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The Wrongologist

Geopolitics, Power and Political Economy

Police Violence

The Daily Escape:

Fall sunrise at Crystal Lake, near Ouray, CO – photo by Ryan Wright

Wrongo is now certain that 2020 is the worst year for America since 1968. Why? We have had riots in 140 cities. 40 million are unemployed, and the Death rate from COVID-19 has reached 106,003. Here’s a map of where protests have occurred in the past few days:

We have a national problem of civil disobedience leading to rioting and looting. Note the number of states (in yellow) that have already activated the National Guard. We should assume that the number of cities with protests will probably grow.

Let’s talk briefly about policing in America. After the Ferguson uprising in 2014, we were astonished at the militarization of the police. We also started paying closer attention to the number of police killings in the US, but since there was no central database, independent groups started to compile them.

Cities and towns introduced new policies designed to reduce police violence, starting with police wearing body cameras. But according to the Police Shootings Database, police in America killed more people in the US in 2019 than in 2015, and the number has risen every year since 2017.

If police killings are increasing despite widespread public attention and local reform efforts, shouldn’t we be asking why?

Minneapolis, like most other cities, has a civilian review board, but it didn’t prevent Chauvin from killing George Floyd. In fact, the review board had failed to impose consequences for any of the eighteen previous complaints made against Chauvin. This shows how little these review boards are doing to change behavior.

Can change happen through the ballot box? Minneapolis implies that voting isn’t enough: Minneapolis has a progressive mayor and a city council composed entirely of Democrats and Green Party members. But it doesn’t prevent out-of-control racist cops from killing people. The glue holding this broken system together is police unions.

From Eric Loomis:

“That our police are openly fascist is finally becoming apparent to a lot of liberals who really didn’t see it that clearly before…..The police are openly declaring war on the nation. They are raising their fascist flag instead of the American flag. They are blinding good journalists. It is completely unacceptable…”

Loomis specializes in labor unions and labor issues. He says that it is in the public’s interest to force the police unions to give up the blank check for violence that they currently have. The two concepts that should be written out of the union contracts are arbitration in discipline cases, and qualified immunity.  Qualified immunity is a concept in federal law that offers government officials immunity from harms caused by actions they perform as part of their official duties.

Because of qualified immunity, police act like the laws don’t apply to them. This is a legal obstacle blessed by the Supreme Court that’s nearly impossible to overcome when the police violate our Constitutional or civil rights.

Despite that, blanket immunity shouldn’t absolve cops of responsibility for violence. Since they are state actors, the burden of proof should be on them to prove their violence was justified, not the other way around.

In many cases, the police unions are also run by bad people. In Chicago, the police union just elected as president a cop who has been reprimanded several times and is currently stripped of his police powers.

Minneapolis’s police union has a hard line and controversial president, Bob Kroll, who said that George Floyd had a “violent criminal history” and that the demonstrations were part of a “terrorist movement.”

Minnesota AG Keith Ellison blasted Kroll on “Fox News Sunday”:

“…he operates as sort of an alternative chief who, I think, undermines good order in the department.”

These are the kinds of people that rank and file police all across America want protecting them. That shows something about the true character of the rank and file.

Cities should pull the records of every cop with a double digit number of excessive force complaints and fire them. Force the unions to sue and then litigate it every step of the way. Make them defend the indefensible.

America needs stronger mayors, town councils and district attorneys who can be for “law and order” and also for protecting the rights of citizens who are swept up by day-to-day policing. We can have stronger public servants by voting them in.

Atlanta Mayor Keisha Bottoms says just that in this video, which everyone can see here:

As an aside, Mayor Bottoms looks to Wrongo like an excellent choice for the Democratic VP.

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Sunday Cartoon Blogging — Protesting and Looting Edition — May 31, 2020

Last Monday night in Minneapolis, 46-year old George Floyd was arrested. Police officer Derek Chauvin handcuffed him and pinned him to the ground, crushing his throat. Floyd died an hour later.

What happened next has played out time and time again in American cities after high-profile cases of police brutality. Vigils and protests were organized in Minneapolis and around the US to demand police accountability. Google the name of any large city in the US along with “police brutality” and your search will return many pages of results.

But while Minneapolis investigators waited to charge Chauvin, unrest boiled over. News reports soon carried images of property destruction and police in riot gear. This has now morphed into the Minnesota governor calling out the National Guard.

Wrongo can’t claim to understand race issues in America, but he thinks that we should take a minute to re-read Dr. King’s “Letter from a Birmingham Jail”. In his letter, MLK identified “the great stumbling block in the stride toward freedom” not as the KKK, or the South’s White Citizens Councils. He said it was white moderates, people who:

  • Are more devoted to order than justice
  • Prefer the absence of tension to the presence of justice
  • Say they agree with your goals, but not your methods for achieving them
  • Constantly urge patience in the struggle, saying you should wait for a more convenient time

If you have watched the news for the past 40 years, you know that the Moderate is one stumbling block to universal justice. The Moderate’s tools are things like Non-Disclosure Agreements, loyalty to the team, and to the power of the hierarchy. Moderates may not be at the top of the power pyramid, but as long as Moderates can kiss up and kick down, they’ll hang in there, waiting for a better time to think about bringing justice to all Americans.

When it comes to violence in our cities, as Elie Mystal says in The Nation, it’s hard to name a city in America where the police aren’t working for white people. The police know it. And deep down, white people know exactly whom the police are supposed to protect and serve, and they know it’s not black and brown people.

Disagree? Go to any white suburb in America. Cops aren’t wandering the streets, people aren’t being arrested and neighbors aren’t being sent to prison. It’s easy for most of us to think that the George Floyd’s of America are simply a tragic cost of doing business, that a looted Target is evidence of the need for more policing.

We can hold more than one thought in our heads. People should be free to demonstrate, and that sometimes leads to rioting. Both are forms of protest. Wrongo doesn’t condone looting. But it’s also a form of protest. If you argue it’s not, then refresh your memory about the Boston Tea Party, when white protesters dressed up as minorities and looted to make a point about taxes.

If you are upset about protests, and were also pissed off at Colin Kaepernick taking a knee, you are probably a Moderate. People first need to be able to identify racism when they see it before they can understand the racial issues underpinning what happened in Minneapolis this weekend.

If you woke up today angry, confused, or frustrated about the direction our country is heading: VOTE!

Wrongo has looked hard for fun cartoons, without success. Here’s the best of the week. Sadly, her hope can only be aspirational:

How times have changed:

From 2016. All you need to know about demonstrating in America:

For Sunday, we include a rarely heard protest song written in 1966 by Malvina Reynolds (1900-1977). She wrote “Little Boxes” and many other songs. She wrote “It Isn’t Nice” as an answer to those who value order above justice. Here, “It Isn’t Nice” is sung by Barbara Dane and the Chambers Brothers:

Sample lyric:

It isn’t nice to block the doorway,
It isn’t nice to go to jail,
There are nicer ways to do it,
But the nice ways always fail.
It isn’t nice, it isn’t nice,
You told us once, you told us twice,
But if that is Freedom’s price,
We don’t mind.

It isn’t nice to carry banners
Or to sit in on the floor,
Or to shout our cry of Freedom
At the hotel and the store.
It isn’t nice, it isn’t nice,
You told us once, you told us twice,
But if that is Freedom’s price,
We don’t mind.

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

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Saturday Soother – May 30, 2020

The Daily Escape:

Cactus flowers, Devils Bridge, Sedona, AZ – May 2020 photo by sooperb4d

It’s hot and muggy at the Mansion of Wrong. Today we received our usual daily visit from a momma turkey and her eight chicks. Some are already able to fly for short distances, while the smaller ones just jog along.

This morning, Wrongo was thinking that he’d never expected to have to live through something as tumultuous and dangerous as 1968, but here we are. We’ve got:

  • A Plague killing people in every state
  • Economic collapse (potentially on the scale of the Great Depression)
  • An incompetent incumbent president who will say anything in order to win re-election
  • Heavily armed yahoos complaining about having to wear masks, or that they can’t get haircuts

But rather than talk about those four things, America’s talking about a racially based killing in Minneapolis that has morphed into an urban dystopia. Hennepin County finally brought charges against a cop who murdered a man in public with dozens of witnesses. That has incited urban violence. Second, Trump called for the looters in Minneapolis to be shot, tweeting:

“Any difficulty and we will assume control but, when the looting starts, the shooting starts,”

We will assume control? Does Trump think he has the right to invade Minnesota? And that wasn’t the worst of his tweet.

You may know by now that the other phrase was notorious in the civil rights movement. It was used in 1967 by Miami’s police chief at the time, Walter Headley, after he sent police dogs and officers armed with shotguns into Miami’s black neighborhoods in what he called:

 “…a crackdown on…slum hoodlums….We don’t mind being accused of police brutality.”

Headley claimed that Miami had not experienced “racial disturbances and looting” because he had put the word out that “when the looting starts, the shooting starts.” Headley thus elevated stealing to a capital crime punishable by death without due process. And now Trump is advocating the same thing.

Some are saying that Jack Dorsey, CEO of Twitter has taken a courageous stand against Trump, that Dorsey is standing up for all of us. CNN reports:

“…Trump has angrily complained this week about social media companies, repeatedly accusing them of censoring conservative voices and going as far as to sign an executive order Thursday seeking to limit their power. But data from Facebook, the world’s largest social media company, pours cold water on the assertion that conservative voices are being silenced.”

Here’s the data:

The red bars represent conservative sites. CrowdTangle, the company that made the chart, says that in the last month on Facebook, Trump has captured 91% of the total interactions on content posted by the US presidential candidates. Biden has captured only 9%.

Trump and the Republicans repeatedly accuse Facebook, Twitter and other social media platforms of bias, saying that they are the villains in the culture war the GOP uses to excite the conservative base.

The dispute is about whether Twitter has the right to disagree with and respond to the president. As a private company, it obviously does have that right. The chilling part is that the president and his advisers think otherwise.

Wrongo started by talking about 1968, the year that Nixon won the White House, running on a law and order message. He split the vote with George Wallace and Hubert Humphrey. That was 52 years ago, and a few things have changed. From Paul Campos:

“For one thing, the current president is somebody who makes George Wallace look like a statesman. For another, the country is much less white. (As a percentage of the total population, white non-Hispanics have declined from about 85% of the population to 60%).”

Nixon in 1968, like Trump in 2020, clearly exploited racial tensions, but a crucial distinction: Nixon wasn’t in power at the time of the 1968 elections. We’ll have to see whether Minneapolis helps or hurts Trump in November.

Time to take a break from our worst year in 52 years, and calm ourselves with a Saturday Soother. There is more yard work to do on the fields of Wrong, but we’re starting with a cold brew coffee from Greater Goods roasters in Austin TX. Food & Wine named them the best coffee in Texas in 2019. Their cold brew is called “Connections” ($15/12 oz.) and features the sweet, chocolatey goodness of beans sourced from Colombia and Brazil.

Now settle back and listen to the Tedeschi Trucks Band play a stunning live version of “Midnight in Harlem“, written by Minnesota band member Mike Mattison. Stay for the fantastic slide guitar solo by Derek Trucks:

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

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The Coming Disaster for America’s Colleges

The Daily Escape:

New Navajo Falls, Supai, AZ – 2020 photo by wanderin-wally. These falls were formed by a flash flood in 2008.

Colleges and universities are scrambling to figure out what to do this fall if their students can’t return to campus. Some students are reconsidering going to college. If they don’t return, what will happen to schools that are tuition-dependent?

Even before the pandemic hit, student enrollment for the spring 2020 had fallen for the ninth year in a row. Wolf Richter reports that the number of post-secondary students fell by more than 83,800 students (-.05%) to 17.18 million students. Worse, compared to the spring semester in 2011, enrollment is down by 10.6%, or 2.03 million students. Here’s Wolf’s chart:

Demo Memo says that college enrollment in the United States peaked in 2010 at just over 21 million, and as the chart shows, it has drifted downward ever since. For 2020s spring semester enrollment declined in all sectors compared to spring 2019:

  • Public two-year: -2.3%
  • Private for-profit four-year: -1.9%
  • Private nonprofit four-year: -0.7%
  • Public four-year: -0.6%

Public two-year schools have seen a 25% drop in enrollments since 2011, while enrollment in private for-profit colleges is down 55.2% for the same period.  The drop in for-profit enrollment accounts for 44% of the total drop in enrollment in all institutions since 2011.

Nathan Grawe says in the Harvard Business Review that demographics will not be a friend to higher education in the future:

“….since the onset of the Great Recession in 2008, the total fertility rate…has fallen by almost 20%….Tracing forward 18 years from the 2008 recession, we can anticipate a sizable decline in prospective college students beginning in 2026.”

He says that two-year colleges and non-selective four-year schools can expect to see falling enrollments, because these schools serve a demographically representative subset of students, so they will face the inevitable demographic arithmetic. This will be true particularly in the Northeast and Midwest, where declines are already well underway.

This will lead to price competition, which is precisely what Scott Galloway, professor at NYU’s Stern business school said on CNN recently. Galloway points out that schools in the top tier (Like Stanford, Oxford, Harvard and MIT) have deep waiting lists, and therefore will not be damaged by a smaller pool of college-age students. This means that the top-20 universities globally are going to become even stronger, as will universities between numbers 20 to 50.

At the other limit, for the Tier III schools who are tuition-dependent and who have no wait list, there will be carnage. The Upshot wrote about a college consultancy called Edmit that follows financial solvency of colleges:

“Edmit examined financial trends at 937 private universities and added a conservative estimate of the Covid-19 impact: tuition losses of 10% in 2020 and 20% in 2021, a 20% decline in endowment earnings, and an offsetting 10% reduction in spending on salaries.”

Their work shows that the number of colleges ranked with “Low” financial health (defined as being on track to run out of money within six years) was 345, more than one-third of all private colleges studied.

Beyond demographics, the fundamental question is today’s perceived value of a college degree. An MIT degree may be worth $250k in tuition, but is a Boston College degree worth that?

Since 1998, overall inflation is up 54%, while college education costs are up 150%. There’s now more student loan debt than credit card debt. Former students are in the hole for $2 trillion in student loan debt, a lot of which may eventually need to be written off. And the average price of a textbook has increased 812% in the last 30 years.

Galloway says that higher education has raised its prices at a faster rate than the health care industry! This, for a product/experience that is substantially unchanged in the past four decades.

The four-year public schools will survive, because they provide a better price-to-value proposition than the mid-tier private schools.

Dozens, maybe hundreds, of private middle tier schools will close, or partner with other schools, or possibly with businesses. They face huge price pressure, with many competitive alternatives available to the dwindling pool of students.

Many of the third-tier private, tuition-driven schools will simply shut down, continuing a trend that is already under way.

Change is sometimes the only way to make a service more efficient and affordable. The physical store is on the verge of disappearing. The physical office is disappearing. Similarly, colleges and universities need to understand the economic logic they’re facing, or else Mr. Market will educate them.

The questions to wrestle with are:

  • Is the statement “everyone should/needs to go to college” still true?
  • Does higher education still require a physical presence to be effective?

If the paradigm changes, what should it change to?

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Can America Avoid Becoming a Failed State?

The Daily Escape:

Fall sunset, Shenandoah NP, VA – photo by juliend73

Sorry, but this column is going to be a downer.

We’ve been talking for the past few days about how hard it is to get politicians to focus on fixing what’s wrong in America. Wrongo originally started down this path in 2009. His plan was to lay out the problems, and to suggest ways in which America might fix them.

But 11 years later, little of what has been suggested here has occurred. Explaining what’s wrong has made very little difference.

Our really big problems now seem to be locked in: Climate change will happen. We can’t (or won’t) deal with the burgeoning disinformation platforms that threaten civil society. It’s difficult to see what will change our growing income inequality. As always, politicians are itching for a fight with some country. Today, the villain is China. Globalization has won, our supply chains now hold us hostage, and our economic future is increasingly controlled by Asia.

America is fast becoming a failed state: Our president tells people to drink bleach. There are more than 100,000 dead in the pandemic, and a significant percentage of them probably were needless deaths.

We have the ability to deal with the crises,but we’re choosing not to. Trump and McConnell, along with Biden, Pelosi and Schumer, all have access to the same, or more likely better information than we do.

They are choosing to ignore that the country is going to hell. Instead, they use each individual crisis for their own political benefit, and for their patrons’ financial benefit. They choose to ignore the near-certainty of a second wave of infections in the fall of 2020, bringing with it the possibility of a second economic collapse, along with more deaths.

We no longer provide the basics for our citizens. We live in a nation where income, savings, happiness, trust in government, and social cohesion are all in free-fall.

This is a recipe for social collapse.

In America most infrastructure is decrepit, from airports, to schools, to roads, because there hasn’t been much public investment. That’s because Americans don’t want to pay higher taxes like the Europeans do. Politicians on both sides still believe the evidence-free ideology of neoliberalism: We’ll all be rich if we invest in nothing, and wait for Mr. Market to correctly allocate resources.

No one cares about anyone else. Nobody will support any group’s pursuit of any goal unless it is also their goal. American life is becoming purely individualistic, adversarial, and acquisitive.

We haven’t invested in the systems that provide healthcare, education, retirement, and childcare. As a result, the average American family now goes without many of these things, since they’re priced out unless they have high paying jobs.

We pay absurd prices for health care. Having a child? That’ll be $50K. An operation? It will cost about what you would pay for a starter home. If she didn’t have health insurance, Wrongo’s daughter’s medication would cost $10,250/month. These basics of life are affordable in the rest of the rich world, but in America, they cost more than the average person can pay.

The average American now dies with $62k in debt. Life has become a sequence of unrepayable loans. Student debt becomes credit card debt and a mortgage, which leads to medical debt. These forms of debt define life in America. The average American is now a poor person, in the sense that they barely make enough to pay for the basics of life. Today, 80% of Americans live paycheck to paycheck, struggle to pay their basic bills, and 63% can’t raise $500 for an emergency.

These are the statistics of a nation that is descending into poverty.

Can it be fixed? Sure, but who’s going to pay for it? If taxes can’t be raised, if deficits can’t grow, what will happen? Nothing.

Except that we will move closer to a collapse. Our leaders say it’s because there isn’t an alternative. They say that we don’t have the money to pay for the changes we want. 70% of Americans say they want decent healthcare, retirement, and education, but they never vote for it.

Not even when it is offered during the primaries.

And it’s never offered in the general election, because nobody will vote for higher taxes to fund a functioning society. The idea simply isn’t acceptable to either of our political parties.

Wrongo’s decade of writing about what’s wrong hasn’t changed anything. Change requires a commitment to taking political risks, and massive voter turnout.

Otherwise, same old, same old is the path to our society’s destruction.

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Churchill’s Lessons For Our Time

The Daily Escape:

Algodones Dunes, CA – 2020 photo by _christopherjs. The Algodones Dunes cover 1,000 square miles of Sonoran Desert, making it the largest dune system in the US.

Wrongo fears that some of our country’s problems may be intractable. Blog reader Fred VK agrees:

“I’ve been distressed lately by how seemingly brain dead so much of the US population seems, not only regarding COVID-19 but more, the fragile state of our nation and what the forces of Trump have done and are doing. Some say we will never get back due mostly to lack of resolve. Years ago, I developed this notion that Americans were so complacent about our country and government because they believed that everything was so set in stone that nothing could shake it and that the republic was good to go as is forever.”

Things aren’t set in stone, and they don’t go to hell in a straight line, But from where we stand today, it’s questionable whether America can (or will) be able to solve its biggest problems.

So the question is: What should we be doing when we live in a country where you know bad things will continue to happen, and you can’t stop them?

Worse, in the time of COVID-19, we’re seeing that our efforts to prevent, or to moderate what’s wrong are failing. It’s worth considering that all of our efforts are barely slowing down the worst of what is happening to the climate, to inequality, to the re-emergence of racism, and the rising threat that factionalism presents. For many of us this hits home. We or our loved ones are among those suffering: losing our lives, homes, livelihoods, or living in despair.

We are far from the first to contemplate a civilization’s decline. From Ian Welsh: (emphasis by Wrongo)

“The Roman Empire went through multiple periods of decline…stoics and epicureans debated how to live the good life in an evil world. The Chinese practically had dealing with declining and corrupt imperial eras and warring…periods down to an art: When no good could be done in the world, one returned to one’s private life to write poetry, drink wine, and care for those close to one while refusing as much as possible to be complicit in the evil of the times.”

Words to live by: Avoid being complicit in the evil of the times. This can’t all be blamed on Republicans, but they are primarily responsible for the wrong that’s occurred in America since the 1980s. Can we work together to pull out of our current nose dive? It will require far better leadership than we have now.

Wrongo is reading Erik Larson’s book about Churchill and the Blitz. Larson focuses on Churchill’s first year as prime minister. On his first day, Hitler invaded Holland and Belgium. Dunkirk was only two weeks away, and the blitz was about to begin.

Britain was woefully unprepared. They had just 45 fighter aircraft when Churchill took office, and no one thought Britain could hold out for long against the Nazis. Churchill managed to convince the British people of the “art of being fearless”. He bludgeoned his government and the military on to the same page. Many in England wanted to concede Europe to Hitler, if that meant even a temporary peace, and they had to be brought to see the fight was worth having.

This picture is from a London library during the blitz. It is also the frontispiece in Larson’s book, and shows how people try to normalize even under the worst of circumstances:

Via Shorpy

But we should no longer normalize. Churchill was able to bring his country together despite all the factionalism, and we must make that our goal. Reading Larson’s book puts our own political dysfunction in focus. It’s clear that today, when the stakes are very high (not as high as England in WWII), we also need robust and top quality leaders.

What is our job as citizens, if leadership is to be the difference? Wrongo isn’t saying we shouldn’t fight the big fights. The best way to lose the big fights is to not fight.

We need to cajole, or force if necessary, a few of our politicians to step forward and be the heroes we need.

Many heroes have emerged as the COVID-19 fight has unfolded. We’ve seen good people brought closer together. We’ve felt the pain that comes when we know we must transition from a weaker to a stronger place, but we know we’re not where we need to be.

Sadly, few if any of our current heroes have been politicians.

Some of them need to step forward, and take the chance to be the leader who can teach Americans the “art of being fearless” much like Churchill taught the British.

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Monday Wake Up Call, Memorial Day – May 25, 2020

The Daily Escape:

Reflection of sunrise at Vietnam Veterans Memorial – 2012 photo by Angela B. Pan

(There will be no column on Tuesday, 5/26. We will resume on Wednesday.)

Most years, today is about honoring those who have died in America’s wars. But this year, we should also be honoring all of those who have died from COVID-19. In the 80+ days since the first American death from the virus, around 100,000 people have died from it.

Let that sink in. The 2020 virus toll is now greater than America’s combined combat deaths in Korea, Vietnam, Afghanistan and Iraq. Yet, many people think that concern about the virus is simply a political move designed to keep Trump from being reelected.

Let’s take a look back at the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier in Arlington National Cemetery. It is dedicated to deceased US service members whose remains were never identified. On March 4, 1921 Congress approved the first burial of an unidentified American serviceman from World War I in the plaza of the new Memorial Amphitheater.

Then on November 11, 1921, another unknown WWI soldier was brought back from France and interred in the tomb. President Warren G. Harding officiated at the interment ceremonies. During his remarks at the ceremony, Harding said this:

“Our part is to atone for the losses of the heroic dead by making a better Republic for the living”.

Harding was president from 1921 to 1923, when he died, apparently of a heart attack. Despite his being in office only two years, Harding managed to appoint four justices to the Supreme Court.

We see Harding as a failed president, but if all presidents made “making a better Republic for the living” their highest objective, America would likely be a much better place today.

The AP reports that, according to the Department of Veterans Affairs, more than 1,000 veterans have been killed by the Coronavirus, but that number does not include hundreds more who have died in state-run veterans homes. Most people know someone who died.

Despite that, Coronavirus deaths are being politicized. Trump says the numbers are exaggerated. Many Republicans say that masks and social distancing aren’t necessary. Some still compare the rate of deaths from the yearly flu to COVID-19 and say “what’s the big deal?”

On this Memorial Day, we seem to be hopelessly divided. Polls show that just 53% of Democrats have a great deal of confidence that medical scientists are acting in the public interest. But among Republicans, just 31% express the same “great deal” of confidence in them, a 22 percentage point difference.

Perhaps looking at a little more history would help. America was founded on principles of mutual help, compromise, and provision for the common defense in a hostile world. Ben Franklin said at the signing of the Declaration of Independence, that “We must all hang together, or surely we will all hang, separately.” What he meant was that unity was essential to achieving victory in the Revolutionary War.

Our Constitution codifies the golden rule into civic responsibility for finding solutions to shared problems. The expectation is that will be accomplished through reasoned debate as a part of the legislative process.

But our infatuation with neoliberal economics has brought us unregulated greed. That has led to failures of the commons. Management of health care by MBAs means we can’t provide our own medicines, or our own PPE. We can’t even maintain enough ICU beds on standby for peak needs.

The pandemic has shown us that we’re poorly equipped to handle both a humanitarian disaster and an economic crisis at the same time. What’s far worse is that those existential threats didn’t unite us.

If these twin threats weren’t enough, what possible threat will it take to unite us?

What may finish off America as a global power is our failure to learn from our mistakes. We live in a time of black or white answers, of friends versus enemies. We’ve forgotten how very useful understanding what is happening in the grey areas can be.

The virus isn’t going away with words or photo ops. And propping up the Dow Jones isn’t going save us either.

American Exceptionalism is over. We’re finding out that in most of the ways that count (healthcare, employment security, and unity) we’re performing at a mediocre standard.

Do we still have what it takes to correct our slide?

Time to wake up America. On this Memorial Day, we need to remember our dead, but we also need to remember what it takes to live and work together for a common cause.

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Sunday Cartoon Blogging – May 24, 2020

From the Atlantic’s article, How Could the CDC Make That Mistake?: (brackets and emphasis by Wrongo)

“The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention is conflating the results of two different types of coronavirus tests, distorting several important metrics and providing the country with an inaccurate picture of the state of the pandemic.

The agency confirmed to The Atlantic…that it is mixing the results of viral and antibody tests, even though the two tests reveal different information and are used for different reasons. This is not merely a technical error.

States have set quantitative guidelines for reopening their economies based on these flawed data points….Viral tests, taken by nose swab or saliva sample, look for direct evidence of a [current] coronavirus infection.…Antibody tests, by contrast, use blood samples to look for biological signals that a person has been exposed to the virus in the past.

A negative test result means something different for each test. If somebody tests negative on a viral test, a doctor can be relatively confident that they are not sick right now; if somebody tests negative on an antibody test, they have probably never been infected with or exposed to the coronavirus….The problem is that the CDC is clumping negative results from both tests together in its public reporting.”

The CDC stopped publishing a complete database of daily test results on February 29. When it resumed publishing test data, the website explaining its new COVID Data Tracker said that only viral tests were included in its figures:

“These data represent only viral tests. Antibody tests are not currently captured in these data,”

On May 19, that language was changed. All reference to disaggregating the two different types of tests disappeared.

The change has made the CDC’s testing data look more favorable. Last Monday, a page on the agency’s website reported that 10.2 million viral tests had been conducted nationwide since the pandemic began, with 15% coming back positive. But on Wednesday, after the CDC changed its terms, the same page said that 10.8 million tests of any type had been conducted nationwide, and the rate of positive tests had dropped by one percent.

Blending viral and antibody tests will drive down the rate of positive tests dramatically. It makes it look safer to reopen the economy. On to cartoons.

Reopen the economy. What could go wrong?

America needs a better role model:

Social cohesion used to be a thing:

Trump demands churches reopen. Where will he be on Sunday?

After WFH ends, will there be regrets?

Biden’s doing great by doing nothing:

We shouldn’t get cocky. Remember that Trump “won” in 2016 when just 25.5% of eligible American voters voted for him.

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Saturday Soother – May 23, 2020

The Daily Escape:

Sand Dunes NP, Colorado – NPS photo by Patrick Myers. The animals are elk.

Happy Saturday, fellow disease vectors! And welcome to Memorial Day Weekend.

Trump isn’t alone in peddling conspiracy theories. The WaPo reports that conspiracy theories and political smear campaigns are as old as American politics. From the WaPo:

“As far back as the campaign of 1800 — the first contested presidential race in US history — pamphlets circulated that accused John Adams of possessing “a hideous hermaphroditical character,” which was a suggestion that he had the sex organs of both a man and a woman.”

WaPo lists some others:

  • In 1828, a newspaper reported that Andrew Jackson’s mother was “a common prostitute” brought to this country by British soldiers, who married a mulatto man with whom she had several children. Actually, Elizabeth and Andrew Jackson Sr. married in Ireland, and then came to America to escape religious persecution.
  • In 2004, a right-wing group, the Swift Boat Veterans for Truth made up lies about Democratic nominee John F. Kerry’s military service in Vietnam. Kerry had piloted a swift boat, and the group’s tarnishing of Kerry’s war service came to be known as “swiftboating”. A shorthand for an outrageous kind of smear.
  • Bill Clinton’s presidency brought many crazy stories, including claims that Bill and Hillary Clinton had been involved in drug-running and murder in Arkansas. Or, accusing them of murdering Vince Foster, an aide who committed suicide. Or, the convoluted theme of the “Clinton Body Count” conspiracy theory, promulgated by Newsmax publisher Christopher Ruddy among others, which says the Clintons are responsible for as many as 50 deaths.

While these tactics aren’t new, social media amplifies and spreads disinformation more efficiently than ever before. In 2020, the real force behind it is Trump, who has both a knack for branding along with zero capacity for shame.

Trump’s constant hammering on birthergate, accusing Obama of being foreign-born, built Trump a big following among people with “white grievance” by trafficking in lies about Obama’s birthplace.

With the 2020 presidential campaign about to get active, Trump has now come up with Obamagate! Something he calls “the biggest political crime in American history, by far!” It’s a hazy set of accusations that Trump and the GOP are trying to plant in the public consciousness.

The gist is this: After Trump was elected in 2016, senior Obama administration officials, including Obama and Joe Biden, tried to entrap his incoming National Security Adviser, Gen. Michael Flynn, in the then-emerging scandal about Russian election interference. There will be Benghazi-style Obamagate hearings by the GOP-controlled Senate. It must be true, since the term contains the word “gate”.

But can Obama be guilty of something he did as POTUS, when Trump claims that POTUS has ‘absolute immunity’ for everything?

He clearly hasn’t thought that one through.

It’s time for our Saturday Soother, and we need to move past these petty conspiracies and talk about a real conspiracy. The trees on the fields of Wrong are attempting to have sex. All. The. Time.

That means tree pollen is covering everything, including those of us of the non-tree persuasion.

But much yard work still needs to be completed, so this beautiful weekend in Connecticut must include a sinus spray. Yard work is a form of Saturday Soother, it lets you escape from all of the problems and issues of the day, and focus on the great weed conspiracy that our main stream media refuses to cover.

But before grabbing your work gloves, take a moment in a comfortable and socially distant space to listen to “The President’s Own” US Marine Band play Gustav Holst’s “Chaconne” from his Suite No. 1 in E-flat, Opus 28, No. 1. Here it is played by 34 US Marine Band Musicians, all social distancing:

Holst apparently wrote it as the “1st Suite for Military Band Op. 28A” in 1909, but there is no record of a performance until 1920. Holst was one of England’s most prominent twentieth-century composers. He composed hundreds of works, the most famous of which was his orchestral suite, “The Planets” (1922).

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

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Biden Isn’t FDR, But FDR’s 1932 Strategy Could Work

The Daily Escape:

Sunset, Poudre River trail, Fort Collins, CO – May 2020 photo by Dariusva07. Looks like a painting.

Livia Gershon has an article in JSTOR Daily, “One Parallel for the Coronavirus Crisis? The Great Depression”. She focuses on the question of whether America is already in a depression, or if are we sitting in the equivalent of 1928 or 1929? From Gershon:

“Today’s soaring unemployment, small business failures, and uncertainty about the future are like nothing most of us have seen in our lifetimes. If there’s any useful historical parallel, it might be the Great Depression.”

The cliff that our economy just dove off is different from what America experienced in the Great Depression. From 1920 through 1933, America had Prohibition. The 1920’s were a time of unbridled capitalism, and many working class Americans were hurting financially.

In 2020, COVID-19 has hit us fast and hard. Today’s economic crisis is the result of deliberate choices by governments and individuals to restrict commercial activity. However, the results look about the same: Businesses shuttered, families worried about where their next rent payment is coming from, long lines at food banks. And the 100,000+ deaths.

In 1929, life in America was already awful for a lot of people: Businesses had few regulations to constrain their activities. The rich got much richer. Pro-worker policies had little political traction. That all changed after the Depression. By the 1940s, the country’s unions were stronger than they’d ever been and Congress had passed unprecedented economic policies to support workers.

It didn’t happen quickly or easily. FDR beat Hoover in a landslide in 1932. Hoover had won over 58% of the popular vote in the 1928 presidential election, but in 1932, his share of the popular vote declined to about 40%. Democrats kept control of the House, and gained control of the Senate, bringing 12 years of Republican Congressional leadership to an end.

Erik Loomis, a labor historian at the University of Rhode Island and blogger at Lawyers, Guns & Money, offered Gershon historical perspective:

“A lot of Roosevelt’s campaign in ’32 is ‘I’m not Herbert Hoover’….It’s not policy-driven, not about organizing the masses…..In fact, if FDR had been a left-wing figure, he couldn’t possibly have won the nomination of the 1932 Democratic Party, which, like the Republican Party, was deeply beholden to big corporations.”

And today we see Biden, with his man cave presidential campaign, running as “I’m not Trump”. And while he’s not policy-free, his Democratic party is still beholden to big business, much like FDR’s.

Many Democrats worry about Biden’s ability to stand up to Trump on the campaign trail. FDR, despite his polio disability, deliberately chose to present himself vigorously, including breaking precedent by flying to Chicago during the 1932 convention. His campaign song, “Happy Days Are Here Again” remains one of the most popular in American political history.

Biden may also need to consider breaking a few precedents, possibly by running a throwback front porch type of campaign, one that ignores Donald Trump. James A. Garfield, Benjamin Harrison, and William McKinley all ran successful front porch campaigns.

Returning to FDR’s efforts to turn the country around, Gershon says:

“…the major New Deal programs—including public hiring through the Works Progress Administration, Social Security’s old age and unemployment insurance, the NLRA, and progressive taxes—largely followed ideas that had been brewing on the liberal side of mainstream political conversations for decades. To many policymakers, relief for workers was a way of supporting capitalism. It powered the economy by encouraging consumer spending.”

She further quotes Loomis:

“When those measures are passed in the ‘30s, the left considers them all sell-out measures…FDR is heavily criticized on the left.”

In the 1930s, as today, the left wanted more radical pro-worker, and pro-family policies that were a bridge too far for FDR. Today is similar to the 1930’s. As much as Democrats want to run on policy, the candidate (and who the opponent is) are at least as important as policy.

Biden can run on a message of “I’m not Trump. He’s failing. And I won’t fail“. He and the Party can mostly save the details for after the election. For example: Running on some variant of Medicare for all (M4A) isn’t necessary. All Biden must drive home is that COVID-19 has proven that the current private insurance-powered healthcare system has failed us, and that we need reform.

Then impress on voters that the GOP vehemently supports the failed current health insurance model.

Once elected, Biden could push for M4A, assuming he has the Senate.

2020 isn’t 1932, and Biden certainly isn’t FDR. But there are political lessons to be learned from taking a look back in time.

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