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The Wrongologist

Geopolitics, Power and Political Economy

Monday Wake Up Call – Dixie Chicks Edition, June 29, 2020

The Daily Escape:

Delaware Water Gap, NJ – 2020 photo by Craig Conklin

OK, Wrongo was wrong, again. He said on Saturday that changing the name of the Dixie Chicks to the Chicks wasn’t going to do anything for them. Wrongo ignored the power of a great protest song, and what it can do for your career.

And the Chicks have such a protest song in the just-released “March March” which is featured below.

But first, a few words about the mostly-forgotten Dixie Chicks. They were country, but not the faux patriotic kind. Their name came from the song by Little Feat, “Dixie Chicken”. If you’ve never heard it, you’re in for a treat, so listen at the link above.

Despite the name, they were pretty progressive in their music and lyrics. And they got in trouble for it in the Bush II administration. From Wikipedia: (brackets by Wrongo)

“On March 10, 2003, nine days before the invasion of Iraq, the Dixie Chicks performed…in London, England. It was the first concert of their Top of the World tour in support of their sixth album, Home. Introducing their song “Travelin’ Soldier”, [Natalie] Maines told the audience the band did not support the upcoming Allied invasion of Iraq and were “ashamed” that President George W. Bush was from Texas.

Many American country music listeners supported the war, and Maines’s remark triggered a backlash in the United States. The Dixie Chicks were blacklisted by thousands of country radio stations, and the band members received death threats…”

This was a huge deal back then. The entire country music industry ostracized them. At roughly the same time as the Chicks were blacklisted, the House GOP pushed to rename french fries and french toast in their cafeteria to “freedom fries” and “freedom toast”. Freedumb!

But the Chicks were correct. It wasn’t simply the Iraq war, it was illegal torture, the rise of the unitary executive, the attacks on free speech, and the destruction of the Iraqi state, and how that destabilized the Middle East. The Dixie Chicks’ protest grew to include all of that.

Looking back, Nashville didn’t have a clue about how to respond after 9/11. In their simplistic view, we had WWII, a story about the good guys vs. the bad guys. We also had Vietnam’s multiple shades of gray. But from a marketing perspective, and based on their collective ideology, Nashville wanted Bush’s Iraq war to be perceived at the WWII end of the spectrum.

In retrospect, the Chicks were a lot closer to where most of America was on the Iraq war than their Nashville gatekeepers. If you have any doubts about their political bona fides, listen to their anti-Vietnam song, Travelin’ Soldier, written by Bruce Robison in 1996.

So onward to the Chicks’ new song. Watch it full screen, it’s worth it.

This is protest music at its best. There have been protest songs all along, but the last time they were truly relevant was in 1970, with the CSNY song “Ohio” memorializing the Kent State shootings.

In 2020, it’s taken a pandemic, a maliciously negligent government, and disgusting abuses of authority to maybe slap us wide awake. Time to wake up America! Listen to the Chicks do “March March”:

Full Lyrics:

 [Chorus]
March, march to my own drum
March, march to my own drum
Hey, hey, I’m an army of one
Oh, I’m an army of one
March, march to my own drum
March, march to my own drum
Hey, hey, I’m an army of one
Oh, I’m an army of one

[Verse 1]
Brenda’s packin’ heat ’cause she don’t like Mondays
Underpaid teacher policin’ the hallways
Print yourself a weapon and take it to the gun range
(Ah, cut the shit, you ain’t goin’ to the gun range)
Standin’ with Emma and our sons and daughters
Watchin’ our youth have to solve our problems
I’ll follow them, so who’s comin’ with me?
(Half of you love me, half already hate me)

[Chorus]

[Verse 2]
Tell the ol’ boys in the white bread lobby
What they can and can’t do with their bodies
Temperatures are risin’, cities are sinkin’
(Ah, cut the shit, you know your city is sinkin’)
Lies are truth and truth is fiction
Everybody’s talkin’, who’s gonna listen?
What the hell happened in Helsinki?

[Chorus]

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

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Monday Wake Up Call – Tulsa Edition, June 22, 2020

The Daily Escape:

Trump Tulsa loyalist – photo by: Jabin Botsford/The Washington Post

(Blogging for the rest of the week will be light and variable, as Wrongo and Ms. Right embark on our first trip since COVID entered our lives)

Wrongo’s initial reaction to the smaller-than-expected crowd in Tulsa on Saturday was that quite a few Trump supporters actually had common sense, despite what they might have said to the press about COVID.

CNN said the venue estimated that 6,200 people were in the arena. The blue section where the lone Trump supporter above is seated, is the highest level of the arena. It holds 9,000, and was largely vacant. Despite that, the Trump campaign said that 12,000 went through the metal detectors.

Wrongo was wrong about the Trumpets. It turned out that teenage users of TikTok were behind the early huge crowd estimates by the campaign:

“TikTok users and fans of Korean pop music groups claimed to have registered potentially hundreds of thousands of tickets for Mr. Trump’s campaign rally as a prank.”

And the NYT reports there’s a story behind the story:

“Mary Jo Laupp, a 51-year-old from Fort Dodge, Iowa, said she had been watching black TikTok users express their frustration about Mr. Trump hosting his rally on Juneteenth. (The rally was later moved to June 20.) She “vented” her own anger in a late-night TikTok video on June 11 — and provided a call to action. ‘I recommend all of those of us that want to see this 19,000-seat auditorium barely filled or completely empty go reserve tickets now, and leave him standing there alone on the stage’….When she checked her phone the next morning…the video was starting to go viral. It has more than 700,000 likes, she added, and more than two million views.”

This will be spun many ways over the next few days, but a few days ago, the campaign claimed the equivalent of a quarter of Oklahoma’s population had requested a ticket. Today, they blamed invisible Antifa’s for both the cancellation of the planned overflow outdoor speech, and that the indoor venue was not even half full.

This shows how far the Trump campaign has to go in the next 132 days.

Today’s real topic is AG Barr’s firing of the US Attorney for the Southern District of New York (SDNY), Geoffrey Berman. First, Berman was asked to resign, and he refused to comply. Then Barr said that Trump had fired Berman, so Berman then agreed to leave.

Wrongo has no position on Berman’s worth as a federal prosecutor. He was the Assistant US Attorney for the SDNY while Rudy Giuliani was the US Attorney. He later became a partner at the law firm, Greenberg Traurig. Still later, Rudy Giuliani also joined Greenberg Traurig.

The SDNY has pursued a series of highly visible cases that are Trump-adjacent. It handled the arrest and prosecution in 2018 of Michael D. Cohen. Then there was the indictment last year of a state-owned bank in Turkey. Turkish president Erdogan wanted Trump to quash the investigation. Bolton’s book says Trump promised Erdogan that he would get rid of the current leadership of SDNY, and then they’d “take care of it.”

Berman also has an inquiry into Rudy Giuliani and his henchmen, Lev Parnas and Igor Fruman.

Berman’s dismissal seems to be either questionable judgment, or an effort to obstruct ongoing investigations. We’re way past the point of optics. Trump and Barr are in a scramble to do ANYTHING to get re-elected. Their hope is to keep the conspiracy going for four more years.

And their latest effort, to short-circuit the ongoing criminal investigations of Trump’s affiliates and associates, is only the most recent evidence. If Barr continues down this road, he will make John Mitchell, Nixon’s disgraced attorney general, who did time for his transgressions, look like a man of principle.

When Barr was up for Senate confirmation, he was the old Washington hand everyone respected and who, we were assured, had nothing but respect for the law. Now it’s clear that he’s someone who had a pedigree and the right connections, but no moral center.

Trump plans to replace Berman with the head of the SEC, Jay Clayton. Clayton is a lawyer who doesn’t have any criminal experience. His former client, Deustche Bank, is party to a Trump tax return case that is before the Supreme Court.

Time to Wake up America! None of Trump’s people have a moral center. We have a few weeks remaining to register and turn out voters in such overwhelming numbers that these bastards are thrown out of office.

To help you wake up, consider this quote from John Adams:

“Our Constitution was made only for a moral and religious People. It is wholly inadequate to the government of any other.”

And right now, we have a government without ethics or morals.

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Monday Wake Up Call – June 15, 2020

The Daily Escape:

Bright Angel Trail, in the middle foreground, Grand Canyon NP – photo by glowrocks

The chickens are coming home to roost. Michael Flor was originally the longest-hospitalized COVID-19 patient. Somehow, he survived. He came close enough to death that a night-shift nurse held a phone to his ear while his wife and kids said their final goodbyes.

Today, he’s recovering at home in West Seattle, WA. That’s the good news. The bad news is that he just got the bill. From the Seattle Times:

“The total tab for his bout with the coronavirus:…$1,122,501.04, to be exact. All in one bill that’s more like a book because it runs to 181 pages.”

More from the Seattle Times:

“…the charge for his room in the intensive care unit was billed at $9,736 per day. Due to the contagious nature of the virus, the room was sealed and could only be entered by medical workers wearing plastic suits and headgear. For 42 days he was in this isolation chamber, for a total charged cost of $408,912.

He also was on a mechanical ventilator for 29 days, with the use of the machine billed at $2,835 per day, for a total of $82,215. About a quarter of the bill is drug costs.”

Those charges don’t include the two weeks of recuperating he did in a rehabilitation facility.

Since Flor has Medicare, it is unclear how much he will actually have to pay out of pocket. Further, since Congress set aside more than $100 billion to help hospitals and insurance companies defray the costs of the pandemic, it’s possible that Mr. Flor may not have to pay even the out-of-pocket charges normally billed by his Medicare Advantage policy, but that remains to be seen.

The insurance industry has estimated treatment costs of COVID-19 could top $500 billion, so unless Congress steps up with more money, co-pays for COVID will soon become injurious.

One outcome of the pandemic may be that America takes a closer look at universal health insurance. There are many detractors in Congress, but the sticker shock that so many families will see from COVID-19 cases may restart the discussion. Medicare for all could work: A single payer with a set system of prices would be good for employers and employees alike.

It will be hard. Universal health insurance is such a tough problem to solve that only 31 out of 32 developed nations have managed to do it.

A second issue for today is the killing of Rayshard Brooks in Atlanta over the weekend. From the Atlanta Journal-Constitution:

“Officers were called to the restaurant after receiving a complaint about a man asleep in his vehicle, which forced other customers to go around his car to get their food at the window. The man, Atlanta resident Rayshard Brooks, was given a field sobriety test, which he reportedly failed…”

Brooks grabbed a cop’s Taser. More:

“…surveillance footage from the Wendy’s appeared to show Brooks turn toward the police and attempt to fire the Taser as he ran away. That’s when the officer chasing Brooks pulled out his gun and shot him…”

Tasers are a form of de-escalation instead of using firearms. The Taser momentarily incapacitates, but ultimately doesn’t threaten life. So shouldn’t it follow that if a suspect steals a cop’s Taser and threatens to use it, the cop can’t just shoot him dead since he’s being threatened by an ultimately harmless weapon?

The cops had his car, it’s likely they knew where he lived. They could have picked him up at any time. Instead, they killed him. The police tried to do something, the suspect resisted, and in the heat of the moment, the cop escalated to show that he’s in charge. It was a terrible reason to kill someone.

Time to wake up America! We have both out-of-control policing and out-of-control capitalism harming our society. To help you wake up, listen to Sly and the Family Stone’s 1969 song, “Everyday People”. This is Playing for Change again, along with Turnaround Arts students. Trust Wrongo and watch:

Sample Lyric:

Sometimes I’m right and I can be wrong
My own beliefs are in my song
The butcher, the banker, the drummer and then
Makes no difference what group I’m in
I am everyday people, yeah, yeah

And different strokes for different folks
And so on and so on and scooby dooby doo-bee
Ooh, sha sha
We got to live together
I am no better and neither are you
We are the same whatever we do

Of course there was racism back in 1968, but the musicians were preaching integration. Despite the racism back then, people were optimistic. Compare that to today.

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

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Monday Wake Up Call – June 8, 2020

The Daily Escape:

Banksy – June, 2020

Banksy is a well-known British graffiti artist whose identity is secret. But he’s become well-known, gaining attention for his politically charged works. The above appeared in an Instagram post where Banksy says:

“At first I thought I should just shut up and listen to black people about this issue. But why would I do that? It’s not their problem, it’s mine. People of colour are being failed by the system. The white system. Like a broken pipe flooding the apartment of the people living downstairs. The faulty system is making their life a misery, but it’s not their job to fix it. They can’t, no one will let them in the apartment upstairs. This is a white problem. And if white people don’t fix it, someone will have to come upstairs and kick the door in.”

Well said. We all should know where the responsibility lies for fixing the problems of racism.

Let’s hope that Americans understand the threat and the opportunity posed by this moment. Racism and the indiscriminate use of violence by police are burning the fabric of our society. How the fire is put out is entirely in our hands.

And the demonstrations continued over the weekend, mostly peacefully, at least as Wrongo writes this. These rallies have quickly become the focal point of a nationwide movement against systemic racism, and for police reform. They’re becoming better organized, and are unlikely to end soon.

Thousands gathered on Capitol Hill on Saturday to join a protest organized by Freedom Fighters DC. It drew one of the largest crowds since protests began there:

Source: Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call

Sen. Angus King (I-ME) joined the protesters outside the Dirksen Senate Office Building. Roll Call reported that: (brackets by Wrongo)

“…he [Sen. King] drew connections between the current uprisings and his experience at the 1963 March on Washington. He was a 19-year-old student at Dartmouth College and was on hand for Martin Luther King Jr.’s “I Have A Dream” speech at the march on Aug. 28, 1963.”

At the time, Wrongo was also a 19-year-old student, studying at Georgetown in DC. Sen. King says that this is a “full circle moment” for him, and Wrongo agrees. It’s a full circle moment for America. We appear to be on the verge of something big, politically.

More from Sen. King:

“This is what America is all about. First Amendment rights of people to peaceably assemble and petition the government for the redress of grievances. This is a 400-year-old grievance…”

Roll Call reported that protesters and police kept each other at a distance and largely avoided skirmishes. King noted that Saturday’s crowd was about 80% white and young, which he called “significant” in comparison to Dr. King’s 1963 March on Washington.

Having a large element of white support for the DC marches is important to building the political momentum for change. As Banksy said, “People of colour are being failed by the system. The white system”.

Kellie Carter Jackson, says in the Atlantic:

“Since the beginning of this country, riots and violent rhetoric have been markers of patriotism. When our Founding Fathers fought for independence, violence was the clarion call. Phrases such as “Live free or die,” “Give me liberty or give me death,”…echoed throughout the nation, and continue today.

More from Carter Jackson:

“Black rebellion and protest, though, have historically never been coupled with allegiance to American democracy. Today, peaceful demonstrations and violent riots alike have erupted across the country in response to police brutality and the killings of George Floyd, Breonna Taylor, and Ahmaud Arbery. Yet the language used to refer to protesters has included looters, thugs, and even claims that they are un-American.”

Particularly by Trump and Barr.

In reality, if we are to fix what’s wrong, it’s going to be fixed town by town and city by city. That means that domestic policing in the US needs to be reinvented from the ground up. It will be a huge job, since there are more than 18,000 police departments in the US.

It’s time to wake up America! We’re again seeing a grand revealing of what’s been behind the curtain since 1619.

We’re waking up to: “this is what’s going on in America?” Hopefully, it’s not too late.

And with COVID-19 added to the mix, we’re looking around, saying: “Wow. Why is everyone so vulnerable? Why is everyone living paycheck to paycheck? “What’s with the police brutality?”

Time to wake up and get busy. It will take an overwhelming turnout in November to right this sinking ship.

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

The Daily Escape:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Monday Wake Up Call – May 18, 2020

The Daily Escape:

Colorado River, from South Kaibab trail, Grand Canyon NP, AZ  – photo by DJ Memering. The bridge is called the Black Suspension Bridge. It is 5,260 ft below the canyon rim.

The CARES Act was sold as emergency funding for individuals and small businesses. In all, Congress has authorized $3.3 trillion in coronavirus relief in four separate acts over the last two months. The stated intent of those bills was to protect the American economy from long-term harm caused by the overall impact of the virus.

Alas, Congress also took care of their true constituents, Big Oil and other fossil fuel companies. Those companies got CARES Act tax breaks. The subsidies were supposed to help bail out small businesses pounded by the pandemic, but at least $1.9 billion of it was sent to fossil fuel companies and their executives.

Bloomberg News reports:

“$1.9 billion in CARES Act tax benefits are being claimed by at least 37 oil companies, service firms, and contractors”

Bloomberg used the example of Diamond Offshore Drilling Inc. who manipulated the bailout: (emphasis by Wrongo)

“As it headed toward bankruptcy, Diamond Offshore Drilling Inc. took advantage of a little-noticed provision in the stimulus bill Congress passed in March to get a $9.7 million tax refund. Then, it asked a bankruptcy judge to authorize the same amount as bonuses to nine executives.”

But, Diamond’s refund wasn’t all. Some went to their larger competitors. More from Bloomberg:

“…$55 million for Denver-based Antero Midstream Corp., $41.2 million for supplier Oil States International Inc. and $96 million for Oklahoma-based producer Devon Energy Corp.”

In addition, Kevin Crowley reports that Marathon Oil got $411m, Occidental $195m, and Valero $110m.

Hats off to all of our Senators, Congresscritters and the Trump administration! They all continue pursuing a pro-fossil fuel agenda, even as the economic disaster of the pandemic unfolds. Bernie Sanders tweeted:

“Good thing President Trump is looking out for the real victims of the coronavirus: fossil fuel executives,”

But, Bernie apparently voted for the bill, which passed the Senate in a unanimous vote. Hypocrisy much, Bernie?

These loopholes in the Act were deliberately written in so that corporations could feed at the trough along with small businesses, and we the people. Moreover, the initial bill was written in the House, although presumably in consultation with Trump and the Republicans. So, you can view this as either the cost of doing business for Democrats, or as just another day at the office listening to the lobbyists. Subsidy legislation has been a bipartisan objective.

Its always been this way. Here’s a cartoon from 1920 that could be drawn today:

Let’s remember that a big issue was the requirement for oversight, particularly after Trump said he wasn’t interested in having any. A compromise was struck so that an oversight commission could be empaneled to keep track of how the money was spent.

Today, it remains without a leader. Four of the five members of the Congressional Oversight Commission have been appointed, but Speaker Nancy Pelosi, (D-CA) and Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, (R-KY) have not agreed on a chair.

While the current members of the panel can perform some oversight, without a leader, it can’t hire staff or set up office space. In addition, the four members have not met as a group since the economic rescue law was passed. The PBS NewsHour quotes John Coates, a professor of law and economics at Harvard Law School:

“If the commission is not functioning — which it is not — then there is no oversight on a huge part of the economic rescue law…”

We seem to be able to bail out the rich every few decades, and we always seem to do it on the backs of the poor. It will probably happen again in another 10 years or so. Between these bailouts, politicians and pundits appear on all of the news shows, and write very serious articles proclaiming the need to resist socialism and to preserve “the free market” for the sake of “wealth creation and innovation”.

Time to wake up America! This great con has been going on for all of Wrongo’s lifetime and by looking at the cartoon above, for a few lifetimes before. Yet voters seem to be oblivious to this insidious form of corruption each and every time they go to the polls.

To help America wake up, let’s listen to Drive by Truckers, and their tune “Armageddon’s Back in Town” from their 2020 album, “The Unraveling

Sample Lyric:

There’ll be no healing
From the art of double-dealing
Armageddon’s back in town again

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

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Monday Wake Up Call – Get Back to Work Edition, May 11, 2020

The Daily Escape:

Pileated Woodpecker chicks – photo by JH Cleary

Americans are starting to peek out of their nests again. Governors have decided, and 30 of them are re-opening their states. Those states are not exclusively Republican; there are a few Democratic states too. The logic behind reopening is that of risk assessment and risk management. Somewhere between prudence and overreaction lies today’s American toxic politics.

We judge risk versus gain for everything, including for other causes of death. We try to model healthy behaviors. Most of us wear seatbelts, most watch our diets, and have stopped smoking years ago.

We also have to judge the risks associated with whether to end, or continue the lockdown. That means deciding which steps to take that will minimize both the spread of the virus, along with minimizing the crushing economic hardship being experienced by many Americans.

Ignore that the government isn’t currently taking care of healthcare and housing if you are unemployed.

The lockdown could go on for much longer if the federal government was willing to underwrite living costs for those who are out of work, until such time as it was safe to go back to work. But they have no intention of doing that.

So, from the Trump perspective, the choice is clear: Businesses need to open and their workers need to go back to work, despite the risks. Their argument is that living with COVID-19 isn’t as risky as it seems. Twenty-two states have had fewer than 100 deaths. So far, only 15 of 50 states have had total deaths for the crisis that are higher than NYC’s current rate of 500 a day

The original goal of lockdowns was to keep the health care system from being overwhelmed, and in the largest cities, that risk seems to be behind us. Whether that will be true in rural America where few hospitals operate, remains to be seen. Derek Thompson said in the Atlantic:

“This crisis represents an existential threat to America’s small businesses. Almost half of all job losses in April occurred in leisure and hospitality, where small businesses are overrepresented in companies like restaurants and stores. The decimation of small business would have long-lasting implications. It would destroy jobs that would be unlikely to return quickly, while creating a crisis of long-term unemployment.”

And all of those restaurants, cafés, theaters, community centers, and specialty shops that are part of the local fabric of our towns and villages could be wiped off Main Street. Losing many of them would be an economic tragedy. More from Thompson: (emphasis by Wrongo)

“The virus is real, the hospitalizations are real, the deaths are real, the need for masks and social distancing is real, the threat to millions of restaurants and shops is real, and the incomparable levels of unemployment are real, too. The White House plan to reverse this cavalcade of horrors is to “reopen” the economy. But 20 million Americans just lost their jobs in the past few weeks, not because the government shut down the economy, but because a pandemic scared millions of Americans into staying at home. There is plenty to be wisely afraid of, but Washington thinking that a pandemic economy is like a garage door that it can reopen by pressing a button might be the scariest thing of all.”

No one knows what will happen between now and Election Day. It’s not just a matter of businesses opening up. For people to go back to work, schools must be open, day care must be open, public transportation must be safe, and customers must show up.

Are you up for all of that?

In the Great Depression, we learned that unemployment at today’s scale required massive government intervention to address: Jobs programs, infrastructure investment, and a robust social safety net.

It required an FDR to galvanize the country. Needless to say, neither Trump nor the Republican Party have the desire to provide that leadership. They will be every bit as uncaring and incompetent at rebuilding our economy as they have been at stopping the pandemic.

Time to wake up America! The economy has been opened, and you need to protect yourself whether you’re back to work, or trying to find a new gig. And you know that Trump isn’t going to help you protect yourself and your family, and he’s certainly not going to help you find a new job.

To help you wake up, listen to Guns ‘n Roses cover Paul McCartney’s “Live and Let Die” which played during Trump’s visit to an N95 mask manufacturing plant in Phoenix:

Remember all of this in November.

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

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Monday Wake Up Call – May 4, 2020

The Daily Escape:

Flathead River with Mission Mountains in background, MT – photo by Jay Styles

Can the Republicans force the economy to open? Bill Barr thinks so.

“Justice Department officials have spoken on conference calls with leaders of conservative groups, who have flagged individual cases as worthy of the department’s review. Some cabinet officials have signaled that they back the effort by participating in private calls with conservative allies, according to multiple people involved with the calls.”

The COVID-19 outbreak sparked many states and municipalities to order their citizens to stay at home and businesses to close in order to slow the spread of the illness, and to protect the public, but do the states have the authority to do it?

According to the Incidental Economist:

“Terms like isolation and quarantine have legal meaning, and relate to the government’s powers to act in the public’s interest. Isolation is a targeted approach for individuals already diagnosed with a disease while quarantine restricts the movement of individuals or groups exposed to an illness, some of whom may not be sick.

Both strategies restrict the movement of individuals and are considered a severe deprivation of liberty.”

Last Friday, New Mexico Gov. Michelle Grisham (D) quarantined the town of Gallup, at the request of the city’s mayor, because the city is a COVID-19 hotspot. Grisham invoked New Mexico’s Riot Control Act. The order shuts down all roads to and from Gallup.

We can expect that this will lead to legal battles over whether governors can close individual American cities.

Last week, AG Barr issued a memorandum directing an effort to monitor state and local shutdown policies. Barr wrote: (emphasis by Wrongo)

 “We do not want to unduly interfere with the important efforts of state and local officials to protect the public…But the Constitution is not suspended in times of crisis.”

Actually, it has happened many times before.

  • Both GW Bush and Abraham Lincoln suspended habeas corpus.
  • John Adams helped pass the Alien and Sedition Acts of 1798, those four laws “restricted the activities of foreign residents in the country and limited freedom of speech and of the press”.
  • FDR built internment camps and imprisoned Japanese Americans.
  • Woodrow Wilson presided over the passage of the Espionage Act followed by the Sedition Act. People couldn’t say anything: “…insulting or abusing the US government, the flag, the Constitution or the military.” Violators could receive 20 years in prison.

And now, Barr barges in. Since Wrongo isn’t a lawyer, we’ll have to leave the arguments to those who are qualified. But it seems that in the past, all the Constitution-breaking has been done by presidents, not governors. What we have is a federal vs. state powers question.

So far, the DOJ has intervened in only one case, a “religious freedom” complaint, a lawsuit by a Baptist church in Greenville, MS.

Conservatives are perfectly willing to be inconsistent. They are champions of “states’ rights” until the state in question happens to lean blue. Speaking of inconsistency, remember that it was Trump who when asked why he wasn’t going to issue a nationwide ‘shelter in place’ order, said that it was up to the states.

The Trump administration delegated responsibility to the states with one hand, yet allows the DOJ to threaten governors with legal action. We also have religious conservatives who seem to forget the basis of Christianity, and are willing to put their neighbors at risk. Finally, there is a worrying increase in right-wing civil disobedience (while carrying weapons) that could easily ignite a real civil problem.

Once again, shopping is patriotism. Legitimate fear is unconstitutional. This isn’t unprecedented. After 9/11, GW Bush told everyone to go out and shop. Shopping is apparently how Republicans show their love of country.

Taken together, we as a nation have truly lost our way.

Wake up America! Insist that by November, the states have prepared well enough that it is safe to vote in huge numbers to get these birds out of office.

To help you wake up, let’s listen to Bruce Springsteen and his wife, Patty Scialfa playing two songs from their home studio, “Land of Hope and Dreams” and “Jersey Girl”. This was part of the Jersey 4 Jersey benefit for the New Jersey Pandemic Relief Fund.

This is dedicated to daughter Kelly, a former Jersey girl who can use a pick-me-up. Remember, dreams will not be thwarted!

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

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Monday Wake Up Call – April 27, 2020

The Daily Escape:

Harvest Moon over Bisti Badlands, south of Farmington, NM – 2019 photo by navidj.

Question: How many Americans have died from COVID-19? A: 54,024 as of Sunday.

Question: How many Americans died in the Vietnam War? A: 58,220.

Barring a miracle, we will pass that Vietnam milestone this week. By then, there will be more than one million confirmed cases, and 60,000 deaths in the US. Can we take a minute, and try to place the Coronavirus in the context of the dead and broken bodies from Vietnam?

Vietnam took ten years to reach that horrible number, while COVID-19 has met it in less than three months. Wrongo served during the Vietnam War. It was a trying time for all Americans. We were disunited at home, at much at war with each other, as with the Viet Cong. It scarred at least a generation, and there are still victims of both the domestic and foreign fights among us.

Today’s fight against the Coronavirus may become the current generation of 20-something’s Vietnam. Jobs won’t come back quickly, friends and family are dying, and the lack of testing and a vaccine will make life scarier for young people than for any other group.

Like Vietnam did to the boomers, Coronavirus could scar young people for years to come.

As we head into month four of the outbreak, we know that we are undercounting deaths. The Economist reported on one aspect of the undercount early in April, comparing cardiac arrest deaths in NYC to the historical average:

Are the increased rate of cardiac arrest deaths really COVID-19 deaths? A strong case can be made that they are. Back to the Economist, who says that the outbreak will be worse in the South: (emphasis and parenthesis by Wrongo)

“Places with older residents and more diabetes, heart disease and smoking have higher CFRs (case-to-fatality rates)…..Counties with lots of poor or black people tend to have more health problems, less social distancing and fewer ICU beds. Yet CFRs in such areas are even higher than you would expect from these factors alone.

Together, these variables leave a geographic footprint….the highest death rates will probably…be…in poor, rural parts of the South and Appalachia with high rates of heart disease and diabetes. Worryingly, the three states that announced plans this week to relax their lockdowns (Georgia, Tennessee and South Carolina) are all in this region.”

It didn’t have to be like this. There’s plenty of blame to go around, but in the end, the single most important factor in America’s disaster of a response was the lack of early testing. That will be a greater disaster if we fail to keep growing testing as the lockdowns end.

One thing that’s difficult to comprehend is the lack of empathy for the dead and their families and friends by some Americans. Most can rouse themselves to celebrate the first responders, health care workers, and “essential” workers, but not all can.

The WaPo has analyzed all of Trump’s Coronavirus briefings, and found this:

“The president has spoken for more than 28 hours in the 35 briefings held since March 16, eating up 60% of the time that officials spoke….Over the past three weeks, the tally comes to more than 13 hours of Trump — including two hours spent on attacks and 45 minutes praising himself and his administration, but just 4½ minutes expressing condolences for coronavirus victims.”

Trump has not even ordered American flags lowered in tribute to the dead, while some governors have. New Jersey’s Governor Phil Murphy and New York’s Governor Andrew Cuomo both did in April. As Susan B. Glasser said in the New Yorker:

“Trump, who has in the past personally asked for the flags to be lowered after a shooting or a politician’s death, can’t even bring himself to do this much for victims of the coronavirus.”

Time to wake up, America! We must tread carefully for the next few months, because we truly know very little about the virus. For example, there’s no evidence that Coronavirus antibodies prevent reinfection.

To help you wake up, listen to “Road to Nowhere” written by David Byrne for the 1985 Talking Heads album “Little Creatures”. Here, it’s performed in 2012 by David Byrne and St. Vincent, live in Paris with a brass band:

Sample Lyric:

Well, we know where we’re going
But we don’t know where we’ve been
And we know what we’re knowing
But we can’t say what we’ve seen

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

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Monday Wake Up Call, Social Cohesion Edition – April 20, 2020

The Daily Escape:

Alstrom Point overlook, Lake Powell, AZ – photo by Gleb_Tarro

World War II lasted six years. Americans from coast to coast planted victory gardens; turned bacon grease into bombs; recycled paper, metal, and rubber. Staples like sugar were rationed. Mothers went to work in defense plants. The war lasted six years, and half a million Americans died.

Fast forward: While some might say we’re not at war, it sure feels like we’re under attack. But our flag-waviest Americans today can’t even last six weeks, much less pull together.

Turns out, we have lost most of our social cohesion, the collective will to commit to a path, and work together to make the goal a reality.

In the past, we had a set of unwritten expectations that members of our society were expected to comply with, like voting, paying taxes, and displaying tolerance for others. Even these deminimus expectations are fraying today.

We’re being told that we’re on one team, or the other: Team working, or Team lockdown. Each is supposed to do the best it can to help control the virus, but people are becoming frustrated and angry.

If you need a visual representation of the reasons why, take a look at this chart from Visual Capitalist:

You can view a bigger version of the chart here.

The chart graphs jobs by income and degree of risk of catching COVID-19. They used the following criteria to establish level of risk:

  1. Contact With Others: How much does this job require the worker to be in contact with others in order to perform it?
  2. Physical Proximity: To what extent does this job require the worker to perform tasks in close physical proximity to others?
  3. Exposure to Disease and Infection: How often does this job require exposure to hazardous conditions?

Visual Capitalist then assigned a Risk Score between 0 and 100, with 100 representing the highest possible risk to each job. More from Visual Capitalist: (emphasis by Wrongo)

“Many individuals have been practicing social distancing by working from home in recent weeks. While this arrangement can be a great way to reduce one’s exposure to COVID-19, it’s a luxury that’s available to just 29% of Americans.

The situation for the remaining 71% is uncertain, to say the least. A significant portion of the population has lost their jobs due to business shutdowns and mandated lockdown orders. Others employed in “essential services” have continued working as usual, but may face a higher risk of potential exposure to the virus.”

Andrew Noymer, a public-health professor and an expert on the 1918 influenza pandemic, observed:

“Someone is at home wondering how he’s going to make rent and feed his family,” he said. “And someone else is wondering if they can binge-watch the first season of The Sopranos…”

So it’s understandable that at least 71% of America want to end the lockdown. They are business owners who stand to lose plenty, or unemployed workers who have nothing left to lose.

There’s a disconnect with the end the lockdown reasoning and the world in which we live. We live, work, play, and eat together. We buy from and sell to each other. We depend on the farmers, the truck drivers, the street repair people, and the bankers. More than ever, we depend on the medical people, the teachers, and the people who run all kinds of business, big and small. And they depend on all the people who work for them.

The virus has disrupted all of that.

Are the lockdown protesters ready to pitch in and take the high risk jobs above? Will they drive the buses? Wait on tables? Deliver the groceries? Clean hospital rooms? Work with people who may be infected in nursing homes?

Time to wake up, America! We need to reach back and try for more social cohesion, or we’re lost. To help us wake up, we turn to Bob Dylan. Let’s listen to his “Slow Train Coming”:

Today, it’s no longer a Slow Train. It’s high-balling down the track.

Sample lyric:

Big-time negotiators, false healers and woman haters

Masters of the bluff and masters of the proposition

But the enemy I see wears a cloak of decency

All nonbelievers and men stealers talking’ in the name of religion

And there’s a slow, slow train comin’ up around the bend

People starving and thirsting, grain elevators are bursting

Oh, you know it costs more to store the food than it do to give it

They say lose your inhibitions follow your own ambitions

They talk about a life of brotherly love show me someone who knows how to live it

There’s a slow, slow train comin’ up around the bend

 

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

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