stakes in the run-up to the 2020 election, and makes it all-important for him to hedge his bet by finding scapegoats. It’s a feedback loop: Democrats, and Iranians can’t be right, they’re just disloyal, or traitors, or terrorists.

His behavior has become more impulsive as his mistakes have grown. His Party also shares full responsibility for them. But today’s GOP is about making up their own reality, blaming others for problems, and saying more tax cuts for the rich and corporations will paper over whatever problems they create. This is totally on the Republicans, and they will never stop of their own accord.

This will persist until the rest of us take action to change the arc of our politics.

It’s also on any Democrats who decide to let them slide, either by excusing their actions, or by not voting in November.

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The Biggest News Story of 2018

The Daily Escape:

Santa Dash, Glasgow Scotland, 2012 photo via Just Run lah

Hope that you had a relaxing Christmas, one that you will remember, and not because you bought a Lexus. Here at the Mansion of Wrong, the party is still underway. Our last guests will be leaving on January 2nd.

In reading the endless lists of the most important news stories of 2018, Wrongo felt that the major news story was Trump’s awesome amount of lying. Back in the dark ages, before GW Bush and Cheney, the idea of a president lying outright to the American people was cause for outrage. The liar’s poll numbers would drop immediately and all of the press would call out the transgression.

Now, when Donald Trump actually lies daily, telling whoppers that are stunning to behold, there is little outrage, and certainly none from the Right. This is exacerbated by the main stream media, many of whom report Trump’s lies as if they’re news stories, often without providing any context that tells the truth of the matter. They have become complicit in Trump’s dishonesty, and we all suffer as a result.

It’s Orwellian: Lies become truth, truth is devalued. We can’t be an informed people when the information we receive is often full of lies and distortions.

This is without question, the biggest story of 2018.

Next column, Wrongo will reprise his 2018 Wrong predictions, looking back on the year that was, scoring his successes and his prognostication failures.

Now, listen to Yo-Yo Ma and Alison Krauss perform “The Wexford Carol”, an ancient Irish carol. The great Canadian violinist, Natalie MacMaster joins them. This is from their 2008 album, “Songs of Joy & Peace”:

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

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Saturday Soother – September 15, 2018

The Daily Escape:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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