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The Wrongologist

Geopolitics, Power and Political Economy

Monday Wake Up Call – May 14, 2018

The Daily Escape:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Sample Lyrics:

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

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

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Saturday Soother – May 12, 2018

The Daily Escape:

Cherry blossoms at Hirosaki Castle, Aomori Prefecture Japan. It was built in 1611. Photo by Huffington Post

Spring is in full flower on the fields of Wrong. Our pear, plum, cherry, quince and crab apple trees all bloomed on Monday. By Friday, most began shedding their flowers. While they were in full bloom, honey and bumble bees swarmed the flowers, making each tree sound as if tiny motors were running on every branch. We also had both Baltimore and Orchard Orioles working hard to strip the crab apple trees of their setting fruit. It was a delight to watch and listen while standing under the trees.

But now, the birds and the bees are moving on to more promising targets, just like Trump is doing with his foreign policy. He’s leaving behind the so-called “bad deal” in Iran, for what will almost certainly turn out to be a similar deal with North Korea. Some have started a victory lap on North Korea, saying that only Trump could have brought Kim Jong-Un to the table. Maybe, but declarations of victory are certainly premature. We have been at least this far with North Korea before.

Wrongo doesn’t buy the outrage in Washington about CIA Director-designate Gina Haspel. Few of us who work inside large organizations have the strength to stand up and refuse to take an action simply because it offends our moral sensibility. We balance the thought that it could cost our job, or our next promotion. And besides, the boss is telling me it’s OK to do it.

Wrongo despises the idea of torture, and believes that America must provide the world with leadership that, by our example, shows that torture is wrong. OTOH, at the time, Haspel was part of a large system that said torture was legal. She was faced with a dilemma: to choose between what she was ordered to do, and what she now says she wouldn’t do again. And don’t trot out that “only following orders” is no defense. Often, in a large system, not following orders leads automatically to dismissal.

Try not to have knee-jerk outrage for someone who, like you, hasn’t always been in a position with sufficient power to use their sense of morality as their guide to all actions.

And we can’t let the week end without a comment on Trump’s lawyer, Michael Cohen. The WaPo has internal company records that show Cohen’s $600,000 deal with AT&T: (emphasis by Wrongo)

Three days after President Trump was sworn into office, the telecom giant AT&T turned to his personal attorney Michael Cohen for help on a wide portfolio of issues pending before the federal government — including the company’s proposed merger with Time Warner, according to documents obtained by The Washington Post.

The internal documents reveal for the first time that Cohen’s $600,000 deal with AT&T specified that he would provide advice on the $85 billion merger, which required the approval of federal antitrust regulators.

You may remember that Trump said he opposed the ATT/Time Warner merger, so who better to retain than his personal lawyer?

You might ask, what insight Cohen, a real estate attorney and taxi cab owner could provide AT&T on complex telecom matters? And AT&T has now admitted they messed up by trying to use Cohen as a way to reach Trump.

Trump hasn’t drained the swamp, he’s simply released his own critters into it.

So on this Saturday, relax and see if you can get soothed before starting your yard work, or whatever other spring project awaits. Begin with a strong cup of “Thanks Mom” coffee ($20/12oz) for Mother’s Day from Bird Rock Coffee Roasters in La Jolla, CA. They say its decadent flavors of caramel, red cherry and apple blossom will surely create a Mother’s Day to remember.

Your mom’s mileage may vary. She may prefer dinner at a fancy restaurant.

Now, put on your Bluetooth headphones, sit in the sun and listen to “Moorland Elegies: No. 1. Come, Walk With Me” by Estonian composer, Tõnu Kõrvits. The Moorland Elegies is a nine-part cycle for mixed choir and string orchestra. The texts are poems by Emily Bronte. It is a sonic tone painting.

It is performed here by the Estonian Philharmonic Chamber Choir and the Tallinn Chamber Orchestra, conducted by Risto Joost in Tallinn’s St. John’s Church in October, 2015:

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

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Monday Wake Up Call – May 7, 2018

The Daily Escape:

Banff, Alberta, Canada – 2018 photo by erubes1

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

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

Rolling Stone gives some background: (brackets by Wrongo)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Saturday Soother – May 5, 2018

The Daily Escape:

Rua Nova do Carvalho, Lisbon Portugal – 2016 photo by Brotherside. Formerly a part of the red light district, but when the street was painted pink in 2011, it quickly became the epicenter of a vibrant party scene.

In a week with a Hawaiian volcano’s eruption, Bibi’s nuclear song-and-dance, and Rudy’s confessions on Fox that Trump had indirectly paid hush money to Stormy, you may have missed the report that the fired House Chaplain is back at work. The WaPo reported:

House Speaker Paul D. Ryan (R-WI) reversed course Thursday and agreed to keep the Rev. Patrick J. Conroy on as House chaplain after an extraordinary showdown that included the priest alleging anti-Catholic bias among Ryan’s staff.

Ryan defended his original decision and continued to question whether Conroy was delivering sufficient “pastoral services” to the entire House. “I intend to sit down with Father Conroy early next week so that we can move forward for the good of the whole House,” Ryan said.

That is how it ended. His return started when Rev. Pat Conroy rescinded his resignation in a letter to Ryan. Conroy wrote:

While you never spoke with me in person, nor did you send me any correspondence, on Friday, April 13, 2018 your Chief of Staff, Jonathon Burks, came to me and informed me that you were asking for my letter of resignation. I inquired as to whether or not it was ‘for cause,’ and Mr. Burks mentioned dismissively something like, ‘maybe it’s time that we had a Chaplain that wasn’t a Catholic.’

Great job, Mr. Burks! Did you know that there have been exactly two Catholics as House Chaplain?

Fr. Conroy continued:

At that point, I thought that I had little choice but to resign, as my assumption was that you had the absolute prerogative and authority to end my term as House chaplain.

This was mostly about the tin ear that some Republicans have when it comes to social issues. One House member, Rep. Mark Walker (R-NC), who is also a Baptist pastor, apparently said that the next House chaplain needed to have a family.

That would rule out anyone who, like Fr. Conroy, had taken a vow of celibacy. Why do some people continually use their religion to bludgeon others?

Democrats and a few Republicans have said they believed that Speaker Ryan was facing pressure from evangelicals within the GOP conference to find a chaplain whose politics more closely aligned with theirs, but for now, this little “holy war” in the House is over. Maybe the next House Chaplain should be a Zen warrior priest who roams the halls, hitting Congress critters with his sword, you know, in a pastoral manner.

Spring has sprung with a vengeance in the Northeast. Today, Wrongo has battled a love sick bird that is trying to build a nest above the kitchen door at the Mansion of Wrong. The determined bird tried three times before finally bowing to Wrongo’s will.

It’s Saturday, and we need to downshift, to turn our focus from all that is wrong with the world, to all that’s right. To help you make the change, start by brewing a cup of Taiwan roaster Kakalove Café’s Mandheling Onan Ganjang sourced from the northern part of the Indonesian island of Sumatra ($18.50/16 oz.). The roaster says it is deeply sweet with vibrant acidity, and a syrupy mouthfeel.

Now, sit outside, take in the nature surrounding you, and listen to Sierra Boggess singing “The Lusty Month of May” from Camelot. It is performed live in 2012 at the BBC Proms:

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

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Saturday Soother – Korean Peace Edition

The Daily Escape:

Haze caused by smoke from a wildfire, Wind River Range, WY – 2018 photo by UtahPictures

Their handshake made history. North Korea’s leader Kim Jong-un and South Korea’s President Moon Jae-in met each other at the border, then walked hand in hand into South Korea for a meeting between countries still technically at war.

Whether they can declare an end to the war will be the subject of more negotiations and trust-building over the next few months, perhaps years. They did sign an accord that commits them to the complete denuclearization of the Korean peninsula.

This is either a huge step forward, or it is another case of false hope for a peace that has eluded the two Koreas for 65 years. Either way, it is an unprecedented diplomatic initiative between the two Koreas that could reduce global tensions.

South Korea’s peace offensive with the North has taken the US’s threat of military confrontation against North Korea off the table, unless the peace discussions should fail. Their preemptive diplomacy has left the US with no option but to move to the negotiating table without insisting that North Korea relinquish its nuclear weapons as a precondition. Is Trump behind this strategy? Historians will tell us some time in the future.

Strategically, North Korea looks like it is willing to work toward peace. They are in a win-win situation. If sanctions are eased, and peace talks move incrementally to a successful conclusion, a process of socio-economic rebirth in the North (a Kim Jong-un priority) can begin.

If Trump can’t agree with Kim Jong-un, we will find ourselves at odds with our South Korean ally. In that case, China might walk away from its sanctions against the North, blaming the US for not making progress in the face of the offer by Kim Jong-un to renounce his nuclear weapons.

South Korea’s president, Moon Jae-in needs to find a middle ground between his cunning enemy to the North and his impulsive ally in the US. And no one should expect that Kim will capitulate on Trump’s key demand of total and immediate nuclear disarmament.

That’s the biggest problem. South Korea’s president favors an “action for action” strategy in which the North takes steps to dismantle its nuclear arsenal, and is rewarded for each move with economic benefits and security guarantees.

South Korean officials said that the entire process could take about two years.

But Trump’s national security team has insisted that North Korea scrap its weapons programs before any relief from the sanctions can be granted. And they say that “substantial dismantlement” should be completed much more quickly, perhaps in six months.

Moon’s position is to offer economic benefits and security guarantees incrementally, based on one small agreement after another, until both sides are comfortable. In short, his plan is: Be sensible. No one needs to be humiliated. No one has to win. No one has to lose. Deal with issues one by one. Don’t refuse to talk about anything at all. Talk. That’s what sensible people do.

No one knows where this goes. The two Koreas have struck similar agreements in the past. For example, in 1991, Pyongyang and Seoul promised to end the Korean War, but never did. And in 2005, North Korea and five other countries — including the US and South Korea — struck a deal to end Pyongyang’s nuclear program in exchange for economic aid. That deal fell through.

President Moon has acknowledged that there is a limit to what the two Koreas can agree on without American involvement:

Peace on the Korean Peninsula cannot be achieved by agreements between South and North Korea alone…It has to have American endorsement.

But, nobody knows how the Trump wild card will play out.

But today’s Saturday. For now, let’s bask in a little hope. It’s spring, and buds and flowers abound. The fields of Wrong have bluebirds in two separate nest boxes sitting on eggs. We’ve over-seeded the whole 3 acres of grass to keep our world green and weed-free. Time to brew up a cup of Red Rooster Coffee’s 4 & 20 French Roast that the roaster says is dark and intense, full of complexity, with lots of spice and chocolate.

Now settle back, and listen to Aaron Copland’s “Appalachian Spring”, performed here by the Sydney Camerata Chamber Orchestra, conducted by Luke Gilmour, in 2011. Copland was awarded the 1945 Pulitzer Prize for Music for this work. Here it is performed by a 13-piece orchestra, which Copland scored for the eponymous ballet, choreographed by Martha Graham. Wrongo prefers the chamber version to the full orchestra version:

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

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Saturday Soother – April 21, 2018

The Daily Escape:

Bluebells in Hallerbos, Belgium – April 2018 photo by shinbaninja. Bluebells bloom only for about 10 days.

Welcome to the weekend. Let’s take a detour from the continuous drip, drip, drip, of Comey, Stormy, Syria, Cohen, Russia, and North Korea. Instead, take a look at an example of GOP maliciousness that passed under the radar, like a cruise missile, but aimed at American consumers.

The NYT’s Thursday business section reported about Senate Republicans passing a piece of legislation that will eviscerate a little bit more of the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau’s (Bureau) supervision in the financial sector: (emphasis, brackets and link by Wrongo)

The Senate voted on Wednesday to overturn an Obama-era rule that restricted automobile lenders from discriminating against minorities by charging them higher fees for car loans, in the latest attempt by Republican lawmakers to roll back financial regulations.

Republican lawmakers, along with one Democrat, Senator Joe Manchin of West Virginia, seized on the Congressional Review Act to overturn guidance issued in 2013 by the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau. The 1996 law [Congressional Review Act] gives Congress the power to nullify rules formulated by government agencies but has primarily been used to void recently enacted rules.

After the Government Accountability Office determined late last year that the consumer bureau’s 2013 guidance on auto lending was technically a rule that could be rolled back, Republicans, led by Senator Patrick J. Toomey (R-PA), targeted it for rescission by using the Congressional Review Act. The House is expected to follow suit and also use the Congressional Review Act to void the guidance.

Republicans have been against the Bureau, which was established under the 2010 Dodd-Frank law since it was passed. Trump’s pick to lead the agency, at least on an interim basis, Mick Mulvaney, has largely frozen its rule-making and enforcement.

Democrats and consumer watchdogs criticized the Senate’s move. Rion Dennis of Americans for Financial Reform, said:

By voting to roll back the CFPB’s work, senators have emboldened banks and finance companies to engage in racial discrimination by charging millions of people of color more for a car loan than is justified….Lawmakers have also opened the door to challenging longstanding agency actions that are crucial to protecting workers, consumers, civil rights, the environment and the economy.

Senator Richard Blumenthal, (D-CT) warned that rescinding the Bureau’s guidance would lead to a flood of unfair, predatory lending:

This truly repugnant resolution ignores the unacceptable, undeniable truth that consumers’ interest rates are regularly marked up based on their race or ethnicity — a disgusting practice that continues to run rampant across the country…

A 2011 report from the Center for Responsible Lending analyzed loan level data and found that African-Americans and Latinos were receiving higher numbers of interest rate markups on their car loans than white consumers. The Bureau issued guidance in 2013 urging auto lenders to curb discriminatory lending practices and used that guidance to justify lawsuits that they brought against auto finance companies.

The Department of Justice can still bring lawsuits against auto lenders for discriminatory practices, even if the guidance is nullified. But legal experts say the government could be less successful in bringing such cases without the guidance from a government agency saying the practices are viewed as improper.

Why are Republicans so mean-spirited? This is just gratuitous maliciousness towards African-Americans and other people of color. Who benefits, except a few huge GOP donors in the financial services industry?

This is another example of why TURNOUT in November is all that we have left to save the Republic.

No way to spin it, we’ve had another tough week, so it’s time for a Saturday Soother. Let’s start by brewing a yuuge cup of Sumatra Tano Batak ($21/12 oz.). The beans come from the northern part of the Indonesian island of Sumatra, and are valued for their complex earth and fruit notes. That comes from using unorthodox fruit removal and drying practices called “wet-hulling.” Then the beans are roasted by PT’s Coffee in Topeka, Kansas. According to them, drinking it invokes the experience of eating cherries in a flower garden next to a patch of fresh, fragrant, just-turned earth.

Sounds like it could be the Fields of Wrong on a warm April day.

Now settle back in a comfy chair and listen to the most underappreciated jazz singer, Johnny Hartman. He’s Wrongo’s favorite of that era. Here he is singing “I’ll Remember April” from his 1955 album, “Songs from the Heart”. It was Hartman’s debut album:

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

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Monday Wake Up Call – April 16, 2018

The Daily Escape:

Dumbo, NYC – August 2017 photo by Kelly Kopp

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Sample Lyrics:

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

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

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

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Saturday Soother – April 14, 2018

The Daily Escape:

Pang Mapha Cave in Thailand – photo by John Spies

We’ve made it to Saturday! This concludes one of the more cacophonous political weeks in quite a while.

Paul Ryan is retiring from Congress, and is taking his signed first editions of Ayn Rand’s books back to Janesville, WI. No need to hold a benefit, Paul has $10 million in campaign funds in the bank, and is likely to land a rainmaker job on Wall Street.

Ryan joins the record number of Republicans who’ve decided against seeking re-election. They’re fleeing the anger directed at them for both their hyper-partisanship, and their inability to do much. It is difficult to overestimate the damage Ryan has done to this country. His devotion to the Republican narrative at the expense of truth hasn’t helped our democracy.

His “deficit reduction” proposals were always frauds. The revenue loss from tax cuts always exceeded any explicit spending cuts, so Ryan’s pretense of fiscal responsibility came entirely from “magic asterisks”: Extra revenue from closing unspecified loopholes, reduced spending from cutting unspecified programs.

Ryan took the helm of the House two and a half years ago, because he was seen as the only Congresscritter who could keep Republicans from fratricide. They had already shut down the government, and toppled their former Speaker, John Boehner.

Ryan leaves with the gaps in the party as evident as ever, but drawn along slightly different lines, with nativists and populists following the lead of President Trump. This hard right faction is pitted against what little remains of Mr. Ryan’s brand of traditional conservatism. But Ryan hewed to all of the Right-wing talking points. He faithfully ran interference for those who tried to turn the middle class into serfs beholden to the 1%. And he was in the NRA’s pocket. Sayonara, Mr. Ryan.

And, despite two days of congressional hearings on Facebook, the image that remains is Mark Zuckerberg trying to explain to people who have no idea of how Facebook works what he’s going to do to fix what they don’t understand.

There was a lot of talk about how to better ensure privacy, how to prevent user data from being provided to advertisers. But that is the business model of Facebook: Advertisers use the data collected by Facebook to present specific consumers with what they’re specifically selling.

It works because users often want to buy exactly what they’re being sold. That’s how Facebook makes money.

Users happily share details about themselves and their lives, and Facebook provides those data to advertisers. Even if it’s a little creepy, advertisers are learning way too much about every Facebook user, and most of Facebook’s users are willing participants in the creepiness.

Facebook certainly shouldn’t be allowed to sell those data to any party running a political operation. But it remains to be seen whether Facebook can effectively self-regulate, or whether Congress is up to the task of regulating that which it knows nearly nothing about…sort of like when they tried to regulate Wall Street.

Most of us can read between the political lines. Ryan’s one accomplishment is a flawed tax cut that will turn out huge budget deficits for years.

Zuckerberg? Well, almost everyone’s on Facebook. And on Facebook, like in Congress, half-truths predominate. Facebook gives you the latest selfie of your friends who are at a dinner that you weren’t invited to. Everybody joins because it’s free, and hundreds of millions of Americans already use it.

So this week, Zuckerberg and Ryan both got out of DC unscathed. Hard to believe that Zuckerberg is the more consequential person.

Anyhow, it’s a warm Saturday in the northeast, and the yardwork beckons. For some procrastinators, so does that final touch-up on the old 1040 form. Before getting to all that, it’s time to settle back and have a tall strong cup of PT Coffee of Topeka, Kansas’s Finca Kilimanjaro / Burundi Process + Ethiopia Process with its tasting notes of Fig, Caramel, and Cedar ($54/16oz.).

Now settle back in a chair where you can watch the birds building their nests, and listen to Jean-Baptiste DuPont play Franz Liszt’s, Prélude et Fugue sur Bach on the 1889 Cavaillé-Coll organ in the Basilica Saint-Sernin in Toulouse, France. Liszt composed this in 1855, as an homage to JS Bach. Note that the organist uses no sheet music:

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

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Monday Wake Up Call – April 9, 2018

The Daily Escape:

Canada Warbler

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

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

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

From Bloomberg:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

This is not going to go the way you think…

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

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

Sample Lyrics:

Pump it up, until you can feel it

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

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

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Saturday Soother – April 7, 2018

The Daily Escape:

Cherry Blossoms, Tokyo Japan – March 29 photo by Eugene Hoshiko

Maybe Wrongo has Spring Fever, but how could he, when it snowed again yesterday? He promises to put the snow shovel in the garage for its three-season nap on Monday, no matter what.

The delay of spring’s arrival got Wrongo thinking about change. We like to think that little changes in our environments, either natural, or socio-cultural, but change they do, every day. And except for a few details, Wrongo is certain that this blog’s readers are all on the same page: Change is in the air, and nothing stays the same. And we’re not just talking about the weather.

Yesterday is gone
Tomorrow is already here.

Wrongo has been writing this blog since March, 2010. Over the past eight years, he has explained how our political/social/economic systems operate, and why/how they can easily fail. And how we do not seem to have a rational, coherent plan to avoid that failure. Yet, each year we seem to inch closer to failure.

Are we doing anything more than Don Quixote was doing? Wrongo, by writing and you, by reading this blog? But Wrongo persists. He’s here, you are here, and once again, as in 1968, change is in the air.

Millions of people are on the move, leaving their ancestral homes, fleeing conflict and poverty. They are trying to find a place to survive, while others who were left behind are dying in the millions. With the increased efforts by migrants to survive, both Europe and the US are closing the gates, hoping to keep the immigrant mob on the outside. But at home, we already have achieved conflict, poverty and death that isn’t caused by immigrants. It is, to paraphrase Jimmy Buffet, “Our own damn fault”.

On Monday in our little corner of Connecticut, we will have a very New England form of direct democracy, a special town meeting. Those citizens who show up will get to vote on whether the Town issues bonds to finance the repair of our roads, which have suffered 20+ years of deferred maintenance. Maybe 100 people will show up, (out of 8,000 voters) maybe less. Those who do show up will decide if we fix our roads, or not. They will decide if lower taxes are better than safe roads.

So Wrongo and Ms. Right spent today stuffing envelopes into mailboxes. This vote is the culmination of a two-year effort to get our town to address how poor our roads have become. We will see if our efforts today help to break voters from their Golden Slumbers, and participate.

If they fail to show up, it will be their own damn fault if the vote goes against whatever their viewpoint is on the bonds.

Wrongo believes that political change is in the air, but that change locally and nationally depends primarily on voter turnout. Turnout depends on people being motivated enough to waddle on down to their polling place and vote, even if the weather is bad, the candidate isn’t perfect, and their one vote doesn’t seem to matter.

But today’s Saturday, and it’s time to settle back, relax, and get soothed. Or work on your taxes, if you have procrastinated. To help you relax, brew up a cup of Gedeb Lot 83 Ethiopia Natural coffee ($18.95/12oz) from JBC Coffee Roasters in Madison, WI. It has a sweetly tart structure with a rich umami undercurrent and satiny mouthfeel.

Now settle back in your favorite chair and listen to “Spring Waltz” supposedly by Frédéric Chopin.

However, it isn’t really called that, it isn’t a waltz, and it isn’t by Chopin. It is actually “Mariage d’Amour” composed by Paul de Senneville in 1987. It was wrongly titled and became wildly popular, so the various YouTube channels that feature it won’t correct its name. Still it is very beautiful, and of the season:

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

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