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The Wrongologist

Geopolitics, Power and Political Economy

Monday Wake Up Call – March 25, 2019

The Daily Escape:

Ice climbing remnant glaciers on Mt. Kilimanjaro, Tanzania – 2018 photo by Christian Pondella. The climber, (upper right) Will Gadd, said: “We were climbing ice that is easily 10,000 years old and isn’t going to be there next week….We camped up on top of Kilimanjaro for about five days, and some of the things we climbed on, we came back and they had fallen over.”

Now that the key non-findings of the Mueller Report are known, the first thing we are hearing is that Mueller found no conspiracy with Russia. Unless the House committees turn up something that Mueller didn’t, there won’t be any legal consequences for Trump, his spawn, or what remains of his inner circle.

The Attorney General’s conclusions are that the Mueller report says Trump neither colluded with Russia, nor obstructed justice. This will help Trump and the GOP, who are already crowing, “EXONERATION!

Like many others, Wrongo is disappointed that Muller didn’t give us a quick, clean end to the horror of this administration. This disappointment marks the third time in the past 20 years that Wrongo has felt the country was wobbling on its axis because of the GOP.

The first time was in 2000 when the Supreme Court gave the presidency to Bush II. That was a terrible outcome for our democratic process, one that led to a gigantic strategic error, as Bush 43 took us into war in the Middle East.

The second was Trump winning the presidency in 2016. Everything that has happened since that November night was predictable, and again, we are a weaker, and a more divided country as a result.

Now, the Mueller report represents the third time that America has been divided by our anachronistic system. Now, we’ve had three occasions where we trusted that our system would make crucial decisions that had enormous impact on our democratic system, and in each case, our trust was misplaced.

Today’s news was the worst case scenario. While Wrongo has never believed that Russian election interference changed the outcome of the 2016 election, he thinks there was a quid pro quo with the Russians regarding a possible Moscow Trump Tower in 2016.

We all hoped AG Barr might rise to the occasion. Instead, Barr (and not Mueller) made the call on obstruction. Instead, Barr (not Mueller) cast the lack of proof on collusion by narrowing it to solely collusion with “the Russian government.” Apparently, the Trump Tower quid pro quo wasn’t on the table.

That said, we have to hope that all of this may turn out for the best.

Barr’s letter may not be the final aria sung by the metabolically challenged diva. She may return to the stage in due time. The Mueller/Barr punt says this is now Congress’s job to sort out.

Wake up America! Now we must acknowledge that we’re in a war to reclaim our system of government. To win the fight requires America to take control of the Congress and the White House away from the GOP in 2020.

And it can’t be by razor-thin margins, or there’s a decent chance the Democrats will be outplayed again.

This is a necessary battle. If it isn’t won, our country will continue to spiral out of control. It isn’t just about getting Trump out of office through the democratic process. This is a fight to reaffirm who we are as a country.

This is a battle we have to fight.

Let’s go.

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Biden?

The Daily Escape:

Azulik Hotel, Tulum Mexico, – 2019 photo by Phoebe Montague

A long-time friend of Wrongo and Ms. Right who is also a reader of the Wrongologist, emailed that a friend who is a well-placed Democrat in DC, said the Party plans to push Joe Biden for a single four-year term “to bring us together in healing”. He would also appoint a younger VP who would appeal to Millennials.

After a little digging, it seems that may be the plan. CNN reports that Biden is considering:

“The early selection of a running mate, which one aide said would help keep the focus of the primary fight on the ultimate goal of unseating Trump.”

If Biden would commit to one term, selecting his VP candidate early would lay hands on that person as the presumptive Democratic nominee in 2024. It sounds like a really bad idea, one that also would preclude Biden’s selecting one of the existing candidates for the 2020 nomination.

This strategy would have precluded Biden getting the VP nomination in 2008. Obama couldn’t have picked Biden early, because Biden was also running for president. And even once Biden dropped out, he wasn’t prepared to immediately back Obama over Hillary Clinton for the nomination.

Biden has tons of history for his primary opponents and the Republicans to pick through. Ryan Cooper, writing in The Week, said:

“Joe Biden is about to ruin his reputation….The most immediate problem for Biden personally is that he has #MeToo written all over him…..there are already vast compilations of footage of him being far too handsy with women in public settings.”

More from Cooper:

“Biden’s actual policy record is probably almost as big of a potential problem. The Democratic Party has shifted markedly to the left over the last decade, as the consequences of the party’s policy record from the mid-1970s to 2008 have become clear….he was personally involved in almost every bad policy decision of the last 40 years.”

Democrats use identity politics to help win elections. They try to knit together disparate groups of voters to counter the GOP’s solid South and Western states. Biden is tragically flawed in this regard. When you have a long history, people can learn that he gave the eulogy at Strom Thurmond’s funeral.  Thurmond was one of the most notorious segregationists in history.

In 2020, Biden’s eulogy works with Democrats in South Carolina, but how Biden confronts his 2003 praise for a former segregationist elsewhere in the primaries could prove a big challenge. Biden would be trying to lead a party that says it’s committed to fighting racial inequality, but would he be seen as the right person for the job? Some in the party will reject whatever explanation he gives, while others will say he’s trying to persuade more white voters to join Democrats in 2020.

Many black voters failed to support Hillary Clinton in 2016 for much less than Biden’s praise of Thurmond. Like Clinton, Biden has already expressed regret for supporting criminal sentencing laws that disproportionately punished people of color. He needs to clearly explain his treatment of Anita Hill, who accused Clarence Thomas of sexual harassment during Supreme Court confirmation hearings that Biden chaired in 1991.

Biden’s old Senate votes in favor of the Iraq War, the Defense of Marriage Act, and the North American Free Trade Agreement will be difficult to explain to young Democrats.

He has long said he believes in bi-partisanship, saying that the differences between Republicans and Democrats are superficial disagreements, not fundamental differences over matters of principle. Given Biden’s success in early Iowa polling, some might say that message is resonating. After all, according to orthodox wisdom, there is no more commendable virtue in American politics than bipartisanship.

Candidates always try to assure voters that they will strive to “work across the aisle” to deliver “commonsense solutions”. But, Wrongo thinks his ratings are due largely to Joe Biden being widely considered a likable guy, genial Uncle Joe. A father who has suffered family loss, there’s also a halo effect from his relationship with Obama that drives his favorability.

Biden is 76. He’s one of a cohort of elder politicians running for President, including Bernie Sanders (77) and Elizabeth Warren (70 in June). There are several candidates in their 60’s, 50’s, 40’s and a few in their 30’s.

Biden starts with strength among Democrats who think a safe pair of hands is a tested white man, and with Independents nostalgic for the Obama administration.

He will be opposed by Millennials eager for a new generation of leaders, and people of color who won’t buy his explanations about Anita Hill and Strom Thurmond.

He looks like a divisive candidate to Wrongo.

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Who’s Electable?

The Daily Escape:

Valley of Fire State Park, Nevada – 2019 photo by trolleg

Ultimately, that question will be about Donald Trump vs. whichever Democrat is chosen as the Party’s nominee in 2020. Today, it’s a way to try to make a cut from among the 15+ Democrats that have announced their intention to seek that 2020 nomination.

Wrongo talked last week about the landscape of the 2019 primaries, saying:

“The internet is full of comments about which of the 14 are most worthy, and plenty of hot takes on who can’t win vs. Trump.”

We know that in past presidential elections, a few candidates always emerge early as having the ability to “excite the voters”. The press starts to say that “this one might have a chance”. It works out sometimes, as it did for Bill Clinton vs. Paul Tsongas and Jerry Brown, or Barack Obama vs. Hillary Clinton. Both Clinton and Obama had charisma, which their opponents lacked. What hasn’t worked so well is being a policy wonk or having a bulletproof resume. Every candidate has a resume, a story to tell about themselves, but some try to parlay long careers in politics to the winner’s circle.

Think about Nixon and his resume squeaking past Hubert Humphrey, also with a long resume in politics. GHW Bush took his long resume to the White House for one term. The idea is that you can’t ask voters to look ahead while looking backwards at the same time. For Baby Boomer politicians, there are things in the rear-view that aren’t pretty, or even relevant today.

This is Joe Biden’s problem: When you’re challenging the status quo, ahead is the only winning direction. For another Boomer, Elizabeth Warren, her political resume is short, so less baggage in the 2020 primaries, and more new ideas.

It isn’t totally clear how the electability equation works. The media’s biases have a lot to do with deciding who gets the early buzz. It should be pretty simple to sort them into electable/not-electable categories, but think about Obama in January 2008: (emphasis by Wrongo)

“Senator Barack Obama’s victory in Iowa has improved his standing within the party on a critical measure: his electability. The percentage of Democrats who say he would be the strongest candidate against the Republicans has more than doubled in a month, to 35% from 14% in December.”

So today, we have no idea who is electable, and probably won’t know until after Super Tuesday (March 3rd), when 54% of Democratic primary votes will have been cast.

And does anyone have a reliable metric for “electability”? We can’t really say that John Kerry was un-electable. Hillary was chosen FOR her (supposed) electability, as opposed to the (supposedly) “un-electable” Bernie Sanders.

The GOP have usually played the most electable hand. That gave them Bob Dole, George Bush 43, John McCain and Mitt Romney as candidates. Only one winner among them.

Ultimately, are we capable of analyzing “electability”?  We want it to be useful and true, but is it? The media and the pundits think that moderate political views make a candidate electable, but it’s really more like charisma and authenticity.

At this point Wrongo wants to give a brief plug to Pete Buttigieg. He’s met the Democratic National Committee’s threshold of 65,000 individual donors, which means he’ll be included in the Democratic primary debates. He’s 37 and gay. He’s a Harvard and Oxford grad who served in Afghanistan and speaks Arabic. All of that probably signals to Establishment Democrats that he’s un-electable.

Wrongo thinks he has charisma and authenticity, along with very rare smarts. Here’s a quote from a Buttigieg profile in the New Yorker:

“If you thought in terms of the effects of public policy on millennials, he said, you began to see generational imbalances everywhere. The victims of school shootings suffered because of the gun liberties given to older Americans. Cutting taxes for the richest Americans meant that young people, inevitably, would have to pay the bill. Climate policy, he said, was the deepest example of the imbalance…”

Buttigieg may be strong in the Mid-West, and may be able to bring out non-voters. Non-voters were the biggest cohort in 2016. Many don’t vote because they don’t believe any of the candidates will make things any better. America needs a candidate that is committed to meeting increasingly desperate needs. Maybe Buttigieg would bring non-voters to the polls.

And haven’t Baby Boomers done enough to screw up both America and the planet?

Maybe we should give a Millennial a shot. At least for Vice-President.

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The Long Battle to Reform Capitalism

The Daily Escape:

Poppies in bloom, Southern California – March 2019 photo by Leslie Simis. This annual explosion of color is enhanced this year by extraordinary rainfall

You can call the period in US history from FDR to Nixon “America’s social democratic era”.  A collection of politicians had hammered out the policies and regulations that became FDR’s New Deal in America. It became a period of post-war prosperity during which inequality narrowed, economic growth boomed, and optimism reigned.

The characteristics these policies shared were reciprocity and generosity. For the citizen, there was some form of social support that grew from Social Security in 1935 through the 1960’s with Medicare and Medicaid. In 1970, Nixon implemented the Environmental Protection Agency. There was also a willingness to care for the disadvantaged. Our Marshall Plan and our commitment to foreign aid are both great examples. The success of social democracy in the postwar era weakened the market’s power to act independently within our society.

But then things changed. Our government’s role became a helpmate for corporations, financial institutions, and their lobbyists. The result has been growing inequality between suppliers of capital and the suppliers of labor, even of highly educated labor, like teachers and professors. Economic growth slowed, and we have developed a permanent underclass that seems impervious to repair.

Yesterday, we talked about Economic Dignity, and how focusing on it might help solve inequality. Today’s market economics is partly based on the ideas of Jeremy Bentham and John Stuart Mill, economists who viewed human beings as supreme over the state. As individuals who would make rational decisions to maximize utility. It turned out to be incomplete, since it left out key dimensions of human psychology, like the individual’s need for social esteem or respect. In other words, they ignored economic dignity.

Couple that with Milton Friedman’s idea, that the mission of the firm is to solely maximize profits, that any responsibilities to its employees, consumers, or society should be ignored. Profit maximization at all costs has done great damage to American society. And conservatives and free marketers have married the ideas of these three economists, making the removal of government from markets their primary mission.

But what they call “the market” is really a bundle of regulatory (and non-regulatory) rules by which market activities operate. The mix of free and regulated market activities can be changed, even though capitalists say we shouldn’t change the rules, because it adds uncertainty to markets.

Just because in baseball, three strikes and the batter is out, or with four balls, there is a free pass to first base, doesn’t mean it has to be that way. It could be five strikes and you’re out, or three balls is a walk.

As an example, we tend to fight unemployment with “trickle-down” solutions. That means we bribe the rich and corporations to hire more. But, the bribe is always bigger than the payrolls that are generated.

We could fight unemployment with fiscal policy, such as infrastructure spending by the government. It would employ many, possibly hundreds of thousands, and there would be no need to pay any entity more than was warranted by the tasks at hand.

America needs a return to what economist Paul Collier calls the “cornerstones of belonging”— family, workplace, and nation, all of which are threatened by today’s market driven capitalism. That means capitalism has to return to the ethics of the New Deal. Joseph Stiglitz, Nobel laureate in economics, says: (parenthesis and emphasis by Wrongo)

Over the past half-century, Chicago School economists, (including Milton Friedman) acting on the assumption that markets are generally competitive, narrowed the focus of competition policy solely to economic efficiency, rather than broader concerns about power and inequality. The irony is that this assumption became dominant in policymaking circles just when economists were beginning to reveal its flaws.

Stiglitz says we need the same resolve fighting for an increase in corporate competition that the corporations have demonstrated in their fight against it. We’ll need new policies to manage capitalism.

It means higher taxes on profits.

It means paying workers more.

It means rebuilding public assets like roads.

It means teaching students to be both technically capable, and grounded in their values.

Speaking of needing to teach our students, if you think we’re not in a rigged game, think about one “USC student” who is part of the admissions fraud scandal, Olivia Jade Giannulli. She was on the yacht of the Chairman of USC’s Board of Trustees when she heard about it.

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Saturday Soother – March 9, 2019

The Daily Escape:

Railroad bridge over Housatonic River in snow – 2019 photo by Quadco Joe

We start driving back from sunny, warm FL this am. While you are having coffee and listening to music, we’ll be once again driving by a few Civil War battlefields. But today, let’s talk about Paul Manafort. On Thursday, Trump’s former campaign manager and a one-time lobbyist for unsavory people, was sentenced to 47 months on tax evasion, when the sentencing guidelines called for something like twenty years.

Manafort was sentenced to four years, just like the rest of us. But his seems lenient, while ours seems harsh.

Manafort’s judge was T. S. Ellis III, of the Eastern District in Virginia, who isn’t a model of judicial consistency. Few remember Rep. William J. Jefferson (D- LA), who was convicted of corruption. He was sentenced in 2009 to 13 years by Judge Ellis, who said that he hoped Jefferson’s punishment would serve as a “beacon” to warn other public officials not to succumb to corruption.

Ellis gave Jefferson the longest corruption sentence ever for a member of Congress. It was five years longer than a different judge gave former Rep. Randy “Duke” Cunningham, (R-CA), after he plead guilty to more egregious charges, of steering defense contracts in return for bribes.

After the Supreme Court’s 2016 decision in McDonnell v. United States, which narrowed the definition of public corruption, Mr. Jefferson appealed his conviction. Judge Ellis threw out 7 of the 10 charges against him, accepted Jefferson’s plea on the three remaining counts, and sentenced him to time served. In total, Jefferson served five and a half years.

Think about it: Ellis made an example of Jefferson, while sending the opposite message with Manafort’s sentence, and ignoring sentencing guidelines. Ellis said: “He’s [Manafort] lived an otherwise blameless life.” Franklin Foer in The Atlantic debunked that:

“In an otherwise blameless life, Paul Manafort lobbied on behalf of the tobacco industry and wangled millions in tax breaks for corporations.

In an otherwise blameless life, he helped the Philippine President Ferdinand Marcos bolster his image in Washington after he assassinated his primary political opponent.

In an otherwise blameless life, he worked to keep arms flowing to the Angolan generalissimo Jonas Savimbi, a monstrous leader bankrolled by the apartheid government in South Africa. While Manafort helped portray his client as an anti-communist “freedom fighter,” Savimbi’s army planted millions of landmines in peasant fields, resulting in 15,000 amputees.

In an otherwise blameless life, Manafort was kicked out of the lobbying firm he co-founded, accused of inflating his expenses and cutting his partners out of deals.

In an otherwise blameless life, he spent a decade as the chief political adviser to a clique of former gangsters in Ukraine. This clique hoped to capture control of the state, so that it could enrich itself with government contracts and privatization agreements. This was a group closely allied with the Kremlin, and Manafort masterminded its rise to power—thereby enabling Ukraine’s slide into Vladimir Putin’s orbit.”

There’s more, but you get the drift. People will argue that Manafort wasn’t charged with ruining the world, he was charged with tax evasion. And that using one crime to punish others the subject was not charged with is not a good practice.

True, but had Judge Ellis heard about Al Capone?

And giving less than one quarter of the recommended punishment says that Ellis, a Reagan appointee, saw the Republican in Manafort, while he saw the Democrat in Jefferson.

Time to leave the world behind and line up for your Saturday Soother. Let’s start by sampling the AK-47 Espresso Blend from Black Rifle Coffee, a veteran-owned coffee company who calls their products “freedom fuel”. Wrongo saw their billboard while driving through North Carolina, and doesn’t want to hear any comments from wussy liberals about how the South is different.

Now, settle into your most comfortable chair and listen to Pablo Villegas, playing “Recuerdos de la Alhambra” (Memories of the Alhambra) by Spanish composer Francisco Tárrega, live at Philadelphia’s Kimmel Center in 2013:

The piece showcases the challenging guitar technique known as tremolo.

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

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Monday Cartoon Blogging – March 4, 2019

Wrongo and Ms. Right made it to Florida, and found his sisters doing well. We took our annual roundabout path to the Sunshine State, stopping first in Gettysburg, PA to visit Ms. Right’s sister. We drove slowly through parts of the Gettysburg battlefield on our way out of town.

When we drive south through Virginia, we always think about the penultimate battles of the Civil War. That is particularly true in and around Richmond.

We passed Civil War battle sites like Fredericksburg, where Chancellorsville was fought. And Spotsylvania. And Cold Harbor, where Grant lost to Lee in a battle that prolonged the war for another year. On June 2nd, the armies were arrayed on a seven-mile front. Grant was poised for a major assault on Lee’s right flank to cut off the Confederates from Richmond, but had to delay the fight for a day. Then they lost a bloody battle to an undermanned Confederate army. Grant later said:

“I have always regretted that the last assault at Cold Harbor was ever made… no advantage whatever was gained to compensate for the heavy loss we sustained.”

It is a tragedy that the Civil War is still living history in America. On to cartoons.

Cohen switched sides, and the GOP was pissed:

Trump didn’t like Cohen’s testimony, but was totally OK with Kim’s denial about Warmbier:

After the Kim summit, Trump now regrets what he said about McCain in Vietnam:

Lil’ Marco’s bible teaching echoes Republican talking points:

Pope Frank’s talking points are also far from Christian:

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Demographics is Making Us Less Democratic

The Daily Escape:

Sunset at Malin Head, Donegal, Ireland – 2019 photo by jip

There was an article by Phillip Bump in the WaPo (paywalled) “In about 20 years, half the population will live in eight states.  By 2040, 49.5% of our population will be living in the eight most populous states — California, Texas, New York, Florida, Illinois, Pennsylvania, Ohio and Michigan. All are growing significantly faster than the collective population of the remaining 42 states.

Sounds like just an interesting demographic fact until you consider the implications for the US Senate. Matt Yglesias tweets:

When Yglesias says “four” instead of “two” he means the margin in percentage points of the 2020 national vote for president going to the Democrat. His point is that even with a weakened presidential candidate like Trump, it will be a long uphill climb for Democrats to control a majority in the Senate.

Last fall at the Kavanaugh hearings, many pointed out that Senators representing only 45% of voters were able to appoint him to the Supreme Court. Some said it was the first time that a president elected by a minority nominated a Supreme Court Justice who was appointed by a minority in the Senate to decide certain legal questions against the will of the majority of Americans.

And while California has about 68 times the number of people in Wyoming, their votes can cancel each other out in the Senate.

This demographic imbalance is the result of 1787’s “Connecticut Compromise”, which created our two houses of government. This was designed to balance federal power between large and small state populations. Today, equal representation in the Senate is a permanent feature of our system.

After each decennial census, the map of US House districts are redrawn and seats are shifted to states that have gained the most population. That means, leaving aside the gerrymandering issue, each state’s representation in the US House will roughly reflect its share of our total population.

This isn’t the case in the Senate, where the representation of all states is fixed at two Senators apiece. And that can’t be changed, because it’s based on a Constitutional provision (Article V) which establishes that an amendment requires a two-thirds vote of both Houses of Congress and ratification by three-fourths of the states. It also says: “No State, without its Consent, shall be deprived of its equal Suffrage in the Senate.” It’s hard to imagine a situation where a small state would agree to give up one of its two Senators to another, larger state.

That was the essence of the Connecticut Compromise. The framers agreed to make the guarantee of equal power in the Senate beyond even the reach of the amendment process. It was a means of protecting the rights of the minority as “minorities” in 1787 were small states, while today, minority has an entirely different meaning.

Changing demographics has implications for the Electoral College as well. Each state’s votes are the sum of their House and Senate representatives with the total number of Electoral votes fixed at 538. If population growth moves representatives from rural states to the big eight in population, their share of votes in the Electoral College become larger as well.

There is a state-based movement to make the Electoral College represent the will of the majority of America’s voters. NPR reports that so far, 11 states have passed legislation that requires their Electoral College electors to vote for whoever wins the national vote total. To be effective, the move would require approval by states representing 270 electoral votes, the same number it takes to win the presidency. So far, they are 98 votes short of that goal.

Colorado appears poised to join as the 12th state. The state legislature passed the bill, and the governor is expected to sign it. New Mexico is considering it. This would be one way of restoring the idea that every vote in the country counts equally.

Wrongo’s pie-in-the-sky dream is that every American voter gets a third vote for a Senator in any other state. Then we could vote for, or against a Senator we wanted to see stay or go. Wrongo’s dream began when Strom Thurmond represented South Carolina, but imagine, being able to vote Lindsey Graham out of office today.

That would be a real masterpiece of one-person, one-vote in America.

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Monday Wake Up Call – February 25, 2019

The Daily Escape:

Hooded Merganser with fish, Housatonic River, CT – February, 2019 photo by JH Clery

Disenchantment with the government has become an important part of America’s current mindset. A recent Gallup survey that found that 35% of Americans surveyed named the government as the “top problem” facing the US:

“Gallup has asked Americans what they felt was the most important problem facing the country since 1939 and has regularly compiled mentions of the government since 1964. Prior to 2001, the highest percentage mentioning government was 26% during the Watergate scandal. Thus, the current measure is the highest in at least 55 years.”

(Gallup’s poll was a telephone survey of 1,016 adults in all 50 US states and the District of Columbia. The survey has a margin of error of ± 4%. It was conducted between Feb 1st – 10th, 2019)

This is more significant because this time, Gallup’s question was open-ended, unlike the usual form of the question that Gallup has been asking for decades. In the previous version, Gallup asks “which of the following will be the biggest threat to the country in the future—big business, big labor, or big government?

What’s driving the current historic discontent with government isn’t that government does too much, but that government does too little. Gallup speculates that the increase reflects public frustration with the government shutdown that occurred from late December through most of January. They observed a similar double-digit spike after the 2013 government shutdown, when it climbed from 16% in September 2013, to 33% in October 2013.

Gallup reports that 11% of respondents cited “Donald Trump” as the most important problem, while 5% name “the Democrats” or “liberals” and just 1% named “Congress.” Since January 2017, about the time Trump took office, the government has been the top problem each month, except in Gallup’s November poll, and in July 2018. In both of those months, immigration edged out the government at the top of the list. After the government, the most important problems according to Gallup’s latest poll were immigration, at 19%, and health care, at 6%.

Gallup began asking about the “most important problem” on a monthly basis in 2001; since then, only a few times and a few issues have matched or exceeded the 35% currently mentioning the government:

  • After the 9/11 attacks, mentions of “terrorism” topped the list as the most important problem, peaking at 46% in October 2001.
  • Mentions of the situation in Iraq escalated in early 2007 after G.W. Bush’s announcement of the “surge”. “Iraq” was cited as the biggest problem by 38% in February of that year.
  • In November, 2008, the percentage of Americans naming “the economy” reached 58%.
  • In 2011, as Obama was laying out an ambitious job creation plan, 39% saw unemployment as our major problem.

This time, by frequency of mention, government is our biggest problem among a list of 47 national problems, not terrorism, or the economy or unemployment. Those were individual crises that our government responded to. Now, we’re saying that government itself is dysfunctional.

And Gallup revealed:

“While Democrats were more likely than Republicans to name government and leadership as the top problem facing the nation in the year leading up to the latest poll, both party groups are now about as likely to name government as the top US problem.”

As we might expect, Republicans disproportionately mention Democrats or liberals as the problem, while Democrats (as well as independents) disproportionately mention Trump.

Gallup concludes that while Democrats and Republicans are currently aligned in their negative view, it is for different reasons. For Democrats, the shutdown was caused by a stalemate over a border wall they overwhelmingly rejected, promoted by a president they dislike. Gallup speculates that for Republicans, it is the ramifications of losing control of the House of Representatives and their party’s inability to pass more legislation while it was in power.

This bears watching as the presidential primary season takes form. The poll may offer some fodder for one or more candidates to harness the frustrations of voters who are saying that they are fed up with the gridlock and hyper-partisanship in Washington that has only grown with time.

There’s a window here, the question is who can seize the opportunity. Already, some right-wing pundits are linking the growing disapproval of government by Republicans with the Democrats’ embrace of Medicare for All and other “socialist” programs.

It’s time to wake up, America! People are starting to understand that dysfunctional government isn’t in their interest. The time is right for a messenger who can harness the frustration and move the country back to a functioning democracy.

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Saturday Soother – February 23, 2019

The Daily Escape:

Snow in moonlight near Mammoth Mountain, CA – 2019 smartphone photo by Mwalt19

At the end of the week that includes President’s Day, there’s a story in the WSJ that deserves highlighting. The article, “An American Icon That Almost Wasn’t” is about the iconic, and larger-than-life statue of Abraham Lincoln that rests inside the Lincoln Memorial. As with most memorials on the National Mall, there were differences of opinion about the location of the Memorial, and the size of the statue of a seated Lincoln. It was originally designed to be 12 feet high, but to the sculptor, Daniel Chester French, that seemed far too small for the atrium of the Memorial. He fought for a larger, heroic sized statue, and finished it in 1920.

The Memorial was dedicated in May, 1922. But, according to Harold Holzer in the WSJ, by the time of the dedication, America had not internalized the lessons of the Civil War:

African-Americans in attendance were herded off to a “colored” section at the rear. The choice seats were filled by aged Confederate veterans dressed in their tattered gray uniforms.

Holzer reports:

Adding injury to insult, the only black speaker at the ceremony, Robert Russa Moton, head of the Tuskegee Institute, could not even deliver the full oration he had composed. The White House demanded he omit his most provocative words: “So long as any group within our nation is denied the full protection of the law,” what Lincoln called his “unfinished work” remained “still unfinished,” and the Memorial itself “but a hollow mockery.”

In 1922, 57 years after the end of the Civil War, we still couldn’t get past the idea that one race was inferior to the other. Worse, we couldn’t even acknowledge it openly. Contrast that with these words from Lincoln’s Second inaugural address:

One-eighth of the whole population were colored slaves, not distributed generally over the Union, but localized in the southern part of it. These slaves constituted a peculiar and powerful interest. All knew that this interest was somehow the cause of the war….

We’ve gone forward in the last nearly 100 years to overcome much of the segregation that occurred at the Lincoln Memorial’s dedication, but much work remains unfinished. Lincoln said it best in the closing of his Second Address in 1865:

With malice toward none, with charity for all, with firmness in the right as God gives us to see the right, let us strive on to finish the work we are in, to bind up the nation’s wounds, to care for him who shall have borne the battle and for his widow and his orphan, to do all which may achieve and cherish a just and lasting peace among ourselves and with all nations.

And yet, we’ve still got work to do.

But you’ve done enough for this week, so forget about Bernie, Beto, Biden, Buttigieg, or whomever your favorite Democrat of the moment may be, and prepare for Saturday Soothing! Start by brewing up a vente cup of single origin Sumatra Tano Batak ($20.99/12oz.) from Maui’s Origin Coffee. The roaster says it has flavors of dark chocolate, melon and mandarin orange.

Now settle back in your most comfy chair, put on your wireless headphones and listen to Freddie Mercury and Queen’s “Bohemian Rhapsody” played in 2013 by the Indiana University Studio Orchestra conducted by Nicholas Hersh, with viola solo by Sarah Harball:

We feature it here in honor of the Oscars on Sunday night. Sadly, it’s the only Oscar-nominee movie that Wrongo and Ms. Right got to see this year.

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

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The Power of Messaging

The Daily Escape:

Buttermere Lake, Cumbria, England – photo by Matt Owen-Hughes

On Monday in El Paso TX, Trump attacked Democrats, calling them:

“The party of socialism, late-term abortion, open borders and crime…To pave the way for socialism, Democrats are calling for massive tax hikes and the complete elimination of private health care…They’re coming for your money and they’re coming for your freedom.”

Trump’s focus on “socialism” is based on the few liberal Democratic presidential candidates who have called for Medicare-for-all, or environmental proposals intended to lower carbon emissions.

He brought up the “Green New Deal”, saying it would virtually eliminate air travel and that it sounds “like a high school term paper that got a low mark.”

This is just the latest stage in the war waged by the right against the ideals and programs of the New Deal. Kim Phillips Fein, reviewing the new bookWinter War: Hoover, Roosevelt, and the First Clash Over the New Deal” by Eric Rauchway, writes: (brackets by Wrongo)

Throughout the [1932] campaign, Hoover had attacked what he considered a “social philosophy very different from the traditional philosophies of the American people,” warning that these “so-called new deals” would “destroy the very foundations” of American society. As Hoover later put it, the promise of a “New Deal” was both socialistic and fascistic; it would lead the country on a “march to Moscow.”

2020 will be all about messaging. Once again, just like 88 years ago, Republicans will run on socialism. Trump will add the threats posed by open borders and abortion to the right-wing stew.

The question is what will be the 20+ Democrats who are running for president be talking about? Michael Tomasky in The Daily Beast suggests: (emphasis by Wrongo)

I am saying, though, that Democrats should stop pretending they can unite the country. They can’t. No one can. What they can do, what they must do, is assemble a coalition of working- and middle-class voters of all races around a set of economic principles that will say clearly to those voters that things are going to be very different when they’re in the White House…

There is a power to fashioning a new political coalition around the concept of economic justice. We live in a time when politicians of both parties have followed a consistent strategy: massage the economic numbers and the media, keep the rich and powerful happy, and make sure you stay on the “fiscally conservative” side of the line.

Now, a few Democrats are pushing the party elders to re-consider economic justice as FDR did in the1930s. These Democrats intuit that most Americans are trying to reconcile the life they were told they would have with today’s reality. The gulf between what they were told, and what actually happened is wide. And it looks as if it will only get wider.

Many Americans feel that they can’t pay their bills anymore, and they are afraid. Their jobs aren’t stable, they can’t look forward to retirement. About 20% say they have more credit card debt than savings. The lives they thought they’d live are upside down, and they’re not sure they can do anything about it. Quite a few followed their preachers and a few charlatan Republicans, and can’t understand why things are so scary and bad for them.

America is divided, but maybe not in the way you are thinking. It’s the left behinds and millennials who are worried about their future. And it’s both of them against the politicians, corporations and the oligarchs. As David Crosby sang:

“There’s something happening here, what it is ain’t exactly clear”

In 2020, we’ll be fighting for not just the soul of our country, but the meaning of American life: Should the one with the most toys win?

What is more important, universal health care, or outlawing abortion? Better roads and bridges, or keeping out immigrants? A better environment, or lower taxes?

Ocasio-Sanchez’s Green New Deal (GND) can easily be dismissed, but what really is the difference between how the Green New Deal might be financed, and how the Federal Reserve spent nearly $4 Trillion on its Quantitative Easing (QE) schemes?

The big difference is who profits. QE was welfare for the banks. For the GND, society at large would benefit.

You will get to decide, and plenty of people are already fighting for your attention.

Some are worth listening to. What will you choose to do?

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