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The Wrongologist

Geopolitics, Power and Political Economy

Saturday Soother – January 25, 2020

The Daily Escape:

The Subway, Zion NP, UT – 2019 photo by DarthButane. This is a nine-mile round trip hike.

When it comes to the impeachment trial, nothing that’s said really matters, if you are hoping for a fair review of guilty, vs. not guilty.

Let’s spend a moment reviewing Adam Schiff’s closing remarks on Thursday night. He was off the charts brilliant:

“The American people deserve a president they can count on to put their interests first, to put their interest first. Colonel Vindman said, here, right matters. Here, right matters.

Well, let me tell you something. If right doesn’t matter, if right doesn’t matter, it doesn’t matter how good the constitution is. It doesn’t matter how brilliant the framers were. It doesn’t matter how good or bad our advocacy in this trial is. It doesn’t matter how well-written the oath of impartiality is. If right doesn’t matter, we’re lost. If truth doesn’t matter, we’re lost. The framers couldn’t protect us from ourselves, if right and truth don’t matter. And you know that what he did was not right. “

Schiff concluded with: (emphasis by Wrongo)

“But here, right is supposed to matter. It’s what’s made us the greatest nation on earth. No constitution can protect us if right doesn’t matter anymore. And you know you can’t trust this president to do what’s right for this country. You can trust he will do what’s right for Donald Trump. He’ll do it now. He’s done it before. He’ll do it for the next several months. He’ll do it in the election if he’s allowed to.

This is why, if you find him guilty, you must find that he should be removed. Because right matters. Because right matters. And the truth matters. Otherwise we are lost.

He didn’t read this, he spoke from the heart. He wasn’t histrionic, or angry. However, he did deliver a sharp condemnation of Trump. He all but said “If Trump walks, and is re-elected, this country is finished.”

That fell flat with some Republicans:

Republicans have really thin skins when it comes to attacks on the guy who tweets insults for a living.

Schiff didn’t pretend that witnesses are a real possibility.  He didn’t pretend Democrats are going to get documents. He didn’t pretend that GOP Senators will do the right thing.

He made it clear to the real jury, America’s voters, what’s at stake, and exactly who is shirking their duties. He’s shown us that Republicans no longer even pretend to give a flying f__k about democracy, honesty, or the Constitution.

Was it a tough week for you? Jim Lehrer died. The long-time anchor of the PBS NewsHour was possibly the last of his kind. Wrongo often watched Lehrer’s careful, considered journalism on PBS, along with his moderation of presidential debates. He was never one of those in the news media who thrive on gotcha questions and confrontations.

Time to let it all go for a few minutes. Iit’s time for our Saturday Soother. Here, the fields of Wrong still have snow on the ground, although it is now crisscrossed by the tracks of all sorts of animals. We’re in for a rainy weekend, so let’s start by brewing up a mug of coffee that is recommended by Wrongo’s daughter, Merrill. It’s Colombia Santa Rita coffee ($16/12 oz.) with its notes of caramel, toasted almond, and powdered cocoa, from Rainier Coffee.

Now settle back near a fire, and listen to a piece of cello music from Henry Eccles, a violinist from Great Britain who was born in 1670. We will listen to the Largo section of his “Sonata for Violoncello in G minor”, played by Maxim Kozlov, who calls himself “Cellopedia”:

Wrongo and Ms. Right heard this played on New Year’s Day by Sam Magill, cellist with the NY Metropolitan Opera Orchestra. He hasn’t recorded it professionally, but you will love this sad, emotional performance by Kozlov.

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

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Saturday Soother – January 18, 2020

The Daily Escape:

Polar Bear, Churchill, Manitoba CN – October 2019 photo by Colin Hessel

For a lot of people, this will be a long weekend with the federal holiday for Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. on Monday (his actual birth date was Wednesday, the 15th).

Thousands of pro-gun fanatics are expected to march at the Virginia state capital on MLK Day. Prior to VA governor Northam’s declaration of a state of emergency, those pro-gun lobbyists were expected to brandish weapons and look as menacing as possible to lawmakers who want to reform the state’s gun laws. Now, the state of emergency means the state capitol grounds at least, should be gun-free.

Naturally, the choice of MLK Day for a pro-gun march wasn’t a coincidence.

MLK Day was carefully chosen for the rally, since many of the people hyping it are white nationalists. The Virginia Citizen Defense League says its motives for choosing MLK Day for its annual pro-gun rally are innocent. They say the date was picked because it’s a federal holiday, which allows more gun owners to be able to come.

But King was assassinated in 1968 by a gun-wielding right-winger, so it’s difficult to imagine there’s no ulterior purpose in using the same day for gun-wielding right-wingers to celebrate themselves.

Maybe they think it ought to be James Earl Ray day.

On top of that, Tuesday brings “All Impeachment, All the Time”, so we won’t get much of a break from the Lev Parnas show this week.

Charlie Pierce talks about how low and grubby high crimes can be: (emphasis by Wrongo)

“The proper historical analogue to this event is not the impeachment of Bill Clinton, but the impeachment of Andrew Johnson. The Clinton impeachment was the isolated case of one man’s clumsy foibles within the confines of the civil and criminal justice systems. No other constitutional principle was under discussion. No constitutional institution was at risk. The balance of powers was not in danger of coming unraveled unless Clinton had been removed from office for such relatively flimsy charges, political accelerants aside.

Andrew Johnson disobeyed an act passed by Congress specifically to rein in his powers. This was a full-speed collision between Article I and Article II powers. That’s what the impeachment of this president* is, too. If anything, the actions addressed by this impeachment are even cruder than Johnson’s were, and Johnson was drunk a lot of the time. The current impeachment is shot through with actions that remind you how closely cupidity and stupidity rhyme. When the House managers walked the articles across the Capitol, the Founders walked with them, although many of them were probably astonished at how low and grubby high crimes can be.”

We’ll see what the next week brings in both Richmond, and in the Senate. Keep your powder dry.

It’s pretty cold here in New England, and we expect substantial snow on Saturday afternoon. So, now’s the time to make sure we take a break from another trying week, and spend a few moments in peace before the snow storm. IOW, it’s time for another Saturday Soother!

Let’s start by brewing up a mug of organic Conscientious Objector Coffee, created for those who follow their conscience ($17/12 oz.). It comes from Oakland, CA’s Highwire Coffee, who says it has sweet creaminess and fruitiness upfront, with a cocoa finish. Yum!

Now settle back in a comfy chair by a window and listen to André Rieu and his Johann Strauss Orchestra play “The Beautiful Blue Danube” by Johann Strauss II. It was recorded live at the Schönbrunn Palace in Vienna. If you watch, you will see marvelous dancing by members of the famous Austrian Elmayer Dancing School, the orchestra having fun, and the audience enjoying a bit of schmaltz:

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

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Saturday Soother – “Where’s the Impeachment?” Edition

The Daily Escape:

Mt. Shuksan, North Cascades NP, WA – 2018 photo by sluu99

As Atrios says:

“You go to impeachment with the Mitch McConnell you have, not the one you want.”

We need to remember the history of how Democrats created the Mitch we have. To do that, we must go back to November 21, 2013. Here’s the WaPo from that day: (emphasis by Wrongo)

“Senate Democrats took the dramatic step Thursday of eliminating filibusters for most nominations by presidents, a power play they said was necessary to fix a broken system but one that Republicans said will only rupture it further.

Democrats used a rare parliamentary move to change the rules so that federal judicial nominees and executive-office appointments can advance to confirmation votes by a simple majority of senators, rather than the 60-vote supermajority that has been the standard for nearly four decades.

The immediate rationale for the move was to allow the confirmation of three picks by President Obama to the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit — the most recent examples of what Democrats have long considered unreasonably partisan obstruction by Republicans.”

Back then, the main combatants were Harry Reid (D-NV) the Majority Leader, and Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY). The vote for the “nuclear option” was 52 to 48, with all but three Democrats backing the move, and every Republican opposing it. After the vote, Obama said that Republicans had turned nomination fights into a “reckless and relentless tool” to grind the gears of government to a halt and noted that “neither party has been blameless for these tactics.” But, he said, “today’s pattern of obstruction…just isn’t normal; it’s not what our founders envisioned.”

Fast forward to 2019. The Senate is split 53-47 now, with the Republicans in charge. Mitch has used Harry Reid’s rule change to appoint two Supreme Court justices, 50 appeals court judges, and 120 district court judges in less than three years.

Today, 20% of judges on all of the federal courts, and 25% on the appeals courts are Trump appointees. On the same day that Trump was impeached, the Senate confirmed 13 new district court judges.

Suddenly, Democrats are waking up to the reality that Trump’s judges will shape American law with a conservative bias for 30-40 years to come.

We can blame Harry Reid and Barack Obama for not thinking ahead.

You ought to be thinking ahead to the weekend, and all of the little things that you need to do so that Santa can do his job next week. It’s at least as challenging a task as locating the missing Trump Impeachment.

Before you shift into drive and start on that big to-do list, it’s time for a Saturday Soother, a brief few moments when you relax, and try to center yourself in the calm before the storm.

Start by brewing up a mug of Coffee and Chicory coffee ($6.70/15oz.) from New Orleans’ own Café Du Monde. Now sit back in a comfy chair and watch and listen to a Holiday Season flash mob by the US Air Force Band at the National Air and Space Museum in 2013:

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

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Saturday Soother – December 14, 2019

The Daily Escape:

Lover’s Leap, New Milford CT after this week’s snow – December 2019 drone photo by Quadco Joe

The House Judiciary Committee voted to send two articles of impeachment against Donald Trump to the full House. The vote took just two minutes, and as Wrongo said yesterday, it will be portrayed as the party line vote it was, with 23 Democrats in favor, and 17 Republicans against.

It was a tribute to the political polarization in today’s America, with striking diversity on the Democrats’ side, as well as lack of diversity on the Republicans’ side. From Marcy Wheeler:

“The Democrats who voted in favor included 11 women, and 13 Latinx and people of color (Ted Lieu missed the vote recovering from a heart procedure). Three (plus Lieu) are immigrants. One is gay. These Democrats voted to uphold the Constitution a bunch of white men, several of them owners of African-American slaves, wrote hundreds of years ago.”

All the Republicans who voted against were white, and just two were women. They voted to permit a racist white male President to cheat in order to get reelected, in violation of the rule of law.

This is a clash between the America that is coming, and its past. It’s unclear who will win this battle, but the stakes are high, and will become even higher in 2020.

Wrongo believes that rushing to an impeachment finding was a strategic error by Democrats. This should have been moved along slowly. House Democrats needed to go through discovery on all the obstruction of justice, Constitutional emoluments and separation of powers violations, campaign finance violations, and bribery violations. They should have taken the time to use their Article I power to get the oversight disclosure and testimony they have been denied by the Trump White House.

But, no. The House Democrats didn’t do any of that. Instead, they focused on one phone call when there was little reason to rush, and plenty to be gained by keeping Trump on the defensive for the next year.

A deeper dive into the issues could have made an Impeachment Resolution with a more effective result. It wouldn’t have changed the outcome of the vote in a Senate trial. But it would have provided continuing education to the public, along with fuel for effective articles and ads about Trump’s lawlessness.

With the weekend upon us, it’s time to contemplate all that must get done between here and New Year’s. Wrongo’s list is too long, but somehow, he hopes everything is done by then. However, let’s start by kicking back and forgetting about the list, the Impeachment and budget deal. Let’s clear our minds, and have another Saturday Soother.

Start by brewing up a large cup of Mexico Chiapas Dark Roast ($13/12oz.) with its notes of dark chocolate, hints of molasses and brown sugar. It’s from Sacred Grounds Coffee in Sherman CT, who we’ve featured here once before.

Now, listen to Nocturne “Reverie Op. 19” by Giulio Regondi. Regondi was a Swiss-born classical guitarist, and composer active in France and (mainly) the UK. It is played by Drew Henderson:

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

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Saturday Soother – December 7, 2019

The Daily Escape:

Crater Lake, OR on Thanksgiving, 2019 – photo by hglwvac9. This is the fourth time we’ve featured Crater Lake.

An issue that gets no traction in the US media is what should be done with ISIS fighters who have been captured in the fighting in Syria and Iraq. In November, a federal judge ruled that a New Jersey-born woman who joined the Islamic State five years ago, was no longer an American citizen, and would be denied re-entry into the US. She had burned her US passport in 2014, and declared herself to be a part of the caliphate. She used social media to encourage others to join. She then married an Australian-born ISIS fighter who was killed in 2015, and then married a Tunisian-born fighter who was also killed.

GZero has an article by Willis Sparks that reviews the pros and cons of allowing ISIS members to return to their home country. They come from more than 100 countries, many thousands are held by Turkey, while there are more than 10,000 women and children (mostly family members of ISIS fighters) still living in camps inside Syria.

Turkey says it intends to send most home. Syria won’t keep them either. This creates a policy dilemma: Should these terrorists and/or their families be allowed to return to their native countries? Or should countries refuse to allow them back? Sparks offers the arguments on both sides. First, arguments to bring them home:

  • Repatriated fighters and their families should stand trial as terrorists at home. That’s better than allowing them to remain at large.
  • Some of the women were coerced to join the fight. Yes, many who claim to be victims may be lying, but it’s better to allow a guilty person to return home to stand trial than to leave an innocent person to a potentially terrible fate they don’t deserve.
  • Thousands of children were born into ISIS fighter families in Syria. They’re guilty of nothing. Many are sick and/or at risk of death inside refugee camps, where they can also be radicalized.
  • Governments must abide by their own laws. Many of the fighters and family members are still citizens of the countries they left, and therefore have the rights of citizens. In many countries, like the US, the children of citizens are also citizens, even if they were born elsewhere.

Arguments to reject them:

  • A citizen who declares war on his or her own government and carries out or enables the murder of innocent people should forfeit some rights — especially the right of citizenship.
  • While some of them may have been tricked or coerced to go to war, how are courts expected to separate fact from fiction so far from the battlefield?
  • It is not the responsibility of governments to rescue people from their bad decisions.
  • Government’s responsibility is to protect all its citizens, not just those who chose terrorism. The greater good argues for protecting all against the few.

The debate will become more important in the near future, because the detention of thousands of people in camps in countries that don’t want them can’t be sustained.

Wrongo’s view is that it isn’t our government’s responsibility to rescue people from their bad decisions, but is it right to abandon them? We have a few ethicists and religious among our readers. Hopefully they will weigh in.

But enough! Xmas is just around the corner, and there is work to be done, menus to dream up and for the non-Scrooges among us, presents to buy. We need to turn our attention away from impeachment and Bidenpartisanship to preparation for the onslaught. First, let’s take a few minutes for ourselves in our weekly Saturday Soother. Start by brewing up a fine cup of Panama Esmeralda Geisha Portón Oro Yeast ($69.95/60z. Sure, it’s expensive, treat yourself for the Holidays!) It’s from Klatch Coffee of Los Angeles, CA.

Now settle back in a comfy chair, and listen to the wonderful Anna Netrebko sing “Solveig’s Song” from Grieg’s Peer Gynt Suite No.2 accompanied in 2008 by the Prague Philharmonia conducted by Emmanuel Villaume:

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

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Saturday Soother – November 16, 2019

The Daily Escape:

Nevada falls above and to the right of Half Dome, and Vernal falls just below it. Yosemite NP – August 2019 photo by crosbic23

(Wrongo and Ms. Right are heading out for a family weekend, so Sunday cartoons will appear on Monday)

Wrongo is ambivalent about the impeachment play by Democrats. It could result in nothing, and if it does, that could hurt either the Democrats or, the Republicans.

Anyone who thinks that they know how this will end, really isn’t telling the truth. We’ve had two days of testimony, and while there are thousands of pundits willing to tell you what it all means, and whether it will make any difference, Wrongo assures you that it’s far too early to know.

The Democrats’ case is a slow build, meaning that its impact won’t be felt after a day or two of testimony. It’s more of a long march, maybe like MLK Jr’s march to Birmingham. It’s intended to make the majority of Americans aware of the wrongdoing, and then get them to join in a march to the doors of the Senate, where they will insist on a guilty verdict.

Or, it may not happen that way.

Next week, the Intelligence Committee will hear again from EU Ambassador Sondland. He might admit that yes, there was another phone call in which Trump pressed him to get “the deliverables” in exchange for the military aid. That would be a John Dean moment.

It would destroy Trump’s defenses, along with those of Republicans Rep. Nunes and Rep. Jordan. It would leave them saying only: “that’s very bad, but not impeachable”. Many Republicans are saying that already.

The question is whether the ambassador is a truthful person. We should expect that he will try to say that he “misunderstood” Trump’s “perfect” instructions, and that Trump himself NEVER linked the aid to the deliverables. He might say that he, Sondland, was guilty of erroneously conditioning the aid.

It will then be up to the Democrats’ staff attorneys to demonstrate that this is completely implausible, particularly given the deposition by David Holmes, a junior staffer who listened to Sondland’s unsecure cell phone call to Trump from a restaurant in Kyiv.

Let’s hope the Dem’s lawyers are prepared, because Sondland needs to offer some bogus explanation, or Trump will be in the first real trouble of his Mueller/Ukraine year of living dangerously.

It’s not hard to know who to root for here, but the outcome is far from certain.

That’s plenty to think about over the weekend, so it’s time for a Saturday Soother, a short break from the news overload that hit everyone’s inbox this week. Let’s start by brewing up a vente cup of Guatemala Finca Columbian coffee ($20/340 grams) that comes from Santa Barbara’s Handlebar Coffee roasters. They are owned by a couple who are former professional cyclists, and who discovered Santa Barbara while riding in the California Amgen Tour. They moved there in 2008.

The musical selection today may not be to everyone’s taste. Here is “Life During Wartime” by the Talking Heads, recorded live in 1983:

Wrongo presents it because it captures the moment we’re in with these lyrics:

This ain’t no party, this ain’t no disco, this ain’t no foolin’ around”

No time for dancing, or lovey dovey,

I ain’t got time for that now…

This is America in the year of impeachment, just before the year of elections.

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

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Saturday Soother – November 9, 2019

The Daily Escape:

Arashiyama Bamboo Forest, Kyoto, Japan — hat tip to blog reader Ottho H. for finding this photo.

The first flakes of snow fell on the fields of Wrong on Friday. Temps were around 24° at daybreak, with winds of 20+ mph, so it felt like winter. We’ve emptied the fountain that birds have used since the spring as a source for drinking water. Other than cleaning leaves out of our gutters, which won’t happen until most of the Oak leaves are down, we’re buttoned up for winter.

What’s not buttoned up is the 2020 Democratic presidential nomination. Michael Bloomberg has finally jumped in. The story is that originally he believed Biden would win, so he stayed out. But, most of us believed despite the polls, that Biden had no chance. First, because he is certain to blow himself up as he has in the past. Second, the smell around his son Hunter’s role in Ukraine makes it difficult for Dad Joe to stake out a winning moral position opposed to Trump and his kids.

Back to Bloomberg, as the NYT’s David Leonhardt says:

“I’ll be surprised if Michael Bloomberg wins the Democratic nomination. We are living in a political era characterized by economic dissatisfaction and populism, and a 77-year-old Wall Street billionaire doesn’t look like an obvious nominee for a left-of-center party during such a time.”

It’s difficult to know how this shakes out. First, is Bloomberg serious this time? He’s been down the road this far at least twice before. Second, if he’s in, who gets hurt?

Does Bloomberg hurt the moderates Biden and Buttigieg, while simultaneously helping Sanders and Warren? Is that his plan? Or is Bloomberg underestimating Biden? He can’t hope to dent Biden’s strength with non-whites, so what’s his path to the nomination? Lots of questions.

Finally, in a follow-up to yesterday’s column about Elizabeth Warren’s Medicare for All plan (M4A), here’s a Cook Political/Kaiser Family Foundation opinion poll about M4A in the key Midwestern battleground states:

It doesn’t seem that Warren’s plan can be a winner in the Midwest.

We’ve had enough of politics and political problems for this week. It’s time to build a fire and have a Saturday Soother. Let’s start by brewing a mug of Bengal Spice Tea from Celestial Seasonings. Wrongo prefers his with a side of single malt. Now, sit by the fire and contemplate where all of your winter jackets and gloves are hiding.

Next, watch the embedded video by the Apartment Sessions, a Brooklyn NY-based multimedia artist collective that produces monthly videos with a rotating ensemble of NYC/New England-based professional musicians. This performance was recorded for Halloween on a moving “J” train in the NYC subway. They perform Stevie Wonder’s “Sir Duke”, with Ben Levin on the Telecaster. Wrongo knows that few people click through to watch the video, but today’s is a must watch.

It’s the most fun any of us are likely to have in the NYC subway:

Stand clear of the closing doors please.

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

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Saturday Soother – October 12, 2019

The Daily Escape:

Crawford Notch, White Mountains NP, NH – October 2019 photo by mattmacphersonphoto

Wrongo wants to get away from US politics. Lately, it’s nearly impossible to judge what is real, and what’s not. A few things to consider:

First, regarding Turkey’s move into Syria: At the UN on Thursday, a resolution was offered in the Security Council condemning Turkey’s invasion of northern Syria. The resolution’s principal sponsor was the EU. But, the resolution was blocked by the US and Russia. Think about it: America just joined with Russia to veto a UN resolution that would have condemned the slaughter of the Kurds who helped the West defeat ISIS in Syria.

How often do you think that the US and Russia have been on the same side in UN vetoes?

Second, on Friday night, Trump went to Minneapolis to another of his campaign rallies. He spoke for 102 minutes. Among other things, he repeated a debunked right–wing blogger’s claim that Rep. Ilhan Omar married her brother to enter the US. Trump then widened his attack to target Somali refugees in Minnesota:

“As you know, for many years, leaders in Washington brought large numbers of refugees to your state from Somalia without considering the impact on schools and communities and taxpayers….You should be able to decide what is best for your own cities and for your own neighborhoods, and that’s what you have the right to do right now, and believe me, no other president would be doing that.”

In September, the Trump administration issued an executive order giving state and local governments more freedom to reject refugees.

Trump removed any doubt, that this is going to be the worst, most racist presidential campaign we’ve ever seen. Is America ready for this?

Trump went on to say that Joe Biden only got to be vice president because he knew how to “kiss Barack Obama’s ass.” Don’t you wonder if Mike Pence feels the heat from Biden? This causes Wrongo to ask the question: “What’s the difference between an ass-kisser and a brown noser?”

Answer: “Depth perception”.

Third, the Ukraine story has many more levels than we have imagined. We learned on Wednesday that two of Rudy Giuliani’s “associates” were arrested for funneling foreign money to Republican politicians. It seems that both had also been helping Giuliani investigate Joe Biden. Despite the Trump administration’s contention that the two “associates”had nothing to do with the White House, the WaPo reported: (brackets by Wrongo)

“John Dowd, a lawyer for [both men and former Trump lawyer] told Congress in a statement earlier this week that they had been assisting Giuliani in his work on behalf of the president. The two also claimed in interviews and social media posts to have attended an eight-person session with Trump in Washington in May 2018 to discuss the upcoming midterm elections.”

According to the indictment, they funneled money from an unnamed Russian businessman to various US political candidates.

Is everything we are hearing about Ukraine connected? Giuliani’s fingers seem to be all over the US/Ukraine relationship. Think Paul Manafort. We know that Rudy Giuliani was consulting with Manafort as he pursued his schemes. And Manafort’s lawyer Kevin Downing, who was coordinating with Rudy, represented the two “associates” in their court appearance yesterday.

It’s beginning to look like we’re headed for a Constitutional crisis.

Anyway, it’s the weekend, and we’ve got to rest and recuperate so that we can face whatever Trump has in store for us next week. It’s time for a Saturday Soother.

Let’s start by brewing up a mug of Sumatra single source coffee ($9.99/12 oz.) from Topsham, Maine’s coffee roaster Wicked Joe. The roaster says its full bodied and earthy, with notes of dense chocolate and spices.

Now, settle into a comfy chair and listen to “A Small Measure Of Peace” from the soundtrack from the 2003 film, The Last Samurai, composed by Hans Zimmer:

The film closes with: “As for the American Captain, no one knows what became of him. Some say that he died of his wounds. Others that he returned to his own country. But I like to think he may have at last found some small measure of peace, that we all seek, and few of us ever find… “

A small measure of peace is Wrongo’s wish for all of us.

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

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Saturday Soother – October 5, 2019

The Daily Escape:

Fall colors, Adirondacks, NY – October, 2019 photo by nikhilnagane

You can be forgiven for not focusing this week on the UAW’s strike against GM, which is now in its 19th day. Shares of GM have plunged by double digits since the strike began, mostly because the automobile sector has reported weak sales figures. Wolf Richter reports that:

“New-vehicle deliveries in the US…were…flat, at 4.32 million vehicles in the third quarter. For the nine months, deliveries were down 1.6%. This puts new vehicle sales on track for about 17 million…in 2019, the worst level since 2014, and below 2000….”

So, automobile unit sales are at the same level that they were 20 years ago in 1999-2000. With the strike, GM vehicle production has ceased at nearly all of its North American plants. This hasn’t really hurt GM yet, because they had around 90 days’ sales worth of vehicles in inventory as the strike started. They typically have more like 60 days on hand. So shutting the plants helps work down their inventory bulge.

Back to the strike: Julianne Malveaux reports in the WaPo about how GM betrayed the UAW after the union made sacrifices when GM nearly folded in 2008:  

“General Motors was on its knees in 2008. Amid a global financial crisis, the company was so financially challenged that it had no choice but to accept a federal government bailout. In 2009, the United Auto Workers joined the feds in saving GM, making concessions on wages and benefits to rescue the beleaguered company.”

The partnership paid off for GM. The company has earned $35 billion in profits in the last three years, partly as a result of the concessions the workers made over a decade ago.

But, does GM owe the UAW anything in return? The protracted strike shows that GM feels it doesn’t owe them much. Darrell Kennedy, a UAW striking worker said in a video:

“We gave up a cost-of-living increase, a dollar-an-hour wage increase we were due, tuition assistance and more…”

The union wants to include non-union workers who are part of GM’s three-tiered wage system. Those hired before 2007 (the union members) are Tier One workers who earn roughly $31 per hour, plus guaranteed pensions. Those hired after 2007 are Tier Two workers, earning about $17 an hour and have the opportunity for 401 (k) participation. The third tier are temporary workers who earn less than Tier Two workers and have no benefits.

The union wants better pay for Tier Two workers, and a path to job security for Tier Three employees. But since GM plans to move toward electric vehicles which use less labor that gas-powered cars, they are uninterested in commitments that reduce their flexibility in the future.

In business, Wrongo learned the hard way that making concessions, and expecting it to create good will that helps a future negotiating position, is usually a bad idea.

But, in this case, it’s difficult to work up enthusiasm for either side.

For example, GM spent $10.6 billion since 2015 buying back its own shares, some of which went to the UAW, who originally owned about 17.5% of GM after the bailout. The UAW has now sold over half its GM stock. Since the 1960s, GM has consistently demonstrated poor management. Their share of the automobile market has decreased from about 50% to about 17%. If it wasn’t for the government bailout, GM wouldn’t be here.

The UAW is rightly trying to grow its membership by advocating for GM’s Tier Two and Three employees. OTOH, in 2009, the union didn’t agree to cooperate with GM out of any sense of benevolence. They were saving their jobs. Finally, since the bailout, GM’s UAW workers have a profit-sharing deal. In 2018, the 46,500 UAW hourly employees earned up to $10,750 each.

Wrongo is very pro-labor, and often pro-union. In this case, it’s difficult to get behind the UAW’s strike.

Time to move past which State Dept. official in the Ukraine texted what about the Bidens, or how much more blatant Trump’s overtures to foreign governments will get. Let’s enjoy a Saturday Soother!

Start by thinking about the leaves piling up outside. Friday night brought frost to Mansion of Wrong, so our fall clean-up is in full swing. If it’s warmer where you live, enjoy the last of the warm weather.

No coffee today, get outside and do something physical. But before you go out, let’s remember the great Jessye Norman who died last Monday. She was a gifted singer with one of the greatest and most beautiful voices ever. She had all the qualities to make a performance both convincing, and memorable. Here she is singing “Ave Maria” by Schubert:

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

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Saturday Soother – September 21, 2019

The Daily Escape:

Badlands Storm, South Dakota – September 2019 photo by Bill Frazier

It’s officially the end of summer. We now move towards shorter days, sweater weather, and at least in the Northeast, raking leaves. But, in politics, few things change with the seasons.

Consider this factoid from Bloomberg about what the Trump administration has done to support farmers hurt by his China trade war:

“At $28 billion so far, the farm rescue is more than twice as expensive as the 2009 bailout of Detroit’s Big Three automakers, which cost taxpayers $12 billion.”

Remember the auto bailout? Republicans were largely against it. The government shouldn’t pick winners and losers, let Mr. Market do it. While the auto industry was bleeding jobs, the bailout saved GM and Chrysler. It also helped restore jobs. Marketplace reports that in the Great Recession, auto-manufacturing lost 334,000 jobs, and membership in the United Autoworkers Union (UAW) fell by 150,000.

Since then, as vehicle sales rebounded, those job losses were gradually reversed. In July 2016, US auto-manufacturing employment surpassed its December 2007 pre-recession level of 957,000 jobs. The UAW however, remains more than 50,000 members short of its pre-recession high.

Back to the farmers. Because of the tariff war with China, farmers will receive $19.5 billion in direct government bailout money in 2019, the most since 2005. That doesn’t include an extra $10.5 billion in federally subsidized crop insurance payments, the main vehicle of the farm subsidy program.

This is a move to protect Trump’s political advantage with his Midwest base for the coming election in 2020. But, who is benefiting? It’s mostly the corporate farms, and the largest individually-owned farms. From Modern Farmer:

“The idea is fairly clear: the larger a farm is, the more it has to lose, and thus the more money it takes to make whole.”

The Environmental Working Group (EWG) analyzed USDA data and found that 82 farmers collected over $500,000 each in 2018-2019. In comparison, the EWG found that the bottom 80% of farmers received less than $5,000 each.

This latest tranche of government money comes after the USDA changed the rules regarding who qualified. Previously, each farmer applying for assistance had to have an average adjusted gross income of less than $900,000 per year. Now, there’s no limit on the size of an applicant’s income, as long as 75% “is derived from farming, ranching, or forestry related activities.”

That opens the trough to the biggest corporate farms, to super-rich investors, and the biggest family farms. Not surprisingly, since the Trump administration’s efforts are aimed at protecting those who are among his large donors, rather than the most vulnerable farmers, there are no cries that this is “socialism” by the GOP.

Apparently, this is capitalism at its best, but what we did to save the auto industry was socialism.

On to our Saturday Soother, that interlude in the week when we try to forget what Trump may have promised to a foreign leader, or what Cory Lewandowsky did to Jerry Nadler. We focus instead on what excuses we can use to avoid the coming fall clean-up. Here, on the fields of Wrong, we are taking in our bluebird houses, the fledglings left a week ago. A few hummingbirds are still around, but will certainly be gone next week. The apple trees have lost most of their leaves, and the deer are eating the fruit that falls to the ground. We’re trying to wait until early October to turn the heat on, but the last two nights have been in the high-30s.

Let’s warm up today by brewing up a hot, steaming cup of Ethiopia Sidamo Gora Kone ($19/12 oz.) from Sacramento, CA’s Temple Coffee Roasters. The roaster says it has a sweet-savory structure with a crisp, lightly satiny mouthfeel. You be the judge.

Now settle back and listen to a musical selection for the change of season. Here is “Autumn” a petit adagio from Alexander Glazunov’s “The Seasons”. The music was written as an allegorical ballet, but we’re going to listen to a symphonic treatment. It was composed in 1899, and first performed as a ballet by the Imperial Ballet in 1900 in St. Petersburg, Russia. Here, it is played by the Czech Radio Symphony Orchestra of Bratislava conducted by Ondrej Lenard:

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

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