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The Wrongologist

Geopolitics, Power and Political Economy

Grading Wrongo’s 2018 Predictions

The Daily Escape:

Military parade in Kremlin – October, 2018 photo by Wrongo

Wrongo dusted off his 2018 predictions and took a look at how he did. In the 23 categories, Wrongo had 16 substantially correct, and 7 incorrect for a 69.5% average. That would have been a “D” at his university. Of course, some grades could have been weighted more heavily than others, but we’re not grading on a curve here at Wrong U.

What follows are the 2018 prediction, followed by the 2018 result:

The US economy as measured by GDP will grow at greater than 2% for 2018.

  • Wrongo wins! The economy grew at an average rate of 3.65% in the four quarters through Sept. 30, 2018.

The US stock market as measured by the S&P 500 Index will end 2018 with little or no growth over year-end 2017.

  • Wrongo loses. Heading into Friday’s trading session, the Dow was down 6.4% in 2018, and the S&P 500 was off 6.9% for the year.

The Trump tax cuts will increase the deficit, and despite Paul Ryan’s best (or worst) efforts to push the country into austerity, that can will be kicked down the road for a few more years.

  • Wrongo wins! The Trump tax cuts increased the deficit to $1 trillion on an annual basis. Paul Ryan leaves office without destroying the social safety net.

The Democrats will not take control of either the House or the Senate in the 2018 mid-term elections.

  • Wrongo happily loses. The Dems took the House by winning 40 seats. They lost a net of two seats in the Senate to the Republicans.

Cyber and other forms of meddling by people who wish our democracy harm will continue in the 2018 elections, to broader effect than in 2016.

  • Wrongo loses. There is no real evidence that cyber meddling had a greater effect on the 2018 election.

Facebook and Google will be held to account for their failure to tamp down disinformation.

  • Wrongo wins! Both are under scrutiny for both their actions and failures to act in 2018.

Trump will continue to flounder as the leader of the Free World, while his “frenemies” in the GOP will continue to try to thwart him on domestic economic legislation.

  • Wrongo loses. The Trump tax cut was a big deal for Republicans, despite the fact that few of them felt that they could run on it in the mid-terms.

There will be some form of bi-partisan accommodation on DACA.

  • Wrongo lost, and so did the nation.

Trump’s public-private infrastructure deal will not pass the Senate.

  • Wrongo wins!

The House will pass legislation that messes with Medicaid, but the Senate will not.

  • Wrongo loses. Trump’s 2019 budget proposal called for a $1.5 trillion cut in Medicaid, but it didn’t pass.

Trump will have the opportunity to appoint another Supreme Court Justice.

  • Wrongo wins, but America lost. We got Kavanaugh ‘ed.

Trump will have a serious medical issue in 2018, but will not leave office, or be temporarily replaced by Pence.

  • Wrongo loses. Trump’s health seems unchanged.

Mueller: By March, MAGA will mean “Mueller Ain’t Going Away”. The storm will crest, a Russiagate conspiracy will be exposed, and crud will fly everywhere. This could lead to the Democrats taking control of one or both Houses.

  • Wrongo wins! It looks like conspiracy, not the collusion Trump talks about.

A few additional Trumpets will go to jail, or be tied up in court. Trump will not be impeached by the 2018 Republicans. 2019 might bring a different calculus.

  • Wrongo wins! Mueller’s team has indicted or gotten guilty pleas from 33 people and three companies that we know of.

Tillerson and possibly other cabinet members will resign to “spend more time with family”.

  • Wrongo wins! At least 40 senior people including 18 who were cabinet-level, resigned.

Middle East:

Syria – by this time next year, the war will be essentially over. Assad will still be in power, and the US will be out of the picture. The Syrian Kurds will switch sides, and collaborate with the Assad regime.

  • Wrongo Wins! We’re pulling out, and the Kurds have switched sides.

Iran – the current protest movement will fizzle out. Neo-cons in Trump’s administration will try to bring us close to war with Iran, but cooler heads at the Pentagon will prevail.

  • Wrongo wins! The protest movement did fizzle. Trump ended our participation in the Nuclear Deal and we re-introduced sanctions. We’re no longer on speaking terms with Iran.

Famine and death in Yemen will continue to be ignored by everyone in the US.

  • Wrongo won, but the Yemenis and world lost.

Russia, China, and Iran will have a “come together” moment, possibly resulting in an agreement for mutual economic cooperation.

  • Wrongo wins! Russia and China are indeed closer together, what with Trump as a common enemy.

Russia will continue to face ongoing battles with the US, but Putin will persist.

  • Wrongo wins! Putin persisted.

Ukraine: The US delivery of anti-tank missiles to the Ukrainian army will not cause them to begin military operations in the east.

  • Wrongo wins! We provided the weapons, they avoided attacks in the east.

Europe: The right-wing authoritarian movements in the Eurozone and England will become a larger factor in their domestic politics. Brexit will occur, and no one in the UK will be happy about the outcome.

  • Wrongo wins! Right-wing political parties are a bigger threat than ever throughout Europe. Brexit happened, with the final outcome still unclear, but no one is happy.

Will there be a war or “incident” with North Korea? Despite the scary politics, the Seoul Winter Olympics will keep the situation from escalating through June. The second half of 2018 could lead to some kind of incident between the US and NorKo, but will not be a nuclear incident.

  • Wrongo wins! There was no scary incident, in fact, relations have been slightly improved.

The year is almost ended, and we can’t pretend that America slid by with more than a D itself. Early in the New Year, we will make a series of predictions for 2019.

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Cohen, Manafort and Facebook

The Daily Escape:

The Moses Bridge, Netherlands – photo via @archpics. The bridge, which crosses a moat, is made from waterproof wood.

We’re all busy trying to figure out what the twin “guilty” findings about Manafort and Cohen really mean, but Steve Breen nailed it:

Michael Cohen clearly put Trump in trouble by saying that Cohen had worked in coordination with Trump to silence the two women that Trump had affairs with, in order to influence the 2016 election.

Republicans say that finding two of Trump’s inner circle guilty has nothing to do with Russia, or with Trump, and Wrongo remains skeptical about what Mueller will actually prove.

OTOH, Cohen worked on a Trump Tower project that was supposed to be built in Moscow. He worked on that project during the 2016 presidential campaign. You may remember that in 2017, Trump said that no such relationship with Russia ever existed.

Manafort was convicted of tax evasion. The taxes Manafort didn’t pay were on income from Russian proxies, one of whom, the president, was running Ukraine for the Kremlin. Manafort’s conviction on bank fraud was related to bank loans he tried to get at least in part, to pay back $20 million he owed to a buddy of Vladimir Putin. His business also employed a Russian intelligence officer for years, and once Manafort was the Trump Campaign Manager, he offered that intelligence officer private briefings on the Trump campaign.

So, there are links to Russia for both men. But, the big ugly shoe to drop is whether Michael Cohen can corroborate what McClatchy journalists Peter Stone and Greg Gordon said a few months ago:

The Justice Department special counsel has evidence that Donald Trump’s personal lawyer and confidant, Michael Cohen, secretly made a late-summer trip to Prague during the 2016 presidential campaign…

No real proof has emerged that ties Cohen to a visit to Prague, or to meeting Russians. Cohen could tell Mueller whether the trip took place, and if Cohen strategized while there with Russians about the Kremlin’s playing a role in the US election.

Wrongo is again, skeptical. He doubts that the Trump organization would have Cohen undertake such a mission. But, if true, It would prove that the Trump campaign and the Kremlin worked together to help Trump win the White House.

Let’s turn briefly to a related idea: Facebook’s role as a platform for the spread of both disinformation, and as a rallying site for angry groups. In under the radar item at the NYT, a landmark study about violence against refugees in Germany shows that the most significant variable among towns with instances of violence was use of Facebook.

The work by Karsten Müller and Carlo Schwarz, researchers at the University of Warwick, shows:

Their reams of data converged on a breathtaking statistic: Wherever per-person Facebook use rose to one standard deviation above the national average, attacks on refugees increased by about 50 percent.

The researchers scrutinized every anti-refugee attack in Germany, 3,335 in all, over a two-year span. In each case, they analyzed the local community by all relevant variables. One thing stuck out. Towns where Facebook use was higher than average reliably experienced more attacks on refugees.

That held true in virtually any sort of community — big city or small town; affluent or struggling; liberal haven or far-right stronghold — suggesting that the link applies universally. From the NYT:

The uptick in violence did not correlate with general web use or other related factors; this was not about the internet as an open platform for mobilization or communication. It was particular to Facebook.

This has huge implications: Does social media scramble users’ perceptions of outsiders, of reality, even of right and wrong?

We all believe that Facebook has had an impact on amplifying division in our society. We all are dimly aware that Facebook uses algorithms to determine what appears in each user’s newsfeed. That algorithm’s mission is to present content that maximizes user engagement.

Posts that tap into primal emotions, like anger or fear, perform best, studies have found, and so proliferate. Wrongo said this a few days ago:

…fake news spread on social media has been proven to have a bigger impact, and to spread further and faster than real news.

There are two powerful forces within Facebook’s algorithms: A combination of fear of social change, and the “us-versus-them” rallying cries. Everybody knows that they are common on Facebook.

What should we as society, do about it?

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Alex Jones Spews Fake News. Should He Be On Facebook?

The Daily Escape:

Nizina Glacier, Wrangell-St. Elias National Park and Preserve, Alaska. Melting ice formed a lake in 2000. 2018 photo by Nathaniel Wilder for Smithsonian Magazine

Should fake news be protected under the First Amendment? Should private companies be able to ban the toxic stuff that people like Alex Jones spew? Spew like his denial that the Newtown shootings happened, or his speculation that Brennan Gilmore, a former State Department official who attended last summer’s violent far-right rally in Charlottesville, VA was really with the CIA.

Earlier this week, Facebook, Google, Apple, Spotify and Pinterest, within hours of each other, banned Alex Jones and his Infowars web site. Does losing his place on these platforms abridge his freedom of speech?

When someone says that something we otherwise believe is fake, it stirs deep emotions. Consider the immunization scam when Andrew Wakefield published in the Lancet that the measles, mumps, and rubella (MMR) vaccine may predispose to autism in children. Although false medical science, it circulated widely, and was widely believed. Today, communities are at risk, because kids are not being vaccinated by their parents, and regional outbreaks of these diseases which were largely extinct, are occurring again. So, despite the best efforts by the medical community to educate parents that the MMR vaccine is safe, the fake news outran any efforts to contain the lie.

Each day 100 million+ stories hit the internet, so we can’t possibly vet even a fraction of them. Fake news will get through, and spread. In the midterm elections, and in the presidential election in 2020, technology will build on what was learned in the 2016 presidential campaign: (brackets by Wrongo)

Trump ran 5.9 million different versions of ads during the presidential campaign and rapidly tested them [and]…spread those that generated the most Facebook engagement…. Clinton ran 66,000 different kinds of ads in the same period.

The next iteration of the technology will bring each of the 156 million registered voters in the US a stream of personalized messages. That’s because nearly everyone has a social media presence, and their information and preferences will be shared by the platform companies with the campaigns.

People who have influence on social media utilize these new technologies extremely well. Alex Jones uses it well, and is on the toxic end of the fake news spectrum. And there’s Trump, master of the continuous Twitter falsehood. He turns the lie around, accusing his detractors of spreading fake news. With the GOP in power, there will not be any government crackdown on misinformation. Here’s why: the Daily Beast reports on a disturbing poll by Ipsos:

43% of self-identified Republicans said that they believed “the president should have the authority to close news outlets engaged in bad behavior”…..48% of them said they believed “the news media is the enemy of the American people”.

If you trust what Alex Jones says, fine. But now, your ability to amplify his toxic brand of fake news has been hampered by the platform companies throwing him off. Parsing what is considered free speech is a slippery slope, and we won’t know just how slippery it is, until we start sliding down.

Case law says we’re able to protest, saying whatever we want, within some limits. We used to do that in town squares. A big question is: Are Facebook, Google, Instagram and Twitter the town squares of today?

That’s a question that hasn’t yet been decided. It is why who gets to sit on the Supreme Court is so damn important, particularly if Republicans agree that the president should decide which news outlets are allowed to publish.

Democracy requires conflicting opinions. Anybody can build a platform, and appeal to a niche audience. Today, you can spew falsehoods, like Alex Jones or Trump, who do just that every day.

We live in an era of doublespeak. Automobiles that get higher mileage kill their drivers. Fires are raging in California because there’s not enough water. When the president is an unreliable source of information, fake news carries the same importance as real news. But, legal scholars remind us that:

false news doesn’t serve the public interest in the way that true speech does.

Social media holds the potential of democratizing information, making it universally available. OTOH, fake news spread on social media has been proven to have a bigger impact, and to spread further and faster than real news.

Should the platform companies be able to ban someone, or some messages, even if they do not reflect a clear and present danger? Maybe. Jones and his ilk have other outlets for their spew. And they can build others, and their followers will find them.

This is the beginning of a pushback against fake news, and it’s only the beginning of a revitalized free speech debate pitting the main stream media against those who spew fake news.

If you only want to look at kittens online, go for it. It shouldn’t be all that our Constitution allows, but, where should we draw the line?

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Republicans Vote Against Funding Election Security

The Daily Escape:

Palacio del Segundo Cabo, Havana Cuba. Built in 1772, it was the royal post office. 2018 photo by Nestor Marti for Smithsonian Magazine

Are Republicans committed to free and fair elections? Maybe not. Republicans in the Senate had a chance to say “yes” on August 1st, when an amendment adding funding for election security failed to pass.

With all the cross talk about election meddling, you could be forgiven if you think that our very democracy may be under threat. But when given a chance to take a concrete step, adding $250 million to help confront this challenge, the Republican majority in the Senate said no. From The Hill:

Senators voted 50-47 against adding an amendment from Sen. Patrick Leahy (D-VT) that would have provided the funding. Sixty votes were needed to include the proposal in the appropriations legislation under Senate rules. Sen. Bob Corker (R-TN) was the only GOP senator who voted in support of the amendment to an appropriations measure. The proposal, spearheaded by Leahy, would have provided $250 million for state election security grants.

How is this a partisan issue? Doesn’t every American want to protect our electoral system? Republicans argued that more funding wasn’t needed, that states haven’t yet spent the $380 million previously approved by Congress. Sen. James Lankford (R-OK) said it was “far too early” for the Senate to sign off on more money:

We don’t know how the first $380 million has even been spent, and the intelligence committee did an extensive research on how much money was needed and the $380 million amount was what was needed for the moment.

Sounds reasonable. If only there were some sort of accounting system that allowed you to find out how much was spent, and what the remaining need might be. And yet, not knowing where the Pentagon spends its money hasn’t stopped Congress from giving them even more than they asked for.

Surprising what expenditures cause the GOP to develop fiscal responsibility. They just gave $12 billion to bailout America’s farmers. They happily voted to create a $1 trillion deficit with their corporate tax cuts. Trump wants to add another $100 billion in tax cuts, because more has to be better.

But with an expenditure designed to head off a possible vote heist, that’s when America needs more fiscal accountability.

We’ve learned that Russian cyber warriors already have targeted the re-election campaign of Sen. Claire McCaskill, (D-MO), and that Facebook closed 32 accounts because they exhibited behavior similar to that of accounts belonging to Russian hackers. Facebook said that more than 290,000 accounts followed at least one of the fake pages.

Our electoral legitimacy crisis is real. We are witnessing a slow-moving insurrection driven by the Republicans, the Citizens United decision, Koch operatives, Evangelicals, Russian cyber hacks, along with determined vote suppression by Republican state legislatures. All are working to make your vote less valuable. Republicans have been trying for years to destroy the value of your vote with voter suppression and gerrymandering.

If the Russians want to help them, the GOP seems to be OK with that, too.

From Charlie Pierce: (emphasis by Wrongo)

The only reason to vote against this bill is because you don’t want the money spent to confront the crisis. States can’t do this alone—and too many of them are controlled by people who don’t want the job in the first place….The idea that we’re nickel-and-diming this particular problem as what can only be called an anti-democratic epidemic rages across the land is so preposterous as to beggar belief. We are febrile and weak as a democratic republic. Too many people want to keep us that way.

The only thing that can save us is TURN-OUT this fall.

Kiss our democracy good-bye if you stay home!

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Monday Wake Up Call – Fake News Edition

The Daily Escape:

On Facebook, this photo is said to be a view from 30,000 ft. of the California fires. But, it’s fake news. In reality, it’s a sunset over Albuquerque. The pic has been on the internet for months. Why would someone lie to their Facebook “friends”, about a picture of the fires?

What has happened to our society that lying about something like the CA fires seems worth the trouble?

Fake news has always been with us, but we’re reaching the point where we no longer can tell truth from fiction without considerable effort. The Atlantic had a story in March about an ambitious and first-of-its-kind MIT study published in Science: (emphasis by Wrongo)

The massive new study analyzes every major contested news story in English across the span of Twitter’s existence—some 126,000 stories, tweeted by 3 million users, over more than 10 years—and finds that the truth simply cannot compete with hoax and rumor. By every common metric, falsehood consistently dominates the truth on Twitter, the study finds: Fake news and false rumors reach more people, penetrate deeper into the social network, and spread much faster than accurate stories.

The leader of the MIT study, Soroush Vosoughi, an MIT data scientist who has studied fake news since 2013, offered this:

It seems to be pretty clear [from our study] that false information outperforms true information…And that is not just because of bots. It might have something to do with human nature.

And the data are truly scary. According to the study, false stories reach 1,500 people six times quicker, on average, than a true story does. And while false stories outperform the truth on every subject—including business, terrorism and war, science and technology, and entertainment, it probably isn’t news that fake news about politics regularly does the best at outperforming real news:

Twitter users seem almost to prefer sharing falsehoods. Even when the researchers controlled for every difference between the accounts originating rumors—like whether that person had more followers or was verified—falsehoods were still 70% more likely to get retweeted than accurate news.

One of the more disturbing findings was that fake news consistently reaches a larger audience, and it tunnels much more deeply into social networks than real news does. Why do fake news tweets do so well? The MIT team settled on two hypotheses:

  • First, fake news seems to be more “novel” than real news. The study found that falsehoods are often notably different from all the tweets that have appeared in a user’s timeline 60 days prior to their re-tweeting them
  • Second, fake news evokes much more emotion than the average tweet. The researchers found that fake tweets tended to elicit words associated with surprise and disgust, while accurate tweets used words associated with sadness and trust.

The key takeaway is really that content that arouses strong emotions spread further, faster, more deeply, and more broadly, than real news on Twitter.

Most depressing is that users who share accurate information have more followers, and send more tweets than fake-news sharers. They are more likely to be verified Twitter users. In short, the most trustworthy users have every obvious structural advantage that Twitter can give its best users.

And they still fail to connect as efficiently.

We have to wake up. Social media is amplifying falsehood at the expense of the truth, and no one knows how to reverse the trend.  We are living in a dangerous moment for a political system that relies on truth as a knowable reality shared by all Americans.

To help you wake up, we have a tune dedicated to Paul Manafort, Bob Dylan’s “Leopard Pill-Box Hat”. Manafort’s trial is revealing his penchant for purchasing, and wearing wild articles of clothing. Many Trump supporters are saying that Manafort had nothing to do with the Russian hacking, and no matter, he’ll be acquitted.

Both of those ideas are fake news.

There are very few good videos of Dylan performing his work. This is from the Bob Dylan 30th Anniversary Concert in October, 1992. Here, John Mellencamp performs his best impression of Dylan:

We will have to wait and see if Manafort, or any others in the Trump administration go to jail. Wrongo hopes that’s the case. If it happens, it will be a novel event: We didn’t send Nixon to prison for his crimes, we didn’t send Reagan to prison for his crimes, and we didn’t send Bush or Cheney to prison for their crimes ─ so we ended up with Mr. Fake News himself, Donald Trump.

When there is no punishment for the crimes, the criminals see no reason to stop their behavior.

Sample Lyric:

Well I, see you got your
Brand new leopard-skin pill-box hat
Yes I, see you got your
Brand new leopard-skin pill-box hat
Well, you must tell me, baby how your
Head feels under somethin’ like that.

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

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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.

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March 1, 2018

The Daily Escape:

The Wrong family is at its annual temporary winter headquarters in Florida, enjoying this view. Blogging will be intermittent until March 12th, when we will be back in residence at the Mansion of Wrong. 2015 photo by Wrongo.

A few cartoons. When will the GOP start complaining, saying “Armed union thugs are patrolling our schools”:

Trump refines his role:

US Cyber Command chief Adm. Mike Rogers said Trump hasn’t granted him the authority to disrupt increased cyber threats. Trump, no longer jumping to the rescue. He’s just the security monitor:

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Sunday Cartoon Blogging – February 18, 2018

Friday brought Robert Mueller’s indictment of 13 Russians for “information warfare against the United States of America“. The best part was that the special counsel’s work was totally under the radar, and there were zero leaks.

And thus far, nobody on the right is claiming Mueller’s indictments are “fake news”.

One interesting takeaway was that Russian cells were formed to establish phony Facebook, Twitter and other accounts that pushed divisive politics in the US. We already knew this, but we didn’t know specifics: At one point, a supposed Islamophobic group protested outside a Texas mosque, and it was met by a pro-Muslim counter-demonstration. Both demonstrations were called for by fake Russian sites. These sites eventually had hundreds of thousands of followers. They spread false memes, including that Clinton supported Sharia law.

Russian sites that were disguised as a part of the Black Lives Matter movement argued that African-Americans should not vote. While it is impossible to show cause and effect, Clinton underperformed with Black voters.

The jury is still out on the extent of Russian influence, and we may never know if it mattered. Still, it is way past time for the Democratic Party to own up to its own failures, rather than continually blaming the Russians, Bernie Sanders, the Green Party, or the deplorables.

After Mueller indictments, Trump and friends now have some ‘splaining to do:

Mitch, Paul and the rest of the GOP think they have zero responsibility for gun violence:

The issue is always the guns:

American Exceptionalism was on display again last week:

Pledge of Allegiance needs new words:

Blockbuster Black Panther movie may help beyond entertaining us:

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Wrongo’s 2018 Predictions

The Daily Escape:

Snowy Landscape with Arles in the background – Vincent Van Gogh, 1888

A tradition at the Mansion of Wrong is to attend the annual New Year’s Day Concert at the First Congregational Church of Washington CT, built in 1801. The concert is always by the New Baroque Soloists. This year, the church was packed, and among the guests were Tia Leoni and Tim Daly, the leads in the CBS series “Madam Secretary”.  For the sixth year in a row, it was another inspiring performance by the New Baroque Soloists.

Now it is time for a few Wrong predictions about 2018, most of which will probably will be wrong:

  1. The US economy as measured by GDP will grow at greater than 2% for 2018.
    1. The US stock market as measured by the S&P 500 index will end 2018 with little or no growth over year-end 2017.
    2. The Trump tax cuts will increase the deficit, and despite Paul Ryan’s best (or worst) efforts to push the country into austerity, that can will be kicked down the road for a few more years.
  2. The Democrats will not take control of either the House or the Senate in the 2018 mid-term elections. The still-growing economy, and the pittance that increases paychecks from the Trump tax cut will help incumbents enough to forestall a wave election.
    1. The Democrats will remain without real leadership or vision in 2018.
  3. Cyber and other forms of meddling by people who wish our democracy harm will continue in the 2018 elections, to broader effect than in 2016.
    1. Facebook and Google will be held to account for their failure to tamp down disinformation.
  4. Trump will continue to flounder as the leader of the Free World, while his “frenemies” in the GOP will continue to try to thwart him on domestic economic legislation.
    1. There will be some form of bi-partisan accommodation on DACA.
    2. Trump’s public-private infrastructure deal will not pass the Senate.
    3. The House will pass legislation that messes with Medicaid, but the Senate will not.
    4. Trump will have the opportunity to appoint another Supreme Court Justice.
  5. Trump will have a serious medical issue in 2018, but will not leave office, or be temporarily replaced by Pence.
  6. Mueller: By March, MAGA will mean “Mueller Ain’t Going Away”. The storm will crest, a Russiagate conspiracy will be exposed, and crud will fly everywhere. This could lead to the Democrats taking control of one or both Houses.
    1. A few additional Trumpets will go to jail, or be tied up in court. Trump will not be impeached by the 2018 Republicans. 2019 might bring a different calculus.
  7. Tillerson and possibly other cabinet members will resign to “spend more time with family”.
  8. #metoo will continue to dog politicians, Hollywood and the media.
  9. Middle East:
    1. Syria – by this time next year, the war will be essentially over. Assad will still be in power, and the US will be out of the picture. The Syrian Kurds will switch sides, and collaborate with the Assad regime.
    2. Iran – the current protest movement will fizzle out. Neo-cons in Trump’s administration will try to bring us close to war with Iran, but cooler heads at the Pentagon will prevail.
    3. Famine and death in Yemen will continue to be ignored by everyone in the US.
  10. Russia: Russia, China, and Iran will have a “come together” moment, possibly resulting in an agreement for mutual economic cooperation.
    1. Russia will continue to face ongoing battles with the US, but Putin will persist.
    2. Ukraine: The US delivery of anti-tank missiles to the Ukrainian army will not cause them to begin military operations in the east.
  11. Europe: The right-wing authoritarian movements in the Eurozone and England will become a larger factor in their domestic politics. Brexit will occur, and no one in the UK will be happy about the outcome.
  12. Will there be a war or “incident” with North Korea? Despite the scary politics, the Seoul Winter Olympics will keep the situation from escalating through June. The second half of 2018 could lead to some kind of incident between the US and NorKo, but will not be a nuclear incident.

A “black swan” event (an event that comes as a surprise, has a major effect), could change everything for the President, the country and the world. Let’s hope that none occur in 2018.

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Tribalism Trumps Reality

The Daily Escape:

Florence Italy – photo by Daniel Kordan

The ideal subject of totalitarian rule is not the convinced Nazi or the convinced Communist, but people for whom the distinction between fact and fiction…and the distinction between true and false…no longer exist. ― Hannah Arendt, “The Origins of Totalitarianism

Public Policy Polling (PPP) has a new poll that among other issues, shows how Trump voters feel about the Donald Trump Jr.’s participation in the Trump/Russia election thingy: (emphasis by the Wrongologist)

Only 45% of Trump voters believe Donald Trump Jr. had a meeting with Russians about information that might be harmful to Hillary Clinton…even though Trump Jr. admitted it. 32% say the meeting didn’t happen and 24% say they’re not sure.

And, just as many Republicans believed Hillary Clinton ran a child sex ring out of a DC pizza parlor.

If you look at the percentage of Americans who believe in things like creationism, ghosts and angels, you’ll wonder why these Republicans are allowed to cut their own meat.

A decent number of the people who said they didn’t believe Jr. met with the Russians must know the truth. Since Jr. admitted to the meeting, and even Fox News covered it, how could a third of Republicans surveyed think the meeting didn’t happen? Maybe they think a Russian lawyer and a few other Russians attending a meeting in Trump Tower doesn’t equal “The Russians“.

And broadening the context, the PPP survey question answers are similar to when pollsters asked Republicans whether Obama was born in the US. Pollsters continued to ask that well after his birth certificate was released. After the release, birther belief among Republicans dropped from the mid-40%s to the mid-30%s, but, a year later is returned to the mid-40%s.

One of the central challenges of understanding the Republican mind is that when they answer questions like the Don Jr. in a non-factual way, they exist in at least two camps. First, the true believers, who won’t believe their lying eyes, and will just trust their guy through thick or thin.

The second group sees politics and political discourse as a game played mostly to annoy Democrats. This second category isn’t even necessarily any more informed or self-aware than the first, but they pay more attention to learning what will make Democrats angry. Then they go there.

We can’t discount the extent that conservative media obfuscates things that are generally admitted elsewhere. There probably is a certain segment of Republicans who really don’t believe Jr. met with Russians, because they’ve heard the disinformation frequently enough to allow them to reach that conclusion.

And some people simply believe ridiculous things.

The PPP poll question indicates to us the lower limit of partisan reasoning. No one contests that this meeting took place, but 32% of respondents say it didn’t happen. Poll questions are normally more opinion-based, and may not have a demonstrably “correct” answer. So it’s worth seeing the extent of motivated answering on this question.

The nice thing about false facts is they can be designed for maximum effect. They can be more self-reinforcing and convincing than actual facts. The world is a messy place, so if you present a picture that is artificially clarified and internally consistent, a big subset of humanity will buy it whole-heartedly.

Public Policy Polling’s disclosure about the survey:

PPP surveyed 836 registered voters from July 14th to 17th. The margin of error is +/- 3.4%. While 80% of participants, selected through a list based sample, responded via the phone, 20% of respondents who did not have landlines conducted the survey over the internet through an opt-in internet panel.

On to music. Here is Icelandic indie folk/indie pop rock band, Of Monsters and Men, performing “Little Talks” live at the KEX Hostel in Reykjavik during Iceland Airwaves, recorded in October 2011:

Takeaway Lyric:

Some days I don’t know if I am wrong or right.
Your mind is playing tricks on you my dear

‘Cause though the truth may vary
This ship will carry our bodies safe to shore

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

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