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The Wrongologist

Geopolitics, Power and Political Economy

Saturday Soother – Final Four Edition

The Daily Escape:

Aiguille du Midi – 2019 photo by Berenicids. The Aiguille du Midi (12,605 ft.) is part of the Mont Blanc massif in the French Alps. It can be directly accessed by cable car from Chamonix. If you enlarge the picture, the cable car building is visible at the very top of the mountain.

The end of Wrongo’s favorite sport, the college basketball season, happens on Monday. Tonight is the Final Four, the Wrong family’s equivalent of the Super Bowl, with family gathering for food and drink around the TV.

But, that doesn’t start until the early evening, so we’ve got time to talk about another scary piece of news this week: There will be severe human impacts caused by the next wave of automation. The bottom line is that plenty of jobs will be lost and we’ll see societal disruption as machines and robots take over American jobs. Axios takes it from there:

In a new report, the Aspen Institute nudges policymakers away from any notion that the American economy will naturally adjust as robots are introduced at an accelerated pace over the coming two and three decades.”

Axios goes on to quote Aspen’s Alistair Fitzpayne who says that, workers displaced in prior technological cycles “have experienced profound downward mobility” in new jobs at much lower pay and benefits.

The report’s executive summary warns, “Artificial intelligence and other new technologies may lead to deeper, faster, broader, and more disruptive automation”, and retraining programs may be unable to mitigate the downward trend in earnings and social status. Aspen warns that fewer jobs may be created than are destroyed:

  • No one knows how many new jobs will be produced, where they will be created, or how much they will pay.
  • Most studies play down the real possibility that the automation age could go very wrong, for an extended period, for large swaths of workers and their communities.
  • Workers who lost their jobs in the wave of manufacturing layoffs in the early 1980s, for instance, were still earning 15%-20% less in their new work 20 years later, according to the Aspen report.

Axios reports that Aspen tries to pull the punch, saying that with the right policy choices, we can choose to create an economy that works for everybody. That we can encourage employers to adopt a more “human-centric approach” to delivering the bottom line. That we can support displaced workers through retraining, reemployment services, and unemployment insurance to help them transition to new jobs and careers.

Maybe, but it seems questionable that those things will spontaneously happen. Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-NY) suggests all this new technology might be liberating, but she has reservations:

“The reason we’re not excited by it is because we live in a society where if you don’t have a job, you are left to die. And that is, at its core, our problem.”

The cultural stigma attached to job loss is profound, and that is unlikely to change by adding more retraining programs. Conservatives are not about to celebrate jobless people having more time to learn, to create art, or enjoy the world they live in, as long as they are unemployed.

The merciless mantra of shareholder value above all, and our corporate masters’ acceptance of the inevitability of technological change means that low and moderate-skill workers are expendable. Efficiency for more bottom line is more important than the lives of human workers.

This coming automation disruption is hard to see now. But estimates are that it will impact as many as 40% of American workers.

The 21st Century American corporation isn’t our friend, as currently constituted and rewarded. It is the enemy of our society, because they are quietly working to eliminate our jobs. We constantly reduce their taxes, vainly hoping for them to create more jobs. We look the other way when they pollute our environment. We allow them to disproportionately finance our elections.

It’s time for a new Capitalism.

But you’ve had enough for this week, so on to the Saturday Soother. Start slowly, particularly if you plan to stay up until the last Final Four game ends at around midnight. Let’s brew up a cup of New Hampshire’s Flight Coffee’s single origin Tanzania Tarime AB, ($17/12oz.), with its floral fragrance and intensely sweet flavor. Now settle into your favorite chair and listen to “Spring Morning” by Frederick Delius, played by the Royal Scottish National Orchestra and conducted by David Lloyd Jones. “Spring Morning” is the third of ‘Three Small Tone Poems’ by Delius:

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

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Trump is Deregulating Pork Inspections

The Daily Escape

Zhongshuge Bookshop in Chongqing, China. There is a mirrored ceiling that enhances the visual effect of the stairs that might have been inspired by an MC Escher painting.

Under Trump, the executive branch has been policing its own damn self, and that’s working out splendidly! Think Mar-a-Lago’s security. And if Boeing inspecting themselves isn’t bad enough, the Trump administration is outsourcing much of the responsibility for food safety inspections in hog plants to the pork industry.

Trump will cut the number of federal inspectors by about 40%, and will replace them with plant employees. This could make trichinosis great again! From the WaPo (paywalled): (emphasis by Wrongo)

“Under the proposed new inspection system, the responsibility for identifying diseased and contaminated pork would be shared with plant employees, whose training would be at the discretion of plant owners. There would be no limits on slaughter-line speeds.”

This accelerates the Department of Agriculture’s plan to delegate on-site inspections to the livestock industry. It started under Obama, when poultry plant owners were given more power over safety inspections. One difference is that the Obama administration didn’t allow higher line speeds. The Trump administration starting last year, has allowed some poultry plants to increase line speeds.

WaPo says that The Trump administration is working to also shift inspection of beef to plant owners:

 ”Agriculture Department officials are scheduled next month to discuss the proposed changes with the meat industry. “

If you are a Trump fan, these moves are part of his administration’s plans to reduce regulations that large corporations want totally eliminated.

It’s standard-issue Republican Party pandering to their corporate base. And it’s ongoing, despite the administration coming under fire for delegating aircraft safety oversight responsibilities to Boeing, developer of the 737 Max jets that have crashed twice in the past six months. While FAA certification of the two aircraft involved in the crashes took place under President Trump, the major shift toward delegating key aspects of aviation oversight began under GW Bush.

Letting food producers regulate themselves: What could go wrong? That whole Listeria thing is way overblown, and the spinach growers are sure to guarantee that there’s no E Coli contamination in their produce.

Until there is.

Industry self-regulation is really no regulation at all. There’s only one case where private “regulation” has some teeth: FINRA, the not-for-profit that protects America’s investors by making sure the broker-dealer industry operates fairly and honestly. But, that’s the only example Wrongo can think of.

The real irony in this is that one of the key reasons food recalls have gotten so frequent is the cutbacks in inspections that have been going on for some time. It means that every time something IS discovered, they have to pull everything that went out since the last government inspection.

The longer the time between inspections, the more stuff that has to be pulled off the shelves.

You can be sure that if a pork plant contaminates their meat products and hundreds of people are poisoned, the free market will take care of the poor corporation. How? By letting the corporation declare bankruptcy to avoid paying victims and their next of kin. Then, the law allows them to quietly reorganize under a different business name, and sell more pork.

Of course, maybe a Boeing Max Jet will fall out of the sky, and land on one of these self-inspected pork producers.

Thomas Hobbes, in his “Leviathan”, in 1651, described what life would be without government:

“In such condition, there is no place for industry; because the fruit thereof is uncertain: and consequently no culture of the earth; no navigation, nor use of the commodities that may be imported by sea; no commodious building; no instruments of moving, and removing, such things as require much force; no knowledge of the face of the earth; no account of time; no arts; no letters; no society; and which is worst of all, continual fear, and danger of violent death; and the life of man, solitary, poor, nasty, brutish, and short.”

Sounds like a Republican paradise!

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DHS Disbanded Its Domestic Terrorism Group

The Daily Escape:

Detail of the Dome at Qasr Al Watan Palace, Abu Dhabi – 2019 photo by Ottho Heldring

(Wrongo apologizes for the lack of articles, as other priorities have intervened. He has responsibilities on his town’s Municipal Road Committee. We are preparing to spend about $10 Million on improving our roads. There are very tight deadlines for finishing our analysis, getting approval of the town council, holding a referendum, and then going to the bond market for the funds. This is a huge time sink. So, for the next 10 days, posting may be intermittent.)

From The Daily Beast: (parenthesis by Wrongo)

“The Department of Homeland Security (DHS) has disbanded a group of intelligence analysts who focused on domestic terrorism, The Daily Beast has learned. Numerous current and former DHS officials say they find the development concerning, as the threat of homegrown terrorism—including white supremacist terrorism—is growing.”

The group in question was a branch of DHS’s Office of Intelligence and Analysis (I&A). They focused on the threat from homegrown extremists and domestic terrorists. Their analysts shared information with state and local law enforcement to help them protect communities from these threats. According to the Daily Beast, the reorganization happened last year, and had not been previously reported.

DHS defended the reorganization. Pressed by The Daily Beast, a senior DHS official pushed back:

 “The same people are working on the issues….We just restructured things to be more responsive to the…customers within DHS and in local communities while reducing overlap with what the FBI does. We actually believe we are far more effective now.”

Ok. But one local community “client” is Los Angeles, and Sgt. Mike Abdeen with the LA County Sheriff’s Department told The Daily Beast:

“It’s been very quiet lately….It’s changed with the new administration. It doesn’t seem to be as robust, as active, as important…it’s not a priority. It doesn’t seem like engagement, outreach, and prevention are seen as a priority as we used to see in the past. There were roundtable meetings in the past…more training, more seminars. Now it seems like it’s gone away.”

Nobody would say that domestic terrorism has been declining, so you have to decide whether this is an unintended consequence of another Trump appointee trying to streamline a government process, or whether it is an intentional effort to bury bad news about elements within Trump’s base of support.

Is Trump’s ability to appoint people who will undermine the efforts of our civil service better, or worse than his use of the judges’ roster provided by the Federalist Society to pack the courts?

Wrongo votes that it’s a tie.

Trump has said repeatedly that he doesn’t consider white nationalist groups to be an actual threat. So out goes the white nationalist task force.

Is this merely DHS accepting the viewpoint that when a disgruntled white male takes an assault rifle and kills people in a school or Synagogue, he isn’t committing an act of terror, he’s merely a troubled person expressing concern about the fragility of the few remaining white people in America?

This is a GOP problem. There’s been a consistent drumbeat to sweep right-wing terrorism under the rug, and it predates Trump. Consider that in 2009, the Obama administration’s DHS released a report warning about Rightwing Extremism. The report warned that “rightwing extremists may be gaining new recruits by playing on their fears about several emergent issues.” It also predicted that the possibility of new gun restrictions and the return of “military veterans facing significant challenges reintegrating into their communities” might mean “emergence of terrorist groups or lone wolf extremists capable of carrying out violent attacks.

That report called this convergence of factors the “most dangerous domestic terrorism threat in the United States”. Republicans went ballistic:

“Rep. Lamar Smith (R-TX) said the administration was “awfully willing to paint law-abiding Americans, including war veterans, as ‘extremists.’” Then-Rep. Steve Buyer (R-IN) — the top Republican on the House Veterans’ Affairs committee at the time — called it “inconceivable” that some veterans could pose a threat.”

John Boehner (Former GOP Speaker of the House) said:

“The Secretary of Homeland Security owes the American people an explanation for why…her own Department is using [“terrorist”] to describe American citizens who disagree with the direction Washington Democrats are taking our nation…”

Then-DHS head Janet Napolitano was forced to apologize, and she soon buried the report.

FWIW, Christopher Hasson, the Coast Guard officer who was a “domestic terrorist” and self-described white nationalist was arrested in February. But he’s not Muslim, so no worries, nothing more to see here.

Wrongo is old-school enough to believe that Republicans used to care about all of America. That they had different (and usually wrong-headed) approaches to our priorities and the solutions to problems, but they wanted what’s good for the country in general.

It’s gone. Trump-Republicans only want good things for people in their in-crowd. That excludes the majority of Americans.

Trump doesn’t want to stop domestic terrorism by white nationalists. He wants to harness it.

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Monday Wake Up Call – April 1, 2019

The Daily Escape:

Racka Sheep, Hungary, April 2017 – photo by Laszlo Balogh.

The Trump legacy keeps on giving. Forbes reports that when Trump’s tax bill passed in late 2017, it included:

“A new tax on litigation settlements: no deduction for legal fees…..That means many plaintiffs must pay taxes even on monies their attorneys collect. Of course, the attorneys must also pay tax on the same money.”

Robert W. Wood, a Forbes contributing writer who follows taxes, cites the case of Edwin Hardeman who won $80.5 million in a suit against Monsanto’s Roundup. From Forbes:

“Hardeman was awarded a bit over $5 million in compensatory damages, and $75M in punitive damages. The combined contingent fees and costs Mr. Hardeman pays his attorneys might total as much as 50%. If so, the plaintiff would get to keep half, or $2.5 million of the $5 million compensatory award. Since it is for his…non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma, that part for physical injuries should not be taxed. Then, of the $75 million punitive award, $37.5 million goes to legal fees and costs, and $37.5 million to Hardeman. So before taxes, the plaintiff’s take home is $40 million.”

But because of Trump’s new math, Hardeman’s $75 million punitive damages award is fully taxable, with no deduction for the fees he pays to his lawyer. Between federal taxes of 37% and California taxes of about 13.3%, Hardeman could lose about 50% to the IRS and California Franchise Tax Board. He would still owe another $37.5 million to his lawyers, so his after-tax take from an $80 million verdict only $2.5 million.

A $2.5 million award isn’t chump change, but this is another effort by corporations and Republicans to discourage law suits seeking punitive damages by plaintiffs. Notably, compensatory damages for physical injuries or physical sickness are still tax-free, but not punitive damages.

Doesn’t paying taxes on money you don’t receive seem un-American? The reach of corporate interests into our laws cannot be overstated. It will take a generation to reverse all of the inroads corporate lobbyists have made into our tax laws alone.

So, wake up America! It’s time to change capitalism so that it works for the people, not just for the owners and managers of corporate America. Bill Maher had a great discussion on his show “Real Time“. He echoed FDR’s “Four Freedoms” while commenting on how countries with a higher socialism-to-capitalism mix rank as happier than the US in the recent World Happiness Report. Maher says;

“Happiness isn’t only about what you have. It’s also about what you don’t have to worry about,”

Maher recommends rebranding Capitalism Reform as “Capitalism Plus.” Because, “It’s a plus when you get sick and you can focus on getting better instead of not going broke“. Or, ending up sleeping under an overpass.

Maher ends with:

“Does pure unbridled capitalism work? I guess that depends whether you’re on the board of Boeing, or onboard a Boeing.”

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

 

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Sunday Cartoon Blogging – March 31, 2019

Wrongo and Ms. Right saw “What the Constitution Means to Me” on Broadway last night. It’s a riveting and powerful show, good for both your head and heart. The cast is led by Heidi Schreck in an amazing performance. Schreck also wrote the play. She tells her (true) story of earning college money by traveling around the country delivering short speeches on the Constitution and competing in rapid-fire challenges about its amendments.

In the play, she resurrects her teenage self, tracing the effects of the founding document on generations of women, including many in her family. She focuses on the Equal Protection Clause of the 14th Amendment, and the “penumbra” of Amendment 9. She applies these to a few cases, specifically, the Supreme Court case, Castle Rock v. Gonzales.

Schreck plays a recording of Justices Scalia and Breyer debating Castle Rock v. Gonzalez: They focus not on the mother, or her children who were kidnapped and killed by her husband. Or, on the negligence of the local police, who failed to respond to the permanent restraining order she had against her husband, despite the many, many times that Gonzalez called them. Instead, they pedantically debate the meaning of the word “shall.”

It’s a debate about rhetoric, entirely stripped of humanity.

She lost. The Supremes decided that the police did not have an obligation to protect Ms. Gonzalez or her kids. They held that enforcement of the restraining order was not mandatory under Colorado law. See the play if you can.

On to cartoons. Barr’s report isn’t the report you are looking for:

Barr’s report will keep America at odds until we see what Mueller says:

Barr tells us that Donnie’s clean:

Last week, Republicans called for Chair of the House Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence, Rep. Adam Schiff (D-CA), to be removed. Every Republican on the committee was on board for Schiff’s removal. Schiff didn’t take it lying down. He pointed out everything shady and suspicious that Trump & his associates did during the campaign. He closed by saying “But I do not think that conduct, criminal or not, is OK. And the day we do think that’s OK, is the day we will look back and say that is the day that America lost its way.” Watch Schiff’s response here:

Betsy shows her disability:

Trump, king of health care, says the Republicans will sometime in the future, become the party of health care:

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Don’t Call Warren a Wonk

The Daily Escape:

Bryce Canyon, Utah – 2019 photo by AccountexpiresSept10

(Wrongo has been a little distracted by the Barr Letter and the aftermath of Russiagate. He’s spent a ton of time checking out who is recanting their positions, and who is doubling down. That explains the lack of daily posting. Also, there will be no Saturday Soother this week as Wrongo and Ms. Right take advantage of Broadway and NYC’s nightlife. There will be cartoons on Sunday, though.)

Wrongo is beginning to place Pete Buttigieg near the head of the 2020 class of presidential candidates. He’s smart, an intellectual, and most important, someone who thinks and speaks with nuance about our politics. Wrongo also likes Elizabeth Warren. She’s turning out ideas at a higher rate than any of her competitors. This, from Charlie Pierce: (brackets by Wrongo)

“The Senator Professor Warren Policy Shop and Idea Factory continues to operate at full capacity. First, a little something-something from the Des Moines Register: Warren has not shied away from confronting those affected by her policies, delivering them directly to those industries’ doorsteps. Just as she announced her plan to break apart the nation’s largest tech companies before heading to one of the [agricultural] industry’s largest gatherings…”

Warren announced her plan to take on corporate agriculture just before traveling to Iowa to speak at a rural issues forum. The companies she names in her plan — Tyson, Dow-DuPont and Bayer-Monsanto — are all key players in Iowa’s economy. More:

“Warren argues small farmers are unable to get ahead ‘because bad decisions in Washington have consistently favored the interests of multinational corporations and big business lobbyists’ over their own. Warren said during a recent interview with the Register ‘The number of purchasers of soybeans or hogs has shrunk dramatically….The number of seed providers has shrunk dramatically, and the diversity of the seeds (offered) has shrunk. Concentration in those industries has put a real squeeze on small- and medium-sized farms in Iowa.”

But Warren is being concern-trolled as an unlikeable, wonkish professor, while Buttigieg gets praise for learning Norwegian in order to read a favorite author. More from Pierce:

“The temptation will be great for people to hang the deadly Wonk label on her, an especially painful tag for a woman. But to do so is to ignore the fundamental theme that all of these proposals have in common: a multi-front attack on…monopoly power as an enemy of the poor and middle class….”

Bias remains in all of us, even as we try to ignore it. Wrongo wonders if non-MAGA males will view a smart female candidate like Warren differently than a male competitor.

Buttigieg is impressive. He may be young, but he’s serious, intelligent, and well-versed in the issues.

Warren, a college professor and US Senator, is every bit the intellectual equal of Buttigieg and, like Mayor Pete, is light-years smarter than Donald Trump.

Here’s the problem: When men listen to Buttigieg, they hear intelligence, humility, and a willingness to learn. When they listen to Warren, do they hear something different, and maybe, less likeable?

That was true in 2016. Hillary Clinton was held to a higher standard than Donald Trump. Her negatives were far higher than would have been true for a male candidate with similar strengths. Despite more than three decades of public service, Clinton lost to the most unqualified and unfit Presidential candidate in our nation’s history.

Can Democrats nominate another woman so soon? If so, should Warren be the one?

Warren is an intellectual force who wants capitalism reform. She articulates real policies, and attacks the class war waged by the rich. Like Mayor Pete, she has the ability to present complex ideas in ways that are both accessible, and actionable.

Maybe, “wonk” won’t stick to her as it did to Hillary. “Wonk” implies focusing on technicalities that ordinary people find boring, or beyond their understanding. The wonk tries to describe a small world, while the rest of us mostly try to focus on the big picture.

Warren seems the opposite of a wonk. She is more like Teddy Roosevelt than Paul Krugman. No one would call Theodore Roosevelt, a demonstrated reformer with anti-plutocrat chops, a wonk. It should be difficult to portray Warren that way.

Warren has found a way to merge an economic agenda and Democratic voters’ deep concern about our political system. She says, “rebuild democracy.” Accountability, reform, oversight, anti-corruption brings it all together.

But there are those in the media who think Warren is wonky. There also are men who, in 2019, still have trouble listening to a smart woman.

Clearly, as a society, we haven’t made nearly the progress we like to give ourselves credit for.

Warren needs to avoid the media painting her into a corner. Her message is resonating.

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Plenty of Fallout From Mueller’s (Non) Findings

The Daily Escape:

Monument Valley – photo by Nathan Fitzgerald

How comfortable will Americans be with Trump in the White House, now that they have learned that he did nothing prosecutable while he was trying to get the job?

Larry Sabato at University of Virginia, says that the fate of the Trump administration is now in the hands of the voters in November 2020:

“Democrats only control who they nominate and what they emphasize in the campaign….On policy, Democrats have a wide variety of subjects that could allow them to make a favorable contrast with Trump: climate change, health care, and economic fairness, just to mention three. The message and the messenger will be critical.”

Sabato points out that the Democrats did not run on the Mueller probe in the 2018 mid-terms, and that for the most part, the announced 2020 candidates haven’t really been doing much of that either.

The biggest fallout from the Mueller investigation is that Trump gets to say he’s an undeserving victim for the next two years. No matter what negative things may come out in the next two years, Trump has been inoculated against real political harm. He can always say it’s the same people who were wrong about him during the Russia investigation. He’s certain to keep saying the media’s coverage of him is “Fake News”.

One victim of Mueller’s non-findings is the main stream media. They were largely anti-Trump and anti-Russia throughout the Russia investigation. Now, they look biased in exactly the manner that Trump has been saying they were for the last two years.

Matt Taibbi has an article, “It’s official: Russiagate is this generation’s WMD” in which he says:

“Nobody wants to hear this, but news that Special Prosecutor Robert Mueller is headed home without issuing new charges is a death-blow for the reputation of the American news media.”

He means most of the mainstream media. It’s a long read in which Taibbi highlights several media outlets including the NYT. He starts with Monday’s Times editorial: “We don’t need to read the Mueller report”. Taibbi says they make that point because: (brackets by Wrongo)

“We [the NYT] know Trump is guilty, Baker at least [NYT’s Peter Baker] began the work of preparing Times readers for a hard question: “Have journalists connected too many dots that do not really add up?”

He compares the media’s coverage of Russiagate to their coverage of whether Iraq had weapons of mass destruction (WMD) when we were making the decision to invade during GW Bush’s administration. In hindsight, the media was badly compromised then when they dutifully reported what the administration wanted them to report.

Finally, the Democrats have to deal with their own fallout. They can continue investigating Trump, looking for some fire behind all the smoke. Or they can move forward, and focus on building a winning campaign for 2020. It’s possible that the ongoing House investigations of Trump may bear fruit, and provide some campaign fodder.

Journalism in 2019 appears to have returned to the way it was in America’s early history. It’s become another partisan element in our politics. And, as the process of journalism has decayed, somehow, people’s ability to contextualize facts seems to have decayed right along with our journalists.

The reputation of the American media as free, independent and truth-seeking was always a myth. Think about our unjustified Spanish-American war (“Remember the Maine”) was more than 100 years ago and it was promoted by the press (Hearst papers).

Then there was that pesky Vietnam War, which the US press supported for years. Back then, we had music, like Country Joe’s “(1, 2, 3, 4) What are We Fighting For”, Arlo Guthrie’s “Alice’s Restaurant” and Neil Young’s “Four Dead in Ohio” as our alternative news media.

We do know that Russia conducted a sophisticated information operation to influence the 2016 election. Mueller’s investigation firmly established this. But Wrongo still doesn’t see anything to say their efforts upended the 2016 electoral results.

The various Congressional and DOJ investigations will continue, just as sure as the sun will rise in the east. What is uncovered is likely to be more of the same, and not advance the ball towards the goal line.

Hopefully soon, we’ll see a press conference by AG Barr and Mueller. That will be must-see TV.

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Monday Wake Up Call – March 25, 2019

The Daily Escape:

Ice climbing remnant glaciers on Mt. Kilimanjaro, Tanzania – 2018 photo by Christian Pondella. The climber, (upper right) Will Gadd, said: “We were climbing ice that is easily 10,000 years old and isn’t going to be there next week….We camped up on top of Kilimanjaro for about five days, and some of the things we climbed on, we came back and they had fallen over.”

Now that the key non-findings of the Mueller Report are known, the first thing we are hearing is that Mueller found no conspiracy with Russia. Unless the House committees turn up something that Mueller didn’t, there won’t be any legal consequences for Trump, his spawn, or what remains of his inner circle.

The Attorney General’s conclusions are that the Mueller report says Trump neither colluded with Russia, nor obstructed justice. This will help Trump and the GOP, who are already crowing, “EXONERATION!

Like many others, Wrongo is disappointed that Muller didn’t give us a quick, clean end to the horror of this administration. This disappointment marks the third time in the past 20 years that Wrongo has felt the country was wobbling on its axis because of the GOP.

The first time was in 2000 when the Supreme Court gave the presidency to Bush II. That was a terrible outcome for our democratic process, one that led to a gigantic strategic error, as Bush 43 took us into war in the Middle East.

The second was Trump winning the presidency in 2016. Everything that has happened since that November night was predictable, and again, we are a weaker, and a more divided country as a result.

Now, the Mueller report represents the third time that America has been divided by our anachronistic system. Now, we’ve had three occasions where we trusted that our system would make crucial decisions that had enormous impact on our democratic system, and in each case, our trust was misplaced.

Today’s news was the worst case scenario. While Wrongo has never believed that Russian election interference changed the outcome of the 2016 election, he thinks there was a quid pro quo with the Russians regarding a possible Moscow Trump Tower in 2016.

We all hoped AG Barr might rise to the occasion. Instead, Barr (and not Mueller) made the call on obstruction. Instead, Barr (not Mueller) cast the lack of proof on collusion by narrowing it to solely collusion with “the Russian government.” Apparently, the Trump Tower quid pro quo wasn’t on the table.

That said, we have to hope that all of this may turn out for the best.

Barr’s letter may not be the final aria sung by the metabolically challenged diva. She may return to the stage in due time. The Mueller/Barr punt says this is now Congress’s job to sort out.

Wake up America! Now we must acknowledge that we’re in a war to reclaim our system of government. To win the fight requires America to take control of the Congress and the White House away from the GOP in 2020.

And it can’t be by razor-thin margins, or there’s a decent chance the Democrats will be outplayed again.

This is a necessary battle. If it isn’t won, our country will continue to spiral out of control. It isn’t just about getting Trump out of office through the democratic process. This is a fight to reaffirm who we are as a country.

This is a battle we have to fight.

Let’s go.

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Sunday Cartoon Blogging – March 24, 2019

What you missed in Friday’s news about Robert Mueller wrapping up the Russia investigation was that Trump announced the appointment of Stephen Moore, a conservative economic pundit as a member of the Board of the Federal Reserve.

Moore is a doofus. There’s no bigger example of a so-called “economist” failing his way upwards than Stephen Moore as Jon Chait points out: (emphasis by Wrongo)

“Stephen Moore’s career as an economic analyst has been a decades-long continuous procession of error and hackery….Moore’s primary area of pseudo-expertise — he is not an economist — is fiscal policy. He is a dedicated advocate of supply-side economics, relentlessly promoting his fanatical hatred of redistribution and belief that lower taxes for the rich can and will unleash wondrous prosperity. Like nearly all supply-siders, he has clung to this dogma in the face of repeated, spectacular failures.”

Wrongo hastens to remind everyone that the Fed is in charge of MONETARY POLICY, not Fiscal policy. Moore only holds a Master’s degree in Economics. There are many, many examples of Moore’s hacktastic pseudo-expertise in economics. Slate reports that Moore: (brackets by Wrongo)

“Predicted that Bill Clinton’s tax hikes would bring disaster (they didn’t), that George W. Bush’s tax cuts would bring prosperity (they didn’t), and that Barack Obama’s policies were setting us up for ’70s-style stagflation (they didn’t)….He and supply-side guru Art Laffer were also key advisers behind Kansas’ fiscally and politically disastrous tax cuts. In spite of his own track record of [consistently] failed predictions, he has disparaged Keynesian macroeconomics as ‘witchcraft.'”

He’s recently called for Trump to fire the entire Fed board. Moore has blamed the Fed’s rate increases over the past year for slowing economic growth, and recently called on the Fed to begin cutting rates. He helped draft Trump’s tax proposals while working as an economist at the Heritage Foundation.

Stephen Moore is a joke in the economics profession. This should go well. On to cartoons.

Barr holds the key to what we learn about the Mueller investigation:

Stop calling them White Nationalists, alt-Right or Populists. These people are White Supremacists:

Funny how most Christians in the US don’t obey the Ten Commandments, but consider the Second Amendment a must follow:

What is evident from attacks on Black Christian churches, Synagogues, and Mosques in the US, and now in NZ, is that RW extremists are increasing their attacks. They are citing Trump as their “guiding light”, while Trump continues to play down their involvement:

Biden looks like a candidate, but some wonder about his age:

George and Kellyanne Conway see Trump differently. Will their relationship survive?

Trump says free speech for conservatives is great, missing the point about our free press:

Rep. Devin Nunes sues Twitter because of a satirical account called “Devin Nunes’s Cow”. As of today, more people follow the fake cow that mocks Devin Nunes, than follow Devin Nunes:

 

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Saturday Soother – March 23, 2019

The Daily Escape:

Milford Sound, New Zealand – photo via The Travel Guys

You know leadership when you see it. In the US, we are chronically short of inspiring leaders. But there is a great model of leadership on view in New Zealand, their Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern. Now 38, she was the world’s youngest female head of government, when she took office at age 37.

We’ve seen her response to the Mosque killings. In lieu of texting thoughts and prayers, she donned a black head scarf and led a group of politicians to visit victims’ families. She went to a high school that had lost two students in the attack, and told the children they need to fight prejudice:

“Let New Zealand be a place where there is no tolerance for racism….That’s something we can all do.”

She announced a ban on military-style assault rifles and ammunition on Thursday. She has hammered social media companies for allowing and amplifying extremism. Ardern has called capitalism a “blatant failure” due to the extent of homelessness in New Zealand.

She has spent her political capital to unite her country, not to divide it.

None of those things could have been accomplished by Trump. And none will ever be accomplished by him. He’s too politically and ideologically conflicted to give a full-throated denouncement of extremism from the right.

He doesn’t have the empathy to sit with relatives of the dead and comfort them. He’s not capable of leading us through a teachable moment. He can’t move our government to action, except to pass unnecessary tax cuts and hire right-wing Supreme Court Justices. He can’t be a role model for any positive behaviors, and is a terrible communicator to the general public.

So, look clearly at America’s politicians, and find someone who has the ability to lead like Ms. Ardern. Wrongo doubts that you will find many. Ms. Ardern is a politician not a saint, but her actions prove that politicians exist who can be effective thought and cultural leaders.

Remember that she’s just 38 years old!

Does this imply we shouldn’t be thinking that America necessarily needs an older politician driving the bus of state?

By the time you’re reading this, you’ll already know that the Mueller Report has been submitted to the Attorney General. Where we go from here depends to a great extent on the leadership of the Attorney General, the House and Senate, and the president.

Sadly, there’s no Jacinda Ardern in sight.

Time to unplug and get as soothed as we can under the current circumstances. Start by brewing up some Eaagads Estate Kenyan small batch coffee ($19/12oz.) from Austin Texas’s Greater Goods Coffee. The roaster says it pairs well with blackberry scones and citrus fruit.

Now, get to your favorite chair, put on your headphones and listen to Roxane Elfasci play “Clair de Lune” by Claude Debussy, on guitar. This 2016 live performance was in Paris. “Clair de Lune” is the third movement of “Suite Bergamasque” by Claude Debussy, from a poem by Paul Verlaine. It was written for piano, and here it is arranged for guitar by James Edwards. This is a wonderful performance of a well-known piece which is incredibly difficult to play on solo guitar:

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

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