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The Wrongologist

Geopolitics, Power and Political Economy

Saturday Soother – Jeff Sessions Bible Study Edition

The Daily Escape:

Abandoned schoolhouse, Colombia Hills, WA – 2018 photo by Sean Peterson

Trump and Kim dominated the news this week. So many hot takes on the one-page agreement: Who won, who lost, it will take some time to digest. Today, it seems that there is less risk of another war on the Korean peninsula than we thought last fall, but let’s not celebrate just yet. We have a long way to go before there is peace in Korea. Kim still has his nukes, and his cannons are still pointed toward Seoul. Trump seems to have cancelled the joint military exercises, but that could change on his whim. Kim or Trump could decide to blow up their agreement, like Trump did with Iran.

Wrongo has followed with complete disapproval, the administration’s moves to separate children from their parents at the border, and to deny asylum to victims of domestic abuse and gang violence. As we cruise into this weekend, we should remember the curious bible talk by Attorney General Jefferson Beauregard Sessions to a group of law enforcement officials in Indiana on Thursday:

I would cite you to the Apostle Paul and his clear and wise command in Romans 13, to obey the laws of the government because God has ordained the government for his purposes.

Here’s the verse Sessions is talking about:

Let everyone be subject to the governing authorities, for there is no authority except that which God has established. The authorities that exist have been established by God. Consequently, whoever rebels against the authority is rebelling against what God has instituted, and those who do so will bring judgment on themselves.

This is from a senior person in the GOP, the party that SAYS their prime directive is to get the government out of people’s lives.

Splinter reports that Messiah College professor John Fea told WaPo that Session’s quoted verse has been used before in American history. The first time was by British colonists opposed to the War of Independence. The second time, per Fea:

…is in the 1840s and 1850s, when Romans 13 is invoked by defenders of the South or defenders of slavery to ward off abolitionists who believed that slavery is wrong. I mean, this is the same argument that Southern slaveholders and the advocates of a Southern way of life made.

The verse was also used by German officials to help cement support among the country’s Christians for the Nazis.

It was also used by white religious leaders in South Africa to justify apartheid.

And, recently, Trump’s booster, Pastor Robert Jeffress cited the verse to support Trump’s threat to murder millions of North Koreans with “fire and fury” last year.

Sessions either didn’t know the verse’s racist and authoritarian history when he used it to justify tearing families apart, or he simply didn’t care. And what about Obamacare? Isn’t that also the law of the land? Shouldn’t Sessions agree that we respect, and obey it? But here is the GOP, once again cherry-picking the bible, this time to justify treating immigrants from south of the border as subhuman.

Let’s agree that Jeff Sessions is wrong. Separating families is wrong. Using the Bible to justify it is wrong.

Leave the final comment to long-time Sunday school teacher, Steven Colbert, who nailed Sessions:

But if he just read a little bit further into Romans 13:10, it says ‘Love your neighbor as yourself. Love does no harm to a neighbor. Therefore love is the fulfillment of the law.’ I’m not surprised Sessions didn’t read the whole thing. After all, Jesus said ‘Suffer the children to come unto me,’ but I’m pretty sure all Sessions saw was the words ‘children’ and ‘suffer’ and said ‘I’m on it!’”

Enough! Time to downshift, to disengage from the political world for a few hours. To help you get started, head to the kitchen and brew up a vente cup of Koffee Kult’s Dark Roast Coffee ($15.99/lb.), roasted by Koffee Kult Roasters of Hollywood, FL. Enjoy its heavy body, cinnamon notes, and bright, long finish.

Now sit outside. And listen to Yo-Yo Ma and Kathryn Stott play “Romance for Cello and Piano” by English composer Frederick Delius, who died in 1934. This is from Ma’s 2015 album with Stott, “Songs from the Arc of Life”:

Ma and Stott met in the summer of 1978, when Kathryn Stott, then a student of classical piano, returned to her apartment after a holiday. She found a young Asian man practicing the cello inside the place she shared with violinist Nigel Kennedy. Stott recalls: “It seemed Nigel had sublet the apartment”.

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

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Travels With Wrongo – Poland Edition

The Daily Escape:

Chopin’s Piano at his birthplace, Zelazowa Wola, Poland. Chopin is far and away the most famous Polish national – 2018 photo by Wrongo

Sometimes there can be unintended consequences, even when the intended consequence is a good idea.

The focus of Wrongo and Ms. Right’s visit to Poland is to learn more about the current state of Polish nursing (Ms. Right is a PhD nurse). Over the past few years, Poland has worked very hard to create national qualification standards for nurses in practice, and to dramatically improve the quality of their education. Prior to 2004, most nurses attended vocational schools, they entered practice after two years, and most of their education was on-the-job training.

Today, most nurses entering practice have Bachelor’s degrees. Both Master and PhD degrees are offered as well. There is a detailed, nation-wide standard for nursing education that is required in all 420 schools of nursing.

This all happened in a period of about 14 years, and is a direct result of Poland joining the European Union in 2004. The EU’s interest was that Polish nursing education and practice standards would be raised to meet the overall standards for EU member countries. To that end, the EU provided Poland with funding that was used for “bridge studies”, designed to bring the vocational school graduates up to the new standards, and university programs for new nurses.

The results are impressive. Today, Polish nurses meet the standards of the EU. They are in demand for jobs all across the other EU countries.

This has led to an unintended consequence: a nursing shortage in Poland. In Poland, the average nurse’s salary is about $10,000/year. But as you can see below, Polish nurses can earn substantially more elsewhere in Europe. These are pre-tax monthly averages in Euros:

Source: Nursingcee

Nurses earn less than the average worker in Poland. The average salary in Poland in Q1 2017 was 4,449 zt, or about $1215/mo. Compare that to a nurse’s average salary of $833/month, and the reason for the shortage is clear. About 20,000 nurses migrate annually from Poland to elsewhere in the EU.

The result is a current 60,000 nurse shortage in Poland, where there are 5.4 nurses per thousand of population. That ratio is 9.1/thousand in the OECD countries. And it is the younger, educated nurses that are leaving: The average age of a Polish nurse is 51.

Over the past two days, we met with the chief nurse executives at two hospitals, the vice-minister for nursing in the Ministry of Health and the president of the Polish equivalent of the American Nurses Association. None could articulate a clear strategy for ending the nursing shortage, or for increasing the average nursing salary sufficiently to slow outward migration for economic reasons.

Most Americans were unaware of how the EU imposes standards on member countries for many aspects of economic life until the Brexit issue arose in the UK. Those in the UK who voted to leave the EU felt that the requirements to stay were not worth the costs. That may have been a shortsighted decision.

There will always be costs when a degree of sovereignty is surrendered when joining an organization like the EU.  Consider Jan and Thera Kuiper, dairy farmers at Kuiper’s dairy in the Netherlands, who Wrongo and Ms. Right met in 2017. The Kuiper’s went from being simple dairy farmers supplying a local market, to now selling 4000 pounds of cheese a week throughout the EU. It wasn’t easy to comply with the EU’s requirements to sell cheese, but now their business is thriving.

It looks like Mr. Market will continue to determine where Polish nurses work, at least until Poland comes up with a solution that leads to better pay at home.

Until then, those who are most confident in their skills will continue to move elsewhere in the EU for better pay.

And Poland will continue to have a first-world system of nurses’ education, without a first-world career path for their graduates.

Since Wrongo is returning to the US on Saturday, there can’t be our customary musical interlude to start the weekend. But, Wrongo and Ms. Right had the pleasure of hearing a private performance of three pieces by Chopin on Friday by the remarkable 23 year-old Polish pianist, Wojciech Kruczek. Among the pieces Kruczek played for us was Chopin’s Ballade No. 1, in G minor. Chopin’s four Ballades are one-movement pieces for solo piano. Ballade No. 1 was completed in 1835 when Chopin was 25. The Ballades are considered to be some of the most challenging pieces in the standard piano repertoire. Here is the Ballade #1 by Mr. Kruczek

While the video says the artist is Kayo Nishimizu, Wrongo assures you that it is Wojciech Kruczek.

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Saturday Soother – May 12, 2018

The Daily Escape:

Cherry blossoms at Hirosaki Castle, Aomori Prefecture Japan. It was built in 1611. Photo by Huffington Post

Spring is in full flower on the fields of Wrong. Our pear, plum, cherry, quince and crab apple trees all bloomed on Monday. By Friday, most began shedding their flowers. While they were in full bloom, honey and bumble bees swarmed the flowers, making each tree sound as if tiny motors were running on every branch. We also had both Baltimore and Orchard Orioles working hard to strip the crab apple trees of their setting fruit. It was a delight to watch and listen while standing under the trees.

But now, the birds and the bees are moving on to more promising targets, just like Trump is doing with his foreign policy. He’s leaving behind the so-called “bad deal” in Iran, for what will almost certainly turn out to be a similar deal with North Korea. Some have started a victory lap on North Korea, saying that only Trump could have brought Kim Jong-Un to the table. Maybe, but declarations of victory are certainly premature. We have been at least this far with North Korea before.

Wrongo doesn’t buy the outrage in Washington about CIA Director-designate Gina Haspel. Few of us who work inside large organizations have the strength to stand up and refuse to take an action simply because it offends our moral sensibility. We balance the thought that it could cost our job, or our next promotion. And besides, the boss is telling me it’s OK to do it.

Wrongo despises the idea of torture, and believes that America must provide the world with leadership that, by our example, shows that torture is wrong. OTOH, at the time, Haspel was part of a large system that said torture was legal. She was faced with a dilemma: to choose between what she was ordered to do, and what she now says she wouldn’t do again. And don’t trot out that “only following orders” is no defense. Often, in a large system, not following orders leads automatically to dismissal.

Try not to have knee-jerk outrage for someone who, like you, hasn’t always been in a position with sufficient power to use their sense of morality as their guide to all actions.

And we can’t let the week end without a comment on Trump’s lawyer, Michael Cohen. The WaPo has internal company records that show Cohen’s $600,000 deal with AT&T: (emphasis by Wrongo)

Three days after President Trump was sworn into office, the telecom giant AT&T turned to his personal attorney Michael Cohen for help on a wide portfolio of issues pending before the federal government — including the company’s proposed merger with Time Warner, according to documents obtained by The Washington Post.

The internal documents reveal for the first time that Cohen’s $600,000 deal with AT&T specified that he would provide advice on the $85 billion merger, which required the approval of federal antitrust regulators.

You may remember that Trump said he opposed the ATT/Time Warner merger, so who better to retain than his personal lawyer?

You might ask, what insight Cohen, a real estate attorney and taxi cab owner could provide AT&T on complex telecom matters? And AT&T has now admitted they messed up by trying to use Cohen as a way to reach Trump.

Trump hasn’t drained the swamp, he’s simply released his own critters into it.

So on this Saturday, relax and see if you can get soothed before starting your yard work, or whatever other spring project awaits. Begin with a strong cup of “Thanks Mom” coffee ($20/12oz) for Mother’s Day from Bird Rock Coffee Roasters in La Jolla, CA. They say its decadent flavors of caramel, red cherry and apple blossom will surely create a Mother’s Day to remember.

Your mom’s mileage may vary. She may prefer dinner at a fancy restaurant.

Now, put on your Bluetooth headphones, sit in the sun and listen to “Moorland Elegies: No. 1. Come, Walk With Me” by Estonian composer, Tõnu Kõrvits. The Moorland Elegies is a nine-part cycle for mixed choir and string orchestra. The texts are poems by Emily Bronte. It is a sonic tone painting.

It is performed here by the Estonian Philharmonic Chamber Choir and the Tallinn Chamber Orchestra, conducted by Risto Joost in Tallinn’s St. John’s Church in October, 2015:

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

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Saturday Soother – May 5, 2018

The Daily Escape:

Rua Nova do Carvalho, Lisbon Portugal – 2016 photo by Brotherside. Formerly a part of the red light district, but when the street was painted pink in 2011, it quickly became the epicenter of a vibrant party scene.

In a week with a Hawaiian volcano’s eruption, Bibi’s nuclear song-and-dance, and Rudy’s confessions on Fox that Trump had indirectly paid hush money to Stormy, you may have missed the report that the fired House Chaplain is back at work. The WaPo reported:

House Speaker Paul D. Ryan (R-WI) reversed course Thursday and agreed to keep the Rev. Patrick J. Conroy on as House chaplain after an extraordinary showdown that included the priest alleging anti-Catholic bias among Ryan’s staff.

Ryan defended his original decision and continued to question whether Conroy was delivering sufficient “pastoral services” to the entire House. “I intend to sit down with Father Conroy early next week so that we can move forward for the good of the whole House,” Ryan said.

That is how it ended. His return started when Rev. Pat Conroy rescinded his resignation in a letter to Ryan. Conroy wrote:

While you never spoke with me in person, nor did you send me any correspondence, on Friday, April 13, 2018 your Chief of Staff, Jonathon Burks, came to me and informed me that you were asking for my letter of resignation. I inquired as to whether or not it was ‘for cause,’ and Mr. Burks mentioned dismissively something like, ‘maybe it’s time that we had a Chaplain that wasn’t a Catholic.’

Great job, Mr. Burks! Did you know that there have been exactly two Catholics as House Chaplain?

Fr. Conroy continued:

At that point, I thought that I had little choice but to resign, as my assumption was that you had the absolute prerogative and authority to end my term as House chaplain.

This was mostly about the tin ear that some Republicans have when it comes to social issues. One House member, Rep. Mark Walker (R-NC), who is also a Baptist pastor, apparently said that the next House chaplain needed to have a family.

That would rule out anyone who, like Fr. Conroy, had taken a vow of celibacy. Why do some people continually use their religion to bludgeon others?

Democrats and a few Republicans have said they believed that Speaker Ryan was facing pressure from evangelicals within the GOP conference to find a chaplain whose politics more closely aligned with theirs, but for now, this little “holy war” in the House is over. Maybe the next House Chaplain should be a Zen warrior priest who roams the halls, hitting Congress critters with his sword, you know, in a pastoral manner.

Spring has sprung with a vengeance in the Northeast. Today, Wrongo has battled a love sick bird that is trying to build a nest above the kitchen door at the Mansion of Wrong. The determined bird tried three times before finally bowing to Wrongo’s will.

It’s Saturday, and we need to downshift, to turn our focus from all that is wrong with the world, to all that’s right. To help you make the change, start by brewing a cup of Taiwan roaster Kakalove Café’s Mandheling Onan Ganjang sourced from the northern part of the Indonesian island of Sumatra ($18.50/16 oz.). The roaster says it is deeply sweet with vibrant acidity, and a syrupy mouthfeel.

Now, sit outside, take in the nature surrounding you, and listen to Sierra Boggess singing “The Lusty Month of May” from Camelot. It is performed live in 2012 at the BBC Proms:

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

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Saturday Soother – Korean Peace Edition

The Daily Escape:

Haze caused by smoke from a wildfire, Wind River Range, WY – 2018 photo by UtahPictures

Their handshake made history. North Korea’s leader Kim Jong-un and South Korea’s President Moon Jae-in met each other at the border, then walked hand in hand into South Korea for a meeting between countries still technically at war.

Whether they can declare an end to the war will be the subject of more negotiations and trust-building over the next few months, perhaps years. They did sign an accord that commits them to the complete denuclearization of the Korean peninsula.

This is either a huge step forward, or it is another case of false hope for a peace that has eluded the two Koreas for 65 years. Either way, it is an unprecedented diplomatic initiative between the two Koreas that could reduce global tensions.

South Korea’s peace offensive with the North has taken the US’s threat of military confrontation against North Korea off the table, unless the peace discussions should fail. Their preemptive diplomacy has left the US with no option but to move to the negotiating table without insisting that North Korea relinquish its nuclear weapons as a precondition. Is Trump behind this strategy? Historians will tell us some time in the future.

Strategically, North Korea looks like it is willing to work toward peace. They are in a win-win situation. If sanctions are eased, and peace talks move incrementally to a successful conclusion, a process of socio-economic rebirth in the North (a Kim Jong-un priority) can begin.

If Trump can’t agree with Kim Jong-un, we will find ourselves at odds with our South Korean ally. In that case, China might walk away from its sanctions against the North, blaming the US for not making progress in the face of the offer by Kim Jong-un to renounce his nuclear weapons.

South Korea’s president, Moon Jae-in needs to find a middle ground between his cunning enemy to the North and his impulsive ally in the US. And no one should expect that Kim will capitulate on Trump’s key demand of total and immediate nuclear disarmament.

That’s the biggest problem. South Korea’s president favors an “action for action” strategy in which the North takes steps to dismantle its nuclear arsenal, and is rewarded for each move with economic benefits and security guarantees.

South Korean officials said that the entire process could take about two years.

But Trump’s national security team has insisted that North Korea scrap its weapons programs before any relief from the sanctions can be granted. And they say that “substantial dismantlement” should be completed much more quickly, perhaps in six months.

Moon’s position is to offer economic benefits and security guarantees incrementally, based on one small agreement after another, until both sides are comfortable. In short, his plan is: Be sensible. No one needs to be humiliated. No one has to win. No one has to lose. Deal with issues one by one. Don’t refuse to talk about anything at all. Talk. That’s what sensible people do.

No one knows where this goes. The two Koreas have struck similar agreements in the past. For example, in 1991, Pyongyang and Seoul promised to end the Korean War, but never did. And in 2005, North Korea and five other countries — including the US and South Korea — struck a deal to end Pyongyang’s nuclear program in exchange for economic aid. That deal fell through.

President Moon has acknowledged that there is a limit to what the two Koreas can agree on without American involvement:

Peace on the Korean Peninsula cannot be achieved by agreements between South and North Korea alone…It has to have American endorsement.

But, nobody knows how the Trump wild card will play out.

But today’s Saturday. For now, let’s bask in a little hope. It’s spring, and buds and flowers abound. The fields of Wrong have bluebirds in two separate nest boxes sitting on eggs. We’ve over-seeded the whole 3 acres of grass to keep our world green and weed-free. Time to brew up a cup of Red Rooster Coffee’s 4 & 20 French Roast that the roaster says is dark and intense, full of complexity, with lots of spice and chocolate.

Now settle back, and listen to Aaron Copland’s “Appalachian Spring”, performed here by the Sydney Camerata Chamber Orchestra, conducted by Luke Gilmour, in 2011. Copland was awarded the 1945 Pulitzer Prize for Music for this work. Here it is performed by a 13-piece orchestra, which Copland scored for the eponymous ballet, choreographed by Martha Graham. Wrongo prefers the chamber version to the full orchestra version:

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

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Saturday Soother – April 21, 2018

The Daily Escape:

Bluebells in Hallerbos, Belgium – April 2018 photo by shinbaninja. Bluebells bloom only for about 10 days.

Welcome to the weekend. Let’s take a detour from the continuous drip, drip, drip, of Comey, Stormy, Syria, Cohen, Russia, and North Korea. Instead, take a look at an example of GOP maliciousness that passed under the radar, like a cruise missile, but aimed at American consumers.

The NYT’s Thursday business section reported about Senate Republicans passing a piece of legislation that will eviscerate a little bit more of the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau’s (Bureau) supervision in the financial sector: (emphasis, brackets and link by Wrongo)

The Senate voted on Wednesday to overturn an Obama-era rule that restricted automobile lenders from discriminating against minorities by charging them higher fees for car loans, in the latest attempt by Republican lawmakers to roll back financial regulations.

Republican lawmakers, along with one Democrat, Senator Joe Manchin of West Virginia, seized on the Congressional Review Act to overturn guidance issued in 2013 by the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau. The 1996 law [Congressional Review Act] gives Congress the power to nullify rules formulated by government agencies but has primarily been used to void recently enacted rules.

After the Government Accountability Office determined late last year that the consumer bureau’s 2013 guidance on auto lending was technically a rule that could be rolled back, Republicans, led by Senator Patrick J. Toomey (R-PA), targeted it for rescission by using the Congressional Review Act. The House is expected to follow suit and also use the Congressional Review Act to void the guidance.

Republicans have been against the Bureau, which was established under the 2010 Dodd-Frank law since it was passed. Trump’s pick to lead the agency, at least on an interim basis, Mick Mulvaney, has largely frozen its rule-making and enforcement.

Democrats and consumer watchdogs criticized the Senate’s move. Rion Dennis of Americans for Financial Reform, said:

By voting to roll back the CFPB’s work, senators have emboldened banks and finance companies to engage in racial discrimination by charging millions of people of color more for a car loan than is justified….Lawmakers have also opened the door to challenging longstanding agency actions that are crucial to protecting workers, consumers, civil rights, the environment and the economy.

Senator Richard Blumenthal, (D-CT) warned that rescinding the Bureau’s guidance would lead to a flood of unfair, predatory lending:

This truly repugnant resolution ignores the unacceptable, undeniable truth that consumers’ interest rates are regularly marked up based on their race or ethnicity — a disgusting practice that continues to run rampant across the country…

A 2011 report from the Center for Responsible Lending analyzed loan level data and found that African-Americans and Latinos were receiving higher numbers of interest rate markups on their car loans than white consumers. The Bureau issued guidance in 2013 urging auto lenders to curb discriminatory lending practices and used that guidance to justify lawsuits that they brought against auto finance companies.

The Department of Justice can still bring lawsuits against auto lenders for discriminatory practices, even if the guidance is nullified. But legal experts say the government could be less successful in bringing such cases without the guidance from a government agency saying the practices are viewed as improper.

Why are Republicans so mean-spirited? This is just gratuitous maliciousness towards African-Americans and other people of color. Who benefits, except a few huge GOP donors in the financial services industry?

This is another example of why TURNOUT in November is all that we have left to save the Republic.

No way to spin it, we’ve had another tough week, so it’s time for a Saturday Soother. Let’s start by brewing a yuuge cup of Sumatra Tano Batak ($21/12 oz.). The beans come from the northern part of the Indonesian island of Sumatra, and are valued for their complex earth and fruit notes. That comes from using unorthodox fruit removal and drying practices called “wet-hulling.” Then the beans are roasted by PT’s Coffee in Topeka, Kansas. According to them, drinking it invokes the experience of eating cherries in a flower garden next to a patch of fresh, fragrant, just-turned earth.

Sounds like it could be the Fields of Wrong on a warm April day.

Now settle back in a comfy chair and listen to the most underappreciated jazz singer, Johnny Hartman. He’s Wrongo’s favorite of that era. Here he is singing “I’ll Remember April” from his 1955 album, “Songs from the Heart”. It was Hartman’s debut album:

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

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Saturday Soother – April 14, 2018

The Daily Escape:

Pang Mapha Cave in Thailand – photo by John Spies

We’ve made it to Saturday! This concludes one of the more cacophonous political weeks in quite a while.

Paul Ryan is retiring from Congress, and is taking his signed first editions of Ayn Rand’s books back to Janesville, WI. No need to hold a benefit, Paul has $10 million in campaign funds in the bank, and is likely to land a rainmaker job on Wall Street.

Ryan joins the record number of Republicans who’ve decided against seeking re-election. They’re fleeing the anger directed at them for both their hyper-partisanship, and their inability to do much. It is difficult to overestimate the damage Ryan has done to this country. His devotion to the Republican narrative at the expense of truth hasn’t helped our democracy.

His “deficit reduction” proposals were always frauds. The revenue loss from tax cuts always exceeded any explicit spending cuts, so Ryan’s pretense of fiscal responsibility came entirely from “magic asterisks”: Extra revenue from closing unspecified loopholes, reduced spending from cutting unspecified programs.

Ryan took the helm of the House two and a half years ago, because he was seen as the only Congresscritter who could keep Republicans from fratricide. They had already shut down the government, and toppled their former Speaker, John Boehner.

Ryan leaves with the gaps in the party as evident as ever, but drawn along slightly different lines, with nativists and populists following the lead of President Trump. This hard right faction is pitted against what little remains of Mr. Ryan’s brand of traditional conservatism. But Ryan hewed to all of the Right-wing talking points. He faithfully ran interference for those who tried to turn the middle class into serfs beholden to the 1%. And he was in the NRA’s pocket. Sayonara, Mr. Ryan.

And, despite two days of congressional hearings on Facebook, the image that remains is Mark Zuckerberg trying to explain to people who have no idea of how Facebook works what he’s going to do to fix what they don’t understand.

There was a lot of talk about how to better ensure privacy, how to prevent user data from being provided to advertisers. But that is the business model of Facebook: Advertisers use the data collected by Facebook to present specific consumers with what they’re specifically selling.

It works because users often want to buy exactly what they’re being sold. That’s how Facebook makes money.

Users happily share details about themselves and their lives, and Facebook provides those data to advertisers. Even if it’s a little creepy, advertisers are learning way too much about every Facebook user, and most of Facebook’s users are willing participants in the creepiness.

Facebook certainly shouldn’t be allowed to sell those data to any party running a political operation. But it remains to be seen whether Facebook can effectively self-regulate, or whether Congress is up to the task of regulating that which it knows nearly nothing about…sort of like when they tried to regulate Wall Street.

Most of us can read between the political lines. Ryan’s one accomplishment is a flawed tax cut that will turn out huge budget deficits for years.

Zuckerberg? Well, almost everyone’s on Facebook. And on Facebook, like in Congress, half-truths predominate. Facebook gives you the latest selfie of your friends who are at a dinner that you weren’t invited to. Everybody joins because it’s free, and hundreds of millions of Americans already use it.

So this week, Zuckerberg and Ryan both got out of DC unscathed. Hard to believe that Zuckerberg is the more consequential person.

Anyhow, it’s a warm Saturday in the northeast, and the yardwork beckons. For some procrastinators, so does that final touch-up on the old 1040 form. Before getting to all that, it’s time to settle back and have a tall strong cup of PT Coffee of Topeka, Kansas’s Finca Kilimanjaro / Burundi Process + Ethiopia Process with its tasting notes of Fig, Caramel, and Cedar ($54/16oz.).

Now settle back in a chair where you can watch the birds building their nests, and listen to Jean-Baptiste DuPont play Franz Liszt’s, Prélude et Fugue sur Bach on the 1889 Cavaillé-Coll organ in the Basilica Saint-Sernin in Toulouse, France. Liszt composed this in 1855, as an homage to JS Bach. Note that the organist uses no sheet music:

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

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Saturday Soother – April 7, 2018

The Daily Escape:

Cherry Blossoms, Tokyo Japan – March 29 photo by Eugene Hoshiko

Maybe Wrongo has Spring Fever, but how could he, when it snowed again yesterday? He promises to put the snow shovel in the garage for its three-season nap on Monday, no matter what.

The delay of spring’s arrival got Wrongo thinking about change. We like to think that little changes in our environments, either natural, or socio-cultural, but change they do, every day. And except for a few details, Wrongo is certain that this blog’s readers are all on the same page: Change is in the air, and nothing stays the same. And we’re not just talking about the weather.

Yesterday is gone
Tomorrow is already here.

Wrongo has been writing this blog since March, 2010. Over the past eight years, he has explained how our political/social/economic systems operate, and why/how they can easily fail. And how we do not seem to have a rational, coherent plan to avoid that failure. Yet, each year we seem to inch closer to failure.

Are we doing anything more than Don Quixote was doing? Wrongo, by writing and you, by reading this blog? But Wrongo persists. He’s here, you are here, and once again, as in 1968, change is in the air.

Millions of people are on the move, leaving their ancestral homes, fleeing conflict and poverty. They are trying to find a place to survive, while others who were left behind are dying in the millions. With the increased efforts by migrants to survive, both Europe and the US are closing the gates, hoping to keep the immigrant mob on the outside. But at home, we already have achieved conflict, poverty and death that isn’t caused by immigrants. It is, to paraphrase Jimmy Buffet, “Our own damn fault”.

On Monday in our little corner of Connecticut, we will have a very New England form of direct democracy, a special town meeting. Those citizens who show up will get to vote on whether the Town issues bonds to finance the repair of our roads, which have suffered 20+ years of deferred maintenance. Maybe 100 people will show up, (out of 8,000 voters) maybe less. Those who do show up will decide if we fix our roads, or not. They will decide if lower taxes are better than safe roads.

So Wrongo and Ms. Right spent today stuffing envelopes into mailboxes. This vote is the culmination of a two-year effort to get our town to address how poor our roads have become. We will see if our efforts today help to break voters from their Golden Slumbers, and participate.

If they fail to show up, it will be their own damn fault if the vote goes against whatever their viewpoint is on the bonds.

Wrongo believes that political change is in the air, but that change locally and nationally depends primarily on voter turnout. Turnout depends on people being motivated enough to waddle on down to their polling place and vote, even if the weather is bad, the candidate isn’t perfect, and their one vote doesn’t seem to matter.

But today’s Saturday, and it’s time to settle back, relax, and get soothed. Or work on your taxes, if you have procrastinated. To help you relax, brew up a cup of Gedeb Lot 83 Ethiopia Natural coffee ($18.95/12oz) from JBC Coffee Roasters in Madison, WI. It has a sweetly tart structure with a rich umami undercurrent and satiny mouthfeel.

Now settle back in your favorite chair and listen to “Spring Waltz” supposedly by Frédéric Chopin.

However, it isn’t really called that, it isn’t a waltz, and it isn’t by Chopin. It is actually “Mariage d’Amour” composed by Paul de Senneville in 1987. It was wrongly titled and became wildly popular, so the various YouTube channels that feature it won’t correct its name. Still it is very beautiful, and of the season:

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

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Saturday Soother – March 31, 2018

The Daily Escape:

 

Zion National Park – 2001 photo by Wrongo

From Alastair Crooke:

At the beating heart of Trump’s Presidency lies the notion of the “Art of the Deal”.  It is said that Trump has few convictions, but his notion of how to negotiate – with a big stick, maximum leverage, and with credible, fear-inducing ‘threats’ –  is central to his whole Presidency.

Crooke continues:

This underlying notion of the ‘deal’ is transactional in essence, best practiced as a one-to-one operation, rather than in a multilateral context.  But in the sphere of geo-politics this is not so easy….in May… Trump will put his negotiating theory to the test in a very different ambit to that of New York real estate. The North Korean summit should be held; the verdict on the nuclear agreement with Iran is due to be pronounced then; the US Israeli-Palestinian determination is scheduled to be ‘handed down’ in May; the Sunni states’ Iran containment roles [are] to be set; and any punitive tariffs on China will be decided, and enacted.

May will be an important month for America. We could see success in all, some, or none of these negotiations.

Crooke posits that the Chinese, the North Koreans, the Iranians and the Russians all have read and understand the concepts behind the Art of the Deal. They also know that the US is not really in a position to make good on the bluff, and particularly, not in each negotiation, in each part of the globe.

And despite John Bolton’s best efforts to reinforce Trump’s desire to show America as the strongest, baddest version of LeRoy Brown, all of these competitors and would-be adversaries won’t necessarily blink if Trump threatens them.

There are other problems with Trump’s Art of the Deal strategy. He’s not the only one who knows how to play high-stakes poker:  Putin and Xi did not become the undisputed leaders of Russian and China without knowing a bit about strategy and risk-taking.

And the leaders on the other side of each of these Trump initiatives are being told by their own “hawks” that one option is to out-Trump Trump, and win.

This raises the question of a diplomatic “off-ramp”. When Trump warns North Korea that the alternative to accepting America’s demands is military action, what will Trump do if Kim Jong-Un just says “no”? Or, what if Kim answers “yes, but only if America withdraws its nuclear shield from the Korean Peninsula”, or insists that American forces leave northeast Asia altogether?

What does Trump do then?

Does he go to war? The Donald can go to the well too many times with the Art of the Deal strategy.

Over the past 17 years in the Middle East and elsewhere, America’s military might has been shown to have serious limitations, despite our substantial capabilities.

Will Trump be able to bluff his way through May? And if he can’t, then what?

Relax! The good news is that we have a couple of months to figure this out.

Sounds like we need to enjoy the spring, now that it’s finally arrived. Here, the fields of Wrong have finally given up their snow. The birds are returning, and our thoughts turn to a spring clean-up of the damage brought by winter.

So, let’s procrastinate a bit by brewing up a vente cup of Dragonfly Coffee Roasters Ninety Plus Gesha Estates Panama Limited Batch #238, made with the Jose Alfredo Process. ($165/8oz.) Dragonfly claims that the taste is astounding and original, including deeply arousing notes of caramelized green apple surrounding lavish fruit notes that delicately transition the finish into rich cocoa.

Who writes this stuff?

Now, settle back and contemplate the arrival of spring by watching and listening to a video of a Bobolink, by the great Lang Elliott. The Bobolink is a member of the Blackbird family:

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

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Saturday Soother – March 17, 2018

The Daily Escape:

Mt Kilimanjaro – March 2018 photo by Peter Madonia

The #enough movement is about school kids protesting school violence. America watched this week as thousands of high school kids left their classrooms. Some wanted their government to do more to end gun violence, some simply wanted to show solidarity with 17 dead Florida kids.

These children may not be able to vote yet, but they’re learning how to make themselves heard. Let’s hope they grow up and vote, because we are living in a country where many, including most Republicans in Congress, think that universal health care is tyranny, but dead school children are part of the cost of freedom.

They think that access to medical treatment is a privilege you earn based on what’s in your wallet. Meanwhile, they defend the right of virtually anyone over 18 to own an AR-15.

And in New Milford, here in Litchfield County CT, there was a big dust-up over the town’s walk out. A group of parents hired an attorney to tell the school district that they were not happy that the kids got to participate in the national student walkout. Their lawyer wrote to the school district, saying:

My clients have asked me to notify you that this event violates state law, on the basis that state and local public funds are being used improperly to advocate for a political issue and to influence how voters will vote. Because it violates state law, we demand that the New Milford Public School District’s Superintendent and Board of Education immediately cancel the event, and rescind any association or prior involvement in it.

Since the event is over, it’s doubtful that it can be canceled. They also emailed Breitbart: (editing and brackets by Wrongo)

…the parents – who wish to remain anonymous – argue [that] the decision involves issues concerning adherence to law and policy, the manipulation of minors, the misuse of tax dollars, and indoctrination and political activism during school hours.

These parents think their kids are being manipulated. They surely must realize how difficult it is to manipulate one teenager, much less to simultaneously manipulate hundreds of thousands of them all across America.

George Soros just isn’t that powerful.

The #enough movement is somewhat reminiscent of the Vietnam-era marches, which included high school and college kids spontaneously standing in public places protesting something that was a legitimate threat to their physical safety. The primary concern of students back then was being killed.

It is also the primary concern of these kids today.

Back in New Milford, solidly Trump country, a few anonymous parents obviously want to micromanage their kids’ experiences and to politicize them. Here is a Facebook page quote by a student at NM High School:

Any student who wanted to go to the gym did, and those who chose not to participate were not forced to. A few students gave speeches, one of which contained a list of the names of the victims of the Parkland shooting. With each name a bell was rung and a moment of silence was given. A memorial for the innocent lives that were lost. The other speeches focused on being positive and spreading kindness; one given from a student who used to live in Parkland and who was very personally affected by this tragedy. Students and teachers alike listened and felt for the losses. It was a powerful and beautiful movement for all who watched. There was NO mention of guns in any way.

These kids didn’t leave the building! But, despite knowing this, these anonymous parents hired a lawyer to intimidate the school district, and politicize the intentions of high school kids. The parents then involved Breitbart, a right wing rag. They wanted to highjack the message of these kids, turning it into yet another right wing, Second Amendment moment.

As Paul Simon said: “A man hears what he wants to hear, and disregards the rest”.

This really makes Wrongo feel like we all need a soothing experience. To help with that, Wrongo suggests brewing a cup of Al-Durrar Single Farmer Lot coffee from Yemen, ($45/4 oz.) imported and roasted by Port of Mokha coffee. Wrongo heard about this on the PBS News Hour. It is a very interesting story.

Now, take your cup, and settle into your most comfortable chair to listen to “Sicilian Blue” by Hiromi Uehara, a Japanese jazz composer and pianist. Her work is a perfect blend of emotion and control. Here, she is performing live at the Jazz in Marciac (France) Festival in August, 2010:

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

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