The Wrongologist

Geopolitics, Power and Political Economy

A Well-Regulated Militia

The Daily Escape:

Sunrise, Mt. St. Helens – 2018 drone photo by russeltrupiano

We live in a country with about five percent of the world’s population, but we possess nearly 50% of the world’s civilian-owned firearms. More guns, more civilian deaths, it’s that simple.

A primary reason that we have more guns is how the meaning of the term “Well Regulated Militia” was mis-appropriated by Second Amendment (SA) absolutists. The Propaganda Professor is writing a series on the SA. His work is always worth a read. Previously, he wrote about the Right to Bear Arms. His second column is about the Well Regulated Militia. The Professor asks:

The purpose of the Second Amendment was actually to guarantee a “well-regulated militia”. But what exactly does that mean? Just what is/was a militia, anyway?

SA absolutists say that “militia” means all citizens, because they think that’s what was meant when the SA was written. There are flaws in this claim. They quote George Mason, a Virginia delegate to the Constitutional Convention:

I ask, sir, what is the militia? It is the whole people, except for a few public officials.

Sadly for them, that wording isn’t included in the actual Amendment. And at the time, it’s unlikely that Mason meant all of the people. The Professor:

Consider that the Second Militia Act of 1792 (passed only a few months after the Second Amendment was written) designated the composition of the militia as being: every free able-bodied white male citizen of the respective States, resident therein, who is or shall be of age of eighteen years, and under the age of forty-five years…

So, if you are an original intent person, today’s “militia” would consist only of white males between 18 and 45. The Act says they should be outfitted with:

…a good musket or firelock, a sufficient bayonet and belt, two spare flints, and a knapsack, a pouch, with a box therein, to contain not less than twenty four cartridges, suited to the bore of his musket or firelock, each cartridge to contain a proper quantity of powder and ball…

The definition of militia has changed over the years. In 1862, a new Militia Act finally eliminated the race restriction; but it still pertained only to men of a certain age.

In 1903, the Dick Act established the National Guard as the official “organized militia” of the US. It said those who were not Guard members were to be called the “unorganized militia“.

The SA absolutists have twisted this, saying that “unorganized militia” means anyone who wants to carry a gun for any purpose. Thus, all civilians are a part of the “unorganized” militia and therefore covered by the SA. That is debatable, but the most important thing about the militia was not who qualified as a member, but its purpose for existing. The Professor points out that the Acts of 1792 make that clear:

That whenever the United States shall be invaded, or be in imminent danger of invasion from any foreign nation or Indian tribe, it shall be lawful for the President of the United States, to call forth such number of the militia of the state or states most convenient to the place of danger or scene of action, as he may judge necessary to repel such invasion…

The Acts of 1792 make it clear that the militia was designed to be an organized armed force supplied by the states to execute the laws of the nation. Nothing in the Militia Acts say citizens can be armed for “defending” themselves against the government.

The purpose of the militia is further defined by the term, “well-regulated”. The gun rights people say it derives from a 1698 treatise, “A Discourse of Government with Relation to Militias” by Andrew Fletcher, in which the term “well regulated” was equated with “disciplined”.

But “well-regulated” in the dictionary has other meanings, and they all apply to a military unit, such as a militia.

Since militia members in Revolutionary days were conscripted for service, it implies that the militia membership was a civic obligation. It isn’t a few guys running around in camo gear on Saturday.

Finally, the Professor points out that militia, like military, is derived from the Latin word for soldier.

The soldier is part of an organized body, and is well-regulated in virtually every possible sense of the term.

It’s not Joe Six-pack and his AR-15.


Thinking About Trump’s Infrastructure Plan

The Daily Escape:

Lincoln Highway – photo by Andrew Smith. The Lincoln Highway was the first highway to connect the east and west coasts of the USA in 1916. It was a combination of newer and older roads of varying quality.

Eisenhower’s National Highway System had its origin in a road trip that he took across the country in 1919, 33 years before he was elected president. From Atlas Obscura:

Lt. Colonel Dwight D. Eisenhower traveled with the military in a motor convoy across the country, from DC to San Francisco… This was one of the first major cross-country road trips, and it planted the idea in Eisenhower’s mind that the federal government could and should make improving US highways a priority…

In 1919, America’s network of roads that Eisenhower traveled on was, for the most part, still rudimentary.

In 1916, the Lincoln Highway had been designated, but it wasn’t a proper highway. The Eisenhower convoy mostly traveled the Lincoln Highway, with some detours. The motorcade included more than 80 vehicles. It left Washington DC on July 7, 1919, and took seven and a half hours to reach its first stop at Frederick, Maryland, a distance of 46 miles. That’s where Eisenhower joined the group.

That 6 miles an hour pace is what the convoy would average in its drive across the country. It took them 62 days to make it to San Francisco.

In 1919, usable roads hardly existed west of Indiana. When it rained, vehicles got stuck in soft spots on the roads, up to their hubs, and had to be pushed out. In Nebraska, they found sand to be the enemy. One day, it took seven hours to pull all the trucks through 200 yards of quicksand.

Elected in 1952, Eisenhower hoped to build the highways that he had talked about for years. The Federal-Aid Highway Act of 1944 had authorized the construction of a 40,000-mile “National System of Interstate Highways”, but hadn’t provided funding to pay for the construction.

Eisenhower’s new Federal-Aid Highway Act passed in June 1956. It authorized the construction of a 41,000-mile network of interstate highways spanning the nation. It also allocated $26 billion to pay for them. The federal government would pay 90% of the costs of construction, using a national fuel tax.

Thereafter, that great American institution, the road trip, could begin. Today, the Interstate Highway System is more than 46,000 miles long.

Flash forward to 2018. We know public spending peaked at 2.2% of inflation-adjusted GDP in 2009 and has fallen ever since. By late last year, it was down to about 1.6%.

President Trump said while introducing his new infrastructure plan:

It is time to give Americans the working, modern infrastructure they deserve.

Reading Trump’s plan, it is clear he thinks we deserve nothing. Disagree? Start by looking at Trump’s budget proposal. Jared Bernstein says:

The budget proposes $200 billion over 10 years, but as budget analyst Bobby Kogan tweeted: “The budget cuts $178 billion in…transportation [not including cuts to] water, broadband…and energy. This means [Trump is] giving $200 billion with his left hand but taking away that much with his right.”

$20 billion a year doesn’t go very far. The plan shifts at least 80% of the investment in infrastructure to private investors, states, and cities. This is problematic, because Trump’s tax plan significantly lowers the amount of federal taxes that state and local taxpayers can deduct from their tax bill. This will make it much harder for states and cities to raise the revenue to support infrastructure spending, or any other public needs.

The LA Time’s Michael Hiltzik says it best: (brackets and emphasis by Wrongo)

The whole package should mostly be seen as [typical of] the Trump administration’s approach to governing: programs with virtually no rationale and without adequate financing, along with a commitment to getting government off the backs of the people so Big Business can saddle up.

This is Right Wing ideology at work. They passed a huge tax cut in order to “starve the beast” that is the US government, while at the same time, they will “feed the beast” via $trillions of deficit financing. Cities and states are not flush with cash for new infrastructure projects, and the private sector won’t do anything that reduces shareholder return, so Trump’s plan is dead on arrival.

As for financing America’s roads, increase fuel taxes. Let drivers amortize the building costs, a system Eisenhower used. Add tolls where we must. Make the traffic move faster and safer.

Trump should be like Ike: Pay for our infrastructure!

Claw back some tax cuts. Cut defense spending. Pay for purer water for our towns and cities. Pay for better schools, a smart electric grid, and better ports and airports.

Pay for them all with federal dollars.

(Wrongo is indebted to the tywkiwdbi blog for covering the Eisenhower road trip on Lincoln’s birthday)


Saturday Soother – February 3, 2018

The Daily Escape:

Redwood logging, Humboldt County CA – 1915 Photo by AW Ericson, hat tip Eric Loomis

Our problem as Americans is we actually hate history. What we love is nostalgia –Regie Gibson

Can we survive a mal-educated population? The Southern Poverty Law Center (SPLC) just released a study called “Teaching Hard History, American Slavery” that indicts our high school education system, at least as it relates to teaching about the Civil War and slavery. Here are their most damning conclusions:

  • Only 8% of high school seniors surveyed identified slavery as the central cause of the Civil War
  • Almost half identified tax protests as the main cause
  • 68% didn’t know that it took a Constitutional amendment to formally end slavery

Tax protests? Possibly, the kids who thought slavery had to do with “taxation” are conflating the Civil War with the Revolutionary War.

We teach vignettes, not context. We talk about individuals and concepts like the Underground Railroad, Harriet Tubman and Frederick Douglass, Lincoln and the Emancipation Proclamation, or abolitionists. There is little discussion about how slaves were the most important element of net worth in the south, or how hard southern landowners fought to protect that source of value.

The SPLC says that teaching lessons rarely connect slavery to white supremacy, the ideology that grew up to sustain and protect it. They point out that the American ideology of white supremacy, along with accompanying racist dogma, developed precisely to justify the perpetuation of slavery. The report concludes:

If we don’t get the early history of our country right, we are unlikely to be equipped to do the heavy lifting necessary to bridge racial divides now and in the future…

Most towns probably devote an hour a day to history class in high school. If a class year is 180 days, which means kids have 1,000 hours of history a year, at least for high school. That totals to 4000 hours, plenty of time to truly teach American history, regardless of protests about teaching to the test or Common Core.

We can surely do a better job, or we face the consequence that our future is in the hands of Trump’s “poorly educated”, most likely, an easily swayed group of voters.

Welcome to the weekend. By now you, like Wrongo, know what is in the Nunes Memo. The NYT denounced the Memo in advance, but with the caveat that:

None of this is to say the FBI and the rest of the federal law enforcement apparatus should be immune from criticism or reform.

Nope, not when back in the day, the FBI was run by a cross-dressing maniac addicted to blackmail.

Anyway, to get distance from the world, Wrongo is making chili today. That way it can rest overnight before we eat it during the Super Bowl. What are you having?

To help you read The Memo, get in your most comfortable chair and drink a fresh-brewed vente cup of Kicking Horse Coffee. You can choose between “Smart Ass” blend or, their “Kick Ass” blend. Wrongo suggests Smart Ass, only $11.99 for 10 oz at Amazon.

BTW, they sell “Half Ass”, but no “Bad Ass” or “Dumb Ass” brands. Why?

To help you relax and forget DC, Dumb Ass Democrats, and Trump for a while, settle back and listen to the West Ocean String Quartet perform the old Irish melody “The Lark in Clear Air”. This is one of many versions, some include lyrics from a poem by Belfast’s Sir Samuel Ferguson. The tune is from a folk song called “Kathleen Nowlan” or, alternatively, “The Tailor’s Son” from the early 19th Century:

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


What the Tet Offensive Can Teach Us

The Daily Escape:

Wounded Marines carried on a tank during the fight to recapture Hue in the Tet Offensive in 1968 – photo by John Olson, The LIFE Images Collection. It is one of the most famous photographs from the Vietnam War. The pale figure is Alvin Bert Grantham from Mobile AL, who was shot through the chest. He survived.

Tuesday was the 50th anniversary of the 1968 Tet Offensive. Tet is the Vietnamese holiday that celebrates the lunar New Year. On that day, the North Vietnamese (NVA) and the Vietcong launched a massive military offensive all across South Vietnam. It was largely a surprise attack. The NVA thought their attacks would trigger popular uprisings throughout the country, and that the US military and the South Vietnamese could be beaten in a quick, though bloody battle.

They miscalculated. Within a month, the Tet Offensive was over, and the war continued for another seven years.

In “Hue 1968”, a remarkable book by Mark Bowen, (who wrote “Black Hawk Down”), Bowen faults General William Westmoreland, who days after Tet started, said that the country-wide attacks were a diversion from Khe Sanh, so he initially held back troops from Hue, and other Vietnamese cities.

Khe Sanh was the seat of the district government. US Special Forces built an airstrip there in 1962, and ultimately a fortified base. Westmoreland believed it was a strategic location both for covering the Demilitarized Zone (DMZ), and to cut off NVA infiltration from Laos. Bowen writes:

Indeed the attack he expected there [Khe Sanh] loomed so large in his mind that he had entertained the use of chemical and even tactical nuclear weapon (p. 314).

A few days later, Westmoreland wrote:

The use of tactical weapons should not be required in the present situation…. [but] I can visualize that either tactical nuclear weapons or chemical agents would be active candidates for employment (p. 315).

Imagine. In 1968, field commanders were willing to recommend using tactical nuclear or chemical weapons in a war that was not an existential threat to the USA. This is the type of nuclear weapon that the Trump administration is currently thinking of adding to our to-be-built nuclear arsenal. Also remember that Trump has delegated tactics to field commanders in the Middle East and Africa, our current Vietnams.

There are a few lessons to be learned from the Tet Offensive. You can say that it was the beginning of the end for our Vietnamese adventure, but it took until 1975 for us to finally leave.

One thing that changed forever was the US public’s faith in what LBJ and the generals were saying about the war. Both had grossly oversold our progress to the American people, and Tet made that clear. More from Bowen:

For decades…the mainstream press and…the American public believed their leaders…Tet was the first of many blows to that faith in coming years. Americans would never again be so trusting (p. 505).

The publication of the Pentagon Papers in 1971 sealed the deal. They showed that American leaders had been systematically lying about the scope and progress of the Vietnam War for years.

After Tet, there was no more conjecture in the White House or Pentagon that the war could be won quickly or easily. The debate moved from how to win, to how to leave.

A month later, LBJ decided not to seek reelection. Westmoreland was soon removed as the field commander. And 1968 also brought the assassinations of Dr. King and Robert Kennedy, and then, the riots. Richard Nixon was elected eight months later, promising not victory, but that he had a “secret plan to bring the war to an honorable end”.

What have America’s presidents and generals learned from the Tet Offensive? We know that the military teaches future commanders about Vietnam to no apparent effect. It is still re-fought by our military. And almost half a century after Tet, they haven’t won it yet.

The Pentagon got the Trump administration to agree to a new “mini-surge” in Afghanistan intended, in disturbingly Vietnam-esque language, to “reverse the decline,” and “end the stalemate”.  The Pentagon convinced Trump that more troops will do the trick.

This is tragedy bordering on farce. And sadly, there is no course in quagmire management for future presidents.

Vietnam was, in truth, a 21-year war, from our first advisors at Dien Bien Phu, where the French were defeated in 1954, to that last helicopter in Saigon in 1975.

Afghanistan is now a 17-year war, with about as realistic hope of ending successfully as Vietnam had at the 17-year mark. And much like in Vietnam, we have no real strategy, and no long-term realistic end state that we can see.

The only thing that keeps Afghanistan going is that very few Americans have a relative in the fight, because we ended universal conscription in 1973.

That was one lesson from Vietnam that our military accepted and put into practice.


Do Democrats Have a Winning Political Strategy?

The Daily Escape:

Frozen branch in Lake Erie, Cleveland OH – 2018 photo by Igorius

The Democrats’ demand of passage of DACA legislation, or they would block a Continuing Resolution (CR) to keep the government open, lasted 72 hours. No DACA legislation was passed, but Dems are touting a Republican promise of debate about DACA over the next three weeks.

That promise comes from Mitch McConnell, the guy who stole Merrick Garland’s Supreme Court seat, and got away with it.

Wrongo believed that dying on DACA hill was a bad political choice for Democrats. After all, there are 700,000 Dreamers, but 320 million Americans would be affected by a government shutdown. Their negotiating position shows how weak the Dems are today.

Those Dems who say that capitulation on the CR was worth it to secure the Children’s Health Insurance Program (CHIP) funding for six years, should remember that the CR runs out in three weeks. Then it will be up for discussion again.

So from the Dems viewpoint, if by February 8th, the Republicans have not dealt with DACA, the Dems can shut the government down again, this time using the narrative that Mitch McConnell is a liar, and that they gave Republicans a chance to fix the problem. Unfortunately, McConnell has been called a liar before.

But if February 8 comes, and Democratic Senators back off on another confrontation to protect the Dreamers, that will not only be terrible for Dreamers, it’s terrible for Democrats. They have a few weeks to pressure Republicans to get this done.

OTOH, it is difficult to see why Republicans would do anything different. Paul Ryan and Mitch McConnell will use these three weeks to tighten the screws, and finish the job. That would start with McConnell taking the House’s already passed Securing America’s Future Act (SAF) to a vote.

Once Senate Dems say “no” to that, McConnell can say “Well, we put a DACA bill on the table, and the Dems rejected it. I lived up to my promise.” There will be some tinkering by middle-of-the-road Dems around the edges of the SAF bill. Then it will be attached to the CR. How long do you think it will be before 10+ Dems cave, and pass it?

Fault lines exist. A dozen Senate Democrats broke with party leaders to vote against the bill, including a number of potential presidential candidates, a sign they knew exactly where their base is, even if the leadership doesn’t.

Democrats need to use their time in the minority to remake the Party. They should pursue and deliver programs that offer real benefits for middle and working class voters. They need a plan to deal with income inequality. Fundamental questions about what being a Democrat means in the 21st Century must be addressed.

FDR provides a great example for today’s Democrats. In the 1930s, FDR responded to a financial crisis with bold, creative policies that delivered massive, tangible benefits to working people. Because of what FDR did, the Republicans were forced to go in his direction to stay politically competitive. Republicans began to promise that they could improve the programs they once opposed.

Here is what Roosevelt said in a speech about Republicans at the time:

Let me warn you, and let me warn the nation, against the smooth evasion that says ‘Of course we believe these things. We believe in social security. We believe in work for the unemployed. We believe in saving homes. Cross our hearts and hope to die. ‘We believe in all these things. But we do not like the way that the present administration is doing them. Just turn them over to us. We will do all of them, we will do more of them, we will do them better and, most important of all, the doing of them will not cost anybody anything’

In the post-war period, the Republican Party looked more like Dwight Eisenhower than like Ronald Reagan.

And today, Democrats must emulate FDR: Move Republicans to the left, not move the Dems further to the right. This isn’t about finding someone to create an Obama third term. Democrats shouldn’t prioritize getting rid of a bad president, they need to build a serious alternative to Republican ideology.

The Democratic Party has failed many times to produce a political strategy which would force the Republican Party to change direction. And they look like they may fail once again. The Democratic leadership believes that the party needs to unify at all costs to present the strongest possible electoral challenge to Trump in 2020.

It’s counter-intuitive, but to secure a future Democratic majority, Dems must first decide to be a party with a plan that addresses income inequality.

They can knock out Trump without moving to the right.


NIH Lifts Ban on Deadly Virus Research

The Daily Escape:

Nature tells us that while we were talking breathlessly about Trump’s tax cuts, on Tuesday, the US government lifted ban on risky pathogen research:

The National Institutes of Health will again fund research that makes viruses more dangerous. The US government has lifted its controversial ban on funding experiments that make certain pathogens more deadly or transmissible.

The research that will now get government funding involves three viruses: Influenza, SARS, and MERS, viruses that could kill millions if they mutated in a way that let the germs spread quickly among people.

More from Nature:

The NIH announcement ends a moratorium on what is called gain-of-function research that began in October 2014. Back then, some researchers argued that the agency’s ban…was too broad. The 21 projects halted by the policy included studies of seasonal flu and efforts to develop vaccines.

The NIH eventually allowed 10 of these studies to proceed, but three projects using the MERS virus and eight dealing with flu remained ineligible for US government grants, until now.

Biologists say they need to alter these viruses in the lab to understand what genetic changes matter in starting pandemics, allowing them to understand the risks, and get prepared. But some of their past efforts to tinker with viruses have made other scientists uneasy.

In 2011, scientists revealed that they had deliberately made forms of a deadly bird flu that could spread easily among ferrets, a stand-in for people in flu studies. Critics argued that the knowledge gained wasn’t worth the danger of creating a super flu that might escape the lab. In early 2012, virologists agreed to put a voluntary moratorium on their bird flu work that was supposed to last only 60 days, but ended up lasting more than a year.

Now, these scientists will once again get federal money to conduct ‘gain-of-function’ research on pathogens such as influenza viruses. But the agency also said that researchers’ grant applications will undergo greater scrutiny than in the past. NIH Director Francis Collins said the goal is to standardize:

A rigorous process that we really want to be sure we’re doing right…

Nature quotes Marc Lipsitch, an epidemiologist at the Harvard School of Public Health, who says that gain-of-function studies:

Have done almost nothing to improve our preparedness for pandemics — yet they risked creating an accidental pandemic…

He argues that such experiments should not take place at all. But if the government is going to fund them, there needs to be the extra level of review that NIH seems prepared to implement.

Really, what could go wrong? We still don’t know precisely how weaponized anthrax that was used to attack several news media offices and two Democratic Senators, killing five people and infecting 17 others, escaped from the government’s bio-defense labs at Fort Detrick in Maryland, one week after the 9/11 attack.

OTOH, basic scientific research is a public good. Samuel Stanley, the president of NY’s Stony Brook University told NPR:

Basic research on these agents by laboratories that have shown they can do this work safely is key to global security…

We’ve got to trust that the NIH will select scientists and labs that have rigorous containment procedures and manage the process to insure that what could become the world’s most dangerous bio-weapons remain safely locked away.

On to more Christmas music! Let’s listen and watch the Royal Choral Society perform the “Hallelujah Chorus” from Handel’s Messiah. The Royal Choral Society has performed Handel’s Messiah on Good Friday at the Royal Albert Hall every year since 1876. We seem to like it at Christmas. This performance is from April, 2012:

This music lifts your heart up and can help wipe away the hate in the world.

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


Saturday Soother – November 25, 2017

The Daily Escape:

Blue Mosque, Istanbul -2013 photo by Wrongo

Wrongo planned on taking the rest of the week off, but couldn’t resist this:

We live in a time when inequality of wealth, income and influence is thought to be greater than at any time in history. Inequality strengthens social injustice and with it the existence of The Privileged and The Disadvantaged. Of those who have influence and feel they are entitled to everything, and those who expect little, receive even less but need most. Government policies are fashioned by The Privileged for their own benefit. The Disadvantaged, having little or no voice, are ignored, allowing the Cycle of Containment to be maintained, change to be suppressed and social divisions to deepen.

This is from a post entitled What Price Humanity? at Dissident Voice, and it is a pretty accurate description of where we are in America. More:

Sitting at the center of this socio-economic tragedy is an economic ideology that is not simply unjust, it is inhumane. Compassion and human empathy are pushed into the shadows in the Neo-Liberal paradigm, selfishness, division and exploitation encouraged. The system promotes short-term materialistic values and works against mankind’s natural inclination towards unity, social responsibility and cooperation, inherent qualities that are consistently made manifest in times of crisis, individual hardship and collective need.

Graham Peebles is asking what are We the People entitled to in 2017 America? And his answer is grim.

Wrongo thinks nothing is more appropriate to this discussion than FDR’s Second Bill of Rights as stated January 11, 1944 in his message to the US Congress on the State of the Union:

  • The right to a useful and remunerative job in the industries or shops or farms or mines of the nation;
  • The right to earn enough to provide adequate food and clothing and recreation;
  • The right of every farmer to raise and sell his products at a return which will give him and his family a decent living;
  • The right of every businessman, large and small, to trade in an atmosphere of freedom from unfair competition and domination by monopolies at home or abroad;
  • The right of every family to a decent home;
  • The right to adequate medical care and the opportunity to achieve and enjoy good health;
  • The right to adequate protection from the economic fears of old age, sickness, accident, and unemployment;
  • The right to a good education.

FDR could foresee the end of WWII when he gave this speech. He concluded that: (emphasis by the Wrongologist)

All of these rights spell security. And after this war is won we must be prepared to move forward, in the implementation of these rights, to new goals of human happiness and well-being.

Sadly, on this 2017 Thanksgiving weekend, we remain very far from these goals.

The inequality and sense of entitlement we see today won’t be turned around without work. Financialization is a poisonous monster. It dictates government policy, and makes the rules about how our businesses and governments at all levels engage with our people and our environment.

People are little more than sources of revenue: Their capacity to spend, to invest and consume determines how they are valued. Driving virtually every decision within the suffocating confines of the ideal is an addiction to profit.

FDR’s ideas seem quaint in 2017. The US cannot even ensure basic civil rights such as racial equality, much less “life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.” Most Americans have freely indentured themselves to the financial sector so that they can pretend to own a house in which to raise their kids, and a car to drive to work in order to earn income so they can make loan payments on the house and the pick-up.

Enough! Let’s forget about life for a while. Grab a cup of Climpson & Sons Signature Espresso that is 100% Adamo Sasaba from Ethiopia, and stay away from the turkey Tetrazzini at lunchtime.

Now, watch and listen to Narciso Yepes interpret Joaquin Rodrigo’s Concerto d’Aranjuez (Adagio) on his 10-string guitar. The 10-string was conceived in 1963 by Yepes, who ordered it from José Ramírez [III].

The conductor is Raphael Frübeck de Burgos with the Radio Symphony Orchestra of Frankfurt. It’s a lovely piece with a remarkable guitar:

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


Saturday Soother – November 4, 2017

The Daily Escape:

Grand Tetons early morning – 2011 photo by Wrongo

Two short thoughts for your Saturday. First, hidden in the language of the GOP’s Tax Bill  is a something that would change the Johnson Amendment, a provision in the tax code that prohibits churches, faith communities, and other non-profits from outright endorsing political candidates:

…The provision is not a complete repeal of the Johnson Amendment. As written, it would only free up religious communities—not all non-profits—to endorse candidates and appears to prohibit churches from going out of their way to campaign for a candidate outside of their normal religious activities.

The GOP wants to erode the separation of church and state. Let’s see who, if anyone, in Congress is willing to fight for the Constitution.

Second, the Democrats had a grenade go off inside the DNC when an excerpt from Donna Brazile’s new book was published by Politico. She claims that the Clinton administration assumed control over the Democratic National Committee (DNC) in exchange for keeping it solvent, then funneled most of the funds raised into her campaign, leaving the states with very little to support down-ballot races.

The states kept less than half of 1 percent of the $82 million they had garnered from the Hillary fund-raisers the campaign was holding to support state-level candidates. That’s about $4.1 million.

When Howard Dean was chair of the DNC he instituted a 50-state policy, saying the DNC would maintain full time workers in each state, to contest seats up and down the ballot from the county, to state legislature to house and senate races.

When Obama won, Dean was out, and the 50-state policy was dismantled. After that, the DNC was reorganized to serve only national level elections. And Obama For America took its place as the funds-raising vehicle for the presidential re-election. And Hillary did much the same with the Hillary Victory Fund, but she went further, as Brazile reveals: The DNC would covertly back Hillary in the primaries.

And now, through these efforts, the Democrats have lost the White House, the Senate and the House, in addition to most state governments.

It’s hard to decide what’s worse, that the party is run by incompetents, or that it is just hopelessly corrupt.

Time for a hostile takeover of the Democratic Party.

On to the weekend. You obviously need to go to a happy place that doesn’t include continual assaults by our national media. So brew up a cup of London-based Union Hand-Roasted Coffee’s El Topacio Microlot, El Salvador, available online for £8/200g.

Now kick back someplace you can see the natural world outside, and listen to Peter Mulvey playing his instrumental, “Black Rabbit”. Mulvey is known for his guitar chops and songwriting. He got started by playing in the Boston metro. This short acoustic gem is executed with ease, and pure musicality:

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


Why Can’t We Quit Poking Iran?

The Daily Escape:

Fall in the Eastern Sierras – photo by Deirdre Harb

You may not remember the tangled history the US has with Iran, but you know that Trump decertified the Iran deal that was developed by the US and 5 other major powers (Russia, China, Germany, England and France). In his decertifying speech, Trump said:

We will not continue down a path whose predictable conclusion is more violence, more terror and the very real threat of Iran’s nuclear breakout…

Just three countries publicly support Mr. Trump’s decision: Israel, Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates. We all know that Iran calls the US “the great Satan”, but we forget how we earned the title. Here is a quick review from the BBC:

  • In 1953, the US overthrew Iran’s elected government. We (and the UK) were not going to stand by and let their Prime Minister, Mohammad Mossadeq nationalize Iran’s oil industry. The CIA led a military coup, and re-installed the Shah.
  • In 1979, a coup overthrew the Shah, and Ayatollah Khomeini took control of the Iran government. In November 1979, Iran took over the US embassy and held 52 Americans hostage for what was 444 days, until 1981.
  • In 1985-86, the US secretly shipped weapons to Iran in exchange for Tehran’s help in freeing US hostages held by Hezbollah in Lebanon. The profits were channeled to rebels in Nicaragua, creating a political crisis for President Reagan.
  • In 1988, a US warship shot down an Iranian Airbus A300 killing all 290 people on board. We said it was a mistake, and Iran apparently forgave us.
  • In 1999, Iran’s new president Katahimi called for “a dialogue with the American people” that went nowhere.
  • In 2002, GW Bush denounced Iran as part of an “axis of evil” with Iraq and North Korea.

Now, nothing in the above excuses Iran’s efforts to destabilize parts of the Middle East, or their deep, abiding hatred of Israel. Nothing excuses Iran’s role in developing and introducing the IED’s that were so lethal to US troops in Iraq.

Time has done little to heal the wounds that each country has inflicted on the other. Mutual enmity remains on full display.

But Trump, like Obama and GW Bush, searched for a way to reduce our presence in the Middle East and shift attention to Russia and China. The solution for all three Presidents was to pit Middle Eastern governments against one another creating a balance of power, attempting to prevent any single country from becoming too influential.

If they make war against each other, that’s an acceptable outcome, as long as Israel remains unscathed.

In that context, Iran’s pursuit of nuclear weapons was something that the US and its European allies couldn’t allow. The Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA), provided a means of halting the program’s progress without risking the outbreak of war. The deal prevented the possibility of an Iranian nuclear bomb destabilizing the region.

By attempting to reopen the JCPOA by withdrawing, Trump hopes to either rein in Iran’s regional meddling, or persuade Tehran to broaden the deal to include restrictions on its ballistic missile program, and on its support for militant groups, such as Hezbollah and Hamas.

Neither of Trump’s goals are reachable. Iran gains nothing by agreeing to them. And the US and the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) agree that there is no evidence to suggest that Iran is not complying with the deal. So, as long as Iran upholds its end of the bargain, the Europeans plus China and Russia, are unlikely to agree with any US attempt to reinstate broad sanctions.

And Trump is making his negotiations with North Korea more difficult. Walking away from the Iran deal justifies North Korea’s belief that negotiation with the US on nuclear issues is futile. Particularly when one president’s agreement can be so easily torn up by his successor.

The American Right has considered Iran one of the “axis of evil” since 9/11. In that context, Trump’s desire to replace diplomacy with sanctions and eventually regime change, is ideologically consistent. The Right is simply using its electoral victory to advance a long-held policy.

We should remember that most of the GOP presidential candidates in 2016 were against the Iran deal, and probably would have acted similarly to Trump.

We are at a crossroads in our relationship with Iran. With the Iran deal, our long-term antipathy could have been moderated, and ultimately replaced by alignment of goals in the Middle East. Peace might have broken out.

But Trump has insured that will now take decades longer than it might have.



Letter From London – Saturday Soother Edition

On Thursday night, we saw “An American in Paris”. It played on Broadway, winning four Tony awards before moving on to Paris and now, London. It is based on the 1951 film with George and Ira Gershwin’s music that won six Oscars. Since it was just six years after the end of WWII, the movie is played as a lighthearted romp, filled with tap dancing.

On the stage, the focus is on the romantic story of a young American soldier and a beautiful French girl in Paris, each yearning for a new beginning in the aftermath of war. The American GI, Jerry, a painter in Montmartre meets Lise, a young saleswoman. Lise however, is loved by Henri, a rich kid singer of middle-of-the-road popular songs.

The stage version is balletic, even to the point of including a 15+-minute classical ballet when Jerry and Lise reunite, after it seemed their love would be unfulfilled. The sets are magical. A swastika flag turns into the French Tricolor before our eyes. Backlit screens showing Paris are conjured in line drawings that are slowly sketched in, like our hero Jerry, the GI artist might do on the streets of the city. All of the sets are animated by 59 Productions. As the images float in, computers project these scenes exactly on time with the set as it moves into place. (Sorry no photos are allowed in the theater!)

This was a wonderful experience, and Wrongo and Ms. Right, who missed in on Broadway, were delighted to see it here. “Who could ask for anything more?

After the show, we were fortunate to meet with Leanne Cope, the Tony nominee who played Lise in NYC, Paris and now in London. She was joined by Zoe Rainey and Julia Nagle, featured members of the cast. Cope is a member of the Royal Ballet and brings those skills to the role of Lise, plus she also has a beautiful singing voice.

It is incredibly difficult to perform the dancing sections for eight days each week, and Leanne said that the fear of injury is always present. She only performs seven of the weekly shows, and thus gets a long weekend each week for rest and recovery.

On Friday, we traveled out of London to Highclere Castle for dinner:

2017 photo by Wrongo

This is the big highlight of a highlight-filled week in London. Obviously, we did not dress for dinner like Lord and Lady Crawley did in the 1900’s, but the Castle insisted there should be no stilettos or sneakers. Turns out they have been doing private dinners for a couple of years. They have the occasional marriage on site as well.

We had a brief tour of the bedrooms shown on the series, but what was the most interesting was our tour of the Egyptian antiquities that were discovered by the fifth Lord Carnarvon. He and Howard Carter discovered Tutankhamun’s tomb. Much of the Lord’s collection was sold in the 1920’s to NYC’s Metropolitan Museum. Howard Carter catalogued what remained and said he had stored a few unimportant items at Highclere.

Those items were hidden within the Castle, until re-discovered by the family in 1987. An incredible story.

We had dinner in the dining room that is featured on the show, and it was outstanding. But a big thrill for those who watched “Downton Abbey” on PBS was that after the meal, someone said, “Shall we go through?” And we retired to the magnificent library for coffee, and single malt or cognac.

We can marvel at the manner in which some at the very top of the wealth pyramid lived back then, but remember, the castle still doesn’t have central heating. Highclere was part of a lifestyle on a grand scale that, for both social and financial reasons, can no longer exist, probably not even for the most obscenely wealthy hedge fund guys of today.

Here is the theme music from the show for our Saturday Soother. Our driver had the CD playing as we drove up to the main entrance of the castle:

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