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The Wrongologist

Geopolitics, Power and Political Economy

Monday Wake Up Call – May 14, 2018

The Daily Escape:

Orchard Oriole in crab apple tree  –  May 2014 photo by Wrongo

We are divided, and nothing shows that better than the callous remark about John McCain’s brain cancer by White House staffer Kelly Sadler. She said, regarding McCain’s unwillingness to vote for Gina Haspel for CIA Director, “It doesn’t matter, he’s dying anyway.”  Press Secretary Sarah Sanders then said, “I am sure this conversation is going to leak, too. And that’s just disgusting.”

She thought that the leaking of Sadler’s comment was disgusting. The comment was fine.

Axios reported that WH strategic communications director Mercedes Schlapp said, “You can put this on the record, I stand with Kelly Sadler.” That is the same Mercedes Schlapp who walked out of the WH Correspondents Dinner when she felt that Michelle Wolf’s routine spoofing Sara Sanders’s eye makeup was over the line.

And yet, she stands by Kelly Sadler’s making a joke at the expense of a dying John McCain. Hypocrisy is alive and well in the White House.

Sadler’s comments almost made Wrongo want to reconsider John McCain’s maverickitude, and warm up to his career as an unvarnished political hack who loyally served the GOP.

But he can’t. There was absolutely no difference between McCain and right-wingers on any economic issue. In 2016, he changed his mind that presidents should be able to choose who they want to put on the Supreme Court and announced that a Hillary presidency would result in the Scalia seat remaining unfilled until Republicans took power.

So, despite his vote not to eliminate Obamacare, let’s continue to have a clear eye for hackery and hypocrisy, wherever we see them.

The NYT’s Week in Review section was filled yesterday with op-eds about how important it is for liberals to moderate their outrage. On the front page, above-the-fold, was an article titled: “Liberals, You’re Not As Smart as You Think“, by Gerard Alexander, an associate professor at the University of Virginia.

That Wrongo read the entire thing proves Alexander’s point.

OTOH, Professor Alexander was right to point out that liberals can be as guilty of being arrogant and insulting as conservatives. Much of what the right says is angry, closed minded and based on ignorance.

And they say it loudly and often to anyone who will listen.

Progressives need to understand that if our views are based on smugness and arrogance, or if we fail to check all of the facts before arguing, we are unlikely to convince anyone to come over to our side. It does no good to malign a group with broad brush strokes.

But simply turning the other cheek and making nice has landed us where we are.

The problem is that Dr. Alexander implies that there are two equally valid polarities in US politics, and those who love Trump must be regarded as respectable as those who loath him. These are not equal: One side likes a leader who tears things down without any plan for replacement. The other side does not appreciate him in the slightest.

This is not like the difference between those who are pro-free trade, and those who are against it. It’s the difference between the politics of anger and exclusion and the politics of patience and inclusion.

Alexander’s work reads as sloppy thinking from a blogger, not the work of a political scientist at a premiere university. The Trumpalos are willing to do whatever is necessary to stay in power. And those who voted for Trump show a great deal of comfort with anger and outrage, regardless of how Alexander thinks they should be perceived by the rest of us.

Their calls to cool it are good news. We’re getting under their skin.

Time to double down. We need to make our case clearly, and to all who will listen.

Time to wake up America, we are sliding down to a dangerous level. To help you wake up, here is Gil Scott-Heron with “The Revolution Will Not Be Televised”. The song’s title was originally a popular slogan among the 1960s Black Power movements in the US:

Scott-Heron has it right. The revolution will be streamed.

Sample Lyrics:

The revolution will not be right back after a message
About a white tornado, white lightning, or white people
You will not have to worry about a germ on your Bedroom
A tiger in your tank, or the giant in your toilet bowl
The revolution will not go better with Coke
The revolution will not fight the germs that cause bad breath
The revolution WILL put you in the driver’s seat
The revolution will not be televised.

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

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Monday Wake Up Call – May 7, 2018

The Daily Escape:

Banff, Alberta, Canada – 2018 photo by erubes1

If you attend a demonstration, and the person marching beside you throws a rock, are you responsible for the damage? According to prosecutors at the DOJ’s Washington, DC office, the answer is yes, you are.

On January 20, 2017, 230 people were arrested in Washington, DC while protesting Donald Trump’s inauguration. More than 200 faced felony charges under a federal riot statute. A small group of defendants were acquitted, and in January, prosecutors dropped charges against 129 people. However, 59 people still are charged with crimes.

Rolling Stone gives some background: (brackets by Wrongo)

Trump’s inauguration on January 20th, 2017 drew a number of protests…but the “anti-capitalist and anti-fascist march,” now widely referred to as “J20” (a reference to the date of the protest) garnered the most attention. The protesters were primarily dressed in black…Protesters and others there to report on or observe the protest left DC’s Logan Circle as the inauguration ceremony began, and soon thereafter, several individuals broke off from the larger black-clad group and smashed the windows of a several storefronts. [And a limousine]

In response to the destruction of property, DC police arrested 230 people. Six went to trial and were acquitted in December. Australia’s Sydney Morning Herald carried this quote from Assistant US Attorney Jennifer Kerkhoff from the trial of the six:

We don’t believe the evidence is going to show that any of these six individuals personally took that crowbar or that hammer and hit the limo or personally bashed those windows of that Starbucks in…

Yet, she still argued that they all should be convicted of crimes punishable by up to 61 years in prison. Kerkhoff’s theory relates all protest activities within a legal concept called the Pinkerton rule, which allows the legal system to charge you with a crime for aiding and abetting the commission of that crime, even if you didn’t directly do it yourself.

The J20 cases show that the right of dissent is facing a broad legal challenge. What’s new is not that a lot of people who were protesting got arrested enmasse, we’ve seen that for decades. What’s alarming is that so many people were charged with felony conspiracy to riot, which is unprecedented.

America is now seeing how the line between what is defined as a protest and what is a riot is arbitrary, and is entirely up to the police and prosecutors to define.

The problem isn’t confined to DC. Shadowproof reports that:

Across the US, almost 60 bills have been introduced in Republican-controlled state legislatures since Trump’s election broadening the definition of rioting or increasing penalties for protesters found to have broken the law.

These efforts by legislators and prosecutors are important and chilling. Think about how easy it is at a protest for violence or window-breaking to be done by a person who is not part of the protesting group. Possibly sent by an opposing group, or even by law enforcement, specifically to discredit the protest.

Now, nobody should defend goons who break windows and set cars on fire at rallies or marches. But the rest of us who are protesting cannot be deemed guilty of the same crimes.

These are old tactics, returning in new, improved forms. Implementing these new laws could lead to unintended consequences. Under the 1949 4th Geneva Conventions, collective punishment is a war crime. And the Additional Protocol II of 1977 explicitly forbids collective punishment in local situations.

But, isn’t this what the police and prosecutors are doing?

Time to wake up America, before we lose the few rights we have as citizens!

It should be shocking that this story isn’t being covered by the US mainstream media. And it is shocking that 60 people, many of whom were not conspiring to riot may go to jail. We must elect representatives who have an understanding of the First Amendment.

To help you wake up, here is “I Ain’t Marching Anymore” by Phil Ochs from his 1965 LP:

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

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Monday Wake Up Call – April 23, 2018

The Daily Escape:

Red Winged Blackbird chasing Red Shouldered Hawk, FL – photo by Lana Duncan

Wrongo and Ms. Right attended a meeting with Lynn Novick, co-producer of The Vietnam War, a 10-part, 18-hour video history of the War that aired on PBS. The series was intended to be a shared public event that sparked a national discussion about the Vietnam War and the impact it had on America.

If you haven’t seen The Vietnam War, it is streaming here.

As someone who served in the military from 1966-1969, Wrongo was on orders for Vietnam twice. That he spent his time in Germany during the war was largely good luck. Many of his Officer’s Candidate School buddies died in Vietnam.

Novick showed a short video of the first episode in the series, followed by parts of episode six and seven. The series uses no historians or talking heads. There are no onscreen interviews with polarizing boldfaced names like John Kerry, John McCain, or Jane Fonda. Instead, there are 79 onscreen interviews with ordinary people who fought or lived through the war.

Two things stand out about the series: First, that it presents the perspective of South Vietnamese, Viet Cong, and North Vietnamese, along with that of the American soldiers, a significant advancement in perception for Wrongo. Second, how little that anyone on the US side, our government, our military or our soldiers, really understood about the Vietnamese. Novick told one story that was not included in the series, about how the North Vietnamese, traveling the Ho Chi Minh trail, would find an impassible rock formation, and without dynamite, they couldn’t work around it. The solution was to expose the area to US jets, who obligingly bombed the trail, making it passable for NVA trucks.

Lynn Novick said that you could divide the War into two phases: First, from the time of Truman through Kennedy, where honorable people were trying to do the right thing, and were simply getting it wrong. Then, phase two, when it became clear that our military thought that there was less than a 30% chance that we would be victorious. Novick said that recent scholarship dates that conclusion as being presented to the White House and the generals in 1965. Yet, the war went on for another 10 years. Clearly, in this phase, the decision-makers were no longer honorable people.

From that time forward, Presidents Johnson and Nixon knew that the war was unwinnable, but like their predecessors, they were unwilling to have the War lost on their watch. Their political calculations were largely responsible for 57,797 of the 58,220 deaths in the War.

And Vietnam remains the gift that keeps on giving. As of 2013, the US is paying Vietnam veterans and their families or survivors more than $22 billion a year in war-related claims.

The war at home pitted college students and clergy against politicians and the National Guard. There were huge demonstrations, and ultimately, the deaths of four Kent State college students at the hands of the Ohio Guard in 1970. That wasn’t all. Eleven people were bayoneted at the University of New Mexico by the New Mexico National Guard, and at Mississippi’s Jackson State University, police opened fire at demonstrators, killing two students and injuring 12.

These shootings of American kids by our own government led to the first nationwide student strike in US history. Over four million students participated.

The Vietnam War is a very complex and difficult topic. Our military’s plan was to win “hearts and minds” but they also bombed villages. We backed incompetent and corrupt in-country leadership. Our military falsified the metrics to show we were having “success” on the ground.

There was inconsistent, and eventually, dishonest direction from the White House.

Novick thinks that Vietnam was the most significant event for America from the Civil War to 9/11. It had a major impact, creating divisions that still persist today. In the Q&A, it was clear that the audience expressed many of the viewpoints that you might have heard 40 years ago. Ideas like the politicians prevented the military from winning, or that there were really no atrocities on the ground.

But, the afternoon’s discussion also opened people to being receptive to a different conversation, to be thoughtful about the meaning and mistakes of the War, and how we might use that experience to inform decisions our political class is making today.

So let’s wake up, America! Watch the series. Give some thought to the carnage that was wrought in our names, both in Vietnam and at home. Now, link all of that to our current endless fight against the Global War on Terror.

See any similarities?

To help you wake up, listen to Neil Young singing “Ohio”:

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

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Monday Wake Up Call – April 16, 2018

The Daily Escape:

Dumbo, NYC – August 2017 photo by Kelly Kopp

In Republican-land, it’s not as if we don’t have plenty of awful things to process. And, just when you think that it can’t be coarser, or darker, it is! Last week, the Republican governor of Kentucky, Matt Bevin, vetoed the state budget, tax reform, and pension reform bills. Bevin scrapped all three bills in their entirety because he wanted significantly deeper budget cuts, especially to education and infrastructure. He sent the bills back, and announced that unless his cuts were passed, he would call a special session and keep it open until he got his way.

But, the day before Kentucky’s state legislature overrode all three vetoes, Bevin, who has opposed Kentucky teachers’ rallies for pension protection and public education funding since the rallies started, told reporters this:

I guarantee you somewhere in Kentucky today a child was sexually assaulted that was left at home because there was nobody there to watch them….I guarantee you somewhere today, a child was physically harmed or ingested poison because they were home alone because a single parent didn’t have enough money to take care of them.

Is this state-of-the-art 2018 Republican messaging? A Republican governor is saying children are safer in the care of government workers than with their own families. If Bevin is correct, summer vacation must be a season of child carnage in Kentucky. Maybe Kentucky schools should be open 24/7.

Bevin subsequently “apologized” to those who may have been offended.

A larger question: What will it take to eliminate the societal myth that teachers are co-parents? Teachers have huge responsibilities for the children they teach, and most live up to this, but they’re not the kids’ parents. They’re not equipped to co-parent.

Most towns fail to fully equip them to be educators, much less co-parents. And we couldn’t (and shouldn’t) pay them enough to assume that responsibility.

Bevin’s comments are unusual and despicable, but other politicians talk about teachers in similar ways. Consider that Oklahoma’s Republican governor Mary Fallin told CBS News that teachers striking for a salary increase are like “a teenager wanting a better car”.

Newsweek reported that Fallin also suggested that the anti-fascist group Antifa was involved in the ongoing teachers’ protests, claiming it was among the “outside groups” that were demonstrating alongside educators. There was no evidence that Antifa was anywhere near the teachers who were demonstrating.

Governors Fallin and Bevan had a golden opportunity to demonstrate their commitment to educating the children of their states. They could have made it clear that education would be a priority for as long as they remained governors.

But like most Republicans, they feel tax cuts are more important than kids. And in the typically arrogant and dismissive tone Republicans tend to assume, they decided to belittle teachers who are demanding they be fairly compensated for the important work they do.

Fully funding education is a no-win situation for Republicans. They don’t want to fund education because they know that ultimately, it works against their best interests. Their intransigence means they’re facing an angry, empowered, and unified group even in red states that have weak unions. The teachers now fully understand that they have political power, and they intend to exercise it.

Teachers don’t take the job expecting to get rich, but they’re certainly within their rights to expect fair compensation for their work. They’re also right to expect each state to adequately fund public education.

So, it’s time for Republicans to wake up! There really could be a blue wave in the voting booth this fall if red state politicians fail to support public education, despite whatever spew Betsy DeVos is spraying this month. To help them wake up, here is “High School Never Ends” by Bowling For Soup, from their 2006 album, “The Great Burrito Extortion Case”:

Sample Lyrics:

The whole damned world is just as obsessed
With who’s the best dressed and who’s having sex
Who’s got the money, who gets the honeys
Who’s kinda cute and who’s just a mess

And I still don’t have the right look
And I still have the same three friends
And I’m pretty much the same as I was back then
High school never ends
High school never ends
High school never ends
And here we go again

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

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Monday Wake Up Call – April 9, 2018

The Daily Escape:

Canada Warbler

Are you worried yet? Last week ended with the stock market falling off the cliff. The Dow was down over 700 points, but recovered slightly to lose “just” 572 points. Trump caused this by seemingly being pissed that the Chinese would fight back after his in-your-face tariff announcements.

Now, the Dow Jones average is down 9% from its January high.

And the administration couldn’t seem to get its messaging straight. Former TV pundit Larry Kudlow, now Trump’s economic advisor, told reporters on Wednesday the threat of trade sanctions was only a negotiating tactic. A rally of more than 3% followed. But Trump upended that notion on Thursday, ordering a review of even larger tariffs. So, on Friday, Kudlow said the opposite, claiming he had just heard about the additional $100 billion in tariffs Trump announced on Chinese imports.

From Bloomberg:

The Republican president’s renewed ramblings on trade dominated US equity markets this week, with a tweet-induced swoon on Friday leaving the S&P 500 Index 1.4 percent lower than where it started on Monday.

And there goes Trump’s reputation as the stock market president. A retired former colleague of Wrongo’s at the big NY bank is all over Facebook touting the Donald’s success at driving the stock market, but this chart from Bloomberg shows he’s wrong. It compares Trump’s first 444 days with the first 444 days of other presidents:

So, what to do? Do investors ride the roller coaster that is the Trump approach to trade, and watch Mr. Market deal with it by hammering their 401k? Or do they jump into cash and lock in a loss? From Benjamin Studebaker:

Theoretically, a full blown trade war with China could be really damaging. If the US and China were to stop trading tomorrow, the total value of US-Chinese trade lost would be about $648.5 billion. That’s about 3.5% of US GDP and 5.7% of China’s.

US inflation would increase, since American consumers will try to substitute more expensive goods for those they can’t import from China. Chinese unemployment would rise, as non-Chinese firms relocate from China to other developing countries to evade the tariffs.

The US wouldn’t be hurt as badly, because after a while, firms would find new locations to operate from. But the trade war won’t create many new American jobs – the offshore firms would either stay offshore, or they’d automate production in North America. The Chinese would be more lastingly damaged, as there isn’t a consumer market large enough to replace America’s.

That’s what Trump means when he says that trade wars are “easy to win” for the US. We can damage China more than China can damage us. Studebaker concludes:

But make no mistake–such a trade war would be highly disruptive. In 2009, the US economy contracted by 2.8%. A full blown trade war would blow this figure out of the water. It would be political suicide for the administration.

Trump’s stated goal is to get China to negotiate to protect US intellectual property rights. This is why his proposals have been relatively small – he’s not looking to break Beijing, just to bring it to the table.

If Trump can get China to make a deal with him, he can pass this off as a major foreign policy achievement. And because the stock market has been in panic mode, any positive result could make Trump look good in the eyes of his supporters.

OTOH, his supporters, like my former Bank colleague, think everything Trump does looks good.

Maybe the trade war won’t happen. But, maybe Trump should remember what Luke Skywalker said in the Last Jedi:

This is not going to go the way you think…

The “Art of the Deal” guy should know there are two sides to any negotiation.

So, wake up, Mr. Market! Stop jumping off a cliff with every tweet. To encourage you, here are Elvis Costello and the Attractions with their 1978 hit “Pump It Up”. Maybe it will give Mr. Market an idea about the right direction for the stock market:

Sample Lyrics:

Pump it up, until you can feel it

Pump it up, when you don’t really need it

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

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Monday Wake Up Call – April 2, 2018

The Daily Escape:

Wildflowers in Carrizo Plain National Monument, near San Luis Obispo, CA – March 2017 photo by George Rose

Mother Jones reports:

You might know Sinclair Broadcasting, the largest owner of local TV stations in the nation, from 2004, when it required its affiliates to air an anti-John Kerry propaganda film as a news segment and then fired one of its employees who spoke against it….Or from earlier this month, when CNN’s Brian Stelter discovered that it would be forcing its anchors to record “media bashing” promos that parallel President Donald Trump’s…complaints about the “fake news” media—”a promotional campaign,” as Stelter puts it, “that sounds like pro-Trump propaganda.”

In December, Jared Kushner admitted that the Trump campaign had struck a deal with Sinclair during the 2016 election in order to obtain more favorable coverage. Now, Sinclair is awaiting FCC approval on its proposed purchase of Tribune Media, which owns or operates 42 broadcast television stations in 33 markets. If the purchase is approved, Sinclair will be able to broadcast to at least 70% of American households.

Since the Clinton era, we thought of Fox News as the propaganda arm of the GOP. But in the Trump era, it isn’t a cable network, it’s your local network news affiliate. Lots of people (Wrongo included) never watch CNN, MSNBC or Fox News, but they watch local news to see the weather, and learn what’s going on in their communities.

This is where Sinclair comes in. Increasingly, local affiliates are part of the Sinclair Broadcast Group, a conservative far-right media conglomerate that has been buying up local affiliates of the networks, stations that you’ve watched for years.

Think Progress reports that Sinclair has always produced “must-run” segments for its stations that are typically conservative commentary running alongside their regular news coverage. Sinclair is now forcing its reporters to air pre-scripted segments about fake news media, in an attempt to undermine non-Sinclair stations in the same markets:

Seattle-based ABC affiliate KOMO-TV says its owner, the conservative-leaning Sinclair Broadcast Group, is forcing its reporters to air pre-scripted segments about fake news media, in an attempt to undermine non-Sinclair stations.

In recent weeks, KOMO has begun throwing in mentions of “fake news.” The Seattle Post-Intelligencer reproduces the full script:

Hi, I’m (A) ____________, and I’m (B) _________________…

(B) Our greatest responsibility is to serve our Northwest communities. We are extremely proud of the quality, balanced journalism that KOMO News produces.

(A) But we’re concerned about the troubling trend of irresponsible, one sided news stories plaguing our country. The sharing of biased and false news has become all too common on social media.

(B) More alarming, some media outlets publish these same fake stories… stories that just aren’t true, without checking facts first.

(A) Unfortunately, some members of the media use their platforms to push their own personal bias and agenda to control ‘exactly what people think’…This is extremely dangerous to a democracy.

(B) At KOMO it’s our responsibility to pursue and report the truth. We understand Truth is neither politically ‘left nor right.’ Our commitment to factual reporting is the foundation of our credibility, now more than ever.

(A) But we are human and sometimes our reporting might fall short. If you believe our coverage is unfair please reach out to us by going to KOMOnews.com and clicking on CONTENT CONCERNS. We value your comments. We will respond back to you.

(B) We work very hard to seek the truth and strive to be fair, balanced and factual… We consider it our honor, our privilege to responsibly deliver the news every day.

(A) Thank you for watching and we appreciate your feedback.

Sinclair doesn’t say which mainstream news outlets are intentionally running false stories without first fact-checking, they just claim that certain journalists pose a threat to democracy. It should scare you that you could try to watch many different stations, and get only Sinclair’s viewpoint.

Welcome to the era of the Trump regime’s state-run media. You’re living in it, and odds are increasingly good that you and your family are getting their local news from it too.

You can only fight this by being aware it exists. If people start considering a message as propaganda, they will then start asking who it benefits.

That question is the start of getting real news back on our screens.

America’s got to wake up, or lose its democracy. To help all of us wake up here is “No News is Good News” by the punk group, New Found Glory, from their 2004 album Catalyst:

Sample Lyrics:

All along, we follow blindly,
Force-fed prime time, printed nightly,
Why would anybody leave the safety of their home?

And I can’t take much more of this,
We’re all so wrapped up, in it,
Nothing will change, but the channels,
So I turn it off.

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

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Monday Wake Up Call – March 26, 2018

The Daily Escape:

Emma González during her silence at the March for Our Lives

From the NYT:

Emma González spoke for just under two minutes on Saturday before tens of thousands of demonstrators at the March for Our Lives rally in Washington, describing the effects of gun violence in emotional detail and reciting the names of classmates who had been killed.

Then she said nothing for four minutes and 26 seconds.

It was uncomfortable for many in the audience. Then a timer went off, and she said:

Since the time that I came out here, it has been six minutes and 20 seconds. The shooter has ceased shooting, and will soon abandon his rifle, blend in with the students as they escape, and walk free for an hour before arrest. Fight for your lives, before its someone else’s job,

Wrongo likes this analysis by Melissa Byrnes at Lawyers, Guns & Money: (brackets by Wrongo)

[Her silence] It is the loudest call to action I have heard in a long time. We need to be unsettled. We need to question our assumptions about what is possible. We need pay attention to the silent woman who insists that we hear the multitude of silences of those we’ve failed. We need to recognize when that woman is commanding us to listen. We need to rethink what leadership looks and sounds like.

Because this is a woman I am ready to follow.

There is reason to hope that these kids will drive change in our politics. They have stepped into a vacuum caused by our divided politics. They shouldn’t have had to do this, it was our job, and we have failed.

Now, we can’t just become their passive admirers. We have to participate in this movement for political and social change. On the one hand, we are being led by an amazingly courageous person in Washington DC. And on the other, your titular leader, Donald Trump, chose to go golfing in Florida this weekend.

Remember this in November.

For the first time since Trump’s election, we are seeing how issues like gun control, #metoo, BLM and the frustration caused by economic inequality are melding together in a leftward political tilt.

It’s way past time for Trump and politicians on all sides, who purposefully make no progress on the great issues of the day, to wake up, listen and ACT!

To help them wake up, here is Ed Sheeran with his 2017 song “What Do I Know”? Sheeran says that his dad’s advice was to never mention politics, never mention religion and never get involved in other people’s battles. From Sheeran:

The song ‘What Do I Know’ was me looking at the world and being like ‘we aren’t doing too well are we?’ and writing a song about it…

Listen up:

Sample Lyrics:

The revolution’s coming, it’s a minute away

I saw people marching in the streets today

You know we are made up of love and hate

But both of them are balanced on a razor blade

 I’ll paint the picture let me set the scene,

You know the future’s in the hands of you and me

So let’s all get together, we can all be free

Spread love and understanding positivity

 Everybody’s talking about exponential growth

And the stock market crashing and their portfolios

While I’ll be sitting here with a song that I wrote

Saying love could change the world in a moment

But what do I know?

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

 

 

https://www.theguardian.com/us-news/video/2018/mar/24/emma-gonzalezs-powerful-march-for-our-lives-speech-in-full-video

 

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Monday Wake Up Call – Cambridge Analytica Edition

The Daily Escape:

Massachusetts stream after March Nor’easter – 2018 photo by Karen Randall

The New York Times and The Observer each reported on Sunday about Cambridge Analytica’s use of Facebook (FB) personal information for about 50 million users. The data were acquired by an external researcher who claimed to be collecting it for academic purposes.

Those data were subsequently passed by the researcher to Cambridge Analytica (CA), who used it to help the Trump campaign develop very accurate psychographic profiles on each FB user. They also built a powerful software program to influence choices at the ballot box, targeting them with personalized political messages. CA then helped create websites and FB posts specifically designed to appeal to those users who followed the information, and then the most effective messages were used to either get them to vote, or to stay home.

The Observer said that the 50 million profiles represented about a quarter of potential US voters.

Cambridge Analytica was at the time, managed by Steve Bannon, and remains owned and financed by Robert Mercer. In June 2016, the Trump campaign hired Cambridge Analytica to take over its data operations. The WSJ reported on Friday that Robert Mueller has requested that Cambridge Analytica turn over internal documents as part of its investigation.

Some detail on the FB data: In 2015, a University of Cambridge researcher Aleksandr Kogan harvested data on millions of Americans by getting them to use his FB research app, “thisisyourdigitallife,” which offered a personality prediction, and was billed on FB as “a research app used by psychologists.”

Kogan then passed the data to Christopher Wylie of Eunoia Technologies, who used the personal information to create psychological and political profiles, and then target them with political ads designed to work with their particular psychological makeup.

We know about this because Wylie just came forward to the Observer, which broke the story. The Observer reports that Wylie: (edits and brackets by Wrongo)

Was the gay Canadian vegan who somehow ended up creating ‘Steve Bannon’s psychological warfare mindfuck tool’… [And they quote him saying] we ‘broke’ Facebook…

Cambridge Analytica also was used in the Brexit election campaign on the side of the “Leave” faction. And, The Hill reports that CA met with the Russian oil firm, Lukoil, three times in 2014 and 2015. Lukoil was apparently interested in how data could be used to target US voters.

When this story broke, Facebook banned Cambridge Analytica from advertising on its platform. But, The Guardian reports that Facebook had known about this misuse of its data for two years, doing nothing about it. Facebook acknowledges that the data were obtained legally, but that this use violates its policies

Until now, Wrongo has been agnostic about foreign meddling in the 2016 election. But finally, this may be where the Mueller investigation is heading: Collaboration by the Trump campaign (through Cambridge Analytica) and Russian operatives on the development and deployment of these robustly targeted digital advertisements. This becomes clearer since the Guardian reports that Kogan, the data gatherer, was also working for a St. Petersburg university while he was working for Cambridge and running his app. The Guardian also implies that he had funding from the Russian government.

This is at the center of everything. Russia, Facebook, Trump, Mercer, Bannon, Brexit. All of these threads run through Cambridge Analytica.

And we shouldn’t ignore FB’s culpability. They contracted with the app developer. They transferred large amounts of data to Kogan for specific purposes. FB had the opportunity and obligation to oversee and enforce that contract, and they seem to have failed to do so.

If this happened only in the US, we might not have even heard about it. Luckily for the American public, part of this arrangement appears to be subject to EU data protection rules, so more of the story will come out.

This shows why the US badly needs a data privacy and data protection regime similar to Europe’s.

It’s time to WAKE UP America! We have to get sharp! We need to dig deeper. To go beyond headlines, and develop a real understanding of the issues confronting our Republic.

Otherwise, we can be bullshitted or manipulated, and our democracy will be lost.

To help you wake up, here is English singer, Lily Allen doing her 2009 song “The Fear”:

Sample Lyrics:

I don’t know what’s right and what’s real anymore

And I don’t know how I’m meant to feel anymore

And when do you think it will all become clear?

‘Cause I’m being taken over by the fear

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

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Monday Wake Up Call – February 26, 2018

The Daily Escape:

Johannapark, Leipzig, Germany – Via

Paul Pillar of Loeblog alerts us that casino magnate Sheldon Adelson is offering to pay for the move of the US embassy to Jerusalem:

Such an offer constitutes a sort of bonus to show Adelson’s satisfaction with how his earlier large financial contributions to Trump’s campaign helped to buy the president’s decision to move the US embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem. This move was a personal goal of Adelson, based on a personal affinity with Israel that exceeds any affinity he has with the United States. Looked at from the standpoint of U.S. interests rather than private interests, the move was a huge mistake. It isolated the United States and dealt a major blow to any remaining hope for a two-state solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

You remember Sheldon, worth $40 billion, the 19th-richest person in the world. Adelson is chairman and CEO of the Las Vegas Sands, the largest casino company in America. He was the largest donor, in both the 2012 and 2016 presidential campaigns. In 2012, Adelson told Forbes magazine that he was:

…against very wealthy people attempting to or influencing elections. But as long as it’s doable, I’m going to do it.

Adelson wanted the US embassy moved from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem, and his financial backing of Trump is thought to be the reason that Trump decided to make the move.

According to the Miscellaneous Receipts Act, any money received by the US Government must be placed into the US Treasury General Fund. The 31 USC 3302 was enacted to keep some sort of centralized control over government money, and that includes donations. Generally, unless there is a special act of Congress, a billionaire may not provide earmarked donations to the US Government.

However it may be that the State Department is exempt from needing Congressional approval for the Adelson “donation”. From the Slackexchange:

…the Department of State can accept donations for its use, which are automatically appropriated to the Department.

It would seem that money that helps build a new embassy would be for the State Department’s own use, and as long as Adelson doesn’t get naming rights (!), it is probably legal, and for Adelson, tax-deductible.

The “Sheldon Adelson Israel Embassy of the United States“. Kinda catchy. Some will say, look, this is money that the nation doesn’t have to spend. Just take it, and move on. But, when money buys government policy, you think “third world country”, not the US.

But here we are, in the USA. And Trump is happy to see government policy bought and paid for by private funds.

Why should Sheldon Adelson be allowed to use his money to make foreign policy for the US? Will anybody with a bagful of money be able to bribe the US government to advance their personal interests? Ooh, forgot: Citizens United lets them do just that.

Drain the swamp!

That swamp won’t be drained by Trump. If it is to be drained, we all have to wake up, turn out and vote, starting with the 2018 mid-term elections. To help America wake up, here are Michael Franti & Spearhead doing “We Don’t Stop”, live at Reggae On The River, in 2004:

Sample lyric:

They got a war for oil, a war for gold
A war for money and a war for souls
A war on terror, a war on drugs
A war on kindness and a war on hugs
A war on birds and a war on bees
They gotta a war on hippies tryin’a save the trees
A war with jets and a war with missiles
A war with high-seated government officials
Wall street war on high finance
A war on people who just love to dance
A war on music, a war on speech
A war on teachers and the things they teach
A war for the last five hundred years
War’s just messin’ up the atmosphere

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

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Monday Wake Up Call – February 19, 2018

The Daily Escape:

Gun Protest on Sunday in Ft. Lauderdale FL.

Trump linked two events last week, the shooting in Parkland, FL, and the Mueller indictments of 13 Russians for meddling in our election process, failing at both.

First, the Muller investigation. Trump suggested Saturday that the FBI failed to stop the Florida school shooting because it’s spending too much time on the Russia investigation:

We can agree that the FBI was derelict in investigating the tip about Nikolas Cruz. However, we can’t say that the Parkland shooting, or any other for that matter, could have been stopped. The Feds can’t foresee the future. This was another Trump ploy to discredit the FBI and the Mueller investigation as its work begins to bite deeply into the issues it was formed to investigate.

Trump tweeted on Sunday that the investigations into Russian meddling are creating chaos and divisions in the US. He said: “They are laughing their asses off in Moscow. Get smart America!”

On Sunday, David Frum said this in the Atlantic: (emphasis by Wrongo)

It’s worth thinking about what a patriotic president would have done in Trump’s situation. He would be leading the investigation himself. He would be scouring his own campaign—doing everything in his power to reassure the country that whatever the Russians may or may not have done, his government owed Putin nothing… Above all, he would be leading the demand for changes to election laws and practices, including holding Facebook to account for its negligence.

Why are Trump’s reactions so off the mark? Why is The Donald so defensive about something that is of ultimate importance, the integrity of our election process? Shouldn’t that be of great interest to anyone who has sworn to defend the Constitution?

Second, students from the Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School rallied in southern Florida to protest how the lack of gun regulations affects their lives. One student, Emma Gonzales, told the crowd:

In February of 2017, one year ago, President Trump repealed an Obama-era regulation that would have made it easier to block the sale of firearms to people with certain mental illnesses…Republican Senator Chuck Grassley of Iowa was the sole sponsor on this bill that stops the FBI from performing background checks on people adjudicated to be mentally ill and now he’s stating for the record, ‘Well, it’s a shame the FBI isn’t doing background checks on these mentally ill people.‘ Well, duh. You took that opportunity away last year.

Here’s what Grassley actually said after the Florida shootings:

We have not done a very good job of making sure that people that have mental reasons for not being able to handle a gun getting their name into the FBI files and we need to concentrate on that.

Grassley twists himself into a pretzel, trying to blame the FBI for what Grassley himself did. Who has these ethics?

Another Parkland student, Cameron Kasky, told CNN that many Republicans are only concerned with things like weddings cakes at same-sex weddings:

There is a segment of this society that will shrug this off and send their thoughts and prayers but march for hours over a rainbow wedding cake…

High school kids in Florida are standing up to the President and the Congress. Teenagers are unerring in calling out hypocrisy. Their tolerance for it is lower than that of adults, too. This may be the stone that starts the landslide against the Second Amendment absolutists in Washington. Let’s hope so.

Time to help those Florida teens wake up Trump and Congress. Wake them up to the need to ban assault weapons. To have background checks for all gun buyers, to have liability insurance for every gun owned. To help them wake up, here is Pearl Jam with “Jeremy” from their 1991 debut album “Ten”. The song was inspired by a newspaper article Eddie Vedder read about a high school student who shot himself in front of his English class:

Sample Lyric:

Dead lay in pools of maroon below
Daddy didn’t give attention
To the fact that mommy didn’t care
King Jeremy the wicked
Ruled his world

Jeremy spoke in class today
Jeremy spoke in class today
Clearly I remember
Pickin’ on the boy

Seemed a harmless little fuck
But we unleashed a lion

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

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