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The Wrongologist

Geopolitics, Power and Political Economy

Monday Wake Up Call – Totality Edition

“Mama always told me not to look into the eyes of the sun
Whoa, but mama, that’s where the fun is” – Bruce Springsteen

The Daily Escape:

“Diamond Ring” portion of a total solar eclipse, 2009 − photo by Rick Fienberg

Welcome to totality Monday. We live in a time when few things are certain, but eclipses are highly predictable. Some think that a total eclipse is awe-inspiring, and possibly, life changing. Count Wrongo as a non-believer, despite the fact that this is the first total eclipse in the continental US for 99 years.

Wrong advice? Go outside, but despite Springsteen’s thinking, do not look directly at it, unless you have the correct protective glasses. Get the flavor, and watch it later online.

Over the weekend, country singer Charlie Daniels compared the removal of Confederate statues in the US to ISIS’ demolition of historical sites in Iraq and Syria:

That’s what ISIS is doing over in places…there were pieces of history that they didn’t like, they were taking them down…

Wrongo had a similar thought, but lands in a completely different place. Everyone was appalled when the Taliban blew up the world’s two largest standing Buddhas in Afghanistan in March, 2001, six months before 9/11. We were also appalled when ISIS  rampaged through Iraq’s Mosul Museum with pickaxes and sledgehammers, and again, when they destroyed the Temple of Baalshamin in Palmyra, Syria in May, 2015.

The Muslim radicals claim the destruction of ancient sites is a religious imperative. They have targeted ancient sites, graves and shrines belonging to other Muslim sects as well as those of non-Muslims to conform to their religious beliefs. Most Americans regardless of politics or party, denounced what the Taliban and ISIS did to these antiquities.

Today, Americans are angrily divided about the removal of Confederate monuments. Is Charlie Daniels correct? Are those who would take down the statues no better than ISIS?

This is a false equivalency. ISIS is an extremist movement. Americans who want to remove Confederate statues are morally opposed to slavery, and understand that their goal will only be accomplished lawfully. Many have ancestors who were slaves, and feel that statues celebrating the Confederacy are morally wrong.

This debate has been hijacked by today’s white supremacists, white nationalists and American Nazis who say they wish only to “defend” the appropriateness of Confederate monuments in the public square. Their view is promoted by the “both sides do it” talking points in the media, by Donald Trump, and by Charlie Daniels.

The Taliban and ISIS destroy religious monuments and statues either because they are not Islamic, or because they were not their particular flavor of Islam. The push behind removal of Confederate statues comes from a different place. They symbolize the Secession, and Slavery. Those who would remove Confederate statues see the Confederates as people who placed preservation of the unjust economic system of slavery above the very idea of our nation.

ISIS destroyed antiquities, while the vast majority of Confederate statues were placed by neo-confederates less than 100 years ago to celebrate the Confederacy, an insurrection that lasted just four years. One similarity that Charlie Daniels missed is that ISIS and the neo-confederates both try to manipulate reality, one by building, the other by destroying, monuments and statues.

One stark difference is that ISIS cuts people’s heads off, and eats their livers. That isn’t the modus operandi of Americans who want the Confederate statues removed.

Charlie Daniels, wake up. Just because an idea flits through your mind is no reason to spew.

To help you reflect on all of this, hear the great Carlos Santana in collaboration with the Isley Brothers. Together, they have just released the album “Power Of Peace”. The album covers peace-and-love-themed songs such as “Higher Ground“, “Gypsy Woman”, “Mercy Mercy Me (The Ecology)”,What The World Needs Now is Love Sweet Love”, and others. Here are the Isleys and Santana with “Love, Peace and Happiness” originally by the Chambers Brothers:

 

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FCC Says America Doesn’t Need Fast Internet

The Daily Escape:

Gibraltar, looking toward the Atlantic, 2016 – photo by Wrongo

The FCC has just said that Americans might not need a fast home internet connection. Instead, mobile internet via a smartphone might be all the public needs. From Ars Technica:

The suggestion comes in the FCC’s annual inquiry into broadband availability. Section 706 of the Telecommunications Act requires the FCC to determine whether broadband (or more formally, “advanced telecommunications capability”) is being deployed to all Americans in a reasonable and timely fashion. If the FCC finds that broadband isn’t being deployed quickly enough to everyone, it is required by law to “take immediate action to accelerate deployment of such capability by removing barriers to infrastructure investment and by promoting competition in the telecommunications market.”

Today’s Wrongologist column is for all of those people who said “both parties are the same, it doesn’t matter who you vote for”. Nothing like the “small government” folks at the FCC telling America what type of internet access we need.

During the Obama administration, the FCC determined that broadband wasn’t reaching Americans fast enough, particularly in rural areas. And, they did not consider mobile broadband to be a full replacement for a home (or “fixed”) internet connection via cable, fiber, or other technologies.

Last year, the FCC concluded that Americans needed BOTH home and mobile access:

34 million Americans, about 10% of the country, still lack access to fixed broadband at the FCC’s benchmark speed of 25Mbps for downloads, 3Mbps for uploads…

The FCC also concluded under then-Chairman Tom Wheeler that since home internet connections and smartphones have different capabilities and limitations, Americans should have access to both instead of just one or the other.

But now we have a Republican administration. Ajit Pai, the GOP’s new FCC Chairman, is poised to change that policy by declaring that mobile broadband with speeds of 10Mbps downstream and 1Mbps upstream is all anyone needs. This is a deep tongue kiss from the FCC to the broadband industry.

More from Ars Technica: (brackets by the Wrongologist)

This [Agit’s plan] would be the first time that the FCC has set a broadband speed standard for mobile; at 10Mbps/1Mbps, it would be less than half as fast as the FCC’s home broadband speed standard of 25Mbps/3Mbps.

In Europe you can now routinely get 250Mbps internet service, and higher speeds in parts of Asia. Good job FCC!

The changes were signaled in an FCC Notice of Inquiry, the first step toward completing a new analysis of broadband deployment. The document asks the public for comments on a variety of questions, including whether mobile broadband can substitute for fixed Internet connections.

Pai has previously made it clear that he thinks mobile broadband can substitute for fixed connections. In 2012, Pai’s first year as a member of the FCC board, he criticized the then-Democratic majority for concluding that mobile internet service can’t replace home Internet.

Those who work from home need faster speeds, and the number of “at home” workers is growing. Companies have learned that letting employees work from home gets them a lifestyle improvement by ending the weeks of their year spent commuting. Working from home also lets companies lower their commercial rents.

Consumer internet usage will increase. With the current costs of mobile data, an evening of Netflix delivered by smartphone will put the average US consumer over their data plan maximum. The data caps in most mobile plans are low, and the costs of overages are high. Reliability is another issue. The service is fragile in storms, and unstable under high volume usage, such as at large public gatherings.

Do you remember the good old days when we made fun of Russia and China for their quaint infrastructure? Now, Republicans are trying to pretend the future doesn’t exist.

Maybe America doesn’t need interstate highways, local roads might be good enough. Pai is playing to Trump voters: Why would they want anything faster than mobile? They get Trump’s Twitter feed, so what else to they need?

You don’t like this? Is it making you angry?

You should know what to do by now. Hint: It usually happens on a Tuesday.

Music appreciation: Today we hear “Hymn to Freedom” by the Oscar Peterson Trio. It was written in 1962 in support of the Civil Rights movement. Here it is live in Denmark in 1964, with Oscar Peterson on Piano, Ray Brown on Bass and Ed Thigpen on Drums:

Freedom from the FCC and the Ajit Pai’s of the world is what we need.

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

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Silicon Valley Will Escape the Revolution

The Daily Escape:

Waterfall Jumping Competition (from 69 feet up), Bosnia, August 5th – photo by Amel Emric

Antonio Garcia Martinez:

Every time I meet someone from outside Silicon Valley – a normy – I can think of 10 companies that are working madly to put that person out of a job…

Well, that makes most of us “normies”. In context, we are the people who do not work in Silicon Valley. We are the people who use technology, rather than invent technology, and many of us ought to see technology as a threat to our jobs and our place in society.

We are not in the beautiful peoples’ club. Our names are not on the list. We’re not software engineers who work just to pay the taxes on their company stock.

And who is this Martinez guy? From Mashable:

He’d sold his online ad company to Twitter for a small fortune, and was working as a senior exec at Facebook (an experience he wrote up in his best-selling book, Chaos Monkeys). But at some point in 2015, he looked into the not-too-distant future and saw a very bleak world, one that was nothing like the polished utopia of connectivity and total information promised by his colleagues.

Martinez pointed out that there are enough guns for every man, woman and child in this country, and they’re in the hands of people who would be hurt most by automation:

You don’t realize it but we’re in a race between technology and politics, and technologists are winning…

Martinez worries about how the combination of automation and artificial intelligence will develop faster than we expect, and that the consequences are lost jobs.

Martinez’s response was to become a tech prepper, another rich guy who buys an escape pod somewhere off the grid, where he thinks he will be safe from the revolution that he helped bring about. More from Mashable: (brackets by the Wrongologist)

So, just passing [after turning] 40, Antonio decided he needed some form of getaway, a place to escape if things turn sour. He now lives most of his life on a small Island called Orcas off the coast of Washington State, on five Walt Whitman acres that are only accessible by 4×4 via a bumpy dirt path that…cuts through densely packed trees.

He’s not alone. Reid Hoffman, co-founder of LinkedIn told The New Yorker earlier this year that around half of Silicon Valley billionaires have some degree of “apocalypse insurance.” Pay-Pal co-founder and venture capitalist Peter Thiel recently bought a 477-acre escape hatch in New Zealand, and became a Kiwi. Other techies are getting together on secret Facebook groups to discuss survivalist tactics.

We’ve got to expect that with AI and automation, our economy will change dramatically. We will see both economic and social disruption until we achieve some form of new equilibrium in 30 years or so.

It will be a world where either you work for the machines, or the machines work for you.

Robert Shiller, of the famous Case-Shiller Index, wrote in the NYT about the changing meaning of the “American Dream” from the 1930s where it meant:

…ideals rather than material goods, [where]…life should be better and richer and fuller for every man, with opportunity for each according to his ability or achievement…It is not a dream of motor cars and high wages merely, but a dream of a social order in which each man and each woman shall be able to attain to the fullest stature of which they are innately capable…

That dream has left the building, replaced by this:

Forbes Magazine started what it calls the “American Dream Index.” It is based on seven statistical measures of material prosperity: bankruptcies, building permits, entrepreneurship, goods-producing employment, labor participation rate, layoffs and unemployment claims. This kind of characterization is commonplace today, and very different from the original spirit of the American dream.

How will the “Normies” survive in a society that doesn’t care if you have a job? That refuses to provide a safety net precisely when it celebrates the progress of technology that costs jobs?

The Silicon Valley survivalists understand that, when this happens, people will look for scapegoats. And we just might decide that the techies are it.

Today’s music is “Guest List” by the Eels from the 1996 album “Beautiful Freak”:

 Takeaway Lyric:

Are you one of the beautiful people
Is my name on the list
Wanna be one of the beautiful people
Wanna feel like I’m missed

Are you one of the beautiful people
Am I on the wrong track
Sometimes it feels like I’m made of eggshell
And it feels like I’m gonna crack

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

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Trump’s Termites

The Daily Escape:

Missouri Breaks, MT – photo (via)

US Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke announced that there would be no change for the Missouri Breaks National Monument. Zinke is from Montana, so saving one for his peeps isn’t a big surprise.

Missouri Breaks is one of 27 monuments established during the previous 20 years by presidents using the Antiquities Act. The Antiquities Act allows presidents to set aside objects of historic or scientific interest to prevent their destruction. The law was created in 1906 to guard against looting of sacred American Indian sites.

In April, Trump ordered the Department of the Interior to review the status of every national monument designated since 1996. As a result of the review, these cultural and/or natural treasures could be significantly reduced in size or even eliminated, and the Antiquities Act itself could be severely limited. The land would remain owned by the federal government, but might lose its protected status, and be contracted to private enterprises. When you allow corporations to ‘lease’ land for oil, fracking, mining, ranching, etc. fences go up, private police forces are hired to keep people out for their ‘safety’.

Not everyone agrees that Trump has the authority to do what he wants. From the Washington Times:

If President Donald Trump or any successor desires the authority to revoke national monument designations, they should urge Congress to amend the Antiquities Act accordingly. They should not torture the plain language of the Act to advance a political agenda at the expense of regular constitutional order.

The LA Times disagrees:

Indeed, those who claim that the Antiquities Act does not grant a reversal power cannot find a single case in another area of federal law that supports that contention. To override the norm, legislators have to clearly limit reversal powers in the original law; the plain text of the Antiquities Act includes no such limits.

Who knows? Next, Der Donald will lease the Grand Canyon to China for use as a landfill.

But the bigger picture is that behind the smoke and mirrors of Trump’s pathological lying and the media’s obsession with Russia, his cabinet appointees are working like industrious termites, eating away much of the support beams of our nation’s rules-based edifice.

Consider Attorney General Jeff Sessions. From the New Yorker: (brackets and editing by the Wrongologist)

He [Sessions] has reversed the Obama Administration’s commitment to voting rights…He has changed an Obama-era directive to federal prosecutors to seek reasonable, as opposed to maximum, prison sentences for nonviolent drug offenders…he has revived a discredited approach to civil forfeiture, which subjects innocent people to the loss of their property. He has also backed away from the effort…to rein in and reform police departments, like the one in Ferguson, Missouri, that have discriminated against African-Americans.

Although candidate Trump promised to protect LGBT rights, President Trump last week vowed to remove transgender service members from the armed forces, and Sessions…took the position in court that Title VII, the nation’s premier anti-discrimination law, does not protect gay people from bias. Most of all, Sessions has embraced the issue that first brought him and Trump together: the crackdown on immigration…

All across the government, Trump appointees are busy chewing through the existing regulatory edifice, ending not just Obama-era rules, but others that have been in place for decades.

Another truly damning thing is Trump’s surrogates’ efforts to undermine foreign policy. The WaPo reports:

Trump signed off on Iran’s compliance with profound reluctance, and he has since signaled that when Iran’s certification comes up again — as it will every 90 days, per a mandate from Congress — he intends to declare Iran not in compliance, possibly even if there is evidence to the contrary.

According to the New York Times: (brackets by the Wrongologist)

American officials have already told allies they should be prepared to join in reopening negotiations with Iran or expect that the US may [unilaterally] abandon the agreement, as it did the Paris climate accord.

It is difficult to see how this ends well for the US. Imagine, Iran and North Korea both pursuing nuclear weapons to deploy against the US. Why would we want to engage on two fronts, when one (North Korea) is already so problematic?

What is the Trump agenda? Are there any articulated goals? What are the strategies to achieve them?

Have we heard a concrete proposal for any of his big ideas (health care, tax reform, or infrastructure)?

We have not, but his termites keep chewing, and soon, our whole building will be compromised.

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IMF Reports US Standard of Living is Falling

The Daily Escape:

Haleakala Crater, Maui

Is it the best of times or the worst of times? This is no longer a partisan discussion. We have an economy in the midst of a long expansion, the third longest since 1850. The statistics say we are close to full employment. But, our mortality rate is moving in the wrong direction, and we have an opioid epidemic that is serious enough to cause jobs to go unfilled. The NYT reports that in Youngstown Ohio, middle class factory jobs go begging:

It’s not that local workers lack the skills for these positions, many of which do not even require a high school diploma but pay $15 to $25 an hour and offer full benefits. Rather, the problem is that too many applicants — nearly half, in some cases — fail a drug test.

The Fed’s regular Beige Book surveys of economic activity across the country in April, May and July all noted the inability of employers to find workers able to pass drug screenings.

So the best of times? Probably not. Bloomberg reports that the International Monetary Fund (IMF) looked at the US economy. This is what they see:

For some time now there has been a general sense that household incomes are stagnating for a large share of the population, job opportunities are deteriorating, prospects for upward mobility are waning, and economic gains are increasingly accruing to those that are already wealthy. This sense is generally borne out by economic data and when comparing the US with other advanced economies.

The IMF then goes on to compare the US with 23 other advanced economies in the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) in this chart:

The chart is a bit of an eye test unless it’s viewed on a big monitor, but its overall point is that the US has been losing ground relative to its past OECD reports by several measures of living standards. 35 countries make up the OECD. The members include all of Western Europe, Russia, Japan, Australia, and several developing nations like Korea and Panama.

This from Bloomberg:

And in the areas where the US hasn’t lost ground (poverty rates, high school graduation rates), it was at or near the bottom of the heap to begin with. The clear message is that the US — the richest nation on Earth, as is frequently proclaimed, although it’s actually not the richest per capita — is increasingly becoming the developed world’s poor relation as far as the actual living standards of most of its population go.

This analysis is contained in the staff report of the IMF’s annual “consultation” with the U.S., which was published last week. The IMF economists haven’t turned up anything shocking or new, it’s just that as outsiders, they have a different perspective than what we hear from our politicians and economists.

For example:

Income polarization is suppressing consumption…weighing on labor supply and reducing the ability of households to adapt to shocks. High levels of poverty are creating disparities in the education system, hampering human capital formation and eating into future productivity.

What is to be done? Well, the IMF report concludes:

Reforms should include building a more efficient tax system; establishing a more effective regulatory system; raising infrastructure spending; improving education and developing skills; strengthening healthcare coverage while containing costs; offering family-friendly benefits; maintaining a free, fair, and mutually beneficial trade and investment regime; and reforming the immigration and welfare systems.

In other words, they suggest substantial reform. It’s doubtful that America can take care of these things anytime soon.

The subtext to most of their suggestions is that other affluent countries have found ways to improve in these areas, while the US has not. We don’t have to look too far into the past to see when those countries were modeling their economies on ours. But today, on all sorts of issues, like taxation, labor markets, health care, and education, the opposite is now true.

One major difference between the US and the rest of the developed world is ideological: Voters and politicians in the US are less willing to raise taxes to finance a better life for our citizens.

Other wealthy countries have figured out how to raise revenue, provide quality education, help the the unemployed, reduce poverty, and keep their citizens healthier than America has.

We must catch up, or admit our time as the world’s indispensable economy is over.

Today’s music (dis)honors the turmoil in the White House. See ‘ya Mooch! Remember that in just six months, Trump has gone through two National Security Advisers, two Chiefs of Staff, two Communications Directors, two Press Secretaries, and two Directors of the FBI.

Here is “Disorder in the House” by the late Warren Zevon and Bruce Springsteen:

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

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Do Trump’s Poor Approval Ratings Mean Much?

The Daily Escape:

Lake Louise Sunrise, Alberta, Canada

On Monday, Gallup released Trump’s job approval rating in all 50 states, based on a collection of over 81,000 survey results gathered in the six months between the president’s inauguration on January 20 and June 30. The results show an interesting trend, particularly if you divide them into three categories: states where Trump is above 50%, states where Trump is in the 40%’s, and states where Trump is under 40%:

The dark green states where Trump is above 50% are states Trump carried in 2016. The yellow states, where Trump is under 40%, are all states that Clinton carried in 2016. The light green states are 2016’s swing states: New Hampshire, Ohio, Pennsylvania, Florida, North Carolina, Michigan, Wisconsin, Iowa and Nevada. From Gallup:

Trump largely owed his victory in the 2016 presidential election to his wins in three key Rust Belt states — Michigan, Pennsylvania and Wisconsin — that had not backed a Republican for president since the 1980s. In these states, his January-June approval ratings were just slightly above his overall average of 40%, including 43% in Pennsylvania and Wisconsin and 42% in Michigan.

So those three states that put him over the top in the 2016 Electoral College could now be in play. Other interesting data:

  • In the 2016 election, Trump won all 17 of the states where Gallup now shows him with an approval rating of at least 50%.
  • During the six-month survey period, residents in West Virginia (60%), North Dakota (59%) and South Dakota (57%) gave Trump his highest approval ratings. Montana, Wyoming and Alabama all had average approval ratings of 55% or higher.

This is consistent with the geographic patterns of Republican strength nationally. Trump’s highest approval ratings tend to be in Southern, Plains and Mountain West states. His lowest ratings are in Northeast and West Coast states.

Maine, Georgia, Missouri, Indiana, Mississippi, Arizona and Texas are now in the minority-favorable category. Clinton carried Maine and Nevada, but the rest are states that voted for Trump.

In Michigan, North Carolina, Florida and Texas, Trump is at 42% and at least nine points underwater with majority disapproval. Majority disapproval in Texas could help Dems in 2020.

This means that Trump is solidly under 50% in 33 states, including every swing state.

Gallup has been running this daily tracking poll for about 70 years. It showed Trump’s approval at 46% at inauguration. Now the same Gallup poll, done with the same protocol, shows Trump’s approval at 36%.

But this doesn’t mean that Trump is toast in 2020, or that the Democrats have a path to control either the House or Senate in 2018. Peter Hessler had an interesting article in The New Yorker about how Trump has a deeper influence on his voters than we previously thought:

If anything, investigations into the Trump campaign’s connections with Russia have made supporters only more faithful. “I’m loving it – I hope they keep going down the Russia rabbit hole,” Matt Peterson told me, in June. He believes that Democrats are banking on impeachment instead of doing the hard work of trying to connect with voters. “They didn’t even get rid of their leadership after the election…”

Trump is drawn to making silly statements on the Twitter machine like a moth to flame, and it is scorching him enough to reflect in his approval numbers. But Russia alone won’t be a winning hand for Democrats, as the New Yorker article shows. These Russia investigations may not amount to anything, or they may be something that takes until Trump’s second term to fully flower.

In the meantime, the Dems issued a new manifesto, “A Better Deal”, a re-branding of their greatest hits: more and better-paying jobs, lower health care costs, and cracking down on the abuses of big business.

But this time, they really mean it.

It is doubtful that the new slogan or its underlying policies will have Republicans quaking in their Ferragamos.

If there is one lesson Democrats should have learned from 2016, it is that opposition to Trump is not enough to win elections. They need new leadership and a better message.

Otherwise, despite the rosy (for Democrats) poll results on Trump favorability, Democrats will be explaining what went wrong again when the 2018 midterms roll around.

On to today’s tune. Here is Aretha Franklin doing “It Ain’t Necessarily So“, with lyrics and music by George and Ira Gershwin. It is from their opera, “Porgy and Bess”:

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

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Monday Wake Up Call – July 24, 2017

The Daily Escape:

Toronto Canada – photo by Carlos D. Ramirez

We sometimes forget what the Amendments to the Constitution are about. We remember the 1st Amendment and these days, with several in the Trump administration about to testify before Congress, we have renewed interest in the 5th, but who knows anything about the 17th Amendment?

It provides that Senators are directly elected by citizens.

The idea that we directly elect our senators seems uncontroversial, but the Tea Party and the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC), want to change that. ALEC has proposed new “model legislation” to do away with an elected Senate.

The idea of reversing 104 years of representative democracy and returning to the days when senators were chosen via backroom deals, is not new. The John Birch Society peddled the proposal decades ago. But with the rise of the Tea Party, the notion moved into the conservative mainstream.

In 2010, the Tea Party called for revision or repeal of three Constitutional amendments: the 14th (which is the basis for federal protection of civil rights), the 16th (the income tax) and the 17th. Some Tea Partiers even linked evangelical Christianity and Libertarian economics to argue that the original 1789 Constitution and the Bill of Rights were divinely inspired, but all subsequent amendments were of human origin and the 14th, 16th and 17th in particular had been Satanic perversions of the divine plan.

From The Nation:

Let’s focus on the 32 legislatures where Republicans have control: If Republicans were to maintain their current advantage, and if they were empowered to replace all sitting Democratic senators at the end of their current terms, they could shape a Senate with at least 64 Republican members.

There is already a political imbalance in states with large urban populations. In 2016, for instance, 51,496,682 Americans cast ballots for Democratic Senate candidates, while 40,402,790 cast Republican ballots, yet the Republicans took 22 seats to 12 for the Democrats.

If the resolution is approved by ALEC’s members, it will become part of ALEC’s agenda for the states—advanced in each by legislators who have a long-established pattern of rubber-stamping ALEC’s “model legislation.”

But, it is a long distance from model legislation to an amendment to the Constitution. ALEC controls some states, but it doesn’t control 38 states to the extent that they are capable of repealing one of the nation’s core political reforms. OTOH, if they were successful, it would reverse one of the great strides toward democracy in American history: the 1913 decision to end the corrupt practice of letting state legislators barter off Senate seats in backroom deals with campaign donors and lobbyists.

People in the 19th century knew that votes for state representatives were proxy votes for electing their Senators. The Lincoln-Douglass debates involved two Senate candidates trying to sway the elections of state legislators in order to get one of them elected to the Senate.

But, in 2017, returning the nation to direct election of Senators by state legislators is just one of the many ideas Republicans have for revamping the American system into a one-party state, including extreme gerrymandering of Congressional and state legislative districts, restrictive voter-ID laws, ending early voting, and other tricks designed to make sure that people unlikely to vote Republican have difficulty voting at all.

It’s amazing, and downright scary that the American Right looks at the structure and apportionment of the Senate and decides it’s not yet tilted enough in their favor. The Senate is already an undemocratic, unrepresentative institution that overweights small states at the expense of large ones.

The idea of a 17th amendment repeal is a classic example of “we had a serious problem, and then we fixed it, but so much time has passed, people have forgotten what the problem was”.

They want to undo the fix without bothering to check history.

America! It’s time to wake up and learn your history. It’s crucially important to you, your kids and grandkids. We don’t want to repeat past mistakes. To help you wake up, here is “Non-Stop” from the play “Hamilton”. It reprises the time of writing The Federalist papers, and the establishment of our Constitution, in hip-hop format:

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

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Today’s Conservatives’ Southern Roots

The Daily Escape:

Vasconcelos Library – Mexico City

From The Atlantic’s Sam Tannenhaus:

…the most populous region in America, by far, is the South. Nearly four in 10 Americans live there, roughly 122 million people, by the latest official estimate. And the number is climbing. For that reason alone, the South deserves more attention than it seems to be getting in political discussion today.

Ain’t demographics great? Tannenhaus continues:

The South is the cradle of modern conservatism. This, too, may come as a surprise, so entrenched is the origin myth of the far-westerners Barry Goldwater, Richard Nixon, and Ronald Reagan as leaders of a Sun Belt realignment and forerunners of today’s polarizing GOP. But each of those politicians had his own “southern strategy,” playing to white backlash against the civil-rights revolution—“hunting where the ducks are,” as Goldwater explained—though it was encrypted in the states’-rights ideology that has been vital to southern politics since the days of John C. Calhoun.

Tannenhaus is reviewing Nancy MacLean’s Democracy in Chains, and using it as a jumping off point to explore the roots of modern conservatism. Why does all this matter today? Donald Trump.

Tannenhaus points out that Trump won the South bigly:

Lost amid the many 2016 postmortems, and the careful parsing of returns in Ohio swing counties, was Donald Trump’s prodigious conquest of the South: 60% or more of the vote in Alabama, Arkansas, Kentucky, Oklahoma, Tennessee, and West Virginia, with similar margins in Louisiana and Mississippi.

And we need to look at Trump’s Cabinet: 10 Cabinet appointees are from the South, including Attorney General Sessions (Alabama) and Secretary of State Tillerson (Texas).

MacLean’s view is that modern conservatives draw on Southern resistance to 1954’s Supreme Court decision in Brown vs. Board of Education. After the New Deal, conservatives pushed back hard against the expanding federal government. Tannenhaus says:

But it was an uphill battle; the public was grateful for Social Security. Brown changed all that. More than the economic order was now under siege…A new postwar conservatism was born, mingling states’-rights doctrine with odes to the freedom-loving individual and resistance to the “social engineering” pursued by what conservative writers in the mid-1950s began to call the “liberal establishment.”

MacLean focuses on James Buchanan, a Virginian, and a Nobel Prize-winning economist, who argued that the crux of the desegregation problem was that “state-run” schools had become a “monopoly”.

Buchanan argued for privatization of schools. If local towns and cities limited their involvement in education to setting minimum standards, then many kinds of schools might flourish. Each parent “would cast his vote in the marketplace and have it count.”

Sounds like Betsy DeVos.

But, Buchanan wasn’t done. In his book “The Calculus of Consent” (1962), he argued that politicians were looking out for themselves, and they could do real damage that citizens were unable to avoid. The high-priced programs they devised were paid for by taxes, and citizens had little choice but to pay them. Reinforced by the steep progressive tax rates of the time, he called it licensed theft. Not long after Buchanan’s book, Medicare was passed, then the War on Poverty, and then the Great Society— each another example of social engineering delivered by the liberal establishment.

Buchanan’s ideas live on today. The right believes that liberal values cost us our liberty.

Today’s Freedom Caucus is Buchanan’s ideological descendant. They believe they are the guardians of liberty, that drastic measures, like shutting down the government, or defaulting on the national debt are legitimate uses of political power that serves their higher objective. More from Tannenhaus:

This is what drives House Republicans to scale back social programs, or to shift the tax burden from the 1% onto the parasitic mob, or to come up with a health-care plan that would leave Trump’s own voters out in the cold.

Conservatives and Libertarians say that “government is trampling our way of life”. That sets people against government programs, even when the specific program doesn’t need to be attacked. Consider Medicaid. It is attacked as both social engineering and a gift to minorities, even though the majority of those benefiting from it are elderly or white.

Conservatives and Libertarians prefer “individual choice” for poor elderly, or children who can’t afford healthcare. A broadly-based social safety net isn’t consistent with their ideological purity.

They fail to see the value of government as a moderating force in markets.

Accordingly, their thinking cannot advance human society in any meaningful way.

Today’s tune: “Revolution” by The Beatles recorded in September 1968. It was released as the B-side of the “Hey Jude” single in late August 1968, and we hear the live studio version from a month later:

Takeaway Lyric:

You say you’ll change the constitution
Well, you know
We all want to change your head
You tell me it’s the institution
Well, you know
You better free you mind instead

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

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Saturday Soother – July 1, 2017

The Daily Escape:

Matsumoto Castle, Japan – photo by Aaron Bedell

Wow! Trump outdoes himself with his Twitter attack on America’s sweethearts, Joe and Mika.

But today, let’s focus on Medicaid, and the possibility that it will be phased out by Mitch McConnell and his Republican Senate colleague’s effort to save America by giving more tax cuts to the rich.

Amy Davidson at the New Yorker wrote about “The Senate’s Disastrous Health Care Bill” in the July 3rd issue: (emphasis by the Wrongologist)

Medicaid, for example, covers seventy-four million low-income Americans—a fifth of the population. There is no simple picture of this group; according to the Kaiser Family Foundation, thirty-four million are children, eleven million are disabled, and seven million are elderly, a large number of whom live in nursing facilities. Many of those people led middle-class or even affluent lives, until their savings were consumed by the cost of residential care, which, in large part, is not covered by Medicare; nearly two-thirds of nursing-home patients are, at some point, on Medicaid.

One of Obamacare’s innovations was to expand Medicaid eligibility to include people slightly above the poverty level. The federal government now pays the states a percentage of what it costs them to care for eligible residents: if a state spends more, it gets more, within certain parameters. Both Republican plans would radically restructure the program, giving states limited sums. The states would then have to use their own money to make up for the shortfall—or they could choose to spend even less. This change would place particularly devastating financial pressures on the elderly, at a time when the population is aging.

We’ll see whether the GOP is successful in gutting Medicaid after the July 4th break. Josh Marshall of Talking Points Memo made a great point about how Republican goals for health care were not what they campaigned on, while talking to CNN’s Wolf Blitzer:

When you try three times to ‘repeal and replace’ and each time you come up with something that takes away coverage from almost everyone who got it under Obamacare, that’s not an accident or a goof. That is what you’re trying to do. ‘Repeal and replace’ was a slogan that made up for simple ‘repeal’ not being acceptable to a lot of people. But in reality, it’s still repeal. Claw back the taxes, claw back the coverage.

It is detestable to spin their dismantling of Medicaid as “reform”. It is even more detestable to say that with Repeal and Replace, people will have better health insurance.

So, we need to relax and try to forget all about this for a few days. Wrongo’s suggestion is that you grab a cup of Kick Ass coffee, settle in a comfortable chair where you can look out a window, and listen to Ralph Vaughan Williams’s “The Lark Ascending”.

Today’s soother was suggested by blog reader Shelley VK. We have it performed by violin soloist, Janine Jansen with Barry Wordsworth conducting the BBC Orchestra at the Royal Albert Hall in 2003. Jansen is playing a 1727 Stradivari “Barrere” violin:

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

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Saturday Soother – June 24, 2017

The Daily Escape:

Waterton Park, part of Glacier International Peace Park – photo by Steve Coyle

Yesterday, we talked about the culture of anxiety that has developed in America in the last 40 years. One thing we didn’t discuss is the growing problem of “till debt do us part”. The average American is dying in debt. According to Bloomberg, the average total household debt in America is just over $132,500. And with the Federal Reserve’s recent rate increases, repayment of that debt will become increasingly more difficult.

Difficult enough that most Americans will be saddled with a sizable chunk of it at the time of their death.

Credit.com has reported that Experian’s FileOne database includes 220 million consumers (there are about 242 million adults in the US). To determine the average debt people have when they die, Experian looked at consumers who, as of October 2016 were not deceased, but then were listed as deceased as of December 2016:

Among the 73% of consumers who had debt when they died, about 68% had credit card balances. The next most common kind of debt was mortgage debt (37%), followed by auto loans (25%), personal loans (12%) and student loans (6%).

Those consumers carried an average total debt balance of $61,554, including mortgage debt. The breakdown of unpaid balances was as follows: credit cards, $4,531; auto loans, $17,111; personal loans, $14,793; and student loans were the largest balance outstanding at $25,391.

Think about this: people who die with student loans outstanding owe $25k on average. That has to cause anxiety for the individual and any family member who guaranteed the debt.

Now, federal student loan debt can be cancelled upon a borrower’s death, but private student loan debt rarely offers the same benefit. They can go after the borrower’s estate for payment. Even then, family members are not then automatically responsible for the debt, but jointly-owned assets like the family home could be in jeopardy.

So, lots of anxiety when the average person is dying with $61.5k in debt. Considering that the median individual net worth in America is $81.1k, the average person is leaving just $20k behind when they die.

So the average American needs a lot of soothing for debt anxiety. To help with that, here are Anna Netrebko & Elīna Garanča performing “Barcarolle” from Offenbach’s “Tales of Hoffman”. Barcarolle is the most famous aria from the opera (Belle nuit, ô nuit d’amour), performed in Act 2. The Barcarolle has been incorporated into many movies, including “Life Is Beautiful” and “Titanic”. Wrongo has featured Netrebko and Garanca before, and we return today to hear how beautifully and clearly their voices meld:

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

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