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The Wrongologist

Geopolitics, Power and Political Economy

Trump’s Syrian Mistake

The Daily Escape

(Aleppo’s Umayyad mosque, photographed before the war, in 2009)

Joshua Landis edits a blog called “Syria Comment”, and his last post was about Trump’s strategy for taking Raqqa from ISIS. He thinks allying with Turkey at the expense of the Kurds is a mistake.

Wrongo’s March 13 post discussed Trump’s Syrian strategy:

We are watching a continuation of the policy that predates the Trump presidency, the balkanization of Syria by alternative means…Trump’s “A Team” of generals seem to have fallen back on the old plan.

Landis thinks that Trump is planning to give the Turks free hand in taking Raqqa and most likely all of the Euphrates Valley. Turkey has proposed taking Raqqa from the north at Tel Abyad. The map below points out the geography:

Tel Abyad is the large black dot near the top of the map. This approach would drive through the middle of the Kurdish region (the purple shaded area above), cutting it in two. This splitting of the Kurdish territory is the main reason Turkey has offered to take Raqqa. From Landis:

Turkey hopes to establish its Arab proxies in a new “Euphrates state” in eastern Syria. This would partition Syria into three states: a western Assad-ruled state; an eastern Turkish and Sunni Arab rebel-ruled state, and a northern Kurdish state.

If the US allows Turkey to do this, it will lose the Kurds as allies in the attack on Raqqa, or in any other part of ISIS territory. Turkey says it is the only way that they can participate, because Assad’s army has already taken territory east of Aleppo, which has cut off Turkey’s access to Raqqa via al-Bab. Landis asks:

Why are the Kurds willing to take Raqqa even though they do not have territorial interests in and around Raqqa? They are investing in their relationship with the US. They assume that it will serve them well over the long run when it comes to their political aspirations.

A major issue with following Turkey’s plan is that they have dangerous Islamic fundamentalist allies. Turkey’s Arab rebel allies include Ahrar al-Sham, (similar to the Taliban, and adamantly opposed to the US). If the Turkey/Ahrar coalition rules the Euphrates post-ISIS, it will become a haven for Salafists and al-Qaida’s coalition.

For the past five years, Turkey has teamed with al-Qaida’s forces in Syria. It allowed them to mass inside Turkey in 2013. Turkey has no problem with them being part of its Arab force, since their strategy is to use the Salafists as proxies in thwarting Kurdish regional ambitions. More from Landis:

These…are the reasons that American generals do not want to work with Turkey. They don’t trust it, both because it wants to attack our Kurdish allies and because it is soft on al-Qaida-like rebel groups.

Our generals don’t fully trust this NATO partner to act in America’s interest!

What’s more, there is a likelihood that Iran, Russia, Syria, and Iraq would move against a Turkey-led Sunni land grab. They will not allow a Sunni rebel enclave in the middle of their spheres of influence. Landis: (brackets by the Wrongologist)

The US would [then] be expected to side with Turkey and the Sunni rebels in a long and escalating war against the Shiites. I think this is a swamp waiting to suck the US into its malodorous depths.

For more than 15 years, we have been engaged in a war in the Middle East. Now, the Pentagon is planning to send another 1, 000 troops to Syria in the coming weeks. This is indeed an endless war.

Let’s get ISIS, but we shouldn’t be teaming solely with the Turks in the effort to destroy ISIS. The great Orange negotiator should stand up to the Turks on this.

Now for some Syrian music. Here is Refugees of Rap with their song, “Haram” (“Forbidden” in Arabic):

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

Sample Lyrics (translated):

Came out of the house
I smelled gunpowder
Voices from the minarets

Say go back to your houses
Shells on the neighborhoods come down like rain
I felt more scared, I felt a sense of danger
I completed my way and approaching death to me more and more
Average people say Allahu Akbar
I saw the neighborhood; neighborhood was red in color
The smell of blood and body parts in front of me scatter
I ran to help my friend was injured
Hospitals in dire need of blood donation and mosques shouting
Walls in the streets become white in color

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Monday Wake Up Call – March 20, 2017

The Daily Escape:

(Restored American Cars at Jose Marti Airport, Havana Cuba. 2014 photo by Wrongo)

America is snoozing on the Republican effort to turn health insurance into a party for the powerful. The LA Times’ reporter Michael Hiltzik took a look at the back pages of Paul Ryan’s Trumpcare bill and found a loophole that allows health insurance companies to pay their CEOs more money:

It does so by removing the ACA’s limit on corporate tax deductions for executive pay. The cost to the American taxpayer of eliminating this provision: well in excess of $70 million a year. In the reckoning of the Institute for Policy Studies, a think tank that analyzed the limitation in 2014, that would have been enough that year to buy dental insurance under the ACA for 262,000 Americans, or pay the silver plan deductibles for 28,000.

This is the opposite of the executive pay strategy under Obamacare. The ACA decreed that health insurance companies could deduct from their taxes only $500,000 of the pay of each top executive.

That’s a tighter restriction than the limit imposed on other corporations, which is $1 million per executive. The ACA closed a loophole for insurance companies enjoyed by other corporations, which could deduct the cost of stock options and other “performance-based” pay; for insurance companies, the deduction cap is $500,000 per executive, period. The reduced deductions would have been the equivalent of raising $600 million in new taxes over 10 years.

Well, that was more than the executives and their bought and paid for Congress critters could stand, so buried in the 123 pages of the House Republican bill repealing the Affordable Care Act, Hiltzik found that:

The House Republican bill repeals the compensation limit as of the end of this year. The GOP hasn’t exactly trumpeted this provision; it’s six lines on page 67 of the measure, labeled “Remuneration from Certain Insurers” and referring only to the obscure IRS code section imposing the limit. Repeal of the provision apparently means that the insurers will be able to deduct $1 million in cash per executive, plus the cost of “performance-based” stock awards and options, like other corporations.

So now, insurance companies’ executives will have a level playing field with other CEO’s. This fits in with the rest of the GOP bill: It does nothing to bring coverage to more Americans or make it cheaper. But it does help to further line the pockets of the privileged, and maybe that’s the point.

Wake up America! As Don Henley once said, “The large print giveth, and the small print taketh away”. We need to read what the GOP is really doing on the back pages of their legislation. To help us wake up, let’s pay tribute to Chuck Berry. To call him a legend of American musical history is an understatement. He received a Grammy Lifetime Achievement Award and Kennedy Center Honors. Berry’s “Johnny B. Goode” was the only rock-and-roll song included on the Voyager Space Probe Record.

Among the bands in which you hear his influence are The Rolling Stones and The Beatles. Both recorded his songs, and John Lennon said this:

If you tried to give rock and roll another name, you might call it Chuck Berry.

Berry played a Gibson model ES350. Sadly, while many great Rock and Roll guitarists have signature Gibsons, there is no Chuck Berry model. Here is Berry with a live version of “Roll Over Beethoven” from 1956. While the video isn’t the best, check out his guitar work on the intro:

Chuck probably duck-walked up to the Pearly Gates.

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

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Sunday Cartoon Blogging – March 19, 2017

Welcome to the start of another week in Trumplandia. The WaPo had a depressing story about how little some voters know about what in America’s politics impacts their lives:

Soon after Charla McComic’s son lost his job, his health-insurance premium dropped from $567 per month to just $88, a “blessing from God” that she believes was made possible by President Trump. “I think it was just because of the tax credit,” said McComic, 52, a former first-grade teacher who traveled to Trump’s Wednesday night rally in Nashville

She thinks that Trump has already made an important and favorable change to her family’s health insurance. Her son’s price decrease was actually due to a subsidy he received under the Affordable Care Act that Ms. McComic doesn’t realize is still in place. It has nothing to do with the tax credits proposed by Republicans as part of the Trumpcare bill still making its way through Congress.

She is a sample of one, but, Ms. McComic completely trusts Donald Trump. More from WaPo:

McComic said she’s not worried about her disability benefits changing or her 3-year-old granddaughter getting kicked off Medicaid or her 33-year-old son’s premiums going up. “So far, everything’s been positive, from what I can tell,” she said, waiting for Trump’s rally here to begin Wednesday night. “I just hope that more and more people and children get covered under this new health-care plan.”

Anecdotes like this reveal how surprisingly widespread ignorance of the political world is among voters.

Worse, it shows that people who are true believers don’t worry about how political decisions will impact them. Trump voters heard the Overlord promise to take away their healthcare insurance by repealing the ACA.

But they believed him when he said they would get something else that would be much better, so it’s all good.

There are decades of research about how people process information which would probably support the thinking that Ms. McComic is demonstrating cognitive bias. Her trusted news sources tell her that Trump is replacing Obamacare with tax credits, and she concludes that’s why her costs are magically lower.

Is there a way to cut through this and get voters like McComic to think more deeply, or to consider returning to the Democrats? Maybe not. But candidates in 2018 should pound these voters with: “This program you like was brought to you by Democrats.”

You like public parks? High-quality public schools? Medicaid? The GI Bill and Veterans’ benefits? Clean air to breathe? Clean water to drink? The fact that you are much less likely to be injured or killed on the job?

All were brought to you by Democrats. And the 2017 version of the Republican Party is planning to take away ALL of them.

The Guns vs. Butter argument will be resolved in favor of guns. Feeling safer?

The real kicker is that if Trumpcare and Trump’s Budget are both enacted, they will kill tens of thousands more Americans than will all of the Islamic terrorists and Mexican immigrants in America combined.

Certain things that were certain, seem different under the Republicans:

What did Trump REALLY mean?

But don’t worry, you know he has no real intention of making America great…

There are very few things he means “Literally”:

Trump cries “wolf”, and the White House mobilizes to explain:

Care? None of them care:

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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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Trump Knows Budgeting

The Daily Escape:

(Iowa State Law Library)

Trump’s first budget proposal was released on Thursday, and it hews closely to both Trumpian and Republican orthodoxy:

Trump’s first budget…would increase defense spending by $54 billion and then offset that by stripping money from more than 18 other agencies. Some would be hit particularly hard, with reductions of more than 20% at the Agriculture, Labor and State departments and of more than 30% at the Environmental Protection Agency.

The White House blueprint does not address major safety net programs such as Social Security and Medicare, which the Overlord has promised to protect. While there are too many deep cuts to detail fully, here are a few from the WaPo:

It would also propose eliminating future federal support for the National Endowment for the Arts, the National Endowment for the Humanities and the Corporation for Public Broadcasting. Within EPA alone, 50 programs and 3,200 positions would be eliminated.

Trump’s budget will eliminate thousands of government jobs, and that is a serious problem for Washington, DC. Moody’s chief economist, Mark Zandi, estimates that Trump’s proposed cuts would impact the Washington area bigly. It will reduce employment in the region by 1.8%, slash personal income by 3.5% and lower home prices by 1.9%.

Zandi reasons that cuts in non-defense spending would fall disproportionately hard on the Washington region, while the increase in military spending would be spread across the nation. Good paying defense jobs in your district, mostly non-union, and a defense contractor who kicks back to your campaign fund while building weapons that kill the baddies. What’s not to like?

The budget chops funding for the NIH by $5.8 billion, or close to 20%, and low income Americans will also lose:

And the Trump administration proposed to eliminate a number of other programs… [Including] the Low-Income Home Energy Assistance Program, which disburses more than $3 billion annually to help heat homes in the winter. It also proposed abolishing the Community Development Block Grant program, which provides roughly $3 billion for targeted projects related to affordable housing, community development and homelessness programs, among other things.

Some of this represents Trump’s campaign agenda. Office of Management and Budget Director Mick Mulvaney explained on Wednesday:

In fact, we wrote it using the president’s own words. We went through his speeches. We went through articles that have been written about his policies…and we turned those policies into numbers.

You know, things like cuts to the State Department, because diplomacy is for wimps.

But most of Trump’s budget is just a Republican’s wet dream of a “drown the government in a bathtub” program. Having said that, Trump’s recent executive order to restructure the entire executive branch means the White House has broad latitude to make these huge cuts effective by simply shifting priorities of what to actually do with the money.

This budget represents fundamental change. Medicine, education and defense have received the lion’s share of government spending in the past. Any town with a hospital, a college, or a defense contractor had a stable income base upon which to grow their local economy.

Now, the Republican Party no longer believes the government has any role in the first two, so defense contractors will become the only Keynesian game in town.

This will be a terrible new baseline for Democrats to work from, assuming they ever get back into power. Trump means to end all of the New Deal era programs, and growing the tax base to support a return to higher levels of government spending will take decades.

Now, another Irish musical selection for St. Patrick’s Day. Calling modern Irish music “punk” sounds redundant, but there are quite a few punkish Irish bands. Black 47 is Wrongo’s favorite, but today we feature Thin Lizzy with “Whiskey in the Jar”, a traditional Irish song that they updated in 1972.

Phil Lynott was the front man for Thin Lizzy. He was once asked how it felt to be black and Irish, and he answered: “Like a pint of Guinness”. Lynott lived fast, and died at 36 from heart failure in 1986. Here is “Whiskey in the Jar”:

This makes Wrongo want a bottle of Bushmills 21 year old single malt. Oh wait, here’s one!

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

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Is Taxing Robots a Solution to Fewer Jobs?

The Daily Escape:

(Slot canyon with dust devil – photo by Angiolo Manetti)

Yesterday, the Dutch voted in an election pitting mainstream parties against Geert Wilders, a hard-right, anti-Islam nationalist whose popularity is seen as a threat to politics-as-usual across Europe, and possibly, as an existential threat to the EU.

Wilders, who wants to “de-Islamicize” the Netherlands and pull out of the EU, has little chance of governing, as all of the mainstream parties have already said they won’t work with him. Given Holland’s complicated form of proportional representation, up to 15 parties could win seats in parliament, and none are expected to win even 20% of the vote. OTOH, polls show that four in 10 of the Netherlands’ 13 million eligible voters were undecided a day before voting, and there is just 5 percentage points separating the top four parties, so Wilders could surprise everyone.

As Wrongo writes this, the Dutch election results are not known, but PBS NewsHour coverage on Tuesday surfaced a thought about taxing robots. PBS correspondent Malcolm Brabant was interviewing workers in Rotterdam:

Niek Stam claims to be the country’s most militant labor union organizer. He says the working class feel insecure about their prospects because of relentless automation and a constant drive to be competitive. The union is campaigning for robots to be taxed.

Brabant then interviewed a worker:

Robots do not buy cars. Neither do they shop for groceries, which leads to a fundamental question: Who’s going to buy all these products when up to 40% of present jobs vanish?

This isn’t an entirely new idea. Silvia Merler, blogging at Bruegel, says:

In a recent interview, Bill Gates discussed the option of a tax on robots. He argued that if today human workers’ income is taxed, and then a robot comes in to do the same thing, it seems logical to think that we would tax the robot at a similar level. While the form of such taxation is not entirely clear, Gates suggested that some of it could come from the profits that are generated by the labor-saving efficiency…and some could come directly in some type of a robot tax.

The main argument against taxing robots is made by corporations and some economists (Larry Summers), who argue that it impedes innovation. Stagnating productivity in rich countries, combined with falling business investment, suggests that adoption of new technology is currently too slow rather than too fast, and taxing new technology could exacerbate the slowdown.

It can be argued that robots are property, and property is already taxed by local governments via the property tax. It might be possible to create an additional value-added tax for robots, since an income tax wouldn’t work, as most robots are not capable of producing income by themselves.

Noah Smith at Bloomberg argues that the problem with Gates’ basic proposal is that it is very hard to tell the difference between new technology that complements human work, and new technology that replaces them. Shorter Noah Smith: Taxation is so hard!

Why are Western economies stagnant? Why has wage growth lagged GDP growth? Automation is certainly a key factor, but rather than point the finger at the corporations who continually benefit from government tax policies, let’s just assign blame to an object, a strawbot, if you will. That way, we won’t look too carefully at the real problem: The continuing concentration of economic and political power in the hands of fewer and fewer corporations.

Automation isn’t the issue, tax laws that allow economic treason by corporations in their home countries are the issue.

Why is nationalism on the march across the globe? Because fed-up workers see it as possibly the only answer to the neoliberal order that is destroying the middle class in Western democracies.

Let’s find a way to tax robots. Something has to offset Trump’s tax breaks for the rich.

Now, a musical moment. Did you know that “pre-St. Patrick’s Day” was a thing? Apparently, some dedicated celebrators prepare for the day itself by raising hell for up to a week beforehand. With that in mind, here is some pre-St. Pat’s Irish music, with Ed Sheeran singing “Nancy Mulligan” a love song about his grandparent’s marriage during WWII, against the wishes of her parents, and despite their Catholic/Protestant differences:

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

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CBO and Ides of March UPDATE

Further to the column below, Bloomberg has a nice chart that puts the CBO report on Trumpcare in a better context. It compares the number of uninsured in CBO’s future forecast for Obamacare (if it remained in place) with their future forecast for Trumpcare. The difference is staggering, particularly if you think America shouldn’t cast aside its people for profits:

The difference between 10% of Americans uninsured and the 19% uninsured under the GOPocalypse Plan must be made clear to voters. Importantly, the GOP version will insure even FEWER people than were uninsured before we had Obamacare!

New HHS secretary Tom Price joined the parade of Republicans who tried to discredit the CBO report. He told reporters that the CBO didn’t analyze the entire plan for health care, including regulatory changes that can be made by HHS:

We disagree strenuously with the report that was put out…We believe that our plan will cover more individuals at a lower cost and give them the choices that they want, the coverage that they want for themselves and their families.

This is hilarious, considering that Price, in his previous role as House Budget chairman, helped to pick the current CBO director. Do you believe for a moment he picked someone who didn’t see things his way?

Finally, hidden in the CBO report on page 33, footnote f, is an assumption that should be headlined around the media today. It states that more people will die if Trumpcare is enacted. TPM reports:

Approximately 17,000 people could die in 2018 who otherwise would have lived if a House Republican health proposal endorsed by the Trump administration becomes law. By 2026, the number of people killed by Trumpcare could grow to approximately 29,000 in that year alone.

You might think that a CBO report showing that your plan will kill thousands of people a year and inflict physical and financial misery on countless more in order to pay for another tax cut for the wealthy would scare the GOP leadership, and some cracks are starting to show.

But, these are people who think that freedom requires that toddlers and those with schizophrenia be allowed to have access to guns, so very few are likely to be moved by the CBO’s forecast.

The disingenuousness of the GOP is to tout that the CBO estimates $935 billion in spending reductions via smaller tax credits and Medicaid cuts.  All this mostly affects the working poor who will pay for its $599 billion in tax cuts, mostly going to the wealthy.

That’s not a winning argument to take to voters in 2018.

It’s a point of theology with Republicans. The market can’t fail, it can only be failed. They have never accepted the concept, widely shown to be correct, that healthcare is not a commodity good like other goods and does not conform to their free market religion.

Read on below.

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The CBO and the Ides of March

The Daily Escape:

(Provence – Photo by Veronika K. Ko.)

The Ides of March are today. The Netherlands holds its parliamentary election, the US debt ceiling agreement expires, and Trump is gonna get a ton of postcards.

Congressional Budget Office estimates for Trumpcare (AHCA) came out on Monday, and they’re worse than expected.  Sarah Kliff, Vox’s healthcare reporter, has this:

  • CBO estimates 14 million would lose coverage in 2018. The report projects that much of the early coverage loss would stem from repealing Obamacare’s mandate that all Americans purchase coverage or pay a fine.
  • After that, increases in the uninsured would be from Medicaid cuts. After 2018, CBO thinks that most of the increase in the number of uninsured would stem from changes the AHCA would make to Obamacare’s expansion of Medicaid, an expansion that allowed many more low-income adults to enroll in the program.
  • The bill would “freeze” enrollment in that program on January 1, 2020. Medicaid enrollees would trickle off the rolls as their incomes changed. And this would lead to another big decline in coverage.
  • The number of uninsured, CBO projects, would rise by 21 million in 2020 and hit 24 million in 2026.
  • The CBO projects that as the individual market shrinks, premiums would rise between 10% and 15% as some healthy people flee in 2018. But over the next few years, the agency expects premiums to go down to 10% lower than under Obamacare.
  • CBO thinks more young people will come into the market, as the GOP plan offers incentives to make the market more appealing to younger, (healthier) enrollees.
  • AHCA would be a huge cut to Medicaid. CBO estimates it would reduce spending on the health program for low-income Americans by $880 billion over the next decade. This helps explain why AHCA would reduce the deficit: The bill spends a lot less money on entitlement programs.

When Paul Ryan’s talking points are that their plan will reduce the deficit, and that premiums will go down by 10% OVER THE LONG TERM, you know that he doesn’t care that 24 million people will lose healthcare insurance.

That the GOP is choosing deficit reduction over covering American citizens is what the public will remember. When you kick out the poor and older folks, of course premiums will go down. But premiums will remain high for those in the 50-64 age bracket, and their premiums will be higher than currently.

The CBO report also finds that this legislation will provide massive tax relief, and make the most fundamental entitlement reform in more than a generation, if throwing people off Medicaid truly is “reform”.

Even before the CBO report was released, the Trump administration began laying the groundwork to discredit the agency and their report. White House press secretary Sean Spicer:

If you’re looking at the CBO for accuracy, you’re looking in the wrong place…they were way, way off last time in terms of how they scored and projected Obamacare.

Since this is the Ides of March, you should have expected some stabbing.

Their criticism is centered on the fact that CBO previously overestimated the number of people who would enroll in the marketplaces. That’s true: Earlier CBO reports estimated that the Obamacare marketplaces would have 26 million enrollees this year. Last year, CBO revised that estimate to 15 million.

Critics don’t mention that the CBO also underestimated how many people Medicaid expansion would cover. The overestimate and the underestimate essentially cancel each other out: Obamacare is covering just about as many people as CBO expected back in 2013.

Curiously, Trump said his health care plan would cover EVERYONE, and it would be much cheaper and much better. Except it won’t.

When you think about bad data, remember that Trump said we shouldn’t trust the Bureau of Labor Statistics numbers on monthly employment last year, he said they were fake. Now, Trump says the numbers in this month’s data release are real. You be the judge:

Obama in February 2016 — 237,000 new jobs
Trump in February 2017 — 235,000 new jobs

Trump: Making America a Slightly Less Great Again.

Your daily musical interlude appropriately is from the group the Ides of March. Here is “Vehicle”, their only hit, originally published in 1970, and performed live at the Chicago House of Blues in 2014:

That 70 year-old guy can still sing.

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

Sample Lyrics:

Well, I’m the friendly stranger in the black sedan

Won’t you hop inside my car?

I got pictures, candy, I’m a lovable man

And I can take you to the nearest star

 

Kinda like the GOP promises on healthcare.

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Trump’s ISIS Strategy

The Daily Escape:

(We are back from 75° weather and as this is written, we are about to see 12″-18″ of snow.)

The NYT had an editorial on Monday that said Donald Trump was a man without a plan on ISIS:

On the campaign trail, no foreign policy issue seized Donald Trump more than the fight against the Islamic State. Once president, he signed an executive order giving his generals 30 days to produce a plan to defeat the terrorist group, and Defense Secretary Jim Mattis gave him options on Feb. 27.

The Times says Trump has no plan. But Pat Lang at Sic Semper Tyrannis says the plan has already been executed:

James Mattis, in his generalissimo mode of action has, IMO, been given the imperial wave of dismissal and sent forth to destroy IS. “Make it so!”

According to Lang, the signs are clear:

  1. There is greater coordination and “de-confliction” between the US and Russia in air operations against ISIS. Lang points out that the rebel group “hayat tahrir al-sham” has now been designated as a terrorist organization by the US government. This makes them legitimate targets under the AUMF.
  2. The insertion of a Marine artillery battery to provide fire support for operations to retake Raqqa.
  3. Several hundred soldiers from the 75th Ranger Regiment have been positioned in and around Manbij to referee among the Turks, Assad’s Syrian Arab Army, (SAA), et al, to keep unwanted actors out of the coming battle to take Raqqa.

More from Lang:

I estimate these signs to…indicate that Trump and his generalissimo have decided to roll the iron dice and commit whatever force is necessary to destroy IS in both Syria and Iraq.

Wrongo agrees with Lang that the war to eliminate ISIS is on. We know a bit about the effort to take Mosul in Iraq, but have heard nothing about Syria. Trump said quite plainly that he had no intention of giving any advance notice of his military intentions. That seems prudent and logical to Wrongo.

But, basic contradictions persist:

  • Who will fight house by house to re-take Raqqa? Not Americans, or the Kurds. If Mosul is any indication, Sunnis will die to the last true believer if Jihadi families can’t be bussed out.
  • Who will be the occupiers of Eastern Syria? The SAA has a legitimate right to be in Raqqa. Will Israel and the Gulf Monarchies sit idly by while Iran and Syria complete the Shia Crescent?

Many questions. If the 21st century has shown us anything, it is that neoliberal supranational rule brings only inequality and chaos. If there is ever going to be peace, if the flow of refugees is to be ended, national governments must be rebuilt, and their borders secured.

Only then can supranational alliances work to address the world’s problems.

Assad has called us Syrian invaders. Unlike the Russians, Iranians, and Hezbollah, we were not invited by Syria to attend the “slay a few jihadis” party, nor are the Turks. While the YPG/SDF certainly seem agreeable to our being there, it doesn’t make our entry legal under international law. The AUMF probably provides the cover of our national law to be in Syria, but international law does not.

We seem to have traded John McCain’s beloved Free Syrian Army unicorns for the much more effective YPG/SDF, who will now act as our “Assad must go” surrogates. If that’s Trump’s plan, then we are cooked. Trump shouldn’t be allowed to let that policy stand. He stated before he became POTUS that he thought that any form of larger commitment of combat forces into Syria would be a mistake.

But here we are watching a continuation of the policy that predates the Trump presidency, the balkanization of Syria by alternative means.

Trump’s “A Team” of generals seem to have fallen back on the old plan. Can you smell the mission creep? We shouldn’t be staying in Syria once the ISIS fighters in Raqqa are reduced to corpses on the desert sand.

A musical interlude to take you away from geopolitics. Here is “Jessica”, the classic Allman Brothers tune, re-imagined by Kevin Burke, legendary Celtic violinist and veteran rocker John Brennan, from their album The Pound Ridge Sessions. The title comes from where the album was recorded, Pound Ridge, NY.

They substitute violins for guitars, and it is a nice version. Here is “Jessica”:

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

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Saturday Soother – March 11, 2017

(Wrongo and family are repositioning from a week at our annual [comparatively] low-rent  Mar-a-Lago equivalent to the Northeast. As a result, there will not be Sunday Cartoon Blogging or a Monday Wake Up Call this week)

The Daily Escape:

(Photo by Wrongo. Friday sunrise, 6:30 am)

With Trumpworld continuing to both amaze and depress, you need a soother today more than ever. Grab a hot cuppa something and take a walk on the beach with Wrongo. Here are two random thoughts that seeped into Wrongo’s consciousness while on the beach in 75° for the past few days:

Ancient DNA found in the dental plaque of Neandertals shows that they used plant-based forms of aspirin and penicillin. They’re the ones that went extinct, while it took us another 40,000 years to discover penicillin.

In 1943, a US destroyer accompanying the USS Iowa that was carrying FDR, fired a torpedo at the President. That destroyer, the USS William D. Porter, was only in service for two years, and had many mishaps in its short life. The flotilla was secretly taking FDR to Europe, and were maintaining radio silence as they sailed through waters thought to contain German U-boats. Not long into the journey, there was a massive explosion that shook the little fleet. All of the ships immediately began anti-submarine maneuvers. The chaos continued until the William Porter admitted that a depth charge had fallen off of the stern of their ship. The safety on the charge had mistakenly not been set, and when it crashed into the rough sea, it detonated.

Soon after detonating the depth charge, a huge wave smashed into the Porter, washing a man overboard, never to be seen again. As a result of the wave, the engine room lost power in one of its boilers. The mission, which had demanded total silence, turned into a fiasco of hourly reporting by the William Porter to the Iowa.

And it got worse. On Nov. 14th, the four ships were east of Bermuda when FDR wanted to test the defenses of the Iowa in the event that they came under an air attack. The crew of the Iowa launched weather balloons to simulate anti-aircraft targets, and fired its guns.

The Porter’s crew shot at the balloons the Iowa had missed. They also practiced torpedo drills, taking practice shots at the Iowa, which was 6,000 yards away. During live torpedo drills, the tube primers, (small explosive charges), were supposed to be removed for practice, but one torpedo man forgot to remove the primer from one of the torpedo tubes. The torpedo officer ordered the fake firing command, and an armed and launched torpedo whizzed across the sea straight toward the Iowa.

When Roosevelt heard that a torpedo was zooming toward him, he asked to be moved by his wheelchair over to the railing so that he could see it. Fearing an assassination plot, the Iowa turned its guns on the William D. Porter, but the crisis ended when the torpedo detonated as it struck heavy waves created by the Iowa’s increased speed.

After calm was restored, the torpedo man, Lawton Dawson, confessed to having accidentally left the primer in the torpedo tube and then attempting to conceal the evidence by throwing the primer overboard. An inquiry proved that the situation was merely a string of unfortunate events and the information was kept from the public.

Dawson was sentenced to 14 years of hard labor, and the rest of the crew’s careers were to be ended, but Roosevelt intervened, asking that no punishments be levied on the crew for the series of accidents.

Later, the William D. Porter was reassigned to the Aleutian Islands for a simple patrol mission. However the William D. Porter’s crew accidentally shot a five-inch artillery shell that landed on the base commander’s front yard: Situation Normal, all Fucked Up.

In honor of our stay at the beach, where we had remarkable sunrises daily, here is The Cyrkle with their 1966 song “Red Rubber Ball“. Few know that it was co-written by Paul Simon and Bruce Woodley of The Seekers. The tune hit #2 on the Billboard Hot 100 chart. The band had one more Top 20 hit, “Turn-Down Day,” later in 1966. That was the year Wrongo entered the US military.

Listen to “Red Rubber Ball”:

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

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