The Wrongologist

Geopolitics, Power and Political Economy

Monday Wake Up Call – Cambridge Analytica Edition

The Daily Escape:

Massachusetts stream after March Nor’easter – 2018 photo by Karen Randall

The New York Times and The Observer each reported on Sunday about Cambridge Analytica’s use of Facebook (FB) personal information for about 50 million users. The data were acquired by an external researcher who claimed to be collecting it for academic purposes.

Those data were subsequently passed by the researcher to Cambridge Analytica (CA), who used it to help the Trump campaign develop very accurate psychographic profiles on each FB user. They also built a powerful software program to influence choices at the ballot box, targeting them with personalized political messages. CA then helped create websites and FB posts specifically designed to appeal to those users who followed the information, and then the most effective messages were used to either get them to vote, or to stay home.

The Observer said that the 50 million profiles represented about a quarter of potential US voters.

Cambridge Analytica was at the time, managed by Steve Bannon, and remains owned and financed by Robert Mercer. In June 2016, the Trump campaign hired Cambridge Analytica to take over its data operations. The WSJ reported on Friday that Robert Mueller has requested that Cambridge Analytica turn over internal documents as part of its investigation.

Some detail on the FB data: In 2015, a University of Cambridge researcher Aleksandr Kogan harvested data on millions of Americans by getting them to use his FB research app, “thisisyourdigitallife,” which offered a personality prediction, and was billed on FB as “a research app used by psychologists.”

Kogan then passed the data to Christopher Wylie of Eunoia Technologies, who used the personal information to create psychological and political profiles, and then target them with political ads designed to work with their particular psychological makeup.

We know about this because Wylie just came forward to the Observer, which broke the story. The Observer reports that Wylie: (edits and brackets by Wrongo)

Was the gay Canadian vegan who somehow ended up creating ‘Steve Bannon’s psychological warfare mindfuck tool’… [And they quote him saying] we ‘broke’ Facebook…

Cambridge Analytica also was used in the Brexit election campaign on the side of the “Leave” faction. And, The Hill reports that CA met with the Russian oil firm, Lukoil, three times in 2014 and 2015. Lukoil was apparently interested in how data could be used to target US voters.

When this story broke, Facebook banned Cambridge Analytica from advertising on its platform. But, The Guardian reports that Facebook had known about this misuse of its data for two years, doing nothing about it. Facebook acknowledges that the data were obtained legally, but that this use violates its policies

Until now, Wrongo has been agnostic about foreign meddling in the 2016 election. But finally, this may be where the Mueller investigation is heading: Collaboration by the Trump campaign (through Cambridge Analytica) and Russian operatives on the development and deployment of these robustly targeted digital advertisements. This becomes clearer since the Guardian reports that Kogan, the data gatherer, was also working for a St. Petersburg university while he was working for Cambridge and running his app. The Guardian also implies that he had funding from the Russian government.

This is at the center of everything. Russia, Facebook, Trump, Mercer, Bannon, Brexit. All of these threads run through Cambridge Analytica.

And we shouldn’t ignore FB’s culpability. They contracted with the app developer. They transferred large amounts of data to Kogan for specific purposes. FB had the opportunity and obligation to oversee and enforce that contract, and they seem to have failed to do so.

If this happened only in the US, we might not have even heard about it. Luckily for the American public, part of this arrangement appears to be subject to EU data protection rules, so more of the story will come out.

This shows why the US badly needs a data privacy and data protection regime similar to Europe’s.

It’s time to WAKE UP America! We have to get sharp! We need to dig deeper. To go beyond headlines, and develop a real understanding of the issues confronting our Republic.

Otherwise, we can be bullshitted or manipulated, and our democracy will be lost.

To help you wake up, here is English singer, Lily Allen doing her 2009 song “The Fear”:

Sample Lyrics:

I don’t know what’s right and what’s real anymore

And I don’t know how I’m meant to feel anymore

And when do you think it will all become clear?

‘Cause I’m being taken over by the fear

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


Sunday Cartoon Blogging – March 18, 2018

What is most interesting about the #Enough movement is that it is well-disciplined, and deadly serious. These kids aren’t just looking for a chance to cut school. They realize what’s at stake: not just their lives, but the future of the country. Most of them will be old enough to vote in 2020.

When you think about high school kids marching, the Parkland kids are from FL, many WI kids marched, and Democrat Conor Lamb just won in a PA district gerrymandered to be very red. Total Electoral College votes if these three states switched from red to blue: 59. In other words, #Enough:

Dem surprise win in PA gets standard Trump response:

GOP debrief on PA rounds up all the usual suspects:

United’s problems transporting dogs makes Romney look good:

Steven Hawking enters the worm hole:

White House alums seem to be ok:


What Lessons Can Dems Take From Conor Lamb’s PA Victory?

The Daily Escape:

Lambs are carried by a donkey in a side-saddle carrier, moving to their summer feeding grounds, Lombardy Italy – 2018 photo by Elspeth Kinneir. Lamb riding on a donkey. A metaphor for how Conor Lamb was carried to victory in PA?

This week, at least, the Lamb carried the donkey in PA. The LA Times thinks that Conor Lamb’s victory is due to the failure of the GOP’s tax cuts to mean much on the ground in PA:

The most dangerous outcome for Republicans in Tuesday’s special House election was not the prospect of a Democrat taking over one of their seats. It was the shrugging off by voters of the party’s biggest legislative achievement: the tax cut measure that Republicans hoped would be their major campaign message as they head toward a turbulent midterm election.


Though the popularity of Trump’s tax plan has grown since it was passed last year, it stalled as an election issue in Pennsylvania, leading Republicans to shift away from it late in the campaign in search of another topic to energize supporters of state legislator Rick Saccone.

If Republicans can’t run on their $Trillion tax cut, they may be well and truly screwed. Some right wing outlets are saying that Lamb is really a Republican sheep in Democrat’s clothing, but that’s simply political spin. Let’s take a look at Lamb’s positions.

He took a few Republican positions:

  • Opposed to House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi becoming Speaker
  • Supported gun ownership
  • Supported Trump’s tariffs

He was a Democrat on others:

  • Opposed to the Trump tax cuts
  • Supported Obamacare
  • Supported labor unions

On abortion, Lamb was Obama-like: Personally opposed, but wants it to be safe and legal.

His positions resonated. Public Policy Polling’s exit polling indicated that health care was another top priority issue to voters in his district. And that voters believed Lamb’s views were more in step with theirs, saying Lamb better reflected their views by 7 points (45% to 38%) over Saccone. It didn’t hurt that voters in this heavily Republican district disapproved of the Republican efforts to repeal the Affordable Care Act by 14 points (53% to 39%).

Tax cuts were the Republican’s early message in the district, but Business Insider reports that ads mentioning the tax law by Saccone’s campaign dropped from nearly 70% of all messages in the first two weeks of February, to less than 1% by early March.

Is the Lamb strategy for victory a road map for Democrats? The NYT thinks so. They report that Lamb has given the Democrats a road map for Trump country.

Wrongo disagrees. Each congressional district has its own issues that will energize its voters. What works in one will not necessarily work in all. Perhaps Conor Lamb’s strategy would work in borderline red districts, or in purple areas. But what may be a winning argument in PA wouldn’t work on the ground in LA.

National Democrats wisely chose to keep a largely low profile in this election, except for visits by Joe Biden, who many consider a local. The GOP did not stay away. Trump, Pence, and Donald Jr. all visited the district. Towards the end of campaigning, the GOP even tried saying that Lamb was “not one of us”.

That failed, because Lamb is clearly a local. His family is well-known. He’s part of a local Democratic dynasty. And after college and then the Marines, he came back to become a federal prosecutor.

When we think about broad messages that will resonate everywhere, it should be that Trump ran as a populist, driving what Nancy Tourneau has called “the politics of resentment”.

But Trump has governed just like any conventional conservative Republican.

That may explain why Democrats who were willing to roll the dice with him in 2016 didn’t respond to messages about the GOP’s tax cuts in the PA-18 election.

Maybe, people feel they gave Trump a chance, and now, they’re saying that they didn’t like the results.


Steel Tariffs Against China Make Sense

The Daily Escape:

Winter Morning, Moscow Oblast, Russia – 2018 photo by kostya8. Good luck to those in New England today!

Shortly, the public will be unable to reason or think for themselves. They’ll only be able to parrot the information they’ve been given on the previous night’s news” – Zbigniew Brzezinski

Did Wrongo ever tell you about meeting Zbig? We had lunch together in the officer’s dining room at the big NY bank that Wrongo was with, sometime in the early 1980’s. It must have been a real comedown for him, lunching with an international department strategic planner, after serving four presidents. We focused on the (then) current state of the Asian economies, but his eyes scanned the room, looking (maybe hoping) for a better deal than simply talking to a young vice president.

Zbig’s quote is on the money. It is America today: We don’t figure things out, because everyone is an expert. Today, anyone you meet already knows everything. They’ve taken a quick look at Wikipedia, and they know that their opinions are worth as much as any expert.

If average people can be experts, why is Trump’s effort to do a better deal on trade so off the mark?

His proposed steel and aluminum tariffs are levied against all producers. The table below from a 2016 Duke University study, shows production by country. You can see the extent to which China is an outlier:

Note that the US is fourth on the list. Take a look at where Canada ranks. It’s hard to see Canada as a strategic risk to US military needs, but since Trump plans to deploy a blanket steel tariff, everyone suffers, at least until the retaliation begins. The Duke study makes the point:

The global steel sector is once again in a state of overcapacity. The sector, predominantly fueled by China’s expansion since 2000, has grown to over 2,300 million metric tons (MT) while only needing 1,500 MT to meet global demand. The result is a global steel sector at unviable profit levels and an influx of cheap steel in the global trading system adversely affecting companies, workers, and the global trading regime.

Both George W. Bush and Barack Obama applied steel tariffs. Bush imposed broad tariffs of up to 30% on steel imports in 2002. His tariff was supposed to last three years, but was withdrawn after the World Trade Organization (WTO) ruled against them. In 2016, the Obama administration imposed duties on some Chinese steel imports by more than 500%, on Chinese cold-rolled steel, which is used to make appliances, cars and electric motors. Subsequently, Chinese imports to the US dropped by almost two-thirds. China now ranks as the 11th largest exporter of steel to the US.

WaPo notes that Chinese steel accounts for about 6% of US steel imports, but China’s capacity is eight times that of the next biggest producer, Japan. Clearly, its Chinese capacity that must be addressed.

On Tuesday, the European Commission announced it had renewed tariffs on Chinese steel imports, some as high as 71.9%, saying producers in France, Spain and Sweden face a continued risk of imports from China at unfairly low prices. The Commission concluded that Chinese producers had significant spare capacity. This was likely to lead to large-scale imports into the European Union at dumped prices if the measures were lifted.

And even though China’s share of the EU market for stainless steel seamless pipes and tubes has hovered around 2% since 2013, Brussels had no problem with pursuing what it thought was a fair remedy, despite the possibility of blowback.

Ironically, that’s similar to what Trump says he wants to do. Similar, but far from the same.

Trump’s plan hits all global steel producers, not just China, which, as the chart above shows, produces 52% of the world’s supply. So instead of confronting only China, we will face blowback from everyone.

OTOH, the politics of Trump’s tariffs may play out differently than the economics. The economics suggest they are a loser. According to a January Bureau of Labor Statistics report, about 377,000 Americans work in metal manufacturing jobs that could be protected by these tariffs.

That’s a lot of votes in the Rust Belt. And the steel company CEO’s will also see bigger bonuses.


Saturday Soother – February 24, 2018

The Daily Escape:

The futuristic Tianjin Binhai Library opened in November 2017. It is located just outside Beijing, China – photo by Ossip van Duivenbode

Another roller coaster week comes to an end, but Wrongo can’t let go of the Parkland shooting or the gun debate just yet. So here are a few observations from a devastating article in the Atlantic by a radiologist in Florida who saw the CT scans of some of the student’s wounds:

As I opened the CT scan last week to read the next case, I was baffled. The history simply read “gunshot wound.” I have been a radiologist in one of the busiest trauma centers in the nation for 13 years, and have diagnosed thousands of handgun injuries to the brain, lung, liver, spleen, bowel, and other vital organs. I thought that I knew all that I needed to know about gunshot wounds, but the specific pattern of injury on my computer screen was one that I had seen only once before.


In a typical handgun injury that I diagnose almost daily, a bullet leaves a laceration through an organ like the liver. To a radiologist, it appears as a linear, thin, grey bullet track through the organ. There may be bleeding and some bullet fragments.

I was looking at a CT scan of one of the victims of the shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School, who had been brought to the trauma center during my call shift. The organ looked like an overripe melon smashed by a sledgehammer, with extensive bleeding. How could a gunshot wound have caused this much damage?

Still more:

The reaction in the emergency room was the same. One of the trauma surgeons opened a young victim in the operating room, and found only shreds of the organ that had been hit by a bullet from an AR-15…There was nothing left to repair, and utterly, devastatingly, nothing that could be done to fix the problem. The injury was fatal.

Had enough? Here’s more:

Routine handgun injuries leave entry and exit wounds and linear tracks through the victim’s body that are roughly the size of the bullet. If the bullet does not directly hit something crucial like the heart or the aorta, and they do not bleed to death before being transported to…a trauma center, chances are, we can save the victim. The bullets fired by an AR-15 are different; they travel at higher velocity and are far more lethal. The damage they cause is a function of the energy they impart as they pass through the body. A typical AR-15 bullet leaves the barrel traveling almost three times faster than, and imparting more than three times the energy of, a typical 9mm bullet from a handgun.

And finally:

One of my ER colleagues was waiting nervously for his own children outside the school. While the shooting was still in progress, the first responders were gathering up victims whenever they could and carrying them outside the building. Even as a physician trained in trauma situations, though, there was nothing he could do at the scene to help to save the victims who had been shot with an AR-15. Most of them died on the spot, with no fighting chance at life.

This is why these weapons must be banned. Even if America sells no more of them, it will take a generation or more, for them to disappear from general use. The sooner we start banning them, the safer the country will be. Make America Safe Again!

Now, settle back in your most comfy chair with a vente cup of Red Beard Coffee’s Buckshot Blend ($17.95/lb.). The roaster says it tastes of rich caramel and apples. Then, contemplate what you can do personally to help high school kids all across America in their effort to ban AR-15’s.

While you are sitting quietly, listen to the Irish group, The Corrs, covering REM’s hit “Everybody Hurts”.  This is from “The Corrs Unplugged”, one of the MTV Unplugged series, recorded live in October, 1999. A song appropriate to the last two weeks:

Sample Lyric:

When your day is long
And the night,
The night is yours alone
When you’re sure you’ve had enough
Of this life
Well hang on
Don’t let yourself go
‘Cause everybody cries
And everybody hurts sometimes

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


Too Many Guns

The Daily Escape:

“Don’t tell me tomorrow isn’t the appropriate time to debate gun violence. If you’re a political leader doing nothing about this slaughter, you’re an accomplice.” – Sen. Chris Murphy (D-CT)

Can we get politicians to deal with gun violence? Politicians like to reframe the problem, like saying that we need more “good people” with guns. But, there were two armed police officers stationed at the Parkland FL school. Upon hearing that, the gun absolutists might argue: “If only the teachers and students had their own weapons, it probably would have worked out just fine…

At Trump’s inaugural, in the “American Carnage” portion of his speech, he said that “Your child isn’t going to be shot” on his watch. But after 18 shootings just this year, it’s clear that Trump has no plan to stop gun violence. Attacks like this can’t be eliminated, but Trump could have done something, other than blame the students and neighbors who didn’t turn the shooter in. That, and last year, he made it easier for mentally ill people to buy guns.

And we are getting numb. The LA Times editorial asks: (emphasis by Wrongo)

When does an epidemic stop being an epidemic and become just a basic part of regular life? It’s been 19 years since the nation was horrified by the carnage at Columbine in suburban Denver. It’s been just over five years since the Sandy Hook Elementary School shooting. Quick: What was the most recent mass shooting incident (at least four wounded) at a school before the one on Wednesday? Here’s the sick part: There have been so many school shootings that it takes a bit of work to answer what should be an easy question.

Who remembers clearly the particulars of the last school shooting? Not Wrongo, and probably not you. We have grown weary of being outraged after so many shootings. We’ve become numb to the sensations of outrage and pain for the victims and their families. It’s official. Guns have more rights than humans in our 21st Century America.

We have to control guns if we want to turn the tide. Consider this chart from the Tewkesbury Lab that graphs gun deaths by gun ownership:

There is a clear relationship between gun access and gun violence, and the US clearly has the most gun violence and the most guns. We might ask why some countries are above the trend line, and others are below it. When your country is above the line, your citizens not only own more guns per capita, they also have a harder time keeping their guns pointed away from other people.

Trump and Congress should have a goal of minimizing the risk of gun deaths. The best way to accomplish this is reducing access to guns. If you want to reduce your personal risk from gun related violence, you can move to a state or a country where gun laws are stricter and cultural norms surrounding guns are more progressive.

If you can’t or don’t want to move, you need to work to pass stricter gun laws where you live.

Politicians can argue about details, but the fundamentals are clear. It is like smoking. If you want to reduce smoking, you make it harder and more expensive to smoke. Only the tobacco industry and the politicians they had purchased really argued with that logic.

Why should it be different with guns?

We are unique in our worship of guns. The Second Amendment provides a big blanket of excuse for gun lovers to wrap themselves in, but Second Amendment rights shouldn’t be superior to the right of your kid to return home from school alive.

We need to control the number of guns. We also need to figure out how to change our acceptance and glorification of violence. It is young men like the kid who killed 17 in Parkland FL, who avoid mental health advice, because they don’t want to look weak. They are the same ones who are perpetually angry. They pick up a gun, and they let their gun do some punishing. And guns do that quickly and efficiently.

We have to stop them. Republicans are owned by the NRA. So first, we need to regain control of the House and Senate. We also need to have the gun control legislation ready for when that time comes.

We need better ad campaigns ads that spell out about what America loses with every shooting.

We can’t stop every wacko from harming people, but we can sharply reduce the percentage of wackos that have guns!


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.


How to Blow a “Blue Wave” Election

The Daily Escape:

Tillamook Head Lighthouse, Oregon – 2018 photo by Shaun Peterson

2018 is supposed to be a “Blue Wave” election, but Wrongo has doubts. We spoke yesterday about the pathetic performance of Team Dem during the shutdown. The Financial Times (paywalled) quoted Adam Green, co-founder of the liberal Progressive Change Campaign Committee: (brackets and emphasis by Wrongo)

The Republicans are very good at casting this debate [DACA] as being about illegal immigration and Democrats were not willing to own that this was at its core about the Dreamers and to define the Republican position as hurting kids and tearing apart families…The Trump people were clearly thinking about their messaging in advance and preparing ads in advance and there was almost no [Democratic] co-ordination with outside groups and no air cover by Democratic strategists…

That Schumer, Pelosi, et al. had no Plan B shows that they weren’t serious, no doubt because DACA isn’t an important issue for their base, the top 10%. Can the current Democratic Party leaders turn a wave opportunity into another squeaker like they did in 2016?

There is a large group of disaffected and/or disappointed voters who can be claimed in the 2018 Congressional elections. It’s a group of voters so disgusted with both parties that they could, just as easily vote in huge numbers, or stay home in droves.

Democrats said after the 2016 election that one new principle was to “crack down on corporate monopolies”, but since then, have done nothing. Here is a candidate that should be an example to Democrats on the subject of corporate power over the lives of regular people.  Austin Frerick is a 22-year-old running as Democrat in the 3rd Congressional District in Iowa against a conservative Republican. Watch him explain concentrated corporate power in a way that Schumer and Pelosi can’t, and won’t:

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

The basic skill a politician must have is to bring disparate groups a message about what they want/need, and how to get it. Chuck Shumer, the beacon of Wall Street, can’t be the guy fighting for Main Street voters.  Anything Schumer comes up with will not be the kind of clear and concise message that Austin Frerick can use to win his district.

Civil Rights activists in the 1960s didn’t win the prize on day one, but they never took their eyes off the ball once they achieved a few small wins. It’s important to remember that in the 1960s, the Party’s leadership was aligned with their Main Street supporters. But today, Democrats in Congress and their usual Democratic supporters have little in common. Schumer/Pelosi are not seeking the same prize as Main Street Democrats. They are captured by the monied elites, and have no message directed at the little people. Their only message is “Russians! Trump!”.

So far, Dems have won a few special elections, and won the Governorship in NJ, which should never have been lost to Christie in the first place. It’s time for the progressives in Congress to stage an actual coup, replacing today’s leaders with a few of their own. Otherwise, 2018’s messaging will be: 2016 – the sequel.

Will Wrongo be wrong again? Will the Democrats win with their current leaders? Or will they field so many unpalatable mainstreamers, backed by no message at all, that few will vote for them?

We’ll know in just a few months, and then, 2020 is just around the corner.


Monday Wake Up Call – January 22, 2018

The Daily Escape:

Atrium of Zeitz MOCAA, Cape Town South Africa – 2017 photo by Ian Baan. A grain silo is reborn as South Africa’s answer to London’s Tate Modern

Why are we trying to maintain the illusion that our political system functions? The press would have us believe that the shutdown is simply the result of one unfortunate Senate vote. From the BBC:

This is the first time a government shutdown has happened while one party, the Republicans, controls both Congress and the White House. The vote on Friday was 50-49, falling far short of the 60 needed to advance the bill. With a 51-seat majority in the Senate, the Republicans do not have enough votes to pass the bill without some support from the Democrats. They want funding for border security – including the border wall – and immigration reforms, as well as increased military spending. The Democrats have demanded protection from deportation of more than 700,000 undocumented immigrants who entered the US as children.

But, the NYT reports:

In fact, it was Mr. Trump who opted not to pursue a potential deal that he and Senator Chuck Schumer of New York, the top Senate Democrat, had hashed out over lunch at the White House on Friday. The proposal would have kept the government open, funded a border wall and extended legal status to undocumented immigrants brought to the US as children, while including disaster aid funds and money for a federal children’s health insurance program. Mr. Kelly later called Mr. Schumer to say the agreement lacked sufficient immigration restrictions.

What a wonderful way for Trump to start his second year in office. He and his staff have proven that they are absolutely terrible at presidential leadership. It’s not just that they have no desire to govern, it’s that Trump and his cabinet think all that matters is making his Republican base happy.

There have been possible bipartisan deals in the run-up to shutdown that would have passed the Senate and House with both Republicans and Democrats voting for them. But clearly, Trump’s and the GOP’s strategy is to force the Dems to eat a shit sandwich, and when they refuse, to blame them for the shutdown.

That’s not how the “both sides ballet” is supposed to work: The plotline is that the Republicans go crazy, take a few hostages, and the Democrats (the adults in the room), negotiate the release of some of the hostages in exchange for the Republicans getting to shoot a few, and also getting a fully-fueled getaway plane, and a sackful of tax cut money.

Schumer held up his end of the bargain; he offered Trump a deal that was friendly to his racist agenda in exchange for the Republicans keeping the lights on for a few weeks.

No dice from the Orange genius.

It’s interesting how the 60-vote requirement in the Senate in order to end a filibuster, and bring a floor vote, became normalized. When McConnell started filibustering damn near everything Obama wanted, the media accepted it uncritically as part of the political process. It was clear that once the Democrats were in the minority, the filibuster would suddenly become an extreme act once again, and the Dems would be excoriated for using McConnell’s normal legislative tool.

And that’s exactly what’s happening. The Republicans “need” Democratic votes in the Senate to get past a filibuster. And now, we are seeing Trump and Fox News, along with plenty of Republicans talking about how the filibuster has to die.

It isn’t clear who the current impasse will help or hurt in November. But America needs to wake up to the fact that our politics no longer work. Fewer Right Wing ideologues in the House and Senate is the only thing that will turn the ship around.

America has to wake up, and vote them out in November.

To help America wake up, let’s listen to Texas singer-songwriter James McMurtry’s December 2017 song “State of the Union”, in which he takes aim at fascism and racism. The song is a satire. It doesn’t just point fingers as much as it outlines our contentious politics:

Sample Lyrics:

My brother’s a fascist, lives in Palacios,
Fishes the pier every night
He holsters his Glock in a double retention.
He smokes while he waits for a bite.
He don’t like the Muslims. He don’t like the Jews.
He don’t like the Blacks and he don’t trust the news.
He hates the Hispanics and alternate views.
He’ll tell you it’s tough to be white.

It’s the state of the union I guess

It’s always been iffy at best

We’ll do all we’re able

With what we got left

It’s the state of the union I guess

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


Monday Wake Up – Martin Luther King, Jr

The Daily Escape:

Two mules draw a farm wagon bearing the casket of Rev. Martin Luther King, Jr. April 9, 1968.

From Katie Mitchell at Bustle:

This year marks the 50th anniversary of Martin Luther King Jr.’s assassination on April 4, 1968. But as a country, in the half-century since King’s death, we haven’t come as far as many involved in the Civil Rights Movement would have hoped. Martin Luther King Jr. Day 2018…comes in the midst of a turbulent social climate, where white nationalists can openly march on college campuses and the president of the United States calls Haiti, which has a majority Black population, a “sh*thole country”…

So true. But Wrongo wants us to focus today on the role of music in the 1960’s. Dr. King described how significant and liberating that music had been to activists in the Freedom Movement:

Much of the power of our Freedom Movement in the United States has come from the music. It has strengthened us with its sweet rhythms when courage began to fail. It has calmed us with its rich harmonies when spirits were down.

Wrongo was reminded of this by a NYT article describing a collaboration between Carnegie Hall and Robert Caro, the historian who has spent much of his lifetime chronicling president Lyndon Johnson. Together, they are hosting a 10-week festival about the 1960’s. Caro says this about the music of the time: (emphasis by Wrongo)

I’ve written about what to me, is the supreme moment showing the power of music to create social change, which was when Johnson took the title of the most important anthem in his 1965 televised address to Congress a week after the Selma march, when he called for passage of a voting rights act. “It’s not just Negroes,” he said, “but really it’s all of us, who must overcome the crippling legacy of bigotry and injustice. And we shall overcome.” The president of the United States takes the key line of the anthem, and uses it to help push the bill through. That’s the power of music.

Today’s wake up is for all of us who remember the political role that music had in the 1960s. It was a call to action, it was a healing salve on wounds, and it united many behind an idea.

And where is today’s protest music? It exists, and has tried to land a few blows, like music did in the ‘60s. But where politically charged music comes from, what it sounds like, who performs it, and how someone identities with it is radically different.

Unlike earlier eras of American popular resistance, there is no single centralized scene for protest songs. Today, protest music travels in a wide range of styles. And today, “protest music” seems like a redundant term; when all identities are politicized, all music feels political.  From Pitchfork:

Joey Bada$$ lamented the “Three K’s, two A’s in AmeriKKKa,” and Kendrick Lamar parsed the prejudice pulling at society’s ever-tenuous seams. The punk band Downtown Boys, led by Latinx frontwoman Victoria Ruiz, flung their stones against “A Wall.” The electrosoul twins Ibeyi remixed Michelle Obama’s wisdom into an elegy, and Hurray for the Riff Raff’s Alynda Segarra, a queer Puerto Rican singer-songwriter, refracted Trump’s hostility towards minorities into a bilingual cry for courage. Perfume Genius’ Mike Hadreas, who is gay, reveled in the euphoria of self-acceptance and teased the zealotry that would blithely stomp his civil rights.

Check out some, or none. Things are different in a different time.

Back to the 1960’s. Here are two selections from the first few days after Dr. King’s assassination. First, Otis Spann and his “Blues for Martin Luther King”. Spann, arguably the greatest blues pianist, and a feature in Muddy Waters’ band, performed this in a storefront church in Chicago, even as buildings were burning all around the church from the riots that erupted after the fatal shooting:

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

Second, listen to Nina Simone playing “Why? (The King of Love is Dead)”. The song was written by Simone’s bass player, Gene Taylor. Here it is performed live on April 7, 1968, three days after the death of MLK at Long Island NY’s Westbury Music Fair. At 12 minutes long, it is outstanding, and well worth your time:

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

Voting rights, Medicare and Medicaid are all under assault right now. They were passed in the 1960s. Every day, the GOP is trying to dismantle them.

Reflect on that on the 50th anniversary of Dr. King’s death.