The Wrongologist

Geopolitics, Power and Political Economy

Saturday Soother – February 17, 2018

The Daily Escape:

Sigiriya, Sri Lanka – photo by jcourtial for dronestagram. Sigiriya is an ancient rock fortress. The site was the palace for King Kasyapa (477 – 495 BC). It is a UNESCO World Heritage Site.

We live in a seemingly endless loop of outrage. Nothing ever changes, because we waste energy on the “what-about?” arguments from both sides, each attempting to reframe the issue to their side’s advantage. These discussions yield nothing, and solutions are never agreed. This adds to a generalized feeling of powerlessness: The view that everything that is important is out of our hands, and insoluble.

So it is with school shootings, with protecting the DACA kids. And with whatever Russiagate is.

At least the Mueller investigation will run its course. We have to hope that the results will be made public. But if they are released, it will only lead to more debate and disagreement. Until then, we’ll continue to gleefully argue our respective Russiagate viewpoints in a fact-free vacuum.

We have experienced hysterical political times before, but they tended to be single issue events. Has there ever been a time when so many people in both political parties have been so single-mindedly determined to whip up anger?

When we’re looking at just a single issue, one side or the other often simply runs out of steam. Then the issue can be resolved both in Washington and in the mind of the public.

When we experience multiple issues simultaneously, the available energy is expended across the entire spectrum of problems. Thus, there isn’t enough energy to direct successfully at a single issue. So nothing is resolved.

This is where we are in February 2018, in a kind of nervous exhaustion: Too many issues and too few resolutions.

Can something, or someone unite us? Will a big event allow a majority to coalesce around a point of view, or a leader?

History shows that when we are in the grip of anxiety, it can be a relief if something we fear actually happens. Think about when Japan bombed Pearl Harbor. It was widely reported that the response of the public, including anti-war activists, was relief. There was a feeling that at last a course had been set, a key decision made. FDR united the disparate groups behind a war.

While the same situation doesn’t quite apply today, we crave some sort of decisions, perhaps some sort of decisive act. What would that be? It isn’t possible to see from where we are today.

As John Edwards said, there are two Americas. The one that sends their children to private schools, and the second one that sends their children to public schools. The second group has the kids who get shot by the gunmen. And politicians get away with platitudes about their thoughts and prayers.

Unfortunately, they then decide that fixing the problem is not worth their time.

We may have reached a breaking point. Shitty jobs, shitty pay, shitty hours, and little hope of advancement. No easy access to medical care, an uneven social safety net. Wrongo lived through the chaotic 1960’s. He endured Reagan’s show-no-mercy 1980’s. Those were bad times.

But, in a lot of ways, 2018 is worse. Today, there is an immense lack of mutual respect. And there is a ubiquitous atmosphere of a powerless people.

Wow, who said all that??

We desperately need a weekend where we can unplug from the media and focus on other things. In other words, we need a Saturday soother. Start by brewing up a big cuppa Stumptown Coffee’s Holler Mountain Blend, ($16/12oz.) The Stumptown people promise flavors of blackberry, citrus and toffee in a creamy, full body. Your mileage may vary.

Now, get in your favorite chair and listen to some, or all of the musical score from the film “Dunkirk”. Both the score and the film are Oscar-nominated. The film’s director Christopher Nolan suggested to the musical director Hans Zimmer, that they use Elgar’s “Nimrod” from the 1898-99 “Enigma Variations” as part of the theme. They decided that the movie’s music should be about time, and how for the men on the beaches, time was running out. They picked the “Enigma Variations” because it’s part of English culture, less a national anthem than an emotional anthem for the nation. Along the way, consistent with using time, they slowed it down to 6 beats per minute. Listen to their version from the movie:

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


Saturday Soother – February 10, 2018

The Daily Escape:

Lighting the Olympic torch – photo by Chang W. Lee

Did anybody see the bus that ran over Wrongo’s 401k?? It was a tough week on the retirement savings front for anyone who uses the capital markets to bolster their net worth. Retail investors are trapped – they can’t sell their holdings quickly, and there doesn’t seem to be a safe haven for their cash if they manage to get out of the markets only slightly bruised. Fear seems to be guiding Mr. Market.

Also, Washington finally passed a bi-partisan budget deal, but only after a brief shutdown. Sadly, it adds more than $1 Trillion to the national debt. It’s hard to square the Republicans’ deficit hawk ideology with their sudden willingness to spend whatever it takes to give the military whatever it wants.

During the recession, (Obamatime) the Republicans argued that responsible people tighten their belts when times are bad, just like people do with their household expenses. Now, we really shouldn’t use that argument for governments who can create their own currency. Despite that, if you really think the government should be run like a household, wouldn’t a responsible family increase their savings and pay down their debts when times are good? That would give them a “rainy day” fund that they could dip into when times were bad. Or, they could then go back into debt to get through the rough patch.

But today’s Republicans are saying: “Times are great! Let’s max out the credit card”. This will soon be followed by: “Oh shit, now I have to starve the kid so I can make the payments on my student loans”.

They won’t even follow their own dumb rules.

That was the week that was. A stomach-churning, no sleeping, hot steaming pile of anxiety. You need a real break.

To help you forget about your financial losses and your government’s foolishness, settle into a comfortable chair with a Vente cup of Volcanica Coffee’s Blue Mountain Peaberry coffee from the Clydesdale estate in Jamaica (only $89.88/lb.). You can’t afford it after what happened on Wall Street, but like Congress, you have a credit card. So go for it!

The Clydesdale coffee region is near the center of Jamaica’s Blue Mountain coffee area. The Clydesdale Estate was founded in the 1700’s.

Now, listen to a throwback to the 2012 Olympics in London. Here is the London Symphony Orchestra conducted by Sir Simon Rattle with a performance of “Chariots of Fire”. The performance includes physical comedy by Mr. Bean (the British comedian Rowan Atkinson):

This isn’t high art, but it is fun, and tangentially relevant to the Olympics.

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


Gerrymandering: The End of “One Person, One Vote”

The Daily Escape:

Lighting at Devils Tower, Wyoming. It is considered sacred by Northern Plains Indians – photo by Shaun Peterson

It isn’t a secret that aggressive gerrymandering (dividing election districts to give one political party a majority in many districts, while concentrating the voting strength of the other party into as few districts as possible) has been a cornerstone of Republican political strategy for more than a decade. It has been a stunning success.

And in several (mostly Republican) states, officials have also used vote suppression, such as reduced voting hours, closed polling stations, or other barriers to voting, like strict ID rules to create a political advantage.

Democrats tend to win the majority of votes nationally, and in many Congressional and state-wide elections, only to win less than a pro-rata share of seats. 2016 showed the political impact of gerrymandering. Republicans held a 54-46 majority in the US Senate. They used that majority to deny a Supreme Court appointment to President Obama on the pretext that it was an election year. At the time, the 46 Democrats represented 20 million more citizens than their GOP Senate counterparts.

Ian Millhiser at Think Progress hows the logical outcome for our political future: (emphasis by Wrongo)

And then there is the single most frightening projection facing both large-D Democrats and small-d democrats in the United States. By 2040, according to Dean David Birdsell of the school of public and international affairs at Baruch College, ‘about 70% of Americans are expected to live in the 15 largest states.’ That means that 70% of Americans ‘will have only 30 senators representing them, while the remaining 30% of Americans will have 70 senators representing them.’

If this is our future, what does “one person, one vote” mean? “One person, one vote” can have several connotations, but it should denote that fairness is inherent in our electoral system. Gender, race, and importantly, where you live, shouldn’t enhance or diminish the value of your ballot.

Winning the gerrymander battle will only be accomplished on the state and district levels. Whoever controls the state legislature and the governor’s chair will decide how fair or unfair the state’s apportionment of seats will be. Rolling Stone’s Ari Berman writes about North Carolina:

On January 9th, a federal court struck down North Carolina’s US House map, which gives Republicans a 10-to-three advantage over Democrats, the first time a federal court has invalidated congressional lines for partisan gerrymandering. But on January 18th, the Supreme Court blocked the redrawing of North Carolina’s maps, pending appeal.

GOP-drawn districts have also been struck down in Alabama, Florida, Virginia and Texas. Many of these rulings are being appealed by Republicans, making it unlikely these districts will be redrawn before the 2018 elections.

And Pennsylvania’s Supreme Court just struck down the state’s Congressional maps, where Republicans have a 13 to 5 advantage, and ordered they be redrawn in 2018. Booman writes:

If you’re handicapping the likelihood of the Republicans losing control of the House, you need to adjust your odds in light of this news. If it stands, it could be the decisive factor that changes the ultimate outcome.

This is a good reminder that bad laws can be challenged under state constitutions (but not federal laws). States are free to recognize more rights than those recognized under the US Constitution, they just can’t recognize fewer rights. And cases decided under state constitutions are usually outside the US Supreme Court’s jurisdiction. For example, a number of states have stricter search and seizure provisions than the federal constitution. This is the sort of “federalism” that conservatives hope you don’t learn about.

Voter suppression and partisan gerrymandering are the greatest threats to our democracy. Suppression provides states with the opportunity to gerrymander. Taken together, suppression and gerrymandering provide the means to disenfranchise significant parts of the electorate from our democracy.

Here’s Millhiser’s money quote:

The government of the United States no longer derives its powers from the consent of the governed. And by the time voters head to the polls in November to elect a new Congress, America will have existed in this state of profound un-democracy for nearly a decade.

Can this be fixed? Yes, by a combination of voter turnout at the state level, and state court challenges to bad re-districting. We also have to hope that the Supreme Court doesn’t act in a completely partisan manner like they did with Citizens United and the voiding of significant parts of the Voting Rights Act.

It is profoundly wrong that the way we draw legislative districts, and malapportionment, have conspired to rob American voters of much of their ability to choose their leaders.


Do Democrats Have a Winning Political Strategy?

The Daily Escape:

Frozen branch in Lake Erie, Cleveland OH – 2018 photo by Igorius

The Democrats’ demand of passage of DACA legislation, or they would block a Continuing Resolution (CR) to keep the government open, lasted 72 hours. No DACA legislation was passed, but Dems are touting a Republican promise of debate about DACA over the next three weeks.

That promise comes from Mitch McConnell, the guy who stole Merrick Garland’s Supreme Court seat, and got away with it.

Wrongo believed that dying on DACA hill was a bad political choice for Democrats. After all, there are 700,000 Dreamers, but 320 million Americans would be affected by a government shutdown. Their negotiating position shows how weak the Dems are today.

Those Dems who say that capitulation on the CR was worth it to secure the Children’s Health Insurance Program (CHIP) funding for six years, should remember that the CR runs out in three weeks. Then it will be up for discussion again.

So from the Dems viewpoint, if by February 8th, the Republicans have not dealt with DACA, the Dems can shut the government down again, this time using the narrative that Mitch McConnell is a liar, and that they gave Republicans a chance to fix the problem. Unfortunately, McConnell has been called a liar before.

But if February 8 comes, and Democratic Senators back off on another confrontation to protect the Dreamers, that will not only be terrible for Dreamers, it’s terrible for Democrats. They have a few weeks to pressure Republicans to get this done.

OTOH, it is difficult to see why Republicans would do anything different. Paul Ryan and Mitch McConnell will use these three weeks to tighten the screws, and finish the job. That would start with McConnell taking the House’s already passed Securing America’s Future Act (SAF) to a vote.

Once Senate Dems say “no” to that, McConnell can say “Well, we put a DACA bill on the table, and the Dems rejected it. I lived up to my promise.” There will be some tinkering by middle-of-the-road Dems around the edges of the SAF bill. Then it will be attached to the CR. How long do you think it will be before 10+ Dems cave, and pass it?

Fault lines exist. A dozen Senate Democrats broke with party leaders to vote against the bill, including a number of potential presidential candidates, a sign they knew exactly where their base is, even if the leadership doesn’t.

Democrats need to use their time in the minority to remake the Party. They should pursue and deliver programs that offer real benefits for middle and working class voters. They need a plan to deal with income inequality. Fundamental questions about what being a Democrat means in the 21st Century must be addressed.

FDR provides a great example for today’s Democrats. In the 1930s, FDR responded to a financial crisis with bold, creative policies that delivered massive, tangible benefits to working people. Because of what FDR did, the Republicans were forced to go in his direction to stay politically competitive. Republicans began to promise that they could improve the programs they once opposed.

Here is what Roosevelt said in a speech about Republicans at the time:

Let me warn you, and let me warn the nation, against the smooth evasion that says ‘Of course we believe these things. We believe in social security. We believe in work for the unemployed. We believe in saving homes. Cross our hearts and hope to die. ‘We believe in all these things. But we do not like the way that the present administration is doing them. Just turn them over to us. We will do all of them, we will do more of them, we will do them better and, most important of all, the doing of them will not cost anybody anything’

In the post-war period, the Republican Party looked more like Dwight Eisenhower than like Ronald Reagan.

And today, Democrats must emulate FDR: Move Republicans to the left, not move the Dems further to the right. This isn’t about finding someone to create an Obama third term. Democrats shouldn’t prioritize getting rid of a bad president, they need to build a serious alternative to Republican ideology.

The Democratic Party has failed many times to produce a political strategy which would force the Republican Party to change direction. And they look like they may fail once again. The Democratic leadership believes that the party needs to unify at all costs to present the strongest possible electoral challenge to Trump in 2020.

It’s counter-intuitive, but to secure a future Democratic majority, Dems must first decide to be a party with a plan that addresses income inequality.

They can knock out Trump without moving to the right.


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.


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.


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.


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.


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.


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.