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The Wrongologist

Geopolitics, Power and Political Economy

Saturday Soother – August 19, 2017

The Daily Escape:

Orchha, on the banks of the Betwa River, India – photo by Arian Zwegers cc 2.0

Quite the week: After threatening nuclear war with North Korea, musing about invading Venezuela, and equivocating over Charlottesville, Trump folded two advisory councils and then decided against forming a council on Infrastructure. He also Twitter-attacked more Republican senators than Democrats this week, a bad strategy for someone who can’t be sure what Special Counsel Mueller may come up with.

But, according to a Survey Monkey poll as reported by Axios, Trump’s statements about Charlottesville have overwhelming support of Republican voters. Survey Monkey asked whether people agreed with a verbatim quote from President Trump on Tuesday:

You had a group on one side that was bad, and you had a group on the other side that was also very violent

Republicans agreed with the Trump comment, 87%-11%. Democrats disagreed, 83%-15%. Independents disagreed, 59%-39%.

When we no longer agree on basic facts, civil debate is impossible.

This is a dangerous moment. America is split. We need to stop fighting about the little things. Wrongo usually is against “slippery slope” arguments, but will make an exception in the case of our Civil War history: What is the objective of removing Civil War statues and monuments? Will their removal change the historical record of slavery?

Of course not. How would supporters of removal say we should polarize the continuum of history? What would be next? Removal of history books that mention the Confederacy or former slave owners?

One of Wrongo’s favorite histories of the Civil War is “A Diary from Dixie” by Mary Boykin Chestnut. It is a day-to-day diary of her experience as a southern partisan during the Civil War. Most Civil War historians have read and consulted it in the preparation of their own work. Should we burn the book because it was written by a slave-holding partisan?

Of course not.

Many want to draw a red line regarding slavery and the Civil War, and that is totally understandable. But where to draw it? Can it be drawn in a way that keeps our children in touch with our past, even the sordid bits?

We need to own our history.

We should ignore the false moral equivalencies mentioned by Trump, such as Lee and Washington. Both owned slaves, so statues of Washington must go too. It is true that both owned slaves, but Washington fought to build this country, while Lee fought to destroy it in support of slavery.

Some have pointed to the fact that Jews would never let Auschwitz, Dachau or Buchenwald be taken down. This is another false equivalency. Auschwitz is maintained not to celebrate Nazism, but to show its horrors.

Maybe that IS the lesson: Add interpretation to the Confederate monuments: Make them say that we do not want anyone to forget what happened, and that we want to make sure it can never happen again.

It’s Saturday, so we MUST get some distance between where we are as a country now, and where we need to be.

Wrongo’s prescription? Brew a cup of Brooklyn’s  Toby’s Estate El Ramo Columbian coffee. El Ramo means the bouquet in Spanish ($14 for 12oz.), close the door, and put on your over-the-ear headphones. Now, listen to G.P. Telemann’s “Concerto in G major for Viola, Strings and Basso continuo, TWV 51:G9”.

Wrongo and Ms. Right heard it last week at the final summer concert of the New Baroque Soloists at the Washington Meeting House in Washington, Connecticut. Here it is performed live by the Remember Barockorchester, in the Unser Lieben Frauen Church, Bremen, on November 21st, 2015:

The Viola Soloist is Tomoe Badiarova

Those who read the Wrongologist in email supplied by the execrable Feedburner, can view the video here.

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Book Review: “The First Congress” by Fergus M. Bordewich

The Daily Escape:

251 1st Street, Brooklyn, NYC – photo by Miguel de Guzman

It is time to review “The First Congress – How James Madison, George Washington, and a Group of Extraordinary Men Invented the Government” by Fergus M. Bordewich, which has been on Wrongo’s reading list since winter.

Bordewich says that the First Congress was the most important in US history, because it established in some detail how our government would actually function. Had it failed − as it nearly did − it’s possible that the US would exist in a different form today.

Congress began its work in New York City, then a fast-growing and chaotic shipping port of 30,000. Its first meeting was hardly auspicious: On March 4, 1789 they met as the new government after ratification by 11 of the 13 original states. But, there was no quorum to do business in either house. Bordewich outlines how difficult it was to make overland journeys: Boston to New York required six days, trips from the South were much longer. The House achieved a quorum of 29 members on April 1st, and the Senate followed on April 5th, but some members did not arrive until late summer.

Bordewich states that the need to accomplish something quickly was pressing:

Confidence in government was abysmally low…contempt for politicians was rife…and many political men held an equally low opinion of the voting public.

Sounds just like today.

The members were sharply divided, with huge differences of philosophy and opinion. The anti-federalists were opposed to a strong federal government, and had largely been against the ratification of the Constitution, preferring that power remain in the hands of the states. The Federalists wanted a stronger national government and supported the new Constitution.

Underlying everything were issues of North vs. South, rural agrarian vs. urban manufacturing economies, and pro-slave and anti-slave views.

During two years of political struggle, they passed the first ten amendments to the Constitution; they resolved regional rivalries to choose the location for a new national capital; they set in place the procedure for admitting new states to the union; they created the Supreme Court, and worked through the respective roles of the federal and state judiciaries. They established a national bank that was later dissolved by Andrew Jackson in 1832.

But the First Congress also confronted issues that are still with us: the appropriate balance between states’ rights and the powers of national government, and the proper balance between legislative and executive power. The issue of slavery would fester for almost seven decades before being resolved.

The reason that the First Congress succeeded was that they compromised. Without a willingness to compromise, all might have been lost. The great motivator behind their willingness to compromise was the fear that the anti-Federalists would walk away from the new Constitution. There was real reason to fear secession, and it was threatened many times by both the slave-holding South, as well as by the New England states.

Bordewich shows the regional splits that played out in the effort to create a national bank:

The balloting also had a disturbing subtext: all but one of the twenty votes against the bank hailed from the South…Of the thirty-nine votes in favor of the bank, all but five were from the North – yet another omen of the embryonic divide that would dominate the nation’s politics for years to come.

There are wonderful nuggets like this: (emphasis by the Wrongologist)

The First Amendment…became so only by default, when the two preceding amendments – on congressional apportionment and compensation for members – failed to achieve ratification by enough states…Three states – Massachusetts, Connecticut and Georgia – would not officially ratify even the ten amendments until…1939. (pg. 140)

In all, 39 amendments received meaningful debate. As important as passing the 10 we know about, was the rejection of others that would have imperiled a strong federal government, including one that gave voters the right to give legislators binding instructions on how to vote.

There was nothing inevitable about the survival and success of the new government. It came about by men from all sections of the country, each with an agenda, who overlooked their prejudices to create a government. The result of their spirit of compromise was the successful launch of our government.

Sharp divisions, rural vs. urban, states’ rights vs. federal authority: We face many of the same issues today that the First Congress had to face in 1789.

But, they had Washington, Jefferson, Madison, and Hamilton.

Who do we have?

Mitch McConnell and Paul Ryan. Chuck Schumer and Nancy Pelosi.

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Monday Wake Up Call – July 24, 2017

The Daily Escape:

Toronto Canada – photo by Carlos D. Ramirez

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

It provides that Senators are directly elected by citizens.

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

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

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

From The Nation:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Our Democracy in its 242nd Year

The Daily Escape:

Three Sisters, Alberta Canada

… the preservation of the sacred fire of liberty, and the destiny of the Republican model of Government, are justly considered as deeply, perhaps as finally staked, on the experiment entrusted to the hands of the American people. — George Washington’s First Inaugural Address (1789).

It is worth thinking about the state of our Democracy on our 241st birthday and how the American people are handling Washington’s experiment. At the time of the country’s founding, seven of the 13 states, representing 27% of the population, could command a majority in the Senate. Today, more than half of the US population lives in just nine states, while the other half of America lives in the other 41 states. The voters in the biggest nine states have equal representation in the House, with 223 Representatives, while the other half has 212.

But in the Senate, it’s a different story. Because of the population concentration, the half of the US living in the largest nine states are represented by just 18 of 100 Senators. The other half of the country living in the other 41 states have 82 Senators, more than four times as many. Today, with the filibuster, 21 of the 50 states, representing 11% of the population, can muster the 41 votes necessary to reject a bill, or to stop the confirmation of a Supreme Court Justice.

You don’t have to be good at math to see how much less representation in Congress those living in the big states have today. The four smallest states have eight Senators combined, giving California, with two Senators, only a quarter as many as Alaska, North Dakota, Vermont and Wyoming, even though California has 14 times the combined population of these states.

Wrongo raises this as a structural example of the now near-permanent political division in America. It is difficult to see what big idea, or great emotion, can bridge that divide and bring us back to some semblance of unity.

Beyond structural divisions, there are huge divisions of policy and perception. A new Marist poll for PBS NewsHour and NPR News finds that 70% of Americans believe the country has become less civil since the Trump regime came to power, with 61% saying they have little or no trust in the White House right now.

(Marist contacted 1,205 US adults using landline and mobile phones between June 21 and June 25. There is a 2.8% margin of error).

The poll shows that Republicans in particular are very receptive to Trump’s attacks on the media, and a healthy chunk of Republicans want the media restricted. When asked if they trust the media, only 30% of US adults overall said they do trust them to at least a “good” amount. But there are stark differences along party lines:

  • 9% of Republicans say they trust the media, while 56% of Democrats and 28% of Independents say they do.
  • And on the Constitutional right to freedom of the press, four out of 10 Republicans said the nation had “gone too far in expanding the right,” while two out of 10 Independents and one out of 10 Democrats agreed with that statement.
  • Overall, a quarter of US adults said the press had too many rights.
  • 52% said the nation should preserve the right to protest and criticize the government. But 41% percent of Republicans think the right to protest should be scaled back. Only 7% of Democrats and 11% of independents said they feel the same way.

When asked about the right to vote, six out of 10 Americans overall think that our right to vote is fine the way it is. But among Republicans, 25% think the US has gone too far in expanding that right.

Some of the cross-tab results are dismal: 

  • Among people making less than $50,000 a year, only 1 in 4 trust the media at all.
  • More 18-29 year olds trust Trump (27%) than trust the media (22%).
  • Meanwhile, 40% of Trump supporters think America has gone too far in allowing people to criticize the government.

Let that sink in, and then try to think about how we ever battle back to a middle ground where America has a chance to once again row the boat in the same direction.

On to music. Here are the Grateful Dead with their take on “Smokestack Lightning”, originally recorded by Howlin’ Wolf in 1956. The Dead performed this 18+ minute version in February, 1970 at the Fillmore East:

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

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Wake Up Call – Memorial Day 2017

The Daily Escape:

NYC’s Grand Central Station – 1943

On Memorial Day we commemorate those who died in the military service of our country. In 1974, a sci-fi novel called “The Forever War” was released. It is military science fiction, telling the story of soldiers fighting an interstellar war. The protagonist, named Mandella, is sent across the galaxy to fight a poorly understood, apparently undefeatable foe.

Sound familiar? Today the forever war is not simply fiction. Our all-volunteer military has been fighting in the Middle East for the past 16 years in the longest war in American history. And there is little reason to hope that we will not be fighting there 16 years from now. Brian Castner, a former explosive ordnance disposal officer who served three tours in Iraq, observes:

Our country has created a self-selected and battle-hardened cohort of frequent fliers, one that is almost entirely separate from mainstream civilian culture, because service in the Forever War, as many of us call it, isn’t so much about going as returning. According to data provided by the Center for a New American Security, of the 2.7 million veterans of Iraq and Afghanistan, half have done multiple tours. More telling, 223,000 have gone at least four times, and 51,000 have done six or more deployments.

We can’t get our fill of war. In fact, since 1943, the year the picture above was taken in New York City, the US has been at peace for just five years: 1976, 1977, 1978, 1997 and 2000 were the only years with no major war.

So today, we gather to celebrate those who have died in service of our global ambitions. We watch a parade, we shop at the mall, and we attend a cookout. Perhaps we should be required to spend more time thinking about how America can increase the number of years when we are not at war.

Wrongo can’t escape the idea that if we re-instituted a military draft, and required military service of all young Americans, it would soon become impossible for the politicians and generals to justify the forever war.

So, wake up America! Instead of observing Memorial Day with another burger, get involved in a plan to re-institute the draft. It won’t stop our involvement in war, but it will unite American mothers and fathers to bring about the end of this forever war, and any future “forever war”.

To help you wake up, we also remember the death of Gregg Allman of the Allman Brothers Band. Here is “Blue Sky” from their “Eat a Peach” album. Wrongo loves the guitar interplay between the long-gone Duane Allman and Dickey Betts on this tune:

Dickey Betts wrote this about his Native American girlfriend, Sandy “Bluesky” Wabegijig.

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

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Saturday Soother – March 11, 2017

(Wrongo and family are repositioning from a week at our annual [comparatively] low-rent  Mar-a-Lago equivalent to the Northeast. As a result, there will not be Sunday Cartoon Blogging or a Monday Wake Up Call this week)

The Daily Escape:

(Photo by Wrongo. Friday sunrise, 6:30 am)

With Trumpworld continuing to both amaze and depress, you need a soother today more than ever. Grab a hot cuppa something and take a walk on the beach with Wrongo. Here are two random thoughts that seeped into Wrongo’s consciousness while on the beach in 75° for the past few days:

Ancient DNA found in the dental plaque of Neandertals shows that they used plant-based forms of aspirin and penicillin. They’re the ones that went extinct, while it took us another 40,000 years to discover penicillin.

In 1943, a US destroyer accompanying the USS Iowa that was carrying FDR, fired a torpedo at the President. That destroyer, the USS William D. Porter, was only in service for two years, and had many mishaps in its short life. The flotilla was secretly taking FDR to Europe, and were maintaining radio silence as they sailed through waters thought to contain German U-boats. Not long into the journey, there was a massive explosion that shook the little fleet. All of the ships immediately began anti-submarine maneuvers. The chaos continued until the William Porter admitted that a depth charge had fallen off of the stern of their ship. The safety on the charge had mistakenly not been set, and when it crashed into the rough sea, it detonated.

Soon after detonating the depth charge, a huge wave smashed into the Porter, washing a man overboard, never to be seen again. As a result of the wave, the engine room lost power in one of its boilers. The mission, which had demanded total silence, turned into a fiasco of hourly reporting by the William Porter to the Iowa.

And it got worse. On Nov. 14th, the four ships were east of Bermuda when FDR wanted to test the defenses of the Iowa in the event that they came under an air attack. The crew of the Iowa launched weather balloons to simulate anti-aircraft targets, and fired its guns.

The Porter’s crew shot at the balloons the Iowa had missed. They also practiced torpedo drills, taking practice shots at the Iowa, which was 6,000 yards away. During live torpedo drills, the tube primers, (small explosive charges), were supposed to be removed for practice, but one torpedo man forgot to remove the primer from one of the torpedo tubes. The torpedo officer ordered the fake firing command, and an armed and launched torpedo whizzed across the sea straight toward the Iowa.

When Roosevelt heard that a torpedo was zooming toward him, he asked to be moved by his wheelchair over to the railing so that he could see it. Fearing an assassination plot, the Iowa turned its guns on the William D. Porter, but the crisis ended when the torpedo detonated as it struck heavy waves created by the Iowa’s increased speed.

After calm was restored, the torpedo man, Lawton Dawson, confessed to having accidentally left the primer in the torpedo tube and then attempting to conceal the evidence by throwing the primer overboard. An inquiry proved that the situation was merely a string of unfortunate events and the information was kept from the public.

Dawson was sentenced to 14 years of hard labor, and the rest of the crew’s careers were to be ended, but Roosevelt intervened, asking that no punishments be levied on the crew for the series of accidents.

Later, the William D. Porter was reassigned to the Aleutian Islands for a simple patrol mission. However the William D. Porter’s crew accidentally shot a five-inch artillery shell that landed on the base commander’s front yard: Situation Normal, all Fucked Up.

In honor of our stay at the beach, where we had remarkable sunrises daily, here is The Cyrkle with their 1966 song “Red Rubber Ball“. Few know that it was co-written by Paul Simon and Bruce Woodley of The Seekers. The tune hit #2 on the Billboard Hot 100 chart. The band had one more Top 20 hit, “Turn-Down Day,” later in 1966. That was the year Wrongo entered the US military.

Listen to “Red Rubber Ball”:

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

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