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The Wrongologist

Geopolitics, Power and Political Economy

Saturday Soother – August 26, 2017

The Daily Escape:

Depression Bread Line by George Segal, 1999, at the NJ Grounds for Sculpture – 2017 photo by Wrongo

There are two political imperatives facing America by the end of September: The House, Senate and the president must extend the Federal borrowing limit, and pass a budget. When Obama was president, extension of the borrowing limit was a dicey thing, as was passing a budget. From 2008-2016, we largely avoided government shutdowns, we passed spending bills, but not an entire budget.

And we never even considered tax reform, but it’s the third item on the GOP’s 2017 to-do list.

In some sense, everything except increasing the debt ceiling is optional. As of now, there are only twelve days in September when the House and Senate are jointly in session. The Senate has a few more legislative days on their schedule than the House, but it’s unclear how they’ll use them.

Republicans and Wall Street used to have concerns about the consequences for America if we didn’t get our finances under control. They said that the growing federal debt could eventually drag down the economy, burden future generations, and even threaten national security. CEOs of corporations and the biggest banks joined a campaign called Fix the Debt, arguing that the size of our debt was our most pressing issue.

But now these same people are all in on Trump’s plan to cut taxes for corporations and high earners, saying it is the way to fuel economic growth. That, despite estimates that Trump’s plan could reduce federal revenue by $3.9 trillion over 10 years, thereby increasing the debt that CEOs used to hate. From Bloomberg:

Goldman Sachs Group Inc. CEO Lloyd Blankfein, a Fix the Debt supporter…in 2012 told CNBC he’d be for higher taxes if they helped mend the fiscal gap. After the 2016 election, Blankfein told colleagues…that Trump’s proposals, including tax reform, ‘will be good for growth and, therefore, will be good for our clients and for our firm.’

Hmmm. Aren’t Treasury Secretary Steve Mnuchin and Trump’s Economic Adviser Gary Cohn both from Goldman?

Dean Baker, co-director of the Center for Economic and Policy Research sees the policy shift clearly: (brackets by the Wrongologist)

They [CEOs] were yelling, Deficits, deficits, deficits… [and] as soon as George W. Bush gets in the White House? Oh, we’ll have a big tax cut.

The same thing is happening now. Bloomberg reports that according to Seth Waugh, chairman of wealth adviser Alex. Brown, many in finance have moved on from the debt: (brackets and emphasis by the Wrongologist)

It’s not a fun, sexy thing to talk about…Waugh, another Fix the Debt member, recalls playing golf with a private equity executive…Waugh told his friend it would be nice if Congress addressed deficits… [but]…The private equity executive said nobody was talking about that. It was a dead issue, and they should take the good news: Paying less in taxes, the friend reminded him, means getting richer.

It’s probably a distant dream. The GOPs plan for tax reform involves using the budget reconciliation process, which allows them to pass it with just 51 votes, that is, without Democrats. Otherwise, they face a filibuster. Reconciliation starts with passing a budget resolution for the coming fiscal year. In that budget resolution, they need to include special budget directives or instructions:

To start the reconciliation process, the House and Senate must agree on a budget resolution that includes “reconciliation directives” for specified committees. Under the Congressional Budget Act, the House and Senate are supposed to adopt a budget resolution each year to establish an overall budget plan and set guidelines for action on spending and revenue.

So they need to pass a budget, but before that, Republicans need to vote to raise the borrowing authority of the government. That may be impossible without support from Democrats.

We’ll know very soon if Dems are willing to get on board with Paul Ryan and Mitch McConnell on any of this.

It’s Saturday again, and despite the brief three-minute respite from politics brought by the solar eclipse, Trump had another successful week. (If success is his continued destruction of what remains of America’s psyche).

We are now in desperate need of something soothing to kick off next week’s war for truth. So grab a couple of Trader Joe’s Cold Brew Latte Dessert Bars (40 calories and 7 grams of sugar each), put on your best Bluetooth headphones, and listen to the late guitarist John Abercrombie, who died this week. Here is Abercrombie with Dave Holland on bass, and Jack DeJohnette on drums doing “Homecoming” live in 1995. Let’s hope it’s not the best few minutes of your week:

Pay attention to Abercrombie’s remarkable and airy technique.

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Saturday Soother – August 19, 2017

The Daily Escape:

Orchha, on the banks of the Betwa River, India – photo by Arian Zwegers cc 2.0

Quite the week: After threatening nuclear war with North Korea, musing about invading Venezuela, and equivocating over Charlottesville, Trump folded two advisory councils and then decided against forming a council on Infrastructure. He also Twitter-attacked more Republican senators than Democrats this week, a bad strategy for someone who can’t be sure what Special Counsel Mueller may come up with.

But, according to a Survey Monkey poll as reported by Axios, Trump’s statements about Charlottesville have overwhelming support of Republican voters. Survey Monkey asked whether people agreed with a verbatim quote from President Trump on Tuesday:

You had a group on one side that was bad, and you had a group on the other side that was also very violent

Republicans agreed with the Trump comment, 87%-11%. Democrats disagreed, 83%-15%. Independents disagreed, 59%-39%.

When we no longer agree on basic facts, civil debate is impossible.

This is a dangerous moment. America is split. We need to stop fighting about the little things. Wrongo usually is against “slippery slope” arguments, but will make an exception in the case of our Civil War history: What is the objective of removing Civil War statues and monuments? Will their removal change the historical record of slavery?

Of course not. How would supporters of removal say we should polarize the continuum of history? What would be next? Removal of history books that mention the Confederacy or former slave owners?

One of Wrongo’s favorite histories of the Civil War is “A Diary from Dixie” by Mary Boykin Chestnut. It is a day-to-day diary of her experience as a southern partisan during the Civil War. Most Civil War historians have read and consulted it in the preparation of their own work. Should we burn the book because it was written by a slave-holding partisan?

Of course not.

Many want to draw a red line regarding slavery and the Civil War, and that is totally understandable. But where to draw it? Can it be drawn in a way that keeps our children in touch with our past, even the sordid bits?

We need to own our history.

We should ignore the false moral equivalencies mentioned by Trump, such as Lee and Washington. Both owned slaves, so statues of Washington must go too. It is true that both owned slaves, but Washington fought to build this country, while Lee fought to destroy it in support of slavery.

Some have pointed to the fact that Jews would never let Auschwitz, Dachau or Buchenwald be taken down. This is another false equivalency. Auschwitz is maintained not to celebrate Nazism, but to show its horrors.

Maybe that IS the lesson: Add interpretation to the Confederate monuments: Make them say that we do not want anyone to forget what happened, and that we want to make sure it can never happen again.

It’s Saturday, so we MUST get some distance between where we are as a country now, and where we need to be.

Wrongo’s prescription? Brew a cup of Brooklyn’s  Toby’s Estate El Ramo Columbian coffee. El Ramo means the bouquet in Spanish ($14 for 12oz.), close the door, and put on your over-the-ear headphones. Now, listen to G.P. Telemann’s “Concerto in G major for Viola, Strings and Basso continuo, TWV 51:G9”.

Wrongo and Ms. Right heard it last week at the final summer concert of the New Baroque Soloists at the Washington Meeting House in Washington, Connecticut. Here it is performed live by the Remember Barockorchester, in the Unser Lieben Frauen Church, Bremen, on November 21st, 2015:

The Viola Soloist is Tomoe Badiarova

Those who read the Wrongologist in email supplied by the execrable Feedburner, can view the video here.

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IMF Reports US Standard of Living is Falling

The Daily Escape:

Haleakala Crater, Maui

Is it the best of times or the worst of times? This is no longer a partisan discussion. We have an economy in the midst of a long expansion, the third longest since 1850. The statistics say we are close to full employment. But, our mortality rate is moving in the wrong direction, and we have an opioid epidemic that is serious enough to cause jobs to go unfilled. The NYT reports that in Youngstown Ohio, middle class factory jobs go begging:

It’s not that local workers lack the skills for these positions, many of which do not even require a high school diploma but pay $15 to $25 an hour and offer full benefits. Rather, the problem is that too many applicants — nearly half, in some cases — fail a drug test.

The Fed’s regular Beige Book surveys of economic activity across the country in April, May and July all noted the inability of employers to find workers able to pass drug screenings.

So the best of times? Probably not. Bloomberg reports that the International Monetary Fund (IMF) looked at the US economy. This is what they see:

For some time now there has been a general sense that household incomes are stagnating for a large share of the population, job opportunities are deteriorating, prospects for upward mobility are waning, and economic gains are increasingly accruing to those that are already wealthy. This sense is generally borne out by economic data and when comparing the US with other advanced economies.

The IMF then goes on to compare the US with 23 other advanced economies in the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) in this chart:

The chart is a bit of an eye test unless it’s viewed on a big monitor, but its overall point is that the US has been losing ground relative to its past OECD reports by several measures of living standards. 35 countries make up the OECD. The members include all of Western Europe, Russia, Japan, Australia, and several developing nations like Korea and Panama.

This from Bloomberg:

And in the areas where the US hasn’t lost ground (poverty rates, high school graduation rates), it was at or near the bottom of the heap to begin with. The clear message is that the US — the richest nation on Earth, as is frequently proclaimed, although it’s actually not the richest per capita — is increasingly becoming the developed world’s poor relation as far as the actual living standards of most of its population go.

This analysis is contained in the staff report of the IMF’s annual “consultation” with the U.S., which was published last week. The IMF economists haven’t turned up anything shocking or new, it’s just that as outsiders, they have a different perspective than what we hear from our politicians and economists.

For example:

Income polarization is suppressing consumption…weighing on labor supply and reducing the ability of households to adapt to shocks. High levels of poverty are creating disparities in the education system, hampering human capital formation and eating into future productivity.

What is to be done? Well, the IMF report concludes:

Reforms should include building a more efficient tax system; establishing a more effective regulatory system; raising infrastructure spending; improving education and developing skills; strengthening healthcare coverage while containing costs; offering family-friendly benefits; maintaining a free, fair, and mutually beneficial trade and investment regime; and reforming the immigration and welfare systems.

In other words, they suggest substantial reform. It’s doubtful that America can take care of these things anytime soon.

The subtext to most of their suggestions is that other affluent countries have found ways to improve in these areas, while the US has not. We don’t have to look too far into the past to see when those countries were modeling their economies on ours. But today, on all sorts of issues, like taxation, labor markets, health care, and education, the opposite is now true.

One major difference between the US and the rest of the developed world is ideological: Voters and politicians in the US are less willing to raise taxes to finance a better life for our citizens.

Other wealthy countries have figured out how to raise revenue, provide quality education, help the the unemployed, reduce poverty, and keep their citizens healthier than America has.

We must catch up, or admit our time as the world’s indispensable economy is over.

Today’s music (dis)honors the turmoil in the White House. See ‘ya Mooch! Remember that in just six months, Trump has gone through two National Security Advisers, two Chiefs of Staff, two Communications Directors, two Press Secretaries, and two Directors of the FBI.

Here is “Disorder in the House” by the late Warren Zevon and Bruce Springsteen:

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

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Tribalism Trumps Reality

The Daily Escape:

Florence Italy – photo by Daniel Kordan

The ideal subject of totalitarian rule is not the convinced Nazi or the convinced Communist, but people for whom the distinction between fact and fiction…and the distinction between true and false…no longer exist. ― Hannah Arendt, “The Origins of Totalitarianism

Public Policy Polling (PPP) has a new poll that among other issues, shows how Trump voters feel about the Donald Trump Jr.’s participation in the Trump/Russia election thingy: (emphasis by the Wrongologist)

Only 45% of Trump voters believe Donald Trump Jr. had a meeting with Russians about information that might be harmful to Hillary Clinton…even though Trump Jr. admitted it. 32% say the meeting didn’t happen and 24% say they’re not sure.

And, just as many Republicans believed Hillary Clinton ran a child sex ring out of a DC pizza parlor.

If you look at the percentage of Americans who believe in things like creationism, ghosts and angels, you’ll wonder why these Republicans are allowed to cut their own meat.

A decent number of the people who said they didn’t believe Jr. met with the Russians must know the truth. Since Jr. admitted to the meeting, and even Fox News covered it, how could a third of Republicans surveyed think the meeting didn’t happen? Maybe they think a Russian lawyer and a few other Russians attending a meeting in Trump Tower doesn’t equal “The Russians“.

And broadening the context, the PPP survey question answers are similar to when pollsters asked Republicans whether Obama was born in the US. Pollsters continued to ask that well after his birth certificate was released. After the release, birther belief among Republicans dropped from the mid-40%s to the mid-30%s, but, a year later is returned to the mid-40%s.

One of the central challenges of understanding the Republican mind is that when they answer questions like the Don Jr. in a non-factual way, they exist in at least two camps. First, the true believers, who won’t believe their lying eyes, and will just trust their guy through thick or thin.

The second group sees politics and political discourse as a game played mostly to annoy Democrats. This second category isn’t even necessarily any more informed or self-aware than the first, but they pay more attention to learning what will make Democrats angry. Then they go there.

We can’t discount the extent that conservative media obfuscates things that are generally admitted elsewhere. There probably is a certain segment of Republicans who really don’t believe Jr. met with Russians, because they’ve heard the disinformation frequently enough to allow them to reach that conclusion.

And some people simply believe ridiculous things.

The PPP poll question indicates to us the lower limit of partisan reasoning. No one contests that this meeting took place, but 32% of respondents say it didn’t happen. Poll questions are normally more opinion-based, and may not have a demonstrably “correct” answer. So it’s worth seeing the extent of motivated answering on this question.

The nice thing about false facts is they can be designed for maximum effect. They can be more self-reinforcing and convincing than actual facts. The world is a messy place, so if you present a picture that is artificially clarified and internally consistent, a big subset of humanity will buy it whole-heartedly.

Public Policy Polling’s disclosure about the survey:

PPP surveyed 836 registered voters from July 14th to 17th. The margin of error is +/- 3.4%. While 80% of participants, selected through a list based sample, responded via the phone, 20% of respondents who did not have landlines conducted the survey over the internet through an opt-in internet panel.

On to music. Here is Icelandic indie folk/indie pop rock band, Of Monsters and Men, performing “Little Talks” live at the KEX Hostel in Reykjavik during Iceland Airwaves, recorded in October 2011:

Takeaway Lyric:

Some days I don’t know if I am wrong or right.
Your mind is playing tricks on you my dear

‘Cause though the truth may vary
This ship will carry our bodies safe to shore

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

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Today’s Conservatives’ Southern Roots

The Daily Escape:

Vasconcelos Library – Mexico City

From The Atlantic’s Sam Tannenhaus:

…the most populous region in America, by far, is the South. Nearly four in 10 Americans live there, roughly 122 million people, by the latest official estimate. And the number is climbing. For that reason alone, the South deserves more attention than it seems to be getting in political discussion today.

Ain’t demographics great? Tannenhaus continues:

The South is the cradle of modern conservatism. This, too, may come as a surprise, so entrenched is the origin myth of the far-westerners Barry Goldwater, Richard Nixon, and Ronald Reagan as leaders of a Sun Belt realignment and forerunners of today’s polarizing GOP. But each of those politicians had his own “southern strategy,” playing to white backlash against the civil-rights revolution—“hunting where the ducks are,” as Goldwater explained—though it was encrypted in the states’-rights ideology that has been vital to southern politics since the days of John C. Calhoun.

Tannenhaus is reviewing Nancy MacLean’s Democracy in Chains, and using it as a jumping off point to explore the roots of modern conservatism. Why does all this matter today? Donald Trump.

Tannenhaus points out that Trump won the South bigly:

Lost amid the many 2016 postmortems, and the careful parsing of returns in Ohio swing counties, was Donald Trump’s prodigious conquest of the South: 60% or more of the vote in Alabama, Arkansas, Kentucky, Oklahoma, Tennessee, and West Virginia, with similar margins in Louisiana and Mississippi.

And we need to look at Trump’s Cabinet: 10 Cabinet appointees are from the South, including Attorney General Sessions (Alabama) and Secretary of State Tillerson (Texas).

MacLean’s view is that modern conservatives draw on Southern resistance to 1954’s Supreme Court decision in Brown vs. Board of Education. After the New Deal, conservatives pushed back hard against the expanding federal government. Tannenhaus says:

But it was an uphill battle; the public was grateful for Social Security. Brown changed all that. More than the economic order was now under siege…A new postwar conservatism was born, mingling states’-rights doctrine with odes to the freedom-loving individual and resistance to the “social engineering” pursued by what conservative writers in the mid-1950s began to call the “liberal establishment.”

MacLean focuses on James Buchanan, a Virginian, and a Nobel Prize-winning economist, who argued that the crux of the desegregation problem was that “state-run” schools had become a “monopoly”.

Buchanan argued for privatization of schools. If local towns and cities limited their involvement in education to setting minimum standards, then many kinds of schools might flourish. Each parent “would cast his vote in the marketplace and have it count.”

Sounds like Betsy DeVos.

But, Buchanan wasn’t done. In his book “The Calculus of Consent” (1962), he argued that politicians were looking out for themselves, and they could do real damage that citizens were unable to avoid. The high-priced programs they devised were paid for by taxes, and citizens had little choice but to pay them. Reinforced by the steep progressive tax rates of the time, he called it licensed theft. Not long after Buchanan’s book, Medicare was passed, then the War on Poverty, and then the Great Society— each another example of social engineering delivered by the liberal establishment.

Buchanan’s ideas live on today. The right believes that liberal values cost us our liberty.

Today’s Freedom Caucus is Buchanan’s ideological descendant. They believe they are the guardians of liberty, that drastic measures, like shutting down the government, or defaulting on the national debt are legitimate uses of political power that serves their higher objective. More from Tannenhaus:

This is what drives House Republicans to scale back social programs, or to shift the tax burden from the 1% onto the parasitic mob, or to come up with a health-care plan that would leave Trump’s own voters out in the cold.

Conservatives and Libertarians say that “government is trampling our way of life”. That sets people against government programs, even when the specific program doesn’t need to be attacked. Consider Medicaid. It is attacked as both social engineering and a gift to minorities, even though the majority of those benefiting from it are elderly or white.

Conservatives and Libertarians prefer “individual choice” for poor elderly, or children who can’t afford healthcare. A broadly-based social safety net isn’t consistent with their ideological purity.

They fail to see the value of government as a moderating force in markets.

Accordingly, their thinking cannot advance human society in any meaningful way.

Today’s tune: “Revolution” by The Beatles recorded in September 1968. It was released as the B-side of the “Hey Jude” single in late August 1968, and we hear the live studio version from a month later:

Takeaway Lyric:

You say you’ll change the constitution
Well, you know
We all want to change your head
You tell me it’s the institution
Well, you know
You better free you mind instead

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

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Our Democracy in its 242nd Year

The Daily Escape:

Three Sisters, Alberta Canada

… the preservation of the sacred fire of liberty, and the destiny of the Republican model of Government, are justly considered as deeply, perhaps as finally staked, on the experiment entrusted to the hands of the American people. — George Washington’s First Inaugural Address (1789).

It is worth thinking about the state of our Democracy on our 241st birthday and how the American people are handling Washington’s experiment. At the time of the country’s founding, seven of the 13 states, representing 27% of the population, could command a majority in the Senate. Today, more than half of the US population lives in just nine states, while the other half of America lives in the other 41 states. The voters in the biggest nine states have equal representation in the House, with 223 Representatives, while the other half has 212.

But in the Senate, it’s a different story. Because of the population concentration, the half of the US living in the largest nine states are represented by just 18 of 100 Senators. The other half of the country living in the other 41 states have 82 Senators, more than four times as many. Today, with the filibuster, 21 of the 50 states, representing 11% of the population, can muster the 41 votes necessary to reject a bill, or to stop the confirmation of a Supreme Court Justice.

You don’t have to be good at math to see how much less representation in Congress those living in the big states have today. The four smallest states have eight Senators combined, giving California, with two Senators, only a quarter as many as Alaska, North Dakota, Vermont and Wyoming, even though California has 14 times the combined population of these states.

Wrongo raises this as a structural example of the now near-permanent political division in America. It is difficult to see what big idea, or great emotion, can bridge that divide and bring us back to some semblance of unity.

Beyond structural divisions, there are huge divisions of policy and perception. A new Marist poll for PBS NewsHour and NPR News finds that 70% of Americans believe the country has become less civil since the Trump regime came to power, with 61% saying they have little or no trust in the White House right now.

(Marist contacted 1,205 US adults using landline and mobile phones between June 21 and June 25. There is a 2.8% margin of error).

The poll shows that Republicans in particular are very receptive to Trump’s attacks on the media, and a healthy chunk of Republicans want the media restricted. When asked if they trust the media, only 30% of US adults overall said they do trust them to at least a “good” amount. But there are stark differences along party lines:

  • 9% of Republicans say they trust the media, while 56% of Democrats and 28% of Independents say they do.
  • And on the Constitutional right to freedom of the press, four out of 10 Republicans said the nation had “gone too far in expanding the right,” while two out of 10 Independents and one out of 10 Democrats agreed with that statement.
  • Overall, a quarter of US adults said the press had too many rights.
  • 52% said the nation should preserve the right to protest and criticize the government. But 41% percent of Republicans think the right to protest should be scaled back. Only 7% of Democrats and 11% of independents said they feel the same way.

When asked about the right to vote, six out of 10 Americans overall think that our right to vote is fine the way it is. But among Republicans, 25% think the US has gone too far in expanding that right.

Some of the cross-tab results are dismal: 

  • Among people making less than $50,000 a year, only 1 in 4 trust the media at all.
  • More 18-29 year olds trust Trump (27%) than trust the media (22%).
  • Meanwhile, 40% of Trump supporters think America has gone too far in allowing people to criticize the government.

Let that sink in, and then try to think about how we ever battle back to a middle ground where America has a chance to once again row the boat in the same direction.

On to music. Here are the Grateful Dead with their take on “Smokestack Lightning”, originally recorded by Howlin’ Wolf in 1956. The Dead performed this 18+ minute version in February, 1970 at the Fillmore East:

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

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Sunday Cartoon Blogging – June 18, 2017

It’s Father’s Day. Here is Wrongo’s tribute to his own dad, now gone for 19 years. Steve Goodman’s song, “My Old Man”:

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

Takeaway lyric:

I miss my old man tonight
And I can almost see his face
He was always trying to watch his weight
And his heart only made it to fifty-eight.
For the first time since he died
Late last night I cried.
I wondered when I was gonna do that
For my old man.

Happy Father’s Day to all who qualify!

On to cartoons. This week, it’s hard to decide where to look first. How long will the current era of political good feeling last? We can be hopeful, but cracks have already appeared, and the urge to score political points has already begun:

The DC shooting reminds us that Congress still plays the ‘ol ballgame:

NOW we need some protection?

While America’s busy looking at the Russian drama, the GOP has had a breakthrough:

Trump’s team ruminates on replacing Mueller:

 

 

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Monday Wake Up Call – April 24, 2017

The Daily Escape:

Bald Eagle with Great Blue Heron – photo by Bonnie Block

(The Wrongologist site was hit by a Denial of Service attack on Sunday, April 23. If you had difficulty accessing the site, Wrongo apologizes. We are working with the hosting company to sort it out, but the problem may continue until the end of day today.)

Congress returns today. They will try to pass an increase to the Debt Ceiling before the April 28th funding deadline. After that, at least a partial government shut-down looms.

The Republicans are not in agreement about their stance on the extension. The Orange Overlord complicated the negotiations by saying that he wouldn’t sign a Debt Ceiling increase unless it contained funding for the Wall that Mexico was supposed to pay for.

Consider the exchange between Chris Wallace of Fox News Sunday and Trump Budget Director Mick Mulvaney. Mulvaney said that it was the Democrats who are guilty of “stunning” obstructionism because they will not negotiate on a bill to repeal the Affordable Care Act. Wallace noted that President Trump had offered Democrats a deal: If you fund the border wall, payments to Obamacare would not be cut. Wallace:

You are holding hostage health insurance for millions of lower-income Americans.

Mulvaney replied:

Actually, what I would say is they’re holding hostage national security…

Then he brought up obstructionism by Democrats:

The Democrats will oppose everything that this president wants to do, which is stunning to us, especially when we are offering them something they want in return.

Wallace countered:

You’re saying, ‘give us what we want. And if you don’t, we’re going to cut off funding that would provide health insurance for millions of lower income Americans’.

The laugher was that Mulvaney’s logic is that Trump is trying to build a border wall to protect millions of low income Americans who may lose their health care benefits in the trade-off.

So Mexico won’t pay for the wall, and Republicans don’t want to pay for the wall either. They would prefer that Democrats agree to pay for Trump’s wall to give the GOP cover for those Republicans who won’t fund Trump’s ghastly promise of a wall.

On the obstructionist claim, everyone knows that the Republicans made obstructionism an eight-year strategy when Obama was president. Now, Mulvaney’s pearl-clutching about obstructionism can’t possibly sound legitimate to anyone other than people who watch Fox News. We need to remember that it was the Republicans who picked the 100th day of the (now Trump) administration for last year’s Continuing Resolution that funded the government, to expire. The idea was to make Hillary Clinton look bad after she won, and then couldn’t get a Debt Ceiling increase passed without Republican help.

It never occurred to them that if the Republican nominee won, that he wouldn’t be able to get much done without support of Democrats.

So it’s time for Republicans to wake up, and pass a Debt Ceiling increase. After all, they control the House, Senate and White House. It is their job to avoid a government shutdown.

To help them wake up, here is the UK group Stone Foundation, a modern UK soul band with a tune from their new album, “Street Rituals”. The song is “Your Balloon is Rising”, featuring Paul Weller formerly of the punk rock group The Jam, and later, Style Council.

Here is “Your Balloon is Rising”, a blue-eyed soul tune that allows Weller to show all of us that he still has it:

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

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Monday Wake Up Call – April 3, 2017

The Daily Escape:

(Anna’s hummingbird with bees, California, 2016 – photo by Toshiyasu Morita)

The White House faces a yuuge pothole in the road to having even a marginally successful first 100 days.

Republicans need to pass a new Continuing Resolution (CR) to fund the government, and the current CR expires on April 28. A CR is a form of appropriations law that keeps the federal government operating. The expiring CR was passed last December, effectively kicking the can down the road to the new administration. The idea was that there would be a GOP Congress and a Republican president for the first time since 2006, and they would work together to get things done.

But, as with the failed Trumpcare legislation, House Republicans are still divided, and Democrats will sit on the sidelines and watch the GOP’s efforts to achieve consensus. Republicans are staring at the twin issues that have led them to threaten government-shutdowns in the past, the funding of Planned Parenthood (PP) and the continuing funding of Obamacare. The GOP has not solved either through separate legislation since getting control of the government, so those issues will certainly come up.

Several Freedom Caucus and other Republican conservatives have pledged never to vote for an appropriations measure that allows federal funds to go to PP (they are for the “freedom” to fund middle-aged guys taking Viagra, but not to fund PP).

NY Magazine reports that there’s even a possibility that hard-core conservatives could renew the effort they made in 2013 to block appropriations necessary for the administration of Obamacare, now that it will be around for a while.

Congressional rules will require that this appropriations bill be treated as regular legislation. So NY Mag says:

…the odds are pretty good anything other than a straight extension of the earlier continuing resolution will attract a Democratic filibuster, and produce the kind of gridlock that could shut down the federal government for at least a while.

Another complicating factor is that some in the Senate are pushing to implement one or more of the controversial changes in funding that Trump outlined in his budget proposal. For example, Sen. John McCain (R-AZ) has said he will not vote for a CR that does not increase funding to the Defense Department: (brackets by the Wrongologist)

If that’s the only option, [a clean CR] I will not vote for a CR no matter what the consequences because passing a CR destroys the ability of the military to defend this nation, and it puts the lives of the men and women in the military at risk…

With several Senators likely to go along with Johnny Volcano, it will be even harder to get a bill that makes it past a Democratic filibuster in the Senate.

Given the GOP’s control of the White House and both houses of Congress, Republicans would almost certainly be blamed for any government shutdown on their watch. That means that Democrats are highly likely to deny Paul Ryan any Dem votes in the House for anything other than a clean CR.

So wake up White House and Congress! There isn’t a lot of time to get funding of the government done. Worse, it looks like the House doesn’t even plan to take it up until April 24th for an April 28th deadline.

To help them both wake up and get on the same page about the nation’s business, here is John Lee Hooker’s “I Need Some Money” written in 1960. Today we listen to it performed by The Beatles in a January 1962 demo recording with Pete Best playing drums. The Beatles called it: “Money (That’s What I Want)”. They were auditioning for Decca records, and did 15 songs, all but three of which were covers. After the audition, Decca Records rejected The Beatles. Here is “Money, That’s What I Want”:

Takeaway Lyric:

Money don’t get ever ‘thing it’s true
But what it don’t buy, daddy, I can’t use
I need money, I need money, yeah
That’s what I want

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

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Monday Wake Up Call – March 27, 2017

The Daily Escape:

(Many Glacier, Glacier National Park, August 2016 – photo by Wrongo)

What’s next for the White House? Many are saying that the collapse of the Republicans’ failed effort to pass Trumpcare demonstrated that the ideological cleavage within the House and Senate Republicans will not be easy to overcome. This could make it more difficult for Trump to get much of his agenda passed in the immediate future.

Trump wants to move on many things, including tax reform and passing a budget, but the biggest challenge facing Republicans is the Debt Ceiling. The clock started ticking on the need to raise the debt limit, because it already expired on March 15th. That was a “soft” deadline, since the Treasury department can fire up a well-used arsenal of “extraordinary” measures to delay a reckoning, meaning that Congress can take until the early fall to enact a debt ceiling increase.

More time may not mean that a solution will be forthcoming, since the main adversaries to increasing the debt ceiling are the same people who helped derail Trumpcare. The House Freedom Caucus and their allies in the Senate have in the past, expressed a willingness to let the country default, rather than increase the level of the Treasury’s debt.

Since they were able to face down Trump on health care, they may well be emboldened to stand up to the president and Congressional leadership again on an issue that is so close to their hard hearts.

If America were to default on its debts, Trump would be presiding over the Bananaization of our Republic, and our ability to lead in the world would be eclipsed. Wrongo plans to write more about this in the future, but it will take real management by Trump to head this off, at a time that his management skills have been called into question.

So far, he has shown himself to be little more than a salesman for his ideas.

The famed management guru Peter Drucker, who wrote about management for corporations, non-profits and governments, at one point wrote management rules for presidents, in a 1993 article for the WSJ:

It’s hard to imagine a more diverse group than Bill Clinton’s predecessors in the American presidency — in abilities, personalities, values, styles and achievements. But even the weakest of them had considerable effectiveness as long as they observed six management rules. And even the most powerful lost effectiveness as soon as they violated these rules.

Wrongo has condensed Drucker’s management rules for presidents for your convenience:

  • What Needs to be Done? Is the first thing the President must ask. He must not stubbornly do what he wants to do, even if it was the focus of his campaign
  • Concentrate, Don’t Splinter Yourself. There usually are half a dozen right answers to “What needs to be done?” Yet unless a president makes the risky and controversial choice of only one, he will achieve nothing.
  • Don’t Bet on a Sure Thing…Roosevelt had every reason to believe that his plan to “pack” the Supreme Court…would be a sure thing. It immediately blew up in is face – so much so that he never regained control of Congress
  • An Effective President Does Not Micromanage…the tasks that a President must do himself are already well beyond what any but the best organized and most energetic person can possibly accomplish
  • A President Has No Friends in the Administration…they are always tempted to abuse their position as a friend and the power that comes with it
  • Sixth rule? Harry Truman advised JFK: “Once you’re elected, stop campaigning”

(h/t Barry Ritholtz)

Just how many of these rules does Trump follow, and how many does he violate? Discuss.

Perhaps if he followed all of them, the country would avoid Trumageddon, be less divided, and get a middle of the road agenda enacted.

So here’s a wake-up call for Donald Trump and his advisors: FOCUS!! To help them wake up and get focused, here is the Canadian group Bachman Turner Overdrive with their big hit (#12 in the US) from 1973, “Takin’ Care of Business”:

Wrongo used to take the 8:15 in to the city. Working from home is a major improvement.

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

Sample Lyrics:

And I’ll be taking care of business (every day)
Taking care of business (every way)
I’ve been taking care of business (it’s all mine)
Taking care of business and working overtime, work out

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