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The Wrongologist

Geopolitics, Power and Political Economy

Monday Wake Up Call – May 20, 2019

The Daily Escape:

Steps leading to Franciscan Sanctuary, La Verna, Tuscany, Italy – photo by Guiseppe Pepperoni

Over the weekend, Wrongo and Ms. Right, along with a few friends, saw “Hadestown” on Broadway. It is a theatrical home run that has received 14 Tony nominations. Describing the plot is difficult. Most reviews focus on the mythology at the heart of the play. The story is a re-imagination of Orpheus and Eurydice set in contemporary time.

The mythological story is that Orpheus is the world’s greatest poet, and Eurydice is his bride. It is intertwined with the love story of King Hades and his wife Persephone. During the play, we take an epic journey to the underworld and back.

In the myth, Eurydice is killed by a snake bite, and the mourning Orpheus travels to the underworld to beg Hades to return his wife to life. To make his case, Orpheus sings a song so beautiful that Persephone begs Hades to let Eurydice go.

That is loosely followed in the play, where these mythic characters are pawns in a central metaphor of capitalism as death. That seems so current in today’s predatory capitalism, and yet, the play is not a polemic. In the play, Eurydice isn’t bitten by a snake. Instead, she’s lured into Hadestown by Hades’s promise of work and food.

Hadestown is a factory town, and Hades is both the god of death and a merciless taskmaster, forcing his subjects to build an endless wall around Hadestown. In his April 15thMonday Wake Up Call”, Wrongo used Hades’s call and response song, “Why We Build the Wall”. The song seems right for 2019 because of our Orange Overlord, but in reality it was written in 2010.

Wrongo posts a sample lyric for you:

Who do we call the enemy? The enemy is poverty, And the wall keeps out the enemy, And we build the wall to keep us free. That’s why we build the wall;

We build the wall to keep us free.

The Wall makes us free. Arbiet macht frei. The few Trumpets in the audience demonstratively did not applaud the song, while the vast majority cheered. Partisanship is an always-on emotion.

Some call-outs to cast members: Patrick Page and Amber Gray are standouts, he as Hades, and she as Persephone. The legendary André De Shields, plays Hermes. He’s the show’s narrator. His cool swagger pulls the audience into the play from the opening curtain.

See it if you can.

During our pre-theater meal, we talked about the Democratic presidential candidates, a list that seems destined to continue growing. Our friends at dinner follow politics quite closely, and none are fully happy with any of the Democrats on offer.

Most defaulted to “electability”, espousing the view that it is “Do-or-Die” time in America, that we can’t take four more years of what we are experiencing now. That leads them to accept Joe Biden’s candidacy. Wrongo has a different view, as captured in this Vanity Fair article: (emphasis by Wrongo)

“Since Vietnam, every time a Democrat has won the presidency, it’s because Democrats voted with their hearts in a primary and closed ranks around the candidate who inspired them, promising an obvious break from the past and an inspiring vision that blossomed in the general election. Jimmy Carter. Bill Clinton. Barack Obama. All were young outsiders who tethered their message to the culture of the time. When Democrats have picked nominees cautiously and strategically—falling in line—the results have been devastating, as Michael Dukakis, Al Gore, John Kerry and Hillary Clinton made plain.”

So, what will happen this time? Those who believe in Biden’s electability should remember that there are 45 million Americans with student loans: 22% of those loans are in default, and 99% of them fail to qualify for loan forgiveness.

It was Biden’s decision to make student loans not dischargeable in bankruptcy. That’s going to be one large group of people who, when they learn who is behind their plight, probably will vote against him.

Biden has been on the job in Washington for around 50 years. Suddenly, according to Bloomberg, he wants to “Fix Things”?

Wake up Democrats! Find a candidate who inspires YOU. Work for that candidate in the primaries. Don’t buy the argument “but he/she isn’t electable” until that is proven by the results of the primaries.

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Four More Years of Reality TV?

The Daily Escape:

Calf Creek Falls, Grand Staircase Escalante NP, UT – 2019 photo by Foobucket

The question is, how will we avoid four more years of Trump? The simple answer is electing a Democrat as president in 2020. And looking at 2020 presidential polling from 538, Biden is up big against the rest of the Democratic field, and in some polls, wins head-to-head vs. Trump.

The average of polls by 538 makes it pretty clear that Biden’s the frontrunner. They also have a good summary of the key state-by-state polling, which isn’t quite as good for Biden, but, it doesn’t show any other candidate as particularly strong. Biden is +21 on the Democrats in Iowa, Sanders is +6 over Biden in NH, and Biden is +36 in SC. In CA, Sanders is +1 over Harris, although a new, smaller Quinnipiac survey of 484 registered voters has Biden leading at +8.

None of this is reason to jump on the Biden Express. Frontrunners at this stage can win but many don’t, as we outlined here.

Wrongo thinks that Biden is a vulnerable frontrunner, but a path to victory for Biden is emerging: Since his announcement, he’s getting more cable media coverage than all the other Democratic candidates combined. The problem for most of the non-Biden candidates is that they are, like Biden, running to “restore” the Obama coalition. That group includes Cory Booker, Beto O’Rourke, Pete Buttigieg, Kirsten Gillibrand, Kamala Harris, and Amy Klobuchar.

The question for these candidates is how to differentiate themselves from Biden: all are younger, and all are less left-leaning than Sanders and Warren. But few have gained traction.

One small thing that people forget about Biden is that he introduced the Comprehensive Forfeiture Act that has enabled cops to steal more from Americans via Civil Asset Forfeiture than robbers can. Apparently, Biden continues to support it.

Here are Jamelle Bouie’s “electability” arguments for Biden:

“The case for Biden’s unique electability rests on his overall popularity as vice president to President Barack Obama and his particular appeal to the blue-collar whites who backed Trump in the 2016 election. Fifty-six percent of Americans said they had a favorable view of the former vice president in a February Gallup survey, including 80 percent of Democrats. A more recent poll, from CNN, shows Biden leading Trump in a hypothetical matchup, 51 percent to 45 percent. That same poll shows Biden losing blue-collar whites by just 13 percent, a better margin than his competitors’ and a huge improvement over Clinton’s 37-point deficit against Trump in 2016.”

Sounds good, but Jamelle Bouie also says:

“Biden, like Clinton, is extremely vulnerable to Trumpian forms of faux-populist attack. He is a 36-year veteran of Washington who backed the Iraq War, cultivated close ties with banks and credit card companies and played a leading role in shaping the punitive policies that helped produced mass incarceration…..Trump can slam him on these issues and sow division among Democratic voters. It’s how he won in 2016…”

Also, Anita Hill. Bouie also points out that like Biden, Hillary Clinton was widely admired by the public at the start of her campaign. In 2012, 65% of Americans said they had a favorable view of her. This, of course, did not last. By November, 2016, Clinton was the second-most unpopular nominee in history, next to Trump.

Biden’s front-running in the polls shows just how nervous moderate Democrats are. Their sole objective is to win the White House. The 2016 election should have been a wake-up for Democrats, but a lot of them really believe that everything back then was OK, except that Trump was elected.

Dems also think that once Trump’s gone, everything will be “restored” to the status quo ante. That’s a fantasy. Trump won because Republicans and quite a few Obama Democrats liked his policies and his rhetoric. Many of them will likely vote for him again in 2020. Besides, the GOP controls the Senate.

Biden isn’t Wrongo’s favorite candidate. That person will be the one most likely to expand the Democratic base by much more than the 80,000 votes in PA, WI, and MI that cost Hillary the 2016 election. That candidate will have long coattails that keep the House majority and can bring the Senate into play.

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Barr May Never Face the House Judiciary Committee

The Daily Escape:

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

(There will not be a Saturday or Sunday column this weekend, or next. Wrongo and Ms. Right are traveling to two different states, attending the college graduations of grandchildren Elise and Conor.)

After the contentious Senate Judiciary Committee hearing on Tuesday, AG Bill Barr has canceled his scheduled appearance before the House Judiciary Committee. There is plenty of speculation about what happens next.

House Judiciary Chairman Jerry Nadler (D-NY) had previously said that he would subpoena Barr if he refused to testify. If Barr ignores the subpoena, as the Trump administration has done regarding document production, Democrats on the committee have indicated that they will move to hold the AG in contempt of Congress. From the LA Times:

“A contempt finding is how Congress may respond when someone refuses to testify or provide information as part of a House or Senate investigation. The Supreme Court has repeatedly upheld that Congress has a right to compel people to comply with its oversight efforts.”

In the past, just the threat of being held in contempt (not to mention Congress’ power over funding the government) was usually enough to convince an administration to comply with a request, or at least negotiate a compromise.

No longer. The Trump administration has no intention of complying with subpoenas from Democrats.

If Barr was held in contempt of Congress, what happens next? Congress has a few options. The most common is that it can send a criminal contempt referral to a US attorney. If prosecuted and convicted, the punishment is up to a $10,000 fine and a year in jail.

The last administration official to be held in contempt of Congress was Anne Gorsuch, Neil Gorsuch’s mother, who was head of the EPA in the 1980s. The House issued a subpoena, Ms. Gorsuch said “no thanks”. Congress referred it to the DOJ for enforcement, and the US Attorney refused to carry it out.

So the finding of regular contempt is enforced by the DOJ, and the DOJ has the discretion to not prosecute the finding.

If they fail to do it, the House would fall back on their inherent contempt power. Yes, there is such a thing. The long dormant inherent contempt power permits Congress to rely on its own constitutional authority to detain and imprison someone who is held in contempt until the individual complies with congressional demands.

Problem is, the inherent contempt power hasn’t been used since 1935. The inherent contempt power is not specified in a statute or constitutional provision, but has been deemed implicit in the Constitution’s grant to Congress of all legislative powers.

The Sergeant At Arms is Congress’s proper arresting authority, however, there is no jail in the Capitol. There are holding cells at the Capitol Police Dept., but they are not appropriate for a long term detention. And even if the Sergeant At Arms did arrest Barr, it is likely that he would quickly be released.

Here’s what we’ve learned this week: Congressional enforcement of a subpoena has no teeth if it is used against a member of the Trump Administration. So, there will never be a consequence for Barr, or any other member of the Trump administration disobeying a subpoena.

Democrats need to think very clearly about their messaging in the face of their anger at William Barr. Saying that “Trump is terrible and we are powerless” is not a winning message.

Saying “vote for us and we’ll fix this when we win in 2020” is better, but doesn’t sound like a great message either.

The Mueller Investigation game has already been won by Republicans. Democrats can try to test the system. If it works, we still have a country.

But, if they try, and it doesn’t work, we’re back to saying: “Trump is terrible and we are powerless”.

Things are moving a lot faster than most Democrats realize. It isn’t clear that traditional politics (compromise, etc.) will survive. And it’s even less clear what is going to replace it.

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Financial Industry Buys Politicians

The Daily Escape:

Tulip time, Skagit Valley, WA – 2019 photo by Karen Randall

Yesterday, we talked about how the Democrats might ultimately need Wall Street money for the 2020 presidential election. Now, we learn from Americans for Financial Reform (AFR), a consumer interest group, that Wall Street spent at least $1.9 billion on political campaigns and lobbying during the 2018 mid-term elections:

“The figure, which includes contributions to campaign committees and leadership PACs ($922 million) and lobbying expenditures ($957 million), reflects a massive rush of pro-industry nominees and legislation over the last two years, at a time when the biggest banks made $100 billion in profits for the first time.”

That was the largest-ever amount for a non-presidential year, outstripping the total of $1.4 billion, in the 2013-14 election cycle, by 36%.

The 63-page report, “Wall Street Money in Washington”, uses a special data set compiled by the Center for Responsive Politics on behalf of AFR in order to provide a more precise look at financial services industry spending. The data excludes spending by health insurers, who work to influence a different group of issues than do US banks.

The data also doesn’t include “dark money” that goes mostly unreported, so the actual sums of Wall Street spending are likely to be much higher.

The report breaks its findings down by Campaign Contribution and Lobbying:

Campaign Contributions:  Individuals and entities in the financial sector reported making $921.8 million in contributions to federal candidates for office during the 2017-18 election cycle.

Of the $519.6 million in party-coded contributions by individuals and PACs associated with finance, 53% went to Republicans and 47% went to Democrats. About $402.2 million in additional cash flowed from financial sector contributors to candidates through outside groups.

Lobbying: The financial industry reported spending a total of $956.8 million on lobbying in calendar years 2017 and 2018. This spending only got the financial sector to third place. The “Health” sector was second, spending $1.12 billion, and “Miscellaneous Business” which comprises companies and trade associations, was first, spending $1. 02 billion. “Miscellaneous Business” includes the US Chamber of Commerce, which spent $189.4 million.

And which politicians got the money?

In the House, Republicans did very well, with Former Speaker Paul Ryan (R-WI) leading the way. Rep. Kevin McCarthy (R-CA), now the House minority leader, and Rep. Patrick McHenry (R-NC), now the ranking member on the House Financial Services Committee, both benefited from Wall Street largesse.

The freshman class in the House, including first-term Democrats, had substantially less reliance on money from Wall Street than those Democratic incumbents who won re-election. Another report that AFR co-authored on small-dollar contributions found that 17% of money contributed to the Democratic freshman came from small donors, compared to 9.4% for incumbent members.

In the Senate, the data underscores how money moved to members who supported the industry’s legislative goals. Overall, spending favored Republicans. But the industry gave significant amounts to Democratic Senators who helped get S. 2155 passed, which was a significant rollback of the Dodd-Frank regulations.

Wall Street gave heavily to the Democratic senators who supported the bill and were up for reelection in 2018, mostly from states that Trump won in 2016. One Dem who won in 2018, was Jon Tester (D-MT); others, including Joe Donnelly (D-IN), Heidi Heitkamp (D-ND) and Claire McCaskill (D-MO) did not win.

Sen. Kyrsten Sinema (D-AZ) won after she supported the legislation as a House member.

But, not all top Senate Democratic recipients of Wall Street money did the industry’s bidding. Sen. Sherrod Brown (D-OH) opposed S. 2155.  He was the only Democrat in Ohio to win statewide office in 2018.

Who spent the most? The top five donor companies and trade associations in the financial sector were:

  • National Association of Realtors — $144,716,676
  • Bloomberg LP — $96,481,469
  • American Bankers Association — $25,769,494
  • Paloma Partners — $25,575,800
  • Citadel LLC — $20,596,381

You can see a list of the top 20 donors here. It is easy to see that turning down Wall Street funding could put a big dent in the Democratic nominee’s spending plans for 2020.

It also seems clear from yesterday’s reporting that Wall Street Democrats might bolt to Trump if the 2020 nominee is Sanders or Warren. A decision to reject Wall Street funding could hand Trump a very large gift.

The money spent by the financial services industry won’t be any lower in 2020 than in 2018. We’ll just have to wait and see if the 2020 Democratic presidential nominee rejects their support.

OTOH, this money helps Wall Street rig the system in its favor, largely by buying the support of politicians who will help insulate them from accountability.

Does any Democrat have the guts to reform capitalism?

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Monday Wake Up Call – April 29, 2019

The Daily Escape: (In recognition of Poway, CA)

There’s no escape, we’re staying on the hamster wheel

And this:

All these killers used the same weapon, the AR-15 (or a knock-off of the AR-15). And just how many “lone wolf” killers will it take before America realizes they’re a pack? Do you have any hope that the Congress will rein in assault-type weapons?

Time to wake up, America. This weekend we saw two more acts of domestic terrorism against non-Christians. One by an Islamophobic Christian who mistakenly thought Sikhs are Muslim, and another by an anti-Semitic white supremacist who targeted Jews.

In the first case, a white man drove into a family of Sikhs in Sunnyvale, California, believing they were Muslims. He was allegedly on his way to a Bible study group, and was praising Jesus when authorities caught him.

In the second, another white man, gunned down several people in a synagogue in Poway CA, killing one and injuring three. He apparently wrote an anti-Semitic manifesto. The letter talks about planning for the attack. The letter writer also claims responsibility for an arson fire that blackened the walls of the Islamic Center in Escondido on March 24th, but no one was injured.

The Poway suspect also championed Robert Bowers, who killed 11 people and wounded six others in the Tree of Life synagogue shootings in Pittsburgh six months ago.

None of this is to downplay the ISIS killings of Christians in Sri Lanka. But today, we’re focusing on America, and two converging trends: The ubiquity of guns in America, and the growing and unbridled domestic racism that has returned to daylight.

We can blame Republicans for some of the escalating number of US white terrorist acts against non-Christians and non-whites. We all know that Trump has in many cases, encouraged hate to come out of the closet. This from David Atkins:

“White supremacist, anti-Semitic, Islamophobic and misogynist rhetoric runs rampant across the entirety of the conservative movement. The transformation of the Republican Party into a vehicle of violent white male grievance has rapidly accelerated its longtime trend under Trump.”

Atkins notes that the weekend attacks came one day after Trump congratulated the white player picked second in the NFL draft while ignoring the black player picked first. In 2016, Trump won both states that the two players played for, so it wasn’t politics. That’s who he is, and he doesn’t care who knows it.

We on the liberal side of the ledger continue to debate whether the “reachable” Trump voters are as racist as the rest of the MAGAs. Some Democratic pols wonder how many of them could be persuaded to vote for a Democrat in 2020. It’s unlikely that the “reachable” Trump voters are more than 4% of the electorate, but that could well swing what shapes up as a very close presidential election.

Can Democrats appeal to their base and to the persuadable Republicans by hammering on the moral repugnance of these white terrorists, while downplaying any program to weaken the Second Amendment?

At the same time, what will Republicans do? We can be sure that Trump will double down, but will the rest of the Party follow him? More, from Atkins:

“…violent acts of terrorism by their own base are much harder to sweep under the rug. Vague statements of general condemnation against violence won’t cut it as these despicable acts continue to increase, and as the Republican Party becomes increasingly associated with them.”

The thing is, the fires of hatred are not a tool you can use only to fire up your voters to do what you want. Once ignited, it’s not your kitchen stove, where you can turn the heat up, down, or off at your choosing. These are wildfires. You can ignite them, and use them to heat things up, but they can take on a life of their own, burning whatever they reach.

We’re told over and over that we have a civility crisis in this country. That the Democrats aren’t being polite enough to the right.

We do have a civility crisis in this country. We are far too civil to bigots. We are far too tolerant of those who would oppress, or kill others.

The right wing needs to pay a price for its toleration and cultivation of bigotry. It has no right to demand civility when it allows some of its base to treat people with contempt just for being who they are.

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Sunday Cartoon Blogging – April 28, 2019

In an interesting column in the Cook Political Report, Amy Walter notes: (emphasis by Wrongo)

“…one way to look at the 2020 Democratic primary contest was to think of it as a battle between those candidates who wanted a ‘revolution’ versus those who want to see more of a ‘restoration.’ The leaders of the ‘revolution’ wing, Sens. Bernie Sanders and Elizabeth Warren, aren’t running to simply replace President Trump, but to bring serious, structural change to the country. This week, the leader of the ‘restoration’ wing — Vice President Joe Biden— announced his candidacy. To Biden, it’s not the system that’s broken as much as it is the person in charge of the system who is broken.”

She goes on to quote Biden’s first campaign video:

“I believe history will look back on four years of this president and all he embraces as an aberrant moment in time,”

Biden says he’s only running because of Trump. The revolutionaries would be running even if another Republican was in the White House. Walter points out that makes Biden like many of the Democratic candidates who ran for Congress in the 2018 mid-terms. They weren’t politically seasoned like Biden, but they were similarly moved to run by Trump’s presidency. More from Walter: (emphasis by Wrongo)

“And, like Biden, most of those Democratic congressional candidates emphasized not a radical change but a check; a check on Trump’s presidency and his policies. But, most of those candidates were also running in suburban, swing districts where a message of moderation was a winning strategy. Biden is running to win in a much more diverse and ideologically fragmented primary contest.”

She says that most of the 20 candidates for the 2020 Democratic presidential nomination are closer to the ‘restoration’ wing than the ‘revolutionary’ wing of the Party. And she closes with:

“To me, the big question for these next few months is if Biden will take the fight directly to the revolutionaries in a way the other candidates have not…..Now, he has a chance to pivot to the offense. And, to reset the rules and terrain of the game that have, until this point, been set by Bernie Sanders. Let’s see if — and how — he does it.

Interesting viewpoint as we sail on toward the first Democratic primary debates on June 26-27. BTW, 16 candidates have qualified for inclusion, showing that the bar was set far too low. On to cartoons.

Biden’s also running against himself:

Mueller called Trump “Individual 1”. Here’s to 10-20 in 2020:

Warren’s policies cause concern among the 1%:

Dems face a quandary. Trump will be happy with whichever they choose:

Trump will stonewall responding to subpoenas all the way to 2020:

Trump also has a yuuge grey wall:

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Saturday Soother – April 27, 2019

The Daily Escape:

Hemingway’s desk, Finca Vigía, Cuba – 2014 photo by Wrongo. Hemingway lived here for 15 years, and wrote most of “For Whom the Bell Tolls” and “The Old Man and the Sea” here.

Spring has sprung in the Litchfield Hills. Bluebirds are again nesting in the bluebird houses on the fields of Wrong. We have flowers on our plum, pear and cherry trees. Hopefully, you are enjoying early spring as well.

There are 555 days left until the next presidential election. We don’t want to live through 2016 a second time, so Wrongo hopes that all of you will remember how energized you were during the 2018 mid-terms, and gear up again for 2020.

In retrospect, the Democratic Party handed Trump the gift of Russiagate. For two years, the Dems fought him primarily on the grounds of Russian influence on the 2016 election. However, the public was more concerned with health care and a square deal on jobs and wages. That Trump/Russia wasn’t the key issue was proven by the Dems winning the House in the 2018 mid-terms when they primarily ran on health care. The Party has now lost that fight, since the Mueller Report found nothing actionable against Trump.

While investigations loom in the House, Trump is completely stonewalling. His decision to simply defy all attempts by Congress to investigate either Russian interference, or his possible obstruction, makes it clear that Congress is being deprived of its lawful investigative powers.

His defiance will tip the scales in favor of initiating impeachment proceedings against him. He will play the victim, and make the contest with House Democrats a major 2020 campaign issue. Will that energize anyone who is not in his base? Time will tell.

Turnout will again be the key factor in 2020 as it was in 2016 and 2018. A key question for turnout is where are rank and file Democrats on the issues compared to the positions of the 20 Democratic nominees? Larry Sabato says:

“National polling from the past several years finds that Democrats are less ideological than Republicans, are less likely to express a desire for their party to move further away from the political center, and are more likely to value experience in a presidential nominee.”

Pew recently found that only 40% of Democrats wanted the party to move more to the left, while 53% said they wanted the party to move in a more moderate direction. Gallup’s ongoing measure of ideological self-identification among Democrats shows that while liberal self-identification is growing, the party is still split about evenly between those who identify as liberal versus those who identify as moderate or conservative.

In contrast, Pew found that 58% of Republicans wanted the GOP to move more to the right, while just 38% wanted the party to move in a more moderate direction. Gallup found that about three-quarters of Republicans identify as conservative while just a quarter identify as moderate or liberal.

Wrongo isn’t ready to accept the findings of Pew and Gallup, but most of the Democratic candidates are Obama-like: Joe Biden, Cory Booker, Beto O’Rourke, Pete Buttigieg, Kirsten Gillibrand, Kamala Harris, and Amy Klobuchar. Some of the (pardon the label) “no names” with no chance to win also fall into the centrist category.

There are only two real progressives, Sanders and Warren. Another question for the Party to answer through the primary process is whether the Dems can win without strong progressive positions.

Will the general election Democratic turnout be high enough to win with a centrist candidate? Or, will the Democrats just repeat 2016, winning the popular vote, while losing the Electoral College?

But enough navel-gazing, it’s time to gaze at the daffodils and dandelions in your yard.

It’s time for some Saturday Soothing. Start by brewing up a hot vente cup of Sumatra, Lintong – Medium Roast Single Origin coffee ($17/12 oz.) from Georgia’s Peach Coffee Roasters. The brewer says it is citrusy and floral, tart in structure with a juicy mouthfeel.

Now take your cup to your most comfortable chair, and contemplate springtime while listening to “Spring Morning” by Frederick Delius. This melodic portrait of nature is a companion piece to his “Idlle de Prinetemps” composed a year earlier in 1887. It is performed here by the Royal Scottish National Orchestra conducted by David Lloyd Jones:

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

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Taxes Aren’t Theft

The Daily Escape:

Humpback Whale, Tonga – Photo by Rita Kluge

Joseph Stieglitz has an op-ed in the NYT about saving capitalism from itself. He wants to re-brand capitalism as “progressive capitalism”: (emphasis by Wrongo)

“There is an alternative: progressive capitalism. Progressive capitalism is not an oxymoron; we can indeed channel the power of the market to serve society….The prescription follows from the diagnosis: It begins by recognizing the vital role that the state plays in making markets serve society. We need regulations that ensure strong competition without abusive exploitation, realigning the relationship between corporations and the workers they employ and the customers they are supposed to serve. We must be as resolute in combating market power as the corporate sector is in increasing it.”

America has been debating the role of capitalism in our society since our beginnings. In 1790, John Adams published the Discourses on Davila in which he said that entrenched economic inequality would create a political oligarchy in America similar to what had already occurred in Europe.

The problem isn’t inequality. We’ve survived a permanent underclass, but until recently, it has been a statistical minority. But, we won’t survive today’s continuing erosion of the middle class. Stieglitz says:

“We are now in a vicious cycle: Greater economic inequality is leading, in our money-driven political system, to more political inequality, with weaker rules and deregulation causing still more economic inequality.”

He calls for:

“…a new social contract between voters and elected officials, between workers and corporations, between rich and poor, and between those with jobs and those who are un- or underemployed.”

Call it progressive capitalism, capitalism plus, democratic capitalism, or whatever you want. At the core of any reform of capitalism is less corporate control over the levers of power, and a redistribution of wealth. Along with the growth in economic inequality and political impotence, so grows the myth propagated by the ultra-rich that higher taxes are a public theft of their hard earned fortunes, and are a threat to their personal freedoms.

Let’s spend a minute on the difference between positive and negative rights.

In the simplest terms, negative rights (most of the Constitution’s Bill of Rights) protect us from the government. They tell us what the government can’t do. The Constitution was designed as primarily a negative rights document, to maximize our individual liberty, and to protect us from the government interfering in our lives. They are most helpful to people whose rights are already protected.

Positive rights are different. They include things like the right to an education, and in some countries, the right to healthcare. Most of us define freedom as: freedom from hunger, freedom from ignorance, freedom from exploitation, freedom from poverty, freedom from hopelessness and despair. Very few positive rights are enumerated in the Constitution, with the exception of the right to have the government protect private property.

Today, if there’s one enduring myth that drives US politics, it is the myth that the rich have earned their reward, through nothing but their own hard work and savvy. The rich want no income redistribution, which they call “socialism”, just as the fat cats said in this cartoon from 1912:

The Republicans in the 1930s called FDR a socialist. Now, as we are thinking about a New Deal 2.0, today’s Republicans want to again brand all Democrats as socialists.

Corporations and the 1% ignore how much they are helped by a system designed by them, and for them. They are contemptuous of government and public authority, which they say act as agents of the poor, attempting to extort the rich.

They forget that our government facilitates and protects their wealth. If not for the many Federal agencies that write regulations favorable to industry, the Federal Reserve, protectors of the banking industry along with others, there would be a lot less wealth for corporations and the 1% to aggregate.

Therefore, they should pay the most.

And remember, rural electrification was a federal project under FDR. The dams on the Columbia River made irrigation possible, opening up western lands to agriculture. The Tennessee Valley Authority (TVA) was the Green New Deal of its time, and was the basis for development of a modern Southeastern US. The railroads that opened up the West relied on government property provided to private companies (redistribution?) to develop.

Let’s decide to reform capitalism. First, by making it responsive to the positive rights that average Americans are longing for. Second, paying for that with much high taxes on corporations. If the loopholes created by savvy corporate tax lawyers remain on the books, let’s create a stiff Alternative Minimum Tax (AMT) for corporations.

Just like the AMT that Wrongo has had to pay for lo, these many years.

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Sunday Cartoon Blogging – April 21, 2019

If you think that America still can act rationally about immigration, or even wants to act rationally, you are wrong. The NYT reports:

“A right-wing militia group operating in southern New Mexico has begun stopping groups of migrant families and detaining them at gunpoint before handing them over to Border Patrol agents, raising tension over the tactics of armed vigilantes along the border between the United States and Mexico.”

This group, one of many, calls itself the United Constitutional Patriots. They filmed several of their detentions including one of a group of 200 migrants who crossed the border near Sunland Park, NM, with the intention of seeking asylum.

Many different militias operate along the border. They say that their mission is to support the Border Patrol by attempting to curb the flow of undocumented migrants into the US.

The NYT and other media use the word “detain” to describe what these militias are doing. But they aren’t law enforcement. They don’t have any authorization to detain. They’re simply holding people hostage at gunpoint. Detained is NOT the right word to use here. It’s a euphemism that minimizes the unconstitutionality of their actions.

Americans should have no issue with legal immigration, which includes legally seeking asylum under current law. Immigrants may cross our border anywhere and ask for asylum. See 8 US Code 1158. Regardless of what the Trumpists think, this is US law. “If you don’t like the law, change it”, is something Republicans always say. To paraphrase the late Daniel Patrick Moynihan, you are free to express your own opinions, but you are not free to make up laws based on your opinions.

On to cartoons. Here’s a new administration separation policy that’s just coming into focus:

The dog who ate America’s homework:

What to do with the Mueller Report changes by Party:

Some answers aren’t obvious:

 

What’s happened in France and America will take years to fix:

We forget just how old some icons truly are:

 

 

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Saturday Soother – Muller Report Edition

The Daily Escape:

Maui, on the back road to Hana – 2013 photo by Wrongo

The hot takes on the Mueller Report are in, and just like before, there remain two camps. One is glad he got away with it, and the other is unhappy he can’t be fired. Virtually the entire GOP apparatus has been mobilized to defend Trump, and focus blame on the media, the deep state, and liberals.

But Trump is not portrayed as an angel, in fact, the report rips him apart. There are technical and legal reasons why a recommendation not to prosecute Trump was made by the Office of Special Counsel (OSC). Moreover, the OSC believes that Congress can (presumably should?) exercise its “authority to prohibit a President’s corrupt use of his authority in order to protect the integrity of the administration of justice.” They say that Congress “may apply the obstruction laws to the President’s corrupt exercise of the powers of the office,” and that doing so would “accord with our constitutional system of checks and balances and the principle that no person is above the law.” (From Volume 2, page 8 of the Mueller Report)

The OSC lays out the reasons why the DoJ isn’t the “right” authority for dealing with a criminal president. The OSC is also very clear that it does not have confidence “after a thorough investigation of the facts that the president [would be cleared of] obstruction of justice.”

Since the OSC has completed the most thorough investigation of that subject that we have, the clear implication is that while they believe Trump is guilty of committing corrupt and obstructive acts, they don’t reach that conclusion, because they are not charging him.

And this is why they make the case that an impeachment by Congress is the proper forum.

So, Mueller basically punts, and leaves it to the Congress. Trump has not been vindicated, or exonerated. He just wasn’t charged. In this country, a person is innocent until proven guilty. For sitting presidents, that can only be accomplished through impeachment.

The Democrat’s leadership has already said that impeachment is off the table. But Wrongo’s theory is that Nancy Smash will do investigations this term, and find out if there is any more bad news that can help defeat Trump in 2020.

If not, then impeachment could be pursued during his second term. Plan A and Plan B are both in place, and ready for execution.

Conduct the investigations by the various House Committees. Let’s see what is revealed, not only what else goes into the record, but what we learn by observing the behavior of the many Trump administration actors.

The Mueller investigation may have ruled out conspiracy with the Russians, something that Wrongo was unconvinced about. But it was a shot across the bow that should lead to closer examination of future campaigns. The redacted OSC report is bad enough for the President politically. How much more damage might be done if/when the Congressional committees reveal more?

What with the Mueller Report and the Notre Dame fire, western culture seems to be on the skids here in the spring of 2019. No time like right now for an unredacted Saturday Soother!

Start by brewing up a coffee that you probably haven’t had before, Café Granja La Esperanza Sudan Rume Natural ($37.50/8oz.) by PT’s Coffee in Topeka and Kansas City, KS. Wrongo is certain that long-time reader of the Wrongologist, Monty, can write a review for all of us.

Now settle into a comfy chair and listen to music played on the great organ at Notre Dame Cathedral. We now know that the organ was not damaged by fire or water during the conflagration, and was removed intact from the cathedral. Here is Organ Sonata No.1, Op.42 by Alexandre Guilmant, played by Olivier Latry. Latry was awarded the post of one of four titulaires des grands orgues of Notre-Dame when he was 23 years old. That means he has a key to get into the Cathedral and practice on the organ. Watch him play:

Latry was interviewed shortly after the fire happened. He was in Vienna, and said:

“I decided to fly to Paris for a few hours on Sunday. We just have to see the church, even if we are not allowed to go in, which is still forbidden at the moment. It feels like a nightmare we have not yet woken up from. Slowly, hour by hour, I understand the reality more and more. This is very hard.”

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

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