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The Wrongologist

Geopolitics, Power and Political Economy

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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Sunday Cartoon Blogging – March 17, 2019

New Zealand appears to be moving quickly to change its gun laws after Friday’s shooting by a White Terrorist at two mosques. From Vox:

“Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern unequivocally stated Friday that, “our gun laws will change,” after announcing that the suspected shooter, Australian Brenton Tarrant, had obtained the weapons used to kill 49 people legally. Ardern did not elaborate on specific legislative or regulatory proposals.”

Their laws are tougher than in the US. New Zealanders do not have a constitutional right to bear arms, and they must pass a firearms course and a background check before obtaining a license to buy a gun. Licenses must be renewed every 10 years, and police can revoke a person’s license. Of the 3.9 million New Zealanders of gun licensing age, 238,000, or 6% have a firearm license, yet it is estimated that there are 1.2 million guns in private hands. The person is licensed, not the gun, so there is no limit on guns the individual can own.

Shannon Watts, founder of Moms on Demand, wrote:

“Imagine: elected officials putting public safety over gun manufacturers’ profits. Americans deserve better than lawmakers who are letting gun lobbyists write our nation’s gun laws.”

It took just one mass killing and just one day to start the process of banning semi-automatic weapons in New Zealand. America’s politicians are shameful. On to cartoons:

From Ruby Jones, a New Zealand cartoonist:

To get ahead, you have to start early in America:

More evidence that tax cuts went to the top:

The admission scandal created many stories:

Dems move convention to the Mid-West to prove they’re regular folks:

Brexit may take off, but there could be dangerous consequences:

Our foreign enemies may be less dangerous than the domestic kind:

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Saturday Soother – March 16, 2019

The Daily Escape:

More California poppies – March, 2019 photo by West Coast Aerial Photography

The horror in New Zealand, Manafort’s sentencing, and both Houses of Congress voting to end Trump’s emergency declaration. The vote tally was 59-41, not enough to override a veto. Moments after Thursday’s vote, the president tweeted a single word: “VETO!”, and has now he’s done just that.

We head into the weekend with 13 Democrats declared as running for the Party’s nomination. Another, Joe Biden, may announce this weekend. The internet is full of comments about which of the 14 are most worthy, and plenty of hot takes on who can’t win vs. Trump.

Wrongo’s hot take is that the 2020 presidential election will be determined by a handful of states. Michigan, Ohio, Pennsylvania and Florida were all lost last time around. Any Democratic candidate can win the same states as Hillary won last time. We need to be asking ourselves is: “Who has the best chance to win in those four states?”

Your choice may be different from Wrongo’s, but this must be a prime consideration. We all know that the presidential election isn’t about who wins the most votes. It’s about who accumulates the necessary number of electoral votes, and that path leads through the four states above.

So the challenge for the Democratic Party nominee is: How are you going to convince people in the above states to vote for you?

In the meantime, pundits are talking about a brokered convention. They’re assuming that no single candidate will garner a majority of votes through the primary process. The Democratic National Committee (DNC) has set the system up so it’s difficult to win an outright majority if there is a large field of candidates, since there are no winner-take-all contests.

Instead, the delegates are awarded proportionately by congressional district and statewide vote. That means in a large field, the first place winner is unlikely to get close to 60% of a state’s delegates. To get any delegates at all, a candidate must receive at least 15% of a state’s votes.

It’s too complicated to go deeply into this, but there are lots of votes up for grabs in the early primaries. Brookings has this:

“Fifty-four percent of all pledged delegates will be chosen in the first five weeks of the primary season, mostly from four states — California, Texas, Ohio, and Michigan. An additional 10 percent of pledged delegates will be chosen one week later — nearly all from Florida and Illinois. One candidate with a big lead in name recognition or with a small band of intense supporters could wrap up the Democratic nomination based on the votes of a tiny share of voters and do so before primary voters have had much time to get acquainted with the candidates.”

This means that, assuming Kamala Harris will win California, and Beto O’Rourke will win Texas, catching them could be difficult. And if no one else breaks the 15% barrier in either state, it could be a pitched battle between just them all the way to the convention on July 13-16 2020 in Milwaukee.

Wrongo thinks Bernie will break 15% in a few states, and possibly be the spoiler for these two new faces of the Party.

Some think that if no one gets a majority before Milwaukee, that favors Biden, who will most likely, hold the majority of the DNC’s Super delegates, who can vote after the first ballot. OTOH, Biden has to prove he has the ability to get more than 15% in several states to merit their votes on the second ballot of the convention.

These primary contests used to reduce the field quickly, since it was very difficult to raise money from the big donors if you lost Iowa and New Hampshire. But, money is easier to raise via social media than it used to be. And social media can keep a candidate in the news even without huge TV expenditures.

There are now 485 days left until the Democrat’s convention, and a lot will happen between now and then. Buckle up!

Time for your Saturday Soother. In honor of St. Patrick’s Day tomorrow, we break from our usual format of coffee and classical music. Let’s start by getting into a comfy chair, and listen to the Hooligans (the Irish Hooligans, not the Bruno Mars band) perform the Bluegrass classic, “Whiskey for Breakfast”:

As we all know, breakfast is the most important drink of the day. Now pour a nice snifter of Irish whiskey. Wrongo has 8 different Irish whiskeys in the pantry, and recommends Bushmills 21 Single Malt (~$230/750 ml). Enjoy its notes of toffee, honey, spiced fruit and dark mocha.

Sample Lyric:

Lord preserve us and protect us,
We’ve been drinking whiskey ‘fore breakfast

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

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Trump Says Dems Are Socialists

The Daily Escape:

Sulfur Skyline Trail, Jasper NP Alberta, CN – August 2018 photo by MetalTele79

Trump wants to run against socialism in 2020, so he’s trying to paint the Democrats as socialists. At the Conservative Political Action Conference, Trump brought up “socialism” four separate times:

“Just this week, more than 100 Democrats in Congress signed up for a socialist takeover of American health care.”

“America will never be a socialist country — ever.”

“If these socialist progressives had their way, they would put our Constitution through the paper shredder in a heartbeat.”

“We believe in the American Dream, not in the socialist nightmare.”

Steve Benen notes that Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY), indicated that the Voting Rights Bill passed by the House as HR-1 was a “radical, half-baked socialist proposal”. Benen goes on to say:

“There’s nothing “socialist” about automatic voter registration. Or curtailing partisan gerrymandering. Or requiring officials to use “durable, voter-verified” paper ballots in federal elections.”

Or making Election Day a national holiday.

Perhaps the GOP is redefining socialism as: Any legislation or policy that would diminish the power of the far right, or diminish the wealth differential enjoyed by their business elites.

An NBC News/Wall Street Journal poll showed that just 18% of Americans had a positive view of socialism, 50% had a negative view, and 26% had a neutral view. Most of the skepticism about socialism comes from older American generations. People who are nearly Trump’s age grew up fearing nuclear war. They saw the Soviet Union as an existential threat to the US.

OTOH, Axios reports that 73% of Millennials and Gen Z think the government should provide universal health care. They will make up 37% of the electorate in 2020. And Gallup found that Americans aged 18 to 29 are as positive about socialism (51%) as they are about capitalism (45%).

Vilifying socialism might be a winner for the GOP, unless the Democrats hammer home a series of ideas. First, that Social Security and Medicare aren’t socialism or socialized medicine. Second, that we socialize corporate losses all the time. The taxpayers bailed out banks, capitalists and speculators 10 years ago. We also bailed out GM and Chrysler.

We bail out corporations that do not pay for “externalities”. Externalities are the indirect costs incurred because of actions taken by someone else. Think about pollution. When a manufacturer can make its decisions based on their bottom line, it makes sense for them to dump waste into our rivers or air, pushing the costs of cleanup onto society as a whole.

Today’s GOP is pushing quickly to gut regulations in order to protect the industries of their big donors from paying the cost of these externalities.

Third, reforming capitalism isn’t socialism.  Reform is necessary for the economic future of the country. The current neoliberal form of capitalism dominates both our economy and our thinking about economic success. And in the past 40 years, we’ve changed the rules of the game for corporations. We’ve moved the fifty yard line much closer to the capitalists’ goalpost than it was during FDR’s time.

And corporations and capitalists have been running up the score in the economic game ever since.

Neoliberal capitalism has made selfishness an economic and moral good. One result was that improving our economic security, or our social safety net, can no longer be discussed in our society.

The Green New Deal document directs the government to provide all Americans with:

(i) high-quality health care,
(ii) affordable, safe, and adequate housing,
(iii) economic security; and
(iv) access to clean water, clean air, healthy and affordable food, and nature.

These goals are within America’s capabilities, but they come with costs, costs that will not be willingly paid for by corporations, or by “public-private partnerships”. They will only come about with direct government intervention, primarily by implementing policies that encourage them, and by a new tax policy that finances them.

Nothing in the above requires state ownership of corporations, so we don’t have to talk about socialism.

Our market economy should remain, but capitalism needs to be different, because its current track cannot be sustained if we want to contain and correct income inequality, or deal with climate change. Today’s capitalism is creating concentrations in most industries, driving out the little firms. Price gouging is an issue, particularly with big Pharma.

Everyone should agree that companies above a certain size must pay for the externalities they create. That they should also pay a larger share of their profits as taxes. And that they should pay a fee for domestic jobs lost to overseas locations.

2020 should be about those who want to reform capitalism, and how to do it. It shouldn’t be about Trump’s trying to paint Democrats as Soviet-era socialists.

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Saturday Soother – March 9, 2019

The Daily Escape:

Railroad bridge over Housatonic River in snow – 2019 photo by Quadco Joe

We start driving back from sunny, warm FL this am. While you are having coffee and listening to music, we’ll be once again driving by a few Civil War battlefields. But today, let’s talk about Paul Manafort. On Thursday, Trump’s former campaign manager and a one-time lobbyist for unsavory people, was sentenced to 47 months on tax evasion, when the sentencing guidelines called for something like twenty years.

Manafort was sentenced to four years, just like the rest of us. But his seems lenient, while ours seems harsh.

Manafort’s judge was T. S. Ellis III, of the Eastern District in Virginia, who isn’t a model of judicial consistency. Few remember Rep. William J. Jefferson (D- LA), who was convicted of corruption. He was sentenced in 2009 to 13 years by Judge Ellis, who said that he hoped Jefferson’s punishment would serve as a “beacon” to warn other public officials not to succumb to corruption.

Ellis gave Jefferson the longest corruption sentence ever for a member of Congress. It was five years longer than a different judge gave former Rep. Randy “Duke” Cunningham, (R-CA), after he plead guilty to more egregious charges, of steering defense contracts in return for bribes.

After the Supreme Court’s 2016 decision in McDonnell v. United States, which narrowed the definition of public corruption, Mr. Jefferson appealed his conviction. Judge Ellis threw out 7 of the 10 charges against him, accepted Jefferson’s plea on the three remaining counts, and sentenced him to time served. In total, Jefferson served five and a half years.

Think about it: Ellis made an example of Jefferson, while sending the opposite message with Manafort’s sentence, and ignoring sentencing guidelines. Ellis said: “He’s [Manafort] lived an otherwise blameless life.” Franklin Foer in The Atlantic debunked that:

“In an otherwise blameless life, Paul Manafort lobbied on behalf of the tobacco industry and wangled millions in tax breaks for corporations.

In an otherwise blameless life, he helped the Philippine President Ferdinand Marcos bolster his image in Washington after he assassinated his primary political opponent.

In an otherwise blameless life, he worked to keep arms flowing to the Angolan generalissimo Jonas Savimbi, a monstrous leader bankrolled by the apartheid government in South Africa. While Manafort helped portray his client as an anti-communist “freedom fighter,” Savimbi’s army planted millions of landmines in peasant fields, resulting in 15,000 amputees.

In an otherwise blameless life, Manafort was kicked out of the lobbying firm he co-founded, accused of inflating his expenses and cutting his partners out of deals.

In an otherwise blameless life, he spent a decade as the chief political adviser to a clique of former gangsters in Ukraine. This clique hoped to capture control of the state, so that it could enrich itself with government contracts and privatization agreements. This was a group closely allied with the Kremlin, and Manafort masterminded its rise to power—thereby enabling Ukraine’s slide into Vladimir Putin’s orbit.”

There’s more, but you get the drift. People will argue that Manafort wasn’t charged with ruining the world, he was charged with tax evasion. And that using one crime to punish others the subject was not charged with is not a good practice.

True, but had Judge Ellis heard about Al Capone?

And giving less than one quarter of the recommended punishment says that Ellis, a Reagan appointee, saw the Republican in Manafort, while he saw the Democrat in Jefferson.

Time to leave the world behind and line up for your Saturday Soother. Let’s start by sampling the AK-47 Espresso Blend from Black Rifle Coffee, a veteran-owned coffee company who calls their products “freedom fuel”. Wrongo saw their billboard while driving through North Carolina, and doesn’t want to hear any comments from wussy liberals about how the South is different.

Now, settle into your most comfortable chair and listen to Pablo Villegas, playing “Recuerdos de la Alhambra” (Memories of the Alhambra) by Spanish composer Francisco Tárrega, live at Philadelphia’s Kimmel Center in 2013:

The piece showcases the challenging guitar technique known as tremolo.

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

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Will The GOP Ever Disavow Trump?

The Daily Escape:

Grand Prismatic Spring, Yellowstone NP – 2018 photo by dontyakno

Wrongo hasn’t written much about the Trump/Russia investigation. Most of those pieces have shown skepticism about Russian interference in our election process. There is, however, clear evidence that the Trump campaign reached out to the Russians more than 100 times. While that’s unusual, it isn’t on its face, criminal, although the Trump campaign failed to alert the FBI about those contacts.

There are investigations underway by Mueller, the Southern District of NY, and several House committees. Trump has castigated each, calling them a witch hunt and fake news. Nearly all Republicans have sided with him about these multiple investigations.

It isn’t unusual that the GOP is indifferent to the range of possible Trump wrongdoing. On Tuesday, the WaPo’s Greg Sargent helpfully cataloged the things that Republicans in Congress think should not be investigated about Trump by the Democrats in Congress:

  • Materials relating to any foreign government payments to Trump’s businesses, which might constitute violations of the Constitution’s emoluments clause.
  • Materials that might shed light on Trump’s negotiations about a real estate project in Moscow, which Trump concealed from the voters even after the GOP primaries were in progress. Michael Cohen is going to prison for lying to Congress about the deal.
  • Parenthetically, and not part of Greg Sergeant’s list, Marcy Wheeler thinks that the most important crime in the Trump era is a probable quid quo pro in which the Russians (and Trump) seemed willing to trade a new Moscow Trump Tower for sanctions relief should Trump win the presidency.
  • Materials that might show whether Trump’s lawyers had a hand in writing former Trump lawyer Michael Cohen’s testimony to Congress that falsified the timeline of those negotiations.
  • Materials that might illuminate/prove Trump’s suspected efforts to obstruct the FBI/Mueller investigation.
  • Materials that would shed more light on the criminal hush-money schemes that Cohen carried out, allegedly at Trump’s direction, and on Trump’s reimbursement of those payments. These most likely violate campaign finance laws.

Sargent’s list is based on the House Judiciary Committee document requests, so is limited to people who’ve already been asked for documents. But, it doesn’t capture many other items such as the role of Cambridge Analytica, or Paul Manafort’s sharing of presidential polling data with the Russians.

On Thursday, Axios tried to put the Trump investigations and the political scandals in perspective. Their view is that much of what we’ve seen over the past two years have few precedents in presidential history. They cite Watergate, Teapot Dome and the Clinton impeachment, all defining moments of presidential wrong doing.

But, they close by saying that Trump may survive all of it, and that Republican voters seem basically unmoved by the mounting evidence.

Why is it so difficult for people of both parties to coalesce around either his guilt, or innocence?  How is it that we just forget about the breathtaking corruption of Trump Cabinet Secretaries Scott Pruitt, or Ryan Zinke?

Many of the Federal judges on the Russian investigation who have ruled against Trump’s associates. The judges say the Trumpies were selling out the interests of the US. That has consequences for Americans, including the constituents of the Republican members of Congress who want us to stop investigating.

It’s depressingly clear that 2020 will be another close presidential election. The Republican Party is willing to condone bad behavior and criminality when the perpetrator is one of their own.

How can America rectify this problem? Even if a Democrat wins the presidency, it is unlikely the Dems will win a majority in the Senate. So, the GOP will again use the same obstructionist game plan we saw during the Obama administration.

NPR had a short piece, “Why Partisanship Changes How People React To Noncontroversial Statements”. It reported on a study where people were given anodyne statements like “I grew up knowing that the only way we can make change is if people work together”.

It turned out that most people agreed with the statement, until they are told that it was said by someone in the other political party. Then they disagreed. If people can only agree with a meaningless statement when they think it was said by their political party, what hope do we have to find agreement when the stakes are high, like in the Mueller investigation?

Given the Republicans’ disinterest for seeking the truth behind the Trump scandals, the outlook for our democracy is grim.

We need to be clear-eyed about how much work, and how long it will take, to right the ship.

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Demographics is Making Us Less Democratic

The Daily Escape:

Sunset at Malin Head, Donegal, Ireland – 2019 photo by jip

There was an article by Phillip Bump in the WaPo (paywalled) “In about 20 years, half the population will live in eight states.  By 2040, 49.5% of our population will be living in the eight most populous states — California, Texas, New York, Florida, Illinois, Pennsylvania, Ohio and Michigan. All are growing significantly faster than the collective population of the remaining 42 states.

Sounds like just an interesting demographic fact until you consider the implications for the US Senate. Matt Yglesias tweets:

When Yglesias says “four” instead of “two” he means the margin in percentage points of the 2020 national vote for president going to the Democrat. His point is that even with a weakened presidential candidate like Trump, it will be a long uphill climb for Democrats to control a majority in the Senate.

Last fall at the Kavanaugh hearings, many pointed out that Senators representing only 45% of voters were able to appoint him to the Supreme Court. Some said it was the first time that a president elected by a minority nominated a Supreme Court Justice who was appointed by a minority in the Senate to decide certain legal questions against the will of the majority of Americans.

And while California has about 68 times the number of people in Wyoming, their votes can cancel each other out in the Senate.

This demographic imbalance is the result of 1787’s “Connecticut Compromise”, which created our two houses of government. This was designed to balance federal power between large and small state populations. Today, equal representation in the Senate is a permanent feature of our system.

After each decennial census, the map of US House districts are redrawn and seats are shifted to states that have gained the most population. That means, leaving aside the gerrymandering issue, each state’s representation in the US House will roughly reflect its share of our total population.

This isn’t the case in the Senate, where the representation of all states is fixed at two Senators apiece. And that can’t be changed, because it’s based on a Constitutional provision (Article V) which establishes that an amendment requires a two-thirds vote of both Houses of Congress and ratification by three-fourths of the states. It also says: “No State, without its Consent, shall be deprived of its equal Suffrage in the Senate.” It’s hard to imagine a situation where a small state would agree to give up one of its two Senators to another, larger state.

That was the essence of the Connecticut Compromise. The framers agreed to make the guarantee of equal power in the Senate beyond even the reach of the amendment process. It was a means of protecting the rights of the minority as “minorities” in 1787 were small states, while today, minority has an entirely different meaning.

Changing demographics has implications for the Electoral College as well. Each state’s votes are the sum of their House and Senate representatives with the total number of Electoral votes fixed at 538. If population growth moves representatives from rural states to the big eight in population, their share of votes in the Electoral College become larger as well.

There is a state-based movement to make the Electoral College represent the will of the majority of America’s voters. NPR reports that so far, 11 states have passed legislation that requires their Electoral College electors to vote for whoever wins the national vote total. To be effective, the move would require approval by states representing 270 electoral votes, the same number it takes to win the presidency. So far, they are 98 votes short of that goal.

Colorado appears poised to join as the 12th state. The state legislature passed the bill, and the governor is expected to sign it. New Mexico is considering it. This would be one way of restoring the idea that every vote in the country counts equally.

Wrongo’s pie-in-the-sky dream is that every American voter gets a third vote for a Senator in any other state. Then we could vote for, or against a Senator we wanted to see stay or go. Wrongo’s dream began when Strom Thurmond represented South Carolina, but imagine, being able to vote Lindsey Graham out of office today.

That would be a real masterpiece of one-person, one-vote in America.

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Monday Wake Up Call – February 25, 2019

The Daily Escape:

Hooded Merganser with fish, Housatonic River, CT – February, 2019 photo by JH Clery

Disenchantment with the government has become an important part of America’s current mindset. A recent Gallup survey that found that 35% of Americans surveyed named the government as the “top problem” facing the US:

“Gallup has asked Americans what they felt was the most important problem facing the country since 1939 and has regularly compiled mentions of the government since 1964. Prior to 2001, the highest percentage mentioning government was 26% during the Watergate scandal. Thus, the current measure is the highest in at least 55 years.”

(Gallup’s poll was a telephone survey of 1,016 adults in all 50 US states and the District of Columbia. The survey has a margin of error of ± 4%. It was conducted between Feb 1st – 10th, 2019)

This is more significant because this time, Gallup’s question was open-ended, unlike the usual form of the question that Gallup has been asking for decades. In the previous version, Gallup asks “which of the following will be the biggest threat to the country in the future—big business, big labor, or big government?

What’s driving the current historic discontent with government isn’t that government does too much, but that government does too little. Gallup speculates that the increase reflects public frustration with the government shutdown that occurred from late December through most of January. They observed a similar double-digit spike after the 2013 government shutdown, when it climbed from 16% in September 2013, to 33% in October 2013.

Gallup reports that 11% of respondents cited “Donald Trump” as the most important problem, while 5% name “the Democrats” or “liberals” and just 1% named “Congress.” Since January 2017, about the time Trump took office, the government has been the top problem each month, except in Gallup’s November poll, and in July 2018. In both of those months, immigration edged out the government at the top of the list. After the government, the most important problems according to Gallup’s latest poll were immigration, at 19%, and health care, at 6%.

Gallup began asking about the “most important problem” on a monthly basis in 2001; since then, only a few times and a few issues have matched or exceeded the 35% currently mentioning the government:

  • After the 9/11 attacks, mentions of “terrorism” topped the list as the most important problem, peaking at 46% in October 2001.
  • Mentions of the situation in Iraq escalated in early 2007 after G.W. Bush’s announcement of the “surge”. “Iraq” was cited as the biggest problem by 38% in February of that year.
  • In November, 2008, the percentage of Americans naming “the economy” reached 58%.
  • In 2011, as Obama was laying out an ambitious job creation plan, 39% saw unemployment as our major problem.

This time, by frequency of mention, government is our biggest problem among a list of 47 national problems, not terrorism, or the economy or unemployment. Those were individual crises that our government responded to. Now, we’re saying that government itself is dysfunctional.

And Gallup revealed:

“While Democrats were more likely than Republicans to name government and leadership as the top problem facing the nation in the year leading up to the latest poll, both party groups are now about as likely to name government as the top US problem.”

As we might expect, Republicans disproportionately mention Democrats or liberals as the problem, while Democrats (as well as independents) disproportionately mention Trump.

Gallup concludes that while Democrats and Republicans are currently aligned in their negative view, it is for different reasons. For Democrats, the shutdown was caused by a stalemate over a border wall they overwhelmingly rejected, promoted by a president they dislike. Gallup speculates that for Republicans, it is the ramifications of losing control of the House of Representatives and their party’s inability to pass more legislation while it was in power.

This bears watching as the presidential primary season takes form. The poll may offer some fodder for one or more candidates to harness the frustrations of voters who are saying that they are fed up with the gridlock and hyper-partisanship in Washington that has only grown with time.

There’s a window here, the question is who can seize the opportunity. Already, some right-wing pundits are linking the growing disapproval of government by Republicans with the Democrats’ embrace of Medicare for All and other “socialist” programs.

It’s time to wake up, America! People are starting to understand that dysfunctional government isn’t in their interest. The time is right for a messenger who can harness the frustration and move the country back to a functioning democracy.

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Sunday Cartoon Blogging – February 24, 2019

Wrongo doesn’t know about you, but he’s not ready to make a cull of the top presidential candidates from the current herd of Democrats running for the job. And most of us are barely watching the 20+ politicians closely at all.

But inside the White House, Trump is watching Democrats’ announcement rallies, and televised town halls, listening carefully to commentary on the Democratic presidential race. Apparently, he wants to play an active role in choosing his Democratic opponent, and has instructed his aides to look for ways he can sow divisions among the Democratic rivals. He’s hoping to cause chaos from the right. Perhaps he’s learned from the Russian model.

Media Matters for America says that the right is also focused on the so-called “illegal coup” that Mueller, the FBI, and Democrats are attempting to pull off via the Mueller investigation. They reported a disturbing episode of Fox News host Laura Ingraham’s “The Laura Ingraham Show Podcast” Thursday, when guest Joe diGenova said:

“We are in a civil war in this country….There’s two standards of justice, one for Democrats one for Republicans. The press is all Democrat, all liberal, all progressive…they hate Republicans, they hate Trump. So the suggestion that there’s ever going to be civil discourse in this country for the foreseeable future in this country is over. It’s not going to be. It’s going to be total war. And as I say to my friends, I do two things — I vote and I buy guns.”

After the arrest of Christopher Paul Hasson, the white nationalist Coast Guard lieutenant with the stockpile of guns and ammo, and a list of Democrats to assassinate, it’s easy to see how casual talk about our political divisions can slip into thoughts of open warfare. This isn’t a “both sides do it”, problem. Only one side speaks openly about war, and they seem to really want one.

On to cartoons. We’re hearing that Mueller may have something for us:

Some think that there’s nothing to see:

Bernie’s back, but there seems to be less enthusiasm:

Dems are at the eye test stage, and it’s confusing:

The GOP hates Dem agenda, and suggests a really bad idea:

Remember the GOP’s socialist plots from the old days? Their old ideas never die:

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The Power of Messaging

The Daily Escape:

Buttermere Lake, Cumbria, England – photo by Matt Owen-Hughes

On Monday in El Paso TX, Trump attacked Democrats, calling them:

“The party of socialism, late-term abortion, open borders and crime…To pave the way for socialism, Democrats are calling for massive tax hikes and the complete elimination of private health care…They’re coming for your money and they’re coming for your freedom.”

Trump’s focus on “socialism” is based on the few liberal Democratic presidential candidates who have called for Medicare-for-all, or environmental proposals intended to lower carbon emissions.

He brought up the “Green New Deal”, saying it would virtually eliminate air travel and that it sounds “like a high school term paper that got a low mark.”

This is just the latest stage in the war waged by the right against the ideals and programs of the New Deal. Kim Phillips Fein, reviewing the new bookWinter War: Hoover, Roosevelt, and the First Clash Over the New Deal” by Eric Rauchway, writes: (brackets by Wrongo)

Throughout the [1932] campaign, Hoover had attacked what he considered a “social philosophy very different from the traditional philosophies of the American people,” warning that these “so-called new deals” would “destroy the very foundations” of American society. As Hoover later put it, the promise of a “New Deal” was both socialistic and fascistic; it would lead the country on a “march to Moscow.”

2020 will be all about messaging. Once again, just like 88 years ago, Republicans will run on socialism. Trump will add the threats posed by open borders and abortion to the right-wing stew.

The question is what will be the 20+ Democrats who are running for president be talking about? Michael Tomasky in The Daily Beast suggests: (emphasis by Wrongo)

I am saying, though, that Democrats should stop pretending they can unite the country. They can’t. No one can. What they can do, what they must do, is assemble a coalition of working- and middle-class voters of all races around a set of economic principles that will say clearly to those voters that things are going to be very different when they’re in the White House…

There is a power to fashioning a new political coalition around the concept of economic justice. We live in a time when politicians of both parties have followed a consistent strategy: massage the economic numbers and the media, keep the rich and powerful happy, and make sure you stay on the “fiscally conservative” side of the line.

Now, a few Democrats are pushing the party elders to re-consider economic justice as FDR did in the1930s. These Democrats intuit that most Americans are trying to reconcile the life they were told they would have with today’s reality. The gulf between what they were told, and what actually happened is wide. And it looks as if it will only get wider.

Many Americans feel that they can’t pay their bills anymore, and they are afraid. Their jobs aren’t stable, they can’t look forward to retirement. About 20% say they have more credit card debt than savings. The lives they thought they’d live are upside down, and they’re not sure they can do anything about it. Quite a few followed their preachers and a few charlatan Republicans, and can’t understand why things are so scary and bad for them.

America is divided, but maybe not in the way you are thinking. It’s the left behinds and millennials who are worried about their future. And it’s both of them against the politicians, corporations and the oligarchs. As David Crosby sang:

“There’s something happening here, what it is ain’t exactly clear”

In 2020, we’ll be fighting for not just the soul of our country, but the meaning of American life: Should the one with the most toys win?

What is more important, universal health care, or outlawing abortion? Better roads and bridges, or keeping out immigrants? A better environment, or lower taxes?

Ocasio-Sanchez’s Green New Deal (GND) can easily be dismissed, but what really is the difference between how the Green New Deal might be financed, and how the Federal Reserve spent nearly $4 Trillion on its Quantitative Easing (QE) schemes?

The big difference is who profits. QE was welfare for the banks. For the GND, society at large would benefit.

You will get to decide, and plenty of people are already fighting for your attention.

Some are worth listening to. What will you choose to do?

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