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The Wrongologist

Geopolitics, Power and Political Economy

Feelin’ Great, Because America is Just Great

The Daily Escape:

Via: Naked Capitalism

He said he would make America great again. He was elected on a messianic platform, to reform DC from the outside, to create jobs, to drain the swamp, all while saving the social safety net, and ending our foreign adventures.

He promised all of those things. He actually said he would do them − in many places and at many times, and in differing contexts.

The dissonance should be hitting his supporters very hard about now.

In the nearly six months Donald Trump has been in power, he has accomplished only the dismantling of major parts of Obama’s agenda. For example, the EPA announced that it will delay implementation of an Obama-era chemical safety rule for nearly two years while it reassesses the necessity of the regulation: (parenthesis by the Wrongologist)

(Obama administration) Officials moved to overhaul chemical safety standards after a 2013 explosion at a chemical plant in Texas killed 15 people. Their rule would require companies to better prepare for accidents and expand the EPA’s investigative and auditing powers. 

Trump and Scott Pruitt will MAGA by ensuring more workers die on the job from unsafe working conditions. Of course, like 90% of Trump’s agenda, this is just standard Republicanism.

Couldn’t the GOP just “lead by example” on the whole “getting killed at work” thing?

Just in case anyone is interested, here is a link to the White House’s list of all legislation signed since the Orange Flake took office. If it weren’t for things like approving the name change for an outpatient VA clinic in Pago Pago, his big agenda items like passing a budget, replacing Obamacare, reforming taxes, or rebuilding our infrastructure remain aspirational.

So, where is the plan to make America great? As Derek Thompson said in the Atlantic:

There is no infrastructure plan. Just like there is no White House tax plan. Just like there was no White House health care plan. More than 120 days into Trump’s term in a unified Republican government, Trump’s policy accomplishments have been more in the subtraction category (e.g., stripping away environmental regulations) than addition. The president has signed no major legislation and left significant portions of federal agencies unstaffed, as U.S. courts have blocked what would be his most significant policy achievement, the legally dubious immigration ban.

The simplest summary of White House economic policy to date is four words long: There is no policy.

Republicans are held hostage by campaign promises that they cannot fill. The White House is hostage to the president’s perpetual campaign, a cavalcade of promises divorced from any effort to detail, advocate, or enact major economic legislation.

Trump uses public policy as little more than a photo op, and that isn’t going to make anything great.

Let’s turn to poetry. Lawrence Ferlinghetti turned 98 in March. Here is “Pity the Nation”, a poem he wrote in 2007:

Pity the nation whose people are sheep,
and whose shepherds mislead them.
Pity the nation whose leaders are liars, whose sages are silenced,
and whose bigots haunt the airwaves.
Pity the nation that raises not its voice,
except to praise conquerors and acclaim the bully as hero
and aims to rule the world with force and by torture.
Pity the nation that knows no other language but its own
and no other culture but its own.
Pity the nation whose breath is money
and sleeps the sleep of the too well fed.
Pity the nation — oh, pity the people who allow their rights to erode
and their freedoms to be washed away.
My country, tears of thee, sweet land of liberty.

That was written in 2007 folks.

Here is a video of Ferlinghetti reading “Pity the Nation” in 2007:

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

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Sunday Cartoon Blogging – May 14, 2017

(Wrongo and Ms. Oh So Right are heading to Europe today. We will be gone for 10 days, so blogging may be sparse. Please keep America great while we are away.)

Happy Mother’s Day to all. A few more thoughts about BLOTUS (Big Liar of the US): Not only does he have the worst approval ratings of any president at this point in his term, but he’s also incapable of moving the needle of public opinion toward his positions. Ironically, for all of Trump’s sycophants’ talk that Trump’s words ARE his actions, his tweets and public pronouncements are making his positions more unpopular.

What matters most to Wrongo is his non-adherence to basic rules and norms, and here, there’s a lot to be concerned about. His fear of an investigation into possible Russian influence, and his refusal to release his tax returns probably mean he’s hiding something. Now we learn that Trump’s law firm, Morgan Lewis, which wrote a statement saying Trump’s tax returns showed no significant business ties to Russia, itself has extensive ties to Russia, and received a “Russia Law Firm of the Year” award in 2016. The swamp is reaching flood stage. On to cartoons.

Trump wanted a different dog:

Comey’s resume shows poor reviews by former employer:

McConnell plans to protect The Donald:

Trump thinks any negative story about him is made up:

Trump creates new versions of the truth faster than his team can spin them:

Trump hears from a guy inside the White House that he doesn’t know:

 

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Some Thoughts on L’affaire Comey

The Daily Escape:

Cathedral Cove, New Zealand – photo by Niels Holm

For the past few days, it has been “All Comey, all the time”, both in America and around the world.

You can count Wrongo as one of those who thinks that Comey made some huge mistakes trying to position himself after his take-down of Hillary Clinton, and her self-inflicted email disaster. You can also count Wrongo as thinking that Hillary’s loss was mostly her own fault. That means that you can also count Wrongo as agnostic regarding whether the Russians were behind the hack into the Democratic National Committee, or that their intervention was because they wanted to help Trump win the election.

Democrats argue that Trump and/or members of his administration are “soft on Russia”. Democrats have adopted a neo-con worldview that just a few years ago, they would have hated: That policies are either pro-America or pro-Russia. And, it’s in that pro-Russian box that Democrats are trying to stuff The Donald.

This makes Democrats blind to the possibility that people (even Trump!) could genuinely believe that it’s in America’s interest to be friendlier to Russia. That we could cooperate on certain issues without being agents of Putin. Perhaps you remember that Obama said just that in his first term.

So let’s turn to Comey’s firing. Thursday’s NYT had a complete listing of members of the House and Senate and their reaction(s) to the firing. And yes, if you went back a few years to Republican calls for special prosecutors to examine Democrats, the script was flipped, with most Dems then taking the position that Republicans are taking today.

It’s the kind of game that has become acceptable in today’s Washington swamp.

Wrongo isn’t happy with Comey’s performance as FBI director, but we now stand on the edge of a precipice without him. He ran into trouble because AG Loretta Lynch had to recuse herself during the Clinton email investigation. That led to his free-lancing, and his inexplicable testimony. Then AG Sessions had to recuse himself from any Russia-related investigation. And shortly thereafter, the tempo of the investigation changed, and Comey needed someone to approve additional resources for the Russia investigation. The WSJ reported:

Comey started receiving daily instead of weekly updates on the investigation, beginning at least three weeks ago…Comey was concerned by information showing possible evidence of collusion.

Now, the firing of Comey opens up the FBI and the DOJ, by custom and tradition an agency that is independent from politics, to outside political control, to a new director forcing a reduction in funding or other resources critical to the investigation.

Ostensibly, the issue isn’t the fact that Comey was fired. It’s about the timing. In turn, that is directly linked to the fact that the FBI is investigating Trump. Most think that the FBI Russia operation was breathing down the neck of the Trump campaign and their operatives. They think that the Comey firing is an effort to slow down, or wind down, the investigation prematurely.

The question is, will the new FBI director do either of those things? Wouldn’t the FBI agents involved in the investigation revolt/go public if a new director defunded the effort, and/or reduced the commitment to it? And the FBI is not running the investigation by itself. Their investigation is overseen by prosecutors. We heard this week that there is a grand jury. We hear that they’re issuing subpoenas. That’s not being done by the FBI. It’s being done by prosecutors in the DOJ.

And that’s where the ball sits. The American people have to rely on AG Jeff Sessions, who may be recused, but who guarantees that? Or it rests with Deputy AG Ron Rosenstein, who is in the job for a couple of weeks. Or it rests with a to-be-appointed FBI Director. Bloomberg is reporting that Trump is considering former Congressman and former FBI agent Mike Rogers, who is far too political, or former New York City Police Commissioner Ray Kelly, who is all hat and no cattle.

There are hundreds of thousands of stories and millions of words being written about this. Trump shouldn’t expect this to go away.

In fact, he should publicly support getting to the bottom of it, rather than acting like Richard Nixon. That didn’t end well.

Some music: Here are the Waifs, an Australian blues/rock band formed in 1992, fronted by two sisters, doing “Crazy Train”. It’s the train America is on right now:

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

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Democrats Have Failed

The Daily Escape:

Lavender in Provence – 2017 Photo by Fabio Antenore

This week, Wrongo wrote that 50% of US births are paid for by Medicaid, and how worry about hunger and homelessness has never been higher among Americans. Both of these issues are symptoms of how our economy fails low-income and lower middle class Americans, and neither political party is truly interested in addressing the problems.

Trump won because he led people who used to vote for Democrats to believe that they had nothing to lose if they voted for him. Below-median income voters had long ago lost faith that Democrats, and Hillary in particular, would ever do anything to change their plight.

Trump said he would look out for them. Whether he does or not, remains an open question, but even before Trump, Democrats had already lost a big swath of America. From the American Prospect:

In the race for the White House, the Democratic presidential candidate has won…fewer US counties with average incomes under the national median and with populations that are more than 85% white in every general election since 1996. Concentrated in the Midwest, Appalachia, and the upper Rocky Mountains, there are 660 such counties today. Hillary Clinton won two of them.

Think about that: The Democratic Party’s influence in mostly white, lower-income America has eroded to nearly nothing since Bill Clinton was president. This chart documenting their fall is stunning:

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The Parties basically split below-median income counties that were 85% white in 1996. Over a 20-year period, the erosion of the Democrats’ control was steady, and complete. This isn’t just the result of a poor 2016 presidential candidate, it is an indictment of the Democratic Party, its leadership, and its strategy.

The American Prospect article is about Montana’s Democratic Governor, Steve Bullock, who won his state by 4 points while Trump was beating Clinton by 20. Bullock is a rural populist in a party of technocrats. Obama lost Montana by 2 points in 2008. Bill Clinton won Montana in 1992.

But, the electoral failure of Democrats is worse than its showing in these below-median income white counties. The following graphically illustrates the abject failure of Democrats to be competitive in political contests at all levels:

Nothing that Barack Obama did by holding on to the White House for that entire period compensates for these terrible losses.

Democrats remain divided about their Party strategy, many clinging to the thought that if Hillary could have turned about 80k voters in Michigan, Pennsylvania, and Wisconsin, where white working-class people are abundant, she would be president.

But she would not control either legislative branch, and she would have had to propose Supreme Court Justices similar to Neil Gorsuch to get one confirmed by the Senate.

The question is where will the DNC be taking the Party in 2018? In a 2018 mid-term election where the president has a historically poor approval rating with independents and Democrats, like Trump has now, victory is possible.

If Democrats want to win back Congress, and the White House in 2020, they need to field candidates who believe in jobs and economic growth first. The candidates need to be authentic people, who listen more than they talk. And when they do speak, they should use PIE as a metaphor for America’s economy, as in: (H/T Seth Godin)

  • How big is the pie?
  • Is the pie growing?
  • What will my share of the pie be tomorrow?
  • Who allocates the slices of pie? Can they be trusted?

When voters think the economy isn’t growing, things begin to feel zero-sum. People begin to think that they may permanently lose their place in our society.

If the Democrats want to win back Congress, they need to describe concretely what they plan to do when they say they support their working-class constituents, regardless of color.

They need to get to be better than Trump on jobs, economic growth and finding a peace dividend.

All of that, and Medicare for all. In Wrongo’s Thursday column, Gallup found that health care concerns ranked highest across all income cohorts.

Shouldn’t these principles be credible with working-class people—including whites?

A song about pie: Here is D’Angelo with “Devil’s Pie” from 1998. It’s a dystopian vision of capitalism, where everybody’s fighting for more of the tasty, materialistic dish. All is fair in pursuit of a bigger paycheck:

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

Takeaway Lyric:

Fuck the slice we want the pie
Why ask why till we fry
Watch us all stand in line
For a slice of the devil’s pie

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Saturday Soother – April 1, 2017

The Daily Escape:

(Wildflowers near Lake Elsinore CA March 2017 − photo by Lucy Nicholson)

The large print giveth, and the small print taketh away, and we had an excellent example this week. From the NYT:

More than 550,000 people have signed up for a federal program that promises to repay their remaining student loans after they work 10 years in a public service job. But now, some of those workers are left to wonder if the government will hold up its end of the bargain — or leave them stuck with thousands of dollars in debt that they thought would be eliminated.

The Department of Education has said in a legal filing that borrowers could not rely on the program’s administrator to say accurately whether they qualify for debt forgiveness. The thousands of approval letters that have been sent by the administrator, FedLoan Servicing, are not binding, and can be rescinded at any time.

The debt forgiveness program covers people with federal student loans who work for 10 years at a government or nonprofit, a group that includes public school employees, museum workers, doctors at public hospitals and firefighters. The federal government approved the program in 2007. And along with this bad news, there is no transparency: When the NYT contacted FedLoan, a spokesman referred questions to the Department of Education, who declined to comment on the suit, or on any of the issues it raised, including whether any mechanism exists for borrowers to challenge a denial.

Loopholes. America loves loopholes. We aren’t a nation of laws, we’re a nation of loopholes.

If all of this wasn’t enough wrong for you this week, Devin Nunes and the White House played “I’ve got a secret” with the House Intelligence Committee and the American people. That brought the usual grandstanding from Republicans, but nothing can top what Rep. Ted Yoho (R-FL) who unintentionally told the truth while defending Nunes on MSNBC:

You gotta keep in mind who he works for…He works for the president. He answers to the president.

Soon, a Yoho spokesperson was walking that back. Yoho, Yoho, and it’s back to school he goes. To learn a bit more about who Congress critters work for.

I know, these two stories sound like April fool’s day fibs, but sadly, both are true.

You need a break, so Wrongo suggests a hot mug of Tanzania Peaberry coffee. Put your feet up and brush off the week’s trail dust. Let’s relax with Mozart’s Violin Concerto No. 3 in G major. He wrote this in 1775. He was only 19 at the time, but was already the Konzertmeister at the Salzburg court. Here is Hillary Hahn with the best 23 minutes of your Saturday:

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

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Saturday Soother – March 25, 2017

The Daily Escape:

(Bobcat in Yosemite – photo by Rollie Rodriguez)

It’s Saturday of a week filled with political body blows. First, Rep. Devin Nunes acted as Trump’s Poodle by grandstanding in front of the press and then running to the White House to tell on the Intelligence Community. Then we all watched the Trumpcare fiasco. Trump issued an ultimatum to pass or forget Trumpcare, and Congress (as of this writing) can’t do either. Considering that Trumpcare has support of about 17% of the people, what special hell do Republicans wish on the country?

Finally, Neil Gorsuch. The Supreme Court nominee carved his way through the Senate Judiciary Committee, dodging substantive questions, and playing hard not to lose the nomination. A Supreme Court decision that potentially impacts Judge Gorsuch’s chances was announced during his second day of testimony. You probably didn’t hear anything about it, what with all of the cacophony Trump generates, so here you go:

 About 40 minutes after Supreme Court nominee Neil Gorsuch began his second day of testimony before the Senate Judiciary Committee, all eight of the justices he hopes to join said a major disability decision Gorsuch wrote in 2008 was wrong.

That’s right, the Supremes voted 8-0 against a Judge Gorsuch opinion.

Both the Supreme Court’s decision this week and Gorsuch’s 2008 opinion involved the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA), which requires that public school systems which take certain federal funds provide a “free appropriate public education” to certain students with disabilities.

These were two different cases, but Chief Justice John Roberts wrote the unanimous opinion that mentioned Gorsuch’s opinion. In Thompson R2-J School District v. Luke P., a case brought by an autistic student whose parents sought reimbursement for tuition at a specialized school for children with autism, Gorsuch read IDEA extraordinarily narrowly. Under Gorsuch’s opinion in Luke P., a school district complies with the law so long as they provide educational benefits that “must merely be ‘more than de minimis.’”

De minimis” means so minor as to merit disregard. So Gorsuch essentially concluded that school districts comply with their obligation to students with disabilities so long as they provide those students with slightly more than nothing. But, the Supreme Court rejected Gorsuch’s approach. The IDEA, Chief Justice Roberts wrote:

Is markedly more demanding than the ‘merely more than de minimis’ test applied by the Tenth Circuit.

The Tenth Circuit is Judge Gorsuch’s. Roberts added that Gorsuch’s approach would effectively strip many students the disabilities of their right to an education:

When all is said and done, a student offered an educational program providing merely more than de minimis progress from year to year can hardly be said to have been offered an education at all. For children with disabilities, receiving instruction that aims so low would be tantamount to “sitting idly… awaiting the time when they were old enough to ‘drop out.’

To the contrary, the unanimous Supreme Court concluded, in most cases a student’s progress should be measured according to whether they are able to keep up with their peers without disabilities.

When even Clarence Thomas goes against you, you know your ruling isn’t mainstream. The last thing we need is another justice who votes for the big-guys (business and government) over the little people.

Unfortunately, Gorsuch is a mainstream Republican. Another one who has a policy of doing “de minimis” for everyone in America who isn’t a big donor to the GOP’s mean-spirited agenda.

As the weekend begins, you really need a break. Take a few minutes and think about Annie Moore, who was the first person to enter Ellis Island when it opened for immigrants in 1892. Annie came from Ireland.

This song, “Isle of Hope and Tears” was written by Brendan Graham. It has been performed by many Irish groups over the years. Today, we hear the Irish Tenors:

America used to be the hope of the world. It’s time to decide how it can become that again.

Sample Lyrics:

On the first day of January,
Eighteen ninety-two,
They opened Ellis Island and they let
The people through.
And first to cross the threshold
Of that isle of hope and tears,
Was Annie Moore from Ireland

Who was all of fifteen years.

Isle of hope, isle of tears,
Isle of freedom, isle of fears,
But it’s not the isle you left behind.
That isle of hunger, isle of pain,
Isle you’ll never see again
But the isle of home is always on your mind.

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

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Rethinking Religion’s Place in Our Politics

The Daily Escape:

(Photo by Arnd Wiegmann/Reuters)

The Atlantic’s Peter Beinart has an article called “Breaking Faith” that references polling conducted in February by the Public Religion Research Institute (PRRI). Beinart makes a few interesting points about religion and politics that are at odds with conventional thinking about its role.

He points out that over the past decade, there has been a dramatic shift in religious affiliation in the US:

Americans—long known for their piety—were fleeing organized religion in increasing numbers. The vast majority still believed in God. But the share that rejected any religious affiliation was growing fast, rising from 6% in 1992 to 22% in 2014. Among Millennials, the figure was 35%.

Beinart shows that the conventional thinking − that this new secularism would end the culture wars and bring about a more tolerant politics – was wrong. More from Beinart:

Secularism is indeed correlated with greater tolerance of gay marriage and pot legalization. But it’s also making America’s partisan clashes more brutal…As Americans have left organized religion, they haven’t stopped viewing politics as a struggle between “us” and “them.” Many have come to define us and them in even more primal and irreconcilable ways.

This had huge ramifications in the 2016 presidential election. PRRI reports that the percentage of white Republicans with no religious affiliation has nearly tripled since 1990, and that this shift helped Trump win the GOP nomination. Even though commentators had a hard time reconciling Trump’s apparent ignorance of Christianity and his history of pro-choice and pro-gay-rights statements with his support from evangelicals, the polls showed it had little effect:

A Pew Research Center poll last March found that Trump trailed Ted Cruz by 15 points among Republicans who attended religious services every week. But he led Cruz by a whopping 27 points among those who did not.

Beinart reports that culturally conservative white Americans who are disengaged from church experience less economic success and more family breakdown than those who remain connected, and they grow more pessimistic and resentful. Since the early 1970s, rates of religious attendance have fallen more than twice as much among whites without a college degree as among those who graduated college. And that was a big part of Trump’s support. According to PRRI:

White Republicans who seldom or never attend religious services are 19 points less likely than white Republicans who attend at least once a week to say that the American dream “still holds true.”

And secularization created political differences on the left too:

In 1990, according to PRRI, slightly more than half of white liberals seldom or never attended religious services. Today the proportion is 73%. And if conservative non-attenders fueled Trump’s revolt inside the GOP, liberal non-attenders fueled Bernie Sanders’s insurgency against Hillary Clinton: While white Democrats who went to religious services at least once a week backed Clinton by 26 points, according to an April 2016 PRRI survey, white Democrats who rarely attended services backed Sanders by 13 points.

Beinart point out that the trend is also true among Blacks, where the Black Lives Matter movement exists outside of the influence of Black churches:

African Americans under the age of 30 are three times as likely to eschew a religious affiliation as African Americans over 50. This shift is crucial to understanding Black Lives Matter, a Millennial-led protest movement whose activists often take a jaundiced view of established African American religious leaders.

Beinart speaks about Chris Hayes’s book Twilight of the Elites, in which Hayes divides American politics between “institutionalists,” who believe in preserving and adapting the political and economic system, and “insurrectionists,” who believe it’s rotten to the core:

The 2016 election represents an extraordinary shift in power from the former to the latter. The loss of manufacturing jobs has made Americans more insurrectionist. So have the Iraq War, the financial crisis, and a black president’s inability to stop the police from killing unarmed African Americans. And so has disengagement from organized religion.

The grim conclusion is that secularization may be dividing us more than we realize. Beinart closes with:

Maybe it’s the values of hierarchy, authority, and tradition that churches instill. Maybe religion builds habits and networks that help people better weather national traumas, and thus retain their faith that the system works. For whatever reason, secularization isn’t easing political conflict. It’s making American politics even more convulsive and zero-sum.

The corollary seems to be that religious affiliation brings at the very least, some appreciation of community and civility to our culture.

But, the increasing distrust in institutions in America continues to grow. If it’s big and rules-based, people are less interested than ever in participating, and that includes churches.

Now, let’s hear a song for Zeus’ sake! Here is REM with: “Losing My Religion” from their 1991 album, “Out of Time”:

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

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Monday Wake Up Call – March 20, 2017

The Daily Escape:

(Restored American Cars at Jose Marti Airport, Havana Cuba. 2014 photo by Wrongo)

America is snoozing on the Republican effort to turn health insurance into a party for the powerful. The LA Times’ reporter Michael Hiltzik took a look at the back pages of Paul Ryan’s Trumpcare bill and found a loophole that allows health insurance companies to pay their CEOs more money:

It does so by removing the ACA’s limit on corporate tax deductions for executive pay. The cost to the American taxpayer of eliminating this provision: well in excess of $70 million a year. In the reckoning of the Institute for Policy Studies, a think tank that analyzed the limitation in 2014, that would have been enough that year to buy dental insurance under the ACA for 262,000 Americans, or pay the silver plan deductibles for 28,000.

This is the opposite of the executive pay strategy under Obamacare. The ACA decreed that health insurance companies could deduct from their taxes only $500,000 of the pay of each top executive.

That’s a tighter restriction than the limit imposed on other corporations, which is $1 million per executive. The ACA closed a loophole for insurance companies enjoyed by other corporations, which could deduct the cost of stock options and other “performance-based” pay; for insurance companies, the deduction cap is $500,000 per executive, period. The reduced deductions would have been the equivalent of raising $600 million in new taxes over 10 years.

Well, that was more than the executives and their bought and paid for Congress critters could stand, so buried in the 123 pages of the House Republican bill repealing the Affordable Care Act, Hiltzik found that:

The House Republican bill repeals the compensation limit as of the end of this year. The GOP hasn’t exactly trumpeted this provision; it’s six lines on page 67 of the measure, labeled “Remuneration from Certain Insurers” and referring only to the obscure IRS code section imposing the limit. Repeal of the provision apparently means that the insurers will be able to deduct $1 million in cash per executive, plus the cost of “performance-based” stock awards and options, like other corporations.

So now, insurance companies’ executives will have a level playing field with other CEO’s. This fits in with the rest of the GOP bill: It does nothing to bring coverage to more Americans or make it cheaper. But it does help to further line the pockets of the privileged, and maybe that’s the point.

Wake up America! As Don Henley once said, “The large print giveth, and the small print taketh away”. We need to read what the GOP is really doing on the back pages of their legislation. To help us wake up, let’s pay tribute to Chuck Berry. To call him a legend of American musical history is an understatement. He received a Grammy Lifetime Achievement Award and Kennedy Center Honors. Berry’s “Johnny B. Goode” was the only rock-and-roll song included on the Voyager Space Probe Record.

Among the bands in which you hear his influence are The Rolling Stones and The Beatles. Both recorded his songs, and John Lennon said this:

If you tried to give rock and roll another name, you might call it Chuck Berry.

Berry played a Gibson model ES350. Sadly, while many great Rock and Roll guitarists have signature Gibsons, there is no Chuck Berry model. Here is Berry with a live version of “Roll Over Beethoven” from 1956. While the video isn’t the best, check out his guitar work on the intro:

Chuck probably duck-walked up to the Pearly Gates.

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

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Sunday Cartoon Blogging – March 19, 2017

Welcome to the start of another week in Trumplandia. The WaPo had a depressing story about how little some voters know about what in America’s politics impacts their lives:

Soon after Charla McComic’s son lost his job, his health-insurance premium dropped from $567 per month to just $88, a “blessing from God” that she believes was made possible by President Trump. “I think it was just because of the tax credit,” said McComic, 52, a former first-grade teacher who traveled to Trump’s Wednesday night rally in Nashville

She thinks that Trump has already made an important and favorable change to her family’s health insurance. Her son’s price decrease was actually due to a subsidy he received under the Affordable Care Act that Ms. McComic doesn’t realize is still in place. It has nothing to do with the tax credits proposed by Republicans as part of the Trumpcare bill still making its way through Congress.

She is a sample of one, but, Ms. McComic completely trusts Donald Trump. More from WaPo:

McComic said she’s not worried about her disability benefits changing or her 3-year-old granddaughter getting kicked off Medicaid or her 33-year-old son’s premiums going up. “So far, everything’s been positive, from what I can tell,” she said, waiting for Trump’s rally here to begin Wednesday night. “I just hope that more and more people and children get covered under this new health-care plan.”

Anecdotes like this reveal how surprisingly widespread ignorance of the political world is among voters.

Worse, it shows that people who are true believers don’t worry about how political decisions will impact them. Trump voters heard the Overlord promise to take away their healthcare insurance by repealing the ACA.

But they believed him when he said they would get something else that would be much better, so it’s all good.

There are decades of research about how people process information which would probably support the thinking that Ms. McComic is demonstrating cognitive bias. Her trusted news sources tell her that Trump is replacing Obamacare with tax credits, and she concludes that’s why her costs are magically lower.

Is there a way to cut through this and get voters like McComic to think more deeply, or to consider returning to the Democrats? Maybe not. But candidates in 2018 should pound these voters with: “This program you like was brought to you by Democrats.”

You like public parks? High-quality public schools? Medicaid? The GI Bill and Veterans’ benefits? Clean air to breathe? Clean water to drink? The fact that you are much less likely to be injured or killed on the job?

All were brought to you by Democrats. And the 2017 version of the Republican Party is planning to take away ALL of them.

The Guns vs. Butter argument will be resolved in favor of guns. Feeling safer?

The real kicker is that if Trumpcare and Trump’s Budget are both enacted, they will kill tens of thousands more Americans than will all of the Islamic terrorists and Mexican immigrants in America combined.

Certain things that were certain, seem different under the Republicans:

What did Trump REALLY mean?

But don’t worry, you know he has no real intention of making America great…

There are very few things he means “Literally”:

Trump cries “wolf”, and the White House mobilizes to explain:

Care? None of them care:

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Is Taxing Robots a Solution to Fewer Jobs?

The Daily Escape:

(Slot canyon with dust devil – photo by Angiolo Manetti)

Yesterday, the Dutch voted in an election pitting mainstream parties against Geert Wilders, a hard-right, anti-Islam nationalist whose popularity is seen as a threat to politics-as-usual across Europe, and possibly, as an existential threat to the EU.

Wilders, who wants to “de-Islamicize” the Netherlands and pull out of the EU, has little chance of governing, as all of the mainstream parties have already said they won’t work with him. Given Holland’s complicated form of proportional representation, up to 15 parties could win seats in parliament, and none are expected to win even 20% of the vote. OTOH, polls show that four in 10 of the Netherlands’ 13 million eligible voters were undecided a day before voting, and there is just 5 percentage points separating the top four parties, so Wilders could surprise everyone.

As Wrongo writes this, the Dutch election results are not known, but PBS NewsHour coverage on Tuesday surfaced a thought about taxing robots. PBS correspondent Malcolm Brabant was interviewing workers in Rotterdam:

Niek Stam claims to be the country’s most militant labor union organizer. He says the working class feel insecure about their prospects because of relentless automation and a constant drive to be competitive. The union is campaigning for robots to be taxed.

Brabant then interviewed a worker:

Robots do not buy cars. Neither do they shop for groceries, which leads to a fundamental question: Who’s going to buy all these products when up to 40% of present jobs vanish?

This isn’t an entirely new idea. Silvia Merler, blogging at Bruegel, says:

In a recent interview, Bill Gates discussed the option of a tax on robots. He argued that if today human workers’ income is taxed, and then a robot comes in to do the same thing, it seems logical to think that we would tax the robot at a similar level. While the form of such taxation is not entirely clear, Gates suggested that some of it could come from the profits that are generated by the labor-saving efficiency…and some could come directly in some type of a robot tax.

The main argument against taxing robots is made by corporations and some economists (Larry Summers), who argue that it impedes innovation. Stagnating productivity in rich countries, combined with falling business investment, suggests that adoption of new technology is currently too slow rather than too fast, and taxing new technology could exacerbate the slowdown.

It can be argued that robots are property, and property is already taxed by local governments via the property tax. It might be possible to create an additional value-added tax for robots, since an income tax wouldn’t work, as most robots are not capable of producing income by themselves.

Noah Smith at Bloomberg argues that the problem with Gates’ basic proposal is that it is very hard to tell the difference between new technology that complements human work, and new technology that replaces them. Shorter Noah Smith: Taxation is so hard!

Why are Western economies stagnant? Why has wage growth lagged GDP growth? Automation is certainly a key factor, but rather than point the finger at the corporations who continually benefit from government tax policies, let’s just assign blame to an object, a strawbot, if you will. That way, we won’t look too carefully at the real problem: The continuing concentration of economic and political power in the hands of fewer and fewer corporations.

Automation isn’t the issue, tax laws that allow economic treason by corporations in their home countries are the issue.

Why is nationalism on the march across the globe? Because fed-up workers see it as possibly the only answer to the neoliberal order that is destroying the middle class in Western democracies.

Let’s find a way to tax robots. Something has to offset Trump’s tax breaks for the rich.

Now, a musical moment. Did you know that “pre-St. Patrick’s Day” was a thing? Apparently, some dedicated celebrators prepare for the day itself by raising hell for up to a week beforehand. With that in mind, here is some pre-St. Pat’s Irish music, with Ed Sheeran singing “Nancy Mulligan” a love song about his grandparent’s marriage during WWII, against the wishes of her parents, and despite their Catholic/Protestant differences:

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

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