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The Wrongologist

Geopolitics, Power and Political Economy

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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Saturday Soother – September 14, 2019

The Daily Escape:

Denali NP, Alaska – 2019 photo by Alaskaty

Wrongo and Ms. Right watched the Democratic debate on Thursday night. Winning a debate comes down to connecting with voters, seeing who is the most likeable, the most sincere, who had the best delivery. Oh, and a few good ideas.

Wrongo thought the winners were Warren and Booker. The losers were Harris and Castro, for totally different reasons. Harris’s tactic was to attack Trump, while avoiding direct answers to direct questions. She has not lived up to the promise she showed in the first debate. Castro attacked Biden successfully, but it becomes more and more difficult to see him as a top-tier candidate.

Klobachar and Yang didn’t hurt themselves, but gained no ground. Biden, Bernie, Buttigieg and Beto had moments, but didn’t truly differentiate themselves from the pack. Bernie’s voice failed him, and his hoarseness gave him a difficult time connecting. As the debate wore on, he became a caricature of himself.

Biden got off to a strong start, but around the 2-hour mark, he became barely intelligible. His biggest applause line of the night was when he praised O’Rourke’s response to the El Paso shooting. He shouldn’t think that big applause for Beto was a good sign for Biden. Beto had a good night, mostly because he just said out loud about AR-15s what a whole lot of people believe on this issue.

There is a major problem with allowing TV network news types to conduct these debates. And who needed to hear a third hour where the media tried to dissect the health insurance policy differences between the ten Democrats?  Generally, their positions fall into either expanding Obamacare, or moving quickly to implementing Medicare for All.

Yes, some policy positions are different and consequential, but why did George Stephanopoulos try to gotcha Bernie and Warren about whether taxes would go up if MFA was initiated? Everyone knows that taxes would go up, while annual family health insurance costs would go away.

Amanda Marcotte, on twitter:

Maybe it’s simple: These Spinnerati work for the media, and the media is part of corporate America. Their charge is to bend things so that the choice you’re presented with isn’t a choice at all.

And, in three hours, the moderators asked no questions about the economy. They didn’t manage talk time well; Sanders was shorted. Here’s a breakdown of the candidates’ shares of talk time:

Looking ahead, Wrongo thinks the class of this field is Elizabeth Warren, and here’s why: Harvard professor Marshall Ganz teaches what he calls “the art of public narrative”. According to Ganz, successful and persuasive public narrative is the ability to tell, and to link together, “the story of self, the story of us, and the story of now”.

That seems to be a major part of Warren’s success to date. She’s done a good job creating a public narrative that connects with Democratic primary voters. She has leaned into her Oklahoma “ragged edge of the middle class” childhood, and her struggles as a young adult. She weaves that into a story of who we are as Americans, and she talks about the challenges we face today and how she (and we) can address them.

Her closest current challengers (Bernie and Biden) have noticeably weaker public narratives: Sanders is reticent about his own story, and how it made him the man that he is. He hits his policies, and vaguely links his policies to us and now. Biden has a great “story of self”, but his “story of now” is out of sync with today’s Democrats. He seems particularly bad on the story of now, and that is likely to torpedo his presidential chances.

We’ll see. The candidates have until next spring to hone their “public narratives”.

Let’s forget debates, John Bolton’s mustache, and Trump’s gutting of clean water regulations so that we can focus on starting our Saturday with a Soother. Start by brewing up a yuuge mug of Kayon Mountain Ethiopian ($21/12oz.) coffee from Lexington Coffee, an award-winning artisan roasting company based in Virginia. The roaster says it is richly sweet with a crisp, syrupy mouthfeel.

Sit back with your hot brew, and think about how fall is coming, and how you have no plans to prepare for it. Now watch Yo Yo Ma and James Taylor have fun while performing in August at Tanglewood Music Festival:

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

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Saturday Soother – Dorian Edition, September 7, 2019

The Daily Escape:

Garden of the Gods, Colorado Springs, CO – 2019 photo by ForkMan. Cheyenne Mountain is in background.

(There will be no Sunday Cartoons this week.)

Trump’s decision to change our posture toward China from free trade to trade war is one of the most significant policy shifts in recent American history. And despite the hand-wringing by corporations and politicians, there’s a grain of value in what Trump is attempting to do.

For sure, it’s unclear if he really knows what he’s doing, but it highlights whether we have a strategy for our trade relations with China. American policy makers must look at and answer a few questions:

  • Why is our industrial supply chain located within our economic adversary?
  • Doesn’t our military readiness therefore depend on that adversary?
  • Why are American companies allowed to transfer critical technologies to China in exchange for short-term market access?
  • Why is Tesla building self-driving cars in Shanghai?
  • Why should Google be running an Artificial Intelligence (AI) lab in Beijing after canceling an AI contract with the Pentagon?

Our corporate overlords’ answer? Because the market wills it.

But markets choose one global power over another only for narrow financial reasons. The market will happily move its business to a surveillance state if it means bigger CEO bonuses and higher profits. In this competition, Corporate America’s ideological commitment to free trade is as big a handicap to us as the Soviet Union’s commitment to central planning was during the Cold War.

Republicans and their corporate partners reject the idea of America having an industrial-policy to support key strategic economic sectors. China has an industrial policy. It’s focused largely on AI, integrated circuits, telecom, and steel. We no longer have high end manufacturing, and we’re losing other strategic industries.

This means that Beijing is likely to pick our “winners” for us. Corporations use the old Ricardian comparative advantage to organize their supply chains. This means that we will watch helplessly as American innovations are transformed into economic engines in China, while our corporations will reap efficiency gains by locating their engineering and management operations next to their Chinese manufacturing.

Inevitably, the innovation in which we pride ourselves will depart as well.

A recent survey of 369 manufacturers found that American firms are moving their R&D operations to China not just to take advantage of lower costs, but to be in close proximity to their supply chains. About 50% of foreign R&D centers in China are now run by American companies. This has helped China achieve first place in market share for manufacturing R&D.

If we remain neutral regarding where our supply chains are located, “we innovate, they build” will become “they innovate, they build.”

So, an unintended consequence of Trump’s tariff war is that maybe American politicians will wake up to the strategic battle underway with China, and realize how our American corporations are lining up on the side of our competitor and economic adversary.

Enough of the outside world, time for a rainy Saturday Soother if you are on the east coast of the US. Wrongo is sitting on Cape Cod, and the weather service here has announced tropical storm warnings for Saturday. So, settle back and watch the Weather Channel!

Now brew up a mug of Panama Finca San Sebastian ($12/12 oz.) with its deep chocolate notes supported by subtle but persistent sweet floral tones. It comes from the brewers at Thermopolis, Wisconsin’s Jack Rabbit Java.

Now, as you watch Dorian news over and over until your mind is numb, listen to the great 1980’s hit from the Eurythmics, “Here Comes the Rain Again”:

Those who read the Wrongologist in email can view Annie Lennox here.

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Saturday Soother – August 24, 2019

The Daily Escape:

Ground Swell – 1939 painting by Edward Hopper

In news you most assuredly haven’t seen, the 10th District US Circuit Court of Appeals in Denver ruled that “Faithless Electors”, people who do not cast their votes in the Electoral College for the winner of their state’s presidential election, are now free to vote for anyone they want.

This Colorado case came about because in 2016, one elector refused to vote for the state’s winner, Hillary Clinton, and instead, voted for John Kasich. The Colorado Secretary of State ordered him to cast his vote for Clinton, or be replaced. He refused and was subsequently replaced with an elector who voted for Clinton.

The faithless elector sued, and the 10th Circuit decided in his favor, saying that the Constitution provides:

“…Presidential electors the right to cast a vote for president and vice president with discretion. And the state does not possess countervailing authority to remove an elector and to cancel his vote in response to the exercise of that Constitutional right.”

The court traced the history of faithless electors back to 1796, when Samuel Miles voted for Thomas Jefferson instead of John Adams. Congress counted his vote. In the 2016 election, there were 13 anomalous votes from three states, and Congress also counted those votes.

This decision could have major ramifications for future presidential elections. The attorney for the faithless elector, Jason Wesoky, said the Court’s ruling essentially makes the laws requiring electors to vote for the state’s winner unenforceable. That impacts 16 states today.

It is even more significant, since a growing number of states are rethinking their Electoral College systems in response to the 2016 election. The 16 states that have passed laws that award all of their electoral votes to the winner of the national popular vote, currently equal 196 electoral votes.

If states representing another 74 electoral votes pass it, the so-called National Popular Vote bill will control the majority of votes in the Electoral College. The bill has passed at least one chamber in 8 additional states with 75 additional electoral votes.

This Appeals Court’s decision means that yet another crucial issue to  the future of our democracy will be in the hands of the Supreme Court, once the appeal gets to them.

Enough of news you won’t ever use, it’s time for your Saturday Soother!

Start by brewing up a mug of Honduras Marcala coffee ($19/12oz.) from Santa Barbara’s Handlebar Coffee Roasters. The founders are professional cyclists who met while riding in the Amgen Tour of California, America’s best bike race.

Now, settle back and listen to something very different, a guitar band from Mali called Tinariwen. They are Tuareg musicians from northern Mali. They play rolling melodic lines and loping rhythms that evoke the desert sands of the Sahara. The band’s name literally means “deserts” in their language, Tamasheq. Here they are playing “Kel Tinawen” from their upcoming album “Amadjar”, available on September 6th:

The video is of a road trip along Africa’s Atlantic coast as the band and crew cross the Western Sahara. They will be touring the US in September. For an early date in Winston-Salem, NC, some locals on social media are leveling violent, racist attacks against the musicians. Welcome to America!

Here is a translation of the lyrics:

Evil tongues – you can keep talking.

The uprising will be impossible to suppress.

The treachery of your evil words has sold out your brothers for your own interests.

You’ve locked them up in a prison, every last one of them.

You fine talkers, tell us what road you plan to take to avoid us if we remain rooted.

You’ve forgotten the suffering of our parents,

The suffering they have experienced since birth,

Unable to find water, unless they dig wells with their own hands.

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

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Saturday Soother – August 10, 2019

The Daily Escape:

Milky Way from the summit of Mt. Katahdin, ME – 2019 photo by aryeh95

Wrongo wants to provide some background to how Hong Kong (HK) went from being a UK colony to being a part of China. If you watch the news, you know that Hong Long’s anti-extradition protests are now in their third month. They are ostensibly directed at the HK administration, but they’re also aimed at the Chinese government in Beijing.

And the conflict appears to be escalating.

The Hong Kong — Mainland conflict partly reflects a huge gap in national identity. Frank Chung in a piece in Ejinsight, says it can be explained in part by how the nationality of most people in Hong Kong was changed in 1997 from British to Chinese: (emphasis by Wrongo)

“From China’s standpoint, Hong Kong had always been Chinese soil. Through 150 years of British rule, its people remained Chinese, regardless of British law. This fitted nicely with Britain’s policy, which was to see to it that the millions of Chinese “British citizens” in Hong Kong could not move to the United Kingdom. Nationality and immigration laws were changed.

Britain created a new category of citizens, called British Dependent Territory Citizens, in the 1980s. This transformed United Kingdom citizens into Hong Kong citizens. When Hong Kong was no longer a British dependent territory, yet another new category was created, British National (Overseas). The holder has no right to live in Britain and the citizenship cannot be passed on to the next generation.

China, too, changed its nationality law to deal with Hong Kong. The Standing Committee of its National People’s Congress in 1996 – the year before the handover – issued “Explanations” of how China’s Nationality Law would be applied in Hong Kong. That is to say, the law would mean different things in different parts of the country, a highly unusual legal situation.

The “Explanations” introduce a concept missing in the nationality law itself, that of “Chinese descent.” Thus, any Hong Kong resident of Chinese descent who was born in Hong Kong or China is a Chinese national, regardless of whether he possesses Canadian, Australian, British or other nationality. That means people who were foreign nationals were transformed into Chinese nationals in 1997.”

This was how China and the UK cooperated to facilitate the transfer of Hong Kong to China in 1997. Both wanted the people as well as the territory to be transferred wholesale. The millions of people in Hong Kong were considered nothing but chattel in the transfer.

And so it goes today.

China has all the leverage in the current test of wills. Their concern is not to let the HK demonstrations “infect” any cities on the mainland. And with the growth of the Chinese economy, HK’s leverage is steadily decreasing, as other Chinese cities surpass it economically, and trade directly with the rest of the world, a function that HK used to perform.

Two ways of looking at the current situation: One, HK’s not as important, and there’s little it can do to deflect Beijing’s control. Two, if Beijing doesn’t crack down, it will be seen as a weakness, rather than the wisdom of a mature nation.

Either way, the big advantage of authoritarian regimes is that they have fewer constraints. China historically has walked a line between centralized authority and provincial power. Centralized power will always win.

On to the weekend, it’s time for our Saturday Soother! With all the mass shootings news, and Trump trying to keep in the forefront of the same news cycle, our heads are spinning. We need to kick back and forget everything but how to kill crabgrass, and an AR-15 won’t help with that.

Start by brewing up a mug of Kenya Handege coffee ($19/12 oz.) from Austin TX-based Greater Goods Roasters. They say it is very sweet, tart, and rich. Now settle back near a large window and listen to Mary Gauthier perform her 2005 composition “Mercy Now” at the 2010 Americana Music Festival in Nashville, TN:

Given what El Paso and Dayton are going through, Gauthier’s poignant and direct message should resonate with all of us. Wrongo knows that you rarely click through and listen to the music, but today, it is really worth your while to listen.

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

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Saturday Soother – August 3, 2019

The Daily Escape:

Wotans Throne, North Rim, Grand Canyon NP, AZ – photo by phantomcloud.

The WSJ has an important story on how people with what seems like pretty good household incomes, are getting more and more indebted trying to keep up a middle class lifestyle:

“The American middle class is falling deeper into debt to maintain a middle-class lifestyle.

Cars, college, houses and medical care have become steadily more costly, but incomes have been largely stagnant for two decades, despite a recent uptick. Filling the gap between earning and spending is an explosion of finance into nearly every corner of the consumer economy.

Consumer debt, not counting mortgages, has climbed to $4 trillion—higher than it has ever been even after adjusting for inflation. Mortgage debt slid after the financial crisis a decade ago but is rebounding.

Student debt totaled about $1.5 trillion last year, exceeding all other forms of consumer debt except mortgages.

Auto debt is up nearly 40% adjusting for inflation in the last decade to $1.3 trillion. And the average loan for new cars is up an inflation-adjusted 11% in a decade, to $32,187, according to a Wall Street Journal analysis of data from credit-reporting firm Experian.”

The Journal gives a generally sympathetic portrayal, provided you don’t go deeply into their comments section, where readers spout platitudes about Millennial’s lack of fiscal responsibility. Here’s a chart from the WSJ using some recent work by Georgetown bankruptcy law professor Adam Levitin showing how much certain costs have risen relative to wages:

More from the WSJ:

“Median household income in the U.S. was $61,372 at the end of 2017, according to the Census Bureau. When inflation is taken into account that is just above the 1999 level.

Average housing prices, however, swelled 290% over those three decades in inflation-adjusted terms, according to an analysis by Adam Levitin, a Georgetown Law professor who studies bankruptcy, financial regulation and consumer finance.

Average tuition at public four-year colleges went up 311%, adjusted for inflation, by his calculation. And average per capita personal health-care expenditures rose about 51% in real terms over a slightly shorter period, 1990 to 2017.”

Of course, in Wrongo’s youth, few young people were carrying large amounts of student debt. And if they went to coastal cities to build their careers, the cost premium over living in a city in the heartland wasn’t as high as it is now (except for San Francisco and New York, which have always been very expensive). Also, it isn’t just tuition that has gone up. All the other college costs, housing, meals, books, and fees, have also gone up more than 300% in the past 30 years.

It is notable that college costs have far outpaced the ability of those in the middle class to afford them. That is why student loan debt has become so high: working your way through college is no longer as realistic as it once was.

Turning to housing, the WSJ quotes Domonic Purviance of the Federal Reserve Bank of Atlanta, who says that people earning the median income can no longer afford the median-priced new home, which cost $323,000 last year, and barely have the means to buy the median existing home, which is now about $278,000.

Failure of wages to keep up with costs is a huge problem, and it has to be emphasized that this is not some inevitable outcome of our so-called “free markets” – it is driven by neo-liberal policy.

A few of the Democratic candidates are addressing the health and education cost burdens now adding to the debt load of all Americans. But we need more discussion that leads us to better policy.

With so much wrong in the world, we surely need to take a step back, and de-stress. To help with that, here’s your Saturday Soother. Let’s start by brewing up a large mug of Finca Las Nieves Green-Tip Geisha coffee ($35.00/8 oz.). This coffee is grown and roasted in Mexico. Located at an elevation of 4,000 feet, Finca Las Nieves is a 1,000-acre coffee farm located in Oaxaca State. It is completely off the grid — both solar- and hydro-powered. In addition to growing, harvesting, processing and roasting coffee, the farm also offers vacation bungalows for rent on the property.

Now, settle into a comfy chair and listen to Bach’s unaccompanied Cello Suite No. 1 in G Major, movements 1-3 of 6, by Yo Yo Ma. The video uses a painting by Hudson River School painter, Thomas Cole. It is called “The Oxbow”, located on the Connecticut River in Massachusetts near Northampton, MA. Here is Yo Yo Ma:

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

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