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The Wrongologist

Geopolitics, Power and Political Economy

The One World At Home Concert

The Daily Escape:

Hanging Lake, CO – 2018 photo by porkchopsandbeer

Wrongo and Ms. Right watched the “One World Together at Home” television concert last Saturday. We stumbled upon it, meaning that wherever it was promoted, it never entered our consciousness. Let’s chalk that up to the distractions abounding in our year of living dangerously.

The two-hour event featured pre-recorded remote performances from Lady Gaga, Stevie Wonder, Paul McCartney, Elton John, Lizzo, and Taylor Swift, among many others. If you haven’t seen it, the video is available here.

It wasn’t originally planned as a fundraiser, but it inspired people across America to donate. Billboard reports that the show was watched by more than 21 million people, and we learned that it raised $127 million for COVID-19 aid.

For Wrongo, there were three highlights of the show. First, the Rolling Stones lip-synching to “You Can’t Always Get What You Want”, with Charlie Watts air drumming. He played a cushioned chair as a hi-hat. We definitely needed a pick me up, and unsurprisingly, Charlie was right on time. Mick, Keith and Ronnie were actually playing, and there was a keyboard and drum track, but it all worked.

Second, Lizzo, this generation’s Aretha, sang Sam Cooke’s “A Change Is Gonna Come”. Very nice, it was worth the whole show.

Third, Keith Urban performed “Higher Love” as a trio, with two digital copies of himself performing. At the end of the tune, Nicole Kidman came out and kissed one of the carbon copies. Like the Rolling Stones, Urban’s video added levity to an otherwise somber set of performances.

Some down notes: Jennifer Lopez doing a note-for-note cover of Barbara Streisand’s “People”. And although not noticed by Wrongo, industry pros reported that Lady Gaga sang to the wrong side of a $20k Neumann microphone.

On balance, although the performances rarely were of the quality of the studio or live experience we are used to, it was a nice way to pass a couple of hours. Watching some big names live streaming using (mostly) modest home equipment leaves us with a sense that maybe, there’s not a huge divide between the talent of the anointed few, and the talents of the rest of us.

Since the start of the pandemic, we have been flooded with feel good moments from around the world, many are musically based, and the musical parodies can be fun.

Here’s one that is a serious reworking of The Band’s classic tune, “The Weight” by Robbie Robertson, remade in 2019 for the 50th anniversary of the song. It features musicians performing together across 5 continents, led by Robertson and Ringo Starr.

It was produced by the charity, Playing For Change. Their focus is to record musicians performing in their natural environments in a series called “Songs Around the World”. They also have a nonprofit that builds music and art schools for children internationally.

The musicians performing on “The Weight” are incredible, but whoever mixed and edited it deserves a Grammy. The changes in vocalists and instrumentation feels natural and seamless. The sound is always balanced, and the editor also gives each musician a sufficient share of the limelight. We also meet some amazing artists many of whom were unknown, at least to Wrongo.

In these days of social distancing, this shows that distance can be a state of mind. Take a load off and turn it up. Trust Wrongo, you won’t be dissapointed:

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

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Monday Wake Up Call, Social Cohesion Edition – April 20, 2020

The Daily Escape:

Alstrom Point overlook, Lake Powell, AZ – photo by Gleb_Tarro

World War II lasted six years. Americans from coast to coast planted victory gardens; turned bacon grease into bombs; recycled paper, metal, and rubber. Staples like sugar were rationed. Mothers went to work in defense plants. The war lasted six years, and half a million Americans died.

Fast forward: While some might say we’re not at war, it sure feels like we’re under attack. But our flag-waviest Americans today can’t even last six weeks, much less pull together.

Turns out, we have lost most of our social cohesion, the collective will to commit to a path, and work together to make the goal a reality.

In the past, we had a set of unwritten expectations that members of our society were expected to comply with, like voting, paying taxes, and displaying tolerance for others. Even these deminimus expectations are fraying today.

We’re being told that we’re on one team, or the other: Team working, or Team lockdown. Each is supposed to do the best it can to help control the virus, but people are becoming frustrated and angry.

If you need a visual representation of the reasons why, take a look at this chart from Visual Capitalist:

You can view a bigger version of the chart here.

The chart graphs jobs by income and degree of risk of catching COVID-19. They used the following criteria to establish level of risk:

  1. Contact With Others: How much does this job require the worker to be in contact with others in order to perform it?
  2. Physical Proximity: To what extent does this job require the worker to perform tasks in close physical proximity to others?
  3. Exposure to Disease and Infection: How often does this job require exposure to hazardous conditions?

Visual Capitalist then assigned a Risk Score between 0 and 100, with 100 representing the highest possible risk to each job. More from Visual Capitalist: (emphasis by Wrongo)

“Many individuals have been practicing social distancing by working from home in recent weeks. While this arrangement can be a great way to reduce one’s exposure to COVID-19, it’s a luxury that’s available to just 29% of Americans.

The situation for the remaining 71% is uncertain, to say the least. A significant portion of the population has lost their jobs due to business shutdowns and mandated lockdown orders. Others employed in “essential services” have continued working as usual, but may face a higher risk of potential exposure to the virus.”

Andrew Noymer, a public-health professor and an expert on the 1918 influenza pandemic, observed:

“Someone is at home wondering how he’s going to make rent and feed his family,” he said. “And someone else is wondering if they can binge-watch the first season of The Sopranos…”

So it’s understandable that at least 71% of America want to end the lockdown. They are business owners who stand to lose plenty, or unemployed workers who have nothing left to lose.

There’s a disconnect with the end the lockdown reasoning and the world in which we live. We live, work, play, and eat together. We buy from and sell to each other. We depend on the farmers, the truck drivers, the street repair people, and the bankers. More than ever, we depend on the medical people, the teachers, and the people who run all kinds of business, big and small. And they depend on all the people who work for them.

The virus has disrupted all of that.

Are the lockdown protesters ready to pitch in and take the high risk jobs above? Will they drive the buses? Wait on tables? Deliver the groceries? Clean hospital rooms? Work with people who may be infected in nursing homes?

Time to wake up, America! We need to reach back and try for more social cohesion, or we’re lost. To help us wake up, we turn to Bob Dylan. Let’s listen to his “Slow Train Coming”:

Today, it’s no longer a Slow Train. It’s high-balling down the track.

Sample lyric:

Big-time negotiators, false healers and woman haters

Masters of the bluff and masters of the proposition

But the enemy I see wears a cloak of decency

All nonbelievers and men stealers talking’ in the name of religion

And there’s a slow, slow train comin’ up around the bend

People starving and thirsting, grain elevators are bursting

Oh, you know it costs more to store the food than it do to give it

They say lose your inhibitions follow your own ambitions

They talk about a life of brotherly love show me someone who knows how to live it

There’s a slow, slow train comin’ up around the bend

 

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

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Saturday Soother – April 18, 2020

The Daily Escape:

Rainbow appears over NYC at 7pm, the time of change of shift for NYC’s health workers – April 13th 2020 photo by Steve Braband. Thanks to reader Shelley VK.

An argument by those who want to end the lockdown about those who think we should keep it is:  “You have shut down the economy because you think even one death is too many.”

That is a misrepresentation of what America’s governors have done. They really have said: “We reduced the economy and restricted daily activities because otherwise, as many as a million people might die.”

What is missed by the “live free or die” folks is that these actions were taken to reduce the risks to human life from the pandemic. They say, you shouldn’t ask us to stay locked down, because “life is full of risk anyway”.

To a degree, they are correct. Lockdowns only work for the privileged. They don’t work for everyone, because the level of income support and debt relief provided by the government is inadequate to the need. If landscapers are not essential in a state, they don’t work. But since they live paycheck to paycheck, they won’t be able to buy food. And when they see others working and earning, that’s got to be angering.

If we ask people for sacrifice and compliance, the country must at least secure their short term needs.

Since the government isn’t providing adequately for those needs, rebelliousness, non-compliance, and virus denialism are on the rise, as we saw in Thursday’s large demonstration in Michigan.

In Connecticut, Wrongo’s home state, the major issue every spring is passing the town budget. With a COVID-19 shutdown in effect, Governor Ned Lamont (D) issued an executive order suspending in-person voting for the next fiscal year’s budget. And there is no vote by mail option in CT.

His order has been met with livid anger on the right and left, conjuring up “no taxation without representation” and calls to “stand up for your rights”. People are saying if they can shop using social distance, why can’t they vote using social distance?

What angers many in town is that voters have rejected several budgets in recent years. The town then lowers the numbers, and it goes back to voters who eventually approve it. They could simply roll over last year’s approved budget, but instead, they’re going to pass a budget increase along with an increase in taxes, without ratification by voters.

The executive order seems wrong-headed, and it’s making people very angry. And so non-compliance will grow, as will denialism that the virus is a serious health problem.

All of this may help the virus flare up again soon.

In a comment, blog reader Terry McKenna brought up the concept of the “Tragedy of the Commons”, the idea that all individuals have a right to consume a resource even if it comes at the expense of other individuals. If demand overwhelms supply, every individual who consumes an additional unit directly harms all others who can no longer benefit from it.

Most Americans don’t think about how their actions impact others. Most are unwilling to even temporarily comply with limitations placed on them for the common good. With Operation Gridlock in Michigan, we’re seeing more proof that when human health and safety go up against the almighty dollar, humans will lose.

People should remember that finding a vaccine for the virus is not a sure thing. There’s also little reason to believe that once a vaccine is found, that it will be completely effective. The longer people are allowed to think that universal Coronavirus immunity is just around the corner, the angrier they will get when that isn’t the case.

Until we know if a vaccine is likely or not, the current political climate won’t be conducive to rational discussions about difficult decisions. The virus can’t spread itself, but it seems to have plenty of helpers.

On this spring Saturday, let’s forget about non-compliance and the Coronavirus for a few minutes. Let’s have a brief respite, and indulge in a Saturday Soother.

Start by inviting your besties to a Quarantini video conference. The term “Quarantini” was actually coined several years ago on the podcast “This podcast will kill you”, hosted by two disease ecologists/epidemiologists. Wrongo prefers Irish single malts, but pour whatever makes you happy. And make a toast: Confusion to our enemies!

Next, settle back and spend a few minutes watching and listening to a parody tribute to NY Governor Andrew Cuomo, from Randy Rainbow, “ANDY!”:

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

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Saturday Soother – Back to Work Edition, April 11, 2020

The Daily Escape:

Great Sand Dunes NP, CO – photo by AddisonTract

Welcome to the 85th Saturday in April, fellow disease vectors! Here are the updated COVID numbers (as of 4/9):

  • There’s good news today. New infections are down dramatically as is the rate of new deaths.
  • The percentage of deaths to total cases has stabilized, at least for the moment.
  • Daily testing increased by 159,130. That’s helpful, but the growth in new tests still lags the growth in new infections.

America and the world are fighting a two-front war, one with the COIVID-19 pandemic, and another with our self-imposed, slow-rolling financial meltdown. Many think, like Trump, that the damage to the economy is worse than the loss of 50,000-100,000 American lives.

The irony is that it is the US governors that have precipitated the economic crisis while trying to moderate the public health crisis. And it has been the Trump administration that is trying to moderate the economic crisis by attempting to prematurely end the Coronavirus crisis.

A tenth of the work force has applied for unemployment benefits, while millions more are not working. In addition, small businesses are going under. So the GOP is pressuring Trump to declare victory and re-open the economy, and he’s looking for a plan to get people back to work.

But it isn’t just a plan. Attorney General Barr strongly suggested in a FOX TV interview that states don’t have the right to shut down businesses and schools during a public health emergency, and hints that the Trump administration could take action against states that don’t rescind shelter-at-home orders next month:

“When this period of time, at the end of April, expires, I think we have to allow people to adapt more than we have, and not just tell people to go home and hide under their bed, but allow them to use other ways — social distancing and other means — to protect themselves,”

Apparently, Barr is focused on what happens after the CDC’s guidelines on social distancing expire at the end of April. This is a clear sign that, while Barr is willing to allow states to do what they are doing now, his and the administration’s patience will expire when the CDC’s guidelines expire.

The WaPo reports that Trump is about to announce the creation of a second Coronavirus task force aimed at combating the economic consequences of the virus:

“The task force is expected to be led by Mark Meadows, the White House chief of staff, and include Larry Kudlow, the president’s chief economic adviser, and Mnuchin, the treasury secretary, along with outside business leaders. Others expected to play a role are Kevin Hassett…and the president’s son-in-law, Jared Kushner…”

One of the lynchpins of reopening the economy is supposed to be universal testing for the virus. But NPR reports the government is ending its funding for testing:

“…the federal government will end funding for coronavirus testing sites this Friday. In a few places those sites will close as a result.”

Reopening the economy without adequate testing is just like walking blindly in a minefield. And we know that testing remains generally unavailable.

The job of the administration should be to make the “5-minute” test kits cheap enough that every urgent care, every pharmacy, every clinic, can have two or three, and be running tests. Not just the current 10 -15 per state, but tens of thousands, so that widespread testing can be easily available.

Trump gave his game away yesterday when CNN’s Jim Acosta asked him:

“How can the administration discuss the possibility of reopening the country when the administration does not have an adequate nationwide testing system for this virus? Don’t you need a nationwide testing system for the virus before you reopen?”

TRUMP: “No.” pic.twitter.com/JokZYfy97T

What could go wrong? Plenty of things could go badly wrong.

If/when they do, Trump will blame the states, especially those with Democratic governors. Believe it or not, he will then campaign as the man who stopped the epidemic, and at least 40% of voters will say he accomplished it.

Let’s focus on relaxing for a few minutes with a new Saturday Soother. Wrongo hopes that you are staying healthy, productive, and in good spirits. If your income stream has been disrupted by the pandemic, Wrongo hopes you use the time constructively: Do something you’ve wanted to do for a long time.

Today we continue in the English pastoral idiom that we started last week.

Here is British composer Gerald Finzi’sIntroit for Solo Violin & Small Orchestra Op. 6”.  Played by the Northern Sinfonia with Lesley Hatfield on solo violin. It is conducted by Howard Griffiths. This is music that leads to private thoughts, something we all need right now:

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

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Supreme Court Voting Remotely, Denies Wisconsin Voters the Right to Vote Remotely

The Daily Escape:

Super moon, Crested Butte, CO – 2020 photo by itsaberglund

First, here are the latest national pandemic numbers from The COVID Tracking Project: (as of 4/7):

  • The good news is that the daily rate of increase in new infections is now in single digits (see green above).
  • Deaths have again spiked, and the percentage of deaths to total cases is rising steadily.
  • Daily testing has stalled (again) at about 150,000/day. Growth in testing is again lagging growth in new infections.

Next: The Wisconsin primary debacle: Wisconsin held its presidential primary on Tuesday, and on Wednesday, Bernie Sanders dropped out of the race for the Democratic nomination. Unifying the Party will be much easier than in 2016. The stakes are different, the mood is different, and Bernie seems to like Biden more than he liked Hillary.

But that was far from the most surprising thing about the Wisconsin primary. The big Wisconsin news was that the US Supreme Court decided a case called “Republican National Committee v. Democratic National Committee along political lines. The symbolism is glaring.

The issue before the Court was whether to stay a lower court’s decision that would have extended absentee balloting for a week due to the Coronavirus. And the most notable race wasn’t the Democrat’s primary. It was a conservative Republican’s battle to keep his seat on Wisconsin’s state Supreme Court. From the WaPo: (brackets by Wrongo)

“The scant, 10-page opinion issued Monday night highlighted the [US Supreme] court’s ideological and partisan divide. The justices’ inability to speak with one voice on matters as serious as the coronavirus pandemic and voting rights raised concerns about the legal battles bound to proliferate before the fall elections.”

The great irony in the SCOTUS decision is that the justices didn’t meet together. They are practicing social distancing, because of the Coronavirus, conducting their business via teleconferences. They have also suspended all public Court proceedings for the current term, because, you know, public safety.

But the Supreme Court’s Republican majority felt it was proper to insist that Wisconsin’s normal rules about elections be followed, and hold the primary as if there was no pandemic, no public health threat.

The best comment on the ideological divide in America today came from Tom Sullivan’s column, where he quotes a 2018 observation about conservatism by Frank Wilhoit: (emphasis in the original)

“Conservatism consists of exactly one proposition, to wit: There must be in-groups whom the law protects but does not bind, alongside out-groups whom the law binds but does not protect….So this tells us what anti-conservatism must be: the proposition that the law cannot protect anyone unless it binds everyone, and cannot bind anyone unless it protects everyone.”

More on Wisconsin from Sullivan:

“This morning’s online headline at the Washington Post reads, ‘The coronavirus is infecting and killing black Americans at an alarmingly high rate.’ Wisconsin Republicans on Tuesday made them stand on line in Milwaukee for hours to vote during a deadly pandemic. That will show them.”

And this tweet from Sen. Cory Booker underlines the evil intent:

“Milwaukee is home to the largest African-American community in Wisconsin. Don’t tell me that forcing people to choose between their health and their right to vote today is anything but an appalling act of voter suppression. https://t.co/4Leq1CtMHZ

— Cory Booker (@CoryBooker) April 7, 2020

Chief Justice Roberts may claim that he is only calling balls and strikes, but he’s using a different strike zone for his friends.

Finally, let’s spend a moment remembering that both John Prine and Bill Withers died this week, Prine from the Coronavirus.

Both released their debut albums in 1971. Both were among the true greats. Here’s a Prine song that shows his social consciousness. Written in 2005, it was prescient. He wrote about the kinds of people who would eventually lead the nation in 2020 in his “Some Humans Ain’t Human”:

Sample Lyric:

Have you ever noticed When you’re feeling really good There’s always a pigeon  That’ll come shit on your hood Or you’re feeling your freedom And the world’s off your back  Some cowboy from Texas Starts his own war in Iraq

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

And this Withers song about Vietnam has always hit Wrongo hard. “I Can’t Write Left-Handed”:

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

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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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