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The Wrongologist

Geopolitics, Power and Political Economy

Sunday Cartoon Blogging — Protesting and Looting Edition — May 31, 2020

Last Monday night in Minneapolis, 46-year old George Floyd was arrested. Police officer Derek Chauvin handcuffed him and pinned him to the ground, crushing his throat. Floyd died an hour later.

What happened next has played out time and time again in American cities after high-profile cases of police brutality. Vigils and protests were organized in Minneapolis and around the US to demand police accountability. Google the name of any large city in the US along with “police brutality” and your search will return many pages of results.

But while Minneapolis investigators waited to charge Chauvin, unrest boiled over. News reports soon carried images of property destruction and police in riot gear. This has now morphed into the Minnesota governor calling out the National Guard.

Wrongo can’t claim to understand race issues in America, but he thinks that we should take a minute to re-read Dr. King’s “Letter from a Birmingham Jail”. In his letter, MLK identified “the great stumbling block in the stride toward freedom” not as the KKK, or the South’s White Citizens Councils. He said it was white moderates, people who:

  • Are more devoted to order than justice
  • Prefer the absence of tension to the presence of justice
  • Say they agree with your goals, but not your methods for achieving them
  • Constantly urge patience in the struggle, saying you should wait for a more convenient time

If you have watched the news for the past 40 years, you know that the Moderate is one stumbling block to universal justice. The Moderate’s tools are things like Non-Disclosure Agreements, loyalty to the team, and to the power of the hierarchy. Moderates may not be at the top of the power pyramid, but as long as Moderates can kiss up and kick down, they’ll hang in there, waiting for a better time to think about bringing justice to all Americans.

When it comes to violence in our cities, as Elie Mystal says in The Nation, it’s hard to name a city in America where the police aren’t working for white people. The police know it. And deep down, white people know exactly whom the police are supposed to protect and serve, and they know it’s not black and brown people.

Disagree? Go to any white suburb in America. Cops aren’t wandering the streets, people aren’t being arrested and neighbors aren’t being sent to prison. It’s easy for most of us to think that the George Floyd’s of America are simply a tragic cost of doing business, that a looted Target is evidence of the need for more policing.

We can hold more than one thought in our heads. People should be free to demonstrate, and that sometimes leads to rioting. Both are forms of protest. Wrongo doesn’t condone looting. But it’s also a form of protest. If you argue it’s not, then refresh your memory about the Boston Tea Party, when white protesters dressed up as minorities and looted to make a point about taxes.

If you are upset about protests, and were also pissed off at Colin Kaepernick taking a knee, you are probably a Moderate. People first need to be able to identify racism when they see it before they can understand the racial issues underpinning what happened in Minneapolis this weekend.

If you woke up today angry, confused, or frustrated about the direction our country is heading: VOTE!

Wrongo has looked hard for fun cartoons, without success. Here’s the best of the week. Sadly, her hope can only be aspirational:

How times have changed:

From 2016. All you need to know about demonstrating in America:

For Sunday, we include a rarely heard protest song written in 1966 by Malvina Reynolds (1900-1977). She wrote “Little Boxes” and many other songs. She wrote “It Isn’t Nice” as an answer to those who value order above justice. Here, “It Isn’t Nice” is sung by Barbara Dane and the Chambers Brothers:

Sample lyric:

It isn’t nice to block the doorway,
It isn’t nice to go to jail,
There are nicer ways to do it,
But the nice ways always fail.
It isn’t nice, it isn’t nice,
You told us once, you told us twice,
But if that is Freedom’s price,
We don’t mind.

It isn’t nice to carry banners
Or to sit in on the floor,
Or to shout our cry of Freedom
At the hotel and the store.
It isn’t nice, it isn’t nice,
You told us once, you told us twice,
But if that is Freedom’s price,
We don’t mind.

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

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Saturday Soother – May 30, 2020

The Daily Escape:

Cactus flowers, Devils Bridge, Sedona, AZ – May 2020 photo by sooperb4d

It’s hot and muggy at the Mansion of Wrong. Today we received our usual daily visit from a momma turkey and her eight chicks. Some are already able to fly for short distances, while the smaller ones just jog along.

This morning, Wrongo was thinking that he’d never expected to have to live through something as tumultuous and dangerous as 1968, but here we are. We’ve got:

  • A Plague killing people in every state
  • Economic collapse (potentially on the scale of the Great Depression)
  • An incompetent incumbent president who will say anything in order to win re-election
  • Heavily armed yahoos complaining about having to wear masks, or that they can’t get haircuts

But rather than talk about those four things, America’s talking about a racially based killing in Minneapolis that has morphed into an urban dystopia. Hennepin County finally brought charges against a cop who murdered a man in public with dozens of witnesses. That has incited urban violence. Second, Trump called for the looters in Minneapolis to be shot, tweeting:

“Any difficulty and we will assume control but, when the looting starts, the shooting starts,”

We will assume control? Does Trump think he has the right to invade Minnesota? And that wasn’t the worst of his tweet.

You may know by now that the other phrase was notorious in the civil rights movement. It was used in 1967 by Miami’s police chief at the time, Walter Headley, after he sent police dogs and officers armed with shotguns into Miami’s black neighborhoods in what he called:

 “…a crackdown on…slum hoodlums….We don’t mind being accused of police brutality.”

Headley claimed that Miami had not experienced “racial disturbances and looting” because he had put the word out that “when the looting starts, the shooting starts.” Headley thus elevated stealing to a capital crime punishable by death without due process. And now Trump is advocating the same thing.

Some are saying that Jack Dorsey, CEO of Twitter has taken a courageous stand against Trump, that Dorsey is standing up for all of us. CNN reports:

“…Trump has angrily complained this week about social media companies, repeatedly accusing them of censoring conservative voices and going as far as to sign an executive order Thursday seeking to limit their power. But data from Facebook, the world’s largest social media company, pours cold water on the assertion that conservative voices are being silenced.”

Here’s the data:

The red bars represent conservative sites. CrowdTangle, the company that made the chart, says that in the last month on Facebook, Trump has captured 91% of the total interactions on content posted by the US presidential candidates. Biden has captured only 9%.

Trump and the Republicans repeatedly accuse Facebook, Twitter and other social media platforms of bias, saying that they are the villains in the culture war the GOP uses to excite the conservative base.

The dispute is about whether Twitter has the right to disagree with and respond to the president. As a private company, it obviously does have that right. The chilling part is that the president and his advisers think otherwise.

Wrongo started by talking about 1968, the year that Nixon won the White House, running on a law and order message. He split the vote with George Wallace and Hubert Humphrey. That was 52 years ago, and a few things have changed. From Paul Campos:

“For one thing, the current president is somebody who makes George Wallace look like a statesman. For another, the country is much less white. (As a percentage of the total population, white non-Hispanics have declined from about 85% of the population to 60%).”

Nixon in 1968, like Trump in 2020, clearly exploited racial tensions, but a crucial distinction: Nixon wasn’t in power at the time of the 1968 elections. We’ll have to see whether Minneapolis helps or hurts Trump in November.

Time to take a break from our worst year in 52 years, and calm ourselves with a Saturday Soother. There is more yard work to do on the fields of Wrong, but we’re starting with a cold brew coffee from Greater Goods roasters in Austin TX. Food & Wine named them the best coffee in Texas in 2019. Their cold brew is called “Connections” ($15/12 oz.) and features the sweet, chocolatey goodness of beans sourced from Colombia and Brazil.

Now settle back and listen to the Tedeschi Trucks Band play a stunning live version of “Midnight in Harlem“, written by Minnesota band member Mike Mattison. Stay for the fantastic slide guitar solo by Derek Trucks:

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

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Churchill’s Lessons For Our Time

The Daily Escape:

Algodones Dunes, CA – 2020 photo by _christopherjs. The Algodones Dunes cover 1,000 square miles of Sonoran Desert, making it the largest dune system in the US.

Wrongo fears that some of our country’s problems may be intractable. Blog reader Fred VK agrees:

“I’ve been distressed lately by how seemingly brain dead so much of the US population seems, not only regarding COVID-19 but more, the fragile state of our nation and what the forces of Trump have done and are doing. Some say we will never get back due mostly to lack of resolve. Years ago, I developed this notion that Americans were so complacent about our country and government because they believed that everything was so set in stone that nothing could shake it and that the republic was good to go as is forever.”

Things aren’t set in stone, and they don’t go to hell in a straight line, But from where we stand today, it’s questionable whether America can (or will) be able to solve its biggest problems.

So the question is: What should we be doing when we live in a country where you know bad things will continue to happen, and you can’t stop them?

Worse, in the time of COVID-19, we’re seeing that our efforts to prevent, or to moderate what’s wrong are failing. It’s worth considering that all of our efforts are barely slowing down the worst of what is happening to the climate, to inequality, to the re-emergence of racism, and the rising threat that factionalism presents. For many of us this hits home. We or our loved ones are among those suffering: losing our lives, homes, livelihoods, or living in despair.

We are far from the first to contemplate a civilization’s decline. From Ian Welsh: (emphasis by Wrongo)

“The Roman Empire went through multiple periods of decline…stoics and epicureans debated how to live the good life in an evil world. The Chinese practically had dealing with declining and corrupt imperial eras and warring…periods down to an art: When no good could be done in the world, one returned to one’s private life to write poetry, drink wine, and care for those close to one while refusing as much as possible to be complicit in the evil of the times.”

Words to live by: Avoid being complicit in the evil of the times. This can’t all be blamed on Republicans, but they are primarily responsible for the wrong that’s occurred in America since the 1980s. Can we work together to pull out of our current nose dive? It will require far better leadership than we have now.

Wrongo is reading Erik Larson’s book about Churchill and the Blitz. Larson focuses on Churchill’s first year as prime minister. On his first day, Hitler invaded Holland and Belgium. Dunkirk was only two weeks away, and the blitz was about to begin.

Britain was woefully unprepared. They had just 45 fighter aircraft when Churchill took office, and no one thought Britain could hold out for long against the Nazis. Churchill managed to convince the British people of the “art of being fearless”. He bludgeoned his government and the military on to the same page. Many in England wanted to concede Europe to Hitler, if that meant even a temporary peace, and they had to be brought to see the fight was worth having.

This picture is from a London library during the blitz. It is also the frontispiece in Larson’s book, and shows how people try to normalize even under the worst of circumstances:

Via Shorpy

But we should no longer normalize. Churchill was able to bring his country together despite all the factionalism, and we must make that our goal. Reading Larson’s book puts our own political dysfunction in focus. It’s clear that today, when the stakes are very high (not as high as England in WWII), we also need robust and top quality leaders.

What is our job as citizens, if leadership is to be the difference? Wrongo isn’t saying we shouldn’t fight the big fights. The best way to lose the big fights is to not fight.

We need to cajole, or force if necessary, a few of our politicians to step forward and be the heroes we need.

Many heroes have emerged as the COVID-19 fight has unfolded. We’ve seen good people brought closer together. We’ve felt the pain that comes when we know we must transition from a weaker to a stronger place, but we know we’re not where we need to be.

Sadly, few if any of our current heroes have been politicians.

Some of them need to step forward, and take the chance to be the leader who can teach Americans the “art of being fearless” much like Churchill taught the British.

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Monday Wake Up Call, Memorial Day – May 25, 2020

The Daily Escape:

Reflection of sunrise at Vietnam Veterans Memorial – 2012 photo by Angela B. Pan

(There will be no column on Tuesday, 5/26. We will resume on Wednesday.)

Most years, today is about honoring those who have died in America’s wars. But this year, we should also be honoring all of those who have died from COVID-19. In the 80+ days since the first American death from the virus, around 100,000 people have died from it.

Let that sink in. The 2020 virus toll is now greater than America’s combined combat deaths in Korea, Vietnam, Afghanistan and Iraq. Yet, many people think that concern about the virus is simply a political move designed to keep Trump from being reelected.

Let’s take a look back at the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier in Arlington National Cemetery. It is dedicated to deceased US service members whose remains were never identified. On March 4, 1921 Congress approved the first burial of an unidentified American serviceman from World War I in the plaza of the new Memorial Amphitheater.

Then on November 11, 1921, another unknown WWI soldier was brought back from France and interred in the tomb. President Warren G. Harding officiated at the interment ceremonies. During his remarks at the ceremony, Harding said this:

“Our part is to atone for the losses of the heroic dead by making a better Republic for the living”.

Harding was president from 1921 to 1923, when he died, apparently of a heart attack. Despite his being in office only two years, Harding managed to appoint four justices to the Supreme Court.

We see Harding as a failed president, but if all presidents made “making a better Republic for the living” their highest objective, America would likely be a much better place today.

The AP reports that, according to the Department of Veterans Affairs, more than 1,000 veterans have been killed by the Coronavirus, but that number does not include hundreds more who have died in state-run veterans homes. Most people know someone who died.

Despite that, Coronavirus deaths are being politicized. Trump says the numbers are exaggerated. Many Republicans say that masks and social distancing aren’t necessary. Some still compare the rate of deaths from the yearly flu to COVID-19 and say “what’s the big deal?”

On this Memorial Day, we seem to be hopelessly divided. Polls show that just 53% of Democrats have a great deal of confidence that medical scientists are acting in the public interest. But among Republicans, just 31% express the same “great deal” of confidence in them, a 22 percentage point difference.

Perhaps looking at a little more history would help. America was founded on principles of mutual help, compromise, and provision for the common defense in a hostile world. Ben Franklin said at the signing of the Declaration of Independence, that “We must all hang together, or surely we will all hang, separately.” What he meant was that unity was essential to achieving victory in the Revolutionary War.

Our Constitution codifies the golden rule into civic responsibility for finding solutions to shared problems. The expectation is that will be accomplished through reasoned debate as a part of the legislative process.

But our infatuation with neoliberal economics has brought us unregulated greed. That has led to failures of the commons. Management of health care by MBAs means we can’t provide our own medicines, or our own PPE. We can’t even maintain enough ICU beds on standby for peak needs.

The pandemic has shown us that we’re poorly equipped to handle both a humanitarian disaster and an economic crisis at the same time. What’s far worse is that those existential threats didn’t unite us.

If these twin threats weren’t enough, what possible threat will it take to unite us?

What may finish off America as a global power is our failure to learn from our mistakes. We live in a time of black or white answers, of friends versus enemies. We’ve forgotten how very useful understanding what is happening in the grey areas can be.

The virus isn’t going away with words or photo ops. And propping up the Dow Jones isn’t going save us either.

American Exceptionalism is over. We’re finding out that in most of the ways that count (healthcare, employment security, and unity) we’re performing at a mediocre standard.

Do we still have what it takes to correct our slide?

Time to wake up America. On this Memorial Day, we need to remember our dead, but we also need to remember what it takes to live and work together for a common cause.

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Saturday Soother – May 23, 2020

The Daily Escape:

Sand Dunes NP, Colorado – NPS photo by Patrick Myers. The animals are elk.

Happy Saturday, fellow disease vectors! And welcome to Memorial Day Weekend.

Trump isn’t alone in peddling conspiracy theories. The WaPo reports that conspiracy theories and political smear campaigns are as old as American politics. From the WaPo:

“As far back as the campaign of 1800 — the first contested presidential race in US history — pamphlets circulated that accused John Adams of possessing “a hideous hermaphroditical character,” which was a suggestion that he had the sex organs of both a man and a woman.”

WaPo lists some others:

  • In 1828, a newspaper reported that Andrew Jackson’s mother was “a common prostitute” brought to this country by British soldiers, who married a mulatto man with whom she had several children. Actually, Elizabeth and Andrew Jackson Sr. married in Ireland, and then came to America to escape religious persecution.
  • In 2004, a right-wing group, the Swift Boat Veterans for Truth made up lies about Democratic nominee John F. Kerry’s military service in Vietnam. Kerry had piloted a swift boat, and the group’s tarnishing of Kerry’s war service came to be known as “swiftboating”. A shorthand for an outrageous kind of smear.
  • Bill Clinton’s presidency brought many crazy stories, including claims that Bill and Hillary Clinton had been involved in drug-running and murder in Arkansas. Or, accusing them of murdering Vince Foster, an aide who committed suicide. Or, the convoluted theme of the “Clinton Body Count” conspiracy theory, promulgated by Newsmax publisher Christopher Ruddy among others, which says the Clintons are responsible for as many as 50 deaths.

While these tactics aren’t new, social media amplifies and spreads disinformation more efficiently than ever before. In 2020, the real force behind it is Trump, who has both a knack for branding along with zero capacity for shame.

Trump’s constant hammering on birthergate, accusing Obama of being foreign-born, built Trump a big following among people with “white grievance” by trafficking in lies about Obama’s birthplace.

With the 2020 presidential campaign about to get active, Trump has now come up with Obamagate! Something he calls “the biggest political crime in American history, by far!” It’s a hazy set of accusations that Trump and the GOP are trying to plant in the public consciousness.

The gist is this: After Trump was elected in 2016, senior Obama administration officials, including Obama and Joe Biden, tried to entrap his incoming National Security Adviser, Gen. Michael Flynn, in the then-emerging scandal about Russian election interference. There will be Benghazi-style Obamagate hearings by the GOP-controlled Senate. It must be true, since the term contains the word “gate”.

But can Obama be guilty of something he did as POTUS, when Trump claims that POTUS has ‘absolute immunity’ for everything?

He clearly hasn’t thought that one through.

It’s time for our Saturday Soother, and we need to move past these petty conspiracies and talk about a real conspiracy. The trees on the fields of Wrong are attempting to have sex. All. The. Time.

That means tree pollen is covering everything, including those of us of the non-tree persuasion.

But much yard work still needs to be completed, so this beautiful weekend in Connecticut must include a sinus spray. Yard work is a form of Saturday Soother, it lets you escape from all of the problems and issues of the day, and focus on the great weed conspiracy that our main stream media refuses to cover.

But before grabbing your work gloves, take a moment in a comfortable and socially distant space to listen to “The President’s Own” US Marine Band play Gustav Holst’s “Chaconne” from his Suite No. 1 in E-flat, Opus 28, No. 1. Here it is played by 34 US Marine Band Musicians, all social distancing:

Holst apparently wrote it as the “1st Suite for Military Band Op. 28A” in 1909, but there is no record of a performance until 1920. Holst was one of England’s most prominent twentieth-century composers. He composed hundreds of works, the most famous of which was his orchestral suite, “The Planets” (1922).

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

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Biden Isn’t FDR, But FDR’s 1932 Strategy Could Work

The Daily Escape:

Sunset, Poudre River trail, Fort Collins, CO – May 2020 photo by Dariusva07. Looks like a painting.

Livia Gershon has an article in JSTOR Daily, “One Parallel for the Coronavirus Crisis? The Great Depression”. She focuses on the question of whether America is already in a depression, or if are we sitting in the equivalent of 1928 or 1929? From Gershon:

“Today’s soaring unemployment, small business failures, and uncertainty about the future are like nothing most of us have seen in our lifetimes. If there’s any useful historical parallel, it might be the Great Depression.”

The cliff that our economy just dove off is different from what America experienced in the Great Depression. From 1920 through 1933, America had Prohibition. The 1920’s were a time of unbridled capitalism, and many working class Americans were hurting financially.

In 2020, COVID-19 has hit us fast and hard. Today’s economic crisis is the result of deliberate choices by governments and individuals to restrict commercial activity. However, the results look about the same: Businesses shuttered, families worried about where their next rent payment is coming from, long lines at food banks. And the 100,000+ deaths.

In 1929, life in America was already awful for a lot of people: Businesses had few regulations to constrain their activities. The rich got much richer. Pro-worker policies had little political traction. That all changed after the Depression. By the 1940s, the country’s unions were stronger than they’d ever been and Congress had passed unprecedented economic policies to support workers.

It didn’t happen quickly or easily. FDR beat Hoover in a landslide in 1932. Hoover had won over 58% of the popular vote in the 1928 presidential election, but in 1932, his share of the popular vote declined to about 40%. Democrats kept control of the House, and gained control of the Senate, bringing 12 years of Republican Congressional leadership to an end.

Erik Loomis, a labor historian at the University of Rhode Island and blogger at Lawyers, Guns & Money, offered Gershon historical perspective:

“A lot of Roosevelt’s campaign in ’32 is ‘I’m not Herbert Hoover’….It’s not policy-driven, not about organizing the masses…..In fact, if FDR had been a left-wing figure, he couldn’t possibly have won the nomination of the 1932 Democratic Party, which, like the Republican Party, was deeply beholden to big corporations.”

And today we see Biden, with his man cave presidential campaign, running as “I’m not Trump”. And while he’s not policy-free, his Democratic party is still beholden to big business, much like FDR’s.

Many Democrats worry about Biden’s ability to stand up to Trump on the campaign trail. FDR, despite his polio disability, deliberately chose to present himself vigorously, including breaking precedent by flying to Chicago during the 1932 convention. His campaign song, “Happy Days Are Here Again” remains one of the most popular in American political history.

Biden may also need to consider breaking a few precedents, possibly by running a throwback front porch type of campaign, one that ignores Donald Trump. James A. Garfield, Benjamin Harrison, and William McKinley all ran successful front porch campaigns.

Returning to FDR’s efforts to turn the country around, Gershon says:

“…the major New Deal programs—including public hiring through the Works Progress Administration, Social Security’s old age and unemployment insurance, the NLRA, and progressive taxes—largely followed ideas that had been brewing on the liberal side of mainstream political conversations for decades. To many policymakers, relief for workers was a way of supporting capitalism. It powered the economy by encouraging consumer spending.”

She further quotes Loomis:

“When those measures are passed in the ‘30s, the left considers them all sell-out measures…FDR is heavily criticized on the left.”

In the 1930s, as today, the left wanted more radical pro-worker, and pro-family policies that were a bridge too far for FDR. Today is similar to the 1930’s. As much as Democrats want to run on policy, the candidate (and who the opponent is) are at least as important as policy.

Biden can run on a message of “I’m not Trump. He’s failing. And I won’t fail“. He and the Party can mostly save the details for after the election. For example: Running on some variant of Medicare for all (M4A) isn’t necessary. All Biden must drive home is that COVID-19 has proven that the current private insurance-powered healthcare system has failed us, and that we need reform.

Then impress on voters that the GOP vehemently supports the failed current health insurance model.

Once elected, Biden could push for M4A, assuming he has the Senate.

2020 isn’t 1932, and Biden certainly isn’t FDR. But there are political lessons to be learned from taking a look back in time.

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Sunday Cartoon Blogging – May 17, 2020

Wrongo was unaware, but some Catholics are praying to the 2nd century St. Corona (d. C. 170) thinking she’s the patron saint of plagues and epidemics. She, along with St. Victor, a soldier, were tortured and killed around 170 at the order of a Roman judge, according to an account written in the 4th century.

Apparently, this is just another piece of fake news that started on the internet and has been amplified by Twitter. St. Edmund is the go-to saint for epidemics and plagues. St. Corona is actually the patron saint of treasure hunters and maybe, gamblers.

Given the state of the global economy, would it hurt to ask her for something, maybe like a month’s rent? On to cartoons.

What will happen when we re-open?

But how far is up?

Hard to fish when you’re high and dry:

Mitch won’t help:

The guy who doesn’t think America needs testing is gonna get one:

Biden is staying in his basement. Good idea, or bad?

Trump’s new strategy: Obamagate!

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Tax Revenue Has Never Been More Important

The Daily Escape:

Harris & Ewing “Less taxes, more jobs”, US Chamber of Commerce campaign in 1939. Photo via Shorpy. Maybe the sign should have said “lower taxes”. It was the first of 25,000 such signs put up all over the nation as part of a drive for a reduction in corporate taxes. And it worked. An alliance between the Chamber, Henry Morgenthau, Treasury Secretary, and Sen. Pat Harrison, (D-MS) conservative chair of the Senate Finance Committee, prevailed over the New Dealers. He blocked further tax hikes, and helped to create new corporate tax loopholes. Roosevelt went along, expecting that business would support him. The following year, the Chamber simply demanded more tax breaks, while backing Wendell Willkie. It’s all so familiar. Trickle down is an old idea, and everything old is new again!

 Here’s an interesting chart from End Coronavirus.org showing the progress of states toward beating the current COVID-19 pandemic. The numbers are through May 5. Those in green are winning the fight, those in yellow are nearly there, and the red ones still need more action:

There are four states in the green: Alaska, Hawaii, Montana and Vermont. Ten are nearly there, including Maine, Louisiana, New York and South Dakota. The remaining 37 still need work, some more than others. And many of the “needs more work” states are exiting their lockdowns this week.

So it goes in America. States and cities are going broke, primarily because of the sharp drop in tax revenues since the shutdown. They all face increased costs, from unemployment claims to spending on additional hospital capacity, and overspending on new purchases of PPE because of federal government inaction.

New York City says it will need $7.4 billion in federal aid, while NY state faces a $13 billion shortfall; Alaska’s budget gap might top $1 billion; Colorado’s at $3 billion. California? Its shortfall may be $54 billion. Red ink will be true for nearly every state, county, city, town and village in the country. States can’t deficit spend. They and their local governments must balance their budgets somehow, with some combination of federal aid, budget cuts, or tax increases.

In addition, the WSJ reports that some manufacturers that furloughed employees during lockdowns say their plants definitely won’t reopen.  Manufacturing output last year finally surpassed the 2007 previous peak, but factory employment has not returned to levels reached before the great financial crisis. It appears that in 2020, it will again fall below 2007 levels. And the more that job losses turn from temporary to permanent, the bigger the hit to unemployment insurance, to consumer spending, and to every company that relies on it—including manufacturers.

Wrongo spoke by phone with the mayor of his little town this morning. We are still not sure how we will balance the town’s 2020-2021 budget. In most years, the budget has been approved by the voters in May, but that will not happen this spring. The consequence is that, regardless of how the budget gets balanced, the town’s recovery will likely take several years.

So, states and cities think they have little choice but to reopen. They need the tax revenue, while they face even higher costs if they start an aggressive test and trace program. And they can’t expect the federal government to fund that new testing and tracing.

So most states are moving toward opening, regardless of whether they are red, or blue.

But, states may not all be EQUALLY reckless in what they choose to open, some are planning a phased reopen, followed by a re-evaluation before moving forward to the next step. Some are opening up just about as fast as they closed businesses six – eight weeks ago.

We are living in a federal system with a broken central government. The federal government has handled the pandemic badly, and shows no interest in trying to do better now. Even a robust federalism will fail if there is no federal financial help for the states.

It is a hell of thing to be shown clearly and in no uncertain terms that your federal government doesn’t give a shit if your citizens live or die.

Or if your state suffers a debilitating blow to its finances and future.

Wrongo can’t be sure, but this is probably how black people have felt forever. Now it applies to the rest of us.

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Coughs And Prayers

The Daily Escape:

Lake Colchuck, Alpine Lakes Wilderness, near Leavenworth, WA – photo by atgcgtt

Until 1956, e pluribus Unum (out of many, one) was the country’s unofficial national motto. It was officially replaced by In God we trust by Congress in 1956. And in America today, there are many, many pastors who are telling their members that for Coronavirus, trusting God is enough. There’s no need for social distancing or flattening the curve. From Crooks and Liars: (Brackets by Wrongo)

“Apparently the Coronavirus was wiped off the face of the earth Sunday by televangelist Kenneth Copeland, [who]…around 12 eastern [said]…..In the name of Jesus… I execute judgment on you, COVID-19!..It! Is! Finished! It! Is! Over!”

But it isn’t over, we still have plenty of coughs right along with our prayers.

Many Americans just don’t like to be told what to do, even when it’s readily apparent why they should do it. Most are beginning to accept the arguments about transmission rates and mortality rates being higher than with the flu.

They are accepting curve flattening. But it’s doubtful they would have accepted it simply based on the words of scientists. Without the exercise of state and local power closing schools and stores, and banning social gatherings, along with their painful economic consequences they would be out and about like the kids in Florida during spring break.

Social media is filled with pandemic denialism and fantastic rumors about the true origin, or the severity of the virus. Most of us aren’t public health experts, so going along with the program boils down to “the government seems to be taking it seriously, so maybe I should too.”

And the government is finally taking it seriously, despite Trump’s refusal to take the COVID-19 outbreak seriously during the entire first quarter of 2020. Now suddenly, he is, and much of the media are giving him credit for a change in tone, for looking presidential, and for finally acting seriously.

Praising Trump for changing his tone is like praising your puppy for shitting closer to the door.

Trump frittered away January, February and most of March as a coronavirus denialist. It is a hoax, he said. We only have 15 cases. It will just go away. It is like the ordinary flu. It shouldn’t interfere with business, or with the stock market.

But it did interfere with our lives, and now it looks like an unstoppable force. Here’s a chart from the Financial Times:

This graph tracks most countries by number of cases and the days since the country’s 100th case. The steeper the curve, the faster the cases are growing, and the bigger the national problem. There are reference curves for cases doubling every day, every other day, every three days, an once a week.

The graph shows that America’s on a track to face a massive public health problem, perhaps the worst among nations. One made worse by the wide mistrust of the state’s authority by significant segments of America. Many politicians and citizens seemingly reject stay at home orders, or other measures to control the rapid spread of the virus.

Two stories of interest. First, a delicious irony is how dependent America is on foreign-born doctors and other health workers, given Trump’s aversion to immigration. Juan Cole reports that nearly one third of American physicians are foreign-born. And about a quarter of nurse aides are first-generation immigrants. More from Cole:

“About 17% of US physicians are Asian-Americans. These are the same Asian-Americans against whom Trump fomented beatings and harassment by calling Covid-19 “Chinese.” About 6% of our physicians are Hispanic. Fully one percent of them are Muslim, which is proportional to the Muslim-American population.”

Second, returning to the “In God We Trust” motto, a makeshift tent hospital was built in Central Park in Manhattan. The group Samaritan’s Purse is working with Mount Sinai Health System to open a 68-bed respiratory care unit. Sounds great, we need all the help we can get, right?

Wrong. Gothamist reports that Samaritan’s Purse has asked all volunteers working at the field hospital to sign a pledge that includes one that defines marriage as “exclusively the union of one genetic male and one genetic female” and another that says “human life is sacred from conception to its natural end.” So, don’t work here if you are for same sex marriage, or abortion.

Maybe it helps to know the group is headed by Franklin Graham, the son of Billy Graham, and a guy with a history of incendiary comments. Samaritan’s Purse is specifically seeking Christian medical staff for the tent hospital.

In the middle of this plague, the last thing anyone needs is a bunch of superstitious hatemongers judging those who either want to help, or who need help.

People should both cough and pray privately.

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Monday Wake Up Call – March 23, 2020

The Daily Escape:

Great Wave off Kanagawa – Japanese woodblock print by Hokusai c. 1829. The wave could represent a tsunami of COVID-19 cases, or could it represent the rising of malign intent by Trump towards our democracy?

Are we in the midst of a national emergency or not? Is a tsunami of COVID-19 cases about to inundate America, or not? Let Wrongo answer: It’s a national emergency. When there’s a national emergency, does the federal government let the states take care of the problem? It does not.

Here’s America’s worst excuse for a leader on twitter Sunday afternoon:

He says it’s not the federal government’s job to lead in a national emergency. As Haberman and Baker said in the NYT: (emphasis by Wrongo)

“For years, skeptics expressed concern about how he would handle a genuine crisis threatening the nation, and now they know.”

Any other president, even the weakest, would have acted differently. Despite the fact that his policies are generally pretty standard right-wing Republican, Trump has managed to make a national disaster worse than it had to be.

Now all Americans should know how it feels to be Puerto Rican.

Bloomberg reports that Trump’s directive for governors to buy their own medical supplies to fight the coronavirus ran into a big problem when the federal government outbid them for the products! Earlier that day, Trump said that his administration is not a “shipping clerk” for medical gear that the states require to fight the virus.

Another example from the NYT: (emphasis and brackets by Wrongo)

“…on Saturday {Trump] sought to assure an anxious American public that help was on the way…and that private companies had agreed to provide desperately needed medical supplies to fight the fast-spreading coronavirus.

But Mr. Trump [said] he would not compel companies to make face masks and other gear to protect front-line health workers from the virus….. Mr. Trump said the clothing company Hanes was among those that had been enlisted to start churning out masks, although the company said they would not be the N-95 masks that are most effective in protecting medical workers.”

Trump could simply order companies like Hanes to make them, but instead, Hanes is making masks that don’t actually protect medical personnel. Capitalism @ work!  At a time of national emergency, Trump is letting the market do it, and simply declaring victory.

Another: In the on-going (Sunday) negotiations on the Coronavirus bail-out package, it turns out that Treasury Secretary Mnuchin and the White House are demanding that the relief package include $500 billion to be provided to corporations at the discretion of Treasury Secretary Steve Mnuchin.

The best part is that it permits the Treasury secretary to withhold the names of corporate recipients for up to six months. How is it possible to use taxpayer money for corporate bailouts and demand that taxpayers can’t know who’s received the funds?

Finally, here’s an example where Trump is unhappily, showing leadership. He wants to suspend habeas corpus, the Constitutional right to appear before a judge after arrest, and seek release:

“The Justice Department has quietly asked Congress for the ability to ask chief judges to detain people indefinitely without trial during emergencies — part of a push for new powers that comes as the coronavirus spreads through the US.”

The DOJ is looking for broad authority, including the ability to ask chief judges to detain people and to pause court proceedings during emergencies. It would apply to:

“any statutes or rules of procedure otherwise affecting pre-arrest, post-arrest, pre-trial, trial, and post-trial procedures in criminal and juvenile proceedings and all civil process and proceedings,”

This means you could be arrested and not brought before a judge until they decide that the emergency or the civil disobedience is over. Shouldn’t we be even more careful about granting new powers to the government if we’re in a national emergency?

We can hope that the House will block this nonsense.

We should remember that the US government was founded for the very purpose of solving some rather serious problems that the individual states couldn’t handle. That role of federal leadership has worked for 230+ years, but that doesn’t work for Trump.

You should be asking why.

It seems certain that at some point, Trump will say that the states were unable to solve the virus emergency, so he’s stepping in. He’ll try to use COVID-19 to assume extraordinary emergency powers between now and the election. That’s beyond frightening.

More will die because Trump won’t lead in the fight to contain the Coronavirus. And in the background, he’s busy laying the groundwork for emergency powers.

Wake up Democrats!

It’s time to ask, what are the DC Democrats doing to block all of this?

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