The Wrongologist

Geopolitics, Power and Political Economy

Monday Wake Up Call – Cambridge Analytica Edition

The Daily Escape:

Massachusetts stream after March Nor’easter – 2018 photo by Karen Randall

The New York Times and The Observer each reported on Sunday about Cambridge Analytica’s use of Facebook (FB) personal information for about 50 million users. The data were acquired by an external researcher who claimed to be collecting it for academic purposes.

Those data were subsequently passed by the researcher to Cambridge Analytica (CA), who used it to help the Trump campaign develop very accurate psychographic profiles on each FB user. They also built a powerful software program to influence choices at the ballot box, targeting them with personalized political messages. CA then helped create websites and FB posts specifically designed to appeal to those users who followed the information, and then the most effective messages were used to either get them to vote, or to stay home.

The Observer said that the 50 million profiles represented about a quarter of potential US voters.

Cambridge Analytica was at the time, managed by Steve Bannon, and remains owned and financed by Robert Mercer. In June 2016, the Trump campaign hired Cambridge Analytica to take over its data operations. The WSJ reported on Friday that Robert Mueller has requested that Cambridge Analytica turn over internal documents as part of its investigation.

Some detail on the FB data: In 2015, a University of Cambridge researcher Aleksandr Kogan harvested data on millions of Americans by getting them to use his FB research app, “thisisyourdigitallife,” which offered a personality prediction, and was billed on FB as “a research app used by psychologists.”

Kogan then passed the data to Christopher Wylie of Eunoia Technologies, who used the personal information to create psychological and political profiles, and then target them with political ads designed to work with their particular psychological makeup.

We know about this because Wylie just came forward to the Observer, which broke the story. The Observer reports that Wylie: (edits and brackets by Wrongo)

Was the gay Canadian vegan who somehow ended up creating ‘Steve Bannon’s psychological warfare mindfuck tool’… [And they quote him saying] we ‘broke’ Facebook…

Cambridge Analytica also was used in the Brexit election campaign on the side of the “Leave” faction. And, The Hill reports that CA met with the Russian oil firm, Lukoil, three times in 2014 and 2015. Lukoil was apparently interested in how data could be used to target US voters.

When this story broke, Facebook banned Cambridge Analytica from advertising on its platform. But, The Guardian reports that Facebook had known about this misuse of its data for two years, doing nothing about it. Facebook acknowledges that the data were obtained legally, but that this use violates its policies

Until now, Wrongo has been agnostic about foreign meddling in the 2016 election. But finally, this may be where the Mueller investigation is heading: Collaboration by the Trump campaign (through Cambridge Analytica) and Russian operatives on the development and deployment of these robustly targeted digital advertisements. This becomes clearer since the Guardian reports that Kogan, the data gatherer, was also working for a St. Petersburg university while he was working for Cambridge and running his app. The Guardian also implies that he had funding from the Russian government.

This is at the center of everything. Russia, Facebook, Trump, Mercer, Bannon, Brexit. All of these threads run through Cambridge Analytica.

And we shouldn’t ignore FB’s culpability. They contracted with the app developer. They transferred large amounts of data to Kogan for specific purposes. FB had the opportunity and obligation to oversee and enforce that contract, and they seem to have failed to do so.

If this happened only in the US, we might not have even heard about it. Luckily for the American public, part of this arrangement appears to be subject to EU data protection rules, so more of the story will come out.

This shows why the US badly needs a data privacy and data protection regime similar to Europe’s.

It’s time to WAKE UP America! We have to get sharp! We need to dig deeper. To go beyond headlines, and develop a real understanding of the issues confronting our Republic.

Otherwise, we can be bullshitted or manipulated, and our democracy will be lost.

To help you wake up, here is English singer, Lily Allen doing her 2009 song “The Fear”:

Sample Lyrics:

I don’t know what’s right and what’s real anymore

And I don’t know how I’m meant to feel anymore

And when do you think it will all become clear?

‘Cause I’m being taken over by the fear

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


Saturday Soother – March 17, 2018

The Daily Escape:

Mt Kilimanjaro – March 2018 photo by Peter Madonia

The #enough movement is about school kids protesting school violence. America watched this week as thousands of high school kids left their classrooms. Some wanted their government to do more to end gun violence, some simply wanted to show solidarity with 17 dead Florida kids.

These children may not be able to vote yet, but they’re learning how to make themselves heard. Let’s hope they grow up and vote, because we are living in a country where many, including most Republicans in Congress, think that universal health care is tyranny, but dead school children are part of the cost of freedom.

They think that access to medical treatment is a privilege you earn based on what’s in your wallet. Meanwhile, they defend the right of virtually anyone over 18 to own an AR-15.

And in New Milford, here in Litchfield County CT, there was a big dust-up over the town’s walk out. A group of parents hired an attorney to tell the school district that they were not happy that the kids got to participate in the national student walkout. Their lawyer wrote to the school district, saying:

My clients have asked me to notify you that this event violates state law, on the basis that state and local public funds are being used improperly to advocate for a political issue and to influence how voters will vote. Because it violates state law, we demand that the New Milford Public School District’s Superintendent and Board of Education immediately cancel the event, and rescind any association or prior involvement in it.

Since the event is over, it’s doubtful that it can be canceled. They also emailed Breitbart: (editing and brackets by Wrongo)

…the parents – who wish to remain anonymous – argue [that] the decision involves issues concerning adherence to law and policy, the manipulation of minors, the misuse of tax dollars, and indoctrination and political activism during school hours.

These parents think their kids are being manipulated. They surely must realize how difficult it is to manipulate one teenager, much less to simultaneously manipulate hundreds of thousands of them all across America.

George Soros just isn’t that powerful.

The #enough movement is somewhat reminiscent of the Vietnam-era marches, which included high school and college kids spontaneously standing in public places protesting something that was a legitimate threat to their physical safety. The primary concern of students back then was being killed.

It is also the primary concern of these kids today.

Back in New Milford, solidly Trump country, a few anonymous parents obviously want to micromanage their kids’ experiences and to politicize them. Here is a Facebook page quote by a student at NM High School:

Any student who wanted to go to the gym did, and those who chose not to participate were not forced to. A few students gave speeches, one of which contained a list of the names of the victims of the Parkland shooting. With each name a bell was rung and a moment of silence was given. A memorial for the innocent lives that were lost. The other speeches focused on being positive and spreading kindness; one given from a student who used to live in Parkland and who was very personally affected by this tragedy. Students and teachers alike listened and felt for the losses. It was a powerful and beautiful movement for all who watched. There was NO mention of guns in any way.

These kids didn’t leave the building! But, despite knowing this, these anonymous parents hired a lawyer to intimidate the school district, and politicize the intentions of high school kids. The parents then involved Breitbart, a right wing rag. They wanted to highjack the message of these kids, turning it into yet another right wing, Second Amendment moment.

As Paul Simon said: “A man hears what he wants to hear, and disregards the rest”.

This really makes Wrongo feel like we all need a soothing experience. To help with that, Wrongo suggests brewing a cup of Al-Durrar Single Farmer Lot coffee from Yemen, ($45/4 oz.) imported and roasted by Port of Mokha coffee. Wrongo heard about this on the PBS News Hour. It is a very interesting story.

Now, take your cup, and settle into your most comfortable chair to listen to “Sicilian Blue” by Hiromi Uehara, a Japanese jazz composer and pianist. Her work is a perfect blend of emotion and control. Here, she is performing live at the Jazz in Marciac (France) Festival in August, 2010:

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


What Lessons Can Dems Take From Conor Lamb’s PA Victory?

The Daily Escape:

Lambs are carried by a donkey in a side-saddle carrier, moving to their summer feeding grounds, Lombardy Italy – 2018 photo by Elspeth Kinneir. Lamb riding on a donkey. A metaphor for how Conor Lamb was carried to victory in PA?

This week, at least, the Lamb carried the donkey in PA. The LA Times thinks that Conor Lamb’s victory is due to the failure of the GOP’s tax cuts to mean much on the ground in PA:

The most dangerous outcome for Republicans in Tuesday’s special House election was not the prospect of a Democrat taking over one of their seats. It was the shrugging off by voters of the party’s biggest legislative achievement: the tax cut measure that Republicans hoped would be their major campaign message as they head toward a turbulent midterm election.


Though the popularity of Trump’s tax plan has grown since it was passed last year, it stalled as an election issue in Pennsylvania, leading Republicans to shift away from it late in the campaign in search of another topic to energize supporters of state legislator Rick Saccone.

If Republicans can’t run on their $Trillion tax cut, they may be well and truly screwed. Some right wing outlets are saying that Lamb is really a Republican sheep in Democrat’s clothing, but that’s simply political spin. Let’s take a look at Lamb’s positions.

He took a few Republican positions:

  • Opposed to House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi becoming Speaker
  • Supported gun ownership
  • Supported Trump’s tariffs

He was a Democrat on others:

  • Opposed to the Trump tax cuts
  • Supported Obamacare
  • Supported labor unions

On abortion, Lamb was Obama-like: Personally opposed, but wants it to be safe and legal.

His positions resonated. Public Policy Polling’s exit polling indicated that health care was another top priority issue to voters in his district. And that voters believed Lamb’s views were more in step with theirs, saying Lamb better reflected their views by 7 points (45% to 38%) over Saccone. It didn’t hurt that voters in this heavily Republican district disapproved of the Republican efforts to repeal the Affordable Care Act by 14 points (53% to 39%).

Tax cuts were the Republican’s early message in the district, but Business Insider reports that ads mentioning the tax law by Saccone’s campaign dropped from nearly 70% of all messages in the first two weeks of February, to less than 1% by early March.

Is the Lamb strategy for victory a road map for Democrats? The NYT thinks so. They report that Lamb has given the Democrats a road map for Trump country.

Wrongo disagrees. Each congressional district has its own issues that will energize its voters. What works in one will not necessarily work in all. Perhaps Conor Lamb’s strategy would work in borderline red districts, or in purple areas. But what may be a winning argument in PA wouldn’t work on the ground in LA.

National Democrats wisely chose to keep a largely low profile in this election, except for visits by Joe Biden, who many consider a local. The GOP did not stay away. Trump, Pence, and Donald Jr. all visited the district. Towards the end of campaigning, the GOP even tried saying that Lamb was “not one of us”.

That failed, because Lamb is clearly a local. His family is well-known. He’s part of a local Democratic dynasty. And after college and then the Marines, he came back to become a federal prosecutor.

When we think about broad messages that will resonate everywhere, it should be that Trump ran as a populist, driving what Nancy Tourneau has called “the politics of resentment”.

But Trump has governed just like any conventional conservative Republican.

That may explain why Democrats who were willing to roll the dice with him in 2016 didn’t respond to messages about the GOP’s tax cuts in the PA-18 election.

Maybe, people feel they gave Trump a chance, and now, they’re saying that they didn’t like the results.


Saturday Soother – March 3, 2018

The Daily Escape:

Eagles Nest, Housatonic River, Litchfield County CT – 2018 photo by JH Cleary

To say that the Trump administration has become a dysfunctional mess is an understatement. Here’s one example: Yesterday, the Administration announced that it would impose 25% tariffs on imported steel and 10% on imported aluminum. Here is some detail behind Trump’s tariff announcement:

There were no prepared, approved remarks for the president to give at the planned meeting, there was no diplomatic strategy for how to alert foreign trade partners, there was no legislative strategy in place for informing Congress and no agreed upon communications plan beyond an email cobbled together by [Wilbur] Ross’s team at the Commerce Department late Wednesday that had not been approved by the White House.

No one at the State Department, the Treasury Department or the Defense Department had been told that a new policy was about to be announced or given an opportunity to weigh in in advance.

The Thursday morning meeting did not originally appear on the president’s public schedule.

The greatest danger to America is not Russia or China, it’s actually Donald Trump. When so much of your goods are imports, saying “1, 2, 3, 4, I declare a trade war” will not produce positive outcomes for the average American, who will simply pay more for their imported products. That will cause some inflation, and maybe, impact the bond markets, which hate higher inflation. It could also cause profit pressure for certain companies that rely on steel and aluminum as a basic raw material, companies like auto and airplane manufacturers.

OTOH, while elites will not like Trump’s move, free trade is not always good for Americans.

But, this guy doesn’t know what he’s doing when it comes to global trade. It isn’t a real estate deal. It involves multiple inputs and outputs across multiple industries and countries.

Not simple enough for a Stable Genius to understand.

On the road here in the south, Wrongo stopped at a McDonald’s to pick up a plain burger patty for a dog who was fussy on our trip. Wrongo asks for a plain patty, no sauce, no bun. The clerk says: “What’s a patty?

So, this weekend when the Atlantic Northeast and the Pacific Northwest are both experiencing highly unusual weather, Wrongo and Ms. Right and the dogs are in the Southeast, experiencing spring-like weather. It’s time to forget Trump and his wars, real and imagined, and think spring. Sit back and brew up a hot cup of Kicking Horse’s Smartass Coffee. The brewer says: “just a bright, chocolaty concoction for the smart-thinking, deep-drinking, good-at-their-game-in-the-morning crowd”.

Obviously, not a coffee for Trump.

Now, settle back and listen to “On Hearing the First Cuckoo in Spring” by Frederick Delius. He composed it in 1912. Here it is performed by Portugal’s Orquestra Clássica do Centro in 2013:

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


A Well-Regulated Militia

The Daily Escape:

Sunrise, Mt. St. Helens – 2018 drone photo by russeltrupiano

We live in a country with about five percent of the world’s population, but we possess nearly 50% of the world’s civilian-owned firearms. More guns, more civilian deaths, it’s that simple.

A primary reason that we have more guns is how the meaning of the term “Well Regulated Militia” was mis-appropriated by Second Amendment (SA) absolutists. The Propaganda Professor is writing a series on the SA. His work is always worth a read. Previously, he wrote about the Right to Bear Arms. His second column is about the Well Regulated Militia. The Professor asks:

The purpose of the Second Amendment was actually to guarantee a “well-regulated militia”. But what exactly does that mean? Just what is/was a militia, anyway?

SA absolutists say that “militia” means all citizens, because they think that’s what was meant when the SA was written. There are flaws in this claim. They quote George Mason, a Virginia delegate to the Constitutional Convention:

I ask, sir, what is the militia? It is the whole people, except for a few public officials.

Sadly for them, that wording isn’t included in the actual Amendment. And at the time, it’s unlikely that Mason meant all of the people. The Professor:

Consider that the Second Militia Act of 1792 (passed only a few months after the Second Amendment was written) designated the composition of the militia as being: every free able-bodied white male citizen of the respective States, resident therein, who is or shall be of age of eighteen years, and under the age of forty-five years…

So, if you are an original intent person, today’s “militia” would consist only of white males between 18 and 45. The Act says they should be outfitted with:

…a good musket or firelock, a sufficient bayonet and belt, two spare flints, and a knapsack, a pouch, with a box therein, to contain not less than twenty four cartridges, suited to the bore of his musket or firelock, each cartridge to contain a proper quantity of powder and ball…

The definition of militia has changed over the years. In 1862, a new Militia Act finally eliminated the race restriction; but it still pertained only to men of a certain age.

In 1903, the Dick Act established the National Guard as the official “organized militia” of the US. It said those who were not Guard members were to be called the “unorganized militia“.

The SA absolutists have twisted this, saying that “unorganized militia” means anyone who wants to carry a gun for any purpose. Thus, all civilians are a part of the “unorganized” militia and therefore covered by the SA. That is debatable, but the most important thing about the militia was not who qualified as a member, but its purpose for existing. The Professor points out that the Acts of 1792 make that clear:

That whenever the United States shall be invaded, or be in imminent danger of invasion from any foreign nation or Indian tribe, it shall be lawful for the President of the United States, to call forth such number of the militia of the state or states most convenient to the place of danger or scene of action, as he may judge necessary to repel such invasion…

The Acts of 1792 make it clear that the militia was designed to be an organized armed force supplied by the states to execute the laws of the nation. Nothing in the Militia Acts say citizens can be armed for “defending” themselves against the government.

The purpose of the militia is further defined by the term, “well-regulated”. The gun rights people say it derives from a 1698 treatise, “A Discourse of Government with Relation to Militias” by Andrew Fletcher, in which the term “well regulated” was equated with “disciplined”.

But “well-regulated” in the dictionary has other meanings, and they all apply to a military unit, such as a militia.

Since militia members in Revolutionary days were conscripted for service, it implies that the militia membership was a civic obligation. It isn’t a few guys running around in camo gear on Saturday.

Finally, the Professor points out that militia, like military, is derived from the Latin word for soldier.

The soldier is part of an organized body, and is well-regulated in virtually every possible sense of the term.

It’s not Joe Six-pack and his AR-15.


Saturday Soother – February 17, 2018

The Daily Escape:

Sigiriya, Sri Lanka – photo by jcourtial for dronestagram. Sigiriya is an ancient rock fortress. The site was the palace for King Kasyapa (477 – 495 BC). It is a UNESCO World Heritage Site.

We live in a seemingly endless loop of outrage. Nothing ever changes, because we waste energy on the “what-about?” arguments from both sides, each attempting to reframe the issue to their side’s advantage. These discussions yield nothing, and solutions are never agreed. This adds to a generalized feeling of powerlessness: The view that everything that is important is out of our hands, and insoluble.

So it is with school shootings, with protecting the DACA kids. And with whatever Russiagate is.

At least the Mueller investigation will run its course. We have to hope that the results will be made public. But if they are released, it will only lead to more debate and disagreement. Until then, we’ll continue to gleefully argue our respective Russiagate viewpoints in a fact-free vacuum.

We have experienced hysterical political times before, but they tended to be single issue events. Has there ever been a time when so many people in both political parties have been so single-mindedly determined to whip up anger?

When we’re looking at just a single issue, one side or the other often simply runs out of steam. Then the issue can be resolved both in Washington and in the mind of the public.

When we experience multiple issues simultaneously, the available energy is expended across the entire spectrum of problems. Thus, there isn’t enough energy to direct successfully at a single issue. So nothing is resolved.

This is where we are in February 2018, in a kind of nervous exhaustion: Too many issues and too few resolutions.

Can something, or someone unite us? Will a big event allow a majority to coalesce around a point of view, or a leader?

History shows that when we are in the grip of anxiety, it can be a relief if something we fear actually happens. Think about when Japan bombed Pearl Harbor. It was widely reported that the response of the public, including anti-war activists, was relief. There was a feeling that at last a course had been set, a key decision made. FDR united the disparate groups behind a war.

While the same situation doesn’t quite apply today, we crave some sort of decisions, perhaps some sort of decisive act. What would that be? It isn’t possible to see from where we are today.

As John Edwards said, there are two Americas. The one that sends their children to private schools, and the second one that sends their children to public schools. The second group has the kids who get shot by the gunmen. And politicians get away with platitudes about their thoughts and prayers.

Unfortunately, they then decide that fixing the problem is not worth their time.

We may have reached a breaking point. Shitty jobs, shitty pay, shitty hours, and little hope of advancement. No easy access to medical care, an uneven social safety net. Wrongo lived through the chaotic 1960’s. He endured Reagan’s show-no-mercy 1980’s. Those were bad times.

But, in a lot of ways, 2018 is worse. Today, there is an immense lack of mutual respect. And there is a ubiquitous atmosphere of a powerless people.

Wow, who said all that??

We desperately need a weekend where we can unplug from the media and focus on other things. In other words, we need a Saturday soother. Start by brewing up a big cuppa Stumptown Coffee’s Holler Mountain Blend, ($16/12oz.) The Stumptown people promise flavors of blackberry, citrus and toffee in a creamy, full body. Your mileage may vary.

Now, get in your favorite chair and listen to some, or all of the musical score from the film “Dunkirk”. Both the score and the film are Oscar-nominated. The film’s director Christopher Nolan suggested to the musical director Hans Zimmer, that they use Elgar’s “Nimrod” from the 1898-99 “Enigma Variations” as part of the theme. They decided that the movie’s music should be about time, and how for the men on the beaches, time was running out. They picked the “Enigma Variations” because it’s part of English culture, less a national anthem than an emotional anthem for the nation. Along the way, consistent with using time, they slowed it down to 6 beats per minute. Listen to their version from the movie:

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


Monday Wake Up Call – January 29, 2018

The Daily Escape:

Spricherstadt, Hamburg Germany. Spricherstadt is the warehouse district in Hamburg – 2018 photo by Brotherside

Events move so quickly in Trumpworld, there is little time to consider the full implications of them. By last Friday, few remembered that on Monday, the three-day government shutdown ended. It was just another crisis reconfirming that our political system doesn’t work. The crisis was solved by the Democrats caving on the DACA fix, for a promise that DACA would be considered again soon.

Trump then went to Davos. That could have been disastrous, but Trump toned it down by saying nearly nothing. That led the heads of the world’s largest corporations and banks to conclude that Trump isn’t so dangerous. Some actually liked him, because he didn’t berate the Davos crowds with faux populism.

Everyone seems to agree that was a good thing, and that it could have been worse.

Meanwhile back in the US, on Thursday, the NYT reported that Trump ordered the firing of Special Counsel Robert Mueller last July, only to be dissuaded by White House lawyer Don McGahn. Mueller is still on the job, so, Constitutional crisis avoided.

It’s a lot to process.

Steven Levitsky and Daniel Ziblatt, the authors of “How Democracies Die,” wrote about just how fragile our democracy is in the Sunday NYT. They say that two unwritten norms undergird our Republic that has endured various political and economic crises for two and a half centuries: (emphasis by Wrongo)

The first is mutual toleration, according to which politicians accept their opponents as legitimate. When mutual toleration exists, we recognize that our partisan rivals are loyal citizens who love our country just as we do.

The second norm is forbearance, or self-restraint in the exercise of power. Forbearance is the act of not exercising a legal right. In politics, it means not deploying one’s institutional prerogatives to the hilt, even if it’s legal to do so.

But now, Trump and other politicians push up to the edge of legality. They occasionally have stepped over the line delineating these “norms”. They have dared adversaries (or the courts) to force them back. When there is little pushback, a new norm appears.

This is America today.

In this environment, politicians willingly leverage their power to win at all costs, norms and principles be damned. Last week, Tony Perkins, leader of the evangelical Family Research Council, said in response to allegations that Trump had an affair with a porn star four months after the birth of his son Barron:

We kind of gave him — All right, you get a mulligan. You get a do-over here.

We are in an Orwellian moment. The President and party politicians stand before the nation and swear that up is down, black is white, truths are lies, and wrong is right.

Time to wake up America! We are on a precipice, staring down into the void. The country isn’t going to auto-correct, like your emails. And it can get much, much worse unless people understand the threats to our democracy, and move sharply to stop our downhill slide.

That means understanding the issues. It means voting in off-year elections, starting with your town council, and your state representatives and yes, your House and Senate candidates. It means working to get the word out to your neighbors. It means financial support for local candidates.

It means getting off the sidelines.

To help you wake up, here is The Record Company with their tune, “Off the Ground” from their 2016 album “Give It Back to You”. It reached #1 on the US Billboard Adult Alternative Songs chart:

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


Monday Wake Up – Martin Luther King, Jr

The Daily Escape:

Two mules draw a farm wagon bearing the casket of Rev. Martin Luther King, Jr. April 9, 1968.

From Katie Mitchell at Bustle:

This year marks the 50th anniversary of Martin Luther King Jr.’s assassination on April 4, 1968. But as a country, in the half-century since King’s death, we haven’t come as far as many involved in the Civil Rights Movement would have hoped. Martin Luther King Jr. Day 2018…comes in the midst of a turbulent social climate, where white nationalists can openly march on college campuses and the president of the United States calls Haiti, which has a majority Black population, a “sh*thole country”…

So true. But Wrongo wants us to focus today on the role of music in the 1960’s. Dr. King described how significant and liberating that music had been to activists in the Freedom Movement:

Much of the power of our Freedom Movement in the United States has come from the music. It has strengthened us with its sweet rhythms when courage began to fail. It has calmed us with its rich harmonies when spirits were down.

Wrongo was reminded of this by a NYT article describing a collaboration between Carnegie Hall and Robert Caro, the historian who has spent much of his lifetime chronicling president Lyndon Johnson. Together, they are hosting a 10-week festival about the 1960’s. Caro says this about the music of the time: (emphasis by Wrongo)

I’ve written about what to me, is the supreme moment showing the power of music to create social change, which was when Johnson took the title of the most important anthem in his 1965 televised address to Congress a week after the Selma march, when he called for passage of a voting rights act. “It’s not just Negroes,” he said, “but really it’s all of us, who must overcome the crippling legacy of bigotry and injustice. And we shall overcome.” The president of the United States takes the key line of the anthem, and uses it to help push the bill through. That’s the power of music.

Today’s wake up is for all of us who remember the political role that music had in the 1960s. It was a call to action, it was a healing salve on wounds, and it united many behind an idea.

And where is today’s protest music? It exists, and has tried to land a few blows, like music did in the ‘60s. But where politically charged music comes from, what it sounds like, who performs it, and how someone identities with it is radically different.

Unlike earlier eras of American popular resistance, there is no single centralized scene for protest songs. Today, protest music travels in a wide range of styles. And today, “protest music” seems like a redundant term; when all identities are politicized, all music feels political.  From Pitchfork:

Joey Bada$$ lamented the “Three K’s, two A’s in AmeriKKKa,” and Kendrick Lamar parsed the prejudice pulling at society’s ever-tenuous seams. The punk band Downtown Boys, led by Latinx frontwoman Victoria Ruiz, flung their stones against “A Wall.” The electrosoul twins Ibeyi remixed Michelle Obama’s wisdom into an elegy, and Hurray for the Riff Raff’s Alynda Segarra, a queer Puerto Rican singer-songwriter, refracted Trump’s hostility towards minorities into a bilingual cry for courage. Perfume Genius’ Mike Hadreas, who is gay, reveled in the euphoria of self-acceptance and teased the zealotry that would blithely stomp his civil rights.

Check out some, or none. Things are different in a different time.

Back to the 1960’s. Here are two selections from the first few days after Dr. King’s assassination. First, Otis Spann and his “Blues for Martin Luther King”. Spann, arguably the greatest blues pianist, and a feature in Muddy Waters’ band, performed this in a storefront church in Chicago, even as buildings were burning all around the church from the riots that erupted after the fatal shooting:

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

Second, listen to Nina Simone playing “Why? (The King of Love is Dead)”. The song was written by Simone’s bass player, Gene Taylor. Here it is performed live on April 7, 1968, three days after the death of MLK at Long Island NY’s Westbury Music Fair. At 12 minutes long, it is outstanding, and well worth your time:

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

Voting rights, Medicare and Medicaid are all under assault right now. They were passed in the 1960s. Every day, the GOP is trying to dismantle them.

Reflect on that on the 50th anniversary of Dr. King’s death.


Saturday Soother – January 13, 2018

The Daily Escape:

Wizard Island in winter. Crater Lake, OR – photo by Livid Narwhal

How do we avoid talking about him when he reveals himself so completely? We could split hairs, and discuss whether to call him a racist, or a white supremacist, but why bother? How is this any different from the way he’s always been?  We’re talking about a guy who wanted the Central Park Five executed, and took out full page ads in the New York papers to say so at the time. They were later found innocent.

Trump has become the GOP’s id. He uses an air horn while the rest of them know to use a dog whistle. He asks:

Why are we having all these people from shithole countries come here? Why do we need more Haitians?

Answer: For the same reason your grandfather and mother fled their countries. Americans weren’t clamoring for more Germans and Scots in their day, either.

It is possible that his comment was calculated. The far right wasn’t happy after Trump, during the bipartisan immigration photo op, showed off his stable genius skills, only to end up looking like he had no clue about the GOP’s immigration policy. GOP House Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy tried reeling him back in, but the stable genius was insisting that the GOP try to give the Dems what they wanted on immigration and DACA.

The RW reaction was immediate: Ann Coulter went on Lou Dobbs’ show and trashed Trump. Many others on the right were pissed off.

Immigration is a red line for all deplorables. So maybe calling the countries of black and brown people “shitholes” was just the ticket, to let his base know he still has their backs. And then saying white immigrants “from Norway” are cool, drove it home.

This kind of talk has been normalized. White business leaders and politicians, as recently as the 1970s talked like that, and no one gave it a second thought. Since then, racist talk became shameful. But Trump’s open bigotry carries no shame for him, or for others who engage in it. His base loves him, because now they can come out of the closet with their hate.

And it’s ok, if you accept the argument that PC talk is a worse sin than showing your naked prejudices to the world.

This is how he was raised, and how people talk in his circle of friends. He’s mouthed off like this his entire life with zero consequences. He’s not likely to suffer any consequences from this either. Remember, this is a man who doesn’t understand why we can’t actually use nuclear weapons.

We need to remember this every day until 11/06/2018. And every day after that until Trump can no longer hurt America.

Wrongo certainly requires soothing, and so do you. Maybe we’ll go and see “The Post” this weekend, to remember a time when newspapers had the courage to take on a president.

In the meantime, sit back and make yourself a vente cup of Ethiopian Fancy ($19/lb.) from San Francisco’s Henry’s House of Coffee. Now, put your feet up and listen to the “Sonata in G Minor for Violoncello and Continuo” by Henry Eccles. Eccles was an English violinist and composer in the Baroque era. He was a member of the Royal Band of Queen Anne. He moved to Paris, and entered the service of King Louis XIV. This recording has Simca Heled on violoncello and Edward Brewer on harpsichord, although it is often played with a double bass and piano, or violin and piano:

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


GOP Asks “Hillbilly Elegy” Author To Run For Senate

The Daily Escape:

Snow in the Sahara Desert, Algeria. The snow lasted only a few hours on the ground, since the average low winter temperature is 54°F – 2018 photo by Zinnedine Hashas

With the speculation about Oprah as a candidate, we knew it wouldn’t be long before the Republicans dredged up a celebrity non-politician too. Politico is reporting that Mitch McConnell wants JD Vance to run for the Senate in Ohio against Dem incumbent Sherrod Brown:

Top Senate Republicans have quietly reached out to J.D. Vance — the star author of “Hillbilly Elegy” — about running for Senate in Ohio after the abrupt withdrawal of GOP candidate Josh Mandel last week… McConnell has told associates that he would prioritize the race if Vance jumps in.

McConnell has a good idea. If Vance runs, he is interesting enough to force Democrats to defend an otherwise safe Senate seat. People seem to think Vance is a white working class whisperer.

Wrongo and Ms. Right were persuaded by many Eastern Liberal Elite friends to read Mr. Vance’s book. The pitch was that Vance explains to liberals why white Trump voters from southeastern Ohio and West Virginia wouldn’t vote for Hillary, and don’t lean progressive in their politics.

Maybe. Wrongo thinks that by writing his book, JD Vance was just pushing propaganda that fits the policy preferences of leading Republicans. Try reading this:

We spend our way into the poorhouse. We buy giant TVs and iPads. Our children wear nice clothes thanks to high-interest credit cards and payday loans. We purchase homes we don’t need, refinance them for more spending money, and declare bankruptcy. . . . Thrift is inimical to our being.

Or, this:

We choose not to work when we should be looking for jobs…

Vance’s stereotypes are shark bait for conservative policymakers. They feed the mythology that the undeserving poor make bad choices and are to blame for their own poverty, so why waste taxpayer money on programs to help lift people out of poverty? After all, Vance got out of hillbilly Ohio without them.

People shouldn’t decide policy based on Vance’s anecdotes; they should care about the bigger picture. After all, are conversations with cab drivers a sound basis for economic and geopolitical policy?

It is depressing that Vance places so much blame on welfare rather than, say, neoliberalism and corporatism. They are the ideologies that moved jobs offshore. Their firms leveraged, and later bankrupted manufacturing firms in the heartland. They are the ones who precipitated the economic holocaust in Middle America.

And despite what Vance tells us, most poor people work. Of the families on Medicaid, 78% include a household member who is working. People work hard in jobs that often don’t pay them enough to live on.

After graduation from Yale, JD Vance became a venture capitalist. First, he worked in Silicon Valley for Peter Thiel, and now works for Revolution LLC, a Washington, DC-based venture capital firm, co-founded by AOL founders Steve Case and Ted Leonsis.

It is fair to say that Vance’s hillbilly days are way back in the rear-view mirror. Yet, he remains naïve. He was on “Face The Nation” on December 31st, talking about the Trump tax cut:

When the president talks about tax reform, he talks about the people who will benefit…He talks about American jobs. He talks about the fact that we’re going to be taking money that’s overseas and bringing it back to the US so that it will employ American workers. I think that focus again on the American working and middle class is- is-is to me the most thoughtful and, in some ways, the most genius part of Trump’s approach to politics.

Vance just revealed himself to be another reptilian conservative. We should remember this quote from economist J. K. Galbraith:

The modern conservative is engaged in one of man’s oldest exercises in moral philosophy; that is, the search for a superior moral justification for selfishness.

The grift goes on.