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The Wrongologist

Geopolitics, Power and Political Economy

Saturday Soother – Great Wall Edition, January 12, 2019

The Daily Escape:

Mutianya Section of the Great Wall, about two hours from Beijing

As we cruise into the weekend, and as Wrongo writes this, Trump has yet to declare a national emergency about the southern border. For some background, Time Magazine reports: (parenthesis by Wrongo)

(Declaring a national emergency)…would be a drastic action, but he (Trump) would hardly be the first American president to take extraordinary steps for what he sees as the interest of the nation.

In fact, not only are national emergencies more common than most Americans probably realize, they can also go on for decades — and whether or not Trump declares an emergency for the wall, the nation is already subject to dozens of emergency declarations that are ongoing today.

To be exact, 31 national emergencies are on the books.

The oldest is the national emergency with respect to Iran, declared Nov. 14, 1979. It’s been in place for more than 39 years. The most recent was declared just last November. It was to block the property of certain persons who contributed to destabilizing Nicaragua. Who knew?

The National Emergencies Act of 1976 in theory, requires the President to spell out the powers from specific laws that make it legal for him to declare a national state of emergency, and requires the House and the Senate to review the declaration every six months to see if it’s still necessary. To end a national emergency, both chambers of Congress have to pass a joint resolution.

The shutdown debate is becoming more about presidential power than it is about secure borders. Trump is willing to press the bet. It remains to be seen if Democrats want to play that game as well.

But, it’s time for the weekend to begin! Here in Connecticut’s northwest hills, the morning temperature is expected to be single digits. So beyond the constant shutdown news, we need serious soothing from the cold weather.

Let’s start by brewing up a cup of Portland OR’s Coava Coffee’s single origin Karuthi AA Kenyan coffee ($15/250 grams). The brewer says that it has a long, resonant finish centered on berry and coconut, supported by ginger blossom and chocolate.

Now take a look outside while staying on a warm perch. Today, we are switching from our usual Baroque music to the blues, which seems appropriate after the week we’ve had. Listen to Stevie Ray Vaughn’s “Wall of Denial” from his 1989 album, “In Step”.

Sample of Lyrics:

A wall of denial – is fallin’ down
Wo, it’s fallin’ so hard – down to the ground
Never knew something so strong could be washed away by tears
But this wall of denial was just built on fear

This song should play in its entirety, every time Trump mentions “Border Wall“.

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

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Saturday Soother – January 5, 2019

The Daily Escape:

Bryce Canyon NP, looking down at the Wall Street trail – this photo was taken on New Year’s Eve by natsmith69. The photographer says he didn’t hike down because of the government shutdown.

Two topics for today: First, the December jobs report, which was encouraging in the face of a roller-coaster stock market. Employment rose a very strong 312,000 jobs in December, bringing the full count of jobs added for 2018 up to 2.6 million, the strongest year for job gains since 2015.

Unemployment ticked up to 3.9%, largely because more people were drawn into the labor market as measured by the civilian labor force participation rate. It moved up two-tenths to 63.1%, its highest level since 2014. That’s a reminder that the job market still has capacity to expand.

Wage growth accelerated slightly, and tied cyclical highs. Weekly hours worked edged up, job gains for the prior two months were revised upwards, and a very high 70% of private industries added jobs.

It seems that low unemployment has finally started to lead to pressure to raise pay.

Despite all of this positive labor market news, there are economic headwinds in the volatile stock market, Trump’s trade war, and slower economic growth abroad.

Some economists are forecasting a grim outlook for near-term US economic growth. OTOH, low unemployment, job gains, and higher wages should boost consumer spending, which accounts for almost 70% of the US economy.

Try to keep calm about the stock market. There isn’t much definitive economic news that should make you decide to bail out of stocks just now.

Item two: The shut-down. On Friday, Sen. Charles Schumer (D-NY) after another meeting about the shut-down, said that Trump threatened to keep the government closed for “months or even years” until he gets his desired wall funding.

Speaker Pelosi (D-CA) described the meeting as a “lengthy and sometimes contentious conversation with the president.” She said both sides agreed to continue talks. She then said: (brackets by Wrongo)

 We cannot resolve this until we open up [the] government…

So far, most Republicans are keeping a stiff upper lip, saying just what Trump says. But there are a few cracks, notably Sen. Cory Gardner (R-CO) and possibly, Susan Collins (R-ME), who are asking to re-open the federal government without a deal on funding the border wall.

Clearly there is a deal to be had. It probably looks like funding Trump’s wall, which is a rounding error in the federal budget, in return for passing a Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) relief bill as part of immigration reform. Lawmakers in both parties are sympathetic to immigrants who entered the country illegally as children.

The Hill reports that Sen. Roy Blunt (R-MO), a member of GOP leadership, said that while he hasn’t been involved in overall immigration discussions, expanding the scope of negotiations could be one way to break the logjam:

You know, sometimes the best way to solve a problem is to make it bigger, and that’s always one of the options here…

Sen. Lamar Alexander (R-TN) is urging Trump to strike a deal on comprehensive immigration reform:

Why would he not agree to such a thing…We could go small, we could go a little bigger… but I’d like to see the president say, ‘OK, we’ve got a new Congress. We’ve got divided government. I’m the president who can actually make this happen.’

Sen. Rob Portman (R-OH) is pitching his proposal that would establish a $25 billion border trust fund and codify protections for DACA recipients. Remember that Trump rejected a similar offer from Senate Democrats last year, so it isn’t clear where the goalposts for such a deal are today. We’ll have to watch the drama unfold.

Time to let go of the news and settle into a Saturday soother, maybe while taking down ornaments. Start the process of soothing by brewing up a yuuge cup of Panama Ninety Plus Perci Lot 50 coffee ($60/8 oz.) from Birdrock Coffee of San Diego, CA. Coffee Review rates it at 97, with tastes of fruit while being giddily brandy-toned. Maybe that’s a rave.

Now settle back in a comfy chair and listen to the “Adagio for Oboe, Cello, Organ and Strings” by Domenico Zipoli. Zipoli was an Italian Jesuit priest who lived much of his life in what is now Argentina. He studied with Scarlatti, became a Jesuit, worked as a missionary and died in 1726 in Argentina at age 38:

If fate had granted Zipoli another 20 to 25 years, he would be regarded today as a major composer.

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What Are You Doing New Year’s Eve?

The Daily Escape:

Happy New Year from the Wrong family

At the Mansion of Wrong, it is our annual party for our oldest friends. We’ll start with a wonderful vintage champagne. Then, move on to caviar sandwiches, and lobster rolls. All of that will be followed by perfectly cooked medium-rare beef tenderloin and a great Cabernet.

For this one day, we’ll act as if the problems of the world are at bay, so that we can concentrate on what is right with our world, despite how much awfulness there is everywhere we look.

One ray of hope as 2019 commences concerns a mother’s reaction to a tragedy. Mollie Tibbetts, a 20-year-old student at the University of Iowa went missing while out for a jog this July. Her body was recovered a month later, and an immigrant who was living and working in Iowa was charged with her murder.

Her killing became fodder for the Right’s efforts to stir up the nation’s anti-immigrant feelings. Some people were animated by deep and ugly racism. But Mollie’s family have chosen a path of solidarity in the time since their daughter’s alleged murderer was arrested. The WaPo has an update about the Tibbets’s actions.

It seems that Tibbetts’s mother, Laura Calderwood, has taken in a local Latino teenager whose parents initially fled Iowa amidst the local anti-immigrant blowback her murder provoked. More interesting, the kid Calderwood is effectively fostering actually knows Tibbetts’s alleged killer quite well. These two stories, on different arcs, are now taking shape under the same roof.

Calderwood says that hosting the boy who wants to finish high school before moving on, accords with her own belief about doing the right thing. She also thinks it is what her daughter would have wanted.

On New Year’s Eve, we are all searching for some reason for hope, for optimism in the face of so much that’s wrong. As we close out a truly awful 2018, it’s important to reflect not just upon the global cruelty, and the intense xenophobia at home. We should also acknowledge that mercifully, there are Laura Calderwoods who demonstrate an entirely different path.

Here is a song for New Year’s played two ways. There are many versions of “What Are You Doing New Years?” and these are two of Wrongo’s favorites. First, the saxophonist King Curtis in an instrumental version from 1968:

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

Next the great Ella Fitzgerald with the best vocal version, from 1960:

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

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The Biggest News Story of 2018

The Daily Escape:

Santa Dash, Glasgow Scotland, 2012 photo via Just Run lah

Hope that you had a relaxing Christmas, one that you will remember, and not because you bought a Lexus. Here at the Mansion of Wrong, the party is still underway. Our last guests will be leaving on January 2nd.

In reading the endless lists of the most important news stories of 2018, Wrongo felt that the major news story was Trump’s awesome amount of lying. Back in the dark ages, before GW Bush and Cheney, the idea of a president lying outright to the American people was cause for outrage. The liar’s poll numbers would drop immediately and all of the press would call out the transgression.

Now, when Donald Trump actually lies daily, telling whoppers that are stunning to behold, there is little outrage, and certainly none from the Right. This is exacerbated by the main stream media, many of whom report Trump’s lies as if they’re news stories, often without providing any context that tells the truth of the matter. They have become complicit in Trump’s dishonesty, and we all suffer as a result.

It’s Orwellian: Lies become truth, truth is devalued. We can’t be an informed people when the information we receive is often full of lies and distortions.

This is without question, the biggest story of 2018.

Next column, Wrongo will reprise his 2018 Wrong predictions, looking back on the year that was, scoring his successes and his prognostication failures.

Now, listen to Yo-Yo Ma and Alison Krauss perform “The Wexford Carol”, an ancient Irish carol. The great Canadian violinist, Natalie MacMaster joins them. This is from their 2008 album, “Songs of Joy & Peace”:

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

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Monday Wake Up Call – Christmas Eve, 2018

The Daily Escape:

Christmas in Karachi, Pakistan: Who needs reindeer when you have camels? Dawn, the English language newspaper had pictures of people celebrating Christmas this week in Karachi. Revelers decorate Christmas trees and churches all over the city for the occasion. This procession is on Karachi’s main street, and is part of the celebrations by the Christian community (which many local Muslims join, apparently for the fun of it).

This Pakistani scene may give you some hope, or you may just see it as an exception to the rule that people of different religions must always be at each other’s throats.

But, it’s Christmas Eve, and Wrongo chooses to be hopeful. Here’s his wish for peace on earth and good will to all.

Let’s try waking up to a better day, and a better year in 2019. To help you wake up, listen to Jack Johnson singing “Someday at Christmas” written by Ron Miller and Bryan Wells and performed on Johnson’s “This Warm December – A Brushfire Holiday Vol 1” in 2008:

Lyrics:

Someday at Christmas, men won’t be boys
Playing with bombs like boys play with toys
One warm December, our hearts will see
A world where men are free

And some day at Christmas, there’ll be no wars
When we have learned what Christmas is for
When we have found out what life is really worth
Then there will be peace on earth

Someday all of our dreams will come to be
Someday in a world where men are free
Maybe not in time for you or for me
But someday at Christmas time

And someday at Christmas, there’ll be no tears
All men are equal and no men have fears
One shining moment my heart ran away
From the world that we live in today

And someday at Christmas, men will not fail
Take hope because your love will prevail
Someday in a new world that we can only start
With hope in every heart

And someday all of our dreams will come to be
Someday in a world where men are free
Maybe not in time for you or for me
But someday at Christmas time

Well, there will be peace on earth
I said there will be peace on earth

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

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Sunday Cartoon Blogging – December 23, 2018

(Columns will be limited from now through New Year’s Day as the Wrong family and our wrong friends gather to celebrate Christmas and the New Year. Wrongo may post a few tunes of the season, or a few photos that evoke this particular time of the year. Happy holidays and happy New Year to all who read this made-by-hand blog)

A list of Shutdown Cocktails:

Christmas shopping fails:

All the kids have Xmas lists:

 

Some people are never happy on Christmas:

Some people always say “you people”:

 A Cardinal who won’t be accused of pedophilia:

Wrongo leaves you with a rousing piece of holiday music. Here is “Hark the Herald Angels Sing” performed live in St. Paul’s Cathedral in London. The entire congregation joins in the singing. It is conducted by the late John Scott:

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

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Saturday Soother – December 15, 2018

The Daily Escape:

Outdoor market, Istanbul, Turkey – 2013 photo by Wrongo

As we cruise toward year’s end, we’ve received a political Christmas present in the form of Paul Ryan’s retirement from Congress. On Ryan’s heading into the Wisconsin sunset, newly minted House Rep Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-NY), had this take:

It’s pathetic how journalists and Republicans often say that Ryan is a thoughtful and principled member of Congress, a genius by some accounts. He is lauded for being elected to the House at age 28, and working his way up to Speaker. But he’s left few footprints on important legislation, except for the Trump tax cut in 2017.

Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez was elected to the House at 28 just like Ryan. Unlike Ryan, Ocasio-Cortez has been called out for everything from her wardrobe, to her active commentary on Twitter. Many of the same Conservatives who lionized Ryan say that Ocasio-Cortez is naïve, undisciplined and unwilling to play by their rules. Freshman Congressman, especially young female Democrats are expected to keep their heads down, and speak only when spoken to.

But no one ever changed anything by going along to get along. She’s been outspoken, but she’s done so in a manner which spotlights legitimate issues. That tends to rankle the established power structure, who prefer the status quo, because it’s predictable, manageable, and largely male.

It’s far too early to know if Ocasio-Cortez will be a political force to reckon with, or a transformative legislator. But the fact that she’s willing to speak out and rattle cages is a good sign. Congress has needed new (and younger) voices for a long time. It will be interesting to see what sort of rabble-rousing she’ll take on, and if it will cause meaningful change.

Is there a chance that she’ll accomplish far more than Paul Ryan? Sure, but that’s a low bar. Ryan always played by the rules while working his way up the ladder. That’s great if you are ambitious, which is all that Ryan was really about. Oh, and Ayn Rand.

Consider one of Ryan’s final acts as Speaker:

By three votes, the House of Representatives advanced a farm bill, but not before the Republican leadership slipped in a provision that would turn off any possibility of the Congress’s fast-tracking an effort to turn off American aid to Saudi Arabia due to that country’s abominable war in Yemen.

As Charlie Pierce says,

Consider what Ryan and his majority did today. They made it impossible for the United States to swiftly extricate itself from accessorial conduct in a horrible ongoing crime-by-famine, and they did it by sabotaging a bill that helps get food to people in this country.

This is one of the last acts of Paul Ryan’s Speakership. He will richly deserve our contempt for playing partisan legislative games with starving children.

On to Saturday! Time to leave tree-trimming and shopping on Amazon for a few minutes, it’s time to unplug and land on a small island of soothing in the midst of all of the chaos. Let’s start by brewing up a yuuge hot cup of Baru Gesha coffee (1 kg/$100) from the Los Angeles-based Bar Nine brewers. The Baru Gesha tastes like dark chocolate, raspberry liqueur, frankincense, and almond brittle in aroma.

Frankincense! How seasonal.

Now, gaze out at the last few leaves on the trees and the dormant grass, and listen to JS Bach’s “Air on a G-String”, an arrangement for the violin made in the 19th Century from Bach’s Orchestral Suite No. 3 in D major. Bach originally wrote the suite between the years 1717 and 1723. It found its nickname in 1871 when the German violinist August Wilhelmj (1845-1908) made a violin and piano arrangement of the second movement of this orchestral suite. By changing the key into C major and transposing the melody down an octave, Wilhelmj was able to play the piece on only one string of his violin, the G string.

Procol Harum borrowed from it for their hit, “A Whiter Shade of Pale.” Gary Brooker of Procol Harum said:

If you trace the chordal element, it does a bar or two of Bach’s ‘Air On A G String’ before it veers off. That spark was all it took. I wasn’t consciously combining Rock with Classical, it’s just that Bach’s music was in me.

If you would like to hear the echoes of “Whiter Shade of Pale”, you can hear the Air played on organ.

But, here it is as intended on violin played by the Ukrainian violinist Anastasiya Petryshak with the Orchestra Cantelli at the Basilica Sant’Ambrogio in Milan, Italy in December 2015:

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

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Saturday Soother – December 1, 2018

The Daily Escape:

Yukon Grizzly before hibernation – 2014 photo by Paul Nicklen

Quite the week. We had barely digested Thanksgiving dinner when we heard about Russia seizing three Ukrainian Navy vessels in the Azov Sea. We learned that Paul Manafort lied to Robert Mueller, and that his lawyer reported everything that occurred between Manafort and Mueller to the White House. Then, we heard that Trump’s former in-house lawyer, Michael Cohen has admitted to lying to Congress, and is now cooperating with Mueller. Who knows what it all means?

But, the big story this week was that we learned that life expectancy in the US fell to 78.6 years, a 0.3 year decline from our peak. From CNN:

Overdose deaths reached a new high in 2017, topping 70,000, while the suicide rate increased by 3.7%, the CDC’s National Center for Health Statistics reports.

We are witnessing social decay in America. This is consistent with what Angus Deaton and Ann Case called “deaths of despair” in 2017. The WSJ has a detailed breakdown, and also points out how other countries are continuing to show progress:

Data the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention released on Thursday show life expectancy fell by one-tenth of a percent, to 78.6 years, pushed down by the sharpest annual increase in suicides in nearly a decade and a continued rise in deaths from powerful opioid drugs like fentanyl. Influenza, pneumonia and diabetes also factored into last year’s increase.

From Yves Smith:

Americans take antidepressants at a higher rate than any country in the world. The average job tenure is a mere 4.4 years. In my youth, if you changed jobs in less than seven or eight years, you were seen as an opportunist or probably poor performer. The near impossibility of getting a new job if you are over 40 and the fact that outside hot fields, young people can also find it hard to get work commensurate with their education and experience, means that those who do have jobs can be and are exploited by their employers.

The 2017 data paint a dark picture of health and well-being in the US, reflecting the effects of addiction and despair, particularly among young and middle-aged adults. In addition, diseases are plaguing people with limited access to health care.

In the late part of the last century, and the early years of this century, there was a steady decline in heart-disease deaths. That offset a rising number of deaths from drugs and suicide. Now, we’re not seeing those heart-related declines, while drug and suicide deaths occur earlier in life, accounting for more years of life lost.

The worst aspect is that it never had to be this way. These drug and suicide deaths are “collateral damage” caused by the social and economic changes in America since the 1970s.

And we made most of those changes by choice.

Wrongo is reminded that last month, he learned that something similar had happened in Russia under Gorbachev. Under Perestroika, millions of Russians lost jobs. The government’s budget deficits grew. The death rate exceeded the birth rate. Nearly 700,000 children were abandoned by parents who couldn’t afford to take care of them. The average lifespan of men dropped to 59 years.

Are we in a slow motion disaster that could be similar to what Russia went through back in the 1990s?

We’ve become hardened. These American deaths are largely anonymous. When AIDS was ravishing the gay community in the 1980s, people were able to appreciate the huge number of deaths by seeing, or adding to, the AIDS Memorial Quilt, which eventually weighed more than 50 tons.

There is no equivalent recognition for these deaths of despair.

A traitorous American ruling class has sold out its middle and lower classes. If you doubt that, think about Wal-Mart. The Walton’s fortune was made by acting as an agent of Chinese manufacturers, in direct competition with US manufacturers. Doesn’t that seem like treason?

Relax, there’s nothing you can do about all of this today, the first day of December. Time to get what solace you can from a few minutes having a coffee, and a listen to a piece of soothing music.

Start by brewing a cup of Kona Mele Extra Fancy coffee from Hula Daddy Kona Coffee ($64.94/lb.). It has an aroma of dark chocolate, fruit and flowers. And shipping is free.

Now settle back and listen to a few minutes of George Winston’s “December”. Here are Part 1: Snow, Part 2: Midnight, and Part 3: Minstrels:

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

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Saturday Soother – November 24, 2018

The Daily Escape:

Galleria Vittorio Emanuele II, Milan Italy – photo by JaffaLarsen

Welcome to your post-turkey Saturday. What you may have missed on turkey day was the anniversary of the assassination of JFK on 11/22. If you are of a certain age, you have contemporaneous memories of his death, and the aftermath of public mourning. Now, 55 years later, news of it was difficult to find.

Wrongo remembers the black-and-white images of the arrival of JFK’s body on Air Force One at Andrews AF Base near Washington, the newly-sworn President Johnson speaking on the tarmac, and the kaleidoscope of events: Jack Ruby killing Oswald in real-time on TV, the funeral parade, and the Arlington burial.

JFK would probably be disappointed that what we remember most about his life was how he died.

History remembers the ill-fated Bay of Pigs invasion, the Cuban missile crisis, and some remember the start of the space program. But it is those seconds in Dealy Plaza in Dallas that defines him for those who were born after his death.

Each generation is fated to experience their own moment. For some older than Wrongo, it was Pearl Harbor. For younger folks, maybe it was the Challenger disaster in the mid-1980’s, or September 11, 2001.

And in all cases, we mostly carry the personal meaning of those moments. Your experience was/is unique. You have some emotions that are similar to the public at large, but your memories remain your own.

No one knows what might have happened if Kennedy had lived. There may be some insight in his 1963 Thanksgiving message, published eighteen days before he died. Here is an excerpt: (emphasis by Wrongo)

Today we are a nation of nearly two hundred million souls, stretching from coast to coast, on into the Pacific and north toward the Arctic, a nation enjoying the fruits of an ever-expanding agriculture and industry and achieving standards of living unknown in previous history. We give our humble thanks for this.

Yet, as our power has grown, so has our peril. Today we give our thanks, most of all, for the ideals of honor and faith we inherit from our forefathers — for the decency of purpose, steadfastness of resolve and strength of will, for the courage and the humility, which they possessed and which we must seek every day to emulate. As we express our gratitude, we must never forget that the highest appreciation is not to utter words but to live by them.

Wow: we should be humbly thankful for the ideals we have inherited. Imagine having a president who could and would say such things.

It’s Saturday, and time for a little soothing, both of body along with the mind, because of all the calories we’ve consumed. Also, because the world seems so complicated today, with so few obvious solutions for our many problems.

So, take a break from your next big obligation, settle down, and live in the moment for at least few minutes. Start by brewing up a yuuge cup of Kibugu Kenya coffee ($19.95/12oz.), from the foothills of Mount Kenya. This coffee is sweet, umami-toned, with notes of date, almond butter, and cocoa powder in the cup. It is sourced and roasted by Lexington Coffee, in Lexington, VA.

Now, find a warm spot by the window, put on your Bluetooth headphones and listen to the second movement of “Mendelssohn’s Violin Concerto in E Minor”, composed in 1844. Here it is played by Julia Fischer live in May, 2010 in Paris, with the Chamber Orchestra of Europe. Wrongo thinks the conductor is Ivan Fischer, but he’s not a relative of Julia’s, he’s Hungarian and she’s German. This was Mendelssohn’s last large orchestral work:

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

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