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The Wrongologist

Geopolitics, Power and Political Economy

Monday Wake Up Call – December 2, 2019

The Daily Escape:

New snow at Minnehaha Falls, MN – November 2019 photo by memotherboy.

Cook Political Report’s Dave Wasserman lays out a grim, but possibly likely 2020 scenario, one where Trump loses the popular vote by five million or more votes, and still wins the Electoral College:

“The ultimate nightmare scenario for Democrats might look something like this: Trump loses the popular vote by more than 5 million ballots, and the Democratic nominee converts Michigan and Pennsylvania back to blue. But Trump wins re-election by two Electoral votes by barely hanging onto Arizona, Florida, North Carolina, Wisconsin and Maine’s 2nd Congressional District — one of the whitest and least college-educated districts in the country.”

In 2016, Trump’s victory hinged on three states he won by less than a point: Michigan (0.2%), Pennsylvania (0.7%) and Wisconsin (0.8%). All three of these relatively white states with aging populations also have high shares of white voters without college degrees, a group that has trended away from Democrats.

It’s been no secret that six states — Arizona, Florida, Michigan, North Carolina, Pennsylvania and Wisconsin — are best-positioned to decide which candidate reaches 270 Electoral votes and wins the presidency.

Democrats contend that they won the Senate and governors’ races in Michigan, Pennsylvania and Wisconsin in 2018. And in the House, they flipped two seats in Michigan and four in Pennsylvania.

But Trump could lose Michigan and Pennsylvania and still win the Electoral College, so long as he carries every other place he won in 2016. And Wisconsin is in play, because Democrats won Wisconsin’s governor’s race by just a single point, and failed to gain a House seat. If Wisconsin’s Trump voters turn out in 2020, it could easily stay red.

And should a 269-269 Electoral vote split occur (not impossible), the process moves to the House, with each state delegation having one vote. A majority of states (26) is needed to win. Trump would win, since the GOP holds the majority in 26 states, while Democrats control 22. Two states, Michigan and Pennsylvania, are tied.

The Senate would elect the Vice-President, with each Senator having a vote. A majority of Senators (51) is needed to win, so the GOP would win in the VP in the Senate, as well.

There are a lot of scenarios that could happen in 2020, including a “blowout” victory by Dems. In this scenario, it’s possible the Democratic nominee could win Georgia, Iowa, Ohio or maybe even Texas. But the most likely scenarios see Wisconsin as the state that decides the presidency. Running up the score in California isn’t going to help Dems when it comes to beating Trump.

This makes it of utmost importance that Democrats select a presidential nominee that can energize both the Party’s base, and enough independents to overcome the GOP’s natural advantage in the states that voted for Trump in 2016. That’s going to be harder than it seems. A November Economist/YouGov poll showed this: (emphasis by Wrongo)

A Majority (53%) of Republicans think Donald Trump was a better President than Abraham Lincoln. pic.twitter.com/CrsiYeLUdJ

— Jesse Ferguson (@JesseFFerguson) November 29, 2019

Interestingly, 75% of the country rated Lincoln as better than Trump, showing that the GOP is completely out of step with the rest of us. But, despite an approval rating in the low 40s, Trump has a path to re-election.

Keep this poll in mind whenever the Democratic Party suggests that Democrats can win over Republicans. There may be a few persuadable Republicans, but the majority of Trump’s party actually believes that he is a better president than the guy who kept the nation together by winning the Civil War. Lincoln’s worst day was probably better than Trump’s best.

Time to wake up Democrats! You keep waiting for demographic change to swing many Red states, but most of the change is occurring in noncompetitive states, particularly California and Texas, which threatens to further widen the chasm between winning the popular vote and winning the Electoral College.

Dems need to compete as if our lives depend upon it, in all of the House and Senate elections, in addition to local elections and the presidency!

They need to, because our lives actually do depend upon changing the course we’re on.

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Monday Wake Up Call – November 25, 2019

The Daily Escape:

Delicate Arch, Arches NP, Moab UT – 2019 photo by rallymachine

Wrongo learned last week that the GOP thinks he’s just another agent of Soros, like most other non-Republicans. Sadly, the mailbox didn’t contain his weekly globalist payoff check, so we’re still stuck writing this blog.

We should be framing the debate about 2020 not in terms of policies, but by asking the question Ronald Regan asked: “Are you better off today than you were four years ago?” For the Evangelicals who wished for a right-wing Supreme Court, the answer is “yes”. For the 1%, and corporations who were awarded a gigantic tax cut, their answer is a strong “yes”.

But for most Americans, after four years, the answer isn’t yes, it’s a hard “no”.

Yes, the unemployment rate in the US is the lowest it’s been in 50 years. More Americans have jobs than ever before. Wages are climbing, but people tell a different story: Of long job hunts, trouble finding work with decent pay, or predictable hours.

How do we square the record-long economic expansion and robust labor market with the anecdotal stories we all hear? Quartz reports on a new jobs index that shows a way to make sense of both stories. Researchers at Cornell, the University of Missouri, Kansas City, the Coalition for a Prosperous America and the Global Institute for Sustainable Prosperity, working together:

“…..unveiled the US Private Sector Job Quality Index (or JQI for short), a new monthly indicator that aims to track the quality of jobs instead of just the quantity. The JQI measures the ratio of what the researchers call “high-quality” versus “low-quality” jobs….”

They developed a ratio of higher-wage/higher-hour jobs versus lower-wage/lower-hour jobs, and tracked it back in time using federal data. The Index reveals that job quality in the US has deteriorated substantially since 1990, and even more so since 2006.

Overall, the JQI found a shift from US high-wage/high-hour jobs to low-wage/low-hour positions. Since 1990, the US has been creating an overabundance of lower-quality service jobs. The JQI reveals that 63% of the production and non-supervisory jobs created over the past 30 years have been in low-wage and low-hour positions. That’s a marked change from the early 1990s, when nearly half of these jobs (47%) were high-wage.

Since 1990, America has cumulatively added some 20 million low-quality jobs, versus around 12 million high-quality ones. We now create more bad jobs than good. This helps explain why our GDP growth isn’t nearly what economists say we should expect from a full-employment economy.

Also, the poor jobs come with fewer hours worked. People in low-quality jobs clock 30 hours a week. Compare that to an average 38 hours a week for high-quality jobs. That seven-hour gap doesn’t sound like a lot, but it adds up to about 480 million hours per year.

Those unworked hours represents the equivalent of about 12 million jobs forgone each year. A key reason is that employers limit worker’s hours to keep from having to pay benefits.

Overall, the growing total of jobs that offer lower-than-average incomes means that job growth, as reflected by a super-low unemployment rate, provides less spending power than in the past. The economy is getting a lot less bang for its buck.

Maybe the Democrats’ presidential candidates should base the campaign on asking the Ronald Regan question again in 2020.

Time to wake up America! Look behind the headlines. Ask the candidates what they plan to do about the fact that our economy isn’t providing quality jobs. The $15/hour wage, although useful, isn’t enough to grow the economy.

To help you wake up, listen to Tones and I, a 19 year-old Australian singer-songwriter who has the number one global hit “Dance Monkey”. Today we’re featuring her song called “The Kids are Coming”. This song is sending an important message and portrays the reality of our time, that young people believe we’ve been poor stewards of their futures:

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

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Monday Wake Up Call – Veterans Day Edition, November 11, 2019

The Daily Escape:

Normandy American Cemetery, Colleville-sur-Mer, France – 2016 photo by Wrongo

Wrongo’s service occurred during the Vietnam War. His father was a WWII veteran. His grandfather, a WWI vet. Wrongo salutes all who have served!

While none of his kids have served, we all carry scars of our nearly two decades-long mistaken adventures in the Middle East. For some, it is poorer roads, bridges and airports. For others, it’s a huge budget deficit that won’t be paid off, even by Wrongo’s grandchildren’s children.

Of the 2.7 million who served in Iraq or Afghanistan, the Department of Veterans Affairs says that 35% have some form of disability. Over 970,000 Iraq and Afghanistan veteran disability claims have been registered with the VA. Over 6,900 US troops have died, as have approximately 7,800 contractors. These 20 years have also produced around 2,000 amputees.

From the Economist:

“Iraq and Afghanistan vets represent less than 1% of the population, and America lost eight times as many soldiers in Vietnam in less than half the time, when its population was two-thirds the current size.”

The Economist tries to tell us that the body count in Afghanistan is a great result. That’s neoliberal BS. People died, people were wounded and many thousands continue to suffer from post-traumatic stress.

Since we ended the compulsory draft in 1973, Americans are no longer connected to our wars, or to our veterans. These wars have been funded by debt, so younger Americans will pay for wars that they hardly know about, or why they happened.

This disconnect helps explain why the country’s civilian-military relations are so distant. It also explains why America has gotten locked into long and unproductive conflicts.

Some think that Trump will get us out of Afghanistan in the coming year. Some think that Trump was correct to cede northeastern Syria to Turkey and Russia.

But, as we sit here on Veterans Day 2019, the messages from the Trump administration are very mixed. The Guardian reports that two weeks after ordering a complete evacuation of US troops ahead of a Turkish incursion into northeastern Syria, Trump has changed his mind.

He’s now said some US troops should stay to “secure the oil”. That’s oil that is the rightful property of Syria. Reuters reports that Defense Secretary Mark Esper said:

“The United States will repel any attempt to take Syria’s oil fields away from U.S.-backed Syrian militia with overwhelming force, whether the opponent is Islamic State or even forces backed by Russia or Syria…”

Pentagon spokesperson Jonathan Hoffman said that US forces may continue this effort for years to come.

So, we’re “protecting” Syrian oil fields to deny access to ISIS and/or to the Syrian government? For years to come?

Here we go again with oil fields in the Middle East. It’s the same old story: oil companies are again directing the use of our troops, and how we should spend our taxpayer’s money. That’s the money that could have been used for many more important things. Follow the oil, and you’ll know Trump’s military policy in the Middle East.

It isn’t honorable for America to squat down uninvited in another country. It isn’t honorable to take control of Syrian oil fields while saying we’re stopping ISIS from using it. FYI, the US bombed that oil infrastructure years ago. It isn’t producing much oil today.

With this much dishonor, most of it at the Pentagon and the White House, no one who is signing up now to serve voluntarily should believe that what we’re doing in the Middle East is defending the Constitution.

We should honor the service of our veterans, and that of those currently in uniform, but that’s not all that we have to do. It’s time to wake up America!

We need to see that Trump’s so-called “bring the troops home” stance only means that he hasn’t opened a new theater of war for the last 3 years. He’s continued to shuffle a few of our existing pieces around. Has he closed any of our 800+ military bases around the world? No, in fact, more have been added. Has he stopped any of the active wars that the US currently is engaged in around the world? No. Has he reduced the military budget? No, he has increased it.

The American people are sick and tired of these military quagmires. It’s time to take action at the ballot box in 2020 against the war mongers in both parties.

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Monday Wake Up Call – November 4, 2019

The Daily Escape:

Lake Sabrina, CA – November 2019 photo by Wild_NDN

All of a sudden, there are ongoing protests throughout the world. This seems to be an enormous story, maybe the biggest story of October, despite America’s focus on impeachment. And there’s some, but not a lot of media coverage. Here’s a map of the locations, and primary causes, of recent unrest around the world:

When you see the map, it’s clear that something’s happening. In some places, protesters are mainly demanding more political freedom, like what we’ve seen in Hong Kong. In others, like Iraq and Lebanon, people are sick and tired of corruption and unemployment. They want to throw out the old guard.

The map shows 14 countries, but others report as many as 22 countries experiencing protests in 2019. Can we find common threads to these protests?

They don’t show ideological consistency, although they do show similar tactics. Unlike Occupy in the US, these protesters have demands, which vary with each protest. In some places, they involve millions of people. They do not seem to be internationally driven, although the local powers that be often say that they are.

A Chinese friend of the Wrongologist who lives in Hong Kong provides lots of coverage on local violence. For our media, violence is always “breaking out,” or protests always are “descending into” it, but we rarely hear deep explanations for why it occurs.

Let’s look at a few reasons that transcend individual countries:

Economic Slump

This argument is true for Chile, Ecuador, Venezuela and Haiti in Latin America. It is also true in Iraq in the Middle East. Despite their differences, each country saw commodity-driven economic growth, followed by a slump or stall. Haiti, despite its own economy largely being stagnant, saw billions in aid from oil-rich Venezuela come in, then disappear when Venezuela had its economic issues.

Income Inequality

Jeffrey Sachs frames income inequality as social unhappiness and distrust, in Why Rich Cities Rebel: (brackets by Wrongo)

“Three of the world’s more affluent cities have erupted in protests and unrest this year. Paris has faced waves of protests and rioting since November 2018…after…President Macron raised fuel taxes. Hong Kong has been in upheaval since March, after Chief Executive Carrie Lam proposed a law to allow extradition to the Chinese mainland. And Santiago [Chile] exploded in rioting this month after President Sebastian Piñera ordered an increase in metro [subway] prices….taken together, they tell a larger story of what can happen when a sense of unfairness combines with a widespread perception of low social mobility.”

Gallup finds that while Hong Kong ranks ninth globally in GDP per capita, it ranks 66th in terms of the public’s perception of personal freedom to choose a life course. The same is true in France (25th in GDP per capita, but 69th in freedom to choose) and in Chile (48th and 98th, respectively).

It appears that traditional economic measures of well-being are insufficient to gauge the public’s real sentiments. The protesters perceive the politics behind the prices, and that’s what they are moving against.

Income inequality also shows up as withdrawal or repricing of government services. From the NYT:

“In Chile, the spark was an increase in subway fares. In Lebanon, it was a tax on WhatsApp calls. The government of Saudi Arabia moved against hookah pipes. In India, it was about onions.”

In Ecuador, the focal point of the protests was a demand for restoration of fuel subsidies. From The Financial Times (paywalled):

“The mass protests that have broken out during the past year in Asia, Europe, Africa, Latin America and the Middle East…are usually leaderless rebellions, whose organization and principles are not set out in a little red book or thrashed out in party meetings, but instead emerge on social media.”

Social media is the enabler for leaderless movements. When the Hong Kong demonstrations broke out in June, Joshua Wong, the most high-profile democracy activist in the territory, was in jail. In Moscow, Russia arrested leader Alexander Navalny, but demonstrations continued without him. In Lebanon, France and Chile, authorities have searched in vain for ringleaders. In Iraq, Muqtada al-Sadr, has emerged as the leader of the movement to replace Prime Minister Mahdi.

Underneath it all, whether we’re talking about people wanting political freedom or economic security, these riots are about class, wealth, and income. They are about the fact that all of these countries have very rich people who make the rules.

And their rules never favor the non-rich.

It is unclear if any of these protests will effect change. History rarely favors the man in the street.

Pro tip: If you are going to riot, take the time to head over to the part of town where the rich live, and riot there.

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Monday Wake Up Call – Giuliani Edition, October 14, 2019

The Daily Escape:

Autumn in the Yukon, view of Tombstone Territorial Park, Canada – September 2019 photo by tmsvdw

Wrongo has resisted any assertion that there is a Grand Theory that ties together all of Trump’s self-dealing. Mueller’s investigation was able to make several connections, but so far, Trump has skated on all but Mueller’s allegations of obstruction.

We’re again hip-deep in possible Trump malfeasance, this time about Ukraine, and how the Donald and Rudy Giuliani attempted to influence the Ukraine government, and to induce an investigation into the Bidens.

Michelle Goldberg, in Sunday’s NYT lays out Rudy’s involvement over several years in an effort to keep like-minded and friendly bureaucrats in power in Ukraine. Those efforts ultimately led to 2019’s broad inquiry into Trump, Rudy and a series of shadowy “associates” who are linked both to Ukraine and to Russian power brokers.

Goldberg focuses on a Ukrainian legislator, Serhiy Leshchenko, who was elected to Parliament in 2014. He was also Ukraine’s most famous investigative journalist, focusing on government corruption. This year, after Volodymyr Zelensky won the presidency, Leshchenko advised him during the transition. From Goldberg: (brackets by Wrongo)

“In 2016, Leshchenko had helped expose the “black ledger,” an accounting book of hundreds of pages found in [former Ukraine president] Yanukovych’s former party headquarters. Among its many entries, it showed $12.7 million in secret payments to Paul Manafort. At the time, Manafort was running Donald Trump’s presidential campaign, but before that, he was one of Yanukovych’s most important advisers.”

After the election, Giuliani began attacking Leshchenko. On May 10th, Giuliani described the ledger as a “falsely created book” and Leshchenko as part of a group of “enemies of the president, in some cases enemies of the US.” And in an interview on CNN, Rudy accused Ukraine’s leading anti-corruption organization, the Anti-Corruption Action Center of developing:

“…all of the dirty information that ended up being a false document that was created in order to incriminate Manafort.”

Why would Trump’s personal lawyer be defending Paul Manafort? More from Goldberg:

“In Giuliani’s fevered alternative reality, Ukraine’s most stalwart foes of corruption are actually corruption’s embodiment. Deeply compromised figures with vendettas against the activists — particularly the ex-prosecutors Viktor Shokin and Yuriy Lutsenko — are transformed into heroes.”

It gets worse. Marcy Wheeler (who all should be following) dissects John Dowd, former Trump lawyer who now represents the two Rudy “associates”, Parnas and Fruman. Marcy talks about John Dowd’s October 3 letter to the House Intelligence Committee, in which he describes that there is no way he and his clients can comply with an October 7 document request, since much of it would be covered by some kind of legal privilege: (emphasis by Wrongo)

“Be advised that Messrs. Parnas and Fruman assisted Mr. Giuliani in connection with his representation of President Trump. Mr. Parnas and Mr. Fruman have also been represented by Mr. Giuliani in connection with their personal and business affairs. They also assisted Joseph DiGenova and Victoria Toensing in their law practice. Thus, certain information you seek…is protected by the attorney-client, attorney work product and other privileges.”

Marcy concludes: (emphasis by Wrongo)

“Parnas and Fruman do work for Rudy Giuliani in the service of the President of the United States covered by privilege, Rudy does work for them covered by privilege, and they also do work for Joseph DiGenova and Victoria Toensing about this matter that is covered by privilege.”

This is reminiscent of the Joint Defense Agreement (JDA) that Dowd orchestrated between 37 Trump-affiliated individuals investigated by Mueller, when Dowd was Trump’s lawyer. Now, Dowd represents the Ukrainian grifters.

But there’s more. By the time Dowd sent the letter, DiGenova and Toensing, married lawyers who are always on FOX, were on record as representing Dmitry Firtash, a Ukrainian oligarch who was named in some early Mueller warrants targeting Paul Manafort. And in March, Giuliani said that Firtash was “one of the close associates of Semion Mogilevich, who is the head of Russian organized crime, who is Putin’s best friend.” More from Marcy: (emphasis and brackets by Wrongo)

“Yesterday, Reuters closed the circle, making it clear that Parnas and Fruman work for Firtash, [and] the former [worked] as a translator for DiGenova and Toensing’s representation of Firtash.

DiGenova and Toensing, who work with Rudy seeking opposition research on Joe Biden, also represent Firtash! Marcy closes with this:

“In other words, the President’s former lawyer asserted to Congress that the President and his current lawyer are in some kind of JDA… [that includes some connected with] the Russian mob, almost certainly along with the President’s former campaign manager [Manafort]….”

Wake up America! We’re seeing that Giuliani was running what is essentially a mob operation, apparently with the concurrence of Trump. The long term damage of such corruption is incalculable.

If we’re lucky, we can end this soon.

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Monday Wake Up Call – Immigration Judges Edition, September 30, 2019

The Daily Escape:

Monsoon season, AZ – September 2019 photo by FHatcher

The immigration crisis has many threads, but one that hasn’t gotten the focus that it needs is the ongoing problem with the immigration courts. From the NYRB: (brackets by Wrongo)

“Trump’s attempts to close possible paths to immigration have meant ramping up activity in [Immigration] court. Some immigration judges operate out of courthouses, others work out of detention centers, and some have been transferred—both in person and virtually—to courts along the border. Over the course of a week in the Rio Grande Valley….It was common to see people be forced to leave the US after hearings lasting minutes.”

According to the AP, the Trump administration has hired nearly 200 new judges and plans to add at least 100 more. Nearly half of currently sitting immigration judges were appointed by Trump, and about half of these new judges had previously been attorneys for ICE.

Immigration judges are employed by the Justice Department, not the judiciary. They make the decisions about who gets to stay in the US, and who has to return to their home countries.

We’ve all heard about the immigration court backlog. It’s becoming so large that the government may have to suspend asylum hearings until it can be brought under control.  The Hill reports about the backlog:

“It was 542,411 cases in January 2017, when President Donald Trump took office, and it increased to 1,007,155 cases by the end of August 2019, with an average wait for a hearing of 696 days. In addition, there are 322,535 pending cases that have not been placed on the active caseload rolls yet. When they are added, the backlog will be more than 1.3 million cases.”

The three largest immigration courts are so under-resourced that hearing dates were being scheduled as far out as August 2023 in New York City, October 2022 in Los Angeles, and April 2022 in San Francisco.

One result is that judges have been taking a harder line under Trump than in the Obama administration, denying 65% of asylum cases during the 2018 fiscal year, compared with 55% two years earlier.

Trump’s transformation of immigration law started under former Attorney General Jeff Sessions. Now, under William Barr, the DOJ has taken legislation passed over the years and used it to drive large-scale changes to immigrant rights.

Unlike the judges in federal or state courts, immigration judges can be fired or reassigned by the AG, and they face sanctions if they don’t process cases rapidly.

Currently, the AG can override decisions issued by immigration judges once they are appealed to Executive Office for Immigration Review (EOIR). An interim rule, issued by the DOJ that took effect Monday, delegates that responsibility to the EOIR director. The director, who is not confirmed by the Senate, can now decide cases pending before the appeals board.

The new rule has caused an uproar among career employees who said their independence has been usurped by a political appointee. In fact, the NYT reports that the union representing the nation’s immigration judges filed two labor complaints against the Justice Department last week. The National Association of Immigration Judges, representing the 420 judges, filed one of the complaints after the Justice Department moved to decertify the union.

DOJ claims that the judges were management officials and therefore ineligible for collective bargaining, an argument they pursued unsuccessfully in 2000. The judges and the Trump administration have frequently clashed, and the union has for years pushed for independence from the Justice Department altogether.

The simple fact is that as more and more cases are placed on a single judge’s docket, immigrants assigned to that judge are inevitably required to wait longer and longer before an available time slot opens up for their hearing. And the asylum seeker isn’t represented by a lawyer, and the case is usually decided in less than five minutes.

The entire immigration problem needs to be addressed, and Democrats must go further than just talking about the humanitarian crisis at the border. Taking a hard look at the immigration judges’ backlog, and funding at least on a temporary basis, many more can partially alleviate the humanitarian problems.

We have to act to prevent a catastrophic collapse of our immigration court system, a collapse that could force America to stop accepting asylum applications until the backlog can be brought under control.

Wake up America! That just may be what Barr and Trump are angling for.

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Wake Up Call – Climate Edition, September 23, 2019

The Daily Escape:

Greenland shows its melting glaciers – September 14, 2019 photo by Steve Mueller. Mueller gives a personal testimony, describing similar flights over Greenland in the 1970s, 80s, and 90s when ice & snow covered most of it. Sadly, that’s no longer true today.

Wrongo rarely writes about climate change, because he’s had very little hope that the world will act to solve, or delay the reality in front of us.

Until now.

There is something very hopeful when young people around the globe are calling out those in power and calling out the rest of us who have exacerbated the warming problem through our commitment to economic growth at any price. That price includes income inequality and the ever-accelerating use of our planet’s resources to fuel that economic growth.

The emergence of young people as activists adds a different dimension to the argument. They are worried about what kind of world we’re leaving them. The movement is personified by the 16-year-old Swedish teenage activist Greta Thunberg. On Monday, she spoke to the UN Climate Change Summit, and did not mince words. She implored world leaders to act urgently:

“I shouldn’t be up here. I should be back in school on the other side of the ocean. Yet you all come to us for hope. How dare you. You have stolen my dreams and my childhood with your empty words.”

Anger is an energysaid the Sex Pistols in 1972. And we’re seeing both anger and all of its kinetic energy on display by these kids. It’s reminiscent of teenagers in the 1960s and 1970’s in the US, first with the Civil Rights movement, and later, with less effect, in the Vietnam War protests.

Time will tell if this social movement ends up helping to create big policy change, or if it’s just another footnote, a bit like Occupy Wall Street. But, It’s given Wrongo some hope that it is still possible to battle against entrenched money interests, at least on the question of climate change.

Returning to the climate consequences as shown in Steve Mueller’s photo, The Economist’s cover story this week is about climate. They point out that temperatures in the Arctic are warming twice as fast as the global average:

When floating sea ice vanishes, it exposes deep blue waters, which absorb more solar energy than the white ice does. In turn, this speeds up melting: it’s a classic positive-feedback loop. The ice recedes to an annual minimum extent every September. The record low was set in 2012.

Some sceptics point to cold snaps in North America as evidence that concern about global warming is overblown. They should be told that such days are caused by chilly air escaping polar latitudes. Which in itself, may be another consequence of a warming Arctic.

A good analogy is the problem supertankers face if they try to make a U-turn. It takes a tremendous amount of energy and time to overcome the ship’s momentum, to slow the tanker from cruising speed to a point where a u-turn can begin.

For climate change, we must overcome our momentum, reversing how we create energy, how we manufacture our goods, how we travel, how we heat and cool our homes, and how we provision our foods.

The next challenge is if this can be done while continuing to expand the global economy, keeping in mind that the global population may be 50% larger by 2100.

Back in corporate life, Wrongo used to talk about things that could be fixed “If your life depended on it” and those that couldn’t be fixed even if your life did depend on it.

If the problem can be fixed if your life depended on it, you fix it or die, no excuses. This is where we are today. Maybe it’s not our lives that depend on it,  it’s those of our grandchildren. They are counting on us to rise up now, in a global movement to make change.

Wake up America! The kids couldn’t be clearer:  They do not want pats on the head, where we tell them how “inspiring” they are.

For Boomers and Millennials, the climate problems posed in the second half of the 21st century can still seem largely hypothetical. But for those born after 2000 like Greta Thunberg, and 2.6 billion others, it’s more like half their lives. This gives a huge moral weight to their demands.

But it will take more than political activism. The kids want our leadership, our votes, and most importantly, our action to confront this crisis.

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Monday Wake Up Call – September 16, 2019

The Daily Escape:

Rainy morning, Emerald Lake, Yoho NP British Columbia CN – 2019 photo by mrgoomba7

On September 14, explosions rocked the Saudi’s Khurais oilfield as well as the Abqaiq refinery, one of Saudi Arabia’s most vital petrochemical installations. Several hours later, the Houthis claimed that they had targeted both facilities with ten drones. In reality, it now seems that 17 drones or cruise missiles hit the Saudi plants.

There is a continuing debate on who launched the attack. Pompeo tweeted that it was the Iranians:

Perfect positioning by America’s First Diplomat!

While Pompeo says Iran did it, the Arms Control Wonk reports that the Houthis have both the technology and ability. The US, Israel and Iran also have the capability to conduct such an attack.

Saudi Arabia and the US will no doubt eventually figure out who owned the missiles used in the attack, but that won’t resolve the question of guilt, or complicity to everyone’s satisfaction. Some are saying that the Abqaiq oil field is too far from Yemen for them to be the culprit. Yet, the US supplied these photos of the damage, including an arrow helpfully pointing to north (it’s pointing left, while the shadows mean the sun is in the east):

The boxes showing damage mean the missiles came from the west, where Yemen is located. Iran is located to the Northeast, as are Israel and Iraq.

But please wait, and let Washington tell you what to believe.

The most important takeaway is that Saudi Arabia has no real defense against this kind of attack. In mid-June 2019, a cruise missile fired by the Houthis hit the terminal of Abha Airport in Southern Saudi Arabia, wounding 26 passengers.

The Saudis use two US air defense systems, the Patriot, and the Hawk missile systems. Both are deployed in Saudi’s northeast, facing the Persian Gulf. They do not provide defensive cover for the attacked oil refineries if the missile or drone is fired from the south or west:

The Patriots are useful against cruise or ballistic missiles. The Hawks are for aircraft. But no system could protect all of the Saudi’s oil field facilities if 17 missiles are fired at once.

Despite the hopes of DC’s Iran-hating Neocons, it is possible that the attack originated in Yemen. The Saudi war in Yemen was launched in 2015. It costs Saudi Arabia several billion dollars per month. The Saudi budget deficit again increased this year and is expected to reach 7% of its GDP.  They need much higher oil prices to help prosecute the Yemen war.

Also, Saudi Arabia is planning to sell a share of its state owned oil conglomerate, Aramco, which may be worth $2 Trillion. But who would buy a share of Aramco when its major installations are not secure, and has endured crippling attacks?

Assuming this attack isn’t a one-off, the Saudis probably will need a cease-fire or a peace deal with Yemen before it can sell Aramco shares for a decent price. It is likely that the Houthis will demand reparations payments from the Saudis in order to make peace.

The first Saudi attempts to negotiate happened two weeks ago. The Hill reports they asked the Trump administration to work out an agreement with the Houthis:

“The Trump administration is preparing to initiate negotiations with Iranian-backed Houthi rebels in an effort to bring the four-year civil war in Yemen to an end….The effort is reportedly aimed at convincing Saudi Arabia to take part in secret talks with the rebels in Oman to help broker a cease-fire in the conflict, which has emerged as a front line in the regional proxy war between Riyadh and Tehran.”

But it hasn’t led to anything.

Back in DC, we’re hearing that the US must have some response to the missile attacks.

Why?

America wasn’t attacked. We’re not even sure who carried out the attack, and there is at least a small probability that it was some disaffected group within Saudi Arabia itself.

We do not have a mutual security agreement with Saudi Arabia, although we are strategic partners.

Now the poor helpless Saudis will want their best friend Trump to attack Iran, much to the delight of Israel and the Neocons. And a refinery attack showing Saudi’s lack of defenses may get Trump off the dime.

How on God’s green earth is this in our national interest?

Trump and Pompeo are trying to position us on the Sunni side of a region-wide sectarian civil war. That would be a disaster for us and for all in the Middle East.

Wake up, America! Most who work in DC in any power capacity have been dreaming of war with Iran for decades. Yet, somehow they haven’t made it happen.

Let’s hope that continues.

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Monday Wake Up Call – September 9, 2019

The Daily Escape:

Cape of Good Hope, 6:00pm, South Africa – September 2006 photo by Wrongo

Last week, the NYT’s Thomas Edsall discussed an award-winning academic study focused on the nihilism of the Trump GOP’s hardcore supporters. The paper illustrates that among this slice of the American electorate, the temptation to cause or support chaos may be overwhelming. Edsall says the study argues that a segment of the American electorate that was once peripheral is drawn to “chaos incitement” and that this segment has gained decisive influence through the rise of social media:

“The rise of social media provides the public with unprecedented power to craft and share new information with each other….this technological transformation allows the transmission of a type of information that portrays….political candidates or groups negatively…and has a low evidential basis.”

The study says that the chaos-inducing information transmitted on social media includes conspiracy theories, fake news, discussions of political scandals and negative campaigns.

The study’s authors, Michael Bang Petersen and Mathias Osmundsen, both from Aarhus University in Denmark, and Kevin Arceneaux, a political scientist at Temple, conducted six surveys, four in the US, interviewing 5,157 participants, and two in Denmark, interviewing 1,336. They identified those who are “drawn to chaos” through their affirmative responses to the following statements:

  • I fantasize about a natural disaster wiping out most of humanity such that a small group of people can start all over.
  • I think society should be burned to the ground.
  • When I think about our political and social institutions, I cannot help thinking “just let them all burn.”
  • We cannot fix the problems in our social institutions, we need to tear them down and start over.
  • Sometimes I just feel like destroying beautiful things.

The responses of individuals to three of the statements are horrifying:

  • 24% agreed that society should be burned to the ground;
  • 40% concurred with the thought that “When it comes to our political and social institutions, I cannot help thinking ‘just let them all burn”;
  • 40% also agreed that “we cannot fix the problems in our social institutions, we need to tear them down and start over.”

Despite interviewing 5,000+ Americans the study doesn’t conclude if the results represent the actual percentage of Americans who share this view. They did use a YouGov nationally representative survey of Americans. They say the data are weighted to achieve national representations on gender, age, education and geography.

As bad as this sounds, what if we reframed the “need for chaos” as “a need for things to change in ways that work for everyday people“? Instead of casting them as evil or as deplorables who wish to destroy nice things, we could see them as people who have been left out, or cheated by the system.

In that light, it might be reasonable for the marginalized on the left and right to wish for major changes in our system. So, let’s treat this study as an example of one dead canary in a coal mine. At this point, it’s a potentially terrifying glimpse of what may be America’s (and the entire developed world’s) future.

Nihilism is a symptom of needs not being met. Our current neoliberal capitalism is a prime cause behind this nihilism. Our system must change to be more inclusive, to create more “winners”.  We won’t blunt nihilism with more trickle down policies.

Time to wake up America! Our society has to change, or die.

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Monday Wake Up Call – August 5, 2019

The Daily Escape:

Crater Lake NP viewed from Watchman Lookout Station, Oregon – 2016 photo by atheleticamps

Wake Up America! With El Paso TX, Dayton OH, and Gilroy CA last week, we’re starting to see what Red Hat Hatred means in the US. We’ll soon hear that these are more lone wolves who snapped, and that’s why we need to spend more on mental health, and to keep guns away from those sickies who really just need meds and counseling.

But, “lone wolves” should not be acting in lockstep with the Trump regime. Zealots and militants do that. In real life, wolves hunt in packs, so the term “lone wolf” makes no sense whatsoever.

From sociologist Kieran Healy: (emphasis by Wrongo)

“It’s traditional to say that there are ‘no easy answers’, but this is not really true. Everywhere groups face the problem of holding themselves together. Every society has its enormous complex of institutions and weight of rituals that, through the sheer force of mutual expectation and daily habit, bring that society to life. But not every society has successfully institutionalized the mass shooting. Only one place that has done that, deliberately and effectively. The United States has chosen, and continues to choose, to enact ritual compliance to an ideal of freedom in a way that results in a steady flow of blood sacrifice. This ritual of childhood is not a betrayal of “who we are” as a country. It is what America has made of itself, how it worships itself, and how it makes itself real.”

This is the society we’ve become. Will Republicans do anything? Of course not. Shooting at St. Ronnie didn’t get them to act. Shooting at Steve Scalise and other Congress persons didn’t help. The common factor is no modern-day Republican politician (since Lincoln and Garfield) have actually been killed. So, unless targeting Republicans becomes the norm, they’ll never budge.

OTOH, look at this billboard about the Squad! Have at it, boys! More guns! The fact that American voters countenance this double standard is beyond disgusting. At this point, the right wing’s reaction to this endless carnival of mass murder by angry white dudes comes in a few cascading flavors:

  • The ‘thoughts and prayers reaction, which is the shortest and slipperiest response, but if pressed, they’ll offer up: That’s just the cost of freedom.
  • Or, that mass shooting deaths are less than 1% of gun deaths, let alone actual murders, in the US, so what ya gonna do? They say that the vast majority of people killed by guns in the US are shot one or two at a time, not in large groups.

But, that’s not something any reasonable person should consider a winning argument. And as for Trump, there’s really nothing for him to say. He can’t play the role of healing the nation that we have normally expected from our leaders, because he bears real responsibility for the violence.

The Second Amendment has failed America, says Joel Mathis of The Week:

“The Second Amendment of the US Constitution is a failure because the right to bear arms — the right it so famously defends — is supposed to protect Americans from violence. Instead, it endangers them…. Data shows that people who own guns legally are more likely to kill themselves than they are to kill an intruder. People who own guns legally are more likely to kill a family member — on purpose or accidentally — than they are to kill an assailant. And people who own guns legally don’t actually use those weapons in self-defense all that often.”

Mathis goes on to say that: (emphasis by Wrongo)

“On balance, guns do more harm in America than good. The damages are easily measured, while the benefits are mostly theoretical and rare. This means the Second Amendment, as currently observed, doesn’t actually work under the terms of its own logic.”

Wake up! Americans should be able to gather at places like churches, schools, shopping malls, and concerts without fear that they’ve made themselves easy targets for the latest angry man possessing the tools to kill dozens of people within a few minutes.

To help you reflect on the Second Amendment, here is CPE Bach’s Cello Concerto in A Major, Largo movement, with Tanya Tomkins on a 1798 baroque cello. She’s playing along with San Francisco’s Voices of Music. This is a very somber piece, seemingly perfect for reflecting on mass shootings:

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

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