For My Friends, Anything. For My Enemies, the Law

The Daily Escape:

“Life in 2022” – 1962 painting by Walter Molino. A foretelling of COVID?

Attorney General Bill Barr thinks that there has been too much expression of First Amendment rights:

“Attorney General William P. Barr told federal prosecutors in a call last week that they should consider charging rioters and others who had committed violent crimes at protests in recent months with sedition, according to two people familiar with the call.”

Break a window and go to jail for sedition, for conspiracy to overthrow the government through violence? Barr also went after the mayors:

“The attorney general has also asked prosecutors in the Justice Department’s civil rights division to explore whether they could bring criminal charges against Mayor Jenny Durkan of Seattle for allowing some residents to establish a police-free protest zone near the city’s downtown…”

It used to be a Republican article of faith that “The government closest to the people serves the people best.” No longer. America is filled with king Trump’s enemies. They’re everywhere! By suggesting possible prosecution of a Democrat, Ms. Durkan, Barr is taking aim at an elected official whom Trump has attacked repeatedly.

Barr then jumped into the deep end of the pool on Wednesday. Addressing a Constitution Day meeting hosted by the conservative Hillsdale College, Barr suggested:

“…that the calls for a nationwide lockdown to prevent the spread of the coronavirus were the ‘greatest intrusion on civil liberties’ in history ‘other than slavery.’”

Would Barr also have been against food and gas rationing, and other measures necessary to help win WWII?

Health and safety regulations have always been around. And they are well established in American law, see Jacobsen v. Massachusetts, which said in a case about mandatory vaccinations, that individual liberty isn’t absolute, and is subject to the police power of the state.

Barr went on to say that the Supreme Court had determined that the executive branch had “virtually unchecked discretion” in deciding whether to prosecute cases:

 “The power to execute and enforce the law is an executive function altogether….That means discretion is invested in the executive to determine when to exercise the prosecutorial power.”

He was telling his federal prosecutors to start prosecuting protests as something akin to treason. And he can do all of the above, as long as he’s Trump’s AG.

The AG is a politician who is supposed to be apolitical in enforcement of the law. But not Bill Barr. He told a Chicago Tribune columnist that the nation could find itself “irrevocably committed to the socialist path” if Trump lost.

Back to the sedition thingy. The federal sedition law is rarely invoked, but the wording has wiggle room. It says that sedition can occur anytime two or more people conspire to use force to oppose federal authority, hinder the government’s ability to enforce any federal law or, unlawfully seize any federal property.

That could include a plot to break into and set fire to a federal courthouse.

The WSJ quotes Jenny Carroll, a University of Alabama law professor, who says that turning to statutes like sedition would mark an escalation in the government’s effort to quell the violence:

“There are all these different statutes the government can use if they are worried about things like property damage….If you start charging those people, even if you don’t get a conviction, it may make people think twice before going out to exercise their right to free speech.”

Do yourself a favor, and don’t read the WSJ comments. There’s a fine line between the expression of antigovernment sentiment, which is protected speech under the First Amendment (even if it included discussions of violence), and a plot that presented an imminent danger sufficient to justify a charge of sedition.

No one can justify property damage, looting or killings, but more than 93% of the protests in the US this summer were peaceful, according to a report by the Armed Conflict Location and Event Data Project, which monitors political upheaval worldwide. They looked at 7,750 protests from May 26 through Aug. 22 in 2,400 locations across all 50 states and the District of Columbia.

But if Barr gets to define “force” his way, everyone will get to go to jail.

For Bill Barr, the crime is to oppose the regime. Those who enable Trump, by definition, can’t be criminals, and so do not deserve punishment. If they are prosecuted like General Flynn, Paul Manafort, or Roger Stone, they should be pardoned, or their prosecutions withdrawn. Accordingly, those who oppose the regime are the real enemy. They deserve prompt and merciless retribution.

Barr could have delivered his new testament in Minsk or Manila, not at an American college.

These people must go.

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Keep Your Foot on the Gas

The Daily Escape:

Landscape Arch, Arches NP, Moab UT – 2020 photo by wmartin2014

There are 48 days to go until the election, and nobody who wants Trump retired can relax. The latest New York Times/Siena College poll shows Biden leading Trump in four swing states, Minnesota, Nevada, New Hampshire and Wisconsin. Wining them could guarantee a Biden victory.

But, there were scary findings for Biden in the survey: In those four states, a larger share of voters said “addressing law and order” was a more important campaign issue to them than “addressing the coronavirus pandemic”.

Biden is perceived by some to be weak on crime, despite his lifetime legislative record that says just the opposite. But, while he’s been clear about his stance on rioting and looting, he hasn’t said it often enough to penetrate the consciousness of many voters: A majority of poll respondents said Biden “hasn’t done enough to condemn violent rioting.” Even 27% of his supporters agreed with that answer.

We’ve talked about Biden needing to be simultaneously on both offense and defense. He needs to do better with the perception of weakness around protests, looting and violence, and the future of policing. He hasn’t talked about it often enough, and that’s one reason why the campaign hasn’t turned into a rout.

If Biden fails at this messaging, the 2020 election will turn out to be uncomfortably close.

Ed Kilgore wrote about the uncomfortably close election of 1876, just 11 years after the end of the civil war. It was the closest the country has come to war over a presidential election:

“Republican Rutherford B. Hayes defeated Democrat Samuel Tilden by a single electoral vote after a dispute that wasn’t resolved until the eve of Hayes’s inauguration in March of 1877.”

Legal battles broke out in three southern states over both the presidential contest, and about which party controlled the state governments. Both Parties sent competing slates of electors to Washington from all three. More from Kilgore:

“As the time neared in January 1877…tensions rose around the country and in Washington. Democrats were particularly motivated given their candidate’s apparent popular vote margin (ultimately judged to be three percent) and threatened “Tilden or War.”

A compromise was reached days before the end of Grant’s administration, under threat of violence. Republican Hayes pledged to withdraw the remaining Federal troops in Louisiana, South Carolina and Florida, effectively ending Reconstruction in the south. That allowed southern Democrats to agree to Hayes as president.

Funny how history works: The Dems in 1876 represented the old plantation owner’s class, pro-slavery, and later, the ‘black codes’. The Southern Dems hold on the Democratic Party ended with LBJ passing the voting rights and civil rights acts with Republican help in the 1960’s. Subsequently, Nixon’s Southern strategy made the south a Republican stronghold.

But we’ve also had close elections since then. Paul Campos says:

“Over the past 60 years, six of the fifteen presidential elections in the USA have been extremely close. These elections ended up being basically coin flips — if they had been held a few days earlier or later, or if the weather had been different on Election Day, etc., the result could easily have changed.”

Campos outlines six recent close elections:

Kennedy over Nixon: The first of three presidential elections in the 40 years prior to 2000, in which the winner almost lost the popular vote. Kennedy won by about 100,000 votes out of nearly 69 million cast.

Nixon over Humphrey: This was a three-way contest in which votes for George Wallace were almost enough to throw the presidential election into the House of Representatives. That would have elected Hubert Humphrey, since if Nixon hadn’t won California, he wouldn’t have commanded a majority vote in the Electoral College.

Carter over Ford: Ford made a huge comeback in the weeks immediately before the election, but lost Texas and Mississippi, which were extremely close, with the Electoral College going 297 for Carter and 240 for Ford. Reagan didn’t campaign for Ford, which probably cost the Republicans the presidency.

Bush over Gore. You know how this one came out. Gore said at the time that there was no intermediate step between the Supreme Court and armed rebellion.

Bush over Kerry: Bush won the popular vote by three million, and the Electoral College by 286 to 251. A few tens of thousands of votes in Ohio separated Kerry from winning.

Trump over Clinton: This one wasn’t as close as Campos says.

But, flipping any one of these elections would have had enormous consequences for subsequent US history.

This should keep us all up at night, working hard that to ensure that it doesn’t happen again in 2020. There were lots of optimists in 2016. We need to be more realistic this time around.

We need to register the unregistered, and get out the vote.

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Trump’s “Don’t Panic” Moment

The Daily Escape:

Bear Hat Mountain, from Hidden Lake Trail, Glacier NP. WY – 2020 photo by jwatkin13

From Trump, regarding why he didn’t tell the truth about the pandemic, as quoted in Woodward’s book:

“Well, as you said, in order to reduce panic, perhaps that’s so,” Trump said when asked if he downplayed the severity of the pandemic. “The fact is, I’m a cheerleader for this country. I love our country, and I don’t want people to be frightened. I don’t want to create panic, as you say. Certainly I’m not going to drive this country or the world into a frenzy.”

It’s worth remembering that Trump refused to sit for an interview with Robert Mueller, but gave Bob Woodward 18 hours of interviews, all on tape. Some are already saying that Woodward either faked the recordings, or as Trump said, that the pandemic is Woodward’s fault for not alerting the nation sooner:

Trump doesn’t even believe his own bullshit. Like another Republican president (GW Bush), he lied, and people died. That we now know that Trump completely understood the dangers of COVID-19, lends credibility to reports that Trump and Kushner stalled on Federal Coronavirus action once they concluded that mostly residents of blue states would be the ones to die in significant numbers.

Some criticize Woodward for sitting on this knowledge, but Wrongo doubts this revelation will have a large impact on the election. It certainly won’t change the minds of any of Trump’s true believers. They will vote for him even if they’ve also decided that he’s an appalling human being.

Why? Because he delivered on judges, taxes, deregulation, and made the right noises on cultural issues like abortion. They like how he never apologizes, and how he blames his shortcomings on others. Those who think Trump is a terrific president will find ways to dismiss any inconvenient facts.

That Trump said he “didn’t want to create panic” is classic gaslighting. Donald Trump’s entire political career is based around trying to create enough panic to win elections. As he explained to Woodward and a colleague in a 2016 interview:

“Real power is—I don’t even want to use the word—fear.”

Here are a few highlights of Trump fear as an electoral strategy:

  • Flight 93 election: 2016 was the Flight 93 election. Either you charge the cockpit or you die. Trump, your presidential candidate, may get into the cockpit and not know how to land the plane. There are no guarantees, but if he doesn’t try, your other option is Hillary Clinton. That’s Russian roulette with an automatic pistol. With Trump, at least you get to spin the cylinder and take your chances.
  • Mexican rapists
  • Caravans
  • American Carnage
  • Muslims
  • Antifa
  • Black people moving to the suburbs
  • Law & Order!

Creating panic is Trump’s signature move. It’s ridiculous to think that this one time, he was genuinely trying to avoid panic. But will knowing what he did matter in 2020? Has he gone too far to reel back in enough Republican and swing state electoral votes?

The Democrats hope that his willful minimizing COVID back at a point when something really could be done to head it off, will convince some Republicans not to vote for Trump. That depends on whether a significant number of them are sufficiently disgusted to leave the top line on the ballot blank or simply stay home.

Still, Woodward’s revelations matter. They may or may not affect the outcome of the election. They will certainly affect history’s judgment on Trump’s presidency. He’s been caught in a lie he can’t ignore nor dismiss, and his callous disregard for the welfare of all Americans has been fully revealed.

Will it make a difference to voters that Trump is an accessory to the deaths of more than 200,000 Americans?

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“Suburban voters’ appetite for excuses is at an all-time low.”

The Daily Escape:

Glacier-fed lake, Tetons, WY – August 2020 iPhone 11 photo by grantplace

The media is saying that Trump has flipped the script from his disastrous response to the COVID pandemic, to more success with chaos in the cities. Even Biden has slowed his roll on COVID, except for Wednesday’s speech:

“If President Trump and his administration had done their jobs early on with this crisis, America’s schools would be open, and they’d be open safely….Mr. President, where are you? Where are you? Why aren’t you working on this?”

Nicely done. Biden also ran an ad, “We’re Listening” about crime and public safety. The ad is running in the battleground states of Wisconsin, Michigan, North Carolina and Pennsylvania. Also nicely done.

This shows that Biden is playing offense and defense simultaneously by keeping the focus on the virus and issues like school re-openings, while also defending against Trump’s law-and-order attacks.

Biden was in Kenosha on Thursday. As Wrongo writes this, he’s holding a town hall after meeting earlier with the Blake family. No new policy announcements, just listening, and showing compassion. That’s so much more than what Trump was able to do in Kenosha just two days ago.

Will Trump’s fear campaign work in the suburbs? The suburbs went for Trump in 2016, but since then, the suburbs have become less Republican. Why would violence in a few cities help Trump in the suburbs? Angry white guys with guns like Kyle Rittenhouse probably scare them more than city violence.

Think about it: Along with the Kenosha police shooting Jacob Blake, the shooter in Kenosha was a 17 year old white kid with an AR-15. When suburban voters see that kid, do you think they associate him with inner city crime or, with school shootings?

The gain by Democrats in the suburbs came with the increased danger from school shootings that all suburban children now face. And the Republicans’ constant defense of gun rights absolutism doesn’t improve their chances. From the Bulwark: (emphasis by Wrongo)

“Consider how fast bump stocks went from a thing that existed to being federally banned after the shooting in Las Vegas. That happened because the appetite for excuses from voters in these suburbs is at an all-time low.”

What happens when suburban parents see Trump defending a young white man killing people? Will they say: “This would be worse under Biden”? No, they’re much more worried about kids like Rittenhouse shooting up their neighborhood schools.

And Trump’s egging on of armed, angry white men isn’t going to help him, despite what we’re hearing from the media.

Why is Trump pushing his chaos agenda? A new paper from Larry Bartels of Vanderbilt University suggests that Trump and his Republican supporters’ value “keeping America great” more than they value democracy.

Bartels says that by “keeping America great,” the Republicans’ surveyed meant “keeping America’s power structure white.” In a January 2020 YouGov survey of Republicans, a slim majority of GOP voters agreed with the statement:

“The traditional American way of life is disappearing so fast that we may have to use force to save it.”

Some other findings from the survey:

  • Nearly 75% agreed with “It is hard to trust the results of elections when so many people will vote for anyone who offers a handout.”
  • More than 40% agreed that “a time will come when patriotic Americans have to take the law into their own hands.”
  • More than 47% concurred with the premise that “strong leaders sometimes have to bend the rules in order to get things done.”

Bartels finds these attitudes:

“…are grounded in real political values—specifically, and overwhelmingly, in Republicans’ ethnocentric concerns about the political and social role of immigrants, African-Americans, and Latinos in a context of significant demographic and cultural change.”

Political power in America is shifting. It’s becoming less concentrated in White hands. Obama’s election showed many Whites that they could eventually become just another of the many minorities in America. Demographics says that’s a certainty.

Conservatives have always conceded that some lives matter more than others, and therefore, should have more rights. Predictably, it is the people of color who they have excluded. Since they know how this country treats minorities, they sure don’t want to become a minority.

Suburban voters are not worried about inner city riots spilling over into their homes. But they may be truly worried about the anti-democratic wave being led by Trump along with his most fervent supporters.

The suburbs clearly think democracy matters. They are more fearful of autocratic leaders than they are of scattered violence in cities.

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Are We Getting Close to Civil War?

The Daily Escape:

Murmeration of Starlings, Leeuwarden, Netherlands – photo by Marcel van Kammen/Corbis. The changing shape of the flock comes from each bird copying the motions of others around it with extreme rapidity. Their reaction time is less than a tenth of a second.

Are we seeing a kind of political Murmeration in America? You can argue that there is a straight line from what Trump has said and done during the past four years to where we are now:

  • From his endorsement of police brutality to numerous examples of police misconduct.
  • From his calls at rallies for his supporters to assault their opponents, to his supporters picking up guns and killing people on the street.
  • From his cozying up to white supremacists to groups of white supremacists patriots riding in the back of pickup trucks through Portland, OR.

From The Bulwark: (emphasis by Wrongo)

“Before 2016, when was the last time you saw pitched battles between armed, opposing political forces in America’s streets? Did you see it under Barack Obama? Or George W. Bush? Or Bill Clinton? Or George H.W. Bush? Or Ronald Reagan? Or Jimmy Carter?

….To find the type of mayhem we now have…with armed civilians clashing, you have to go back to the union-busting wars of the early 20th century—and even that’s probably not apt, since those were workers pitted against companies.

Yet, once Donald Trump arrived on the national stage, street fighting became a common feature of American politics.”

And on Saturday night, convoys of out-of-town trucks and SUVs bearing Trump flags rolled into Portland. They rolled through groups of protesters in their vehicles, shooting projectiles and pepper spray into the crowds. In the ensuing violence, one of the far-right Trump supporters was shot and killed.

After the murder, Trump tweeted that the MAGA “protesters” who caravanned into Portland on Saturday night were “Great Patriots!” and later explained why their behavior was understandable:

 “The big backlash going on in Portland cannot be unexpected after 95 days of watching and incompetent Mayor admit that he has no idea what he is doing. The people of Portland won’t put up with no safety any longer. The Mayor is a FOOL. Bring in the National Guard! https://t.co/bM6ypak94t

— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) August 30, 2020″

When you see photos of armed guys with US flags and Trump/Pence campaign flags on the back of pickup trucks driving around Portland, it reminds Wrongo of ISIS fighters in their trucks in news photographs or the Middle East. These Trumpers look like militia men, not something we’ve seen in America before.

The strategy in play here is “Let’s you and him fight.” Most Americans aren’t going to play that game, but the way FOX and Trump are stoking the fires, enough may be willing to try violence, starting a quasi-civil war in a few of our cities. And it’s pretty clear that it wouldn’t be contained there, since the Trumpers have the larger arsenals of weapons, and are more willing to use them.

Of course, the Portland murderer should be brought to justice, right along with the underage Kenosha killer. There is no excuse for deadly violence. Now that we have dead in Kenosha and in Portland, vengeance may become nearly impossible to tamp down, particularly in our laissez-faire gun owing society.

The only way to stop this is to bar armed protestors, regardless of their politics, from entering the area of demonstrations. All weapons, not only guns, need to be confiscated, to be returned later, or they can be retained by the owner if they agree to leave the area.

The public safety needs must take priority over anyone’s Second Amendment rights.

Also curfews must start earlier, and be strictly enforced. All of these efforts at better crowd control means more policing-type resources, but that’s the price of doing business if we are to prevent a possible war on our streets.

Finally, it’s becoming clear that the police will not intervene in whatever violence the pseudo-militias choose to commit. We shouldn’t be surprised at how quickly the Republican’s focus shifted from defending the right-wing underage killer of two protesters in Kenosha, to being outraged at the death of a righty in Portland.

Let’s remember that America is a big country, and while it might seem like violence is everywhere, it’s not. Even in cities that have reported violence, the conflicts are localized, and are not continuous. There are also protests happening in various places in the US which are totally uneventful.

Never forget that the main reason America is in chaos at this moment is because Trump wants it that way.

Trump isn’t following Richard Nixon’s playbook. He’s cribbing from George Wallace.

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Is Insurrection Brewing in Our Cities?

The Daily Escape:

Mt. McLoughlin, Cascades Range, OR – photo by kayalfainart. Unclear if that’s another mountain in the background, or Godzilla peeking at us.

…and in the eyes of the people there is the failure; and in the eyes of the hungry there is a growing wrath. In the souls of the people, the grapes of wrath are filling and growing heavy, growing heavy for the vintage.” ― John Steinbeck, “The Grapes of Wrath

This could be written today, because new grapes of wrath could again be harvested.

Think about the grim future ahead for today’s high school and college graduates. With 40 million unemployed, jobs will be scarce. Wages will be stagnant. Many of those 40 million may be out of work for quite a long time, as will many of the new grads. Many families will go hungry.

Add to that the people who are protesting the killing of George Floyd. This uprising involves a direct challenge to police power, along with a clear challenge to political power as well. That’s visible in Trump’s militarized reaction to Constitutionally-guaranteed protest.

We’re experiencing confusion and tension that has put many cops on edge at a time when their goal should be de-escalation, not escalation. There have been an untold number of similar incidents in the past where police officers have been exonerated in cases of seemingly obvious abuses of power.

That has led America to understand that its police forces can act with almost total impunity. As Wrongo has said earlier in the week, historically, this has hurt black and brown people the most. Here’s a chart that shows American’s current attitudes towards the police:

Source: Morning Consult

People may finally be fed up. There’s the tension over the pandemic, and the economic pressures it’s created. And there’s Trump, who seems only capable of pouring gasoline on what is already a bonfire.

The militarization of American law enforcement, already a massive problem, has been taken to the extreme by Trump. He thinks nothing of brutalizing a crowd of protesters so that he can be filmed walking across the street to wave:

“…an upside-down Bible in front of a church he rarely attends and whose leaders and congregation work against the policies he trumpets.”

Trump has threatened to use the US military to put down protests, even if state leaders do not want the US military in their states. Secretary of Defense Esper has spoken of a need to “dominate the battlespace” (he subsequently recanted) in reference to something that is not a battle, and that involves civilians, not a hostile enemy.

Our military is monitoring protests in multiple states, including flying drones over Minneapolis.

On Monday, Washington DC saw a bizarre “show of force” with helicopters hovering much lower than permitted over crowds of peaceful demonstrators. The Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff General Milley, was patrolling near the White House in his camouflage uniform.

On Tuesday night, troops of the 82nd Airborne Division, 10th Mountain Division and 1st Infantry Division arrived at Joint Base Andrews near Washington DC.

But who would they be fighting against? These tactics — mass arrests, tear gas, rubber bullets, intentional and unconstitutional attacks on peaceful demonstrators and journalists — are familiar, because they’re the tactics employed by authoritarian governments all over the world in response to local insurrection.

But, is what’s happening in our cities an insurrection?

Replacing the police with the military would only escalate the situation. Violence begets violence. But creating more “resistance” may well be the Trump Administration’s plan.

Let’s agree that there was unnecessary violence and property damage in many cities. Facebook and Twitter are ablaze with comments saying that a massive show of force is absolutely necessary to put down the insurrection.

Out of nowhere, GOP politicians from local to federal levels are singing a chorus of “Antifa” is a terror group, and the primary cause of the problems on the streets of America. Antifa, short for anti-fascists, describes an amorphous group of people whose political beliefs lean far left, and do not necessarily conform to the Democratic Party’s platform.

The problem with Trump’s claim that it’s a terror group is that it doesn’t have central leadership, according to federal law enforcement officials. Worse for Trump is that many of Antifa’s Twitter accounts turn out to be run by fascists in Europe.

“Antifa” is vapor in the US, and recognizing it as some defined group is a joke that has been taken seriously only by America’s Right.

Painting disparate punk assholes as some kind of formal group is ridiculous and counterproductive.

We desperately need to get the twin problems of the coronavirus and the nationwide civil disobedience behind us.

These infections need to be cured.

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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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Call It the Great Virus Crash of 2020

The Daily Escape:

Desert bloom on Siphon Draw Trail, AZ – photo by ericatect

That was the term used on Wednesday by Ed Yardeni, president of Yardeni Research:

“It’s all at once a health crisis, financial crisis and economic crisis. We need to fix the health part of it before we have it solved, but we can take financial and fiscal steps to blunt its effects.”

JPMorgan Chase said it forecasts a 14% decline in gross domestic product in the second quarter. That’s enough to scare anyone. In a partial response, the Trump administration suspended evictions, authorized the Defense Production Act, and is eyeing a stimulus package worth about $1 trillion.

The headline is that Trump wants to give Americans direct cash assistance. He wants to send two $1,000 checks to many Americans. Beginning April 6th, $250 billion would be issued, and another $250 billion would be issued beginning May 18th. Payments would be tiered based on income level and family size.

The Treasury Department is circulating a two-page sheet of priorities that it wants to see in the final deal:

  • Part of it is a $50 billion “airline industry secured lending facility” that would allow it to make direct loans to “U.S. passenger and cargo air carriers”.
  • The Treasury would also earmark $300 billion to help small businesses avoid mass layoffs.
    • Eligible borrowers would be companies with less than 500 employees.
    • Loan amounts would be limited to 100% of 6 weeks of payroll, capped at $1540 per week per employee.
  • The Treasury also wants Congress to allow it to temporarily guarantee money market mutual funds. Some are worried that an investor panic could lead to a run on these funds. This was done before during the Great Recession.
  • Finally, there would be a $150 billion fund to prop up other sectors, including hotels.

And Wednesday was another day when Trump appeared in front of the press, attempting to look as if he’s a war president. The bad news was that they again halted trading on the stock markets during his press conference.

At Wednesday’s close, the Dow was down another 1,338 points. We’ve now lost almost all of the gains accrued during the Trump administration. Nearly every asset class – stocks, bonds, gold, and oil – fell as investors fled to the safety of cash.

Mr. Market has decided that cash is king. The smart money can’t decide whether Trump’s offering too much stimulus. If so, things must be really bad. And if he’s not offering enough, then there’s no leadership.

Here’s one way to look at the Dow’s performance:

  • First 1153 days of Obama’s presidency +67%
  • First 1153 days of Trump’s presidency  +0%

The WH needs to shut him up. Each time he speaks, things get worse for the rest of us.

Inside this crisis is perhaps the biggest political challenge for Democrats: They have to agree to help an incompetent president and his Party avoid killing their constituents.

That’s a bitter pill, particularly in an election year.

It isn’t a stretch to see how Democrats would be painted as obstructionists if they fail to support what Trump wants at a time when millions of people need a cash bridge to help them across economic difficulties.

Wrongo thinks helping people is a good idea, and a total of $2,000 is better than nothing, but what will it really do? The average US mortgage payment is over $1,000, while the median rent for a 1-bedroom apartment is $1,234. So for a couple, in most cases, one month’s housing costs will eat up about 25% of the total cash from the government. The rest will go to car expenses, the cell phone, perhaps student debt payments. Maybe, if people can stretch, it will last two months.

It’s helpful, but far from enough if employers remain closed for two months or more.

And loans to small businesses? Will small businesses willingly take on more debt when they can’t be sure when their income will return, or if the business will survive?

Any loans to large corporations is a huge mistake. The big four US airlines – Delta, United, American, and Southwest – whose stocks are getting crushed because they will run out of cash in a few months, would be the primary recipients of that $50 billion bailout. But together, they incinerated $43.7 billion in cash on share buybacks since 2012. Now they are looking to get that back from the taxpayers. Those buybacks enriched the very shareholders that Trump now wants to bail out.

Perhaps Trump said it best, although it was a while ago: “We’re seeing a stock market like no one has ever seen before.”

Trump spent the first three years of his presidency trying to erase Obama’s legacy.  Now, The Great Virus Crash in Trump’s last year will erase his.

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Saturday Soother – January 11, 2020

The Daily Escape:

Road in Yosemite after rain – December 2019 photo by worldpins

Did we just avoid a war, or was a future war thrust upon us? You have to go way back to find a time when the thought of an overseas conflict united Americans behind the plan.

Today, all we have are questions about which war we consider to be a war worth fighting. Certainly it wouldn’t be a war on climate change, or vote suppression, or spiraling health care costs. Those aren’t considered just wars in today’s politics.

One Party is always willing to fight the other when the topic is intervention in the Middle East. Doug Collins, the mouthy Republican Congress Critter from Georgia, who’s willing to self-promote on any TV channel, went on Fox (Lou Dobbs) to criticize Democrats:

“They’re in love with terrorists. We see that they mourn Soleimani more than they mourn our Gold Star families, who are the ones who suffered under Soleimani. That’s a problem.”

That led Preet Bharara, former US Attorney, to clap back at Collins: (emphasis by Wrongo)

“No American is “in love” with terrorists or “mourns” the death of that Iranian general on an airstrip in Baghdad. Many of us do, however, mourn the death of decency, honesty and reason here at home.

I realize that you are a politician and that hyperbolic, hyperpartisan claptrap is the unfortunate fashion of the day. But even allowing for the new normal of nastiness in political rhetoric, your casual slur of countless good Americans hits a new bottom. Americans can, in good faith, differ about the legality or efficacy of killing Soleimani. That doesn’t make them unpatriotic or lovers of terrorists. It is hostility to differences of opinion that is un-American.”

More:

“You are a pastor, an attorney and a sitting member of Congress. Therefore, the evidence would suggest you should know better. To utter such garbage, which you know to be false and defamatory, goes against all the training and teaching you must have received. But you got your cheap shot across, and perhaps that’s all that matters to you.”

Iraq War veteran Sen. Tammy Duckworth (D-Ill) chimed in about what Collins said:

“I’m not going to dignify that with a response. I left parts of my body in Iraq fighting terrorists. I don’t need to justify myself to anyone.”

Collins then recanted:

“Let me be clear: I do not believe Democrats are in love with terrorists, and I apologize for what I said earlier this week.”

But, even though Collins appeared on Fox on Friday morning, he didn’t apologize. Instead, he later apologized on his Twitter feed, which has less than 300k followers.

Let’s give Preet the last word: (emphasis by Wrongo)

“…I am not making some old and familiar naive call for a return to “civility” in our politics. I don’t have much hope for that….I just want people like you to knock off the worst scurrilous nonsense…..If we are going to come together, protect the homeland and heal the hearts of people who have suffered the scars of terrorism, we need our leaders to do better than lazy trash talk.”

Collins was deployed as a Navy Chaplain to Iraq in 2008, so he knows better. He’s certainly seen Democrats die fighting terrorists. Yesterday, Wrongo said Democrats can’t let Republicans slide, they need to be called out when they are wrong, like Bharara and Duckworth just did to Collins.

Sometimes, Wrongo wonders if all this is happening because he didn’t forward at least a thousand Facebook messages to ten people. If so, Wrongo apologizes, America!

Time for all of us to de-stress from the first week of the new decade. Let’s hope most weeks are calmer than what we just lived through. To help calm things down, it’s time for our Saturday Soother!

Start by brewing up a mug of Panama Esmeralda Geisha Natural ($19.95/4oz.). Wrongo knows that’s expensive, but the stock market had a great week, even if Gen. Soleimani didn’t, so you can afford it. It’s from Paradise Roasters in Minneapolis.

Now, grab a seat by the window and listen to something soothing. Today, we hear Beethoven’s “Für Elise” played on glass harp by Robert Tiso. The score was not published until 1867, 40 years after the composer’s death. And it may not have really been dedicated to Elise:

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

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Monday Wake Up Call – September 9, 2019

The Daily Escape:

Cape of Good Hope, 6:00pm, South Africa – September 2006 photo by Wrongo

Last week, the NYT’s Thomas Edsall discussed an award-winning academic study focused on the nihilism of the Trump GOP’s hardcore supporters. The paper illustrates that among this slice of the American electorate, the temptation to cause or support chaos may be overwhelming. Edsall says the study argues that a segment of the American electorate that was once peripheral is drawn to “chaos incitement” and that this segment has gained decisive influence through the rise of social media:

“The rise of social media provides the public with unprecedented power to craft and share new information with each other….this technological transformation allows the transmission of a type of information that portrays….political candidates or groups negatively…and has a low evidential basis.”

The study says that the chaos-inducing information transmitted on social media includes conspiracy theories, fake news, discussions of political scandals and negative campaigns.

The study’s authors, Michael Bang Petersen and Mathias Osmundsen, both from Aarhus University in Denmark, and Kevin Arceneaux, a political scientist at Temple, conducted six surveys, four in the US, interviewing 5,157 participants, and two in Denmark, interviewing 1,336. They identified those who are “drawn to chaos” through their affirmative responses to the following statements:

  • I fantasize about a natural disaster wiping out most of humanity such that a small group of people can start all over.
  • I think society should be burned to the ground.
  • When I think about our political and social institutions, I cannot help thinking “just let them all burn.”
  • We cannot fix the problems in our social institutions, we need to tear them down and start over.
  • Sometimes I just feel like destroying beautiful things.

The responses of individuals to three of the statements are horrifying:

  • 24% agreed that society should be burned to the ground;
  • 40% concurred with the thought that “When it comes to our political and social institutions, I cannot help thinking ‘just let them all burn”;
  • 40% also agreed that “we cannot fix the problems in our social institutions, we need to tear them down and start over.”

Despite interviewing 5,000+ Americans the study doesn’t conclude if the results represent the actual percentage of Americans who share this view. They did use a YouGov nationally representative survey of Americans. They say the data are weighted to achieve national representations on gender, age, education and geography.

As bad as this sounds, what if we reframed the “need for chaos” as “a need for things to change in ways that work for everyday people“? Instead of casting them as evil or as deplorables who wish to destroy nice things, we could see them as people who have been left out, or cheated by the system.

In that light, it might be reasonable for the marginalized on the left and right to wish for major changes in our system. So, let’s treat this study as an example of one dead canary in a coal mine. At this point, it’s a potentially terrifying glimpse of what may be America’s (and the entire developed world’s) future.

Nihilism is a symptom of needs not being met. Our current neoliberal capitalism is a prime cause behind this nihilism. Our system must change to be more inclusive, to create more “winners”.  We won’t blunt nihilism with more trickle down policies.

Time to wake up America! Our society has to change, or die.

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