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The Wrongologist

Geopolitics, Power and Political Economy

It’s Hard to Swallow Today’s Breaking News

The Daily Escape:

Autumn, Lake Mrzia Vodica, Croatia – photo by lascic

Lots of breaking news today, including Ruth Ginsburg breaking three ribs. Wrongo broke two ribs this summer, so he has some idea of how a geriatric person recovers from this kind of injury. Let’s hope she is able to get back on the job soon.

Robert Mueller is said to be preparing his final report, now that Sessions is out. It seems that the GOP is going to go all in on a cover-up.

Today though, we’ll focus on yet another mass shooting, this time in SoCal. Twelve people have been killed in a bar near Pepperdine University. Apparently, the killer committed suicide. We know that he was a former Marine (2008-2013) who served in Afghanistan for eight months, from November 2010 to June 2011. He was a machine gunner while in the Marines.  He lived with his mother. He legally owned the murder weapon.

Expect to hear more thoughts and prayers, and for good guys to carry guns when they go in a bar.

Oh, wait! One of victims in the bar actually WAS carrying a gun. He was a sheriff responding to the shooting, and was one of the 12 people killed.

For some perspective on mass shootings, Paul Campos at the LGM blog has an interesting chart showing mass shootings in the US by decade:

1950s: 0

1960s: 1 (University of Texas tower shooting)

1970s: 0

1980s: 6

1990s: 6

2000s: 7

2010s: 16

Campos says that 22 of these 36 mass shootings have taken place since 2007. Campos doesn’t include the killer(s) if they were killed or committed suicide during the incident. His source uses eight dead as the definition of a mass shooting.

When you look at the timeline of mass shootings and see just how many of them (50%) have occurred in this decade (which still has two years to go), shouldn’t we be asking what’s changed? We have been living in an increasingly safe era since the peak in violent crime, with the outlier being mass shootings. The overall homicide rate reached its peak in 1992 at 9.8/100,000 and firearm homicides are now down to about 3.5/100,000 nationally.

For a nation of 300 million people, that’s a difference of about 10,000 fewer people dying in gun murders per year compared to where we would be if the rate had held constant.

Some will blame the internet, social media and our increasingly alienated modern society for angry white guys committing more mass murders. The truth is we have no idea why this abomination is happening more frequently. One place where better data would help is knowing what percentage of the population now has access to rapid fire assault weapons with large capacity clips.

We do know that gun ownership is more prevalent than it was in the 1950’s through the 1970’s. We know that there are many people out there with guns. Per capita, the number of guns in the hands of civilians has roughly doubled since 1968, from one gun per every two persons, to one gun per person. Yet, the firearm murder rate is lower.

We haven’t gotten anywhere with gun control since the Clinton presidency. There are few issues in America that we won’t tackle if they continually cause deaths. We don’t allow drinking and driving, and we require that people wear seatbelts. We are trying to blunt the anti-vaxx’ers by now requiring kids to show proof of vaccination before they can attend public school. We’re willing to send the people who screwed up Flint, Michigan’s water system to jail.

But nothing works to restrict the availability and lethality of guns.

The new governor of Colorado, Jared Polis, has a different framing for the gun debate. He talks about limiting “gun violence” not about “common sense gun control”, which is the standard liberal meme when it comes to limiting the Second Amendment.

Maybe a focus on gun violence as opposed to gun control is a better way to create voter support for new restrictions on guns, the kind of restrictions that would help lower the number and lethality, of mass shootings.

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Sunday Cartoon Blogging – October 28, 2018

Having a vanifesto doesn’t mean Trump had anything to do with it:

From the cartoonist Clay Jones:

This guy was at the rallies with you. He was standing among you chanting “lock her up,” and “build the wall.” He believes all the conspiracy theories Trump sells. He thinks the media is “fake news” and the “enemy of the American people.” He believes Mueller is on a witch hunt. He believes Trump got something from North Korea and Putin. He believes we’re winning the tariff war. He believes there were millions of illegal voters in 2016. He believes there’s an impending invasion from a caravan of refugee women and children that’s a national “emergency.”

A toxic recipe:

Trump’s iPhones aren’t secure, but there’s no irony:

When you need it scarier, think Mexicans:

MAGA men think of themselves as “tough” when maybe they’re not:

Mitch’s plan to gut social security and Medicare depends on winning the midterms:

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Sending Troops to the Southern Border

The Daily Escape:

Fall at first light, Northern VT – 2018 photo by mattmacphersonphoto

The caravan, again. From the WaPo:

The Trump administration is expected to deploy additional US troops to assist in security operations at the southern border in response to a caravan of migrants traveling north on foot through Mexico, three US officials confirmed Thursday.

The Pentagon is sending 800 more troops, including some active-duty forces primarily from the Army. The new deployments would add to the estimated 2,100 National Guard troops already involved in border operations. Zandar says:

The party of separating refugee kids from their parents and keeping them in cages in detention camps seems to think that martial law on the southern border is going to be a political winner for them in a couple weeks.

But will really be a winner for the GOP? Although the GOP and Trump are continually trying to instill fear of undocumented immigrants, most of us haven’t been persuaded. In fact, according to a Chapman University Survey of American Fears, a larger share of the public is afraid of Trump (59%) than are afraid of illegal immigrants (41%):

Fear of illegal immigrants
59.3% are not afraid
19.3% are slightly afraid
12.2% are afraid
9.3% are very afraid

The Chapman study shows that the proportion of Americans expressing concern about immigrants is about one in 3. So, why are Republicans acting like we’re about to be invaded? Here’s one Congress critter who’s sounding the alarm:

Rep. Louie Gohmert (R-TX) suggested that President Donald Trump might have to declare martial law along the southern border of the United States to prevent a large group of Central American refugees and migrants from entering the country.

Gohmert was speaking on a Fox radio show. When asked what “martial law” would look like, the congressman responded that it would mean Federal troops at the border dealing with the mob invasion: (brackets by Wrongo)

This has got to be so massive, I mean, you might have to declare martial law along the border…And the Democrats have been too stupid to realize that [by] encouraging this caravan they may actually empower the president to do things they never wanted.

It got worse: (emphasis by Wrongo)

The military needs to have their weapons pointed towards Mexico and not toward the American people, but it may be that we have to have enough federal law enforcement, and maybe we have to have the National Guard if Jerry Brown is going to force the issue ― but I hope and pray he won’t be so stupid as to try to stop the US government from enforcing our border because then we’re talking treasonous-type acts.

Wow, we know that Gohmert isn’t the brightest bulb in the House, but, training guns on Jerry Brown? And what’s treasonous? It is perfectly legal for persons to request asylum at the border. That’s how it’s done.

Anyone else see a line between this, and bombs showing up at the homes and offices of some Democrats who criticize Donald Trump?

There may be decent reasons to add more military on the southern border, assuming that the volume of migrants asking for asylum is about to increase. The key is that there will be a surge of people seeking asylum if/when the caravan gets to the border, so additional resources will be useful.

The guardsmen already at the border are under orders from their respective state governors and remain under their governor’s control. Gen. Mattis issued a memo this year that prohibits them from interacting directly with “migrants or other persons detained,” and that directive is still in place, said a Pentagon spokesman.

Officials said Thursday that the additional forces will mostly include engineers to build new traffic barriers, aviation support, doctors and lawyers to provide legal representation.

That’s fine, but Trump, the GOP, and especially Rep. Gohmert, ought to read up on the 1878 Posse Comitatus Act which expressly prohibits the use of US military forces to perform the tasks of civilian law enforcement such as arrest, apprehension, interrogation, and detention inside the US, unless explicitly authorized by Congress.

Despite Trump’s tweets, there is no crisis at the border. And using the military as Gohmert suggests, violates the Act.

As the mid-term election fast approaches, we need to see that there are many in Congress who are willing to flaunt, or straight up violate laws in order to make a political point.

They have to be turned out of office next month.

This time, make the 2018 election have consequences for the other side.

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Why Did Elizabeth Warren Release Her DNA Info Now?

The Daily Escape:

Sunset at Oxbow Bend, Grand Tetons, WY – photo by Shaun Peterson

From the Washington Post:

Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-MA) had said she would not “sit quietly” as President Trump made claims about her ancestry that she called racist. On Monday morning, she released a DNA test that suggested she did have a distant Native American ancestor, and by the evening, she was using the ensuing dust-up to attack Trump.

Warren took Trump’s gambit. He delights in calling her “Pocahontas” because she has claimed Native American heritage. Not that she used it as a basis for getting a job, or for career advancement. Her family is from Oklahoma, and many in the Sooner State claim Indian heritage. About 8.7% of Oklahomans are Native American.

Part of her received history includes a story handed down about how white parents of a family member disapproved of a marriage to someone of Indian descent.

In July, Trump told supporters at a Montana rally that he would donate $1 million to charity if Elizabeth Warren would take a DNA test to prove her Native American heritage. And she took the DNA test. It showed some Native American heritage, so he owes her one million dollars.

Trump then said he never said anything like that. But all the news shows aired the clip of him saying just that. It led to a tweet-war between Trump and Warren. Depending on the party you identify with, you think either Warren or Trump won a battle in a political war that will continue until 2020.

This raises so many questions.

It’s important to understand that the immediate question isn’t whether or not Sen. Warren has Native American ancestry, or whether Trump really said he’d give a million dollars to her favorite charity and then reneged on what everyone can clearly see on video anywhere on the internet.

The question is have we gotten to the point where the future of the country and its leadership comes down to which one wins a spitting contest? Sen. Warren spits in a test tube to prove her point, and Trump spits in the eye of the American people, lying about what he said.

These aren’t normal times. American politics has always had the capacity to be a freak show, but questioning the racial heritage of a candidate shows we really haven’t gotten past the point where E Pluribus Unum isn’t what we mean.

Republicans are always asking “Are THEY one of US?

So, why did Sen. Warren announce this now, three weeks before the mid-terms?

Some Democrats argue that the timing of her announcement distracts from the messages of other Democratic candidates, particularly those in close races who really need media attention in order to compete. There’s a chance that media attention will now be sucked up by this Warren/Trump sideshow.

From Jim Messina, Obama’s 2012 campaign manager:

Argue the substance all you want, but why 22 days before a crucial election where we MUST win house and senate to save America, why did @SenWarren have to do her announcement now? Why can’t Dems ever stay focused???

Others think Warren’s decision to take on Trump so far ahead of a general election is unnecessary. It takes away from Trump and FEMA’s uneven response to Hurricane Michael, and Trump’s unintelligible response to Saudi Arabia’s denials of complicity in the Khashoggi mystery.

But Warren showing that she won’t back down from Trump was probably her number one reason for the announcement. We should interpret this as clear evidence that she plans to run for the presidency.

She got support from her family. The video Warren released includes footage of her three brothers, and other relatives who still live in her native Oklahoma. They are Republicans. They call the president’s belittling nickname “ridiculous” and “silly.”

Warren seems prepared to fight Trump’s full-tilt racist demagoguery. She hopes to blunt that part of his game, a job that may be more difficult for possible candidates Kamala Harris, or Cory Booker.

The real DNA issue isn’t Warren’s. Who belongs in America is deep in the GOP’s DNA.

They’re always asking who belongs. It didn’t start with GW Bush spreading rumors about John McCain’s adopted daughter. It didn’t end with Obama’s birth certificate, it continued to Trump happily deporting people who have Green Cards.

Now, Trump and the GOP will take on Sen. Warren by questioning her Oklahoma roots.

What we are seeing is the first, but not the last “pitooi” in the 2020 fight for the White House.

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Letter From Russia, Part III

The Daily Escape:

The Assumption Cathedral, Yaroslavl, RU. Originally built in 1210, it was  blown up by the Soviets in 1937 as part of their anti-religion policy. This new cathedral was constructed in 2010 on the same spot. In front is an eternal flame memorializing the soldiers and the workers of WWII.

Wrongo and Ms. Right spent the day in Yaroslavl, Russia. It’s a mid-sized town of about 600k residents, and an important port on the Volga River. The Volga is more than 2,000 miles long, tying the western Russian cities together. Yaroslavl is an ancient city, founded in 1010.

In Yaroslavl, we learned two interesting facts about Russian towns. Any town of size has a fortress that includes a church. In Russia, that space is called a “Kremlin”. Second, despite the collapse of the the Soviet Union, statues of the heroes of the revolution were not taken down. The idea is that young people should understand their history, both the good and the bad. Major streets have kept their revolutionary names as well.

Maybe there is a lesson in that for America.

In visiting both tiny towns and large cities, it quickly becomes evident that the peoples of Russia have suffered immensely over the centuries. They endured long periods of starvation, and their losses in blood and treasure at the hands of both their enemies and their rulers were truly extraordinary:

  • As many as 17 million died under Stalin in the Gulags. At their high point, there were thousands of Gulags across the Soviet Union.
  • In WWII, during the war with Germany, Russia lost 27 million people.
  • During the 400 years of serfdom, millions of serfs died during forced labor. They built the palaces, roads and waterways that remain in use today between Moscow and St. Petersburg.

If history teaches us just one thing about Russia, it is that its people know suffering. They have survived, and in Wrongo’s brief visit, appear to have thrived. Stores are full of product, markets are busy with the purchase of fresh vegetables, meats and fish. New cars are on the streets, theaters are open, and everything looks very clean.

How have a people who have endured so much suffering, succeeded in the modern world? How were they not irretrievably damaged by their multiple tragedies?

How are they so resilient?

Perhaps their legendary winters forge a determination to do whatever is necessary to survive a long, hard fight with limited resources. Perhaps Russia’s long history of invasion and occupation by hostile powers has played a role: Russians have been invaded by the Mongols, the Turks, the Poles, the Swedes, the Germans and the French. Their story is ultimately one of resilience despite tremendous loss of life, repeated destruction of infrastructure, and against long odds.

Another thing is that the people seem to have a profound and deep feeling for their homeland, Mother Russia. That seems to be true, regardless of who is in control in the Kremlin, or which Tsar was in charge at the time.

So they fought and died for the motherland, regardless of who was leading them.

Compare that with America’s resilience. How resilient are we, in the 21st Century? We have never faced invasion, but we have faced attack. On our homeland, we fought a seven-year revolution, and a bloody civil war. We’ve faced natural disasters.

After 9/11, we overreacted to the threat of Islamic extremists by weakening our First Amendment rights with the Patriot Act. We launched wars in Afghanistan and Iraq. But, we didn’t come together as a nation. In fact, 9/11 threw gasoline on the fire of America’s already factionalized politics.

When Japan attacked us at Pearl Harbor in 1941, we came together as a people. There were a few who said we shouldn’t go to war, but the vast majority of our people got behind a global war against fascism. We sent our fathers, brothers and husbands off to war. Women worked in the factories for the war effort. Some were on the front lines with the troops. We rationed butter and sugar.

Our people knew hardship, and pulled together in common cause.

The question is: Will today’s America still pull together in common cause? Do we have the strength of character, the grit, to fight for something larger than ourselves? Could we again sacrifice for what we believe to be the right thing?

Our response to the Great Recession of 2008 showed us that in an American financial crisis, it’s every person for themselves, unless that citizen happens to be a financial institution.

When you think about it, do you still love Lady Liberty enough to fight for her?

To send your kids to fight for her?

And, do you think that we love her as much as Russians seem to love Mother Russia?

 

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Weasel Words

The Daily Escape:

The Spricherstadt at dusk, Hamburg, Germany. It’s the largest warehouse district in the world. Its buildings still stand on timber-pile foundations – 2018 photo by brotherside

In honor of the Kavanaugh hearings, here’s a list of words, terms, and phrases which should trigger at least a healthy dose of skepticism whenever you hear them said in public.

Much like the answers we are getting from the current Supreme Court nominee, the following words are most often part of a polished, rehearsed patter used by politicians and lobbyists. Wrongo publishes this list as a public service:

Think outside the box” — this term is often used when there isn’t a solution to the problem at hand, except by spending more money, which politicians have no interest in doing. It shows that the speaker has given no thought to the issue. It is often used at TED talks by people trying to fake originality.

Bootstrapping” — implies that all human economic problems can be solved by sufficient individual effort.

Modernize”— often used to extract further funding for a beloved government project, or to encourage privatization, when no more money can be found. For example, “Our air fleet is very old, it must be modernized, so let’s invest in the F-35.” Or, “We’d like to build new prisons, but where would the money come from?” Answered by “I’ve got it, let’s privatize!

Innovation” — the Holy Grail buzzword for neoliberals: “We must innovate, or die”. The use of the term often discounts existing effective methods that work just fine. For instance, the internet-enabled thermostat, and the light bulb apps used in the internet of things. What makes them so great? And they haven’t gotten to the best part yet, where the company stops providing software updates to the light bulb/thermostat so that you have to buy the new one.

Reform”— what politicians say we must do, whenever they disagree with a current policy or law.

New ideas”— usually used by politicians to discredit a concept they dislike. For example, Nancy Pelosi will say that she “is open to looking at new ideas, such as single payer.” Sadly, single payer isn’t a new idea. It’s been implemented successfully by many other countries for decades.

Civility” — means the other side is mean, and we’re not. George W. Bush giving a candy to Michelle Obama at the “Can McCain rise from the dead?” party in the National Cathedral was a trivial example of civility.

Streamline” — means to weaken federal regulations that used to protect and benefit most Americans on behalf of major corporations.

Overhaul” — is streamline’s nasty brother.  Overhaul means that the politicians will definitely try to cut your benefits.  “Streamline” is used when they want to sugarcoat their plan.

Enabling growth” — is used when politicians want to give more taxpayer money to the “job creators”.

Free Market” — means we must boost productivity at all costs. We’ve got to get more growth, so its time you agreed to work for less.

Bring stability to…” — Iraq, Afghanistan, and Iran. We say this whenever we want to intervene to destabilize an existing government. You may ask: stability of what? And for whom?

Food insecurity” — is the sanitized way politicians say people are desperately hungry. Or possibly, malnourished, and/or suffering from diseases related to poor nutrition, or possibly just slowly starving to death.

Skin in the game” — means the government isn’t giving you all the money needed for the project. Don’t confuse it with “Kin in the game”, Trump’s heartfelt desire about White House staffing.

Disrupt” — let’s forget about doing things the way we’ve always done them. Let’s use the internet to deal directly with the end users, disintermediating existing companies and their workers.

Leverage” used as a verb — often substituted for the much simpler, more concise word “use” by people who think they sound smart in staff meetings.

Proactive”, “Perimeter”, and “Paradigmare simply used to sound important.

Hypothetical” — an idea or question that I don’t want to address. See below.

Kavanaugh’s weasel word of the day on Wednesday was hypothetical. Regarding whether Trump can pardon himself:

The question of self-pardons is something I’ve never analyzed… It’s a hypothetical question that I can’t begin to answer in this context. http://bit.ly/2MLPT3b

On subpoenaing the President, Sen. Feinstein asked:

Can a sitting president be required to respond to a subpoena?

Supreme Court nominee Kavanaugh:

That’s a hypothetical question…As a matter of the canons of judicial independence, I can’t give you an answer on that hypothetical question.”

Kavanaugh calls it a “hypothetical”. Nothing hypothetical about that at all. By not saying yes, Kavanaugh means the answer is “no”.

The Dems can’t stop Kavanaugh’s joining the Supreme Court. But they need to mobilize midterm voters around his nomination, and all that it represents.

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Monday Wake Up Call – McCain Edition

The Daily Escape:

Sedona AZ, view from Airport Mesa. Sedona is one of the most beautiful places in America – via Silver Spur Tours

Sen. John McCain died in Sedona, AZ on Saturday. He is remembered as a prisoner of war who suffered greatly, and then went on to a long career as a politician. Most media and politicians are paying tribute to him as a hero and a “giant of the Senate”.

Wrongo is of two minds about McCain: First, he lived a full life, he served his country for decades. As a prisoner of war, he suffered as no human being should ever have to suffer. In the end, we need to see that he was flawed, and made some terrible decisions that hurt the country he loved.

Yet, he deserves our sympathy for his losing fight with brain cancer. His family deserves our sympathy in their time of loss and grief.

Wrongo doesn’t want to kick his corpse, but here are a few things to reflect upon in his political life. From The Guardian:

Wednesday marks the 10th anniversary of McCain unveiling Sarah Palin, a say-anything, gun-toting political neophyte, as his running mate in the 2008….It was an act of political desperation that left Washington aghast. It delivered a short-term boost in the polls. But it also opened the Pandora’s Box of populism.

The Guardian quotes David Brooks about the Palin nomination:

I don’t think he could have known it at the time, but he took a disease that was running through the Republican Party – anti-intellectualism, disrespect for facts – and he put it right at the center of the party…

The Guardian reminds us that, a month later, in September 2008, McCain held a four-point lead over Barack Obama, and had a pretty good shot at winning the White House, which slipped from his grasp.

Today, McCain is respected more by Democrats than by Republicans. A Fox News poll shows that McCain has a 60% favorable (29% unfavorable) rating among Dems, and a 41% favorable (48% unfavorable) rating among Republicans.

This is largely due to one moment from the campaign, now seen everywhere, where McCain is seen admonishing a supporter who refers to Obama as an “Arab”. McCain shakes his head, takes the microphone and says: (brackets by Wrongo)

No ma’am. He’s a decent family man, [a] citizen that I just happen to have disagreements with on fundamental issues and that’s what this campaign is all about.

The crowd applauded. Yet, later at the same rally, a supporter says he is “scared” by the prospect of an Obama presidency. Again, McCain replies with integrity:

He is a decent person and a person that you do not have to be scared as president of the United States.

But, on this occasion, the crowd boos and jeers in what we now hear at any Trump event.

And on election night, while conceding to Obama, McCain said that he had called Obama to offer congratulations, the crowd booed, and McCain begs: “Please.”

Moments later, when he referred to Obama leading the country for the next four years, there were more boos and another entreaty of “Please, please”. More from The Guardian: (emphasis by Wrongo)

From the vantage point of 2018, it looks and sounds like a member of the old guard fighting to hold back the populist tide – a tide that would eventually overwhelm both his party and nation.

That tide was amplified by the selection of Palin as nominee for vice-president. Although viewed from Trumplandia, her gaffes now seem quaint.

Subsequently, we saw the Republican’s anti-Obama obstructionism, the rise of the Tea Party to political power, and the emergence of a growing and toxic mix of cultural and economic resentment. What seemed to be angry but marginal voices at those McCain campaign events, now occupy center stage in the Republican Party. The Guardian concludes with:

And yet, future historians seeking to understand the man and his time will surely revisit that when McCain forced a smile and introduced ‘the next vice-president of the United States, Governor Sarah Palin of the great state of Alaska’.

They will consider what it foretold, and ponder why a man of decency and honor opened the door to demagoguery in America.

McCain didn’t “open the door to demagoguery”, but he held it open for Republicans at a critical point in our politics.

For all his lapses of judgement, Wrongo will miss McCain’s occasional appeals to American values, American principles, and duty to the public good. McCain could, and did, speak to this better vision, even if he didn’t always vote for it.

Let’s remember him as a veteran, and as a senator who saw his party fall into the abyss, knowing that, given his position in the Party, he was more than a little bit responsible.

So Wake up America! There’s no need to make saints of sinners. McCain wasn’t a saint.

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Sunday Cartoon Blogging – August 12, 2018

Stop feeding the troll:

Alex Jones was banned for posting “fake news”. Clay Jones, (no relation) the cartoonist who drew the above, asks how conservatives can say that private businesses like Facebook or Apple shouldn’t be able to deny Alex Jones from stating his opinions. But, conservatives also argue that the NFL must stop football players from kneeling during the National Anthem. Is holding both positions acceptable?

Just a few parallels:

As bad as Nixon was, he doesn’t hold a candle to Trump’s self-serving deceit!

First the gates, then the fort. What else protects Trump?

How will the Trumpets square these ideas with the “final frontier”?

Trump tries explaining how the fires in CA were caused:

Trump’s secret sanctions plan will bring Iran to its knees:

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Saturday Soother – August 4, 2018

The Daily Escape:

Sunrise, Moraine Lake, Alberta Canada – 2018 photo by theoxernius. This is the third picture of Moraine Lake that Wrongo has published, including one of his own. This spot is about a 5-minute climb from the parking lot, so everyone who goes near the place takes a similar photo. The distinctive water color is from the sunlight reflecting off of dissolved particles of finely ground rock called “glacial flour”. It’s one of the most beautiful places in North America.

Will Mueller breach the castle’s walls? Certainly not just by winning the Manafort trial. Trump has supposedly given Jeff Sessions a “couple of weeks” to end the Mueller probe. If not, Trump will move to fire Ron Rosenstein. As Wrongo has said, Trump has everything in place now to fire Rosenstein from a technical aspect: When the previous number three official as Justice, Rachel Brand resigned, the Senate confirmed Brian Benczkowski, a buddy of Jeff Sessions. He can fire Rosenstein. That brings us to now.

Will Trump move on Rosenstein? The negative political fallout could bury Trump. Interesting times.

Then there was this from Jeff Sessions:

Let’s be frank. A dangerous movement undetected by many is challenging and eroding our great tradition of religious freedom….We’ve gotten to the point where courts have held that morality cannot be a basis for law, where ministers are fearful to affirm holy writ from the pulpit, and where one group can actively target religious groups by labeling them hate groups. This President and Department of Justice are determined to protect and advance our heritage of freedom of religion.

Good Morning America subsequently tweeted:

Attorney General Jeff Sessions announces “Religious Liberty Task Force.” Sessions says the task force will “help the Department fully implement our religious liberty guidance,” including “making sure our employees know their duties to accommodate people of faith.”

That led to a tweet storm, of which this was the very best:

Has there been an instance where Christians have been persecuted in this country? Except by other Christians who thought the persecuted ones weren’t the right sort of Christian? We can find plenty of instances where Christians have persecuted others, but neither the Gay Cake decision, nor Hobby Lobby were about religious persecution. How can Christians be persecuted, when roughly three of four Americans self-identify as Christian?

There is a tendency by some Christians to think that Americans need to accept the Christian version of religion. Those Christians ignore the separation of Church and State, despite the fact that the 1st Amendment’s Establishment Clause clearly outlines the concept:

Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof….

Sessions is trying to solve a problem that doesn’t exist. American Christians have the freedom to exercise their religion as they deem appropriate (within reasonable limits, which applies to all faiths). What the GOP and conservative Christians don’t have is the right to use the government to help establish their flavor of conservative Christianity as America’s official religion.

If Church and State become one, religious faith becomes a weapon, to punish or persecute those who believe differently. That’s not our America, unless you want your America to look like a Christian version of Saudi Arabia.

When the power of government puts its thumb on the scales, it surely will create religious tyranny.

Another week of big issues for us to try and thread our way through. It looks like a hot weekend across the country. Good luck to the firefighters in California, it seems that their work never ends. For the rest of us, we can take an hour or so and try to forget about the world’s troubles (and Trump’s) for a while. If you can do that, you will almost certainly be soothed.

Let’s get started by brewing up a large cup of Hawaiian Kona ‘Volcanic Estate’ Coffee ($59.95/ lb.) It comes from the Big Island. There, the volcano Mauna Loa creates excellent growing conditions for coffee trees. Volcanic Estate coffee is grown at between 800 and 2,500 feet. It has a light acidity that is complemented by slight chocolate and fruit undertones.

Now, settle back in your favorite air-conditioned spot, and listen to an exemplary classical guitar performance by John Feeley. He is performing Bach’s Cello Suite no. 1 in D. Obviously, it has been transcribed for guitar:

Feeley performs for nearly 20 minutes without a break, and without a score to follow. Those who read the Wrongologist in email can view the video here.

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Monday Wake Up Call – Cape Cod Edition

The Daily Escape:

Cape Cod morning – 1950 painting by Edward Hopper

(Today, Wrongo and Ms. Right are on our way to Cape Cod for a few days of bonfires, bicycling, surfcasting, and hanging with kids and grandkids. Blogging will be infrequent, but you can expect a Saturday Soother on, well, Saturday.)

This morning, Wrongo feels the need to bore you with a concept from historian Peter Turchin, taken from his book Ages of Discord, which provides some insight into where America is today. Turchin posits that historical eras are either integrative periods when people find reasons to cooperate, and join forces, or disintegrative periods, when reasons to split apart become dominant.

Turchin identifies three key factors that can create the disintegrative periods:

  • Competition and conflict among an expanding population of elites
  • Declining real wage for an expanding population of workers
  • State financial collapse (unpayable debt)

Does any of that sound familiar? Turchin’s theory is that history experiences cycles which, in non-industrialized economies, tend to last between 200-300 years. In America, the cycles from start to finish are much shorter, about 150 years, due to a faster pace of change.

His demonstrates his theory about a positive phase (the integrative phase) and a negative phase (the disintegrative phase) in the first of two American cycles, from 1780 to 1920. The positive phase lasted from about 1780 to about 1840, while the negative phase lasted from about 1840 to about 1920. Turchin contends that the second American cycle began in 1920, and is not yet complete. The positive phase lasted from 1920 to around 1970, and the negative stage has lasted from 1970 to the present.

He contends that the best parts of positive eras typically last only a generation or two, such as 1810 – 1840, and 1940 – 1970 in the US, before elite individuals and groups abandon consensus politics to pursue ever harsher exploitation and competition to enrich themselves.

A cycle begins with an undersupply of labor, such as happened after the American Revolution. This shortage of labor caused a rise in real wages and general economic progress. This positive phase peaked around 1820. It was a time that reflected a sense of national purpose and a desire for unity among Americans in the aftermath of the War of 1812.

But the division between the industrial North and the slaveholding, agrarian South continued, creating rivalry among the elites, along with political polarization, culminating in the Civil War. The negative phase of the cycle continued afterward, with massive strikes, many of them violent, in the late 19th Century. Meanwhile, income inequality peaked during the Gilded Age as elites profited from low worker’s wages and poor working conditions.

In modern America, we are largely governed by religious, geographic (local, state and federal), and economic institutions. And many compete with each other for resources, and the separation of powers among them is becoming hazy. Today, our “economic” government is the corporation.

If you think about it, our current political struggles are between geographic governments and both the religious and economic ones. Republicans, and many Democrats, support the efforts of both to increase their influence over the lives of the people, often through the geographic governments.

And this isn’t simply a minor change in who is doing the governing, they threaten our democracy.

We’re blowing up our institutions, but it’s not in reaction to any looming danger. It’s because we’ve been conned into thinking that September 11 was the same as Pearl Harbor. And the threat of immigrants today is the same as the threat of a Japanese invasion was in 1941. And that modern social policies threaten the religions of some people.

Time to wake up America! We cannot surrender to fear, to corporatism, or to forever war. We have entered a disintegrative phase, but there is time to pull out of it.

If you care.

To help you wake up, here is Pink Floyd with “Ordinary Men” from their classic album, “Dark Side of the Moon”:

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

 

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