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The Wrongologist

Geopolitics, Power and Political Economy

Monday Wake Up Call – April 6, 2020

The Daily Escape:

Texas bluebonnets, Round Rock, TX – 2018 photo by dried_fruit

Here are the latest national numbers (which will be out of date by the time you read them). From The COVID Tracking Project: (as of 4/4)

  • Number of daily cases: 305,755, up 33,767 or +12.4% vs. April 3
  • Rate of case increase: 12.4% vs. 13.75% on 4/3 and 15% average for the past week
  • Number of deaths: Total 8,314, up 1,352 vs. April 3
  • Rate of deaths increase 4/4 vs 4/3: 19.4% % vs. 20.4% on 4/3
  • Daily number of tests 4/4 vs. 4/3: 1,623,807, up 226,945 over 4/3
  • Rate of increase in tests: +16.2% vs. previous day

The rates of growth in cases and deaths have begun to slow. In the past week, they are in a decelerating trend, declining by about 1%/day. Testing is growing, which is a very good thing.

Just when you think you can’t get any more cynical about America’s response to the pandemic, we tumble to the fact that about a third of hospital emergency rooms are now staffed by doctors on the payrolls of two physician staffing companies, TeamHealth and Envision Health. They are owned by two Wall Street private equity firms. Envision Healthcare employs 69,000 healthcare workers nationwide while TeamHealth employs 20,000. Private equity firm Blackstone Group owns TeamHealth; Kravis Kohlberg Roberts (KKR) owns Envision. Private equity is the term for a large unregulated pool of money run by financiers who use that money to invest in, lend to, and/or buy companies and restructure them.

Wrongo began hearing that despite the urgent pleas from hospitals on the front lines of the COVOID-19 outbreak, nurses and doctors were being taken off schedules in nearby places once “elective” procedures were suspended, as they are at many hospitals and clinics. That means the associated revenues were lost, or at the very least, postponed.

Here’s a report from Yahoo Finance:

“KKR & Co.-backed Envision, which carries over $7 billion of debt amassed through one of the biggest leveraged buyouts in recent years, reported steep drops at its care facilities. In just two weeks, it suffered declines of 65% to 75% in business at its 168 open ambulatory surgical centers, compared to the same period last year, the company said in a private report to investors. About 90 centers are closed.”

Private equity has taken over more and more of hospital staffing, including emergency departments. The legal fig leaf that allows private equity firms like Blackstone and KKR to play doctor is that their deals are structured so that an individual MD or group of MDs is the nominal owner of the specialty practice, even though the business is stripped of its assets. The practices’ operating contracts are widely believed to strip the MDs of any say in management.

Care of the sick is not the mission of these companies; their mission is to make profits for the private equity firms and its investors. In 2018, Paladin Healthcare, an entity owned by private equity baron Joel Freedman, bought Philadelphia’s Hahnemann University Hospital. This hospital served the poor, and Freedman closed it down so he could use the land to build luxury apartments.

When the city recently asked to use the empty hospital as part of its solution for the Coronavirus pandemic, Freedman demanded $1M/month in rent. Overcharging patients and insurance companies for providing urgent and desperately needed emergency medical care is bad enough. But holding a city hostage?

In another example, STAT reports on another private equity firm: (emphasis by Wrongo)

“Alteon Health, which employs about 1,700 emergency medicine doctors and other physicians who staff hospital emergency rooms across the country, announced it would suspend paid time off, matching contributions to employees’ 401(K) retirement accounts, and discretionary bonuses in response to the pandemic…The company also said it would reduce some clinicians’ hours to the minimum required to maintain health insurance coverage, and that it would convert some salaried employees to hourly status for “maximum staffing flexibility.”

NY’s Governor Cuomo and others are pleading to have doctors come out of retirement, and here we have skilled doctors who have the training and are being asked to work fewer hours? All of the Republican talk about “choice” and “markets” in healthcare is just self-serving BS that benefits their buddies.

Time to wake up America!

Why do private equity firms continue to benefit from the “carried interest” tax loophole? Shouldn’t they shoulder their part of the financial grief the pandemic is causing to our country?

To help you wake up, here is John Lennon’s 1970 song, “Isolation”. It appeared on John Lennon/Plastic Ono Band. It has a whole new meaning in today’s context:

Sample Lyric:

We’re afraid of everyone,

Afraid of the sun.

Isolation

The sun will never disappear,

But the world may not have many years.

Isolation.

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

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Saturday Soother – Even More Pandemic Edition, April 4, 2020

The Daily Escape:

Spring in Town – Grant Wood, 1941

Welcome to Saturday, fellow disease vectors! Here’s a quote often mis-attributed to Winston Churchill: “If you’re going through Hell, just keep going”. Those are words to live by in pandemic America.

You remember Joe Biden, right?

His campaign was premised on Trump’s complete unsuitability for the presidency, and on Biden’s particular experience and fitness for it. Biden wasn’t running on the issues, he was hammering on Trump. Before the pandemic, according to Joe Biden, Trump was:

“A threat to this nation unlike any I had ever seen in my lifetime.”

But lately, Biden could be a picture on a milk carton. He’s disappeared. Rather than holding a news conference in public every day, demanding to know why the administration isn’t providing enough tests and PPE to the states, Biden’s trying to organize a phone call with Trump. To share lessons learned from Obama-era pandemic responses. That will certainly change everything.

Does Biden have a strategy to win in November? The ABC/WaPo poll found that only 24% of Biden’s supporters were ‘very enthusiastic‘ about him, compared with 53% of Trump’s. While ABC News reminded us that in 2016, “Hillary Clinton’s ‘very enthusiastic’ score was 32% in September.”

These numbers are from the poll that has Biden beating Trump by only 2% points. Now, this poll could be an outlier, since the Real Clear Politics Polling Average has Biden at 50.6% to Trump at 44%.

Regardless, Biden needs to get off his ass, get out in public, and act like the leader of the opposition.

And speaking of leadership (again), Raúl Ilargi Meijer has a great column about leadership in the pandemic era. He differentiates between the visionary giants like Gandhi and Martin Luther King, Jr.  and our current crop who he calls “Little Managers”:

“They all failed to a horrific extent at their #1 task when it comes to Disasters, Pandemics, whatever their respective governments file these events under: Prevention. But now we’re in a whole new world. Now these failed leaders move into a situation they actually MAY be able to handle. That is, the -crisis- management that inevitably follows AFTER the failure at their #1 task of Prevention.”

Ilargi says that they might be able to succeed at crisis management because they were trained to be little managers. He describes them: (emphasis by Wrongo)

“Core characteristic: these people don’t act, they re-act. Prevention is a job they’re absolutely not qualified for… Trump, Macron, BoJo, Merkel, Rutte, Xi, Abe, Conte, you name them, they’re all little managers…they have no ideas or visions, at least not original ones. People with original ideas don’t become politicians…”

Worse, politics isn’t policy. More:

“For now, the only thing to do is hope the little managers are better at step 2, Crisis Management, than they were at step 1, Prevention. Because there are no ready alternatives. When they say stay home, that’s the best thing to do right now.”

And finally:

“Can we blame our own respective…little managers? To an extent, sure. They didn’t do what they promised to when they swore their respective oaths. But maybe just maybe we should blame ourselves more, for picking little managers to lead our countries in the first place. We should have known that they were never going to be more than 2nd rate “leaders” who were never going to deliver more than 2nd rate societies.“

Hard to improve on that.

We’re all going through hell with no choice but to keep going. So, let’s take a breath, and try to spend our self-isolating time concentrating on something other than COVID-19. Here are “Two English Idylls” by the little-known George Butterworth, who was part of the English pastoral idiom.

These are Butterworth’s earliest surviving orchestral pieces, with No. 1 dating from 1910-1911, while No. 2 is from 1911. Butterworth and Ralph Vaughan Williams were close friends, and you may hear similarities in their music. Butterworth was killed in 1916 in WWI during the Battle of the Somme, he was 31.

Here it’s performed by the Academy of St. Martin-in-the-Fields, under Sir Neville Marriner, in 1975. The accompanying photography of the English countryside is transporting and wonderful, so Wrongo urges you to take a few minutes to watch:

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

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Monday Wake Up Call – Leadership Edition, March 30, 2020

The Daily Escape:

Last light, Tombstone Territory Park, Yukon, AK – fall 2019 photo by tmsvdw

A few days ago, Wrongo heard someone say that we should be careful what we wished for from Trump. He was talking about Trump’s lack of leadership regarding the pandemic. His thought was that the last thing people should want was Trump in full command, and attempting a vigorous response. We’re already failing, and that wouldn’t make it better.

OTOH, it’s been terrible to learn how ill-prepared we are, and how passive-aggressive the administration has been about doing more. It’s past time to accept the excuse that these people are well-intended but awful managers. Take this bit of news from the WaPo:

“On Feb. 5, with fewer than a dozen confirmed novel coronavirus cases in the United States but tens of thousands around the globe, a shouting match broke out in the White House Situation Room between Health and Human Services Secretary Alex Azar and an Office of Management and Budget official….Azar had asked OMB that morning for $2 billion to buy respirator masks and other supplies for a depleted federal stockpile of emergency medical equipment…”

Several weeks later, the request was cut to $500 million. Now, there’s $16 billion in the stimulus bill for the strategic stockpile, but that’s at least six weeks too late. The government has been overwhelmed by urgent requests for masks, respirators, gloves and gowns since the first US case of Covid-19 was confirmed. But on February 7th, Secretary of State Pompeo announced that we were sending:

“…nearly 17.8 tons of donated medical supplies to the Chinese people, including masks, gowns, gauze, respirators, and other vital materials.”

Yes, this was after there were already 12 confirmed cases in the US, and after the HHS request for $2 billion to buy the same things was denied.

Then there’s Trump’s strategy, “better be nice to me if you want any medical gear”. More from the WaPo:

“Anecdotally, there are wide differences….Democratic-leaning Massachusetts, which has had a serious outbreak in Boston, has received 17% of the protective gear it requested….Maine requested a half-million N95 specialized protective masks and received 25,558 — about 5% of what it sought. The shipment delivered to Colorado — 49,000 N95 masks, 115,000 surgical masks and other supplies — would be “enough for only one full day of statewide operations…”

But, when Trump’s guy is in charge, as in Florida, it’s a different story: (emphasis by Wrongo)

“Florida has been an exception in its dealings with the stockpile: The state submitted a request on March 11 for 430,000 surgical masks, 180,000 N95 respirators, 82,000 face shields and 238,000 gloves, among other supplies — and received a shipment with everything three days later…It received an identical shipment on March 23, according to the division, and is awaiting a third.”

So, three times what they asked for, while California, with Trump nemesis Democratic Governor Newsom in charge, actually got worse than nothing. KRON-TV in San Diego reports that Los Angeles received 170 broken ventilators from the national stockpile. Surely, a simple clerical error.

California also asked for 20 million N95 respirators, and has received 358,381.

Trump is actually doing what he’s been saying: “I am sending aid to states that like me, and withholding aid from states that don’t like me.” That’s Trump’s re-election strategy: Support the states he needs to win for an Electoral College victory.

Reward your friends, punish your enemies. Is that the kind of leadership America needs?

You know leadership when you see it. Sadly, even the UK’s Prime Minister Bozo Boris Johnson shows more leadership than America’s Bozo. After Johnson’s terrible start fighting the Coronavirus, one that rivaled Trump’s, things have turned around. There is consistent messaging: The government has adopted the slogan “Save lives”, “Protect the NHS” [the national health system], and “Stay home”. Simple and clear, something the entire country can rally around.

In the US? No message is simple, or clear. Most messages are conflicting or simply unworkable, like Trump’s suggestion of issuing an executive order quarantining the states of NY, NJ and CT, an unconstitutional and unenforceable idea. How about THAT for leadership.

Trump’s plan for re-election is: “If you aren’t dead, I saved you. Show some appreciation. I take no responsibility for those whose governors failed to save you“. Favoring those states he may need in 2020 is outrageous and criminal.

Two audio-visual aids today for your Monday Wake Up. First, a staggering animated chart showing the growth in Coronavirus cases world-wide during March, with a particular focus on the US:

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

Second, a hilarious YouTube video done to Queen’s “Bohemian Rhapsody”. Naturally, it’s called “Coronavirus Rhapsody“:

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

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Saturday Soother – March 21, 2020

The Daily Escape:

David Hockney (a new painting) — here’s a quote from Hockney: “Do remember they can’t cancel the spring 2020”.

Blog reader Fred VK emails:

“How do you know if you could be in a third world country? When you go see the Doctor, she greets you wearing a face mask that says ‘made by Mr. Coffee’”.

It is difficult for people to talk about anything else. COVID-19 is on the march, and America isn’t prepared for what’s coming. Worse, we’re unsure if this is a one-two month problem, or something that will last a year or longer. Most countries think that the virus will grow exponentially, and will kill many of their citizens. This leads nearly all governments to order many businesses to close. No one is traveling, except to their local stores. In Connecticut, no one is able to get a haircut for the duration.

But since Wall Street is still open, anyone who owns stocks has taken a huge haircut this week. Friday’s drop leaves Trump looking at a Dow average that’s 3% below what it was when he took office. He’s presided over the worst week in the stock market since 2008.

This market crash is due to investors trying to understand the extent of the damage to the US economy that’s being done by how we’re fighting COVID-19.

In order to save our society over the longer run, we’re actively putting ourselves into a very deep recession. That may mean that people will be out of work for a short, or a long time. If it’s a long fight, that may lead to a very dark economic time for all Americans.

A fundamental question is:

“What unpleasant decisions would our federal and state governments be willing to take to get us out of a deep recession, if the virus is still around a few months from now, and still killing a lot of people?”

Is restoring our economy, and putting Americans back to work worth a million lives lost? Is it worth 300,000?

Remember that before 9/11, no one thought we would surrender our freedoms for 3,000 deaths, but we did. No one thought we’d fight a nearly 20 year war that killed 6,789 and wounded 52,353 Americans, but we did.

Those wars have cost the American taxpayers $5.9 trillion since they began in 2001. We’ll easily spend $2 trillion between here and September to prop up the economy while fighting the Cornonavirus.

What kind of sacrifices will we be willing to make if the Coronavirus is still killing Americans on Election Day 2020? Which Party will be saying we should put people back to work?

It’s likely to be both Parties.

Dark, right? There are encouraging signs. Small acts of kindness in supermarkets, artists performing for free on the internet, people trying very hard to avoid making the elderly sick. These are all wonderful things, and we need much, much more of them.

Some say that it takes a common enemy like the Coronavirus to unite us. If we become united in the fight, and stay united once we’re victorious, that would be also be a wonderful thing.

So, let’s take a beat, and think hopeful thoughts about the arrival of spring. Here in northwest Connecticut, the peepers began singing a week ago, and the daffodils are blooming. The first dandelions are peeping through the grass, but we’re expecting snow on Monday. So winter isn’t over just yet.

Let’s try to soothe ourselves by listening to two pieces of spring music. First, “Spring Morning” by Frederick Delius, written around 1888. This is always a Wrongo favorite in spring:

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

Second, listen to Vivaldi’s Four Seasons: “Spring” (La Primavera) in a complete version, performed live in February 2020 by Alana Youssefian and the Voices of Music. This isn’t a “Vivaldi as usual” performance. Wrongo had never heard of Youssefian, but listening to her and the Voices of Music’s original instruments is a treat.

Subtitles in the video are words by Antonio Vivaldi!

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

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Monday Wake Up Call – March 16, 2020

The Daily Escape:

Blue Lakes Trailhead, near Telluride, CO – August 2018 photo by Will Colebank. See 360° view here.

Remember last Monday? Since then, we’ve had a week of body blows to both the national psyche, and the economy. Thank God that the market was closed last week. Oh, wait a minute…it was open.

Please, Trumpheads: Try not to kill us while attempting to govern! The administration is literally making a pandemic worse by once again not thinking through their policies. From the WaPo:

“Airports around the country were thrown into chaos Saturday night as workers scrambled to roll out the Trump administration’s hastily arranged health screenings for travelers returning from Europe.

Scores of anxious passengers…encountered jam-packed terminals, long lines and hours of delays as they waited to be questioned by health authorities at some of the busiest travel hubs in the US.”

Q: How do you spread a virus faster?
A. Pack a bunch of people into an airport virus screening line for six or seven hours.

This dog’s breakfast was caused by the administration’s “enhanced entry screenings”, one of Trump’s travel restrictions aimed at slowing the spread of the coronavirus within the US. Passengers on flights from more than two dozen countries in Europe were routed through 13 US airports, where workers checked their medical histories, and examined them for symptoms.

What could go wrong?

Is it a surprise that there was no advance staff coordination to assure that people could get through a crowd of suspected Coronavirus carriers reasonably quickly? It’s similar to Trump’s 2017 chaotic implementation of the Muslim travel ban that triggered confusion and protests when travelers were detained, or sent back with almost no warning from US airports.

In some airports, the immigration line for US citizens was longer than the one for non-citizens. How can intelligent people not think any of this through? It’s clear from the long lines that there was zero planning for this policy’s implementation.

Trump has failed AGAIN.

It’s likely this clusterfuck will speed disease transmission rather than not having a travel ban at all. This is another example of “we’ve gotta do something”, and they settle on an action that exacerbates the problem!

Second, what kind of crazy, messed-up world do we live in where the most reliable information about the coronavirus comes from anyone but the government? Where Rep. Devin Nunes (R-CA) tells everybody to go out to a restaurant, when the NIH’s Dr. Anthony Fauci is saying just the opposite?

Or, take Republican candidate for the Nevada Clark County School District Board of Trustees, Katie Williams. Williams is a former Ms. Nevada who was recently stripped of her title for posting political content supporting Trump on social media. She also ventured into pandemic denial when she tweeted this reply to Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez:

This is America, and I’ll do what I want” = “I’m too selfish to do anything that doesn’t benefit me.” Paul Campos puts his finger on the problem of 21st Century peak Republican asshole:

“The COVID-19 crisis is a classic collective action problem. Stopping it from overwhelming the nation’s health care system so that it causes hundreds of thousands or even millions of preventable deaths requires people to act as if society actually exists, and to recognize that the fact that they themselves may face a relatively low mortality risk is irrelevant to the much higher risk faced by the tens of millions of their fellow Americans.”

Expecting Americans in general, and Republicans in particular, to voluntarily engage in the kind of behavior that’s important for the greater good is not only unrealistic, it’s foolhardy.

Back to Williams: Can you imagine Nevada parents wanting one of the most selfish people in America on their kids’ school board?

Time to wake up America! As John Pavlovitz says:

The bill for MAGA has come due, Trump supporters.

It’s time to pay up.

The deferred invoice for you selling your souls is here….

This President didn’t create this virus,
but he ignored it,
denied it,
minimized it,
joked about it,
weaponized it,
politicized it,
exacerbated it.

To help you wake up, listen to King Crimson’s “Epitaph”, from their 2018 live album, “Radical Action”. The vocalist is Jakko Jakszyk:

Sample Lyric:

Confusion will be my epitaph
As I crawl a cracked and broken path
If we make it, we can all sit back and laugh
But I fear, tomorrow, I’ll be crying
Yes, I fear, tomorrow, I’ll be crying
Yes, I fear, tomorrow, I’ll be crying

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

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Saturday’s (No) Soother – March 14, 2020

The Daily Escape:

Mt. Pavlov and Pavlov’s sister, the Aleutians, AK – Pavlov is the most active volcano in the US. Hat tip: Ottho H.

We’re crossing a threshold between what we knew about public health, toward an unseen future. There’s no certainty about what that future will look like. As important as it is to remove Trump, his incompetence has made his removal our second national priority. He’s made beating the Coronavirus our number one priority.

This has a domino effect: We don’t just have a national health emergency, but soon, a recession. So many things cancelled. So much commerce deferred, and for how long? Think about how many working people are/will be out of work due to postponements and cancellations, due to small companies closing. Due to illness of family and deaths of loved ones.

Widespread illness is showing the cracks in our health care delivery system: In early January, America was among the best-prepared nations for an epidemic. Our large number of ICU beds, plus our stockpiles of drugs and medical equipment, made us the envy of many nations.

And we took an early lead: On January 6, the CDC issued a Level 1 travel watch for China. On January 7, the CDC established a 2019-nCoV Incident Management group. On January 8, the CDC began alerting clinicians to watch for patients with respiratory symptoms and a history of travel to Wuhan. On January 17, the CDC issued an updated interim Health Alert Notice (HAN) Advisory to inform state and local health departments and health care providers about this outbreak. We began screening passengers on flights from Wuhan to five major US airports.

On January 31, Trump announced blocking of entry of Chinese nationals and mandatory quarantines on US citizens who returned from affected parts of China.

Since then, we’ve had inaction and mistakes by the FDA and CDC, including screwing up the provision of desperately needed tests. Even now the CDC and FDA say there’s an inadequate supply of reagents used in the tests, a bottleneck that should have been dealt with in January.

Organizations require strong leadership. That allows established process and procedures to rule in an emergency. That’s why we need good elected leaders in charge of the experts. Today, it’s the other way around. This is inexcusable.

Here’s a thought about one of the detestable people who helped bring us to this new threshold between where we were, and where we’re going: Sen. Susan Collins (R-ME). In 2009, she singlehandedly removed $870 million in pandemic funding from the economic stimulus package:

From Grunwald’s tweet:

“Collins also deleted the pandemic flu preparations as a nonstarter”

Stop saying that Sen. Collins is a reasonable Republican. She’s proven time and again she’s not. It’s possible that there may not be any reasonable Republicans left. Please donate to Collins’s opponent, Democrat Sara Gideon.

Finally, haven’t we had enough of the lying and purposeful misinformation spewed by Trump? Eric Boehlert has a great idea: The media and the rest of us should stop listening to Trump:

“The President of the United States is actively endangering the American public, and at what point does the press decide that dutifully broadcasting Trump’s misinformation is not in the nation’s best interest. At what point does the press unplug Trump for the good of the country?”

His forum should be restricted to only FOX news. There is no reason to have presidential debates, since no fact-checking organization, much less any citizen, can keep up with Trump’s lies and misstatements. Sure, the GOP will complain that Biden (or Sanders) are chickens, that they’re too old to match wits with Trump. But the truth is, Trump should be denied a forum when and wherever possible.

He hasn’t earned being normalized by the rest of us. And don’t say we should respect the office – he doesn’t.

We need only one point to prove this: Trump did not push to do aggressive Coronavirus testing because more testing might have led to more Coronavirus cases being discovered. Trump made it clear the lower the numbers on Coronavirus, the better for him and his re-election this fall.

That disqualifies him.

Here’s a little tune to help you through the weekend. It’s “Enjoy Yourself (it’s later than you think)” by Jools Holland, The Specials, Hozier, Rhiannon Giddens and others performed in 2015:

And it IS later than you think! Those who read the Wrongologist in email can view the video here.

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Monday Wake Up Call – March 9, 2020

The Daily Escape:

Zion NP sunset from Watchman Overlook, UT – 2019 photo by kaushik612

Random thoughts on Monday:

Many of us have a tough time waking up on the first Monday after Daylight Savings Time kicks in. It’s more a case of “spring forward, fall flat”. Isn’t it ridiculous that a period that’s around for only 4.5 months out of 12 months is called “Standard Time“?

Who thinks that a 70-year-old (Trump) going on TV and telling a bunch of other 70-year-olds (Fox News viewers) that the Coronavirus is no big deal because it only kills old people, is a winning message?

Wrongo would like to think Trump can’t bullshit his way through an epidemic (“The tests are perfect!”). But GW Bush managed to bullshit his way through years of war in Iraq, including refusing to let us see lots of American body bags flown back to Dover AFB on TV.

The latest body bags now contain virus victims, and we’re seeing them up close and personal. Maybe that will matter to Americans who still think Trump is doing a helluva job.

You should read this article from The Atlantic on our botched test kits. South Korea has tested 200,000+ people, but The Atlantic could only confirm 1,895 tests in the US.

The region of Lombardy in Italy has enacted a forced quarantine for around 16 million residents. A doctor in Lombardy Italy reports that 9% of cases require hospital admittance. Recall that yesterday, Wrongo said that even a 5% admittance rate would overwhelm America’s ICU bed capacity.

Your virus coping strategy may be different than this one, since you follow the news:

The AP is telling us that the White House overruled the CDC, who wanted to recommend that elderly and physically fragile Americans be advised not to fly on commercial airlines because of the Coronavirus. The administration has since suggested certain people should consider not traveling, but they have stopped short of the stronger guidance sought by the CDC.

We learned that an attendee at last week’s Conservative Political Action Conference (CPAC), which Trump also attended, has tested positive for Coronavirus. Trump and Pence spoke at the gathering, which took place two weeks ago. Secretary of State Pompeo, Health and Human Services Secretary Azar, and newly-appointed White House chief of staff Mark Meadows also attended.

This is hilarious. Will they believe their own stories, or what?

Trump’s plan is simple. Offload the crisis to Pence. Run a bus over him if it goes wrong. Take credit if it goes right. There are no steps after that.

Finally, to banish the grogginess of your first “spring ahead” work day, take a moment and watch this video panorama of the Mars landscape. It was taken between Nov. 24 and Dec. 1, 2019. It’s composed of more than 1,000 images carefully assembled over the ensuing months, and contains nearly 1.8 billion pixels of Martian landscape that look surprisingly sharp and clear:

Think how far we’ve come in our ~200,000 years of Homo sapiens existence: Our ancestors were fascinated by the bright orbs above, and here we are, seeing the geographic features of another planet in mind-boggling detail from our home/office on a magical screen thingy.

We take this all for granted, but we’ve come a very long way in Wrongo’s lifetime. Mars looks so familiar, yet at the same time, so alien. It’s hard to fathom that we’re looking at another planet.

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

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Saturday Soother – February 22, 2020

(There will be no cartoons posted this week)

The Daily Escape:

Bass Harbor Head Light, Acadia NP, ME – 2019 photo by York Chen

Some are saying that the Democrats have abandoned the House as an instrument of power, and that it might be lost forever. The idea is that Democrats have surrendered the power of oversight, because they haven’t been able to use it effectively, and they can’t enforce their subpoena power.

This was the calculus of the Trump administration. If you stonewalled the House Democratic majority, their only option was to declare contempt. Once contempt is declared, it is up to the Department of Justice to enforce the order, an impossible expectation so long as it’s Trump’s DOJ.

After a contempt order has been issued, Congress can pass the order on to the DOJ or, to the DC US Attorney’s Office for prosecution as a civil or criminal matter. In theory, a charge of contempt could result in a fine or jail time, though in reality, that’s unlikely to happen.

After that, it’s up to the courts. That process takes a long time, and the outcome is far from certain. If a judge rules against Congress and in favor of the Trump administration, it could set new legal precedent that could make it easier for future presidential administrations to withhold information from future congressional committees.

The House did exercise its impeachment power, but it’s clear that regarding oversight, Trump has no intention of cooperating, nor will his administration. So the Democrats are facing a Constitutional question: The House is either an independent instrument of power and authority, or it is not.

We’d like to think that the next president and those that follow will not abuse their powers. Or if/when they do abuse power, they will be confronted by a Congress controlled by the other party, and both contempt and impeachment will be taken seriously by the president.

If a Democratic president and a Democratic Congress were elected, they could agree on a series of changes to limit presidential overreach and misconduct. Here are a few options:

  • Statutory penalties for contempt of Congress followed by swift review by the Court of Appeals for the DC Circuit
  • Tightening time limits for responding to Freedom of Information Act requests and enacting penalties for abuse
  • Restatement and enforcement of whistleblower protections, including penalties for outing and retaliating against whistleblowers

Even these moves may not be enough to rein in a president who has operational control of the DOJ. It will take the Supreme Court to settle the issue of the power of Congressional oversight vs. the power of the president’s executive privilege.

Trump’s presidency has revealed great vulnerabilities in our politics. Americans must want democracy badly enough if democracy is to survive. Despite our adulation of the framers, the Constitution works because Americans have made it work, not because of the brilliance of its design.

We’re facing a critical presidential election. There must be serious soul-searching by all of us regarding who should have political power.

The question for November is why have so many Americans lost faith in democracy, and what must we do to restore that faith?

No coffee recommendation today, we’re already waay too amped up from Trump’s pardons of bad actors along with his threat to pardon convicted liar Roger Stone. Or, maybe his arguing in Colorado Springs that Obama should be impeached put you over the edge. Maybe you were interested in seeing Mike Bloomberg take the debate stage, only to find out that Bloomberg brought a wallet to a knife fight.

Bloomberg was probably wishing he had bought a podium in a better neighborhood!

It’s time to get some distance from the circus in DC and forget about the shouting and posturing. It’s time to take a break with a Saturday Soother. This week settle back and listen to Leonard Cohen’s “Hallelujah” performed by the 5th grade chorus from PS22 in Staten Island, NYC. Wrongo promises you will be happy that you watched:

Think about how a public school music teacher reinvents his chorus every year with a new 5th grade class. This is one reason why we need to fund arts in public schools.

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

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Saturday Soother – Bill Barr Edition

The Daily Escape:

Peyto Lake, Jasper NP, Alberta CN – 2019 photo by TheMilkMan26

America needs a Trumpectomy, and that won’t happen until January 2021. The problem is that Trumpism is like a metastasized cancer, and maybe even excising Trump won’t be enough to cure the country.

When the story broke that AG William Barr had intervened in the sentencing recommendation for Roger Stone, most of the country was in an uproar. Career DOJ prosecutors left the case, and most of us were angry and in disbelief that Trump was directing the DOJ’s case along with his accomplice, AG Barr.

The Justice Department was also in disbelief. NBC News’ Ken Delanian reported that Department of Justice employees almost walked out en masse on Wednesday over Barr’s actions. Barr responded to the criticism from inside and outside the DOJ by telling ABC News that Trump’s constant tweets “make it impossible for me to do my job.” The first blush reaction to Barr’s statement was that Barr was complaining about Trump getting in his grill.

A much more realistic (and troubling) take is that Barr is defending his action as “perfect”, and the only reason that he’s taking flack is a completely unrelated tweet from Trump.

Barr’s criticism of Trump is about as real as professional wrestling. He’s a fan of executive power, and too aware of Trump’s personality to have done this without coordinating with the White House.

And if that wasn’t enough, the NYT reported on Friday that Barr assigned yet another outside prosecutor to scrutinize the DOJ’s criminal case against Michael Flynn, Trump’s former national security adviser. This is yet another case of political interference by the DOJ into the work of its own career prosecutors.

Flynn pleaded guilty, but at the start of the sentencing phase, he hired a new attorney, Sidney Powell, a darling of the right wing media, who is also a FOX contributor. She is contesting his guilty plea.

Barr said just the other day that he would not be bullied or swayed for political reasons, and would only act in the name of maintaining the highest judicial standards. Now, the question for Barr is: How did he pick the Stone and Flynn cases for the DOJ to pursue?

Flynn’s judge, Emmet Sullivan, wrote a 92-page opinion in December laying out why the things that Barr just hired another counsel to second-guess won’t affect Flynn’s guilt. Why is the entire Right wing is going to the mats to defend Flynn, a guy who was secretly on Turkey’s payroll while acting as Trump’s NatSec advisor?

Their hero is a guy who was selling out the US for $600K.

It’s important to remember that Flynn, Manafort, and Stone broke the law repeatedly. Barr is working to undermine our judicial process on their behalf. Now, you can prosecute the bad guys, but don’t mess with the president’s friends. Do that and you’ll be out of work, or worse.

This of course, changes how prosecutors will do their jobs.

Successfully performing the Trumpectomy will be an all hands on deck effort. We can’t give up hope. Wrongo returned from his military service in 1969, and protested the Vietnam War until it ended in 1975.

We need to resist Trumpism until it ends. Let’s close with two excerpts from Thomas Merton’s “Letter to a young activist”, written during the Vietnam War in 1966:

“This country is SICK, man. It is one of the sickest things that has happened. People are fed on myths, they are stuffed up to the eyes with illusions. They CAN’T think straight. They have a modicum of good will, and some of them have a whole lot of it, but with the mental bombardment everybody lives under, it is just not possible to see straight, no matter where you are looking.”

Sound familiar? Merton goes on to say:

“Vietnam is the psychoanalysis of the US. I wonder if the nation can come out of it and survive. I have a hunch we might be able to. But your stresses and strains, mine, Dan Berrigan’s, all of them, are all part of this same syndrome, and it is extremely irritating and disturbing to find oneself, like it or not, involved in the national madness.”

We’ve been here before, and with huge voter turnout, we can beat Trumpism.

We really need today’s Saturday Soother. To help you begin, let’s brew up a mug of Kona Bourbon Pointu Laurina, ($62.50/8oz.). Wrongo know that’s expensive, but use some of your Trump winnings to buy it from Hula Daddy, an artisanal coffee grower in Kona, Hawaii.

Now put on your headphones and listen to “21st Century USA” by the Drive By Truckers from their new album “Unraveled”. This isn’t designed to soothe you, but to fire you up:

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

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Saturday Soother – Acquittal Edition

The Daily Escape:

View from the top of Mt. Baden Powell in the Los Angeles National Forest – February 2020 photo by David Dodd

(Sunday cartoons will appear on Monday)

Is the game of investigating Trump over? What are the arguments for continuing to pick at this wound? This is a political calculation only. It no longer matters who said what in Ukraine, regardless of the damage caused by Trump. That ship has sailed.

It’s time to focus on the 2020 election, particularly on the House and Senate races. Focusing on winning those elections, and particularly on holding the House while winning a majority in the Senate, requires that the Democratic Party deal with its current schism. The Party is messily divided between social liberals who are for reform of capitalism along with Medicare for All, and free college, and moderates who wish to tack back towards the middle of the road.

The question that Democrats have to deal with is which of these two poles can make it a majoritarian party in 2020 and beyond?

This dilemma faced the Republicans only a short time ago, when the Tea Party threatened to split the GOP in two. Those cracks remained evident until Trump came along and united them in a way that today makes them seem more like a cult than a political party.

In some ways, Democrats are like the American Whig party was in the early 1850’s, when it could no longer bridge the gap between the Whigs of the northern industrial states and the Whigs of the southern farming/slavery states. It was an irreconcilable dilemma, and in short order, the party simply ceased to exist, only to re-emerge as the Republican Party in 1856.

The Democrats have been trending this way since LBJ forced southern Democrats to vote for/against the Civil Rights Act in 1964 and the Voting Rights Act of 1965. Later, the formation of the Democratic Leadership Council in 1985, founded in part by Bill Clinton, pushed the Democrats rightward.

The “Left Party” that is trying to emerge from the current shambles of the Democratic Party could be more properly defined as a reactionary movement. An attempt to return to the days of the New Deal and the rise of the middle class.

In that sense, Wrongo is a New Deal Reactionary. The New Deal was a good deal for most of us. We should want our New Deal back again.

The question on the table is: Which half of the divided Democratic Party should New Deal Reactionaries support? Is it the Sanders/Warren half, or the Biden/Bloomberg/Buttigieg half of the Party? If it’s Sanders, can we get a New Deal Revival, but no Recreational Socialism to go along with that?

Can the moderate/ConservaDems realistically be counted on to bring back the New Deal? We see that ConservaDems are willing to strap on their running shoes and do 3 miles in the morning, because “no pain no gain”. But somehow, once at work in the House or Senate, they claim that the hardship doesn’t make sense economically, so why even try?

The answers to these twin questions: Whether the Party can be re-united similar to the way Trump united the GOP, and which half of the Party should attempt that unification in November 2020, will determine the arc of our democracy for decades to come.

It was a terrible week, and now we need a break from “all acquittal, all the time”. That means it’s time for our Saturday Soother, a brief window when we can forget about the outside world and concentrate on breathing slowly and relaxing mind and body.

Let’s start by brewing up a vente cup of El Salvador Finca el Cerro Natural ($22.99/12oz.). The roaster, Virginia’s Red Rooster Coffee says it tastes of strawberry and tangerine zest with a viscous mouthfeel.

Now, grab a seat by the fire and listen to Anna Netrebko perform “Solveig’s Song” from Peer Gynt’s Suite No.2, live with the Prague Philharmonia conducted by Emmanuel Villaume in 2008:

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

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