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The Wrongologist

Geopolitics, Power and Political Economy

Sunday Cartoon Blogging – October 8, 2017

(There will be limited blogging until 10/17, as Wrongo and Ms. Right are visiting London to see five plays in seven days. We are also having dinner at Highclere Castle (Downton Abbey). Please keep your tray tables in the locked position while we are away.)

Another week of shocks to the system. Cartoons may help. The GOP reaction to Las Vegas is almost automatic, just like bump stocks:

Some are reluctant to give up their Congress:

The Senate is always on sale:

Tillerson tries to explain Trump’s undermining:

Trump tosses different kinds of paper depending on the audience:

RIP Tom Petty:

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Saturday Soother – October 7, 2017

The Daily Escape:

Naiman Nuur (Eight Lakes) National Park, Mongolia. The lakes are just 22 miles from the Orkhon waterfalls, but are accessible only by hiking, or by horse. You can get to it with 4 wheel drive vehicles, but it is 80+ miles one way, 160 if there are heavy rains. You are probably never coming here.

Rick Perry heads Trump’s Department of Energy, (DoE). With the Russians, nuclear war with North Korea, ditching the Iran deal, and hurricanes, we have ignored Perry. But Perry hasn’t ignored the coal industry Trump hired him to protect. The DoE has asked the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC) to begin the rule-making process to subsidize coal and nuclear plant operator’s costs and profits. From Vox:

Perry wants utilities to pay coal and nuclear power plants for all their costs and all the power they produce, whether those plants are needed or not.

This takes a brief unpacking. The DoE did a study of power grid reliability that said:

The loss of coal plants had not diminished grid reliability; in fact, the grid is more reliable than ever. Reliability can be improved further through smart planning and a portfolio of flexible resources.

Then the DoE said to FERC: Address a crisis we determined doesn’t exist. They are asking FERC to adopt a rule forcing utilities in competitive energy markets to pay the full cost of plants that have 90 days’ worth of fuel on-site. Perry’s argument is that the levels of renewable energy produced from wind and solar is variable. And since backup is needed for days with calm winds or cloudy skies, we need to preserve the aging coal and nuclear plants to protect the power grid from dips in availability, because they alone among electric power sources, have 90-days of fuel on hand.

Perry’s contention is that coal and nuclear stored fuel is necessary for grid reliability, and, that these plants are unfairly being driven out of business by subsidies to renewable energy. This is patently false. It is cheap natural gas that is driving coal out of business.

Having fuel on-site does little for grid resilience. No one expects energy outages if coal and nuclear plants continue closing. But, let’s have more corporate welfare for the least useful part of the energy industry!

Perry’s alleged problem isn’t real, and his solution, subsidizing coal and nuclear plants, is a form of theft. A transfer from the most deserving, clean renewable and safe plants, to the least deserving, most polluting and dangerous coal and nuclear plants.

And people will be taxed through artificially higher electricity rates to subsidize coal and nuclear plants. More from Vox:

It’s hard to overstate how radical this proposal is. It is wildly contradictory to both the spirit and practice of competitive energy markets. It amounts to selective re-regulation, but only for particular power sources, which wouldn’t have to compete, they’d just have to have piles of fuel.

So does FERC have to do what DoE asks? No, but consider this: FERC has three commissioners (a quorum), two of which, including the chair, are Trump appointees. The chair is Neil Chatterjee, who was a staffer for Sen. Mitch McConnell, the Senate’s champion of coal. Chatterjee recently said:

I believe baseload power should be recognized as an essential part of the fuel mix. … I believe that generation, including our existing coal and nuclear fleet, needs to be properly compensated to recognize the value they provide to the system.

So, this market-wrecking plan to Make Coal Great Again is likely to happen.

This is an old-school Ayn Rand-style looter giveaway from a bunch of self-described free-market “conservatives” trying to rescue a dinosaur industry that is choking the world.

Just another issue that raises our anxiety level. It’s Saturday, and we need to dial it back, relax and stop thinking about how these Trump termites are quietly undermining everything. Grab a hot, steaming cup of Mystic Monk Paradiso Blend coffee ($15.99/lb.), find a quiet corner, put on the Bluetooth headphones and listen to Telemann’s “Concerto in D major for Violin, Cello, Trumpet and Strings”, TWV 53:D5. Here performed by the Bremer Barockorchester, recorded in a November, 2015 live performance at the Unser Lieben Frauen Church, Bremen, Germany:

Note the valveless trumpet played by Giuseppe Frau. It is an Egger (three-hole system) Baroque trumpet.

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

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Tuesday Wake Up Call – October 3, 2017

Re: Las Vegas: In an America of unlimited guns and unlimited ammo, we live or die at the whims of killers. That is clearly what the Founders intended when they authored the Second Amendment. And “thoughts and prayers”, or lowering the flag to half-staff, are do-nothing pap for the masses.

The Daily Escape:

Madrid, the capital of Spain – Photo by Wilhelm Lappe. The effort by the people of Catalonia to vote for independence from Spain was the largest story of the weekend, until Las Vegas happened. Barcelona, in the northeast part of Spain is home to the Catalans.

About 92% of Catalans who voted in the weekend’s referendum backed independence, on an overall turnout of just 42%. Eight percent of voters rejected independence, and the rest of the ballots were blank, or void.

The entire process of voting for independence was marred by the effort of the Spanish national police to prevent polling places from opening, or votes from being counted. That led to violence in which at least 844 people and 33 police were reported to have been hurt.

The Spanish national government of Mariano Rajoy showed bad judgment in trying to prevent a Catalonian referendum from happening. There were good examples of how to handle this: The UK allowed the Scots to have their vote, and campaigned showing why the Scots would be better off in the UK. The Scots rejected independence. Similarly, Canada permitted Quebec to vote for independence, and campaigned on the benefits of remaining with Canada. The Quebecois voted against separation.

If the Spanish had allowed an open referendum and campaigned against secession, the outcome might well have been that separation was rejected. In an open referendum, those opposed to secession would have been empowered to campaign and vote against it, not participate just by casting blank ballots. From Benjamin Studebaker:

If someone was against Catalan independence, it would be odd to participate in this referendum because the Spanish state–the entity you recognize as sovereign–declared the referendum illegal. An independence referendum that has the backing of the regional authority but not the national authority can only deliver a divisive result.

But, the Spanish government chose to disrupt the referendum with police force. The separatists (call them voters!) chose to confront the police exercising their right of self-determination. That right, codified in the UN Charter, states that a people can freely choose their sovereignty and international political status without interference.

But few nations would agree that the right of self-determination creates a right for a portion of the country to secede from an existing nation state. In the US, a Supreme Court case, Texas vs. White, (1869) held that the Constitution did not permit states to unilaterally secede from the US.

And with the Catalonia vote, Spain is now divided, and what happens next is unclear. The referendum will be followed by a declaration of independence, leaving the central government with few choices but to escalate toward repression.

Spain will be a true test, as the Catalonian movement could well become a feature of this century. The Kurds are attempting it in Iraq. We see a weakening of the nation state as an organizing principle due to the weakening of national identities, and their replacement with micro-identities.

People now have some choice regarding identity, thanks to global flows of information. For example you can identify as conservative, libertarian, Muslim, Jewish, or Jedi Knight-American. The old “brands” – English, Spanish, Italian, American, are being parsed into a subsets with which people identify, organize, and vote. This “identity politics”, organizing around the new identity, is a problem. It’s a threat to unified societies.

This is qualitatively different from simply being a hyphenated American who celebrates their roots.

It’s time to wake up: the old world order isn’t holding. People will not stay inside it voluntarily. We need to look at our system of government, and the ties that bind us. To help us wake up, here is Muse with their tune, “Uprising” from their 2009 album, “The Resistance”. The song is about a proletarian revolt against the 2008 global banking crisis:

Key Lyric:

They will not force us
They will stop degrading us
They will not control us
We will be victorious

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

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Saturday Soother – September 30, 2017

The Daily Escape:

Reflection Canyon, in the Glen Canyon National Recreation Area, Utah. This spot became popular with hikers after Apple used it to promote its Mac Book Pro high resolution with retina display. People first learned about the location after this photograph was taken by Michael Melford in 2006.

Texas has a $10 billion rainy day fund. Now, you would think that when the rains came to Houston, Gov. Greg Abbott would say “It’s a rainy day fund, let’s send some to Houston”.

Nope. The Texas Observer reports: (brackets and emphasis by the Wrongologist)

On Tuesday, after Turner [Houston’s Democratic mayor, Sylvester Turner] made a public request for money from the rainy day fund, Governor Greg Abbott joined in, telling reporters that the fund wouldn’t be touched until the 2019 legislative session. Turner “has all the money that he needs,” Abbott said. “In times like these, it’s important to have fiscal responsibility as opposed to financial panic.” The governor went on to accuse the mayor of using Harvey recovery efforts as a “hostage to raise taxes.”

This is an epic statement of Evil. The Texas rainy day fund has $10 billion. The bill for Harvey is estimated at $180 billion, but Houston has all the money needed.

The Observer also quoted Lt. Governor Dan Patrick from early August, less than a month before Hurricane Harvey made landfall:

Where do we have all our problems in America?…Not at the state level run by Republicans, but in our cities that are mostly controlled by Democrat mayors and Democrat city council men and women. That’s where you see liberal policies. That’s where you see high taxes. That’s where you see street crime.

Ideology always comes first in Texas. You would think that these ultra-conservative chimps would be looking for ways to help Houston, if not its mayor. But, it’s business as usual: Everything good in Texas is to the credit of the brave GOP legislators in Austin, and everything bad is the fault of county commissioners, mayors, city councils and school boards.

Oh, and the immigrants.

Six of the nation’s 20 largest cities are in Texas. And those six have half of the state’s population, and they generate most of its economic activity. But, Republicans consider them a threat, either because of their “liberal” values or the demographic, and thus, the political threat they represent to the Texas Republican Party.

This could be a real problem for the entire country in the future. Increasingly, we are seeing the GOP in red states using their control of the political system to make war on the blue cities in their states. Think about Flint, MI where local interference by the governor and state-level Republicans partly brought about the lead-in-the-water crisis that remains unresolved, and which the state won’t pay for.

Maybe this is a good time to remember that Greg Abbott received a multi-million dollar settlement for an accident that paralyzed him, and put him in a wheelchair. He is also the guy that subsequently proposed, sponsored and shepherded tort reform in the Texas legislature.

He’s the guy that acts as if tort reform doesn’t keep present day accident victims from getting the kind of compensation that he received. He closed the door after he got his millions in a settlement.

Texas is dominated by right-wing extremists determined to turn everything to advance their ideological agenda. Forget that Texas already has massive disparities between whites and non-whites in terms of social services, policing, and most other government functions.

Turning their back on Houston just makes the ideology more visible.

In Texas, they just do everything bigger and badder.

Time to relax and think about summer being over. Fall is officially here, the leaves are turning and falling onto the fields of Wrong. Time to brew up a Vente-sized cup of Durango Coffee Company’s Costa Rica Las Lajas Perla Negra ($16.95/lb.), put on the Bluetooth headphones, and watch the leaves fall.

While you do, listen to “Woods”, the second cut on the 1980 album “Autumn” by George Winston. It was his second solo piano album. Wrongo chose this because of the great fall-inspired video that accompanies the music:

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

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Saturday Soother – September 23, 2017

The Daily Escape:

Sunndalsøra, Norway, best known for its aluminum factory, one of the largest in Europe – photo by Brotherside

WaPo reports that estimates say it will take about four months for electric power to be restored on Puerto Rico. You would hope that we could beat the estimate by quite a bit. What is the Congress’s plan to help out our Commonwealth?

Can you imagine living somewhere without power for several months? We had to do it once at the Mansion of Wrong, at the height of winter for 7 days. It got to 37°F one night inside the house. We now have a whole house generator.

What happens to the Puerto Rican economy if there is no power for multiple months? Can average people make a living? How will they pay the rent, or the mortgage?

Our first concern should be providing them with supplementary power. Generators and the fuel to power them must be among the first things we deliver to the island. They are the cheapest, fastest way to deliver temporary power while the basic infrastructure of power lines and cell towers are rebuilt. Fuel (mostly diesel) will need to be brought in via ship. Health care facilities need power to operate, and the basic elements of government requires it as well. With power, they can begin to restore normalcy, communications and water for citizens.

People will need some form of temporary housing. Businesses will need to sell products and services, and help keep people employed. It’s also not clear how law and civil order will stand up to months without power, or to a situation where people can’t get their basic needs met.

Anyone with resources, or family connections on the US mainland is going to move away, many will come here. Will Puerto Rican immigrants be seen by the GOP base as simply more illegals coming to use our welfare system?

Will the GOP remind their base that Puerto Ricans are US citizens? It isn’t certain that Republicans all will say that. Think about what that says about the America we live in today.

The scale of this disaster would be unfathomable and unacceptable on the US mainland. Will we step up as a country and help our brothers back to their feet? Or, will we do something half-hearted because they are the “other“?

Before you answer, remember that Flint Michigan still doesn’t have safe drinking water. Maybe getting the help you need is mostly about whether you (and your town) are the correct color.

Time to get soothed after another really tough week. Try to find a bag of Beanstock’s Shucker’s Roast coffee (only available at retail during the Wellfleet Cape Cod Oysterfest) but otherwise available at great Cape Cod restaurants like C-Shore Wellfleet. Then, brew up a hot, strong cuppa. Settle back, put on the Bluetooth headphones, and listen to Tchaikovsky’s Trio in A minor, Op. 50. This will take about an hour, but you will be greatly rewarded.

Tchaikovsky wrote this between December 1881 and late January 1882. It is the only work Tchaikovsky ever wrote for piano, violin, and cello. Here it is performed live at the New England Conservatory’s Jordan Hall in February 2013, with Livan on piano, Zenas Hsu on violin and Yina Tong on cello:

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

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Saturday Soother – September 16, 2017

The Daily Escape:

Old Prison, Annecy, France. This 12th century prison sits in the middle of the river Thiou. Because of the canals in the town, Annecy is called the Venice of the Alps.

Yesterday, Wrongo said that we needed a special tax to be used solely to rebuild the economies and infrastructure of states hit by Irma and Harvey. It didn’t take long to hear that millionaires already pay enough taxes. In one way, that is correct. From the Atlantic:

Forty years ago, the richest 1% paid about 18% of the country’s federal income taxes. Today, they pay about 40%.

While 40% seems high, we need to look harder at the arithmetic: The number of million-dollar-earners in the US has grown rapidly since Y2K. According to the IRS, the number of households with an adjusted gross income greater than $1 million more than doubled between 2001 and 2014, the last year with complete data. And no group has grown faster than the super-rich; the number of households earning more than $10 million grew by 144%.

Between 2001 and 2014, income earned by millionaires grew twice as fast as income earned by the rest of us. In 2001, million-dollar earners and above collectively reported income of about $600 billion. In 2014, they reported $1.4 trillion, more than double the amount in just 14 years. And the top 10% of wealthiest families in this country control 76% of our country’s total wealth.

So, we shouldn’t feel guilty about taxing them for a specific need, for a time-limited period.

If you’re a millionaire, it’s not just because you worked hard. It’s because you worked hard, and you live in a country where the government provides a well-developed infrastructure, stable institutions and markets governed by a strong commercial code.

Rich people need to stop griping and pull their weight, just like the rest of America’s tax-payers.

So Wrongo says again, we all need to pay extra taxes into a special fund for redevelopment of Florida and Texas. As the libertarian Joseph Tainter asserts in his book “The Collapse of Complex Societies” (don’t read it), when a society no longer has the reserves to help offset what might otherwise be a recoverable disaster, collapse can’t be far off.

Increased revenues will absolutely increase our reserves. And they will help us recover from this current disaster.

It’s Saturday, and we need to relax. Today Dr. Wrong prescribes a double Hayes Valley Espresso (whole bean is $ 17/lb.) from Oakland, CA’s Blue Bottle Coffee. Get it now, Blue Bottle has just agreed to be acquired by Nestle.

Brew it up, put on the Bluetooth headphones, and listen to the Flute Quartet No.1 in D major by J. J. Quantz, flute maker and Baroque composer. Quantz was extremely prolific. He wrote six flute quartets that were discovered in 2001 by American flutist Mary Ann Oleskiewicz in archives of the Sing-Akademie zu Berlin. Here is Quantz’s Flute Quartet No. 1:

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

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Trump Nominates More For Federal Judgeships

The Daily Escape:

Road in Chongqing, China – photo by Reuters

We have been watching Trump clap Pelosi and Schumer on the back, as Democrats declared victory. But in background, the administration was busy announcing their seventh Wave of Judicial Candidates, including three appellate judge nominations, and 13 district court appointments. All are to vacant judgeships.

These are lifetime appointments, and most will serve long past Trump’s tenure as President. Business Insider quotes Sen. Chris Coons (D-DE):

This will be the single most important legacy of the Trump administration….They will quickly be able to put judges on circuit courts all over the country, district courts all over the country, that will, given their youth and conservatism, will have a significant impact on the shape and trajectory of American law for decades.

Coons went on to say these appointments will lead to “a wholesale change among the federal judiciary.”

Part of the reason Trump’s been able to nominate so many federal judges is that an unusually large number of these positions were unfilled. From Business Insider:

The furious pace of nominations come as Trump faces an impressive number of vacancies to fill. As of [July 27], the federal bench had 136 vacancies…. In August 2009, Obama faced 85 vacancies on the federal bench.

It is possible to attribute the big discrepancy in vacancies to obstruction by Senate Republicans during the last few years of the Obama administration.

Democratic senators have started using a 100-year old procedure to block some Trump nominees. This process is called the “blue slip”. Since 1917, the Senate has followed a process whereby a state’s senators traditionally must return a blue slip of paper, endorsing any federal judicial nominee from their home state, in order for the nomination to proceed. If the senator fails to return the blue slip, or does so with some indication of disapproval, the nomination may be delayed, or possibly, blocked.

This system is old, but it isn’t absolute. Some Senate Judiciary Committee chairs won’t schedule hearings without receiving positive blue slips, while others think they do not necessarily disqualify a nominee. In recent years, the blue slip has given individual senators virtual veto-power over a federal judicial nomination, if the individual was from the state the senator represents.

Will this tradition continue? Last week, Sen. Al Franken (D-WI) did not return a blue slip for David Stras, a nominee from for an open spot on the US Court of Appeals for the Eighth Circuit.

Politico quoted Franken:

 Justice Stras’s professional background and record strongly suggest that, if confirmed, he would…reliably rule in favor of powerful corporate interests over working people, and that he would place a high bar before plaintiffs seeking justice at work, at school, and at the ballot box… I fear that Justice Stras’s views and philosophy would…steer the already conservative Eighth Circuit even further to the right.

Later, Senators Ron Wyden (D-OR) and Jeff Merkley (D-OR) wouldn’t return blue slips for Ryan Bounds, a nominee for a seat on the US Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit, because they will not green-light any candidate that had not been previously approved by the state’s bipartisan judicial selection committee. More from Politico:

Unfortunately, it is now apparent that you never intended to allow our longstanding process to play out…Disregarding this Oregon tradition returns us to the days of nepotism and patronage that harmed our courts and placed unfit judges on the bench…

So, will Republicans end the blue slip process? Sen. Charles Grassley (R-IW), chair of the Senate Judiciary Committee, reportedly thinks the blue slip process is less important for district court judgeships than for appellate positions.

But, nobody knows if Grassley will schedule hearings on appellate court nominees who do not secure blue slip approval. Republicans have majority control of the Senate and could confirm judges even over strenuous Democratic objections.

OTOH, tradition is strong. While the denial of a blue slip does not legally restrict a judge from being approved, Business Insider reports that:

No circuit court nominees have been confirmed over objection of one (or two) home state senators — including under Obama.

Even if the blue slip process remains in place, Democrats aren’t in a position to stop more than a handful of Trump’s nominees. Most will probably soon be confirmed, since it is relatively easy to pick nominees that are not in a state with a Democratic senator.

Another example that elections matter.

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Republicans Trust the News Media Far Less Than Democrats

The Daily Escape:

Rovinji, Croatia – photo by brotherside. Rovinji is a tourist resort and fishing port, situated on the Adriatic Sea. It is bilingual, with both Italian and Croatian spoken here.

Gallup reports that:

Just over a third of Americans (37%) in 2017 say news organizations generally get the facts straight, unchanged from the last time Gallup asked this question in 2003. But…major partisan shifts in beliefs on this topic have emerged over the past 14 years. Republicans’ trust in the media’s accuracy has fallen considerably, while Democrats’ opinions on the matter have swung in the opposite direction.

49% of college graduates say the news media generally get the facts right, compared with 36% of Americans who attended college, but didn’t graduate. 28% of those with no more than a high school education agree that the media get it right.

But education makes little difference in Republicans’ beliefs about the news media’s credibility. Among Republicans with at least a college degree, only 18% say the media gets the facts straight, similar to the 12% of Republicans without a college degree who say the same.

Republican’s trust in the American news media has fallen steadily from 2003 to today. The numbers are striking: Republicans’ trust plunged from 35% in 2003 to 14%, while Democrats’ trust in America’s news media increased from 42% in 2003, to 62% today.

Gallup first polled on media trust in 1998. Back then, more than half of both Republicans (52%) and Democrats (53%) believed news organizations generally got the facts straight. Here is a Gallup graph:

Both groups’ belief in the accuracy of the media fell dramatically in 2000, possibly due to bad election-night projections of the 2000 presidential election. Some networks first declared Al Gore, and later, George W. Bush the winner, before ending the night with no official winner. When surveyed a month later In December 2000, just 23% of Republicans said news organizations generally get the facts straight, a 29-percentage-point decline in the two years after the 1998 survey.

The next big Republican shift downward began in 2003. What happened in 2003? The reporting about WMD (weapons of mass destruction) in Iraq on GW Bush’s watch. The media either lied, or suppressed the findings by IAEA (International Atomic Energy Agency) that there were no WMD in Iraq. That lie helped move us into an unjustified war that had catastrophic results for both the Middle East and for America.

The paradox is that the Republicans’ distrust grew after that, while Democrats’ views improved. Perhaps the Republicans were angry that the press eventually reported the truth. Perhaps Democrats forgave the press after they finally reported the truth, turning their anger to George W. Bush for lying us into war.

And our Monday discussion of Sen. Lindsay Graham’s false meme that “Obama failed to unite us” can be linked to this as well. The Republicans lack of trust in the news media has led to their willingness to dismiss facts as “fake news”, enabling things like Graham’s lie.

That willingness empowers distortion of the truth as a “go-to” strategy in the GOP’s politics of persuasion.

Given the Gallup findings, Trump’s frequent attacks on the media may have been as much his taking advantage of GOP attitudes, as his creating a poor Republican view of the press by his use of the “fake news” meme.

On the Democratic side, their increased confidence in newspapers may be a counter-reaction to Trump’s criticisms. Gallup found in June that the percentage of Democrats who have “a great deal” or “quite a lot” of confidence in newspapers nearly doubled from 2016, rising from 28% to 46%.

The overall finding that a solid majority of the country believes major news organizations routinely produce false information may have disastrous consequences for our democracy. It is at least related to Americans’ diminished trust in US institutions, and our rising cynicism about the American political system, and our elected officials.

Democracy is impossible unless both our politicians and the press are honest.

Today’s music highlights another GOP lie, Jefferson Beauregard Session’s whopper that immigrants take jobs away from Americans. during his speech terminating DACA.

Here is “Immigrants (We Get the Job Done)” originally from the musical, “Hamilton”. This isn’t the version you hear in the musical. This version is from the “Hamilton Mixtec”, performed by K’naan, featuring Residente, Riz MC & Snow Tha Product:

Takeaway Lyric:

It’s really astonishing that in a country founded by immigrants,

“Immigrant” has somehow become a bad word.

 

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

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The Worst Person in the World (this week): Lindsay Graham

The Daily Escape:

Lighthouse in Husavik, Iceland – photo by Milonade. Husavik is the center of whale watching in Iceland.

Lindsay Graham has never been a favorite of Wrongo’s. Often, he gets the same treatment here as does John McCain, and for similar reasons. But the 62-year old who replaced Strom Thurmond in the Senate in 2003 hit a new low in an interview on BBC World Service radio show, Hard Talk. Graham was with McCain attending an economic conference in Lake Como, Italy, when he sat down with the BBC’s Steven Sacker for an interview. (transcription and emphasis by Wrongo)

At 4:08 into the interview, Sacker asks Graham:

Isn’t that the point that he (Trump) right now looks like a president who is polarizing the US in a way that we have not seen before?

Graham:

I would say that the country has been polarized for quite a while, just like your country. Brexit is a result of disenchantment with globalization. There would be no Donald Trump if President Obama had brought us together.

There, right there. Its Obama’s fault that Trump won the Republican nomination for president, because Obama didn’t bring us together. Graham implies that Republicans are uniters, but the Kenyan socialist just wouldn’t help them out with that.

Wait – the Republican Party didn’t want Trump, but Obama nominated him?

To say Obama created Trump is a poor projection. The GOP created Trump. Trump’s political success is the logical result of decades of efforts by the GOP to discredit government, and more recently, by their acceptance of virulent, and in some cases, racially tinged opposition to Obama.

The GOP wanted Obama to fail. Time’s Michael Grunwald reported on the Republican plot to obstruct Obama even before he even took office. He uncovered secret meetings led by then-House GOP whip Eric Cantor, and then-Senate minority leader Mitch McConnell in 2009 where they laid out their “no-honeymoon” strategy of all-out resistance to the President-elect.

Remember that was a time of national economic emergency.

The Republican’s active resistance also tried to demonize Obama as a “king”, or a kind of Hitler. They fought against most of his policies. They shut down the government. Policy differences are understandable, and expected. What was unexpected and unacceptable was the unified GOP effort to make Obama fail as president.

The big Republican move to elect an anti-immigrant nationalist was fueled by the Tea Party surge in 2010, which was also in opposition to Obama. And it isn’t just the Tea Party. Republicans have long-struggled with various anti-establishment, ultra-conservative insurgencies seeking to upend the party.

Trump wasn’t the first to tap into the anger of disaffected white voters. Pat Buchanan challenged Bush in the 1992 primaries and again in 1996, when he led a populist revolt he described as “peasants with pitchforks.” Buchanan ran on a platform similar to that of Trump: anti-free trade, tough on immigration and focused on the plight of the white working-class.

So, Republicans own Trump now and forever, despite what Sen. Graham wants people to think. Graham’s contention about Obama is irrelevant to today’s situation, where Trump has failed to even try to unite America on any issue. And specifically, he failed to call out the evil posed by fringe Nazi groups, or show us how a president should deal with a national disaster.

When will the lying stop?

Since this is the first column since Saturday, here is a pro-labor song from the Rolling Stones, “Salt of the Earth”, written by Mick Jagger & Keith Richards, the closing track on the 1968 album’ “Beggars Banquet”:

Sample lyrics:

Raise your glass to the hard working people
Lets drink to the uncounted heads
Lets think of the wavering millions
who need leaders but get gamblers instead

Spare a thought for the stay-at-home voter
His empty eyes gaze at strange beauty shows
And a parade of the gray suited grafters
A choice of cancer or polio

 

Spare a thought for the stay-at-home voter: They brought us Donald Trump.

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A Different Way to See Middle Class Voters – Part II

The Daily Escape:

This is the last in a series from the NJ Grounds for Sculpture – 2017 photo by Wrongo

Today, we continue with G. Mark Towhey’s idea that our political parties no longer work well enough to be relevant to a large segment of middle class voters. He says that the parties must appeal to the voters he calls pragmatists:

The opening episode of the fourth season of Aaron Sorkin’s Emmy-winning TV series The West Wing... [places]…what typical Americans want from government…into perspective for…Toby Zeigler and Josh Lyman, both senior White House staffers in the show. They’re…in a hotel bar and strike up a conversation with a middle-aged “typical American” who’s spent the day touring the University of Notre Dame with his college-aged daughter.

The man and his wife together earn $80,000 a year and, he laments, ‘I never imagined I’d have trouble making ends meet. I spend half the day thinking about what happens if I slip and fall on my front porch. It should be hard. I like that it’s hard. Putting your daughter through college…that’s a man’s job, a man’s accomplishment. Putting your kids through college, taking care of your family… [But] it should be easier, just a little easier, because in that difference is…everything.’

That guy doesn’t want welfare reform, or tax reform. He wants government to focus some of its resources and brainpower on making his everyday life “just a little easier.” The typicals don’t want perfection, just small, concrete steps that improve their lives.

They are the pragmatists.

We shouldn’t confuse “pragmatists” with centrists who are in the space between the Left and the Right. They are not necessarily moderates. Pragmatism isn’t a moderate ideology, but a different prioritization of issues. From Towhey: (emphasis by the Wrongologist)

It’s a focus on the concrete, rather than the abstract. It targets immediate, specific problems rather than deep, systemic causes. It prefers clearly defined and implementable solutions rather than aspirational visions…what if, instead of referring to a place on a Venn diagram, the pragmatic-idealistic divide actually functions like a different political axis?

In other words, don’t appeal to them with policies, speak about solutions. Towhey thinks we should imagine the traditional Left/Right political spectrum on a horizontal line, the “x-axis,” running naturally, from left to right. Now imagine a vertical line that intersects the x-axis at its center. That’s the “y-axis.” At the top of this vertical line, we’ll put people who place a high value on ideals and ideologies that affect society in the abstract. The top end of the y-axis is the “idealist” end. At the opposite end of the y-axis are people who place a high value on practical solutions and actions that help them personally. This is the “pragmatic” end. Here is a representation of Towhey’s matrix:

Prepared by Wrongo from Towhey’s article. Position of politicians by Wrongo

Towhey thinks that the y-axis (Pragmatists to Idealists) shows how most Americans see the world: how a policy affects the world, versus how it impacts me; people who’ve succeeded in the current system, versus people who are struggling in it. Those at the pragmatic end struggle to make it under the status quo. They’re people who want small, but real improvements, a few practical solutions.

Pragmatists are too busy to worry about the future. Whether they’re on the left or right on the x-axis, they share a focus on more immediate needs. And today, voters don’t move along the x-axis as easily as they may have in the past.

If Democrats are to compete in this “pragmatic” voter segment, they need to recognize that the typicals comprise many American citizens, enough to have elected a president in 2016.

The lesson for Democrats is to support leaders who will perform the basics of government exceptionally well. Mayors are great examples of this.

On the national level, health insurance is a great example. Pragmatists want action on health insurance, not on health insurance ideology. If Trump can’t form a coalition with an ideologue GOP Congress, pragmatists would be happy if he worked with pragmatic Democrats, so long as the new health insurance law makes their lives easier. It doesn’t have to be perfect, as it has to be for idealists on the right or the left.

This is the message of pragmatism: less ideology, more action. Small steps, not grand gestures. Results, not principles. And pragmatists are up for grabs. They can, and will vote for Democrats.

They’ll follow a politician who unites them behind a few plans that people think will deliver tangible results. That is how Bernie out-polled Hillary, who had 39 positions on her campaign website.

But, if Democrats can’t make this shift in thinking and leadership, new candidates and new alliances may form, and pragmatists will vote for them.

It could lead to the end of the Democratic Party as a national political power.

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