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.


Monday Wake Up Call – February 19, 2018

The Daily Escape:

Gun Protest on Sunday in Ft. Lauderdale FL.

Trump linked two events last week, the shooting in Parkland, FL, and the Mueller indictments of 13 Russians for meddling in our election process, failing at both.

First, the Muller investigation. Trump suggested Saturday that the FBI failed to stop the Florida school shooting because it’s spending too much time on the Russia investigation:

We can agree that the FBI was derelict in investigating the tip about Nikolas Cruz. However, we can’t say that the Parkland shooting, or any other for that matter, could have been stopped. The Feds can’t foresee the future. This was another Trump ploy to discredit the FBI and the Mueller investigation as its work begins to bite deeply into the issues it was formed to investigate.

Trump tweeted on Sunday that the investigations into Russian meddling are creating chaos and divisions in the US. He said: “They are laughing their asses off in Moscow. Get smart America!”

On Sunday, David Frum said this in the Atlantic: (emphasis by Wrongo)

It’s worth thinking about what a patriotic president would have done in Trump’s situation. He would be leading the investigation himself. He would be scouring his own campaign—doing everything in his power to reassure the country that whatever the Russians may or may not have done, his government owed Putin nothing… Above all, he would be leading the demand for changes to election laws and practices, including holding Facebook to account for its negligence.

Why are Trump’s reactions so off the mark? Why is The Donald so defensive about something that is of ultimate importance, the integrity of our election process? Shouldn’t that be of great interest to anyone who has sworn to defend the Constitution?

Second, students from the Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School rallied in southern Florida to protest how the lack of gun regulations affects their lives. One student, Emma Gonzales, told the crowd:

In February of 2017, one year ago, President Trump repealed an Obama-era regulation that would have made it easier to block the sale of firearms to people with certain mental illnesses…Republican Senator Chuck Grassley of Iowa was the sole sponsor on this bill that stops the FBI from performing background checks on people adjudicated to be mentally ill and now he’s stating for the record, ‘Well, it’s a shame the FBI isn’t doing background checks on these mentally ill people.‘ Well, duh. You took that opportunity away last year.

Here’s what Grassley actually said after the Florida shootings:

We have not done a very good job of making sure that people that have mental reasons for not being able to handle a gun getting their name into the FBI files and we need to concentrate on that.

Grassley twists himself into a pretzel, trying to blame the FBI for what Grassley himself did. Who has these ethics?

Another Parkland student, Cameron Kasky, told CNN that many Republicans are only concerned with things like weddings cakes at same-sex weddings:

There is a segment of this society that will shrug this off and send their thoughts and prayers but march for hours over a rainbow wedding cake…

High school kids in Florida are standing up to the President and the Congress. Teenagers are unerring in calling out hypocrisy. Their tolerance for it is lower than that of adults, too. This may be the stone that starts the landslide against the Second Amendment absolutists in Washington. Let’s hope so.

Time to help those Florida teens wake up Trump and Congress. Wake them up to the need to ban assault weapons. To have background checks for all gun buyers, to have liability insurance for every gun owned. To help them wake up, here is Pearl Jam with “Jeremy” from their 1991 debut album “Ten”. The song was inspired by a newspaper article Eddie Vedder read about a high school student who shot himself in front of his English class:

Sample Lyric:

Dead lay in pools of maroon below
Daddy didn’t give attention
To the fact that mommy didn’t care
King Jeremy the wicked
Ruled his world

Jeremy spoke in class today
Jeremy spoke in class today
Clearly I remember
Pickin’ on the boy

Seemed a harmless little fuck
But we unleashed a lion

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


Sunday Cartoon Blogging – February 18, 2018

Friday brought Robert Mueller’s indictment of 13 Russians for “information warfare against the United States of America“. The best part was that the special counsel’s work was totally under the radar, and there were zero leaks.

And thus far, nobody on the right is claiming Mueller’s indictments are “fake news”.

One interesting takeaway was that Russian cells were formed to establish phony Facebook, Twitter and other accounts that pushed divisive politics in the US. We already knew this, but we didn’t know specifics: At one point, a supposed Islamophobic group protested outside a Texas mosque, and it was met by a pro-Muslim counter-demonstration. Both demonstrations were called for by fake Russian sites. These sites eventually had hundreds of thousands of followers. They spread false memes, including that Clinton supported Sharia law.

Russian sites that were disguised as a part of the Black Lives Matter movement argued that African-Americans should not vote. While it is impossible to show cause and effect, Clinton underperformed with Black voters.

The jury is still out on the extent of Russian influence, and we may never know if it mattered. Still, it is way past time for the Democratic Party to own up to its own failures, rather than continually blaming the Russians, Bernie Sanders, the Green Party, or the deplorables.

After Mueller indictments, Trump and friends now have some ‘splaining to do:

Mitch, Paul and the rest of the GOP think they have zero responsibility for gun violence:

The issue is always the guns:

American Exceptionalism was on display again last week:

Pledge of Allegiance needs new words:

Blockbuster Black Panther movie may help beyond entertaining us:


Saturday Soother – February 17, 2018

The Daily Escape:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Wow, who said all that??

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

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

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


Monday Wake Up Call – February 5, 2018

The Daily Escape:

-15° sunrise through Hollow Rock, Grand Portage, MN. The sun lines up perfectly only twice a year – 2018 photo by Tuckolson.

Sunday brought a Super Bowl victory by the Eagles, as Wrongo predicted. The week begins with Mr. Market in charge of our financial destiny after the Dow dropped 666 points last Friday. Adding 200,000 new jobs and higher wages, possibly because of minimum wage rate increases in 18 states, should have been good news. But Mr. Market thinks wage increases mean wage inflation, and that weakens corporate profits, which cannot be tolerated. So we must be punished.

This week, the focus shifts to the Winter Olympics in South Korea (SK). And, the Trumpets plan to ratchet up their rhetoric about North Korea (NK). The Guardian reports that VP Mike Pence is leading the US delegation, and he plans a war of words on NK’s participation:

Vice-president Mike Pence will stop North Korea “hijacking” the Winter Olympics, an aide said on Sunday, by using his own presence at the Games to remind the world “everything the North Koreans do at the Olympics is a charade to cover up the fact that they are the most tyrannical and oppressive regime on the planet”.

Axios quoted another WH source:

North Korea wants to make this about cute photo ops. The vice-president is countering North Korea’s desire to control the message…We’re not going to cede two weeks of world media to North Korea.

So, no dice on cooperation between NK and SK. But, the reality is much, much worse. The NYT points toward signs that a war with North Korea may be coming. They say that the White House is frustrated by the Pentagon’s reluctance to provide Trump with options for a military strike against NK. HR McMaster, Trump’s national security adviser, believes that for Trump’s warnings to NK to be credible, the US must have better tactical military plans, including a bloody nose” option. From the NYT: (emphasis by Wrongo)

But the Pentagon, they say, is worried that the White House is moving too hastily toward military action on the Korean Peninsula that could escalate catastrophically. Giving the president too many options, the officials said, could increase the odds that he will act.

Think about it: Our military leaders think that if they work up more tactical plans for striking NK, Trump will want to use one of them. And they think that would be a strategic mistake, since it will trigger a shooting war with NK that could kill millions on the Korean peninsula. It would almost certainly also threaten Japan, and draw in China as well.

Connecting the dots includes the disclosure that the White House decided not to nominate Victor D. Cha, a Korea expert, as ambassador to SK. Mr. Cha thinks he was sidelined because he warned the administration against a bloody nose military strike.

Then there is this: The WaPo’s Tokyo Bureau Chief, Anna Fifield flagged a report by a SK news outlet, Hankyoreh: (emphasis by Wrongo)

NSC Asia director Matthew Pottinger told Korea experts that a limited strike on the North ‘might help in the midterm elections’…

Fifield identifies Hankyoreh as “left-wing”, and says that it is the only news outlet currently reporting this. So, it could be nonsense, but it fits the messaging that the Trumpets are spooling out about NK. People keep wondering when Trump will reach rock bottom. Starting a war partially because you want to win the midterm elections would be it.

This sounds like something we need to know MUCH more about, and very quickly. The motives behind a preemptive strike transcend teaching Kim Jong Un a lesson. Trump might be thinking it would ward off Mueller’s possible charges, or the possibility of impeachment, if a Democratic Congress was seated in January 2019.

The quote may be fake news, but it’s not implausible that Trump’s administration could be thinking this. And it’s not clear which is more terrifying, that this thought is in the air in DC, or that some in SK are scared enough to make this up.

We need a serious discussion about preemptive war with NK. We are already living with the consequences of the unnecessary war George W. Bush started in Iraq, and we will pay for that for the rest of our lives.

We can’t let Trump start another.

Wake up, America! Time to find out what the truth is about giving NK a bloody nose. To help you wake up, here is My Morning Jacket with their 2008 tune, “I’m Amazed”:

Takeaway Lyric:

I’m amazed the lack of evolution
I’m amazed at the lack of faith
I’m amazed at the love we’re rejecting
I’m amazed what we accept in its place

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


The Nunes Memo, and the Coming Purges at the DOJ

The Daily Escape:

Hrafnabjargafoss waterfall, Iceland – 2018 photo by aryeh95

The problem with a made-by-hand blog like The Wrongologist is that we are always 24 hours behind the current news cycle. This is written in the late Tuesday afternoon prior to Trump’s 9 pm EST State of the Union (SOTU) pitch to America. Raul Ilargi has as good a forecast as any:

Donald Trump will be gloating from ear to ear, but he’ll be subdued – by his standards. Expect perhaps $1 or even $1.5 trillion in infrastructure spending to be announced, plus an immigration plan that gives Democrats much of what they want in exchange for some of the things Trump wants, as well as more on trade surpluses and deficits. The Democrats will attempt to turn it into a circus of sorts by bringing guests, and they will fail.

Indeed, a circus. One Republican Congresscritter, AZ’s Paul Gosar, just asked the US Capitol Police and the Department of Justice to “consider arresting any illegal aliens in attendance”, knowing that some Democrats have invited Dreamers to watch whatever Trump says about immigration.

Perhaps Trump will stick to reading the teleprompter, and the pundits will fall over themselves to say “how presidential!”

Overhanging the SOTU is the tangled web of the Russian investigation. This week, the resignation of the FBI’s Deputy Director Andrew McCabe and Congressman Devin Nunes’ (R-CA) memo are top of mind. Nunes is the Chair of the House Intelligence Committee. He appears to have taken actual information about the FBI investigation of the Trump campaign and has written a memo claiming that the investigation was based on bad information. He goes on to intimate that if they’re investigating Trump, that proves they are biased against him.

Specifically, we have learned that Nunes claims that approving a FISA warrant against former Trump adviser Carter Page is ipso facto, an abuse of power, and proves that Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein, another Republican, is biased, and out to get Trump.

Long-time readers know that Wrongo is agnostic on whether the Russians’ interference in the 2016 election had any impact. And he doubts that collusion by the Trumps or his campaign is provable.

Saying Trump’s guilty until proven innocent is easy and convenient for Democrats, but only Mueller can make a case, and he hasn’t said anything yet.

The NYT reports that the Nunes memo singles out Deputy AG Rosenstein for approving the continuation of surveillance of Carter Page, whom law enforcement and intelligence officials suspect may have been acting as an agent of the Russian government. The NYT notes:

The reference to Mr. Rosenstein’s actions in the memo…indicates that Republicans may be moving to seize on his role as they seek to undermine the [Russia] inquiry.

Why? Because only Rosenstein can fire Mueller. Release of the Nunes memo may well be designed to give Trump the high-altitude air support he needs to order Attorney General Jeff Session to fire Rosenstein.

The firing of Rosenstein is their strategy to get Mueller. Trump seems to believe he can’t fire Mueller outright, so they are going about it in an indirect way. They want to replace his boss with someone who can rein in the investigation and hopefully, keep the White House apprised of all developments so they can get ahead and stay ahead of the investigation.

They might get away with it. The question will be if the people they replace them with are honest citizens.

We are staring down the barrel of a Constitutional crisis similar to when Nixon got Robert Bork to fire Archibald Cox. He then appointed Leon Jaworski, a very conservative Texas prosecutor, who by all accounts went into it thinking the president was being railroaded.

That didn’t work out as Nixon planned.

Enjoy the SOTU.

Then get some popcorn and see if the purges start at the Department of Justice. If the purges begin, drop the popcorn, and pick up your pitchforks and torches.


Sunday Cartoon Blogging – January 14, 2018

Let’s make something clear. When Trump called Africa and Haiti “shitholes”, the issue wasn’t that the president swore in the Oval Office, that surely has happened with all modern presidents. No one in the media should have a fainting spell because Trump swears. The issue was saying we should promote immigration from predominantly white countries like Norway. That made what Trump said racist. It also places Trump out of the mainstream. Americans have always looked all over the world for talent, and then lured it to our shores.

People migrate primarily for wealth and/or safety, and since the early 1900s, America has offered both. That was the main reason many waves of Europeans came at first, and later, people from other, non-white places came to this country.

Bloomberg View offers some insight about African immigrants: (emphasis by Wrongo)

According to Census data, more than 43% of African immigrants hold a bachelor’s degree or higher — slightly more than immigrants from East Asia. Nigerian immigrants are especially educated, with almost two-thirds holding college degrees — a significantly higher percentage even than Chinese or South Korean immigrants…That education translates into higher household income. Nigerian-Americans, for instance, have a median household income well above the American average, and above the average of many white and Asian groups, such as those of Dutch or Korean descent.

Trump wrongly equates the worth of individuals with the place where they come from, probably like many of his supporters.

This is what Trump meant by strict vetting of immigrants:

Trump’s staffer Steven Miller auditions as the new Lady Liberty:

Mueller asks to speak with Kaiser Tweeto:

Jeff Sessions goes after marijuana. It doesn’t fully mellow him:

Why Florida is exempted from off-shore drilling:

Donny offered new words for the National Anthem when he went to the football game:


Saturday Soother – January 6, 2018

The Daily Escape:

Athabasca Glacier, Alberta, Canada. It’s the most visited glacier in North America – 2013 photo by Yan Gao

The publication of Michael Wolff’s book “Fire and Fury” about Trump, seems to have validated what we on the outside already knew, that the election of Der Donald was a terrible mistake.

Wolff struck a chord that resonates by saying that everyone he talked to in the West Wing of the White House during his year researching the book agrees that Trump is “like a child”, and that every one of them agrees that Trump simply cannot function in the job.

Joe Scarborough asked in the WaPo if we can survive Trump: (emphasis by the Wrongologist)

We are a nation that spent the past 100 years inventing the modern age, winning World War I, defeating Hitler and winning World War II, and liberating half of Europe by beating the Soviets in the Cold War. But today we find ourselves dangerously adrift at home and disconnected from the allies abroad that made so many of those triumphs possible. The world wonders how the United States will survive Donald Trump. And I ask, what will finally move Republicans to deliver a non-negotiable ultimatum to this unstable president? Will they dare place their country’s interests above their own political fears? Or will they move to end this American tragedy only when there is nothing left to lose?

A consensus seems to be emerging that we have a president who is not capable of performing his duties. And so the question before the GOP powers that be is: Should they try to remove him? It looks like denial of the obvious is no longer enough. The GOP’s dilemma is: which is worse, continuing to cover for Trump? Or cover in the 2018 mid-terms for a Congress that didn’t acknowledge the danger he poses?

This is where we are at the start of 2018: In the midst of an accelerating decline of America’s capabilities at home, and a weakening of our global reach. The gap between what the US used to be able to do, and what it can still do today is widening, and we really don’t know just how wide that gap is. We don’t know what has fallen into the gap, or what remains on firm ground.

With Trump in the Oval, each passing day looks more like a crap shoot, both domestically and globally. Egypt, a US ally, has quietly leased several air bases to the Russians. This is the first time since 1973 that Russia has had a military presence in Egypt. In the past, the US would have moved heaven and earth to stop this from happening; now Trump does nothing.

The pressure will be to wait and see if Robert Mueller comes up with something.

That is understandable, but Trump’s possible criminality isn’t the primary risk to the country. Events in the world may overtake Mueller’s investigation. Korea could erupt in a nuclear confrontation, the Iranian government is being challenged in the streets, and if weakened, Saudi Arabia and Israel may see a chance to attack Iran, something that would otherwise be far too risky.

We’re entering a period of great consequence. It is probable that some of the most crucial events in the year ahead (Korea, Middle East) will be decided by one man’s gut feeling that is set in motion by tweeting at three in the morning, in response to fragmentary data about a situation too complex for him to understand, or to solve.

And we’ll live with those consequences for decades to come.

Now it’s up to the GOP, who are in a position to solve this problem. They didn’t ask for Trump, but they got him. And then, they caved until he owned them. Every Republican has jumped on the bandwagon.

Otherwise, we must force Republicans from control of the House in the 2018 mid-term election.

Nothing soothing in any of those words. But, it’s Saturday, and time to kick back. If you are in the Northeast, the prime directive is to stay warm. Grab a cup of Death Wish coffee, the world’s strongest. Death Wish has a saying:

Be the best you can be with the clarity and focus that comes with strong coffee.

It’s probably not strong enough to turn Trump into a thinker, but your mileage may vary.

Now, listen to “Deborah’s Theme” from Once Upon a Time in America, a 1984 epic crime film co-written and directed by Italian filmmaker Sergio Leone and starring Robert De Niro. The music is by Ennio Morricone, who was Sergio Leone’s long-time musical collaborator:

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


Wrongo’s 2018 Predictions

The Daily Escape:

Snowy Landscape with Arles in the background – Vincent Van Gogh, 1888

A tradition at the Mansion of Wrong is to attend the annual New Year’s Day Concert at the First Congregational Church of Washington CT, built in 1801. The concert is always by the New Baroque Soloists. This year, the church was packed, and among the guests were Tia Leoni and Tim Daly, the leads in the CBS series “Madam Secretary”.  For the sixth year in a row, it was another inspiring performance by the New Baroque Soloists.

Now it is time for a few Wrong predictions about 2018, most of which will probably will be wrong:

  1. The US economy as measured by GDP will grow at greater than 2% for 2018.
    1. The US stock market as measured by the S&P 500 index will end 2018 with little or no growth over year-end 2017.
    2. The Trump tax cuts will increase the deficit, and despite Paul Ryan’s best (or worst) efforts to push the country into austerity, that can will be kicked down the road for a few more years.
  2. The Democrats will not take control of either the House or the Senate in the 2018 mid-term elections. The still-growing economy, and the pittance that increases paychecks from the Trump tax cut will help incumbents enough to forestall a wave election.
    1. The Democrats will remain without real leadership or vision in 2018.
  3. Cyber and other forms of meddling by people who wish our democracy harm will continue in the 2018 elections, to broader effect than in 2016.
    1. Facebook and Google will be held to account for their failure to tamp down disinformation.
  4. Trump will continue to flounder as the leader of the Free World, while his “frenemies” in the GOP will continue to try to thwart him on domestic economic legislation.
    1. There will be some form of bi-partisan accommodation on DACA.
    2. Trump’s public-private infrastructure deal will not pass the Senate.
    3. The House will pass legislation that messes with Medicaid, but the Senate will not.
    4. Trump will have the opportunity to appoint another Supreme Court Justice.
  5. Trump will have a serious medical issue in 2018, but will not leave office, or be temporarily replaced by Pence.
  6. Mueller: By March, MAGA will mean “Mueller Ain’t Going Away”. The storm will crest, a Russiagate conspiracy will be exposed, and crud will fly everywhere. This could lead to the Democrats taking control of one or both Houses.
    1. A few additional Trumpets will go to jail, or be tied up in court. Trump will not be impeached by the 2018 Republicans. 2019 might bring a different calculus.
  7. Tillerson and possibly other cabinet members will resign to “spend more time with family”.
  8. #metoo will continue to dog politicians, Hollywood and the media.
  9. Middle East:
    1. Syria – by this time next year, the war will be essentially over. Assad will still be in power, and the US will be out of the picture. The Syrian Kurds will switch sides, and collaborate with the Assad regime.
    2. Iran – the current protest movement will fizzle out. Neo-cons in Trump’s administration will try to bring us close to war with Iran, but cooler heads at the Pentagon will prevail.
    3. Famine and death in Yemen will continue to be ignored by everyone in the US.
  10. Russia: Russia, China, and Iran will have a “come together” moment, possibly resulting in an agreement for mutual economic cooperation.
    1. Russia will continue to face ongoing battles with the US, but Putin will persist.
    2. Ukraine: The US delivery of anti-tank missiles to the Ukrainian army will not cause them to begin military operations in the east.
  11. Europe: The right-wing authoritarian movements in the Eurozone and England will become a larger factor in their domestic politics. Brexit will occur, and no one in the UK will be happy about the outcome.
  12. Will there be a war or “incident” with North Korea? Despite the scary politics, the Seoul Winter Olympics will keep the situation from escalating through June. The second half of 2018 could lead to some kind of incident between the US and NorKo, but will not be a nuclear incident.

A “black swan” event (an event that comes as a surprise, has a major effect), could change everything for the President, the country and the world. Let’s hope that none occur in 2018.


How Wrong Were Wrongo’s 2017 Predictions?

Wrongo is not a futurist, or a stock-picker with mad skills. On January 2 2017 he made a series of predictions about the year to come. Let’s see how wrong he was:

  1. There will be more global political and social turmoil:
    1.  The EU could collapse: That didn’t happen, as Macron soundly defeated LePen. OTOH, Merkel barely survived her election and May lost badly in a wrongly-played attempt to gain a super majority in the UK. Wrongo gets a “D” in this prediction.
    2. China’s economy is wobbling: and it still is, but a command economy can create its own reality. Wrongo gets a “C”.
  2. The US will continue to lose influence globally despite “Mr. Unpredictable” becoming our Orange Overlord: Wrongo gets an “A”. From Western Europe to the Middle East and Asia, there is not a single example of where Trump has put America in a position of greater influence in the past year. Except for Israel: they plan to name a train station after him.  Think about it, what great man only gets a train station?
  3. Trump arrives in the Oval Office as an overconfident leader, the man with no plan but with a short attention span, and within six months he will have his first major policy failure: Was his first policy failure the immigration ban? The North Korea diplomatic fiasco? The multiple attempts to repeal Obamacare? Walking out of the Trade Agreement, giving China a free hand in Asia? Give Wrongo an “A”, except that Wrongo added:

This will make him more subdued, more conservative and less populist thereafter.

Trump was less subdued, less populist, and clearly more conservative as he played to his base. Give Wrongo a “B”.

4. The triumvirate of Russia/Turkey/Iran will elbow the US firmly out of the Fertile Crescent, and secure friendly regimes in Damascus and Baghdad. An easy “A”. Wrongo went on to say:

This will push American influence in the Middle East back to just the Gulf States, a weakened Saudi Arabia, and an increasingly isolated Israel.

A home run for Wrongo, but not for America.

  1. Domestically, drug abuse, suicide, and general self-destructive behavior will continue to climb and become impossible to ignore: Sadly, another “A”. Trump’s declaration of the opioid crisis as a “Health Emergency” was a public relations exercise with no plan about how to truly deal with the crisis. Wrongo also said:

The growing antibiotic resistance to main stream drugs will impact health in the US.

This is very true here, as well as globally. There is no political push to force drug companies to deal concretely with this issue.

6. The Trump stock market rally has already turned into the Santa Selloff:  Give Wrongo an “F” on this prediction. While the Dow closed 2016 at 19,719, we are looking to close 2017 above 24,000, up nearly 18% in the past year.

Meta Prediction: Some people who voted for Trump have incompatible outcomes in mind, so it’s a virtual guarantee that a sizable minority are going to feel cheated when they fail to get what they were promised: This was hard to get wrong, so give Wrongo a gentleman’s “C”. Wrongo went on to say:

OTOH, when Trump fails, most of his base will blame anyone but the Donald. The question is, when disillusionment sets in, will the reaction be a turning away, or a doubling down on the anger? Wrongo thinks anger will win out.

An easy “A”.

Here is the part of the prediction that was 100% spot on:

The coming Trump administration will seem like a fractious family outing: Just under half of the family (the “landslide” segment) wanted to take a ride, but now, the whole family has to go. Those who wanted to stay home will sulk in the back seat while Daddy tells them to shut up and stop bitching.

Meanwhile, once we are out of the driveway, it dawns on everyone that Daddy hasn’t decided yet where to go. Everyone pipes up with suggestions, but Daddy again tells everyone to shut up, because it’s his decision alone…Daddy won’t reveal the destination, but insists everyone will love it once they get there, even those who wanted to stay home, those who wanted to go to the beach, and those who wanted to head over the cliff like Thelma and Louise.

2018 predictions will come in the New Year.