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The Wrongologist

Geopolitics, Power and Political Economy

Trump Short Cuts Military Justice

The Daily Escape:

Autumn at Hagaromo Falls, Hokkaido, Japan – 2019 photo by theandylaurel

From the Military Times:

“President Trump has granted a full pardon to two soldiers who faced murder charges in war zone deaths, and reinstated the chief petty officer rank of a Navy SEAL convicted of posing with a dead detainee.”

Last Friday, Trump announced that former Army 1st Lt. Clint Lorance and Maj. Matt Golsteyn would receive presidential pardons.

Wrongo sat on a few military trials during his time in the military, and decisions about guilty or not guilty are tough decisions. While Wrongo was lucky not to have seen combat, we all know that war is inherently violent, and violence means killing people and destroying property.

So, where do we draw the line?

We’ve all heard about the fog of war, and some of us still clearly remember the May Lai massacre, 50 years later. An active battlefield situation is often ambiguous, and the troops’ blood is up during the heat of battle.

Enemy wounded are often killed in the midst of an ongoing action. Wrongo’s father, who fought in WWII, told him that he had participated with others in just such a killing. He wasn’t proud of it. In fact, through the years, it made him feel very guilty. Nothing was made of it then, and certainly, it still happens today.

Is it wrong? Yes, but soldiers exist to kill people in pursuit of their country’s political goals. To moderate the savagery of war, the West developed rules, customs and laws that attempt to impose limits on the conduct of war. These have often been violated.

The war crimes of the Imperial Japanese Army in WWII are infamous, despite Japan promising in 1942 to abide by the Geneva Convention and observe the Hague Convention of 1907. Air power kills indiscriminately. Its rules of engagement include bombing civilian populations until their governments surrender.

For ground forces, the basic law of war is that you do not kill or injure prisoners of war if they have accepted their status, and you don’t deliberately harm civilians as long as they do not take up arms against you. Do our soldiers indiscriminately shell towns, even though the towns may contain civilians? Of course they do.

All soldiers are expected to comply with the Uniform Code of Military Justice (UCMJ). Military members know what the law is, and how the law will be applied. In these three Trump cases, each individual was in charge, and/or did the deed themselves. They committed straight-forward violations of the UCMJ.

Broadening our view, we need to remember that if we allow soldiers to kill or maim unarmed people, we will soon have an unmanageable gang of armed individuals, not a fighting unit. Here’s a take on Trump’s pardons by Matt Bohrs:

Presidents have the right to pardon and commute sentences. But just because they have the right to do something, doesn’t mean it is the right thing to do.

Trump is touted by his supporters as a law and order president. But these decisions again show that he does not really respect either civilian or military justice. He’s continually blocked government employees from testifying at legitimate Congressional hearings. He’s pardoned 18 people since taking office.

Those that support Trump’s decision don’t live in the real US. Like Trump, they live in some imaginary country were each individual interprets the Constitution and our laws in his/her own way.

Friday was a sad day for the military, and for nation.

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Monday Cartoon Blogging – November 18, 2019

On Saturday, the twitterverse was alive with the news that Trump made an unscheduled visit to Walter Reed Hospital. At least, that’s the story they’re putting out there:

“Trump, 73, made an unannounced visit Saturday afternoon to the Walter Reed National Military Medical Center in Bethesda, Maryland.

‘Anticipating a very busy 2020, the President is taking advantage of a free weekend here in Washington, D.C., to begin portions of his routine annual physical exam at Walter Reed’, White House press secretary Stephanie Grisham said in a statement.”

So was something wrong? Nobody who knows the truth is saying, and there’s an excellent chance you will know the truth before you read this.

There are many theories circulating, including that they’re trying to extricate Lindsey Graham, whose head is apparently stuck in Trump’s ass.

There are really just two options: Either Trump had a sudden health scare, or that the White House is so incompetent they had no idea a surprise hospital visit by a president would lead automatically to us believing that something is wrong. On to cartoons.

The real Quid Pro Quo:

Both sides have an argument:

Some will excuse any evidence:

Dems feel they’re writing the last ticket:

What’s good for the goose would never be good enough for the Trump gander:

Long-time Trump adviser Roger Stone guilty on all counts:

 

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Saturday Soother – November 16, 2019

The Daily Escape:

Nevada falls above and to the right of Half Dome, and Vernal falls just below it. Yosemite NP – August 2019 photo by crosbic23

(Wrongo and Ms. Right are heading out for a family weekend, so Sunday cartoons will appear on Monday)

Wrongo is ambivalent about the impeachment play by Democrats. It could result in nothing, and if it does, that could hurt either the Democrats or, the Republicans.

Anyone who thinks that they know how this will end, really isn’t telling the truth. We’ve had two days of testimony, and while there are thousands of pundits willing to tell you what it all means, and whether it will make any difference, Wrongo assures you that it’s far too early to know.

The Democrats’ case is a slow build, meaning that its impact won’t be felt after a day or two of testimony. It’s more of a long march, maybe like MLK Jr’s march to Birmingham. It’s intended to make the majority of Americans aware of the wrongdoing, and then get them to join in a march to the doors of the Senate, where they will insist on a guilty verdict.

Or, it may not happen that way.

Next week, the Intelligence Committee will hear again from EU Ambassador Sondland. He might admit that yes, there was another phone call in which Trump pressed him to get “the deliverables” in exchange for the military aid. That would be a John Dean moment.

It would destroy Trump’s defenses, along with those of Republicans Rep. Nunes and Rep. Jordan. It would leave them saying only: “that’s very bad, but not impeachable”. Many Republicans are saying that already.

The question is whether the ambassador is a truthful person. We should expect that he will try to say that he “misunderstood” Trump’s “perfect” instructions, and that Trump himself NEVER linked the aid to the deliverables. He might say that he, Sondland, was guilty of erroneously conditioning the aid.

It will then be up to the Democrats’ staff attorneys to demonstrate that this is completely implausible, particularly given the deposition by David Holmes, a junior staffer who listened to Sondland’s unsecure cell phone call to Trump from a restaurant in Kyiv.

Let’s hope the Dem’s lawyers are prepared, because Sondland needs to offer some bogus explanation, or Trump will be in the first real trouble of his Mueller/Ukraine year of living dangerously.

It’s not hard to know who to root for here, but the outcome is far from certain.

That’s plenty to think about over the weekend, so it’s time for a Saturday Soother, a short break from the news overload that hit everyone’s inbox this week. Let’s start by brewing up a vente cup of Guatemala Finca Columbian coffee ($20/340 grams) that comes from Santa Barbara’s Handlebar Coffee roasters. They are owned by a couple who are former professional cyclists, and who discovered Santa Barbara while riding in the California Amgen Tour. They moved there in 2008.

The musical selection today may not be to everyone’s taste. Here is “Life During Wartime” by the Talking Heads, recorded live in 1983:

Wrongo presents it because it captures the moment we’re in with these lyrics:

This ain’t no party, this ain’t no disco, this ain’t no foolin’ around”

No time for dancing, or lovey dovey,

I ain’t got time for that now…

This is America in the year of impeachment, just before the year of elections.

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

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Auto Loan Delinquencies Are Rising

The Daily Escape:

Tetons twilight from Snake River overlook, WY – November 2019 photo by timtamtoosh. Ansel Adams once shot a picture from this spot.

From Wolf Richter:

“Serious auto-loan delinquencies – auto loans that are 90 days or more past due – in the third quarter of 2019, after an amazing trajectory, reached a historic high of $62 billion, according to data from the New York Fed today….”

Total outstanding balances of auto loans and leases in Q3, according to the New York Fed, rose to $1.32 trillion. That $62 billion of seriously delinquent loan balances are what auto lenders, particularly those who specialize in subprime auto loans, are now attempting to either get to current status, or to repossess. If they cannot cure the delinquency, they’re hiring specialized companies to repossess the vehicles, which will then be sold at auction. And the repo business is booming!

The difference between the loan balance and the proceeds from the auction, plus all of the costs involved, are what a lender stands to lose on each delinquent loan.

Worse, lenders are still making new subprime loans, and a portion of those loans will also become delinquent, and a smaller portion of them will default. Wolf helpfully adds a chart that shows today’s level of delinquencies as a percentage of the auto loan portfolio is the same as it was in 2009, when we were in the middle of the Great Recession:

It’s useful to remember that in 2009 and 2010, the US was confronting the worst unemployment crisis since the Great Depression. People were defaulting on their auto loans because they’d lost their jobs. That isn’t the case today, we’re near full employment.

Let’s differentiate “Prime” auto loans and leases from “Subprime”. Prime auto loans have minuscule default rates. Of the total of $1.3 billion in auto loans and leases outstanding, according to Fitch, Prime auto loans currently have a 60-day delinquency rate hovering at a historically low 0.28%.

That means that most of the delinquencies are in the subprime category. In fact Wolf says: (emphasis by Wrongo)

“Of the $1.32 trillion in auto loans outstanding, about 22% are subprime, so about $300 billion. Of them roughly, $62 billion are seriously delinquent…around 20% of all subprime loans outstanding.

We know that the subprime delinquencies are not caused by an employment crisis or, by the brutal recession we endured during the 2008 financial crisis. Employment is still growing, and unemployment claims are near historic lows. But subprime auto loans are defaulting at very high rates.

What’s going on? It’s car dealers’ greed. They’re striving to sell more cars. Customers with a subprime credit rating have already been turned down when they try to buy things on credit. But, when they walk on a car lot, their bad credit rating is magically no longer an issue.

The dealers know they’re sitting ducks, who won’t negotiate. They accept the price, the monthly payment, and the trade-in value. They’re just happy to be in a new car. When they drive off the lot, they have a high monthly payment, which, since they already have trouble making ends meet, will soon be late, or in default.

The subprime car buyers really have little choice if they need a car to get to work. Poor people are smart about doing what it takes to survive: If you don’t have a down payment or a good credit rating, and need a car to keep your job, it means a bad deal is better than no deal.

They take the bad deal because if things get worse, they probably will only lose the car.

The kicker is that auto loans aren’t the loan category with the highest delinquencies. Student loans have even higher delinquencies:

  • Outstanding student debt stood at $1.50 trillion in the third quarter of 2019, an increase of $20 billion from Q2 2019
  • 9% of aggregate student debt was 90+ days delinquent or in default in Q3 2019

The student loans total of about $1.5 trillion, is higher than the $1.32 trillion of auto loans.

The system is broken. Someday soon, the job market will deteriorate. We’ll be back listening to why we should bail out lenders and investors who lend, securitize, and sell these loans to investors who are chasing yeild.

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Available Housing Drives Growth in Jobs

The Daily Escape:

Snow near Boulder, CO – November 2019 photo via

Last week, in our town’s Mayoral race, each side had a signature issue. For the Republicans, it was roads. For the Democrats, it was affordable housing. Wrongo has served on the town’s municipal roads committee for three years. He’s also attended a few town workshops on affordable housing. The incumbent Republican Mayor won in a landslide.

Did that mean that affordable housing was a non-issue? Not really. Like most of Connecticut, our town has a sharp income divide. And despite having among the most affordable housing in Litchfield County, we have elderly poor and younger middle-income people vying for limited multifamily housing stock.

The major problem is a concern that affordable housing equals more kids in our schools, and more infrastructure. The reality is that the incremental real estate taxes that landlords would pay the town will not offset the increased costs of schooling and infrastructure.

But, the town also desires greater economic development. New businesses and jobs are important to increasing our tax base. We’re not alone in this. Consider the city of San Jose, CA. The Silicon Valley region has added about 385,000 new jobs over the past five years, but only approved about 60,000 housing units. From Vox: (emphasis by Wrongo)

“Communities sometimes mobilize in opposition to some kind of new project, but this…happened when someone proposed building some offices near a new football stadium in Santa Clara, California, is mind-boggling: San Jose has taken the rare step of publicly opposing the project, saying it would add far too many jobs, exacerbating the region’s housing shortage.”

It’s difficult to believe that we’ve reached a point in our economy where creating new jobs can be construed as bad for existing residents of an area.

The Bay area isn’t overbuilt with housing. San Francisco is less densely populated than Brooklyn, NY. Santa Clara County, where Silicon Valley is located, is significantly less populated than the Long Island suburbs. The fear is that meeting the need for housing will lead to many lower income residents living in high-rise buildings.

Or take New York City, where Amazon was shocked when the public said that Amazon could take their 25,000 new jobs and shove them. (brackets by Wrongo)

“It’s only natural that Amazon saw its promise to create 25,000 jobs as a blessing, for creating jobs is most [all] of what we have ever asked of American companies. But given the realities of our economy…. it’s also only natural that many New Yorkers wanted nothing to do with it.”

Promises of 25,000 new jobs in NYC sounded much different in 2019 than it would have sounded in 2009. If you’re among the sea of NYC hotel and restaurant workers, you know you’re never likely to be qualified for one of the jobs Amazon promised to create in your backyard. And since it would be built in an area where many hourly workers live, they naturally opposed what would have driven their costs of housing even higher.

Amazon already had 2,000 employees in NYC in November 2018, when the HQ search concluded. Despite not building a NY headquarters, that number has grown to 5,000 in the past year. Amazon’s continuing jobs expansion in NYC makes the case that those who fought against the state’s $3 billion dollar incentive package were correct.

No economic problem is simple, and neither are their solutions. Here is a good rule of thumb: When things are complicated, inputs are messy. Some factors may cancel out other factors.

And in the case of trying to increase economic growth in a given city or town, an available, skilled workforce in numbers sufficient to meet the new business needs is primary. Available housing is huge as well. These two inputs exist in a feedback loop. Our towns can’t grow if workers can’t find housing.

Freezing housing stock in a growing economy helps those who enjoy higher Socio-Economic Status (SES). Our cities are seeing an outflow of lower SES’s and an inflow of higher SES’s. This is making housing costs in our second-tier cities move closer to what they have become in NYC and LA.

Exurban ring towns like Wrongo’s are seeing inward migration, mostly of middle and lower SES’s who routinely commute long distances for work. That adds local spending on goods and services, but puts pressure on local housing stock and on schools.

The landslide results in our town’s election was a vote for better roads, and against changing zoning requirements to add affordable housing. Indirectly, it also was a vote in favor of lower economic growth, just like what happened in San Jose, CA.

But we shouldn’t be confused with Silicon Valley.

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The Only Article of Impeachment We Need

The Daily Escape:

Early winter, Adirondacks, NY – 2019 photo by nikn

Trump spoke at the NYC Veterans Day Parade on Monday. He said:

“Today, we come together as one nation to salute the veterans of the United States Armed Forces, the greatest warriors to ever walk the face of the Earth,”

There were both cheers and boos, but the unsettling fact is that his speech comes two days after Trump was found liable by a NY State judge of defrauding veterans of millions of dollars via a fake charity he used for personal and campaign expenses.

The settlement, which was finalized last month by judge’s order, and announced on Thursday, included a detailed admission by Trump of misconduct:

“Among Mr. Trump’s admissions in court papers: The charity gave his campaign complete control over disbursing the $2.8 million that the foundation had raised at a fund-raiser for veterans in Iowa in January 2016, only days before the state’s presidential nominating caucuses. The fund-raiser, he acknowledged, was in fact a campaign event.”

That Trump got to speak about veterans after settling a case in which he acknowledged that he defrauded Veterans shows just how low our expectations for American politicians have sunk in the past three years.

We should stop the current impeachment deliberations in Washington, because we know all that we need to know right now. An American president who defrauds veterans has met the bar of a “high crimes and misdemeanors”. We shouldn’t need any more testimony about bribery and extortion of a foreign power.

The veterans’ fraud is by itself, the greatest presidential scandal in American history. And the case is already decided.

The question is: Can a president be impeached for crimes committed before becoming president? The answer seems to be yes, although Republicans may differ. There are really no criteria for impeachment. All you need is to get the appropriate number of votes in the House. The standard is high crimes and misdemeanors, and Congress gets to decide what those are and when they count.

Try not to let your eyes glaze over and see this as just another Trump misdeed. Isn’t this a violation of Federal election financing laws? Doesn’t Trump owe past due Federal income taxes on the money misspent by his foundation?

Had this been any other president, we’d be hearing bi-partisan calls for his resignation. Imagine that Barack Obama had raised money for veterans, only to do what Trump did: Spend some on a giant portrait of himself and on some sports memorabilia. It would have singlehandedly destroyed his presidency and would likely have forced his resignation.

But in Trump’s horror show of an administration, the news that Trump was forced by a judge to repay $2 million to real charities because of his grifting wasn’t even the top news headline of the day.

There should be just the one count of impeachment. If it fails, Democrats should hammer on it during next year’s presidential campaign. And the shame of it should follow Trump, and any Republican who votes against impeachment, for the rest of their lives.

What has happened to accountability by our politicians? Why should we let Trump live a consequence-free life? Try to remember just how one-sided accountability has become:

Bush 1: Neck-deep in Iran-Contra and related pardons — just a little fuss
Clinton: Lost money in a real-estate deal, lied about an affair — giant furor
Bush-2: Lied us into war, made torture into official US policy — just a little fuss
Obama: wore a tan suit, put his feet on the table, and fist-bumped with his wife — giant furor

Time for the giant furor to go the other way. “Theft from Veterans” should be the only charge in Trump’s impeachment. It’s horrendously offensive, it’s clearly conduct unworthy of a president, it’s already been proven in court, and it doesn’t require a close reading of the Mueller report or, trying to distinguish between the names Vladimir and Volodymyr.

Imagine how hard Republicans would have to work trying to justify Trump’s behavior or, to blow it off.

Defrauding veterans is something that the public can understand and get angry about. There’s no risk that it’s so complicated that the public will tune out. When a Trump supporter asks “so why is he being impeached?” There’s a simple answer. Guilty of fraud.

This really targets Trump where he’s most vulnerable, his base: The purported law and order, military-loving people who populate his rallies. They will not take kindly to this.

As an American, this pisses Wrongo off. As a veteran of the Vietnam War, the one that Trump fake-bone-spurred his way out of, it’s infuriating.

Make this the one article of impeachment!

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Monday Wake Up Call – Veterans Day Edition, November 11, 2019

The Daily Escape:

Normandy American Cemetery, Colleville-sur-Mer, France – 2016 photo by Wrongo

Wrongo’s service occurred during the Vietnam War. His father was a WWII veteran. His grandfather, a WWI vet. Wrongo salutes all who have served!

While none of his kids have served, we all carry scars of our nearly two decades-long mistaken adventures in the Middle East. For some, it is poorer roads, bridges and airports. For others, it’s a huge budget deficit that won’t be paid off, even by Wrongo’s grandchildren’s children.

Of the 2.7 million who served in Iraq or Afghanistan, the Department of Veterans Affairs says that 35% have some form of disability. Over 970,000 Iraq and Afghanistan veteran disability claims have been registered with the VA. Over 6,900 US troops have died, as have approximately 7,800 contractors. These 20 years have also produced around 2,000 amputees.

From the Economist:

“Iraq and Afghanistan vets represent less than 1% of the population, and America lost eight times as many soldiers in Vietnam in less than half the time, when its population was two-thirds the current size.”

The Economist tries to tell us that the body count in Afghanistan is a great result. That’s neoliberal BS. People died, people were wounded and many thousands continue to suffer from post-traumatic stress.

Since we ended the compulsory draft in 1973, Americans are no longer connected to our wars, or to our veterans. These wars have been funded by debt, so younger Americans will pay for wars that they hardly know about, or why they happened.

This disconnect helps explain why the country’s civilian-military relations are so distant. It also explains why America has gotten locked into long and unproductive conflicts.

Some think that Trump will get us out of Afghanistan in the coming year. Some think that Trump was correct to cede northeastern Syria to Turkey and Russia.

But, as we sit here on Veterans Day 2019, the messages from the Trump administration are very mixed. The Guardian reports that two weeks after ordering a complete evacuation of US troops ahead of a Turkish incursion into northeastern Syria, Trump has changed his mind.

He’s now said some US troops should stay to “secure the oil”. That’s oil that is the rightful property of Syria. Reuters reports that Defense Secretary Mark Esper said:

“The United States will repel any attempt to take Syria’s oil fields away from U.S.-backed Syrian militia with overwhelming force, whether the opponent is Islamic State or even forces backed by Russia or Syria…”

Pentagon spokesperson Jonathan Hoffman said that US forces may continue this effort for years to come.

So, we’re “protecting” Syrian oil fields to deny access to ISIS and/or to the Syrian government? For years to come?

Here we go again with oil fields in the Middle East. It’s the same old story: oil companies are again directing the use of our troops, and how we should spend our taxpayer’s money. That’s the money that could have been used for many more important things. Follow the oil, and you’ll know Trump’s military policy in the Middle East.

It isn’t honorable for America to squat down uninvited in another country. It isn’t honorable to take control of Syrian oil fields while saying we’re stopping ISIS from using it. FYI, the US bombed that oil infrastructure years ago. It isn’t producing much oil today.

With this much dishonor, most of it at the Pentagon and the White House, no one who is signing up now to serve voluntarily should believe that what we’re doing in the Middle East is defending the Constitution.

We should honor the service of our veterans, and that of those currently in uniform, but that’s not all that we have to do. It’s time to wake up America!

We need to see that Trump’s so-called “bring the troops home” stance only means that he hasn’t opened a new theater of war for the last 3 years. He’s continued to shuffle a few of our existing pieces around. Has he closed any of our 800+ military bases around the world? No, in fact, more have been added. Has he stopped any of the active wars that the US currently is engaged in around the world? No. Has he reduced the military budget? No, he has increased it.

The American people are sick and tired of these military quagmires. It’s time to take action at the ballot box in 2020 against the war mongers in both parties.

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Sunday Cartoon Blogging – November 10, 2019

Bill Gates is the second-richest person in the world, with a net worth of $106.2 Billion. Here’s what Bill Gates said about Elizabeth Warren’s tax plan:

“I’m all for super-progressive tax systems….I’ve paid over $10 billion in taxes. I’ve paid more than anyone in taxes. If I had to pay $20 billion, it’s fine. But when you say I should pay $100 billion, then I’m starting to do a little math about what I have left over….You really want the incentive system to be there without threatening that.”

Here’s what would actually happen to Gates under Elizabeth Warren’s tax plan: (emphasis by Wrongo)

“The Warren campaign calculates that under Ms. Warren’s plan, Mr. Gates would owe $6.379 billion in taxes next year. Notably, that is less than Mr. Gates earned from his investments last year. Even under Ms. Warren’s plan, there’s a good chance Mr. Gates would get richer.”

Gates won’t have to pay as much as he thinks. The fundamental question is whether it’s ok for a billionaire to add 6% less to his massive fortune under Warren’s plan? Can billionaires still be successful executives if they don’t pocket every last penny they can lay their hands on?

Billionaire Michael Bloomberg doesn’t think the current Democratic presidential field is sufficiently deferential to the rich, so he’s running to make sure we get there.

When you think about it, two billionaires, Bloomberg and Steyer are running as Democrats. A third, Howard Schultz, billionaire behind Starbucks, tried to run as an independent. All wanting the job of billionaire Donald Trump.

Billionaire Mark Zuckerberg has said he would fight the Warren’s taxes on billionaires. Tim Perkins, a billionaire venture capitalist compared the “progressive war on the American one percent” to the Kristallnacht and anti-Semitism in Nazi Germany.

Billionaire Stephen Schwarzman, Chairman of Blackstone, compared a tax increase for people like him to Hitler’s invasion of Poland.

Why does anyone care about the tax concerns of these people? They never have to think about money, and neither will their heirs. It’s a familiar story, the astronomically rich are willing to donate large portions of their wealth, so long as interfering with their cozy power relationship with politicians is off the table.

On to cartoons. No plan goes unpunished:

America has a difference of opinion on health insurance:

Bill Barr waves his God flag:

GOP wants to take a few shots at the whistle blower:

Trump misunderstood which turkey could do him a favor:

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Saturday Soother – November 9, 2019

The Daily Escape:

Arashiyama Bamboo Forest, Kyoto, Japan — hat tip to blog reader Ottho H. for finding this photo.

The first flakes of snow fell on the fields of Wrong on Friday. Temps were around 24° at daybreak, with winds of 20+ mph, so it felt like winter. We’ve emptied the fountain that birds have used since the spring as a source for drinking water. Other than cleaning leaves out of our gutters, which won’t happen until most of the Oak leaves are down, we’re buttoned up for winter.

What’s not buttoned up is the 2020 Democratic presidential nomination. Michael Bloomberg has finally jumped in. The story is that originally he believed Biden would win, so he stayed out. But, most of us believed despite the polls, that Biden had no chance. First, because he is certain to blow himself up as he has in the past. Second, the smell around his son Hunter’s role in Ukraine makes it difficult for Dad Joe to stake out a winning moral position opposed to Trump and his kids.

Back to Bloomberg, as the NYT’s David Leonhardt says:

“I’ll be surprised if Michael Bloomberg wins the Democratic nomination. We are living in a political era characterized by economic dissatisfaction and populism, and a 77-year-old Wall Street billionaire doesn’t look like an obvious nominee for a left-of-center party during such a time.”

It’s difficult to know how this shakes out. First, is Bloomberg serious this time? He’s been down the road this far at least twice before. Second, if he’s in, who gets hurt?

Does Bloomberg hurt the moderates Biden and Buttigieg, while simultaneously helping Sanders and Warren? Is that his plan? Or is Bloomberg underestimating Biden? He can’t hope to dent Biden’s strength with non-whites, so what’s his path to the nomination? Lots of questions.

Finally, in a follow-up to yesterday’s column about Elizabeth Warren’s Medicare for All plan (M4A), here’s a Cook Political/Kaiser Family Foundation opinion poll about M4A in the key Midwestern battleground states:

It doesn’t seem that Warren’s plan can be a winner in the Midwest.

We’ve had enough of politics and political problems for this week. It’s time to build a fire and have a Saturday Soother. Let’s start by brewing a mug of Bengal Spice Tea from Celestial Seasonings. Wrongo prefers his with a side of single malt. Now, sit by the fire and contemplate where all of your winter jackets and gloves are hiding.

Next, watch the embedded video by the Apartment Sessions, a Brooklyn NY-based multimedia artist collective that produces monthly videos with a rotating ensemble of NYC/New England-based professional musicians. This performance was recorded for Halloween on a moving “J” train in the NYC subway. They perform Stevie Wonder’s “Sir Duke”, with Ben Levin on the Telecaster. Wrongo knows that few people click through to watch the video, but today’s is a must watch.

It’s the most fun any of us are likely to have in the NYC subway:

Stand clear of the closing doors please.

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

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Is Warren’s Medicare For All Plan Realistic?

The Daily Escape:

Gros Morne National Park, Newfoundland, CA

Let’s talk about Sen. Elizabeth Warren’s recently announced Medicare for All (M4A) plan. She, along with other 2020 presidential candidates have endorsed some form of M4A. Bernie has a plan. Yang has a plan. Mayor Pete has a plan, called “M4A for those who want it”. Biden is against M4A, pushing an extension of Obamacare instead.

The multiple Medicare for All proposals are unclear to most of us.  Presently, Medicare is primarily a government program for older people that pays a portion of their medical expenses. Participants pay premiums. Medicare Part B pays about 80% of medical expenses. The participant either pays the remainder or, has a supplemental secondary insurance.

Medicare for All is a single payer, government-pays-all concept.

One part of Warren’s (and Bernie’s) plan is forcing people who have private insurance to move to the M4A coverage. According to the US Census Bureau, 66.1% of the population had private health insurance in 2018. Of that number, 217.8 million are covered by private plans, of which 178.4 million are insured through their employers, so that means 218 million Americans would have to move from their current plan to a plan that doesn’t yet exist

In rough terms, the US spends about $4 trillion a year on health care, split almost evenly between government programs and the private sector. The $2 trillion in private-sector costs are also split roughly in half, with about $1 trillion each spent by households (premiums, and out-of-pocket money) and by employers (their share of premiums).

To pay for her plan, Warren needs to raise $2 trillion in government revenue to replace the spending of the private sector. She starts with the $1 trillion that employers are spending and requires them to redirect this money to Medicare via a per-worker fee.

Finding the other $1 trillion is trickier. Warren raises taxes on corporations and the wealthy, whose taxes have declined significantly in the past 30 years. Even after all of the increases she has proposed, tax rates on the rich would still be lower than during the Eisenhower administration.

In addition, by the time M4A had taken the place of private insurance companies, Warren thinks that 2 million jobs would be lost in the health insurance business, and other health-connected services. The principle purpose of a health insurance company is to pay for people’s health care needs. Its goal isn’t employment of workers. Most who would lose their jobs can always transfer those skills to another sector.

As long as the total number of patients doesn’t decrease, we won’t be seeing laid-off doctors or nurses.

Warren’s plan is a detailed policy road map. It’s not draft legislation, but there’s enough detail to write the bill, making it the first time a presidential candidate has gone beyond the arm-waving we usually see around single-payer. Whether you like her plan or not, her focus clarifies the debate.

The best feature is the plan’s aggressive approach to cost control. We can question whether the plan’s too optimistic: it may be unrealistic to get all of the cuts to health care administration, drug costs, and bend the overall growth curve of health care costs by as much as she’s assuming.

The NYT’s David Leonhardt makes the point about the least popular aspect of M4A: the fact that it replaces private coverage. Warren isn’t letting people opt into Medicare, she would force them to join:

“The biggest weakness of Warren’s approach is that it tries to bulldoze through the sizable public anxiety about radical changes to the health care system. Warren would not let people opt into Medicare, a wildly popular idea. She would force them to join.”

Warren makes the point that not all who have private coverage love their health insurer. It’s clear that Americans are far less happy than citizens of peer countries that have universal coverage. But even if not really popular, doing away with private health care will be disruptive.

Also, we’re not as healthy as those in countries with universal coverage. In particular, life expectancy is much lower (the US ranks 37th world wide), and we’re paying far more per capita for health care than anyone else.

“Free enterprise” health insurance simply isn’t working for Americans, and the dissatisfaction is real.

Can we do better? Is Elizabeth Warren’s plan the right amount of aggressive change, or would a more incremental approach be more palatable to voters in 2020?

Wrongo likes Elizabeth Warren and many of her positions. Her goal of fixing a broken health insurance system is right on, including her drive to cut health care costs aggressively. But her plan to eliminate all private health insurance is divisive, and may not bring about the desired goal of universal coverage.

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