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The Wrongologist

Geopolitics, Power and Political Economy

Sunday Cartoon Blogging – June 2, 2019

The Daily Escape:

Everest traffic jam – May 2019 photo by Nirmal Nims Purja

People look at this photo of bumper-to-bumper climbers on Everest and think that it proves there is too much money in the world. Enough, that people can chase experiences that were unattainable even ten years ago. Wrongo sees this photo as a metaphor for the Democratic 2020 presidential nomination. Too many climbers reaching for the summit of American politics. Some will fall by the wayside, and with such a crowd, it isn’t clear if the best climbers will reach the top.

The point of the climb is to whittle the number of candidates down to the few who have a chance to win in 2020. The DNC just announced that its September 2019 rules will be much stricter than the current requirements to make it into the June debates. The third debate will require both 130,000 donors and achieving 2% in four polls. Some campaigns are already complaining. Isn’t complaining just telling on yourself?

Wrongo is fine with a progressively more challenging requirement for candidates to appear at the debates.

On to cartoons. Special Counsel Robert Mueller finally spoke. That led to a flowering of Mueller cartoons this week. Mueller didn’t want to speak beyond Thursday’s quickie press conference, so the cartoonists spoke for him.

Trump decides to stay seated:

Mueller makes his point:

Parsing of Mueller Report continues:

Mueller speaks. Pelosi has difficulty hearing:

Highlights by Barr and Mueller are vastly different:

You can lead a horse to water, but maybe not a donkey:

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Saturday Soother – Trump Mexican Tariff Edition, June 1, 2019

There’s No Escape Today:

More tariffs! This from CNN:

“President Donald Trump threatened on Thursday to impose new tariffs on Mexico if the country does not step up its immigration enforcement actions, combining his boiling border-related frustrations with his preferred method of punishing foreign countries.

Trump said in a White House statement that the first round of tariffs would begin on June 10 at 5% ‘on all goods imported from Mexico.’ The statement said Trump would carry out his threat under authority from the International Emergency Economic Powers Act and that he would lift tariffs only ‘if the illegal migration crisis is alleviated through effective actions taken by Mexico.’

The statement warned further that if Mexico does not act as Trump demands, tariffs would go up to 10% by July, 15% by August, 20% by September and reach a permanent level of 25% by October.”

Mexico probably does need to do more to stop migrants crossing their country.

OTOH, they like America, have rules that safeguard migrants. It’s doubtful that the Trump administration has studied those rules or cares about them, any more than they care about ours.

According to Forbes, The US imported $346.5 billion in goods from Mexico last year and for the first three months of 2019, they increased 5.4%. At that rate there would be $365 billion imported in 2019. At a 5% tariff, companies would have to either raise prices or take an $18 billion hit to profits. And it is companies and eventually consumers that will pay these new Trump tariffs, not the exporting country as Trump consistently misrepresents.

This is why the DOW fell 355 points on Friday.

Trump used the International Emergency Economic Powers Act as his legal basis to place tariffs on Mexico. It’s a Cold War-era law that actually vests the presidency with absurdly broadly defined, near-dictatorial powers in many areas. But, prior presidents, even Reagan and Bush 43, never conceived in their wildest dreams of using them except in an ACTUAL emergency. And they didn’t.

Trump doesn’t care, he sees a hammer, and decides that it isn’t for driving nails; it’s for breaking Mexican kneecaps. Matt Yglesias explains that there’s an easy climb down for Trump in this. Migration from/through Mexico is very seasonal, peaking in the spring, and declining sharply in the summer.

Trump will probably pretend to get some concessions from Mexico and declare victory in a couple of months. His moron supporters will surely applaud that.

At some point, Democrats will have to frame these and Trump’s other tariffs for what they are: a national sales tax on imports. Dems need to start explaining to the public that these tariffs are a national sales tax on everything from Mexico, including cars and components for US car manufacturers. Maybe saying this:

“Trump is making Americans pay a sales tax on imports until illegal immigration stops. How will Americans paying higher taxes force Mexico to stop illegal immigration?”

That’s how it should be framed.

Enough! We’ve been Mueller ’ed and Trump ’ed all week, and it’s time for your Saturday Soother!

On the first day of June, Wrongo hopes that you are in short sleeves, and thinking of getting outdoors, and that doesn’t mean shopping at the mall.

Let’s start by brewing up a vente cup of Hawaii Kau Champagne Natural from Paradise Roasters ($19.95/12 oz.). This coffee tied for the highest rating in Coffee Review’s May 2019 tasting report of Hawai’i-grown coffees. They say that its tropical and floral aromas lead into a sweet and complex dessert-like cup.

Paradise has experimented with yeast fermented coffees that produce a more intense and complex flavor than traditional methods. It evokes Champagne, fruity but dry, and not effervescent. They only roast this coffee on one day: June 3rd, 2019. So you have been alerted to act fast.

Now, move outside, assuming you live in a part of the world that isn’t suffering from rain or tornadoes. Put on your wireless headphones, and listen to a Philadelphia-based Irish band, BarleyJuice, play their tune, “Weekend Irish”:

Sample Lyric:
And the blood runs deep,
When the booze is cheap,
Long as you ain’t got an agenda to keep,
You can be a Weekend Irish, hey!
Aye, aye, we’re the Weekend Irish

And we’ll raise a hand,
To the motherland,
Best part of being an American,
To be a Weekend Irish

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

The Wrongologist does not condone identity politics, unless it involves weekend singing, dancing and drinking.

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New Evidence: Citizenship Question Added to Suppress Minority Voting

The Daily Escape:

Wallis Sands, NH – 2018 photo by CaptainReptar

“If conservatives become convinced that they cannot win democratically, they will not abandon conservatism. They will reject democracy.” David Frum

Sometimes, the proof you need shows up just a little late. The Supreme Court will rule in June on whether or not a citizenship question can be added to the census in 2020. The case, Department of Commerce v. New York was argued before the Court back in April. At the time, most observers felt that a majority of the justices seemed inclined to support the administration’s position that there was no political agenda behind asking the citizenship question.

On Thursday, the NYT reported about a related lawsuit filed in the Southern District of New York, which shows that all of the relevant information to decide the case was not available. The new evidence was obtained from Thomas Hofeller. Hofeller was the Republican Party’s guru on redistricting of electoral districts for political advantage. After Hofeller died, his estranged daughter found his computers and hard drives, and her mother gave them to her. She discovered files that demonstrated quite clearly that her father had been central to the creation of the census citizenship question.

From The New York Times: (emphasis by Wrongo)

“Files on those drives showed that he wrote a study in 2015 concluding that adding a citizenship question to the census would allow Republicans to draft even more extreme gerrymandered maps to stymie Democrats. And months after urging President Trump’s transition team to tack the question onto the census, he wrote the key portion of a draft Justice Department letter claiming the question was needed to enforce the 1965 Voting Rights Act — the rationale the administration later used to justify its decision.”

This article on Thomas Hofeller offers evidence of the vote suppression intent of the census citizenship question that the Supreme Court is likely to approve in a few weeks. The new court filing shows that Hofeller’s digital fingerprints are all over the US DoJ actions to add a citizenship question:

  • The first was an Aug. 30, 2017 document from the Hofeller hard drives. The document’s single paragraph cited two court decisions supporting the premise that more detailed citizenship data would assist enforcement of the Voting Rights Act. That paragraph later appeared word for word in a draft letter from the Justice Department to the Census Bureau that sought a citizenship question on the 2020 census.
  • A second instance involves the official version of the Justice Department’s request for a citizenship question. It was a more detailed letter sent to the Census Bureau in December, 2017, presenting technical arguments that current citizenship data falls short of Voting Rights Act requirements. The plaintiffs in the new case show those arguments are presented in exactly the same order, and sometimes with identical descriptions as in a 2015 study by Mr. Hofeller. In that study, Hofeller concluded that adding a citizenship question to the 2020 Census “would clearly be a disadvantage to the Democrats” and “advantageous to Republicans and Non-Hispanic Whites” in redistricting.

Seems damning, but why should the Supremes need more evidence? Three federal district courts had already decided this question without seeing this additional evidence. They were able to see through the transparent attempt by the GOP to undermine voting rights.

The 14th Amendment, Section II says:

“Representatives shall be apportioned among the several States according to their respective numbers, counting the whole number of persons in each State, excluding Indians not taxed.”

The founder’s intent there seems pretty clear: The whole number of persons. And since when is it the responsibility of a member of Congress to only represent the eligible voters in his or her district?

The new smoking-gun evidence shows that government officials lied when they used the Voting Rights Act as their excuse for including the question. But, that will likely be seen by the SCOTUS as irrelevant, assuming they believe that the actual reason is a permissible action by the Commerce Dept.

Republicans love to complain about those Democrats who are now advocating for eliminating the Electoral College, saying that doing so would amount to “changing the rules because Democrats lost.” What should be obvious is that Republicans are constantly, and relentlessly changing the rules. See Mitch McConnell’s rewrite of his Merrick Garland policy just this week.

Over and over, Republicans gerrymander and suppress the vote in whatever way they can. They do this as part of their effort to shore up the voting power of their white voter base, while diluting the voting power of minorities.

They know demographics are not on their side, so they are willing to take extreme measures to solidify their position, regardless of the impact on the nation.

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America’s Military Moves Rightward

The Daily Escape:

Bruarfoss, (Bridge Falls) Iceland – 2018 photo by ParticleEngine

There was some controversy on Memorial Day when Trump visited the USS Wasp before returning to the US from Japan. He was greeted by service members wearing unofficial uniform patches with the words “Make Aircrew Great Again”. Here is a photo of the patch:

Military personnel often wear unofficial unit patches as part of an effort to build unit cohesion and morale. Such patches are officially barred by uniform regulations, but may be approved by the service members’ chains of command, who are responsible for ensuring that the unofficial patches do not violate military regulations. Those regulations say:

“…active duty personnel may not engage in partisan political activities and all military personnel should avoid the inference that their political activities imply or appear to imply DOD sponsorship, approval, or endorsement of a political candidate, campaign, or cause.”

This means that service members are prohibited from exhibiting political messages while in uniform.

This is the second controversy involving a visit by a member of the administration to a Navy vessel in the past month. At the end of April, a TV reporter overheard the USS Harry S. Truman’s senior enlisted sailor instructing crewmen to “clap like we’re at a strip club” during a visit from Vice President Pence. He later resigned from his post.

So, to be clear: twice in four weeks Navy personnel have gotten themselves in hot water during public events in easily-avoidable ways. In sports, we call these screw-ups “unforced errors.” And in what universe does it make for our military to venerate a commander-in-chief who faked a medical condition to avoid serving?

Naturally, the Navy is reviewing whether service members on the USS Wasp violated Defense Department policy by wearing the patches.

So let’s think about a couple of things: The prohibition against political advocacy while in uniform isn’t about denying service members their 1st Amendment rights; it’s about maintaining good order and discipline. Imagine the chaos and conflict which could potentially result from men and women in uniform actively engaging in divisive political activity? Could we count on our military defending each other, or the homeland, if they’re fighting with one another?

Second, these two incidents remind us that there is a decided tilt in the military toward conservatism, and in some cases, the far-right. The US military, particularly its officer corps, leans Republican, and its younger, more recent veterans, are even more so.

There have also been plenty of problems from far-right military members: In February, a Coast Guard officer was arrested after an investigation discovered he was stockpiling weapons and preparing to attack liberal politicians in Washington, DC.

In the 1990s a white supremacist gang formed in the US Army’s 82nd Airborne Brigade, stationed at Fort Bragg, North Carolina. In 1995, two members murdered a black couple. In 2012, a member of the Missouri National Guard was arrested for providing weapons for and running a neo-Nazi paramilitary training camp in Florida.

In Georgia, two soldiers were arrested after murdering a former soldier and his girlfriend in an attempt to cover up their assassination plot against then-President Obama. A 2014 Vice News segment showed the KKK was actively seeking to recruit US military veterans, and some were answering their call.

Andrew Exum, former Army Ranger and Deputy Assistant Secretary of Defense for Middle East policy during the Obama administration, wrote about the US military becoming a political-economic entity focused mainly on its own interests.

An apolitical military has been a bulwark of our democracy, but that is under pressure.

It’s been made more difficult by Trump actively working to weaken the apolitical nature of the military. He talks about “My generals”, but has given the military a freer hand on the rules of engagement and targeting decisions. He suggested that service-members lobby Congress for a military budget increase.

The demographics of the military has changed since we ended the draft in 1973. It skews southern, western and rural, all conservative-leaning parts of America. One study at the National Interest shows that over the last generation, the percentage of officers that identifies itself as independent (or specifies no party affiliation) has gone from a plurality (46%) to a minority (27%). The percentage that identifies itself as Republican has nearly doubled (from 33% to 64%).

This shift is dangerous for our democracy. Sadly, it is unclear what might reverse the trend.

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Another Take on Memorial Day

The Daily Escape:

Dunn’s River Falls, near Ocho Rios, Jamaica – 2019 photo by Ashleigh Reutzel

There were many excellent Memorial Day columns posted over the weekend, and Wrongo wants to draw your attention to Andrew Bacevich, who wrote about visiting Marseilles, Illinois, which curiously, has our only monument honoring those who died in our wars in the Middle East: (emphasis by Wrongo)

Marseilles retains one modest claim to fame. It’s the site of the Middle East Conflicts Wall Memorial, dedicated in June 2004….The memorial, created and supported by a conglomeration of civic-minded Illinois bikers, many of them Vietnam veterans, is the only one in the nation that commemorates those who have died during the course of the various campaigns…that have involved U.S. forces in various quarters of the Greater Middle East over the past several decades.

That tells you quite a bit about how Americans value the American sacrifice in these wars. More from Bacevich: (more emphasis by Wrongo)

Any American wanting to pay personal tribute to those who fought and died for our country in World War II or Korea or Vietnam knows where to go — to the Mall in Washington D.C….Nowhere else in this vast nation of ours has anyone invested in…the effort to remember more than a generation’s worth of less-than-triumphant American war making. Marseilles has a lock on the franchise.

We’ve been at war in the Middle East since Desert Storm. It’s hard to believe that a “Middle East Conflicts Wall Memorial” isn’t on the National Mall. But, the Vietnam vets had to fight to have their monument built, over resistance from Washington.

Bacevich is originally from a nearby Illinois town, and sadly, his son is among the Middle East dead listed on the monument: (emphasis by Wrongo)

…I find myself uneasy with any reference to American soldiers having died for freedom in the Greater Middle East. Our pronounced penchant for using that term in connection with virtually any American military action strikes me as a dodge. It serves as an excuse for not thinking too deeply about the commitments, policies, and decisions that led to all those names being etched in stone, with more to come next month and probably for many years thereafter.

He closes with this:

Just as there are all-but-mandatory venues in Iowa and New Hampshire where candidates are expected to appear, why not make Marseilles, Illinois, one as well. Let all of the candidates competing to oust Donald Trump from the White House…schedule at least one campaign stop at the Middle East Conflicts Wall, press entourage suitably in tow.

One of the catch phrases of our cheap American patriotism is: “Thank you for your service,” which many (well-meaning) people say when they meet an active duty or veteran military person. As a former Army officer, Wrongo has always tempered his appreciation on hearing that with the idea that the unspoken part of that phrase is: “better you than me.”

We are reverent, but disengaged from our military. We love the troops, but we’d rather not think about them, is our norm. That wasn’t always the case. WWII and Korea were in the forefront of people’s minds while the fighting was underway. Americans were drafted into the military as late as Vietnam, and Nixon learned how difficult it was to keep Vietnam off the minds of the people.

Since we ended the draft in 1973, America hasn’t won a war. Now, less than one percent of the nation is in uniform. What is more alarming, military service has increasingly become a family affair. Coupled with troop-basing in the West and Southeast, we are quickly evolving into a Praetorian military culture, precisely as American culture fragments. Hero worship of our military has created a separate caste of military professionals. Unchecked, this will ultimately fracture our society.

Even well-meaning people don’t want to know what our policies have created, both at home and abroad. The cost of our wars is ruinous, partly because the human dimension is nearly absent from the discussion.

War is bankrupting us during a time of relative peace. We have no discernible threat comparable to our certain costs. And our media doesn’t always help us see the threats clearly.

These wars are all post-Authorization for the Use of Military Force (AUMF) wars. There have been no victory parades since the first Gulf War.

And all of these wars contribute to our fractured politics. We continue to use debt to cover the costs of our ever-expanding military, at the sacrifice of domestic needs like infrastructure, education and healthcare. We gotta wake up.

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Monday Wake Up Call – 2019 Memorial Day Edition

The Daily Escape:

Memorial Day, Arlington National Cemetery – 2013 photo by William Coyle

 “Patriotism is supporting your country all the time, and your government when it deserves it.” Mark Twain

Today we celebrate the sacrifice of those who died fighting in America’s wars. We mourn those we knew, and we remember those we never knew.

We can’t seem to get our fill of war. In fact, since 1943, the year of Wrongo’s birth, the US has been at peace for just five years: 1976, and 1977, 1978, 1997 and 2000 are America’s only years with no major war.

So today, we celebrate those who have died in service of our global ambitions. Maybe we watch a parade, shop at the mall, and attend the first cookout of the year. Perhaps we should be required to spend more time thinking about how America can increase the number of years when we are not at war.

But today also brings us something else to think about. The Yale School of Forestry published an article about the use of Agent Orange in Vietnam, Fifty Years After, A Daunting Cleanup of Vietnam’s Toxic Legacy. Here is a snippet:

“From 1962 to 1971, the American military sprayed vast areas of Vietnam with Agent Orange, leaving dioxin contamination that has severely affected the health of three generations of Vietnamese. Now, the US and Vietnamese governments have joined together in a massive cleanup project.”

During the US Air Force campaign known as Operation Ranch Hand, Agent Orange was used to strip bare the coastal mangroves of the Mekong Delta and the dense triple-canopy forests that concealed enemy fighters and supply lines. One-sixth of South Vietnam was blanketed with 20 million gallons of herbicides, and as many as 4.8 million Vietnamese civilians were exposed to the spraying.

The three remaining hot spots of dioxin contamination were the US airbases at Da Nang, Bien Hoa, and the smaller air base at Phu Cat. These were the sites from where the spraying was launched. The residual levels of dioxin on those sites posed a serious ongoing threat to public health. Of the three, Bien Hoa was by far the worst. During our war in Vietnam, it was said to be the busiest airport in the world.

Phu Cat was cleaned up by the Vietnamese without US assistance. Next came Da Nang, a six-year project that was completed last October. It cost $110 million, of which $100 million came from the US State Department, channeled through USAID.

The sheer volume of soils and sediments that must be remediated is staggering. In Da Nang, it was 90,000 cubic meters; in Bien Hoa it is 495,300. The US has agreed to commit $300 million to the Bien Hoa cleanup over 10 years, but USAID couldn’t bear the entire cost. So, after much debate, the Department of Defense agreed to contribute half of the total.

This has to be done, since dioxin is a deadly chemical. It is both hydrophobic and lipophilic: it hates water and loves fat. It sinks into the sediment at the bottom of bodies of water, it attaches to organic matter and moves up the food chain, from plankton to small aquatic animals and finally to fish. In soil, it ends up in free-range chickens and ducks and their eggs.

It becomes more concentrated at each stage, a process known as bioaccumulation. Eighty-seven percent of dioxin enters the body through ingestion, before migrating into fatty tissue, the liver, and breast milk. And fish and poultry are staples of the Vietnamese diet.

The WHO stipulates a tolerable maximum of 1 to 4 picograms (one trillionth of a gram) per kilogram of body weight per day. The mean amount they found in breastfed infants in the Bien Hoa area was 80 picograms.

And we shouldn’t forget how haphazardly the VA has dealt with the medical issues of Vietnam Vets who were exposed to Agent Orange. For many years veterans with Agent Orange-related diseases were denied disability compensation by the VA. This only changed with the passage of the Agent Orange Act of 1991. Now, the VA acknowledges certain cancers and other diseases are caused by Agent Orange.

The Vietnam War ended in 1975. The Vietnam vets that survived the war only to suffer from Agent Orange-related diseases had to wait at least 16 years before our government began helping the majority of them. Vietnam waited 50 years before our government acknowledged our culpability in destroying much of their environment.

This is a sad reminder about today’s Memorial Day, all of our past Memorial Days, and the ones to come.

It is good to be reminded again about our dead soldiers, and also to be reminded of what our government ordered them to do.

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Sunday Cartoon Blogging – May 26, 2019

In another “elections have consequences” story, The Economic Policy Institute (EPI), has a new report about how states can blunt the 2018 Supreme Court decision in Epic Systems v. Lewis. In that case, the court ruled that employers can use forced arbitration clauses to strip workers of their right to join together in court to fight wage theft, discrimination, or harassment. The EPI forecasts that by 2024, more than 80% of private-sector, nonunion workers will be covered by forced arbitration clauses.

They argue that, given the current very conservative Supreme Court, it will be up to individual states to pass “whistleblower enforcement” laws like those introduced in Massachusetts, Maine, New York, Oregon, Vermont, and Washington, to empower workers who need to sue law-breaking employers, including those covered by arbitration clauses.

On to cartoons. Here’s a look at abortion from the GOP white male perspective:

Trump won’t (can’t?) deal:

GOP’s accomplishments are transparent, even if they are not:

The Parties see things differently:

Summer replacement series doesn’t get raves:

Graduation speakers aren’t created equal:

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Saturday Soother – May 25, 2019

The Daily Escape:

Man of War Bay, Dorset, UK – 2019 photo by bluecalxx

Yesterday at lunch with long-time friend and blog reader Fred, he asked about what we have lost in the time of Trump. I answered that America has lost experiencing the difference between following the spirit, and the letter of the law.

We always have had politicians who cut corners, but they understood their obligations as servants to the community at large. They were people who understood that they had an obligation to represent the best of our ideals to the rest of us.

Politicians now stick (barely) to the letter of the law: “If it doesn’t say I can’t do it, I’ll just do what I want.”

But this age didn’t begin with Trump’s 2016 win. In 1973, Arthur M. Schlesinger, Jr. wrote “The Imperial Presidency” in which he argued that the power of the presidency had exceeded the limits set by our Constitutional checks and balances.

Schlesinger was focused on the Nixon presidency. Yet, for all his flaws, Nixon was unwilling to tear down our government to save himself. Trump has shown us that when a president is absolutely willing to cross the line of what we formerly called the spirit of the law, nothing holds him back.This is a deep flaw in our Constitution.

And now, 35 years after Nixon, our government might just get torn down by Trump and his sycophants.

On Thursday, Trump gave AG William Barr authority to conduct a review into how the 2016 Trump campaign’s ties to Russia were investigated. The intention is to portray Trump as the real victim of the Russia investigation. Trump also granted Barr the power to unilaterally declassify documents of the CIA, FBI and other intelligence agencies. More from the NYT: (emphasis by Wrongo)

“The move — which occurred just hours after the president again declared that those who led the investigation committed treason — gave Mr. Barr immense leverage over the intelligence community and enormous power over what the public learns about the roots of the Russia investigation.”

The declassification process will be selective, in service of a predetermined narrative. Barr now has the ability to again control the narrative, much like his “summary” of the Mueller Report that mischaracterized the Report’s content.

And there won’t be any way to distinguish between selective declassification and flat-out lies. This is the equivalent of a judge who announces at the start of the trial that he’s going to allow every objection by the prosecution, while ruling against every defense motion. It will be a show trial.

David Frum at the Atlantic says:

“The mission he has assigned them: Fight to suppress documents properly subpoenaed by Congress to answer important public questions, then pick and choose US national secrets to defame career professionals who sought to protect the integrity of the nation’s elections against foreign adversaries who manipulated those elections in Trump’s favor.”

Worse, we the people will have to rely on the media to tell facts from spin without seeing all of the classified information. Information that caused the intelligence agencies to worry about the Trump campaign’s Russia connections in the first place. That evidence led them to request warrants. A federal court reviewed that evidence, and authorized and subsequently, reauthorized the warrants. Frum asks:

“Will that evidence be declassified?”

If you’re an FBI agent, and you’ve been chasing down what Deutsche Bank knew about Trump’s dealings with overseas oligarchs, and you hear that your ultimate boss, Barr, is about to investigate the investigators, you’re probably not sleeping well tonight. Particularly after Trump says that the investigators committed treason.

And that’s the point.

Time to downshift into our long Memorial Day weekend, beginning with that ritual we call the Saturday Soother. There is no need for coffee this weekend, we’re already overly amp’ed up by the news.

So, let’s move on to music to soothe the savage within. Find a comfy chair and your wireless headphones, and listen to a Mexican waltz, “Sobre las Olas” or “Over the Waves” by Juventino Rosas. It was first published in Mexico in 1888. You have certainly already heard the piece if you’ve been on a carnival ride. In 1950, the music was adapted for the movie The Great Caruso as the song, “The Loveliest Night of the Year”. Later, Mario Lanza recorded it, and it reached Number 3 in the 1951 US Billboard Charts:

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

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Is It Time to Cull The List of Democratic Nominees?

The Daily Escape:

Yellowstone Falls – 2011 photo by Wrongo

With so many candidates, Axios reports that there is a real chance for a brokered Democratic convention. Letting the corrupt DNC’s Super delegates choose the nominee sounds terrible to Wrongo. The main reason is that the Democratic Party’s rules impose a 15% electoral threshold, which means that to win delegates in a state primary, a candidate has to win at least 15% of the vote.

This matters, because there are so many candidates, and most of them aren’t polling very well. A Quinnipiac poll this week shows the difficult road ahead for the Democratic candidates. The chart below shows that only six of the candidates are known well enough that at least half of respondents have an opinion about them. For 17 of the candidates, at least half of respondents said they didn’t know them well enough to say whether they viewed the contender favorably:

Buttigieg is just outside the six, polling at 5% while O’Rourke, who is better known, polls at just 2%. Quinnipiac also looked at the candidates’ net unfavorability among Democrats. The net rating is determined by subtracting the favorable ratings from the unfavorable:

Just three candidates have net unfavorable ratings among Democrats: Tulsi Gabbard, Seth Moulton and Bill de Blasio. OTOH, only eight candidates have truly interesting favorability ratings: Biden, Sanders, Harris, Warren, Booker, Buttigieg, O’Rourke and Castro. Clearly, the bottom three have no hope at all in the 2020 Democratic nomination race, but the same most likely applies to the next eleven.

Finally, let’s look at how Quinnipiac says the candidates have performed over the last few months:

It’s early days, but Warren jumped over Harris, Buttigieg and O’Rourke in the past two months. Sanders’s biggest problem in the short run isn’t Biden, but Warren, who is just behind him in the Quinnipiac poll. If she in fact passes him, it’s not clear how Sanders would strike back. Sanders’s support seems to have moved with Buttigieg: When Mayor Pete gained ground, Sanders fell. With Buttigieg’s support dropping back down, Sanders’s has gone back up.

Also notable is the fall of Beto. He benefits from being well-known, but not well-liked as a presidential candidate. There have been calls for him to drop out and run for the other Texas Senate seat, held by John Cornyn, who has a campaign war chest of $7.5 million. But, there is already an announced Democratic candidate, MJ Hegar, who lost a close race for a seat in Congress in 2018. So look for Beto to keep running. Also, four million people in Texas voted for Beto in 2018, while just 11,000 elected Mayor Pete last time, so Beto has shown the ability to raise money and win votes.

While polling isn’t voting, these numbers suggest that some winnowing of the field would help focus primary voters on the future of the Party, and on the election. Overall, Quinnipiac shows that 18 candidates are polling at 3% or less (and many of them not registering even 1%), so they face an uphill task to achieve relevancy.

Should the DNC raise the threshold for admission into the debates from 1% to 2%, the debate field would shrink to only eight. Is it too soon to call for 10-14 Democrats to drop out of the running?

Turning to Trump, Quinnipiac says he has a huge problem with women. While 60% will definitely not vote for him, just 28% would definitely vote for him. Among white women (a group he won in 2016), he has a 20-point gap between those who will definitely not consider him and those who definitely will vote for him (55/35%). The GOP’s ongoing war on Roe v. Wade is truly bad for a candidate that faces the wall of female opposition Trump is facing.

Let’s close with a quote from Quinnipiac in 2015: (emphasis by Wrongo)

“Leading the pack with 10 percent each are former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush, Ben Carson, former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee, U.S. Sen. Marco Rubio of Florida and Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker…Trump tops the “no way” list as 21 percent of Republican voters say they would definitely not support him. Bush is next with 17 percent, with Christie at 15 percent. “

This proves once again that polling isn’t voting. Democrats must choose wisely, or the GOP could be back in 2024, likely with someone at least as bad as Trump, but who is much more sophisticated, say Tom Cotton.

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Afghanistan: Too Corrupt To Save?

The Daily Escape:

London street art by Bambi  – 2017 photo by Wrongo. Since then, she has done another version, where the bag says: “I love Meghan”.

On October 7, 2001 The US military with British support, began a bombing campaign against the Taliban in Afghanistan. That mission was called Operation Enduring Freedom. So, what has endured in the 18 years since we started bombing the Taliban? Mostly corruption. The Economist has a damning report: (emphasis by Wrongo)

“Last year was the deadliest on record for civilians, according to the United Nations. America’s air force dropped more bombs in 2018 than at any other point in the war. Despite that support, the government is slowly losing ground. It now controls barely half the country’s territory, albeit two-thirds of its people.”

US forces have shifted their strategy to trying to inflict maximum casualties on the Taliban, who now control more territory than at any time since its ouster from power in 2001. This is the same as the “body count” strategy that we tried in Vietnam. But the Taliban are winning, despite America’s best efforts. We’ve backed a corrupt government that the Afghan people do not trust. The Economist illustrates that point:

“A group of middle-aged drivers explain the difference between the Taliban and the government. Both groups take money from drivers on the road, says Muhammad Akram…both are violent. But when the Taliban stop him at a checkpoint, they write him a receipt. Waving a fistful of green papers, he explains how they ensure he won’t be charged twice: after he pays one group of Talibs, his receipt gets him through subsequent stops. Government soldiers, in contrast, rob him over and over.”

We started down a path of nation-building in Afghanistan 18 years ago, but the government in Kabul doesn’t provide basic services. It has a huge security apparatus, and a big bureaucracy, but where it matters, the State, in the words of the US DOJ, is “largely lawless, weak and dysfunctional”.

No place in the country is completely safe. At boozy parties in Kabul, rich Afghans share gallows humor about the impending arrival of the jihadists at their gates.

The Taliban are no prize. Their brutal attacks make them deeply unpopular, especially in Afghan cities. But The Economist says that in rural areas, they are seen as efficient and willing to challenge arbitrary government power. According to a UN study, Afghan land disputes account for 70% of violent crimes. In government-controlled areas, well-connected figures often grab land for themselves. The Taliban, in contrast, have judges who deal with such cases brutally, but with less corruption.

The Taliban expects poppy-farmers to pay taxes on their crop, but they also provide seed capital and other support. In many areas, they help to police water use, managing disputes and limiting the over-exploitation of groundwater. Over the past few years the size of the opium crop has grown remarkably—especially in Taliban-controlled areas.

Another Economist article shows that solar panels are transforming the landscape of southern Afghanistan. Farmers used to run their pumps with diesel generators, but fuel was very expensive. Now they can pump water all day using solar.

Only 12% of the country is suitable for growing permanent crops, but since 2018, 3,600 square kilometers in south-western Afghanistan were reclaimed for cultivation from the desert by using solar power to pump water to the fields. From the Economist:

“As many as 2.5 million people…now live in what used to be desert. The price of desert land has soared, from as little as $35 for a jereb (about 2,000 square meters) to over $1,000 now. That has made landowners rich, not to mention politicians and senior police officers.”

The reclaimed territory is mostly beyond government control: Many of the settlers are hostile to the State.

This has also brought a big cost for the environment. Drinking wells are increasingly contaminated with nitrates from fertilizers, which farmers have spread near the water pumps. Shallow wells have gone completely dry. If the groundwater is exhausted, millions of Afghans will have to move.

The US and the Taliban have been negotiating directly since October over a possible American withdrawal in exchange for a commitment from the Taliban not to harbor terrorists. The Afghan government has been excluded from these talks, and they are concerned that they may be forced into a coalition government with the Taliban.

The Trump administration wants out of Afghanistan, and may not care much about who in the current government survives. The latest round of talks concluded on May 9th, with what the Taliban described as “some progress”, but the pace is glacial, and may not lead to anything.

Wrongo has been saying for years that we need to leave Afghanistan. Why are we still there? Vietnam proved we could win all the battles, get higher body counts, and still lose the war.

Will we “win” in Afghanistan? No, it’s unwinnable. You can’t win when you’re on the side that’s even more hated and corrupt than our “enemy.”

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