UA-43475823-1

The Wrongologist

Geopolitics, Power and Political Economy

Saturday Soother – March 16, 2019

The Daily Escape:

More California poppies – March, 2019 photo by West Coast Aerial Photography

The horror in New Zealand, Manafort’s sentencing, and both Houses of Congress voting to end Trump’s emergency declaration. The vote tally was 59-41, not enough to override a veto. Moments after Thursday’s vote, the president tweeted a single word: “VETO!”, and has now he’s done just that.

We head into the weekend with 13 Democrats declared as running for the Party’s nomination. Another, Joe Biden, may announce this weekend. The internet is full of comments about which of the 14 are most worthy, and plenty of hot takes on who can’t win vs. Trump.

Wrongo’s hot take is that the 2020 presidential election will be determined by a handful of states. Michigan, Ohio, Pennsylvania and Florida were all lost last time around. Any Democratic candidate can win the same states as Hillary won last time. We need to be asking ourselves is: “Who has the best chance to win in those four states?”

Your choice may be different from Wrongo’s, but this must be a prime consideration. We all know that the presidential election isn’t about who wins the most votes. It’s about who accumulates the necessary number of electoral votes, and that path leads through the four states above.

So the challenge for the Democratic Party nominee is: How are you going to convince people in the above states to vote for you?

In the meantime, pundits are talking about a brokered convention. They’re assuming that no single candidate will garner a majority of votes through the primary process. The Democratic National Committee (DNC) has set the system up so it’s difficult to win an outright majority if there is a large field of candidates, since there are no winner-take-all contests.

Instead, the delegates are awarded proportionately by congressional district and statewide vote. That means in a large field, the first place winner is unlikely to get close to 60% of a state’s delegates. To get any delegates at all, a candidate must receive at least 15% of a state’s votes.

It’s too complicated to go deeply into this, but there are lots of votes up for grabs in the early primaries. Brookings has this:

“Fifty-four percent of all pledged delegates will be chosen in the first five weeks of the primary season, mostly from four states — California, Texas, Ohio, and Michigan. An additional 10 percent of pledged delegates will be chosen one week later — nearly all from Florida and Illinois. One candidate with a big lead in name recognition or with a small band of intense supporters could wrap up the Democratic nomination based on the votes of a tiny share of voters and do so before primary voters have had much time to get acquainted with the candidates.”

This means that, assuming Kamala Harris will win California, and Beto O’Rourke will win Texas, catching them could be difficult. And if no one else breaks the 15% barrier in either state, it could be a pitched battle between just them all the way to the convention on July 13-16 2020 in Milwaukee.

Wrongo thinks Bernie will break 15% in a few states, and possibly be the spoiler for these two new faces of the Party.

Some think that if no one gets a majority before Milwaukee, that favors Biden, who will most likely, hold the majority of the DNC’s Super delegates, who can vote after the first ballot. OTOH, Biden has to prove he has the ability to get more than 15% in several states to merit their votes on the second ballot of the convention.

These primary contests used to reduce the field quickly, since it was very difficult to raise money from the big donors if you lost Iowa and New Hampshire. But, money is easier to raise via social media than it used to be. And social media can keep a candidate in the news even without huge TV expenditures.

There are now 485 days left until the Democrat’s convention, and a lot will happen between now and then. Buckle up!

Time for your Saturday Soother. In honor of St. Patrick’s Day tomorrow, we break from our usual format of coffee and classical music. Let’s start by getting into a comfy chair, and listen to the Hooligans (the Irish Hooligans, not the Bruno Mars band) perform the Bluegrass classic, “Whiskey for Breakfast”:

As we all know, breakfast is the most important drink of the day. Now pour a nice snifter of Irish whiskey. Wrongo has 8 different Irish whiskeys in the pantry, and recommends Bushmills 21 Single Malt (~$230/750 ml). Enjoy its notes of toffee, honey, spiced fruit and dark mocha.

Sample Lyric:

Lord preserve us and protect us,
We’ve been drinking whiskey ‘fore breakfast

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

Facebooklinkedinrss

Saturday Soother – March 9, 2019

The Daily Escape:

Railroad bridge over Housatonic River in snow – 2019 photo by Quadco Joe

We start driving back from sunny, warm FL this am. While you are having coffee and listening to music, we’ll be once again driving by a few Civil War battlefields. But today, let’s talk about Paul Manafort. On Thursday, Trump’s former campaign manager and a one-time lobbyist for unsavory people, was sentenced to 47 months on tax evasion, when the sentencing guidelines called for something like twenty years.

Manafort was sentenced to four years, just like the rest of us. But his seems lenient, while ours seems harsh.

Manafort’s judge was T. S. Ellis III, of the Eastern District in Virginia, who isn’t a model of judicial consistency. Few remember Rep. William J. Jefferson (D- LA), who was convicted of corruption. He was sentenced in 2009 to 13 years by Judge Ellis, who said that he hoped Jefferson’s punishment would serve as a “beacon” to warn other public officials not to succumb to corruption.

Ellis gave Jefferson the longest corruption sentence ever for a member of Congress. It was five years longer than a different judge gave former Rep. Randy “Duke” Cunningham, (R-CA), after he plead guilty to more egregious charges, of steering defense contracts in return for bribes.

After the Supreme Court’s 2016 decision in McDonnell v. United States, which narrowed the definition of public corruption, Mr. Jefferson appealed his conviction. Judge Ellis threw out 7 of the 10 charges against him, accepted Jefferson’s plea on the three remaining counts, and sentenced him to time served. In total, Jefferson served five and a half years.

Think about it: Ellis made an example of Jefferson, while sending the opposite message with Manafort’s sentence, and ignoring sentencing guidelines. Ellis said: “He’s [Manafort] lived an otherwise blameless life.” Franklin Foer in The Atlantic debunked that:

“In an otherwise blameless life, Paul Manafort lobbied on behalf of the tobacco industry and wangled millions in tax breaks for corporations.

In an otherwise blameless life, he helped the Philippine President Ferdinand Marcos bolster his image in Washington after he assassinated his primary political opponent.

In an otherwise blameless life, he worked to keep arms flowing to the Angolan generalissimo Jonas Savimbi, a monstrous leader bankrolled by the apartheid government in South Africa. While Manafort helped portray his client as an anti-communist “freedom fighter,” Savimbi’s army planted millions of landmines in peasant fields, resulting in 15,000 amputees.

In an otherwise blameless life, Manafort was kicked out of the lobbying firm he co-founded, accused of inflating his expenses and cutting his partners out of deals.

In an otherwise blameless life, he spent a decade as the chief political adviser to a clique of former gangsters in Ukraine. This clique hoped to capture control of the state, so that it could enrich itself with government contracts and privatization agreements. This was a group closely allied with the Kremlin, and Manafort masterminded its rise to power—thereby enabling Ukraine’s slide into Vladimir Putin’s orbit.”

There’s more, but you get the drift. People will argue that Manafort wasn’t charged with ruining the world, he was charged with tax evasion. And that using one crime to punish others the subject was not charged with is not a good practice.

True, but had Judge Ellis heard about Al Capone?

And giving less than one quarter of the recommended punishment says that Ellis, a Reagan appointee, saw the Republican in Manafort, while he saw the Democrat in Jefferson.

Time to leave the world behind and line up for your Saturday Soother. Let’s start by sampling the AK-47 Espresso Blend from Black Rifle Coffee, a veteran-owned coffee company who calls their products “freedom fuel”. Wrongo saw their billboard while driving through North Carolina, and doesn’t want to hear any comments from wussy liberals about how the South is different.

Now, settle into your most comfortable chair and listen to Pablo Villegas, playing “Recuerdos de la Alhambra” (Memories of the Alhambra) by Spanish composer Francisco Tárrega, live at Philadelphia’s Kimmel Center in 2013:

The piece showcases the challenging guitar technique known as tremolo.

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

Facebooklinkedinrss

Saturday Soother – February 23, 2019

The Daily Escape:

Snow in moonlight near Mammoth Mountain, CA – 2019 smartphone photo by Mwalt19

At the end of the week that includes President’s Day, there’s a story in the WSJ that deserves highlighting. The article, “An American Icon That Almost Wasn’t” is about the iconic, and larger-than-life statue of Abraham Lincoln that rests inside the Lincoln Memorial. As with most memorials on the National Mall, there were differences of opinion about the location of the Memorial, and the size of the statue of a seated Lincoln. It was originally designed to be 12 feet high, but to the sculptor, Daniel Chester French, that seemed far too small for the atrium of the Memorial. He fought for a larger, heroic sized statue, and finished it in 1920.

The Memorial was dedicated in May, 1922. But, according to Harold Holzer in the WSJ, by the time of the dedication, America had not internalized the lessons of the Civil War:

African-Americans in attendance were herded off to a “colored” section at the rear. The choice seats were filled by aged Confederate veterans dressed in their tattered gray uniforms.

Holzer reports:

Adding injury to insult, the only black speaker at the ceremony, Robert Russa Moton, head of the Tuskegee Institute, could not even deliver the full oration he had composed. The White House demanded he omit his most provocative words: “So long as any group within our nation is denied the full protection of the law,” what Lincoln called his “unfinished work” remained “still unfinished,” and the Memorial itself “but a hollow mockery.”

In 1922, 57 years after the end of the Civil War, we still couldn’t get past the idea that one race was inferior to the other. Worse, we couldn’t even acknowledge it openly. Contrast that with these words from Lincoln’s Second inaugural address:

One-eighth of the whole population were colored slaves, not distributed generally over the Union, but localized in the southern part of it. These slaves constituted a peculiar and powerful interest. All knew that this interest was somehow the cause of the war….

We’ve gone forward in the last nearly 100 years to overcome much of the segregation that occurred at the Lincoln Memorial’s dedication, but much work remains unfinished. Lincoln said it best in the closing of his Second Address in 1865:

With malice toward none, with charity for all, with firmness in the right as God gives us to see the right, let us strive on to finish the work we are in, to bind up the nation’s wounds, to care for him who shall have borne the battle and for his widow and his orphan, to do all which may achieve and cherish a just and lasting peace among ourselves and with all nations.

And yet, we’ve still got work to do.

But you’ve done enough for this week, so forget about Bernie, Beto, Biden, Buttigieg, or whomever your favorite Democrat of the moment may be, and prepare for Saturday Soothing! Start by brewing up a vente cup of single origin Sumatra Tano Batak ($20.99/12oz.) from Maui’s Origin Coffee. The roaster says it has flavors of dark chocolate, melon and mandarin orange.

Now settle back in your most comfy chair, put on your wireless headphones and listen to Freddie Mercury and Queen’s “Bohemian Rhapsody” played in 2013 by the Indiana University Studio Orchestra conducted by Nicholas Hersh, with viola solo by Sarah Harball:

We feature it here in honor of the Oscars on Sunday night. Sadly, it’s the only Oscar-nominee movie that Wrongo and Ms. Right got to see this year.

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

Facebooklinkedinrss

Saturday Soother – February 2, 2019

The Daily Escape:

Hoggar National Park, Algeria – 2015 photo by Amri Mohammed

The blog Political Violence @ a Glance posted an article, “Three Lessons from the History of Foreign-Imposed Regime Change” by Melissa Willard-Foster, an assistant professor of political science at the University of Vermont.

She puts the Trump Administration’s support of Venezuela’s opposition leader, Juan Guaidó, in perspective. Despite the fact that while Trump was running for president, he promised to “stop racing to topple foreign regimes,” he’s now saying Venezuela’s president Maduro must go.

According to Willard-Foster, there is a long tradition by American presidents of attempting Foreign-Imposed Regime Change, or FIRC. She lays out three FIRC lessons from our history:

Lesson #1

The more fragile a leader’s political power is, the less likely that leader will cave in to foreign pressure. Weak leaders are difficult to coerce. If a foreign power demands change, the more the incumbent fears an attack by domestic enemies. The incumbent becomes very difficult to coerce.

But politically weak leaders often seem relatively easy to overthrow, and their domestic enemies are more than happy to help the foreign power take them out. Willard-Foster’s research shows that the probability of FIRC rises by 112% for leaders with at least two predecessors taken out by a coup, or rebellion in the past ten years.

Lesson #2

America’s overthrow of Panama’s Manuel Noriega demonstrates what happens when the domestic politics in the foreign power’s country make it politically feasible for the foreign power to take military action. Like Maduro in Venezuela, Noriega railed against US imperialism and broke off relations with the US. When crises escalate, a single incident can lead to military action, and that happened in Panama. When a US service member died in December 1989 after an encounter with Noriega’s forces, the Bush administration had the domestic political cover it needed. Chairman of the Joint Chiefs Colin Powell, made the case for intervention. He argued: (brackets by Wrongo)

“There will be a few dozen casualties if we go [in]…If we don’t go, there will be a few dozen casualties over the next few weeks, and we’ll still have Noriega.”

The US decided that coercing Noriega wasn’t changing anything, but regime change by force could.

The risk of a US military escalation may explain why Maduro offered to negotiate with the opposition—he wants to avoid giving Trump justification for military force.

Lesson #3

The third lesson from the history of FIRC is that no matter how disastrous the last FIRC attempt was, policymakers still believe it will work this time. From Willard-Foster:

Whatever approach failed last is usually what policymakers avoid the next time. When George H.W. Bush and Bill Clinton’s indirect approach to toppling Saddam Hussein failed, George W. Bush capitalized on the post 9/11 public mood for war to launch an invasion. The lesson Obama drew from the costly Iraq occupation was to avoid using troops to oust Libyan leader Muammar Qaddafi. The fallout in Libya then convinced Obama to avoid using military force in Syria, where he reluctantly funded the Syrian opposition.

Trump’s current Venezuelan approach is an indirect strategy, relying on economic and diplomatic pressure. Whether Maduro stays in power largely depends on the Venezuelan military. If Russia and China can blunt Trump’s economic pressure, Maduro may keep the military’s loyalty.

If China and Russia succeed in propping up Venezuela’s economy, Trump will have two options: Continue calling for regime change, while doing nothing about it, (as he’s doing with Iran) or employ military force. If protests grow, this will suggest Maduro’s position is weakening, which could cause Maduro to lash out, and possibly provide political cover for Trump choosing military force.

In supporting Guaidó, it’s unclear what path Trump will take. If, like Noriega, Maduro believes caving in to US demands will imperil his political (and personal survival), he’ll dig in.

But, a weakened Maduro appears, and still digs in further, the more likely it becomes that Trump will continue the tradition of forcibly toppling foreign regimes.

Time to move on from another week of “All Trump, all the time” to the anticipation of gorging ourselves during the halftime show of Sunday’s Super Bowl. You need to prepare for the chili, nachos, dips, chips and alcohol by relaxing today with a Saturday Soother.

Start by brewing up a strong cup of Honduras Las Flores Parainema ($22/12oz.). It is sourced by the Brooklyn NY-based Café Grumpy, an aptly-named vendor for our times.

Now settle back in a comfy chair, and take a few minutes to listen to Sarah Chang play Elgar’s888 composition, “Salut d’Amour, Op.12”, accompanied by Andrew von Oeyen, on piano. Chang is American, born in US, and raised in New Jersey:

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

Facebooklinkedinrss

Saturday Soother – January 26, 2019

The Daily Escape:

Frozen pond, Oak Creek Canyon, north of Sedona, AZ – photo by ballsagna2time

Yesterday, Wrongo posted a comment by Sarah Kendzior who said that the shutdown is a hostile restructuring of government by people who were happy to see the non-military portion of the government weakened. This sounds like an exaggeration until you read that earlier this month, Trump retweeted a Daily Caller article by a purported high-level of his administration, arguing that the work of most federal employees is worthless:

“We do not want most employees to return, because we are working better without them…As one of the senior officials working without a paycheck, a few words of advice for the president’s next move at shuttered government agencies: lock the doors, sell the furniture, and cut them down.”

Maybe, once again, we’ve underestimated Trump and his band of authoritarians.

And everyone can see how disconnected the administration is from working people, despite their protests of populism. On Thursday afternoon, Trump told reporters that grocery stores will “work along” with people who can’t pay for food. Wrongo isn’t sure what happens in your neighborhood, but around here, nobody runs a tab with Walmart, or Stop and Shop. Nobody is holding up the checkout line while the cashier marks a new amount on the shopper’s tab with the store.

And also on Thursday, Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross appeared on CNBC’s “Squawk Box” to talk about the government shutdown. He apparently didn’t understand why unpaid federal workers would be suffering, since they could just go to the bank and get a loan:

“The obligations that they would undertake, say a borrowing from a bank or a credit union, are in effect federally guaranteed. So the 30 days of pay that some people will be out, there’s no real reason why they shouldn’t be able to get a loan against it…”

Sure they can. And if they had a few bucks left over, they could go in together on a few tumbrels.

The fact that the administration and the GOP-controlled Senate have weaponized a government shutdown is all you need to know about their callousness and cynicism. It’s morally repugnant to use people as pawns. But, as is clear from the quotes above, most of the Trump administration are elites who, for their entire lives, have used average people as pawns for financial gain.

There will never be a better reason to vote all of them out in 2020 than the heartless way they are reacting to the very real problems that they have created for millions of Americans in January 2019.

Ok, time to slow the burn, kick back and try as best we can to shut out all the noise echoing in our minds. It’s time for your Saturday Soother.

Let’s start by brewing a cup of Kenya Ruthaka Peaberry ($19/12oz.) from Sacramento’s Temple Coffee Roasters. It apparently has a resonant finish with notes of dark chocolate and red currant, and undertones of crisp marjoram, if you’re into that.

UPDATE: Apparently, Trump agreed late Friday to open the government for three weeks, without any Wall funding.

Now, settle back in your most comfy chair, and unplug from all screens (except Wrongo’s) and in honor of the Speaker of the House, listen to the John Coltrane Quartet from 1962 doing “Nancy with the Laughing Face”:

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

Facebooklinkedinrss

Saturday Soother – January 19, 2019

The Daily Escape:

Snow in Grand Canyon, New Year’s Day, 2019 – photo by AP. Lookout Studio is on the left.

Most of you know that Wrongo has been deeply skeptical of the Russia investigation, but as time has moved forward, we’ve learned quite a bit about Trump and his team’s involvement with Russia. Apparently, he worked hard to get a Trump Tower built. Elsewhere, it is reported that Trump stood to gain $300+ million if the deal went through.

Until now, Trump has denied that any deal was considered while he was running for President. But, Buzzfeed broke news this week:

President Donald Trump directed his longtime attorney Michael Cohen to lie to Congress about negotiations to build a Trump Tower in Moscow, according to two federal law enforcement officials involved in an investigation of the matter.

Trump also supported a plan, set up by Cohen, to visit Russia during the presidential campaign, in order to personally meet President Vladimir Putin and jump-start the tower negotiations. “Make it happen,” the sources said Trump told Cohen.

The article also says: (brackets by Wrongo)

The special counsel’s office learned about Trump’s directive for Cohen to lie to Congress through interviews with multiple witnesses from the Trump Organization and internal company emails, text messages, and a cache of other documents. Cohen then acknowledged those instructions during his interviews with that office [Mueller].

All of this still needs to be confirmed, but IF it’s true, it is without question an impeachable offense. And the Buzzfeed article appeared two days after Trump’s Attorney General-designate William Barr testified to the Senate Judiciary Committee that suborning perjury would be clearly criminal, even if done by a President. Well, Buzzfeed says Trump suborned perjury by asking Michael Cohen to lie about his discussions with Russia about a new Moscow Trump Tower. Marcy Wheeler, the best analyst of the Mueller investigation, notes: (brackets by Wrongo)

Discussing a real estate deal is not, as Trump has repeated, illegal. If that’s all this were about, Trump and Cohen might not have lied about it.

But it’s not. Even before the GRU [Russian intelligence] hacked John Podesta, even before Don Jr told his June 9 visitors that his dad would consider lifting sanctions if he got elected, Michael Cohen let a key Putin deputy know that Trump would be happy to discuss real estate deals that involved both partnering with the GRU and with sanctioned banks. And Putin has been sitting on that receipt ever since.

All of what Wheeler talks about is in the Buzzfeed article, along with her previous reporting.

It’s going to be interesting to hear what Mr. Cohen has to tell Congress when he testifies next month. Telling someone to lie to Congress is obstruction of justice, and it’s why the House drafted articles of impeachment for Richard Nixon in 1974. From Booman:

We can’t have a chief executive who is compromised by a foreign power. That’s a clear and present danger, and it’s even more serious than the possibility that he may have engaged in a criminal conspiracy with them to help him win the office.

Directing someone to lie to Congress is probably next in line…

When Trump won on November 8th 2016, America had no idea of just how bad things might get over the next four years. Wrongo assumed Trump would appoint a few Supreme Court justices, pass a big tax cut for the wealthy, and gut Obamacare.

But, would you have believed that we would be on the precipice of impeachment within two years? Would you have believed that a one-month government shutdown wouldn’t be the biggest news in town?

With all of that to consider, we need to take a break before our heads explode. We need another Saturday Soother. This one is the calm before Sunday’s Snowpocalypse in the Northeast. So, check your snow blower, find your snow shovel, and go and buy all the bread and milk that’s left in the market.

Now, brew up a hot steaming cup of Beanstock’s Mexican Organic coffee ($11.99/12oz.) from Wellfleet MA’s Beanstock Coffee. The roaster says it is sweet to the taste, with dark chocolate and toffee up front, and a soft, lingering lemon finish.

And, cup in hand, settle back and contemplate your local bad weather. It’s time to listen to something different, so here is guitarist Gilad Hekselman performing “Do Re Mi Fa Sol” from his 2018 album “Ask for Chaos”. Hekselman was born in Israel, and lives in New York. He won the Gibson–Montreux Jazz Festival Guitar Competition in 2005, and sounds to Wrongo like the second coming of Bill Frisell. Wrongo isn’t sure we should be asking for chaos. but there we are:

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

Facebooklinkedinrss

Saturday Soother – Great Wall Edition, January 12, 2019

The Daily Escape:

Mutianya Section of the Great Wall, about two hours from Beijing

As we cruise into the weekend, and as Wrongo writes this, Trump has yet to declare a national emergency about the southern border. For some background, Time Magazine reports: (parenthesis by Wrongo)

(Declaring a national emergency)…would be a drastic action, but he (Trump) would hardly be the first American president to take extraordinary steps for what he sees as the interest of the nation.

In fact, not only are national emergencies more common than most Americans probably realize, they can also go on for decades — and whether or not Trump declares an emergency for the wall, the nation is already subject to dozens of emergency declarations that are ongoing today.

To be exact, 31 national emergencies are on the books.

The oldest is the national emergency with respect to Iran, declared Nov. 14, 1979. It’s been in place for more than 39 years. The most recent was declared just last November. It was to block the property of certain persons who contributed to destabilizing Nicaragua. Who knew?

The National Emergencies Act of 1976 in theory, requires the President to spell out the powers from specific laws that make it legal for him to declare a national state of emergency, and requires the House and the Senate to review the declaration every six months to see if it’s still necessary. To end a national emergency, both chambers of Congress have to pass a joint resolution.

The shutdown debate is becoming more about presidential power than it is about secure borders. Trump is willing to press the bet. It remains to be seen if Democrats want to play that game as well.

But, it’s time for the weekend to begin! Here in Connecticut’s northwest hills, the morning temperature is expected to be single digits. So beyond the constant shutdown news, we need serious soothing from the cold weather.

Let’s start by brewing up a cup of Portland OR’s Coava Coffee’s single origin Karuthi AA Kenyan coffee ($15/250 grams). The brewer says that it has a long, resonant finish centered on berry and coconut, supported by ginger blossom and chocolate.

Now take a look outside while staying on a warm perch. Today, we are switching from our usual Baroque music to the blues, which seems appropriate after the week we’ve had. Listen to Stevie Ray Vaughn’s “Wall of Denial” from his 1989 album, “In Step”.

Sample of Lyrics:

A wall of denial – is fallin’ down
Wo, it’s fallin’ so hard – down to the ground
Never knew something so strong could be washed away by tears
But this wall of denial was just built on fear

This song should play in its entirety, every time Trump mentions “Border Wall“.

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

Facebooklinkedinrss

Saturday Soother – January 5, 2019

The Daily Escape:

Bryce Canyon NP, looking down at the Wall Street trail – this photo was taken on New Year’s Eve by natsmith69. The photographer says he didn’t hike down because of the government shutdown.

Two topics for today: First, the December jobs report, which was encouraging in the face of a roller-coaster stock market. Employment rose a very strong 312,000 jobs in December, bringing the full count of jobs added for 2018 up to 2.6 million, the strongest year for job gains since 2015.

Unemployment ticked up to 3.9%, largely because more people were drawn into the labor market as measured by the civilian labor force participation rate. It moved up two-tenths to 63.1%, its highest level since 2014. That’s a reminder that the job market still has capacity to expand.

Wage growth accelerated slightly, and tied cyclical highs. Weekly hours worked edged up, job gains for the prior two months were revised upwards, and a very high 70% of private industries added jobs.

It seems that low unemployment has finally started to lead to pressure to raise pay.

Despite all of this positive labor market news, there are economic headwinds in the volatile stock market, Trump’s trade war, and slower economic growth abroad.

Some economists are forecasting a grim outlook for near-term US economic growth. OTOH, low unemployment, job gains, and higher wages should boost consumer spending, which accounts for almost 70% of the US economy.

Try to keep calm about the stock market. There isn’t much definitive economic news that should make you decide to bail out of stocks just now.

Item two: The shut-down. On Friday, Sen. Charles Schumer (D-NY) after another meeting about the shut-down, said that Trump threatened to keep the government closed for “months or even years” until he gets his desired wall funding.

Speaker Pelosi (D-CA) described the meeting as a “lengthy and sometimes contentious conversation with the president.” She said both sides agreed to continue talks. She then said: (brackets by Wrongo)

 We cannot resolve this until we open up [the] government…

So far, most Republicans are keeping a stiff upper lip, saying just what Trump says. But there are a few cracks, notably Sen. Cory Gardner (R-CO) and possibly, Susan Collins (R-ME), who are asking to re-open the federal government without a deal on funding the border wall.

Clearly there is a deal to be had. It probably looks like funding Trump’s wall, which is a rounding error in the federal budget, in return for passing a Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) relief bill as part of immigration reform. Lawmakers in both parties are sympathetic to immigrants who entered the country illegally as children.

The Hill reports that Sen. Roy Blunt (R-MO), a member of GOP leadership, said that while he hasn’t been involved in overall immigration discussions, expanding the scope of negotiations could be one way to break the logjam:

You know, sometimes the best way to solve a problem is to make it bigger, and that’s always one of the options here…

Sen. Lamar Alexander (R-TN) is urging Trump to strike a deal on comprehensive immigration reform:

Why would he not agree to such a thing…We could go small, we could go a little bigger… but I’d like to see the president say, ‘OK, we’ve got a new Congress. We’ve got divided government. I’m the president who can actually make this happen.’

Sen. Rob Portman (R-OH) is pitching his proposal that would establish a $25 billion border trust fund and codify protections for DACA recipients. Remember that Trump rejected a similar offer from Senate Democrats last year, so it isn’t clear where the goalposts for such a deal are today. We’ll have to watch the drama unfold.

Time to let go of the news and settle into a Saturday soother, maybe while taking down ornaments. Start the process of soothing by brewing up a yuuge cup of Panama Ninety Plus Perci Lot 50 coffee ($60/8 oz.) from Birdrock Coffee of San Diego, CA. Coffee Review rates it at 97, with tastes of fruit while being giddily brandy-toned. Maybe that’s a rave.

Now settle back in a comfy chair and listen to the “Adagio for Oboe, Cello, Organ and Strings” by Domenico Zipoli. Zipoli was an Italian Jesuit priest who lived much of his life in what is now Argentina. He studied with Scarlatti, became a Jesuit, worked as a missionary and died in 1726 in Argentina at age 38:

If fate had granted Zipoli another 20 to 25 years, he would be regarded today as a major composer.

Facebooklinkedinrss

Saturday Soother – December 15, 2018

The Daily Escape:

Outdoor market, Istanbul, Turkey – 2013 photo by Wrongo

As we cruise toward year’s end, we’ve received a political Christmas present in the form of Paul Ryan’s retirement from Congress. On Ryan’s heading into the Wisconsin sunset, newly minted House Rep Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-NY), had this take:

It’s pathetic how journalists and Republicans often say that Ryan is a thoughtful and principled member of Congress, a genius by some accounts. He is lauded for being elected to the House at age 28, and working his way up to Speaker. But he’s left few footprints on important legislation, except for the Trump tax cut in 2017.

Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez was elected to the House at 28 just like Ryan. Unlike Ryan, Ocasio-Cortez has been called out for everything from her wardrobe, to her active commentary on Twitter. Many of the same Conservatives who lionized Ryan say that Ocasio-Cortez is naïve, undisciplined and unwilling to play by their rules. Freshman Congressman, especially young female Democrats are expected to keep their heads down, and speak only when spoken to.

But no one ever changed anything by going along to get along. She’s been outspoken, but she’s done so in a manner which spotlights legitimate issues. That tends to rankle the established power structure, who prefer the status quo, because it’s predictable, manageable, and largely male.

It’s far too early to know if Ocasio-Cortez will be a political force to reckon with, or a transformative legislator. But the fact that she’s willing to speak out and rattle cages is a good sign. Congress has needed new (and younger) voices for a long time. It will be interesting to see what sort of rabble-rousing she’ll take on, and if it will cause meaningful change.

Is there a chance that she’ll accomplish far more than Paul Ryan? Sure, but that’s a low bar. Ryan always played by the rules while working his way up the ladder. That’s great if you are ambitious, which is all that Ryan was really about. Oh, and Ayn Rand.

Consider one of Ryan’s final acts as Speaker:

By three votes, the House of Representatives advanced a farm bill, but not before the Republican leadership slipped in a provision that would turn off any possibility of the Congress’s fast-tracking an effort to turn off American aid to Saudi Arabia due to that country’s abominable war in Yemen.

As Charlie Pierce says,

Consider what Ryan and his majority did today. They made it impossible for the United States to swiftly extricate itself from accessorial conduct in a horrible ongoing crime-by-famine, and they did it by sabotaging a bill that helps get food to people in this country.

This is one of the last acts of Paul Ryan’s Speakership. He will richly deserve our contempt for playing partisan legislative games with starving children.

On to Saturday! Time to leave tree-trimming and shopping on Amazon for a few minutes, it’s time to unplug and land on a small island of soothing in the midst of all of the chaos. Let’s start by brewing up a yuuge hot cup of Baru Gesha coffee (1 kg/$100) from the Los Angeles-based Bar Nine brewers. The Baru Gesha tastes like dark chocolate, raspberry liqueur, frankincense, and almond brittle in aroma.

Frankincense! How seasonal.

Now, gaze out at the last few leaves on the trees and the dormant grass, and listen to JS Bach’s “Air on a G-String”, an arrangement for the violin made in the 19th Century from Bach’s Orchestral Suite No. 3 in D major. Bach originally wrote the suite between the years 1717 and 1723. It found its nickname in 1871 when the German violinist August Wilhelmj (1845-1908) made a violin and piano arrangement of the second movement of this orchestral suite. By changing the key into C major and transposing the melody down an octave, Wilhelmj was able to play the piece on only one string of his violin, the G string.

Procol Harum borrowed from it for their hit, “A Whiter Shade of Pale.” Gary Brooker of Procol Harum said:

If you trace the chordal element, it does a bar or two of Bach’s ‘Air On A G String’ before it veers off. That spark was all it took. I wasn’t consciously combining Rock with Classical, it’s just that Bach’s music was in me.

If you would like to hear the echoes of “Whiter Shade of Pale”, you can hear the Air played on organ.

But, here it is as intended on violin played by the Ukrainian violinist Anastasiya Petryshak with the Orchestra Cantelli at the Basilica Sant’Ambrogio in Milan, Italy in December 2015:

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

Facebooklinkedinrss

Saturday Soother – December 1, 2018

The Daily Escape:

Yukon Grizzly before hibernation – 2014 photo by Paul Nicklen

Quite the week. We had barely digested Thanksgiving dinner when we heard about Russia seizing three Ukrainian Navy vessels in the Azov Sea. We learned that Paul Manafort lied to Robert Mueller, and that his lawyer reported everything that occurred between Manafort and Mueller to the White House. Then, we heard that Trump’s former in-house lawyer, Michael Cohen has admitted to lying to Congress, and is now cooperating with Mueller. Who knows what it all means?

But, the big story this week was that we learned that life expectancy in the US fell to 78.6 years, a 0.3 year decline from our peak. From CNN:

Overdose deaths reached a new high in 2017, topping 70,000, while the suicide rate increased by 3.7%, the CDC’s National Center for Health Statistics reports.

We are witnessing social decay in America. This is consistent with what Angus Deaton and Ann Case called “deaths of despair” in 2017. The WSJ has a detailed breakdown, and also points out how other countries are continuing to show progress:

Data the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention released on Thursday show life expectancy fell by one-tenth of a percent, to 78.6 years, pushed down by the sharpest annual increase in suicides in nearly a decade and a continued rise in deaths from powerful opioid drugs like fentanyl. Influenza, pneumonia and diabetes also factored into last year’s increase.

From Yves Smith:

Americans take antidepressants at a higher rate than any country in the world. The average job tenure is a mere 4.4 years. In my youth, if you changed jobs in less than seven or eight years, you were seen as an opportunist or probably poor performer. The near impossibility of getting a new job if you are over 40 and the fact that outside hot fields, young people can also find it hard to get work commensurate with their education and experience, means that those who do have jobs can be and are exploited by their employers.

The 2017 data paint a dark picture of health and well-being in the US, reflecting the effects of addiction and despair, particularly among young and middle-aged adults. In addition, diseases are plaguing people with limited access to health care.

In the late part of the last century, and the early years of this century, there was a steady decline in heart-disease deaths. That offset a rising number of deaths from drugs and suicide. Now, we’re not seeing those heart-related declines, while drug and suicide deaths occur earlier in life, accounting for more years of life lost.

The worst aspect is that it never had to be this way. These drug and suicide deaths are “collateral damage” caused by the social and economic changes in America since the 1970s.

And we made most of those changes by choice.

Wrongo is reminded that last month, he learned that something similar had happened in Russia under Gorbachev. Under Perestroika, millions of Russians lost jobs. The government’s budget deficits grew. The death rate exceeded the birth rate. Nearly 700,000 children were abandoned by parents who couldn’t afford to take care of them. The average lifespan of men dropped to 59 years.

Are we in a slow motion disaster that could be similar to what Russia went through back in the 1990s?

We’ve become hardened. These American deaths are largely anonymous. When AIDS was ravishing the gay community in the 1980s, people were able to appreciate the huge number of deaths by seeing, or adding to, the AIDS Memorial Quilt, which eventually weighed more than 50 tons.

There is no equivalent recognition for these deaths of despair.

A traitorous American ruling class has sold out its middle and lower classes. If you doubt that, think about Wal-Mart. The Walton’s fortune was made by acting as an agent of Chinese manufacturers, in direct competition with US manufacturers. Doesn’t that seem like treason?

Relax, there’s nothing you can do about all of this today, the first day of December. Time to get what solace you can from a few minutes having a coffee, and a listen to a piece of soothing music.

Start by brewing a cup of Kona Mele Extra Fancy coffee from Hula Daddy Kona Coffee ($64.94/lb.). It has an aroma of dark chocolate, fruit and flowers. And shipping is free.

Now settle back and listen to a few minutes of George Winston’s “December”. Here are Part 1: Snow, Part 2: Midnight, and Part 3: Minstrels:

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

Facebooklinkedinrss