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The Wrongologist

Geopolitics, Power and Political Economy

Sunday Cartoon Blogging – October 8, 2017

(There will be limited blogging until 10/17, as Wrongo and Ms. Right are visiting London to see five plays in seven days. We are also having dinner at Highclere Castle (Downton Abbey). Please keep your tray tables in the locked position while we are away.)

Another week of shocks to the system. Cartoons may help. The GOP reaction to Las Vegas is almost automatic, just like bump stocks:

Some are reluctant to give up their Congress:

The Senate is always on sale:

Tillerson tries to explain Trump’s undermining:

Trump tosses different kinds of paper depending on the audience:

RIP Tom Petty:

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A Strong Proposal For Changing Our Gun Laws

The Daily Escape:

Lauterbrunnen, near Bern, Switzerland. Photo by Scott Hafer

Thought for today:

“The right thing is usually not hard to do. And if it is, it’s still the right thing.” – Jason Hirschorn

Pam Keith is a Democratic candidate for Florida’s 18th Congressional District. She was a Navy officer, and lawyer. She has a great take on what to do with guns in America. Here is a series of tweets by Pam:

(The Baker Act allows the holding of mentally-ill people against their will)

WTG Ms. Keith, all are good ideas! Outlawing “bump stocks’ should be added to this list, and it seems that the House is likely to do just that. Will we ever get the National Rifle Association (NRA) out of the business of dictating which gun legislation is, or isn’t acceptable?

Assuming we want changes to our interpretation of the Second Amendment, we must force enough Republicans in Congress to listen, and act. We have control, if we choose to use it.

Or, we can accept the occasional mass slaughter as the “price of freedom” as Bill O’Reilly says we must. The Second Amendment is neither inviolable, nor sacrosanct. We have built this edifice of carnage on the most willfully misinterpreted 27 words in the Constitution. Ms. Keith’s ideas could help save lives, without impacting the rights of responsible gun owners.

As the opening quote says, doing the right thing, even if it is hard to do, very hard, it’s still the right thing.

We could stand idly by, and accept that random, indiscriminate mass slaughter is our new normal.

Here is a musical interlude by the Wailin’ Jennys singing “Light of a Clear Blue Morning” from their soon-to-be released album, “Fifteen”, a series of covers. Here, they are covering Dolly Parton. They turn the tune into a reminder about resilience and hope in each new day. This is particularly appropriate given the Las Vegas mass murder.

They sing in perfect à cappella harmony. Inspiring and beautiful:

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

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Sunday Cartoon Blogging – August 20, 2017

Jon Stewart in a surprise appearance at Dave Chappelle’s show at Radio City Music Hall skewered white supremacists:

If you guys feel like you’re losing out, fucking work harder. I don’t know what to tell you. If you’re a white supremacist, if you think you’re the master race, how come we’re kicking your ass so easily? You’re the master race! How come you’re not winning everything? Why aren’t the Olympics dominated by you? You’re the master race. What do you have left? Golf and tennis, maybe, maybe. And even then, the first black people you came across, you’re like, ‘We can’t play this game anymore.’ Williams sisters, Tiger Woods. O.K.

Suppressing political violence is a matter of will. It requires that we rise above our tribal loyalties and defend the political system that is at the heart of America.

Trump is having trouble keeping members of his advisory councils:

Trump uses wrong finger:

Is the Confederate Flag about heritage? Absolutely:

The monuments are only part of the problem:

Bannon’s real job was easy to see:

The Trump Eclipse requires different glasses:

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Getting Past Charlottesville

The Daily Escape:

Upper Peninsula MI, 2017 – photo by Otto Heldring

There’s a depressing overtone to Charlottesville that suggests the arc of history is the energy behind the story. Is the nation’s soul about to be divided as it has been many times before? Americans get two chits: One for the ballot box, and another for the soap box. Many people feel compelled to use both. The existential question is how best to use them.

The Charlottesville incident left a woman dead, and many others badly injured from a car-ramming. It has the flavor of a “first shot” in a new civil war. And the president’s criticisms of counter-protesters in Charlottesville seem to be far outside the mainstream. Frank Bruni, NYT:

We’re stuck for now with a morally bankrupt plutocrat for president, someone so defensive and deluded that he’s urging more nuance in the appraisal of neo-Nazis.

Still, many Republicans have been reluctant to condemn Trump’s Charlottesville rhetoric. The right would do well to excise any association with the Hitlerites who chanted “blood and soil” in their torch-lit pseudo Nuremberg rally in Virginia. America remains the land of the free and the home of the brave, but Nazis? Nein, Danke.

We have two conflicts arising from Charlottesville:

  • Does every group still have the right to assemble (peacefully) and speak their minds?
  • What are we to do about the symbols from our divided past?

The 1st Amendment protects most speech, but not the sensibilities of those who are exposed to it. Some speech is guaranteed to be offensive. America has lived with neo-Nazis, the KKK, et al for Wrongo’s entire lifetime, and has survived it, no matter how odious. Even the ACLU assisted the neo-Nazis in Charlottesville.

But there are recognized limits. No one has a right to incite violence. Individuals have no right to defame someone. Some of the limits are easier to define than others: The concept of inciting a riot can lead to a subjective reading of the facts and the application of nebulous standards.

Today’s wrinkle are the armed demonstrators. They imply that a peaceful assembly could be placed at grave risk at any moment. It shouldn’t be difficult to foresee that local people will come out to confront neo-Nazis and white supremacists that are marching in their town. That creates even greater risk of physical violence, and requires that local police are well-trained and disciplined.

Second, there are Confederate statues all over America. The white supremacists who went to Charlottesville to “protect” Lee’s statue need to hear that we will not re-litigate the Civil War. The south’s and the nation’s history are what they are. The Civil War should be given due weight, learned from, pondered, and not shunted aside. Are Robert E. Lee’s existence, deeds, and historical relevance news to anyone?

A suggestion: In Bulgaria, the USSR monuments were removed and placed in a single museum park. The museum’s collection covers the period 1944 to 1989, from the introduction of communism in Bulgaria, to the end of the totalitarian regime. Herding those statues into one place makes a statement that speaks loudly about the era, and how the USSR deprived Bulgarians of their rights.

Maybe a few such statue parks could have a similar effect here.

Let’s not get sidetracked from the most important issue before us: How we remake the US economy so that it provides a decent standard of living and expanding opportunity to as many people as possible.

There are plenty of “deplorables” who would benefit from universal health care, inexpensive college tuition for their children, infrastructure that worked, and good-paying jobs. Uniting the US population around programs that achieve these goals would do much to subdue the angry ethnic divisions that these “political entrepreneurs” are trying to foment.

Moreover, this program is not of the right or the left.

It’s a path toward political stability and a better society – one that would allow people the opportunity to develop into contributing, thoughtful citizens, capable of fully participating in the Republic.

Ok, a tune to help you think about peaceful assembly and whether the statues should stay or go. Here is Depeche Mode with “Where’s The Revolution” from their 2017 album “Spirit”. Wrongo didn’t know they were still working, much less producing relevant tunes:

Takeaway Lyric:

You’ve been kept down
You’ve been pushed ’round
You’ve been lied to
You’ve been fed truths
Who’s making your decisions?
You or your religion
Your government, your countries
You patriotic junkies

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

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Trump Can’t Lead

The Daily Escape:

Zion NP Utah, 2001 – photo by Wrongo

Leader of the Free World. Leader of the Republican Party. Commander-in-Chief. Leader of the US Government. Donald Trump holds all of these titles, but he isn’t a leader. We just lived through a lab experiment in Trump’s leadership, his curious response to the Charlottesville protests. Either he had a lapse in clear thinking, or he cannot show empathy when the rest of us need it.

Either way, he failed as a leader.

On Saturday, America reacted to a moment in which armed racism was celebrated by members of the KKK, neo-Nazis, white nationalists and white supremacists, who sought a confrontation to help them achieve high status among the far right. The ugliness of the rally – which included crowds of young white men carrying torches, an air of menace, and the offering of the Nazi salute — should make our president think about how not just to defuse the situation, but how to blunt this from becoming a wave of similar protests across the nation.

Trump’s remarks on Saturday said in essence, “All lives matter”. By Monday, when most of America thought that what he said was far less than the situation required, he gave a terse speech saying:

Racism is evil…Those who cause violence in its name are criminals and thugs, including the KKK, neo-Nazis, white supremacists and other hate groups that are repugnant to everything we hold dear as Americans.

There was no emotion or believability behind it, he said what he was told needed to be said, not what he believed. Where was Trump’s sympathy for Jews, African-Americans, Muslims and others that these white-right protesters savaged?

And where was his leadership? Richard Neustadt wrote “Presidential Power” in 1960, a definitive book for its time. Wrongo read it as a freshman in college. Here is a quote:

The president’s primary power is to persuade and bargain, not to command. When a president has to resort to commanding people, he is showing weakness. Commands only work in very special circumstances. The essence of a President’s persuasive task is to convince…that what the White House wants of them is what they ought to do for their sake…

The power to persuade is perhaps the most important tool a president has. Power in our government is dispersed, so the president must bargain and persuade others that what he knows is in their best interest, and coach them to move in the right direction. Do you see Trump doing that?

Dr. Christine Porath of Georgetown thinks that “warmth” is the most important trait for a leader to have:

Warmth is the primary characteristic that people judge you by, and they make that judgment first…Can I trust you? If you seem warm, then that’s great…Leading with warmth, for leaders, has shown to be helpful. It’s a way to connect with people and again they’re more likely to work harder for you and perform better.

Do you see any warmth in Trump? Any empathy? It isn’t there.

Neustadt agrees. He calls how the public views the president, “public prestige”. Even though the public has no direct association to policymaking, the public’s view of the president affects how legislation moves through the Congress and into law. Neustadt also says that a president should think and act prospectively, so decisions he makes today aid his ability to persuade tomorrow.

Trump’s opinion polls are in the dumpster. A very small core of Americans find him believable.

Scott Adams the Dilbert guy, has said that Trump is a master persuader, and that he won the election because of his mad persuasion skills. But, those skills, which did seem to exist in the 2016 primaries and general election, have deserted Der Trump, and have been replaced by continuing Twitter attacks on a growing list of institutions, groups of people, and individuals.

Charlottesville was a protest by those who define themselves not just by who they are, but by who they hate. And they also define themselves as Trump supporters. There were shouts of “Heil Trump” on Friday night. They see no benefit in finding commonality with a diverse America, but pointedly, thrive off of hating our differences.

These people are content to blame “The Others” for their lot in life, and Trump persuades mostly by telling us what he hates, rather than what he likes.

In the 1960s we had much larger, and more violent (though mostly unarmed) protests. Those protesters didn’t want to jet us back to the past, but to propel us forward to a better future.

The white nationalist agitators in Charlottesville want to return us to an era that cannot (and should not) be recreated. All in the name of making America “great again.”

And they back Trump, a charlatan who pretends to lead.

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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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Saturday Soother – June 17, 2017

The Daily Escape:

Mt. Fuji, Japan- photo by Takashi Yasui

The news and the pundits are non-stop in their analysis of the shooting in DC that critically wounded Republican Congressman Steve Scalise and 3 others. Much has been written, but Wrongo likes what Charlie Pierce wrote the best:

Violence doesn’t “intrude” on everyday life in America. Violence is a part of everyday life in America. A little more than a week ago, five people were shot to death in warehouse in Orlando. Is a warehouse in Orlando less innocent than a Virginia ballfield? Is a disgruntled worker taking his mad vengeance less of a demonstration of a country unhinged than a home-inspection specialist who fried his brain over politics? Is somebody who wounds over politics a worse murderer than someone who kills because he got fired? I admire the ability of anyone who can make that measured a moral choice.

On the whole, people shouldn’t get shot. They shouldn’t get shot in the streets. They shouldn’t get shot in school. They shouldn’t get shot in the workplace. They shouldn’t get shot while carrying snack food in the “wrong” neighborhood, and they shouldn’t get shot while they’re trying to surrender. They shouldn’t get shot while dancing in a nightclub. And they shouldn’t get shot on the ballfield on a spring morning.

In the main, one victim is not more “innocent”—and, thus, of more value—than any other one. Their occupation shouldn’t matter. Their politics shouldn’t matter. There is a violence inherent in the country’s history and there is a wildness present in its soul and, on occasion, both of these surface more clearly than is usual. Technology has made the violence more lethal and the wildness more general. The uniquely American conflation of innocence with hubris is a luxury we can no longer afford.

OTOH, according to Heather Digby Parton:

Meanwhile, 93 people on average are shot and killed every day in America, many of them in incidents involving multiple victims. More than 100,000 people are struck by bullets every year. President Donald Trump was right to speak about “carnage” in America in his inaugural address. He just didn’t acknowledge that the carnage is from gun violence. According to the gun safety website The Trace:

Using data from the World Health Organization, researchers found that America accounted for 82 percent of all firearm deaths among 23 comparable nations in 2010. Ninety percent of women killed by guns in the study were in the U.S., as were 91 percent of children under 15.

There is no solution for this that will fly politically in this country. The gun-toter, and the no guns crowds are already spinning their version of the narrative to the crowd that sits in the pews directly in front of them.

America just has to accept that this is perhaps the most concrete way in which America is exceptional, and, it.just.sucks.

It is difficult to get to a soothing place on this Saturday, with all that has happened. Also, my brother died a year ago this week. Back in the late 1970’s he was (very) down on his luck, and each weekend, he would come to visit Ms. Right and me to get fattened up for the coming week. He would walk into the house, grab the album “Goodbye Yellow Brick Road” and play its opening track, Funeral for a Friend”. There would be no talking until 11 minutes later when it ended:

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

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Saturday Soother – February 4, 2017

“True terror is to wake up one morning and discover that your high school class is running the country.” Kurt Vonnegut

Welcome to the weekend, we should be at least concerned, if not terrified. After all, look at who is in charge. Its those jerks you knew back in the day.

We have just driven into a long, dark tunnel in the back seat of the Trump Express. Will we ever see light at the other end? When a president is out of his party’s mainstream by this much, he just provides cover for the rest of them to act out accordingly.

A few things that happened this week that you should consider, none of which will be the worst thing that Trump puts in motion over the next four years:

  • The House and Senate approved a measure that scuttles a new regulation aimed at preventing coal mining debris from being dumped into nearby streams. The Senate’s 54-45 vote on Friday sends the measure to President Trump. What’s more, the law prevents the executive branch from imposing substantially similar regulations in the future.
  • On Thursday, the House repealed a Social Security Administration regulation to keep people with severe mental illnesses from buying guns. Rep. Kevin Brady, R-Texas, and Chair of the House Ways and Means Committee said:

The agency should be focused on serving all of its beneficiaries, not picking and choosing whose Second Amendment rights to deny…

On the gun issue, the GOP is taking away Obamacare, so you won’t be able to afford treatment for your mental illness, but hey – go buy a gun!

To paraphrase Mitt Romney, coal companies are people too. They need the profits from dumping industrial waste in the water supply just as much as a human needs clean water. Why should we prioritize humans over corporate folks? Maybe you’re just prejudiced against legal persons.

Republicans seem to know intuitively that the faster and more boldly they move, the harder it will be for Democrats to change the rules later. As long as Republicans control both the House and the Senate, Trump will leave big, black heel marks all over our democracy.

So, calm down. It’s gonna get worse. Take a break with a hot cuppa DECAF coffee and settle back for half an hour to listen to music. Here is Mendelssohn’s Violin Concerto E Minor OP 64 first performed in 1845. It took Mendelssohn six years to write. Today we hear it performed by three-time Grammy Award-winning violinist Hilary Hahn playing in June 2012 with the Frankfurt Radio Symphony Orchestra at the Korean Art Centre Concert Hall, Seoul Korea:

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

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Monday Wake Up Call – October 17, 2016

(This is a re-post of Monday’s column which was lost after the database crash on Monday night)

Random Monday thoughts:

First, Nobel Laureate Bob Dylan is a huge part of the soundtrack to the lives of boomers, so the average person has no problem with his winning the award, despite maybe pulling for Phillip Roth, or Dom DeLillo. From Dwight Garner:

This Nobel acknowledges what we’ve long sensed to be true: that Mr. Dylan is among the most authentic voices America has produced, a maker of images as audacious and resonant as anything in Walt Whitman or Emily Dickinson.

Dylan is probably the only Nobel Prize for Literature winner who was a household name. Most are people whose work is known only to the elites. Harvard Professor Richard Thomas teaches a course called “Bob Dylan”:

I don’t see any difference between a poet like Catullus or Virgil and Bob Dylan. I think they are doing the same things. It has to do with control of language, connecting of lyrics and melodies. That’s what makes it timeless.

The professor notes that in songs like “Lonesome Day Blues”, there’s a stanza that goes:

I’m going to spare the defeated, I’m going to speak to the crowd
I’m going to spare the defeated, ’cause I’m going to speak to the crowd
I’m going to teach peace to the conquered, I’m going to tame the proud

And it’s pretty much a direct quote of lines spoken in the “Aeneid” by the ghost of Aeneas’s father, Anchises, who he sees in the underworld, and who basically says to him: “Other people will make sculpture. Your art, your job as a Roman, is to ‘spare defeated peoples, tame the proud.’”

Second, what is the point of having a third presidential debate? We already know almost everything about the Pant Suit, because the Right has been studiously putting her public and private life on display for the past 30 years. There is more we might learn about Mr. McGropey Pants, but don’t expect to hear anything that sounds like policy. Expect the Pant Load to do nothing to elevate the discourse. If he says: “is the bitch through talking?” don’t be surprised.

Third, his supporters will remain loyal, even after the election. The Boston Globe reports that election night could be the start of something terrible. For the past two weeks, Trump has been stoking fears that you can’t trust what happens at the ballot box. This, from Cincinnati:

And if Trump doesn’t win, some are even openly talking about violent rebellion and assassination, as fantastical and unhinged as that may seem.

“If she’s in office, I hope we can start a coup. She should be in prison or shot. That’s how I feel about it,” Dan Bowman, a 50-year-old contractor, said of Hillary Clinton…“We’re going to have a revolution and take them out of office if that’s what it takes. There’s going to be a lot of bloodshed. But that’s what it’s going to take…I would do whatever I can for my country.”

But, isn’t Trump your garden-variety Republican, and aren’t his supporters absolutely regular folks? After all, a sitting US Senator, Jeff Sessions, (R-Ala.) said in New Hampshire on Saturday that anti-Trump forces are trying to rig the election. All these people are mainstream GOP for sure.

And Mr. “in prison or shot” Bowman is just another peaceful American who is deeply concerned about the economic well-being of the working class.

Can’t you see Putin asking the UN to send in election monitors to certify the results?

Time to wake up America!  You brought this on (i) by not voting in off-year elections, (ii) by not supporting media that search for truth, and (iii) by not insisting on the best possible education for your kids.

To help you wake up, here is Nobel Laureate Bob Dylan’s “Tangled Up in Blue”, recorded in 1975:

Sample Lyrics:

Then she opened up a book of poems
And handed it to me
Written by an Italian poet
From the thirteenth century
And every one of them words rang true
And glowed like burnin’ coal
Pourin’ off of every page
Like it was written in my soul from me to you
Tangled up in blue

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

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