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The Wrongologist

Geopolitics, Power and Political Economy

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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Monday Wake Up Call – July 29, 2019

The Daily Escape:

Sunrise, Llyn Padarn, North Wales – photo by risquer

Wrongo wants to take a look back at a revealing moment in the White House last week. Trump hosted survivors of religious persecution, including Nadia Murad, a 26-year-old Iraqi-born human rights activist and 2018 Nobel Peace Prize winner. Sadly, the event revealed Trump at his worst.

Roger Cohen, writing about the meeting in the NYT:

…”I cannot forget Trump’s recent treatment of Nadia Murad, a Yazidi woman who won the Nobel Peace Prize last year for her campaign to end mass rape in war. The Islamic State, or ISIS, forced Murad into sexual slavery when it overran Yazidi villages in northern Iraq in 2014. Murad lost her mother and six brothers, slaughtered by ISIS.”

More from Cohen: (emphasis by Wrongo)

“She now lives in Germany, and has been unable to return home, a point she made in her July 17 White House meeting with Trump. ‘We cannot go back if we cannot protect our dignity, our family,’ she said.

Allow me to render the scene in the present tense. Trump sits there at his desk, an uncomprehending, unsympathetic, uninterested cardboard dummy. He looks straight ahead for much of the time, not at her, his chin jutting in his best effort at a Mussolini pose. He cannot heave his bulk from the chair for this brave young woman. He cannot look at her.

Every now and again, in a disdainful manner, he swivels his head toward her and other survivors of religious persecution. When Murad says, ‘They killed my mom, my six brothers,’ Trump responds: ‘Where are they now?

This isn’t fake news, there’s a video of the event. More from Cohen:

“They are in the mass graves in Sinjar,” Murad says. She is poised and courageous throughout in her effort to communicate her story in the face of Trump’s complete, blank indifference.”

When Murad mentions Sinjar, Trump says:

“I know the area very well, you’re talking about. It’s tough.”

Whatever. Toward the end of meeting, Trump asks Murad about her Nobel Prize:

“That’s incredible….They gave it to you for what reason?”

Murad responds:

“For what reason?” Murad asks, suppressing with difficulty her incredulity that nobody has briefed the president….I made it clear to everyone that ISIS raped thousands of Yazidi women,” she says. “Oh really?” says Trump. “Is that right?”

Trump, who can’t stop whining about his victimhood at the hands of the Democrats, the media, and the alleged “deep state”, can’t show a hint of compassion for a woman who was brutalized. Also, he shows a total lack of understanding about anything that Murad said. About being raped, about losing her family, about her work to end mass rape.

We’ve watched how far the presidency has fallen in the past three years. We often talk about “presidential temperament”. The word temperament comes from Latin, meaning “due mixture”. All politicians love attention and approval from the public, but being president should also mean working for the best interests of the nation as a whole.

But we currently have a president who can’t seem to display humanity. With Murad, he demonstrated an inability to understand the moment, or the importance of understanding another person’s pain.

Time to wake up America! We need our next president to display the temperament to lead us back towards unity. Our greatest leaders have always done just that, often in times of division.

We’ve become inured to Trump’s daily lowering of the bar of expectations for both the presidency, and for the possibility of unity as a people.

But it’s now time to turn our backs on this president. We need to move on.

We all have moments when it is difficult to summon the anger that the latest presidential outrage requires, but we need all of our focus between now and November 2020 to bring the country back to something approximating normalcy.

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Monday Wake Up Call – July 22, 2019

The Daily Escape:

Grinnell Glacier Overlook, Glacier NP, Montana – 2019 photo by e_met

Americans don’t like geopolitics. Columns about the world situation have been Wrongo’s least-viewed since the start of The Wrongologist blog in 2010. Today may be time for Americans to wake up, and think about our evolving and dangerous situation with Iran.

You know the basics: The US pulled out of the Iran Nuclear Deal in 2018. We reinstituted sanctions, the most important of which came into effect in November 2018, covering sales of oil and petrochemical products from Iran.

Since then, Iran has found it difficult to sell its oil, since the payments would be cleared through a vehicle called SWIFT, which is the payments backstop of the international trading system. SWIFT provides a network that enables more than 11,000 financial institutions worldwide to send and receive information about financial transactions in a secure, standardized and reliable environment.

No one wants to buy oil, and settle the deal through SWIFT because the US will become aware of the deal, and penalize the bank(s) or companies that worked with Iran. Another payment system is emerging, INSTEX, which will circumvent US sanctions, but it may be too little, too late, given the precipitous impact sanctions have had on Iran’s oil sales.

Things have now heated up. First with the seizure of an Iranian-flagged oil tanker by the UK in Gibraltar two weeks ago. It was ostensibly on its way to deliver oil to Syria, and the US asked the UK to seize the ship. What followed was tit-for-tat: On Friday, Iran seized a UK flag oil tanker in the Straits of Hormuz.

The US media is calling Iran seizure an unprovoked “attack” on a British flagged ship. Britain justifies its Gibraltar action as just keeping the sanction regime in place.

Here’s where things become dangerous. The neocons in Washington and in the media are seeking immediate and tough action, portraying Iran as an imminent threat to free trade, and to the West’s oil supply. Trump regrettably, is ignorant of Iran and Middle East history, and may not have the ability to avoid employing military force.

There is a dangerous delusion within the Trump /Bolton/Pompeo National Security team: They believe we are so militarily dominant that Iran will not dare fight us.

That is a strategically dangerous place to land. Our best option is to resolve the current tanker seizures with diplomacy. The UK and Iran could agree to resolve the situation and release the respective ships. All other options involve shooting and possibly, a military escalation involving others, including China and Russia.

If key Iranian infrastructure is targeted, nobody really thinks Iran will sit passively, and let us attack critical targets.

Iran has a robust, if not totally modern, military that could engage in counter strikes on US/UK targets in the Middle East. That would certainly involve our naval assets in the Persian Gulf. Now, suppose US aircraft are downed inside Iran (Iran has Russia’s S-300 antiaircraft system, but not the newer S-400). Trump would come under intense pressure to escalate. Any US pilots that survived being shot down, would give Tehran a big bargaining chip. Would Trump bargain, or would he continue to fight?

Iran would be damaged, but it would survive. The religious leadership’s hold on Iran would be strengthened. Trump’s political fortunes could take a hit from that portion of his base that is against foreign entanglements, as well as the other 60% of America.

The DC neocons are certain we can bomb Iran into submission. That is a fantasy, just as it was in Vietnam and Iraq.

All indications are that the Iranians aren’t going to cave. They’ve proven for decades to be very pragmatic. They may choose to talk. If Trump is smart, he’ll take a sit-down with the Iranians before things get out of control, and before the DC neocons and their Israeli friends push things beyond a point of no return.

He might get a deal that looks suspiciously like the Obama Nuclear Deal. Then, he can come back and claim he got the best deal ever, a deal only The Donald could get!

If he sticks to his “I have to win, I have to be seen as beating the other guy” as his game plan, we are in for a long, dangerous summer.

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Monday Wake Up Call – July 1, 2019

The Daily Escape:

East Inlet Pond, Pittsburgh NH – photo by Wes Lavin. The East Inlet area has one of the few remaining virgin stands of forest in the east.

How did Boeing, a company known for meticulous design and manufacturing, screw up the 737 Max so badly? Bloomberg is reporting that Boeing outsourced software development for some of the 737 Max’s software to Indian companies. There are concerns that decision may have contributed to Boeing’s two deadly crashes.

Bloomberg says that starting in 2010, Boeing began relying on Indian software engineers making as little as $9 an hour in their design program. The software engineers were supplied by the Indian software developer HCL Technologies, which now has annual sales of $8.6 billion. The coders from HCL designed to specifications set by Boeing but, according to Mark Rabin, a former Boeing software engineer:

“It was controversial because it was far less efficient than Boeing engineers just writing the code.”

It turns out that the HCL engineers were brought on at a point when Boeing was laying off its own experienced software developers. In posts on social media, an HCL engineer who helped develop and test the Max’s flight-display software, summarized his duties:

“Provided quick workaround to resolve production issue which resulted in not delaying flight test of 737-Max (delay in each flight test will cost very big amount for Boeing).”

This may be resume inflation. Boeing insists that HCL had nothing to do with the Max’s Maneuvering Characteristics Augmentation System (MCAS) software. HCL said that it:

“…has a strong and long-standing business relationship with The Boeing Company, and we take pride in the work we do for all our customers. However, HCL does not comment on specific work we do for our customers. HCL is not associated with any ongoing issues with 737 Max”.

It isn’t unusual for US companies to use outsourced talent. Prior to his dynamic blogging career, Wrongo was CEO of an outsourcing firm. Our clients were the US government, and several big tech and office product companies, including Dell, Microsoft, and Xerox.

But managing outsourcing is tricky, both for the company moving the work out-of-house, as well as for the outsourcer. Unless the parties develop detailed plans, procedures, and follow strict quality control, even top people can produce work that fails to meet design standards.

The typical jetliner has millions of lines of code. From Rick Ludtke, a former Boeing flight controls engineer:

“Boeing was doing all kinds of things, everything you can imagine, to reduce cost, including moving work from Puget Sound, because we’d become very expensive here….All that’s very understandable if you think of it from a business perspective.”

More profits over people.

In 2010, HCL and Boeing opened a “Center of Excellence” in Chennai, saying the companies would partner to create software used in flight testing. This is typical for big companies. Boeing also has a design center in Moscow. From Cynthia Cole a former Boeing engineer who headed the Engineer’s Union from 2006-2010: (emphasis by Wrongo)

“At a meeting with a chief 787 engineer in 2008, one staffer complained about sending drawings back to a team in Russia 18 times before they understood that the smoke detectors needed to be connected to the electrical system…”

A big reason for offshoring is price. Engineers in India make about $9 — $10/hour, compared with $35 to $40 for Indians in the US on an H1B visa, and higher for a US engineer. Anyone who understands offshoring knows that the cost of rework needs to be added to the apparent hourly cost, and in some cases, that can push the real price closer to $80/hour.

For the 787 Dreamliner, much of Boeing’s work was outsourced. It is well-known that the 787 entered service three years late, and billions of dollars over budget, in 2011. That was due in part to confusion caused by their outsourcing strategy.

Was another globalist lesson learned by Boeing with the 787? Not really, if the 737 Max troubles are any indication.

So this cheap labor story is another black eye for Boeing. It goes along with the Justice Department’s criminal probe, and the FAA’s continuing concern about the Max software. Boeing also has disclosed that the company didn’t inform regulators of the MCAS problems when they first learned about them, because engineers had determined it wasn’t a safety issue.

This is more of the crapification of America’s best companies as they chase lower costs. This time, people died.

Wake up Boeing! The high-value, high-risk elements in your product must be sourced at home.

If America had a real Justice Department, Boeing’s management would be in jail.

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Monday Wake Up Call – June 24, 2019

The Daily Escape:

View from Angels Landing summit, Zion NP Utah – 2019 photo by SurrealShock. 86,000 people visited Angels Landing over the four-day Memorial Day weekend in 2018.

On Sunday, the NYT reported: (emphasis by Wrongo)

“In the last decade, private land in the United States has become increasingly concentrated in the hands of a few. Today, just 100 families own about 42 million acres across the country, a 65,000-square-mile expanse, according to the Land Report, a magazine that tracks large purchases. Researchers at the magazine have found that the amount of land owned by those 100 families has jumped 50 percent since 2007.”

The West is a patchwork of public and private lands. Land ownership in the West has always been concentrated in the hands of the federal government, which owns about 50%. Now we learn that the rest of the West is quickly moving into the hands of a very few people.

The large purchases by these new private landholders come as the region is experiencing the fastest population growth in the country. That drives up housing prices and the cost of living. Some locals are fearful of losing both their culture and economic stability.

Rocky Barker, a retired columnist for The Idaho Statesman, has said this is a clash between two American dreams, pitting the nation’s respect for private property rights against the notion of beauty-rich publicly-owned lands set aside for the enjoyment of all.

In the West, there is an evolution of an economy based in minerals extraction, to one based on recreation; from a working class culture to a more moneyed one. The NYT article focuses on one family, the Wilks brothers, Dan and Farris, who made their money ($3.5 billion) in fracking. They sold out, and bought a vast stretch of mountainous land in southwest Idaho.

The Wilks brothers see what they are doing as a duty. God had given them much, and in return, “we feel that we have a responsibility to the land.”

The Wilkses now own 700,000 acres across several states, and have become a symbol of the out-of-touch owner. In Idaho, they have closed trails, and hired armed guards to patrol their land, blocking or stymieing access not just to their property, but also to some publicly owned areas. They also hired a lobbyist to push for a law that would stiffen penalties for trespass, and the bill passed.

This has made locals angry, as they have hiked and hunted on these lands for generations. Some emailed the Wilkses, asking permission to cross their property. They were surprised to receive a response suggesting they first visit PragerU, a right-wing website that was financed by the Wilkses and share their opinions of its content.

This is an example of a test for land use. Should you have to tell landowners your political views before you get to use their land?

Welcome to the future. Concentration of land ownership is a natural consequence of our free market capitalism. Our capitalist system isn’t designed to prevent concentration of ownership, whether it be of corporations or land.

That requires politicians who are not beholden to corporations and capitalists.

Our ancestors left Europe because by the 1600s, much of the land had already been bought up and was either inaccessible, or available in small lots for rent. America has been in the process of being divided up in the same way since the 1700s.

We talk about wealth inequality, and this story shows again that it is much more than numbers on a ledger. It is the power to own vast chunks of America, to decide how that land will be used, and to charge for that usage if they desire.

Battles over both private and public land have been a defining part of the West since the 1800s. For years, fights have played out between private individuals and the federal government.

OTOH, Americans in the West have made private ownership of wilderness a sacrament. They even contend that private use of public lands should be a right. Now, when the results of concentrated private land ownership become clear, when suddenly, a river or a mountain range they’ve enjoyed using for decades has a fence around it, their bellyaching begins.

But when the Wilkses, who made their money in fracking talk about how they feel they have a responsibility to the land, that has to be seen as hypocrisy.

The people in the West should Wake Up and give thanks for every inch of every national park. They should willingly pay additional taxes to keep our national parks in prime condition.

And they should finally see the wisdom in higher income taxes on corporate profits, and in Elizabeth Warren’s taxes on individuals with greater than $50 million in assets .

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Monday Wake Up Call – Trump Credibility Edition, June 17, 2019

The Daily (no) Escape:

Did Donald Trump lose all credibility last week? First, more of the “Russia, if you are listening…” in which he solicited election help from foreign governments, before backing down a little bit.

Next, hours after an attack on two tankers in the Gulf of Oman, Trump said he knew who did it:

“Iran did do it and you know they did it,”
Donald Trump on “Fox & Friends”, June 14th.

This was before experts had much evidence, let alone time for analysis. Next, US Central Command released a video which they said showed:

“Iran’s Revolutionary Guard removing an unexploded limpet mine from one of the oil tankers targeted near the Strait of Hormuz, suggesting the Islamic Republic sought to remove evidence of its involvement from the scene.”

The video is of such poor quality that it’s impossible to tell what’s really going on, where the boat came from, or who’s on board. Trump and Pompeo want us to believe that Iran cruised over to a heavily surveilled tanker in broad daylight to remove a limpet mine, placed several feet above the water line.

Also, it’s hard to believe that military photography technology has again failed just when we needed it. We’re back to blurry Brownie box camera pictures. When Russian artillery was photographed in Ukraine, we saw blurry indistinct B&W photos. When Russia aircraft were photographed in Syria, we saw razor sharp color images. Why can’t the US Navy buy a few iPhones to use in videoing the “Iranians”?

Finally, it’s interesting that America’s Enemy du Jour always does exactly what we want them to do, and just when we want them to do it!

The captain of the Japanese tanker said he was hit from the air, not by a mine. A photo of the Japanese tanker shows two holes well above the waterline. Iran might have done this, or it might have been a false flag operation.

We should remember that in the past 20 years, the US has attacked nations based on similar information to this. There are groups other than Iran that would benefit from the US stepping up its anti-Iran campaign, moving from an economic war to a military one.

But let’s widen out to strategy: While Trump and Pompeo were itching for a fight with Iran, China’s President Xi was completing a three-day visit to Moscow. He hailed China’s strategic ties with Russia. At the same time, Chinese and Russian military commanders met to discuss deepening their strategic partnership.

Then, both Putin and Xi met with Iran’s President Rouhani and expressed their full support for Iran despite the smoking tankers, or the US evidence that Iran was behind the attack. And China afforded its highest diplomatic status to Iran.

A strategically-minded US president would have turned the situation with tankers burning in the Persian Gulf to an advantage. It could have been an opportune time to engage China and Russia in a diplomatic coalition to deal with threats to commerce and free navigation in the Gulf.

Both China and Russia understand the potential impact of a Persian Gulf conflict to their economies. They probably would have listened. Our European allies are waiting for real proof of what happened to those tankers before expressing an opinion, given the state of America’s credibility. Only the UK currently supports Trump.

Another opportunity missed, thus advantage to Iran, while limiting US options.

Trump’s (and Bolton’s) policies of piling on more strategic risk without any gain is driving our allies away, and pushing our peers/competitors closer together.

Trump is increasing our risk of conflict, and the ramifications are global.

The main issue is credibility. We can no longer trust our government. When you can lie without consequence, then there is no value to discussing policy. If Trump wants a war, he’ll have one.

We need to wake up the American voters, who are the only people who can change this.

Their record to date, however, isn’t promising. Hopefully, the world won’t be in tatters before the November 2020 election.

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Monday Cartoon Blogging – June 10, 2019

We’re back from the beach to review the week that was! Trump toured Buckingham Palace. The world observed the 75th anniversary of D-day, and the 30th anniversary of China’s Tiananmen Square. Some are saying that the vicious attack by security forces on protesters in Sudan is Africa’s first Tiananmen Square-type event. At home, Joe Biden renounced the Hyde Amendment that barred public financing for abortions, a position he held for nearly 40 years. Republicans pounced, framing Biden’s change in position as a gaffe. You might say he was for it before he was against it. On to cartoons.

Biden has another bi-partisan moment with GOP:

 

Trumpy oh Trumpy, where have you been? I’ve been to London to visit the Queen:

What D-Day shows us about today:

Mueller’s subliminal messages:

GOP ponders raising voting age:

Trump has genuine concerns about voting:

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Monday Wake Up Call – June 3, 2019

The Daily Escape:

Mont Rotui, Moorea, French Polynesia – 2019 iPhone photo by mystackhasoverflowed

Time to wake up America! Donald Trump has proven once again that he has no understanding of economics. From the Wall Street Journal:

“President Trump will award the Presidential Medal of Freedom to economist Arthur Laffer, one of the pioneers of the idea that tax cuts can boost government revenue, the White House said Friday.

Mr. Laffer is one of the founding theorists of supply-side economics, a school of public economics that rose to prominence during the Reagan administration and returned to the fore in the run-up to the 2017 package of tax cuts that Mr. Trump signed into law.

The White House described Mr. Laffer as “one of the most influential economists in American history,” and said his “public service and contributions to economic policy have helped spur prosperity for our Nation.”

Laffer is famous for his drawing his Laffer curve on a napkin, illustrating his idea to Dick Cheney and Donald Rumsfeld at a dinner in 1974. His curve showed that increases in tax rates will eventually cause government tax revenue to decrease, because people will begin to work and earn less. This was then taken to its theoretical limit, saying that tax cuts could pay for themselves by spurring economic growth.

The WSJ calls Laffer “one of the pioneers of the idea that tax cuts can boost government revenue”. Isn’t it weird that the fact that his “idea” has been completely disproven in the real world, doesn’t seem to matter?

Conservative economics is not a branch of economics, it’s a branch of Conservatism.

The Laffer curve was successful at its real purpose, providing a basis to funnel more money to corporations and the rich. Republicans traffic in propaganda, not knowledge.

Last year, Laffer co-wrote a book titled “Trumponomics: Inside the America First Plan to Revive Our Economy.” Laffer’s co-author was Stephen Moore, another conservative who styles himself as an economist. Earlier this year Trump nominated Moore to serve on the Federal Reserve Board of Governors. Moore had to withdraw, amid bipartisan opposition from Senators.

Laffer was the advisor behind the notorious Kansas state income tax plan that ruined the state’s finances. In 2012, Then-Kansas Gov. Sam Brownback passed a package of tax cuts based on Laffer’s ideas. The result was that Kansas lagged behind neighboring states with similar economies in nearly every major category: job creation, unemployment, gross domestic product, and taxes collected.

In 2017, the Kansas legislature repealed the Laffer/Brownback tax cuts. After the repeal, state taxes were boosted by $1.2 billion.

Laffer has spent years preaching his idea that almost any tax cut for businesses and the rich could potentially pay for itself. That idea has become the bankrupt conceptual backbone of the Republican Party’s entire economic theology.

For the 2017 Trump tax cuts, his administration also borrowed Laffer’s idea. Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin and National Economic Council Director Larry Kudlow, have repeatedly claimed that the Trump tax cuts will pay for themselves. But, a new report finds that the tax cuts were responsible for less than five percent of the growth that is needed to offset the revenue loss from the Trump tax cuts.

We must point out here that Larry Kudlow does not hold a degree in economics. He was once fired from an investment bank for doing cocaine. Imagine just how much cocaine you’d have to do to get fired on Wall Street in the 1980s.

Trump’s now added the Presidential Medal of Freedom to the American traditions he’s debasing. Other economists awarded the Medal of Freedom include Gary Becker, Milton Friedman, John Kenneth Galbraith and Robert Solow. Laffer can’t carry their briefcases.

There may be no man alive who has done more damage to America’s understanding of taxes and their effect on economic growth than Art Laffer.

Evidently, Trump is grading him on a curve.

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Monday Wake Up Call – 2019 Memorial Day Edition

The Daily Escape:

Memorial Day, Arlington National Cemetery – 2013 photo by William Coyle

 “Patriotism is supporting your country all the time, and your government when it deserves it.” Mark Twain

Today we celebrate the sacrifice of those who died fighting in America’s wars. We mourn those we knew, and we remember those we never knew.

We can’t seem to get our fill of war. In fact, since 1943, the year of Wrongo’s birth, the US has been at peace for just five years: 1976, and 1977, 1978, 1997 and 2000 are America’s only years with no major war.

So today, we celebrate those who have died in service of our global ambitions. Maybe we watch a parade, shop at the mall, and attend the first cookout of the year. 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.

But today also brings us something else to think about. The Yale School of Forestry published an article about the use of Agent Orange in Vietnam, Fifty Years After, A Daunting Cleanup of Vietnam’s Toxic Legacy. Here is a snippet:

“From 1962 to 1971, the American military sprayed vast areas of Vietnam with Agent Orange, leaving dioxin contamination that has severely affected the health of three generations of Vietnamese. Now, the US and Vietnamese governments have joined together in a massive cleanup project.”

During the US Air Force campaign known as Operation Ranch Hand, Agent Orange was used to strip bare the coastal mangroves of the Mekong Delta and the dense triple-canopy forests that concealed enemy fighters and supply lines. One-sixth of South Vietnam was blanketed with 20 million gallons of herbicides, and as many as 4.8 million Vietnamese civilians were exposed to the spraying.

The three remaining hot spots of dioxin contamination were the US airbases at Da Nang, Bien Hoa, and the smaller air base at Phu Cat. These were the sites from where the spraying was launched. The residual levels of dioxin on those sites posed a serious ongoing threat to public health. Of the three, Bien Hoa was by far the worst. During our war in Vietnam, it was said to be the busiest airport in the world.

Phu Cat was cleaned up by the Vietnamese without US assistance. Next came Da Nang, a six-year project that was completed last October. It cost $110 million, of which $100 million came from the US State Department, channeled through USAID.

The sheer volume of soils and sediments that must be remediated is staggering. In Da Nang, it was 90,000 cubic meters; in Bien Hoa it is 495,300. The US has agreed to commit $300 million to the Bien Hoa cleanup over 10 years, but USAID couldn’t bear the entire cost. So, after much debate, the Department of Defense agreed to contribute half of the total.

This has to be done, since dioxin is a deadly chemical. It is both hydrophobic and lipophilic: it hates water and loves fat. It sinks into the sediment at the bottom of bodies of water, it attaches to organic matter and moves up the food chain, from plankton to small aquatic animals and finally to fish. In soil, it ends up in free-range chickens and ducks and their eggs.

It becomes more concentrated at each stage, a process known as bioaccumulation. Eighty-seven percent of dioxin enters the body through ingestion, before migrating into fatty tissue, the liver, and breast milk. And fish and poultry are staples of the Vietnamese diet.

The WHO stipulates a tolerable maximum of 1 to 4 picograms (one trillionth of a gram) per kilogram of body weight per day. The mean amount they found in breastfed infants in the Bien Hoa area was 80 picograms.

And we shouldn’t forget how haphazardly the VA has dealt with the medical issues of Vietnam Vets who were exposed to Agent Orange. For many years veterans with Agent Orange-related diseases were denied disability compensation by the VA. This only changed with the passage of the Agent Orange Act of 1991. Now, the VA acknowledges certain cancers and other diseases are caused by Agent Orange.

The Vietnam War ended in 1975. The Vietnam vets that survived the war only to suffer from Agent Orange-related diseases had to wait at least 16 years before our government began helping the majority of them. Vietnam waited 50 years before our government acknowledged our culpability in destroying much of their environment.

This is a sad reminder about today’s Memorial Day, all of our past Memorial Days, and the ones to come.

It is good to be reminded again about our dead soldiers, and also to be reminded of what our government ordered them to do.

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Saturday Soother – May 25, 2019

The Daily Escape:

Man of War Bay, Dorset, UK – 2019 photo by bluecalxx

Yesterday at lunch with long-time friend and blog reader Fred, he asked about what we have lost in the time of Trump. I answered that America has lost experiencing the difference between following the spirit, and the letter of the law.

We always have had politicians who cut corners, but they understood their obligations as servants to the community at large. They were people who understood that they had an obligation to represent the best of our ideals to the rest of us.

Politicians now stick (barely) to the letter of the law: “If it doesn’t say I can’t do it, I’ll just do what I want.”

But this age didn’t begin with Trump’s 2016 win. In 1973, Arthur M. Schlesinger, Jr. wrote “The Imperial Presidency” in which he argued that the power of the presidency had exceeded the limits set by our Constitutional checks and balances.

Schlesinger was focused on the Nixon presidency. Yet, for all his flaws, Nixon was unwilling to tear down our government to save himself. Trump has shown us that when a president is absolutely willing to cross the line of what we formerly called the spirit of the law, nothing holds him back.This is a deep flaw in our Constitution.

And now, 35 years after Nixon, our government might just get torn down by Trump and his sycophants.

On Thursday, Trump gave AG William Barr authority to conduct a review into how the 2016 Trump campaign’s ties to Russia were investigated. The intention is to portray Trump as the real victim of the Russia investigation. Trump also granted Barr the power to unilaterally declassify documents of the CIA, FBI and other intelligence agencies. More from the NYT: (emphasis by Wrongo)

“The move — which occurred just hours after the president again declared that those who led the investigation committed treason — gave Mr. Barr immense leverage over the intelligence community and enormous power over what the public learns about the roots of the Russia investigation.”

The declassification process will be selective, in service of a predetermined narrative. Barr now has the ability to again control the narrative, much like his “summary” of the Mueller Report that mischaracterized the Report’s content.

And there won’t be any way to distinguish between selective declassification and flat-out lies. This is the equivalent of a judge who announces at the start of the trial that he’s going to allow every objection by the prosecution, while ruling against every defense motion. It will be a show trial.

David Frum at the Atlantic says:

“The mission he has assigned them: Fight to suppress documents properly subpoenaed by Congress to answer important public questions, then pick and choose US national secrets to defame career professionals who sought to protect the integrity of the nation’s elections against foreign adversaries who manipulated those elections in Trump’s favor.”

Worse, we the people will have to rely on the media to tell facts from spin without seeing all of the classified information. Information that caused the intelligence agencies to worry about the Trump campaign’s Russia connections in the first place. That evidence led them to request warrants. A federal court reviewed that evidence, and authorized and subsequently, reauthorized the warrants. Frum asks:

“Will that evidence be declassified?”

If you’re an FBI agent, and you’ve been chasing down what Deutsche Bank knew about Trump’s dealings with overseas oligarchs, and you hear that your ultimate boss, Barr, is about to investigate the investigators, you’re probably not sleeping well tonight. Particularly after Trump says that the investigators committed treason.

And that’s the point.

Time to downshift into our long Memorial Day weekend, beginning with that ritual we call the Saturday Soother. There is no need for coffee this weekend, we’re already overly amp’ed up by the news.

So, let’s move on to music to soothe the savage within. Find a comfy chair and your wireless headphones, and listen to a Mexican waltz, “Sobre las Olas” or “Over the Waves” by Juventino Rosas. It was first published in Mexico in 1888. You have certainly already heard the piece if you’ve been on a carnival ride. In 1950, the music was adapted for the movie The Great Caruso as the song, “The Loveliest Night of the Year”. Later, Mario Lanza recorded it, and it reached Number 3 in the 1951 US Billboard Charts:

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

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