UA-43475823-1

The Wrongologist

Geopolitics, Power and Political Economy

Monday Wake-Up Call – August 20, 2018

The Daily Escape:

East Byram River, Greenwich CT – August 2018 iPhone photo by Wrongo. With so much recent rainfall, CT waterfalls are working hard.

This Monday, we depart from our usual ranting about politics and economics, and turn to the subject of text-analytics. The Atlantic has an article by Frank Partnoy about it. Text-analytics scans unstructured text, and pulls usable data from it, using a variety of algorithms. The technology is used extensively in the finance industry. Investment banks and hedge funds scour public filings, corporate press releases, and statements by executives to find slight changes in language that might indicate whether a company’s stock price is likely to go up or down. From Partnoy:

Goldman Sachs calls this kind of natural-language processing “a critical tool for tomorrow’s investors.” Specialty-research firms use artificial-intelligence algorithms to derive insights from earnings-call transcripts, broker research, and news stories.

More from Partnoy:

In a recent paper, researchers at Harvard Business School and the University of Illinois at Chicago found that a company’s stock price declines significantly in the months after the company subtly changes descriptions of certain risks. Computer algorithms can spot such changes quickly, even in lengthy filings, a feat that is beyond the capacity of most human investors.

Most of us use a form of the technology without knowing it, since it operates in background powering things like the spam filters on our email. Many companies also use text-analytics to monitor their reputation on social media, in online reviews, and to find wherever they are mentioned on the internet.

The technology has become so sophisticated that companies are now using it to scan employees’ emails to determine levels of employee engagement, employee stress, and morale. Many firms are sensitive about intruding on employee privacy, though courts have held that employees have virtually no expectation of privacy at work, particularly if they’ve been given notice that their correspondence may be monitored. But as language analytics improves, companies may have a hard time resisting the urge to mine employee information. Here is a blurb from one industry leader, KeenCorp:

KeenCorp’s revolutionary software uses proprietary artificial intelligence and psycholinguistic analysis. Its algorithm recognizes patterns and detects tension from regular e-mail and corporate messengers. It works unobtrusively in the background to provide automated and continuous reporting.

The software then assigns the analyzed messages a numerical index that purports to measure the level of employee engagement. When workers are feeling positive and engaged, the number is high; when they are disengaged or expressing negative emotions like tension, the number is low. This allows KeenCorp to create a “heat map” of employee engagement for company management.

KeenCorp says the heat maps have helped companies identify potential problems in the workplace, including audit-related concerns that accountants failed to flag. This can be a big issue in highly-regulated industries, like finance, health care, and pharmaceuticals.

The firm’s software can chart how employees react when a leader is hired or promoted. And one KeenCorp client investigated a branch office after its heat map suddenly started glowing and found that the head of the office had begun an affair with a subordinate.

Imagine, an office relationship threw off heat!

KeenCorp says that they don’t collect, store, or report any information at the individual level. They say all messages are “stripped and treated so that the privacy of individual employees is fully protected.”

But, it’s absolutely a short step to snooping on an individual employee. It is a simple extension of the technology to grab information about individuals, based on their heat map score. KeenCorp indicates that some potential clients want it.

If sufficient firms are seeking that information, that software enhancement will be developed by an outside firm, or by building an in-house data-mining system.

Another software, Vibe, searches through keywords and emoji in messages sent on Slack, a workplace-communication app. The algorithm reports in real time on whether a team is feeling disappointed, disapproving, happy, irritated, or stressed. While it isn’t a fully commercialized product, 500 companies have tried it.

At this point, text-analytics is an unproven technology. No data exist about how often such tools might suggest a false positive, a problem when none exists. Or even fail to reveal a problem at all.

A real issue is what will managements do if/when they are made aware of potential problems surfaced via text-analytics? HR departments survey morale all the time, and few have success in changing the paradigm.

Wrongo thinks that the ability to parse information closely is what separates really outstanding analysts from the mediocre. This software will help, not hinder great analysis.

OTOH, it is what all paranoids do with friends and family. It’s also important to note that not all wrongdoing will register on a heat map, no matter how finely tuned.

Facebooklinkedinrss

Monday Wake Up Call – August 13, 2018

(Wrongo will be taking the next few days off. He has blog fatigue, and also needs to work on some deferred maintenance here on the fields of Wrong. He’ll be back later this week, unless events require him to jump back in sooner.)

The Daily Escape:

Abandoned house, Wasco, OR – 2018 photo by Shaun Peterson.

We wake up today to Yanis Varoufakis, the former finance minister of Greece’s, review of “Crashed: How a Decade of Financial Crisis Changed the World” by Adam Tooze posted in The Guardian. Tooze is an economic historian at Columbia University in NYC.

This isn’t a review of Tooze’s book, which sounds fascinating. Rather, it’s a meditation on one of Varoufakis’s ideas in his review of the book. Varoufakis says: (emphasis by Wrongo)

Every so often, humanity manages genuinely to surprise itself. Events to which we had previously assigned zero probability push us into what the ancient Greeks referred to as aporia: intense bafflement urgently demanding a new model of the world we live in. The financial crash of 2008 was such a moment. Suddenly the world ceased to make sense in terms of what, a few weeks before, passed as conventional wisdom – even McDonald’s, for goodness sake, could not secure an overdraft from Bank of America!

Tooze focuses on the causes of the Great Recession in 2008, and the implications for our 10-year long economic recovery. He observes that neoliberalism’s mantra about markets had to be shelved to save the US economy: (emphasis by Wrongo)

Whereas since the 1970s the incessant mantra of the spokespeople of the financial industry had been free markets and light touch regulation, what they were now demanding was the mobilization of all of the resources of the state to save society’s financial infrastructure from a threat of systemic implosion, a threat they likened to a military emergency.

We have no idea where the current aporia will take us, particularly since this “moment” has already lasted 10 years, and the hard-won economic progress may be easily reversed. Varoufakis continues:

Moments of aporia produce collective efforts to respond to our bewilderment. In the late 18th century, the pains of the Industrial Revolution begat free-market economics. The crisis of 1848 brought us the Marxist tradition. The great depression produced both Keynes’s General Theory and Friedman’s monetarism.

We are clearly at a point of intense bewilderment. What direction is correct for our economy and our society? The concept of aporia may explain why no real solutions have emerged in the past 10 years.

Tooze thinks that the world economy today is at a similar point to where it was in 1914. That is, we’re headed to a global war based on the competition of the advanced economies for resources (this time, it’s markets, water and energy), while the Middle East is at war, competing to determine which variant of Islam will be transcendent.

Varoufakis thinks we are more likely to be where we were in 1930, just after the crash. Since 2008, like back then, income inequality has continued to grow, and we have a potential fascist movement in the wings. Varoufakis asks if today’s politicians have the vision, or the ability, to corral corporatist power on one side, and the emerging nationalist movement on the other.

We’re into the post-2008 world, one in which the owners of society, the largest corporations along with the international capitalists, portray austerity as our only answer. They stress the need for continued globalization and the upward transfer of wealth via tax cuts as the best chance to survive and prosper after the 2008 crash.

This is global capitalism at work: Continuing to extract all the wealth that it can in every economy with a compliant government.

People are getting near a breaking point. They want a better life, and they want to regain political control. The challenge for capitalists and their politicians is: Can they continue to distract the base, keeping them compliant with corporatism and the financialization of our capital markets?

Capitalism ought to fear nationalism, because a nationalist movement could easily rally the poor and the middle class against Wall Street and corporate America. But, for the moment, capitalism seems to be stirring the nationalist pot. To what end?

Whether a fight against Wall Street and Corporatism will emerge, whether it will evolve into a fascist-style rallying cry remains to be seen.

We’re too early in this iteration of aporia to know or to see where we are going clearly. We need an alternative to today’s global capitalism because the track we’re on could easily turn the world into a gigantic Easter Island-like landscape.

What alternative to today’s capitalism (if any) will develop? Will ordinary people have some say in the alternative?

Stay tuned.

Facebooklinkedinrss

Monday Wake Up Call – Fake News Edition

The Daily Escape:

On Facebook, this photo is said to be a view from 30,000 ft. of the California fires. But, it’s fake news. In reality, it’s a sunset over Albuquerque. The pic has been on the internet for months. Why would someone lie to their Facebook “friends”, about a picture of the fires?

What has happened to our society that lying about something like the CA fires seems worth the trouble?

Fake news has always been with us, but we’re reaching the point where we no longer can tell truth from fiction without considerable effort. The Atlantic had a story in March about an ambitious and first-of-its-kind MIT study published in Science: (emphasis by Wrongo)

The massive new study analyzes every major contested news story in English across the span of Twitter’s existence—some 126,000 stories, tweeted by 3 million users, over more than 10 years—and finds that the truth simply cannot compete with hoax and rumor. By every common metric, falsehood consistently dominates the truth on Twitter, the study finds: Fake news and false rumors reach more people, penetrate deeper into the social network, and spread much faster than accurate stories.

The leader of the MIT study, Soroush Vosoughi, an MIT data scientist who has studied fake news since 2013, offered this:

It seems to be pretty clear [from our study] that false information outperforms true information…And that is not just because of bots. It might have something to do with human nature.

And the data are truly scary. According to the study, false stories reach 1,500 people six times quicker, on average, than a true story does. And while false stories outperform the truth on every subject—including business, terrorism and war, science and technology, and entertainment, it probably isn’t news that fake news about politics regularly does the best at outperforming real news:

Twitter users seem almost to prefer sharing falsehoods. Even when the researchers controlled for every difference between the accounts originating rumors—like whether that person had more followers or was verified—falsehoods were still 70% more likely to get retweeted than accurate news.

One of the more disturbing findings was that fake news consistently reaches a larger audience, and it tunnels much more deeply into social networks than real news does. Why do fake news tweets do so well? The MIT team settled on two hypotheses:

  • First, fake news seems to be more “novel” than real news. The study found that falsehoods are often notably different from all the tweets that have appeared in a user’s timeline 60 days prior to their re-tweeting them
  • Second, fake news evokes much more emotion than the average tweet. The researchers found that fake tweets tended to elicit words associated with surprise and disgust, while accurate tweets used words associated with sadness and trust.

The key takeaway is really that content that arouses strong emotions spread further, faster, more deeply, and more broadly, than real news on Twitter.

Most depressing is that users who share accurate information have more followers, and send more tweets than fake-news sharers. They are more likely to be verified Twitter users. In short, the most trustworthy users have every obvious structural advantage that Twitter can give its best users.

And they still fail to connect as efficiently.

We have to wake up. Social media is amplifying falsehood at the expense of the truth, and no one knows how to reverse the trend.  We are living in a dangerous moment for a political system that relies on truth as a knowable reality shared by all Americans.

To help you wake up, we have a tune dedicated to Paul Manafort, Bob Dylan’s “Leopard Pill-Box Hat”. Manafort’s trial is revealing his penchant for purchasing, and wearing wild articles of clothing. Many Trump supporters are saying that Manafort had nothing to do with the Russian hacking, and no matter, he’ll be acquitted.

Both of those ideas are fake news.

There are very few good videos of Dylan performing his work. This is from the Bob Dylan 30th Anniversary Concert in October, 1992. Here, John Mellencamp performs his best impression of Dylan:

We will have to wait and see if Manafort, or any others in the Trump administration go to jail. Wrongo hopes that’s the case. If it happens, it will be a novel event: We didn’t send Nixon to prison for his crimes, we didn’t send Reagan to prison for his crimes, and we didn’t send Bush or Cheney to prison for their crimes ─ so we ended up with Mr. Fake News himself, Donald Trump.

When there is no punishment for the crimes, the criminals see no reason to stop their behavior.

Sample Lyric:

Well I, see you got your
Brand new leopard-skin pill-box hat
Yes I, see you got your
Brand new leopard-skin pill-box hat
Well, you must tell me, baby how your
Head feels under somethin’ like that.

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

Facebooklinkedinrss

Monday Wake Up Call – July 30, 2018

The Daily Escape:

Steptoe Butte from the Palouse Scenic Byway -2018 photo by Brooke Fitts for the WSJ

Wake up America! The Nation reports that a 6-year old migrant girl, who was separated from her mother at the border was sexually abused while in the “care” of your government: (brackets by Wrongo)

According to immigrant-rights advocates, a 6-year-old girl separated from her mother under the Trump administration’s “zero-tolerance” immigration policy was sexually abused while at an Arizona detention facility run by Southwest Key Programs. The child was then made to sign a form acknowledging that she was told to maintain her distance from her alleged abuser, who is an older [male] child being held at the same detention facility.

Let’s start with: What kind of company would make a 6-year old sign a release form? Second, what kind of company thinks a statement signed by a 6-year-old, will protect the company from liability?

It didn’t end there for the child, known by her initials D.L.:

But the nightmare wasn’t over. On June 22, Southwest Key again contacted D.L.’s father and informed him that the same boy initially cited for abuse had hit and fondled D.L. again.

The child, her mother and her father, who was already living in the US, have been reunited, but it wasn’t a happy ending:

According to D.L.’s mother, when the family came together again, the young girl was confused. “I hugged her, I was crying. She didn’t recognize me,” the mother said. “She told me that she thought I was never going to be with her again and that she was going to have to live with another lady. She behaved like she was still in detention. She wouldn’t touch me, hug me, or kiss me”….”She is still…following the rules of the detention center,” said the mother. “She doesn’t let them touch her, she doesn’t touch them. She wakes up at 6, and bathes and eats. She behaves like she is programmed.”

Recall that 30 days ago, one US immigration judge tried to call a halt to what ICE was doing: Bringing one and two-year-old children into the courtroom for proceedings where the children were supposed to represent themselves. That judge refused to move the cases forward.

Trump and his minions are willfully creating a generation of displaced people. People who have been traumatized so badly that they have lost the ability to stay connected to their families, pushed to estrangement by what had happened to them while in custody.

Abject cruelty has to be a dividing line for Americans. We need a new policy for dealing with families at the border. We need a top to bottom reform of ICE. The easiest question for any Independent voter or Democrat to answer is: “Here’s something Trump and the Republicans want. Do you want the same thing?

There’s no excuse for agreeing with a party that celebrates cruelty to children.

It’s your Monday Wake Up. There are 99 days left until the midterm elections. Register friends who aren’t registered. Drive people to the polls on Election Day. To help you wake up, listen to Dave Alvin performing his version of a Tom Russell song, “California Snow”. This is from Alvin’s 1998 album “Black Jack David”. It is a story by a border patrol agent:

Sample Lyric:

I catch the ones I’m able to
And watch the others slip away
I know some by their faces
And I even know some by name
I guess they think that we’re all
Movie stars and millionaires
I guess that they still believe
That dreams come true up here.

But I guess the weather’s warmer down in Mexico
And no one ever tells them ’bout the California snow.

Last winter I found a man and wife
Just about daybreak
Layin’ in a frozen ditch
South of the interstate
I wrapped ’em both in blankets
But she’d already died
The next day we sent him back alone
Across the borderline.

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

Facebooklinkedinrss

Tuesday Wake Up Call – July 24, 2018

The Daily Escape:

Dog Sculpture at the Hermitage Museum, St. Petersburg, Russia. Doesn’t the dog look like Vladimir Putin?  July 2018 photo by Conor Morrissey.

What does domestic terrorism look like? We may soon be seeing it up close and personal. Michael Scheuer, a former senior CIA official, author of the NYT bestseller, “Imperial Hubris” (and apparent world-class paranoid) said it is “quite near time” to kill American citizens who oppose Trump. From boingboing:

In a now-deleted blog post (cached version here) Scheuer singles out “Strzok, Comey, McCabe, Page, and Rosenstein; worshipers of tyranny, like the Democratic members of Congress, the Clintons, the FBI, and the Obamas; apparent traitors like Brennan, Hayden, and Clapper; all of the mainstream media; and the tens of thousands of government-admitted-and-protected, violent, criminal, and illegal immigrants.”

Scheuer just gave us the far-right’s hit list. He approves of the growing interest on the right in assassinating those opposed to Trump. Boingboing continues: (emphasis by Wrongo)

American patriots have so far, praise God, been remarkably disciplined in not responding to tyranny and violence with violence. For now they must remain so, armed but steady. But the time for such patience is fast slipping away; indeed, that patience is quickly becoming an obviously rank and self-destructive foolishness. If Trump does not act soon to erase the above noted tyranny and tyrants, the armed citizenry must step in and eliminate them.

He didn’t stop there:

In a later blog post, published July 17, says The Inquisitr, Scheuer accuses ‘Israel and wealthy Jewish-Americans’ of conspiring to ‘destroy the Western tradition, manipulate U.S. elections, and to tear American society apart.’

That’s a lot of enemies. But you are thinking this is just a wacko former CIA guy whose government power base is gone. He may be a wacko, but he’s married to a current high-ranking CIA officer, Alfreda Frances Bikowsky. And Scheuer seems to have a long and very precise list. Chekhov said:

One must never place a loaded rifle on the stage if it isn’t going to go off. It’s wrong to make promises you don’t mean to keep.

Well, the gun is sitting on the stage. Was Charlottesville simply their training camp?

Wake up America, your time may be running out. The mid-term election may be our final chance to turn the country back on a positive direction. To help you wake up, here is Mary Gauthier performing “Mercy Now” in 2010 at the Music Fog studio in Nashville, TN. Gauthier didn’t begin her singer/songwriter career until she was 35, after struggling through alcoholism and drug addiction. This is from her 2005 album, “Mercy Now”:

Sample Lyric:

My church and my country could use a little mercy now
As they sink into a poisoned pit it’s going to take forever to climb out
They carry the weight of the faithful who follow them down
I love my church and country, they could use some mercy now

She apparently wrote this about George W. Bush and Dick Cheney, but it is even more relevant today, when there is nearly zero mercy in our culture.

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

Facebooklinkedinrss

Monday Wake Up Call – Impeach Rosenstein Edition

The Daily Escape:

Sauron’s hot tub, Grand Prismatic Spring, Yellowstone NP -2018 photo by calibeerking

Our Monday wake-up calls usually involve a single news item that gives Wrongo the chance to generalize from the specific. This weekend had at least two, and neither concerned NATO, Putin, or Trump.

First up, few probably know the name of US Congressman Daniel M. Donovan (R-NY). He is the guy who represents Staten Island and South Brooklyn. He won over the convicted criminal former GOP Congressman Michael Grimm, among others. He’s the only Republican House member in NYC. Donovan introduced HR 6054, a bill that would make it illegal to wear a mask at a demonstration. This seems to be the best hot take:

The proposed law would enhance penalties for anyone who interferes with another person’s “protected rights” while wearing a disguise. So, the guy replacing convicted felon Michael Grimm offers a piece of nuisance legislation to protect those very fine Nazi people of Charlottesville’s “unite the right” rally. The bill is co-sponsored by Rep. Peter King (R-NY), Rep. Ted Budd (R-NC), and Rep. Paul Gosar (R-AZ).

Unmasking laws are not new at the state level. It’s been illegal to wear a mask in New York, if you are accompanied by at least one other mask-wearer, since 1845. Later, unmasking laws were used to combat the Ku Klux Klan in Alabama, where it’s been illegal to wear a mask (except on certain holidays) since 1949. Georgia also has an anti-masking law targeted at the Klan.

Yet, Wrongo never thought we’d see a time that Congress would attempt to criminalize speech. But here it is: if somehow, this bill became law, some forms of speech will be criminalized.

Watching what’s happening in Congress, we may be underestimating the threat posed to our freedom and liberty. If you think this is just a Monday over-reaction, let’s move on to item # 2. TPM is reporting: (emphasis by Wrongo)

Conservatives in the House are preparing a document to impeach Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein and could file the document as early as Monday, Politico reported Friday afternoon, citing conservative sources on Capitol Hill.

House Freedom Caucus members Rep. Mark Meadows (R-NC) and Rep. Jim Jordan (R-OH), two of Rosenstein’s most vocal critics, are leading the effort. For what its worth, Trey Gowdy said he isn’t in favor of impeaching Rosenstein.

Can’t happen, you say? Well consider this: With the confirmation of Brian Benczkowski to the DoJ as a possible replacement for current Deputy AG, and Mueller boss Rod Rosenstein, Zandar speculates:

…should Rosenstein be fired, Robert Mueller’s boss would almost certainly become Benczkowski, a person with no prosecutorial experience whatsoever, somebody already tainted, if not compromised by Russian money laundering, and somebody who worked for Donald Trump’s campaign directly. And no, he hasn’t said that he would recuse himself should that become the case.

No one knows how far this will go, but it gives Trump the ability to fire Rosenstein, and replace him with his ally, (and Jeff Session’s buddy), the newly-installed Benczkowski.

Now that Trump has his guy in place at the DOJ, some senior House Republicans seem to prefer impeachment of Rosenstein to letting the Mueller probe continue. That should tell you everything that we need to know about how politicized the Republicans have made this inquiry.

Is this just a political gamble by the Freedom Caucus? They seem convinced that the political pendulum won’t swing back—that they’re permanently in power. Otherwise, why would they be trying incredible shit like this?

They are ignoring the obvious response to evidence that our nation has come under assault, and instead, would rather impeach the person responsible for managing the investigation!

Time to knock some sense into the heads of these Republicans, and that will only happen by pushing them out of controlling the House in November. That requires all of us to wake up, and work hard to get out the vote. It requires a commitment to do more than just send texts, or complain on Facebook.

We have to work extremely hard this fall in our local Congressional districts. We have to elect people who won’t think HR 6054 is a super idea.

People who don’t think that impeaching the Deputy AG is just fine, because he’s…what?

To help you wake up, here are the O’Jays, with their 1972 monster hit, “Back Stabbers”:

Sample Lyric:

(They smile in your face)
Smiling faces… smiling faces sometimes tell lies (Back stabbers)
(They smile in your face)
I don’t need low down, dirty bastards (Back stabbers)

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

Facebooklinkedinrss

Monday Wake Up Call – July 9, 2018

The Daily Escape:

Turkeys on the Fields of Wrong – June 2018 photo by Wrongo

We wake up this Monday in an America that seems unlike what it should be, or what it was a few years ago. Two quick stories. First, this action by the Trumpistas encapsulates everything horrible about the Trump administration’s approach to the world: (emphasis by Wrongo)

A resolution to encourage breast-feeding was expected to be approved quickly and easily by the hundreds of government delegates who gathered this spring in Geneva for the United Nations-affiliated World Health Assembly…. Then the United States delegation, embracing the interests of infant formula manufacturers, upended the deliberations.

American officials sought to water down the resolution by removing language that called on governments to “protect, promote and support breast-feeding” and another passage that called on policymakers to restrict the promotion of food products that many experts say can have deleterious effects on young children.

More from the NYT:

When that failed, they turned to threats…Ecuador, which had planned to introduce the measure, was the first to find itself in the cross hairs.

The Americans were blunt: If Ecuador refused to drop the resolution, Washington would unleash punishing trade measures and withdraw crucial military aid. The Ecuadorean government quickly acquiesced.

They scrambled to find another sponsor for the resolution, but at least a dozen countries, most of them in Africa and Latin America, backed off, citing fears of retaliation.

The Russians ultimately introduced the measure — and, no surprise, the American delegation did not threaten them. From Booman:

The Trump administration demonstrated almost every flaw they have here. They put the interests of corporate lobbyists ahead of the health of babies. They showed a complete contempt for science and the consensus of the international community. They abused their power and threatened well-meaning and innocent nations simply because they could.

The message is clear: If a country needs to stand up to America, they should go running to the Godfather, Russia, who will do the right thing. And for America? Another horrible outcome brought to you by Donald Trump.

Second, Politico reported that Trump is obstructing the plan to build a new Gateway Tunnel between New York and New Jersey:

The obstacle is not the usual red tape that delays US infrastructure….the environmental review for the new Hudson tunnel was fast-tracked and forwarded to the Transportation Department for approval in an unusually speedy two years. The obstacle is the Trump administration, which vowed in its infrastructure plan to accelerate the permits process, but has been sitting on this one without explanation. “I wouldn’t say we’re slow-walking it,” one administration official told me, before laughing. “OK, maybe a little.”

Ha-ha. The truth is that Trump is trying to force Chuck Schumer to vote for Trump’s Wall in order to get money for the Tunnel. Here’s the NYT: (brackets and edits by Wrongo)

President Donald Trump was in an unusually bipartisan mood on September 7, when he convened a White House meeting about a massive project to build a rail tunnel under the Hudson River.

The politicians in attendance thought [they had a deal]…. “Ask anyone on either side of the aisle. It was very upbeat, total agreement this needs to get done,” Christie told me. King describes the meeting as a love-in: “Not a single negative word, great body language, everybody on the same page.”

After the meeting, though, Trump asked Schumer to stay behind. He bluntly offered another deal, an offer suggesting he had a rather different conception of Gateway’s larger importance: Schumer could have his tunnel if Trump got his border wall with Mexico.

Schumer said he couldn’t make that trade. And ever since, the Trump administration has been doing just about everything in its power to derail the Gateway project. In March, the president threatened to veto an entire $1.2 trillion government spending bill if it included anything at all for Gateway.

It always comes back to his F*king Wall. He’s promised something he can’t deliver, so the only thing he knows how to do is try to take hostages.

This will simply get worse if we fail to turn out in massive numbers in November, and try to re-take the Senate, and absolutely take back the House of Representatives. To help you wake up today, here is John Prine’s “Long Monday” from his 2005 “Fair and Square” album, which won the Grammy for best Contemporary Folk Album:

There are a host of great musicians on the album, including Jerry Douglas, Allison Krauss and Dan Tyminski. Mindy Smith sings harmony on Long Monday.

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

Facebooklinkedinrss

Monday Wake Up Call – Cape Cod Edition

The Daily Escape:

Cape Cod morning – 1950 painting by Edward Hopper

(Today, Wrongo and Ms. Right are on our way to Cape Cod for a few days of bonfires, bicycling, surfcasting, and hanging with kids and grandkids. Blogging will be infrequent, but you can expect a Saturday Soother on, well, Saturday.)

This morning, Wrongo feels the need to bore you with a concept from historian Peter Turchin, taken from his book Ages of Discord, which provides some insight into where America is today. Turchin posits that historical eras are either integrative periods when people find reasons to cooperate, and join forces, or disintegrative periods, when reasons to split apart become dominant.

Turchin identifies three key factors that can create the disintegrative periods:

  • Competition and conflict among an expanding population of elites
  • Declining real wage for an expanding population of workers
  • State financial collapse (unpayable debt)

Does any of that sound familiar? Turchin’s theory is that history experiences cycles which, in non-industrialized economies, tend to last between 200-300 years. In America, the cycles from start to finish are much shorter, about 150 years, due to a faster pace of change.

His demonstrates his theory about a positive phase (the integrative phase) and a negative phase (the disintegrative phase) in the first of two American cycles, from 1780 to 1920. The positive phase lasted from about 1780 to about 1840, while the negative phase lasted from about 1840 to about 1920. Turchin contends that the second American cycle began in 1920, and is not yet complete. The positive phase lasted from 1920 to around 1970, and the negative stage has lasted from 1970 to the present.

He contends that the best parts of positive eras typically last only a generation or two, such as 1810 – 1840, and 1940 – 1970 in the US, before elite individuals and groups abandon consensus politics to pursue ever harsher exploitation and competition to enrich themselves.

A cycle begins with an undersupply of labor, such as happened after the American Revolution. This shortage of labor caused a rise in real wages and general economic progress. This positive phase peaked around 1820. It was a time that reflected a sense of national purpose and a desire for unity among Americans in the aftermath of the War of 1812.

But the division between the industrial North and the slaveholding, agrarian South continued, creating rivalry among the elites, along with political polarization, culminating in the Civil War. The negative phase of the cycle continued afterward, with massive strikes, many of them violent, in the late 19th Century. Meanwhile, income inequality peaked during the Gilded Age as elites profited from low worker’s wages and poor working conditions.

In modern America, we are largely governed by religious, geographic (local, state and federal), and economic institutions. And many compete with each other for resources, and the separation of powers among them is becoming hazy. Today, our “economic” government is the corporation.

If you think about it, our current political struggles are between geographic governments and both the religious and economic ones. Republicans, and many Democrats, support the efforts of both to increase their influence over the lives of the people, often through the geographic governments.

And this isn’t simply a minor change in who is doing the governing, they threaten our democracy.

We’re blowing up our institutions, but it’s not in reaction to any looming danger. It’s because we’ve been conned into thinking that September 11 was the same as Pearl Harbor. And the threat of immigrants today is the same as the threat of a Japanese invasion was in 1941. And that modern social policies threaten the religions of some people.

Time to wake up America! We cannot surrender to fear, to corporatism, or to forever war. We have entered a disintegrative phase, but there is time to pull out of it.

If you care.

To help you wake up, here is Pink Floyd with “Ordinary Men” from their classic album, “Dark Side of the Moon”:

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

 

Facebooklinkedinrss

Monday Wake Up Call – Bad Journalism Edition

Raul Ilargi of The Automatic Earth gets us thinking about truth in journalism:

The two most viral photographs of the ‘Trump Separation Scandal’ have now been debunked, or at the very least been proven to have been used ‘out of context’. This is a dangerous development, as are the reasons to use them the way they have been. Both pictures are of children who had not been separated from their mothers at all. But both were used to depict just that: a child being taken away from its mother.

Here are the two pictures. The first shows a Honduran toddler sobbing. The photo was taken on June 14th.  It was used widely by the media, with the accompanying message that the child was about to be separated from its mother:

But the NYT reports the child was not separated from her mother. That was reported on June 23rd. Pro-Trump news outlets have had a fine time calling the photo fake news. And the same photo was photoshopped by Time Magazine for a cover that used the little girl juxtaposed with Donald Trump looming over her, with the caption, ”Welcome to America”:

Now, Time may not have known the true status of the child at the time when they made the choice to place her on the cover with Trump, but they’re absolutely ok with using it. The NYT quotes them:

Our cover and our reporting capture the stakes of this moment.

But, there is a major difference between illustrating a moment, and reporting. A Facebook funds-raising page using the original photo above inspired hundreds of thousands of people to donate $19 million for a nonprofit legal defense fund for immigrants and refugees.

Is that a good outcome from bad reporting? If people are interested in donating, why trick them into doing it? Back to Ilargi:

That’s what is dangerous: seeing a photo of a child in distress makes people halt their critical thinking. That’s also why such photos are used. They help build a narrative that doesn’t have to be factual to shock people. But at that point TIME becomes a fiction magazine; it’s where it leaves journalism behind.

There also was a picture of a caged little boy crying, “Detained by ICE at a border facility” said the caption:

But the image of the crying, caged young boy, which went viral, was actually taken at a demonstration. RT reports that this photo was shared by activist journalist Jose Antonio Vargas as a comment on the Trump administration’s immigration crackdown on families. More from RT:

It has since emerged that the picture was in fact not from a detention facility at all, and instead was taken at a protest against Trump’s immigration policies held on June 10 outside Dallas City Hall.

Some activists argue that the origin of the photo is irrelevant, that it portrays a true problem, even if this particular image is not a true representation of the facts on the ground.

But we’re on a slippery slope with that reasoning. We shouldn’t be using any available means to message against even a wrong policy.

What’s dangerous about this approach is that if journalists are allowed to spread a narrative that isn’t confirmed as true, they may be “reporting” unsourced stories simply to make a point. Then, no one will ever know fact from fiction.

This is the downside of instant, global communications. The narrative can outrun the truth, the myth can become fact. Since social media compensation is often tied to “clicks” on an article, publishers and editors have a conflict of interest: sell the truth, or sell the narrative?

Children are being taken from parents at US borders, and Trump’s policy needs a healthy debate. But playing loose with the facts cannot be permitted by the media.

Time for the media to wake up! It helps no one if the charge “Fake News” is true. To help them wake up, here is Billy Bragg doing “It Says Here” from his 1984 album “Brewing Up with Billy Bragg”:

Sample Lyrics:

It says here that the Unions will never learn
It says here that the economy is on the upturn
And it says here we should be proud
That we are free
And our free press reflects our democracy

If this does not reflect your view you should understand
That those who own the papers also own this land

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

Facebooklinkedinrss

Monday Wake Up Call – June 18, 2018

The Daily Escape:

Doe Crossing Housatonic River, Litchfield County CT – June 2018 photo by JH Cleary

Now that the Supreme Court’s decision allowing Ohio Republicans to purge voter rolls solely on the basis of not voting, North Carolina Republicans have wasted no time trying to stop groups that vote Democratic from being allowed to cast ballots ahead of midterms: (emphasis by Wrongo)

The last time Republicans in the North Carolina Legislature enacted a law making it harder for some of the state’s residents to vote, a federal court said the statute targeted African-American voters “with almost surgical precision,” and threw it out.

That was last year. Now the legislators are back with a new set of election proposals, and an unconventional plan to make them stick:

Shortly before midnight on Wednesday, Republican Senators unveiled legislation that would eliminate the final Saturday of early voting in state elections, a day that typically draws a large share of black voters to the polls. That followed a Republican proposal last week to place a constitutional amendment on the November ballot that would require all voters to display a photo ID before casting votes.

In addition, party leaders say they are preparing a constitutional amendment that would curb the power of the Democratic governor, Roy Cooper, over the state board that controls election procedures.

Since Republicans swept into power in 2010, controlling both the North Carolina Legislature and the governorship, the state has become ground zero for struggles over tightening election rules and weakening voting rights.

Democrats have recently made gains in the state, most notably with Mr. Cooper’s win of the governorship in 2016. That doesn’t mean the Republicans aren’t still trying to suppress votes. More from the NYT:

This time, however, the party’s tactics have changed. The voter ID amendment would require approval by citizens as well as legislators. The final Saturday of voting has been popular — nearly 200,000 citizens voted on that day in 2016 — and African-Americans turned out at a rate 40 percent greater than their share of the electorate. But the bill to eliminate that Saturday would apportion those lost hours among other early voting days, so the total hours of polling would not change.

Look for more states to adopt the tactic of putting voter suppression efforts into state constitutions the same way Republicans did with gay marriage 15 years ago. The Republicans are willing to be transparent about disenfranchising everyone who isn’t inclined to vote for them.

The Republicans know that about half the country doesn’t like their ideas, which is why they are trying to suppress voting. If they get their way, their messaging will appeal to everyone who still has the vote.

Maybe it’s time Democrats are brutally honest about what they are doing. Maybe Democratic candidates need to start by saying:

I plan to make it as easy to vote as possible. I want every eligible voter at the polls, no matter what we have to do

Time to wake up America, your voting rights are under attack by the Republican Party and the John Roberts court. To help you wake up, here is Twisted Sister with their only top 40 hit, 1984’s “I’m Not Gonna Take It

During this year’s teachers’ strikes, the song was used as a rallying cry by teachers striking in Arizona.

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

Facebooklinkedinrss