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The Wrongologist

Geopolitics, Power and Political Economy

Saturday Soother – March 23, 2019

The Daily Escape:

Milford Sound, New Zealand – photo via The Travel Guys

You know leadership when you see it. In the US, we are chronically short of inspiring leaders. But there is a great model of leadership on view in New Zealand, their Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern. Now 38, she was the world’s youngest female head of government, when she took office at age 37.

We’ve seen her response to the Mosque killings. In lieu of texting thoughts and prayers, she donned a black head scarf and led a group of politicians to visit victims’ families. She went to a high school that had lost two students in the attack, and told the children they need to fight prejudice:

“Let New Zealand be a place where there is no tolerance for racism….That’s something we can all do.”

She announced a ban on military-style assault rifles and ammunition on Thursday. She has hammered social media companies for allowing and amplifying extremism. Ardern has called capitalism a “blatant failure” due to the extent of homelessness in New Zealand.

She has spent her political capital to unite her country, not to divide it.

None of those things could have been accomplished by Trump. And none will ever be accomplished by him. He’s too politically and ideologically conflicted to give a full-throated denouncement of extremism from the right.

He doesn’t have the empathy to sit with relatives of the dead and comfort them. He’s not capable of leading us through a teachable moment. He can’t move our government to action, except to pass unnecessary tax cuts and hire right-wing Supreme Court Justices. He can’t be a role model for any positive behaviors, and is a terrible communicator to the general public.

So, look clearly at America’s politicians, and find someone who has the ability to lead like Ms. Ardern. Wrongo doubts that you will find many. Ms. Ardern is a politician not a saint, but her actions prove that politicians exist who can be effective thought and cultural leaders.

Remember that she’s just 38 years old!

Does this imply we shouldn’t be thinking that America necessarily needs an older politician driving the bus of state?

By the time you’re reading this, you’ll already know that the Mueller Report has been submitted to the Attorney General. Where we go from here depends to a great extent on the leadership of the Attorney General, the House and Senate, and the president.

Sadly, there’s no Jacinda Ardern in sight.

Time to unplug and get as soothed as we can under the current circumstances. Start by brewing up some Eaagads Estate Kenyan small batch coffee ($19/12oz.) from Austin Texas’s Greater Goods Coffee. The roaster says it pairs well with blackberry scones and citrus fruit.

Now, get to your favorite chair, put on your headphones and listen to Roxane Elfasci play “Clair de Lune” by Claude Debussy, on guitar. This 2016 live performance was in Paris. “Clair de Lune” is the third movement of “Suite Bergamasque” by Claude Debussy, from a poem by Paul Verlaine. It was written for piano, and here it is arranged for guitar by James Edwards. This is a wonderful performance of a well-known piece which is incredibly difficult to play on solo guitar:

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

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Monday Wake Up Call – March 18, 2019

The Daily Escape:

View from Angel’s Landing, Zion NP – 2019 photo by ducc517

Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-MA) says that she favors “capitalism with serious rules.” David Leonhardt wrote in Sunday’s NYT:

Her platform aims to reform American capitalism so that it once again works well for most American families. The recent tradition in Democratic politics has been different. It has been largely to accept that big companies are going to get bigger and do everything they can to hold down workers’ pay. The government will then try to improve things through income taxes and benefit programs.

Warren is trying to treat not just the symptoms of inequality, but the underlying disease. Warren also called for an annual wealth tax, for people with assets greater than $50 million. She has proposed a universal child-care and pre-K program. She favors tougher guidelines on future mergers, and also a breakup of the giant tech companies (Google, Facebook) that resemble monopolies.

Of the current crop of Democrats, she’s the reform capitalism candidate. But one idea that Warren hasn’t espoused is the Financial Transactions Tax, (FTT). Wrongo first wrote about a FTT in March 2013.

Sen. Brian Schatz, (D-HI) and Rep. Peter DeFazio (D-OR) introduced a tax of one-tenth-of-one-percent, or 10 basis points (100 basis points equals 1 percentage point), on securities trades, including stocks, bonds, and derivatives. The CBO estimates that the FTT would raise $777 billion over 10 years. Sens. Chris Van Hollen (D-MD), Jeff Merkley (D-OR), and Kirsten Gillibrand (D-NY) are co-sponsors of the bill.

For the math-challenged, 10 basis points on a $1,000 trade equals one dollar. Jared Bernstein says:

FTTs exist in various countries, including the UK and France, with Germany considering the tax (also, Brazil, India, South Korea, and Argentina). The UK is a particularly germane example, where an FTT has long co-existed with London’s vibrant, global financial market.

More from Bernstein: (brackets by Wrongo)

Because the value of the stock holdings is highly skewed toward the wealthy, the FTT is highly progressive: The TPC [Tax Policy Center] estimates that 40% of the cost of the tax falls on the top 1% (which makes sense as they hold about 40% of the value of the stock market and 40% of national wealth).

Vox also reports that an FTT would mostly affect wealthy Americans, because an estimated 84% of the value of stocks is owned by the wealthiest 10% of households. Schatz isn’t the first Democrat to suggest an FTT, Bernie Sanders ran on a similar idea in the 2016 Democratic primary. He pitched it as a way to pay for free college.

Globally, there is plenty of experience with FTTs. In the UK, a 0.5% “stamp tax” is charged when someone buys shares on the stock market, and the UK market is fine. France in 2012 introduced a tax on financial transactions, and a study from the European Commission found that trading volumes declined slightly, but share prices and volatility weren’t meaningfully changed. France and Germany have pushed for a European Union-wide FTT.

Opponents include the high-frequency traders, who note that even a small FTT could upend their extremely low margin business model. Although a dollar on a $1,000 trade doesn’t sound like much, if the industry is making 4 billion trades a day, it can add up.

Time to wake up and support an FTT, America. Sens Warren and Sanders support this idea, and you should too. Those who think that the government should use the tax code to ensure that everyone has an equal opportunity to get ahead, and that we should do more to ensure the well-being of our citizens aren’t socialists.

If that makes us socialists, then Eisenhower, who presided over a 90% top tax bracket, was also a socialist.

To help you wake up, here’s Steely Dan with “Any World That I’m Welcome To from their 1975 album “Kay Lied”. This tune gives you the benefit of hearing the late, great, Hal Blaine on drums. Blaine may have been the most recorded drummer in pop music history. From the late 50s through the mid-70s, Blaine did sessions with Sam Cooke, Ray Charles, The Righteous Brothers, Henry Mancini, Ike & Tina Turner, The Monkees, Nancy Sinatra, The Fifth Dimension, The Byrds, Sonny & Cher, Mamas and the Papas, and The Grass Roots.

The famously picky Steely Dan only used Blaine for this one tune:

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

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Saturday Soother – March 16, 2019

The Daily Escape:

More California poppies – March, 2019 photo by West Coast Aerial Photography

The horror in New Zealand, Manafort’s sentencing, and both Houses of Congress voting to end Trump’s emergency declaration. The vote tally was 59-41, not enough to override a veto. Moments after Thursday’s vote, the president tweeted a single word: “VETO!”, and has now he’s done just that.

We head into the weekend with 13 Democrats declared as running for the Party’s nomination. Another, Joe Biden, may announce this weekend. The internet is full of comments about which of the 14 are most worthy, and plenty of hot takes on who can’t win vs. Trump.

Wrongo’s hot take is that the 2020 presidential election will be determined by a handful of states. Michigan, Ohio, Pennsylvania and Florida were all lost last time around. Any Democratic candidate can win the same states as Hillary won last time. We need to be asking ourselves is: “Who has the best chance to win in those four states?”

Your choice may be different from Wrongo’s, but this must be a prime consideration. We all know that the presidential election isn’t about who wins the most votes. It’s about who accumulates the necessary number of electoral votes, and that path leads through the four states above.

So the challenge for the Democratic Party nominee is: How are you going to convince people in the above states to vote for you?

In the meantime, pundits are talking about a brokered convention. They’re assuming that no single candidate will garner a majority of votes through the primary process. The Democratic National Committee (DNC) has set the system up so it’s difficult to win an outright majority if there is a large field of candidates, since there are no winner-take-all contests.

Instead, the delegates are awarded proportionately by congressional district and statewide vote. That means in a large field, the first place winner is unlikely to get close to 60% of a state’s delegates. To get any delegates at all, a candidate must receive at least 15% of a state’s votes.

It’s too complicated to go deeply into this, but there are lots of votes up for grabs in the early primaries. Brookings has this:

“Fifty-four percent of all pledged delegates will be chosen in the first five weeks of the primary season, mostly from four states — California, Texas, Ohio, and Michigan. An additional 10 percent of pledged delegates will be chosen one week later — nearly all from Florida and Illinois. One candidate with a big lead in name recognition or with a small band of intense supporters could wrap up the Democratic nomination based on the votes of a tiny share of voters and do so before primary voters have had much time to get acquainted with the candidates.”

This means that, assuming Kamala Harris will win California, and Beto O’Rourke will win Texas, catching them could be difficult. And if no one else breaks the 15% barrier in either state, it could be a pitched battle between just them all the way to the convention on July 13-16 2020 in Milwaukee.

Wrongo thinks Bernie will break 15% in a few states, and possibly be the spoiler for these two new faces of the Party.

Some think that if no one gets a majority before Milwaukee, that favors Biden, who will most likely, hold the majority of the DNC’s Super delegates, who can vote after the first ballot. OTOH, Biden has to prove he has the ability to get more than 15% in several states to merit their votes on the second ballot of the convention.

These primary contests used to reduce the field quickly, since it was very difficult to raise money from the big donors if you lost Iowa and New Hampshire. But, money is easier to raise via social media than it used to be. And social media can keep a candidate in the news even without huge TV expenditures.

There are now 485 days left until the Democrat’s convention, and a lot will happen between now and then. Buckle up!

Time for your Saturday Soother. In honor of St. Patrick’s Day tomorrow, we break from our usual format of coffee and classical music. Let’s start by getting into a comfy chair, and listen to the Hooligans (the Irish Hooligans, not the Bruno Mars band) perform the Bluegrass classic, “Whiskey for Breakfast”:

As we all know, breakfast is the most important drink of the day. Now pour a nice snifter of Irish whiskey. Wrongo has 8 different Irish whiskeys in the pantry, and recommends Bushmills 21 Single Malt (~$230/750 ml). Enjoy its notes of toffee, honey, spiced fruit and dark mocha.

Sample Lyric:

Lord preserve us and protect us,
We’ve been drinking whiskey ‘fore breakfast

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

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Saturday Soother – February 23, 2019

The Daily Escape:

Snow in moonlight near Mammoth Mountain, CA – 2019 smartphone photo by Mwalt19

At the end of the week that includes President’s Day, there’s a story in the WSJ that deserves highlighting. The article, “An American Icon That Almost Wasn’t” is about the iconic, and larger-than-life statue of Abraham Lincoln that rests inside the Lincoln Memorial. As with most memorials on the National Mall, there were differences of opinion about the location of the Memorial, and the size of the statue of a seated Lincoln. It was originally designed to be 12 feet high, but to the sculptor, Daniel Chester French, that seemed far too small for the atrium of the Memorial. He fought for a larger, heroic sized statue, and finished it in 1920.

The Memorial was dedicated in May, 1922. But, according to Harold Holzer in the WSJ, by the time of the dedication, America had not internalized the lessons of the Civil War:

African-Americans in attendance were herded off to a “colored” section at the rear. The choice seats were filled by aged Confederate veterans dressed in their tattered gray uniforms.

Holzer reports:

Adding injury to insult, the only black speaker at the ceremony, Robert Russa Moton, head of the Tuskegee Institute, could not even deliver the full oration he had composed. The White House demanded he omit his most provocative words: “So long as any group within our nation is denied the full protection of the law,” what Lincoln called his “unfinished work” remained “still unfinished,” and the Memorial itself “but a hollow mockery.”

In 1922, 57 years after the end of the Civil War, we still couldn’t get past the idea that one race was inferior to the other. Worse, we couldn’t even acknowledge it openly. Contrast that with these words from Lincoln’s Second inaugural address:

One-eighth of the whole population were colored slaves, not distributed generally over the Union, but localized in the southern part of it. These slaves constituted a peculiar and powerful interest. All knew that this interest was somehow the cause of the war….

We’ve gone forward in the last nearly 100 years to overcome much of the segregation that occurred at the Lincoln Memorial’s dedication, but much work remains unfinished. Lincoln said it best in the closing of his Second Address in 1865:

With malice toward none, with charity for all, with firmness in the right as God gives us to see the right, let us strive on to finish the work we are in, to bind up the nation’s wounds, to care for him who shall have borne the battle and for his widow and his orphan, to do all which may achieve and cherish a just and lasting peace among ourselves and with all nations.

And yet, we’ve still got work to do.

But you’ve done enough for this week, so forget about Bernie, Beto, Biden, Buttigieg, or whomever your favorite Democrat of the moment may be, and prepare for Saturday Soothing! Start by brewing up a vente cup of single origin Sumatra Tano Batak ($20.99/12oz.) from Maui’s Origin Coffee. The roaster says it has flavors of dark chocolate, melon and mandarin orange.

Now settle back in your most comfy chair, put on your wireless headphones and listen to Freddie Mercury and Queen’s “Bohemian Rhapsody” played in 2013 by the Indiana University Studio Orchestra conducted by Nicholas Hersh, with viola solo by Sarah Harball:

We feature it here in honor of the Oscars on Sunday night. Sadly, it’s the only Oscar-nominee movie that Wrongo and Ms. Right got to see this year.

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

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Saturday Soother – February 9, 2019

The Daily Escape:

Coyote in Litchfield County CT – February 2019 photo by Sharon Shea

For more than 30 years, the Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces Treaty (INF) has been one of the cornerstones of the international security system. But, on February 1st, Trump announced that the US would suspend its obligations under the INF Treaty. Shortly thereafter, Russia’s President Putin announced that Russia will also officially suspend its treaty obligations.

Trump swings another wrecking ball! Defense One reported that Trump said that the US:

“Will move forward with developing…its own military response options and will work with NATO members and other allies to deny Russia any military advantage from its unlawful conduct.”

This means that Trump will start the development, production and deployment of formerly INF-banned weapons.

Until the treaty took effect in 1988, the US had hundreds of nuclear-tipped ground-launched cruise missiles, or GCLMs all over Europe. Today, all cruise missiles are either air or sea-launched. New GCLMs are likely to be returning soon. Contenders include converting the sea-launched Tomahawk cruise missile, and the air-launched Joint Air-to-Surface Standoff Missile, or JASSM.

Walking away from the INF Treaty opens the door to both sides building land-based nuclear capable missiles with a range beyond 300 miles.

There are two things to think about: Cost, and Strategic necessity. Kingston Reif, a policy director at the Arms Control Association, said the cost of the new missile systems would be much higher than the $6 billion or so it cost in the 1980s.

On the subject of necessity, he says:

“The United States can already…threaten the same Russian targets that new ground-launched missiles prohibited by INF Treaty would….In addition, no European nation has agreed to host such a missile, which could take years to develop. And even if one in Eastern Europe did, such a deployment would be a significant source of division within the alliance—one Russia would be eager to try and exploit—be hugely provocative, and put missiles in a place where they would be especially vulnerable to Russian preemption…”

The downside to the US withdrawing from the treaty is that we currently have no strategy to prevent Russia from building and fielding even more and new intermediate-range missiles.

Since Russia already announced it will now build these new missiles, our NATO allies in Europe have decisions to make. They will have to pursue options to defend themselves, to mitigate the damage done by the collapse of the treaty.

We’re entering a new Cold War with Russia.

Some believe that the INF treaty is obsolete, because many nations are developing effective missiles and launching capabilities that will be outside the limitations of the INF. Since we all will continue to develop these technologies, maybe the best we can hope for is to negotiate new treaties that address this increasing lethality down the road.

OTOH, Trump and his neocons are doing everything they can to encircle Russia with missile bases while claiming the moral high ground. We should expect them to utilize Poland, the Baltic states, and possibly Ukraine (if they can get away with it), as forward missile bases.

They figure that since geography favors them, why negotiate if you can win? Russia already called our bluff. For this strategy to work, the US must threaten Russia from Europe while simultaneously putting Europe under our new missile thumb. It might work, but there are many moving parts.

Republicans of course supported Trump, cheering about the breakup of a treaty signed by Ronald Reagan. When Wrongo grew up, the threat of nuclear annihilation was real. We drilled for it in school. He then ran a nuclear missile unit in Europe at the height of the Cold War. These were formative experiences that implied very dangerous consequences.

And think about our domestic politics: If someone were to run in 2020 as anti-Cold War II, they would have to say we need to work with the Russians to find a peaceful way out of this mess. Trump will then run to their right, saying Russia must be stopped.

Scared yet? A presidency based on disruption will do that to you.

Time for your Saturday Soother. Try to unplug from all the data that are streaming into your life for a few minutes. Start by brewing up a strong cuppa Hula Daddy Kona Coffee ($45.95/half pound) from the Big Island of Hawaii. You can see their plantation here.

Now settle back and listen to Abba’s “The Winner Takes It All” performed as a guitar instrumental by Gabriella Quevedo:

For those who may have forgotten the lyric, it includes this:

The winner takes all

It’s the thrill of one more kill

The last one to fall

Will never sacrifice their will

Think there will be winners in the new Cold War?

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

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Saturday Soother – February 2, 2019

The Daily Escape:

Hoggar National Park, Algeria – 2015 photo by Amri Mohammed

The blog Political Violence @ a Glance posted an article, “Three Lessons from the History of Foreign-Imposed Regime Change” by Melissa Willard-Foster, an assistant professor of political science at the University of Vermont.

She puts the Trump Administration’s support of Venezuela’s opposition leader, Juan Guaidó, in perspective. Despite the fact that while Trump was running for president, he promised to “stop racing to topple foreign regimes,” he’s now saying Venezuela’s president Maduro must go.

According to Willard-Foster, there is a long tradition by American presidents of attempting Foreign-Imposed Regime Change, or FIRC. She lays out three FIRC lessons from our history:

Lesson #1

The more fragile a leader’s political power is, the less likely that leader will cave in to foreign pressure. Weak leaders are difficult to coerce. If a foreign power demands change, the more the incumbent fears an attack by domestic enemies. The incumbent becomes very difficult to coerce.

But politically weak leaders often seem relatively easy to overthrow, and their domestic enemies are more than happy to help the foreign power take them out. Willard-Foster’s research shows that the probability of FIRC rises by 112% for leaders with at least two predecessors taken out by a coup, or rebellion in the past ten years.

Lesson #2

America’s overthrow of Panama’s Manuel Noriega demonstrates what happens when the domestic politics in the foreign power’s country make it politically feasible for the foreign power to take military action. Like Maduro in Venezuela, Noriega railed against US imperialism and broke off relations with the US. When crises escalate, a single incident can lead to military action, and that happened in Panama. When a US service member died in December 1989 after an encounter with Noriega’s forces, the Bush administration had the domestic political cover it needed. Chairman of the Joint Chiefs Colin Powell, made the case for intervention. He argued: (brackets by Wrongo)

“There will be a few dozen casualties if we go [in]…If we don’t go, there will be a few dozen casualties over the next few weeks, and we’ll still have Noriega.”

The US decided that coercing Noriega wasn’t changing anything, but regime change by force could.

The risk of a US military escalation may explain why Maduro offered to negotiate with the opposition—he wants to avoid giving Trump justification for military force.

Lesson #3

The third lesson from the history of FIRC is that no matter how disastrous the last FIRC attempt was, policymakers still believe it will work this time. From Willard-Foster:

Whatever approach failed last is usually what policymakers avoid the next time. When George H.W. Bush and Bill Clinton’s indirect approach to toppling Saddam Hussein failed, George W. Bush capitalized on the post 9/11 public mood for war to launch an invasion. The lesson Obama drew from the costly Iraq occupation was to avoid using troops to oust Libyan leader Muammar Qaddafi. The fallout in Libya then convinced Obama to avoid using military force in Syria, where he reluctantly funded the Syrian opposition.

Trump’s current Venezuelan approach is an indirect strategy, relying on economic and diplomatic pressure. Whether Maduro stays in power largely depends on the Venezuelan military. If Russia and China can blunt Trump’s economic pressure, Maduro may keep the military’s loyalty.

If China and Russia succeed in propping up Venezuela’s economy, Trump will have two options: Continue calling for regime change, while doing nothing about it, (as he’s doing with Iran) or employ military force. If protests grow, this will suggest Maduro’s position is weakening, which could cause Maduro to lash out, and possibly provide political cover for Trump choosing military force.

In supporting Guaidó, it’s unclear what path Trump will take. If, like Noriega, Maduro believes caving in to US demands will imperil his political (and personal survival), he’ll dig in.

But, a weakened Maduro appears, and still digs in further, the more likely it becomes that Trump will continue the tradition of forcibly toppling foreign regimes.

Time to move on from another week of “All Trump, all the time” to the anticipation of gorging ourselves during the halftime show of Sunday’s Super Bowl. You need to prepare for the chili, nachos, dips, chips and alcohol by relaxing today with a Saturday Soother.

Start by brewing up a strong cup of Honduras Las Flores Parainema ($22/12oz.). It is sourced by the Brooklyn NY-based Café Grumpy, an aptly-named vendor for our times.

Now settle back in a comfy chair, and take a few minutes to listen to Sarah Chang play Elgar’s888 composition, “Salut d’Amour, Op.12”, accompanied by Andrew von Oeyen, on piano. Chang is American, born in US, and raised in New Jersey:

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

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Monday Wake Up Call – MLK Jr. Edition, January 21, 2019

The Daily Escape:

El Capitan in winter, Yosemite NP, CA – photo by Jonkooo

From Tom Sullivan:

Those of us of a certain age, but not quite old enough, were too young to attend the 1963 March on Washington. The march and Rev. Martin Luther King’s “I Have A Dream” speech influenced our era, our views, and changed the country. There are times one wishes, if only I could have been there for that moment in history. Then again, such thinking fixes the civil rights movement in time. The truth is, that struggle never ended.

Wrongo was in Washington in 1963. Dr. King is one of his heroes. And, as Tom Sullivan says, the struggle has never ended. Wrongo spent the 1960s and 1970s convinced that America would turn a corner, see the wrong in slavery, and know that racism was holding us back.

He thought that we would achieve a point of equilibrium where Americans of all stripes would accept each other as part of a larger tribe, one that shared common beliefs about democracy and equality for all.

Wrongo was wrong. We’re not there. We’ve made some progress, but then we fell back on old beliefs.

Today we are 51 years removed from Dr. King’s assassination, and while America is better and fairer than it was then, we will enter the 2020’s needing to do much to improve society.

This brings me to MLK’s last book, Where Do We Go from Here: Chaos or Community?” published the year before he died. In it, King lays out a vision for America’s future, including the need for both better jobs and housing, higher pay and quality education. King called for an end to global suffering, saying that for the first time, humankind had the resources and technology to eradicate poverty.

He wrote about how Civil Rights reforms had fallen short, but he couldn’t have envisioned what the Supreme Court did in gutting the Voting Rights Act of 1965 with its 2013 decision in Shelby County vs. Holder.

So here we are in 2019 with white kids mocking Native Americans at the Lincoln Memorial, chanting “Build that wall, build that wall.” This happened days after Trump made light of the 1890 massacre at Wounded Knee to mock Sen. Elizabeth Warren.

And for context, we live in a time when chanting the president’s name has become a tool of racial intimidation.

Here we are: Income inequality is the highest it’s been since the 1940s.Our federal government is shut down because we can’t agree about the threat posed by illegal immigrants asking for asylum at the US southern border. And racism is marching back into the light from under rocks all across the country.

Time to wake up America! Racism is the wound that won’t heal. We have much to do, and the work won’t be easy.

To help you wake up here is a 2019 song by The Killers, “Land of the Free”. It is broadly about America and the intolerance holding us back. Listen to it, and reflect on what it makes you feel. Depending on what about it makes you angry, it is a reflection of who you are. The video is very powerful. Please take the time to watch it.

Think about what’s at the heart of this song. People who want the same things we do:

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

Finally, a quote from James Baldwin’s The Fire Next Time:

“White men have had to believe for many years, and for innumerable reasons, that black men are inferior to white men. Many of them, indeed, know better, but, as you will discover, people find it very difficult to act on what they know.”

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Saturday Soother – January 19, 2019

The Daily Escape:

Snow in Grand Canyon, New Year’s Day, 2019 – photo by AP. Lookout Studio is on the left.

Most of you know that Wrongo has been deeply skeptical of the Russia investigation, but as time has moved forward, we’ve learned quite a bit about Trump and his team’s involvement with Russia. Apparently, he worked hard to get a Trump Tower built. Elsewhere, it is reported that Trump stood to gain $300+ million if the deal went through.

Until now, Trump has denied that any deal was considered while he was running for President. But, Buzzfeed broke news this week:

President Donald Trump directed his longtime attorney Michael Cohen to lie to Congress about negotiations to build a Trump Tower in Moscow, according to two federal law enforcement officials involved in an investigation of the matter.

Trump also supported a plan, set up by Cohen, to visit Russia during the presidential campaign, in order to personally meet President Vladimir Putin and jump-start the tower negotiations. “Make it happen,” the sources said Trump told Cohen.

The article also says: (brackets by Wrongo)

The special counsel’s office learned about Trump’s directive for Cohen to lie to Congress through interviews with multiple witnesses from the Trump Organization and internal company emails, text messages, and a cache of other documents. Cohen then acknowledged those instructions during his interviews with that office [Mueller].

All of this still needs to be confirmed, but IF it’s true, it is without question an impeachable offense. And the Buzzfeed article appeared two days after Trump’s Attorney General-designate William Barr testified to the Senate Judiciary Committee that suborning perjury would be clearly criminal, even if done by a President. Well, Buzzfeed says Trump suborned perjury by asking Michael Cohen to lie about his discussions with Russia about a new Moscow Trump Tower. Marcy Wheeler, the best analyst of the Mueller investigation, notes: (brackets by Wrongo)

Discussing a real estate deal is not, as Trump has repeated, illegal. If that’s all this were about, Trump and Cohen might not have lied about it.

But it’s not. Even before the GRU [Russian intelligence] hacked John Podesta, even before Don Jr told his June 9 visitors that his dad would consider lifting sanctions if he got elected, Michael Cohen let a key Putin deputy know that Trump would be happy to discuss real estate deals that involved both partnering with the GRU and with sanctioned banks. And Putin has been sitting on that receipt ever since.

All of what Wheeler talks about is in the Buzzfeed article, along with her previous reporting.

It’s going to be interesting to hear what Mr. Cohen has to tell Congress when he testifies next month. Telling someone to lie to Congress is obstruction of justice, and it’s why the House drafted articles of impeachment for Richard Nixon in 1974. From Booman:

We can’t have a chief executive who is compromised by a foreign power. That’s a clear and present danger, and it’s even more serious than the possibility that he may have engaged in a criminal conspiracy with them to help him win the office.

Directing someone to lie to Congress is probably next in line…

When Trump won on November 8th 2016, America had no idea of just how bad things might get over the next four years. Wrongo assumed Trump would appoint a few Supreme Court justices, pass a big tax cut for the wealthy, and gut Obamacare.

But, would you have believed that we would be on the precipice of impeachment within two years? Would you have believed that a one-month government shutdown wouldn’t be the biggest news in town?

With all of that to consider, we need to take a break before our heads explode. We need another Saturday Soother. This one is the calm before Sunday’s Snowpocalypse in the Northeast. So, check your snow blower, find your snow shovel, and go and buy all the bread and milk that’s left in the market.

Now, brew up a hot steaming cup of Beanstock’s Mexican Organic coffee ($11.99/12oz.) from Wellfleet MA’s Beanstock Coffee. The roaster says it is sweet to the taste, with dark chocolate and toffee up front, and a soft, lingering lemon finish.

And, cup in hand, settle back and contemplate your local bad weather. It’s time to listen to something different, so here is guitarist Gilad Hekselman performing “Do Re Mi Fa Sol” from his 2018 album “Ask for Chaos”. Hekselman was born in Israel, and lives in New York. He won the Gibson–Montreux Jazz Festival Guitar Competition in 2005, and sounds to Wrongo like the second coming of Bill Frisell. Wrongo isn’t sure we should be asking for chaos. but there we are:

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

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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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