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The Wrongologist

Geopolitics, Power and Political Economy

The Future: Will It Be Just More of The Past?

The Daily Escape:

Wrongo said he wouldn’t look back, but has reconsidered. It’s time to declare war on those who refuse to use facts or science. Think about what these true believers in either faith or ideology have brought us:

Will we continue on this road, or will we make a turn for the better? Will 2020 usher in a better decade than the one we just closed? Doubtful, unless each of us stand up and do what we can to make a difference.

Those who think Trumpism is so new and novel should remember that Norman Lear made a hit TV show about it in the early 1970s. Since then, many American white people have taken a dark turn: They would rather have Trump’s government enforce a whites only voting policy than put in the work required to make our system benefit everyone equally, while decreasing the cut taken by the corporate class.

Building this better society requires hard cognitive work. So far, Americans aren’t up to thinking about solutions beyond “Build that wall!”

Another example: 50% of white people are actively against government bureaucrats making their health care decisions. They insist that something that important should only be decided by employer HR departments and multinational insurance companies.

They’re perfectly fine casting their fates with insurance bureaucrats. Even if those corporate bureaucrats deny their care most of the time. Worse, they’re told by the media that they shouldn’t pay any more damn TAXES for health care when they could be paying twice as much in premiums to insurance corporations.

Remember the song In the year 2525? “If man is still alive…”

That’s 505 years from now. What do you think the odds are that we’re still here?

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Sunday Cartoon Blogging – December 29, 2019

Happy almost New Year! It only recently dawned on Wrongo that we’re not just coming to the end of another year, but also the end of the decade. There have already been many “end of the decade” summaries, but Wrongo is more interested in the future.

The only comment about the past that matters now is that we went from being optimistic after Obama’s election to being pessimistic after Trump was elected. To get elected, our first black president had to be a nearly perfect human being.

Trump only had to meet the low bar of representing the worst of us to gain power. And now, we’re even more divided than we were in 2016.

2020 will start with an impeachment trial, and a partisan acquittal. 2020 will end with a presidential election. Realistically, should we be expecting change? The answer is possibly: The Republican Senate majority suddenly looks to be in jeopardy. Republican strategists and campaign staffers said that with the polarization of the Trump era, key House and Senate races will depend even more than usual on the presidential race.

Democrats are raising more money and are polling better than Republican incumbents in several battleground states. Dems are outraising the Repubs in Arizona, Iowa and Maine, and they only need three net new seats to be the majority in the Senate.

Trump’s Impeachment trial works as a political strategy to get Republican senators on the record about Trump. Putting those GOP swing state senators on the hot seat may be very important in November 2020.

If you look at polls from the swing states, it’s possible that Trump can win again in 2020. OTOH, it is difficult to believe that, after four years of living with him, America will see Donald Trump as their best option for the next four years.

On to cartoons. The Christmas week always brings a shortage of good things to present, but this kinda sums up the season:

GOP’s 2020 strategy:

Dems 2020 resolutions:

2020’s New Year’s babies get dose of reality:

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Monday Wake Up Call – December 23, 2019

The Daily Escape:

Hoboken, NJ Santa Run, 2019 via

Nothing about politics, economics or power today, unless you think that this season has a power to bring joy to the world for at least a brief period of time. Around the mansion of Wrong, it will be a busy time, with many, many guests (a total of 98, but not all at the same time) passing through. The last of the group leaves on January 5th.

While Wrongo can’t be sure, this may be the last post until the New Year, assuming all remains quiet at Mar-a-Lago.

Here are a trio of seasonal musical selections for your holiday enjoyment. First, spectacular guitar work by Don and Wendy Francisco and Jerry Palmer, playing a medley of “What Child is This?” and “Greensleeves”:

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

Next, “Hark the Herald Angels Sing” performed in 2011 by the chorus at King’s College Cambridge:

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

Third, the Piano Guys playing “O come, O come, Emmanuel” for Piano & Cello:

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

From Wrongo and Ms. Right to all of you, best wishes for peace on earth, and a fact-based New Year!

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Sunday Cartoon Blogging – December 22, 2019

(Wrongo’s taking a bit of a Christmas break, so after Monday, posting will be light. We’ll be back on a normal schedule NLT Monday, January 6th. Wrongo truly appreciates you guys sticking around for all these years!

Happy Holidays, Merry Christmas, and Happy New Year — let’s hope it brings change we can believe in.)

A succinct summation of the week’s news:

Branding has consequences:

The never ending story:

Who to believe:

Rollerball broke out at the Dem Debate:

2019’s alternative “Away in the Manger” story:

What’s in a name?

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Saturday Soother – “Where’s the Impeachment?” Edition

The Daily Escape:

Mt. Shuksan, North Cascades NP, WA – 2018 photo by sluu99

As Atrios says:

“You go to impeachment with the Mitch McConnell you have, not the one you want.”

We need to remember the history of how Democrats created the Mitch we have. To do that, we must go back to November 21, 2013. Here’s the WaPo from that day: (emphasis by Wrongo)

“Senate Democrats took the dramatic step Thursday of eliminating filibusters for most nominations by presidents, a power play they said was necessary to fix a broken system but one that Republicans said will only rupture it further.

Democrats used a rare parliamentary move to change the rules so that federal judicial nominees and executive-office appointments can advance to confirmation votes by a simple majority of senators, rather than the 60-vote supermajority that has been the standard for nearly four decades.

The immediate rationale for the move was to allow the confirmation of three picks by President Obama to the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit — the most recent examples of what Democrats have long considered unreasonably partisan obstruction by Republicans.”

Back then, the main combatants were Harry Reid (D-NV) the Majority Leader, and Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY). The vote for the “nuclear option” was 52 to 48, with all but three Democrats backing the move, and every Republican opposing it. After the vote, Obama said that Republicans had turned nomination fights into a “reckless and relentless tool” to grind the gears of government to a halt and noted that “neither party has been blameless for these tactics.” But, he said, “today’s pattern of obstruction…just isn’t normal; it’s not what our founders envisioned.”

Fast forward to 2019. The Senate is split 53-47 now, with the Republicans in charge. Mitch has used Harry Reid’s rule change to appoint two Supreme Court justices, 50 appeals court judges, and 120 district court judges in less than three years.

Today, 20% of judges on all of the federal courts, and 25% on the appeals courts are Trump appointees. On the same day that Trump was impeached, the Senate confirmed 13 new district court judges.

Suddenly, Democrats are waking up to the reality that Trump’s judges will shape American law with a conservative bias for 30-40 years to come.

We can blame Harry Reid and Barack Obama for not thinking ahead.

You ought to be thinking ahead to the weekend, and all of the little things that you need to do so that Santa can do his job next week. It’s at least as challenging a task as locating the missing Trump Impeachment.

Before you shift into drive and start on that big to-do list, it’s time for a Saturday Soother, a brief few moments when you relax, and try to center yourself in the calm before the storm.

Start by brewing up a mug of Coffee and Chicory coffee ($6.70/15oz.) from New Orleans’ own Café Du Monde. Now sit back in a comfy chair and watch and listen to a Holiday Season flash mob by the US Air Force Band at the National Air and Space Museum in 2013:

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

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Pelosi: We’re Making It up as We Go

The Daily Escape:

Hat tip – A. James

“When you’re born into this world, you’re given a ticket to the freak show. If you’re born in America you get a front row seat.” George Carlin

Donald Trump was impeached on Wednesday. Wrongo sees Trump as dangerously incompetent and personally corrupt. But the way Democrats have gone about the impeachment isn’t winning the hearts and minds of independents, a group of voters they need if they are to take back the Presidency in 2020 and hold on to the House.

It’s helpful to remember that the only reason the impeachment is going forward is that the 2018 midterms gave Democrats a significant majority in the House. Even with uncontested evidence that the president abused his power, Republicans have demonstrated no interest in holding Trump accountable. It is clear that if they were still in the majority, none of this would be happening.

A side note on Tulsi Gabbard, the only person who voted “present” on both impeachment motions: Wrongo has kind of admired her principled political stands. He’s agreed with a few of them. But voting “present”? Apparently she couldn’t decide on the two motions. She’s a presidential candidate. The ability to decide and lead are core competencies of the job. She has disqualified herself.

It’s always been clear that Trump wouldn’t be convicted in the Senate. It seems that, as with the Mueller investigation, the Dems were unclear about the likely outcome of their efforts. Did they expect Trump would simply resign in shame, or maybe run a half-hearted campaign in 2020? Trump is a fighter and a blockhead, so they should have known he would love the chance to talk about impeachment from now until next November.

The move that caught everyone, including reporters at the hearing, by surprise, was Pelosi’s statement that she had not set a time for sending the articles of impeachment to the Senate. This was surprising since they had been saying all along that they’d impeach Trump by Christmas. They sounded as if they were eager to move the process forward.

Is this a political calculation? It runs the risk of making them look either too clever by half, or worried about the impeachment fallout with voters. After all, voter approval of impeachment peaked in October. Support for it has now fallen, and Trump’s approval ratings have risen since then.

Pelosi seems to be saying that the delay is because they are tussling with the openly partisan Mitch McConnell over the rules for the hearing. There is something to that if you consider that with the Clinton impeachment, the Senate impeachment process was negotiated in private between the Parties, and was approved by a 100-0 vote when Republican Trent Lott was Majority Leader.

That isn’t happening with Mitch in charge. This time, the Republicans want a quick trial, and then to declare victory.

Wrongo thinks that Trump deserves to be impeached, but as someone who was around for the Nixon and Clinton impeachment efforts, it seems as if the Democrats have made the same mistake this time that the Republicans made with Clinton: The Ukrainian case is just too small an offense. Guilt isn’t the issue, but to the average person, the punishment doesn’t match the crime.

With Clinton, 79% of the public thought Clinton was guilty. But the vast majority thought that lying about consensual sex was too small a crime to merit impeachment.

Democrats have a similar problem today. Trump did it, or at least, tried to do it. He’s incorrigible, too. He won’t have any hesitation about abusing his office again if it means gaining some personal advantage.

But because the Trump impeachment case has been so tightly limited to the Ukraine episode, the Democrats have lowered the stakes. People shrug: Ukraine got its aid eventually, and the Ukies aren’t investigating Hunter Biden, so….whatever.

Public support for impeaching Trump is about 50/50 and hasn’t moved appreciably in months. As much as Trump is a terrible president, Dems have managed to make him look borderline acceptable in this case.

Most of our DC politicians live in the beltway bubble. You can be sure that in 2016 many Dems said “It’s going to be a landslide. No woman or minority is going to vote for him.”

Then, the Dems were shocked by the Mueller report non-event.

Now, they’re flummoxed that impeachment is becoming less popular. They were sure it was going to popular with even the few Republican moderates and most independent voters.

Where do Dems go from here?

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Military is Less Supportive of Trump

The Daily Escape:

The Olympic Range from Mt. Elinor trail – 2019 photo by malevolint

A new poll by the Military Times (MT) shows that half of active-duty service members are unhappy with Trump as their Commander-in-Chief. This represented a  decline in his approval rating since he was elected in 2016.

The top line numbers show Trump is viewed very favorably or favorably by 41.6% of those surveyed, while 49.9% view him very unfavorably or unfavorably. 8.5% were neutral on the question. By comparison, when the MT surveyed the troops after Trump won in November 2016, 46% of troops surveyed had a positive view of Trump, while only 37% had a negative opinion.

The poll surveyed 1,630 active-duty MT subscribers between October 23 and December 2, 2019, in partnership with the Institute for Veterans and Military Families (IVMF) at Syracuse University. The numbers have a margin of error of ± 2%. The survey audience was 92% male and 8% female. Respondents identified themselves as 75% white, 14% Hispanic, 13% African American, 5% Asian and 5% other ethnicities. Here is a chart of the top line changes over time:

Trump’s overall favorability is similar to what he receives in the civilian population.

Some of the big drivers of the increase in his unfavorability have to do with military decisions. While troops supported Trump’s steps to disengage in Afghanistan (59% approve of negotiating with the Taliban), 58% disapproved of his decision to withdraw US forces from northern Syria. When asked about using military funds to build the southern border wall, 59% disapproved of his decision. More than half rated current US relations with “traditional allies” like NATO as poor.

Some other findings:

  • Military men are more supportive of Trump than military women: 43% of men rate him favorably, while among women service members, 53% expressed a “very unfavorable” rating, and 56% responded negatively.
  • By race, there were key differences: 46% of whites had a favorable view, versus 45% unfavorable. Among non-white service members, about 66% held a negative view of Trump.
  • 33% of respondents identified as conservative, outnumbering liberals (25%).
  • There was a shift toward more service members identifying as political independents. They now are 45% of respondents, up by 3% since 2018.
  • There was a 3% increase in the number of Democrats, and a 7% decrease in the number who considered themselves Republicans, or Libertarians.
  • Regarding impeachment, 47% backed impeachment, while 46% were opposed, roughly the same as the rest of the American public.
  • More than 75% said they think the military community has become more politically polarized, with about 40% now saying they have seen significantly more division in the ranks.

While historically male, white and Republican, the military is changing rapidly. The swing in the numbers of self-declared Democrats and Republicans is important. Many are confused about the military’s role, and America’s global mission.

Mark Bowden has a current article in The Atlantic about the negative view of Trump held by recently retired generals. Here is the key takeaway:

“In 20 years of writing about the military, I have never heard officers in high positions express such alarm about a president.”

Bowden is a highly respected military historian who wrote Black Hawk Down, and Huế 1968. He quotes a general saying that Trump: (brackets by Wrongo)

“…doesn’t understand the warrior ethos…it’s sort of a sacred covenant not just among members of the military profession, but between the profession and the society in whose name we fight and serve…. Trump [just] doesn’t understand.”

There is an opening for Democrats here. Plenty of issues are up for grabs, like the fact that the military spouse unemployment rate floats around 20%, or that homeless veterans are overrepresented at 11% of all homeless adults, and commit suicide at 1.5 times the rate of their non-veteran adult counterparts.

There are serious problems with lead in both military housing paint, and in their drinking water. Reuters did a special report on this last year.

Democrats have pushed policies for limits on payday lenders, while Trump and the Republicans support them.

Military sexual assault, energized by Sen. Gillibrand (D-NY), still has yet to pass. Gillibrand’s law would require that all sexual assault cases are placed in the hands of experienced military prosecutors, outside the chain of command.

So far, Democrats haven’t offered a clear alternative that our military can endorse. Dems need to speak in a voice that conceptualizes the military not just as a special interest looking for a pay raise, but as a unique community that defends us against all enemies, foreign and domestic.

Can the Democrats running for president embrace the military?

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College Enrollment is Down, Student Debt is Way Up

The Daily Escape:

Cathedral Rock at sunset, Sedona AZ – 2019 photo by microadventures

The Student Clearing House reports that the college student headcount of undergraduate and graduate students combined fell by 1.3% in the fall semester of 2019 over the same semester last year. That equals 231,000 fewer students compared to 2018.

This is the continuation of a long decline. The peak year was the fall semester of 2011, when 20.14 million students were enrolled. Since then, enrollment has dropped by 10.8%, or by 2.17 million students. Here’s a helpful graph by Wolf Richter:

The report covers 97% of enrollments at degree-granting post secondary institutions that are eligible to receive federal financial aid. It does not include international students, who account for just under 5% of total student enrollment in the US.

Women by far outnumbered men in total enrollment in the fall semester of 2019 with 10.63 million women enrolled, compared to 7.61 million men, meaning that overall there are now 40% more women in college than men.

Inside Higher Ed reports that community college enrollments declined by 3.4%. Four-year public institutions saw a drop of 0.9%. Four-year private institutions bucked the trend with an increase of 3.2%. However, the Student Clearing House said most of this increase was due to the conversion of large for-profit institutions to nonprofit status. Grand Canyon University, for example, successfully made the transition last year.

Wolf Richter says that the 10.8% decline in enrollment since 2011 comes even as student loan balances have surged 74% over the same period, from $940 billion to $1.64 trillion:

Looking at the two charts, it’s clear that over the last eight years, enrollment has declined in a straight line at about 1.35% per year. And over the same eight years, student loan debt has increased in a straight line at nearly $90 billion per year!

We’re seeing three trends: First, the decline in enrollments. Second the decline in men attending college. Third, the soaring costs of college leading to soaring student debt.

No one has the answers to all three, but the decline in enrollments may have a demographic element. We are approaching the tail end of the college-aged millennial generation. Higher education has been facing demographic headwinds for a decade. The post-millennial generation is simply smaller than the previous generation.

Meanwhile, a big part of the enrollment peak spike in 2009-2012 period was due to people choosing education to avoid unemployment during the Great Recession. And 25% of the enrollment decline is due to the for-profit diploma mills losing their government support after years of robbing their “students” blind.

The rapidly increasing costs of college are a burden that can also drive down enrollments. The numbers do not favor investing in a college degree as much as they used to. Back in the day, a good entry level job’s salary was about 4 times the annual tuition. Now it’s under 2 times. If you check out some of the terrible numbers for 20-year net Return on Investment (ROI) on payscale.com, it’s clear that many colleges and universities have negative or relatively small ROIs.

OTOH, there’s still a massive income gap between people with a college degree and those without one. And outside of a few small business owners, there’s no way around it. College is the only reliable way to get into the middle class, and stay there.

The college industrial complex knows that it has a stranglehold on your future, and it will try to suck as much money out of you as possible.

The solutions involve some of the things that Sanders, Warren and others are talking about. Wrongo is for making college free for all. He isn’t for debt forgiveness, but for granting interest-free loans to students. Those loans should be carried only by the federal government.

Cost containment is the biggest issue. Online education is now readily available, and saves on both tuition and room and board. The economy is stronger, so on-the-job training is returning, and a lot of specific how-to knowledge is now available online.

Except for the male-female imbalance, much of this is solvable.

Finally, higher education serves many purposes in our society. As a people, we need it for its practical value, but also for sharpening our ideals, nurturing our growth, advancing our knowledge, and our arts.

Despite a popular subculture of anti-intellectualism and doubt, we should still know that a people without ideals are lost.

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Monday Wake Up Call Afghanistan Edition – December 16, 2019

The Daily Escape:

Light snow and morning fog, Yosemite NP CA – December 2019 photo by worldpins

Wrongo and Ms. Right visited the WWII museum in New Orleans last week. In most ways, it was the last war that engaged all of America. At the start of the war, we were woefully under resourced, our army had more horses than tanks. People became deeply involved in the war effort.

During the war, Wrongo as a very young boy, managed to lose our family’s sugar ration card. Businesses gave their production capacity over to the country’s war needs. President Roosevelt was on the radio each week, keeping support for the war effort high. WWII lasted for six years, from 1939-1945.

You know where this is going: Last week, we learned that our government has covered up the reality of how we were doing in Afghanistan, much like our government covered up the truth during the Vietnam War.

We learned this due to work by WaPo reporter Craig Whitlock who has given us an indispensable look into our continuing failure in Afghanistan. The documents include transcripts of interviews with soldiers, diplomats, and others with direct experience in the war effort. Excerpts:

“We were devoid of a fundamental understanding of Afghanistan — we didn’t know what we were doing,” Douglas Lute, a three-star Army general who served as the White House’s Afghan war czar during the Bush and Obama administrations, told government interviewers in 2015. He added: “What are we trying to do here? We didn’t have the foggiest notion of what we were undertaking.”

“If the American people knew the magnitude of this dysfunction. . . 2,400 lives lost,” Lute added, blaming the deaths of US military personnel on bureaucratic breakdowns among Congress, the Pentagon and the State Department. “Who will say this was in vain?”

More:

“What did we get for this $1 trillion effort? Was it worth $1 trillion?” Jeffrey Eggers, a retired Navy SEAL and White House staffer for Bush and Obama, told government interviewers. He added, “After the killing of Osama bin Laden, I said that Osama was probably laughing in his watery grave considering how much we have spent on Afghanistan.”

The WaPo documents contradict years of public statements from US presidents, military commanders and diplomats who assured Americans year after year that we were making progress in Afghanistan and that the war was worth fighting:

“Every data point was altered to present the best picture possible,” Bob Crowley, an Army colonel who served as a senior counterinsurgency adviser to US military commanders in 2013 and 2014, told government interviewers. “Surveys, for instance, were totally unreliable but reinforced that everything we were doing was right and we became a self-licking ice cream cone.”

Bush, Obama and so far, Trump, have all failed us miserably for the past 18+ years. The war has cost America $975 billion-plus tens of $ billions spent by the VA on the wounds of Afghanistan veterans, a price that will rise for the next six decades. The most serious costs are the 2,434 US deaths and 20,646 wounded in action.

The Afghan mess was made worse by piling lie upon lie. We now know that the top brass in the military knew all along that we were losing, and that three successive White Houses also knew.

The greatest tragedy is that the losing is still ongoing.

These revelations are an indictment of our senior military leaders. We had advantages in resources and technology in Afghanistan (we often outnumbered the insurgents on the battlefield) and still lost. But beyond that, it indicts our political leaders, who need to understand our strategy, and be a check on our military.

Time to wake up America! This is also an indictment of all of us, for not paying attention. For not insisting on ending it years ago!

We’ve managed to blow through vast resources that were desperately needed at home. We’ve stood by while our government fruitlessly sacrificed the lives of many of our men and women. We grew our National Debt beyond what we needed to do, and got stuck in another foreign quagmire.

When we finally feel either shame or anger about Afghanistan and that we were lied to, we can take the first steps to political reform.

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Sunday Cartoon Blogging – December 15, 2019

Paul Volcker died last week. It’s likely that few readers know who he was, or what he did. He was one of the most important persons in finance in the last 50 years.

Volcker was Chairman of the Federal Reserve under Carter and Reagan, until Reagan fired him in 1986. He is widely credited with having ended the high levels of inflation in the US during the late 1970s and early 1980s. Earlier, he was an important part of Nixon’s team that took the US off the gold standard in 1971.

In that time of red-hot inflation, Volcker’s goal was to stop the growth of prices, while keeping the dollar strong globally. Back then, Americans saw inflation as our most pressing economic problem. Volcker’s goal was to reduce wages as a way to reduce price inflation. As an example, during his time as Fed Chair, Volcker carried a card listing the wages of unions in his pocket to remind himself that his early goal was to crush the unions.

When Reagan and his people complained that interest rates were too high, Volcker would pull out his card on union wages and say that inflation would not come down permanently until labor “got the message and surrendered.” Volcker said that the prosperity of the 1950s and 1960s was a:

“hall of mirrors”, and that the…”standard of living of the average American must decline.”

Volcker’s jacking up of interest rates eventually purged inflation from the system. Along the way, it hurt small businesses, farms, banks, and home owners who needed a mortgage. Mortgage rates reached a peak of 18.63% in October 1981.

While Wrongo briefly worked for Volcker at the big bank in the early 1970’s, we had no relationship.  Wrongo reported to a guy, who reported to a guy, who reported to Volcker. Despite that (minimal) connection, Wrongo knows that Volcker’s stint at the Fed helped to shatter the American middle class. It might not have been his intent, but it was what he did. On to cartoons.

Trump outdoes Obama:

McConnell says he’ll take his instructions from the defendant:

 

Trump’s Xmas list:

The people would rather have a lump of coal:

21st Century Wise Men:

Greta vs. the Rest:

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