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The Wrongologist

Geopolitics, Power and Political Economy

Saturday Soother, Covid Plateau Edition – May 2, 2020

The Daily Escape:

Spring flower bloom at Keukenhof Garden in Holland. (Hat tip to Ottho H.)

Remember when we had fifteen COVID-19 cases, and they were just going to be gone, like a miracle?

If you ask Trump, that’s where we are, plus a few orders of magnitude. All of the recent happy talk about reaching or being past the peak have omitted the detail that so far, “flattening the curve” isn’t substantially reducing the number of cases, or deaths.

The theory was that once we “flattened the curve”, we could ease up on social isolation, mask-wearing and get back to work. When we think about the downside of the curve, we think bell curves, with a sharp rise and fall from a high peak. As Wrongo said on April 20, that was unlikely to be the outcome, because it didn’t happen like that in countries that started fighting the virus long before us. And that’s how it seems to be working out. Here is where we are:

Source: Washington Post

The chart tracks a 3-day average of cases, since that smooths out some of the big day-to-day variances. As of April 29, it seemed clear that we have reached a peak, but we’re not showing any real signs of a rapid decline. This means the COVID-19 curve could remain elevated for a long time.

And we should remember that 878,839 cases are still active.

Politicians are obsessed with “the peak.” Are we at it? Are we past it? When will it come? Has it come? Now they’ve turned to communicating their plans for reopening the economy. That makes sense. Re-opening is becoming urgent, with more than 30 million Americans out of work, but it’s dismissive for politicians to say we’re past the worst of it “medically” while more people go to the ICU every day.

Massachusetts governor Charlie Baker (R), sees the plateau, and wonders when the curve will start to decline:

“Baker focused on hospitalizations and ICU admissions, saying, we’ve basically been flat for 12 days. We’re flat at a high level. But 12 days, 13 days counting today — you’re not going to find a lot of other places that just sit like this for 13 days.”

Former FDA Commissioner Scott Gottlieb MD, an advisor to Baker, tweeted:

IHME (mentioned in the tweet) is a closely watched model from the University of Washington Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation.

What we do over the next few weeks will determine whether we get this right, or whether COVID remains a large ongoing threat. We need to understand the potential risks that come with a decision to reopen, and make plans to mitigate these risks as best we can. Some states, like Connecticut, are planning carefully.

If we look state by state, in about half of the country, the numbers of cases are still rising. In about another third of the country, there is a leveling off. Only in a minority of states are the numbers actually coming down on a daily basis. New York, Washington, Louisiana and Idaho have had reductions of more than 50% from their peaks in new infections.

According to STAT, there are several possible outcomes: Recurring small outbreaks, a monster wave of cases, or a persistent crisis. And no one knows which outcome is most likely. We should expect new infections to start rising again in states without much testing, but with large populations that opened early like Texas, Florida and Georgia.

We should also realize that in some states, cooking the books about new cases and deaths will happen. Newsweek reported data compiled by Florida medical examiners was no longer being reported by the state government. The official state data has not been updated in over a week.

Acting like we’re flattening the curve when we really don’t know if we are, is likely to create a San Andreas-sized political earthquake if cases spike again.

But let’s try to get past all this, because it’s time for another Saturday Soother, when we stop checking Twitter, and think about spring.

Here on the fields of Wrong, the pear, plum and cherry trees have flowered, while the crab apples are soon to bloom. We have bluebirds nesting in both bluebird houses. Our weather remains cold and wet, so stay indoors and brew up a hot mug of Bengal Spice tea.

Now grab a socially distant chair and have a few minutes of fun with a song parody by the Opera Guy, Matthew Ciuffitelli. Here’s his parody of “Phantom of the Opera”, called “Phantom of the Quarantine”. Wrongo promises you won’t be disappointed:

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

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Saturday Soother – April 25, 2020

The Daily Escape:

Wildflowers, Hidden Lake, Glacier NP, WY – August 2019 iPhone photo by anadoptabledog

Wrongo shopped at both Costco and at our local chain supermarket, Big Y in the past two days. Both were out of significant items, and not merely paper products.

A hallmark of American culture is the size of our supermarkets, and the dazzling variety of products available. Anyone who has shopped in foreign countries can attest to the difference, so it’s unsettling to see so many bare shelves.

What exactly is going on here? This is a downstream impact of COVID-19 and how we’re fighting the pandemic. We have a finely tuned supply chain, and the shutdown has upended it. On the demand side, commercial buyers of food, like restaurant chains, and commercial bakeries aren’t buying what they bought in pre-COVID times. While consumers are cooking at home, and buying much more than ever before.

On the supply side, there are clear disruptions: Consumer demand for meat has skyrocketed. The WSJ reports:

“US grocers are struggling to secure meat, looking for new suppliers and selling different cuts, as the coronavirus pandemic cuts into domestic production and raises fears of shortages.”

The Journal quotes Jeff Lyons, SVP at Costco:

“I have not seen beef sales and all protein behave this way since the Atkins Diet days…”

US beef production fell 24% compared with a month earlier, pork fell by 20%, and poultry was down 10%, according to estimates from CoBank, an agricultural lender. And wholesale prices are creeping up:

April’s sharp decline in beef and pork prices reflected the drop in demand after the shutdown closed restaurants, while the spike is due to increasing consumer demand when production is down.

The spread of COVID-19 among US meat plant workers has hurt meat production. Companies are trucking poultry and livestock to be processed at more distant plants that remain open. On some farms, pigs are being euthanized because slaughterhouses have closed. In Iowa, Gov. Kim Reynolds dispatched 1,000 National Guard members to help deliver COVID-19 tests to Iowa meat plants so they could get back into operation.

Egg farmers are destroying eggs. Dairy farmers have been dumping thousands of gallons of milk. Some cattle ranchers are sending their herds to early slaughter because the restaurant market is dead: No one is going out for steak & eggs, or a bacon and egg breakfast in a diner. The Hill described more lost food output:

“Some $5 billion of fresh fruits and vegetables have already gone to waste, according to the Produce Marketing Association, an industry trade group.”

We know how the virus outbreaks at food plants hurt meat production, but there are other supply chain problems.

The primary issue is supply chain mismatches caused by the lockdown. In normal times, people get a significant amount of food at restaurants, while many kids eat lunch at school. Our highly specialized supply chains can’t adapt easily or quickly to the lockdown reality.

Wholesalers who focused on restaurants do not have the facilities for packaging food in a way people are used to seeing it on shelves, and grocery stores don’t have relationships with the wholesale producers. The 50-pound bags of flour that mills sell to large bakeries or restaurants are of little use to people needing a five pound bag for a family of four.

Getting food to grocery shelves is also hampered by delivery people and grocery store workers alike who are increasingly calling out sick, either with Coronavirus, or the fear of getting it.

Finally, we’re seeing increased food insecurity. Before the pandemic began, 37 million Americans were considered food insecure. Since the start of the lockdown, about 25 million people have applied for unemployment. The bigger problem now is that so many people have no cash coming in. Meanwhile, food banks are having trouble supplying enough food to people who need it. In parts of America, that problem is far more acute that food shortages, and it’s unlikely to get better soon.

Sadly, we have millions needing food, when farmers are destroying what to them, is surplus food.

But enough of bad news, you’ve had it with a week that saw us hit 50,000 COVID-19 deaths, and Trump grabbing at straws for a Coronavirus cure. Time for our Saturday Soother, a few moments when we forget about Trump, Corona and lockdowns to focus on our breathing, and something a little different.

Today, pull up a socially distant chair and listen to Maude Maggart sing an old standard from the 1930’s, “Deep Purple”. Maggart is Fiona Apple’s sister. Pretty talented family:

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

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Saturday Soother – Back to Work Edition, April 11, 2020

The Daily Escape:

Great Sand Dunes NP, CO – photo by AddisonTract

Welcome to the 85th Saturday in April, fellow disease vectors! Here are the updated COVID numbers (as of 4/9):

  • There’s good news today. New infections are down dramatically as is the rate of new deaths.
  • The percentage of deaths to total cases has stabilized, at least for the moment.
  • Daily testing increased by 159,130. That’s helpful, but the growth in new tests still lags the growth in new infections.

America and the world are fighting a two-front war, one with the COIVID-19 pandemic, and another with our self-imposed, slow-rolling financial meltdown. Many think, like Trump, that the damage to the economy is worse than the loss of 50,000-100,000 American lives.

The irony is that it is the US governors that have precipitated the economic crisis while trying to moderate the public health crisis. And it has been the Trump administration that is trying to moderate the economic crisis by attempting to prematurely end the Coronavirus crisis.

A tenth of the work force has applied for unemployment benefits, while millions more are not working. In addition, small businesses are going under. So the GOP is pressuring Trump to declare victory and re-open the economy, and he’s looking for a plan to get people back to work.

But it isn’t just a plan. Attorney General Barr strongly suggested in a FOX TV interview that states don’t have the right to shut down businesses and schools during a public health emergency, and hints that the Trump administration could take action against states that don’t rescind shelter-at-home orders next month:

“When this period of time, at the end of April, expires, I think we have to allow people to adapt more than we have, and not just tell people to go home and hide under their bed, but allow them to use other ways — social distancing and other means — to protect themselves,”

Apparently, Barr is focused on what happens after the CDC’s guidelines on social distancing expire at the end of April. This is a clear sign that, while Barr is willing to allow states to do what they are doing now, his and the administration’s patience will expire when the CDC’s guidelines expire.

The WaPo reports that Trump is about to announce the creation of a second Coronavirus task force aimed at combating the economic consequences of the virus:

“The task force is expected to be led by Mark Meadows, the White House chief of staff, and include Larry Kudlow, the president’s chief economic adviser, and Mnuchin, the treasury secretary, along with outside business leaders. Others expected to play a role are Kevin Hassett…and the president’s son-in-law, Jared Kushner…”

One of the lynchpins of reopening the economy is supposed to be universal testing for the virus. But NPR reports the government is ending its funding for testing:

“…the federal government will end funding for coronavirus testing sites this Friday. In a few places those sites will close as a result.”

Reopening the economy without adequate testing is just like walking blindly in a minefield. And we know that testing remains generally unavailable.

The job of the administration should be to make the “5-minute” test kits cheap enough that every urgent care, every pharmacy, every clinic, can have two or three, and be running tests. Not just the current 10 -15 per state, but tens of thousands, so that widespread testing can be easily available.

Trump gave his game away yesterday when CNN’s Jim Acosta asked him:

“How can the administration discuss the possibility of reopening the country when the administration does not have an adequate nationwide testing system for this virus? Don’t you need a nationwide testing system for the virus before you reopen?”

TRUMP: “No.” pic.twitter.com/JokZYfy97T

What could go wrong? Plenty of things could go badly wrong.

If/when they do, Trump will blame the states, especially those with Democratic governors. Believe it or not, he will then campaign as the man who stopped the epidemic, and at least 40% of voters will say he accomplished it.

Let’s focus on relaxing for a few minutes with a new Saturday Soother. Wrongo hopes that you are staying healthy, productive, and in good spirits. If your income stream has been disrupted by the pandemic, Wrongo hopes you use the time constructively: Do something you’ve wanted to do for a long time.

Today we continue in the English pastoral idiom that we started last week.

Here is British composer Gerald Finzi’sIntroit for Solo Violin & Small Orchestra Op. 6”.  Played by the Northern Sinfonia with Lesley Hatfield on solo violin. It is conducted by Howard Griffiths. This is music that leads to private thoughts, something we all need right now:

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

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Saturday Soother – Even More Pandemic Edition, April 4, 2020

The Daily Escape:

Spring in Town – Grant Wood, 1941

Welcome to Saturday, fellow disease vectors! Here’s a quote often mis-attributed to Winston Churchill: “If you’re going through Hell, just keep going”. Those are words to live by in pandemic America.

You remember Joe Biden, right?

His campaign was premised on Trump’s complete unsuitability for the presidency, and on Biden’s particular experience and fitness for it. Biden wasn’t running on the issues, he was hammering on Trump. Before the pandemic, according to Joe Biden, Trump was:

“A threat to this nation unlike any I had ever seen in my lifetime.”

But lately, Biden could be a picture on a milk carton. He’s disappeared. Rather than holding a news conference in public every day, demanding to know why the administration isn’t providing enough tests and PPE to the states, Biden’s trying to organize a phone call with Trump. To share lessons learned from Obama-era pandemic responses. That will certainly change everything.

Does Biden have a strategy to win in November? The ABC/WaPo poll found that only 24% of Biden’s supporters were ‘very enthusiastic‘ about him, compared with 53% of Trump’s. While ABC News reminded us that in 2016, “Hillary Clinton’s ‘very enthusiastic’ score was 32% in September.”

These numbers are from the poll that has Biden beating Trump by only 2% points. Now, this poll could be an outlier, since the Real Clear Politics Polling Average has Biden at 50.6% to Trump at 44%.

Regardless, Biden needs to get off his ass, get out in public, and act like the leader of the opposition.

And speaking of leadership (again), Raúl Ilargi Meijer has a great column about leadership in the pandemic era. He differentiates between the visionary giants like Gandhi and Martin Luther King, Jr.  and our current crop who he calls “Little Managers”:

“They all failed to a horrific extent at their #1 task when it comes to Disasters, Pandemics, whatever their respective governments file these events under: Prevention. But now we’re in a whole new world. Now these failed leaders move into a situation they actually MAY be able to handle. That is, the -crisis- management that inevitably follows AFTER the failure at their #1 task of Prevention.”

Ilargi says that they might be able to succeed at crisis management because they were trained to be little managers. He describes them: (emphasis by Wrongo)

“Core characteristic: these people don’t act, they re-act. Prevention is a job they’re absolutely not qualified for… Trump, Macron, BoJo, Merkel, Rutte, Xi, Abe, Conte, you name them, they’re all little managers…they have no ideas or visions, at least not original ones. People with original ideas don’t become politicians…”

Worse, politics isn’t policy. More:

“For now, the only thing to do is hope the little managers are better at step 2, Crisis Management, than they were at step 1, Prevention. Because there are no ready alternatives. When they say stay home, that’s the best thing to do right now.”

And finally:

“Can we blame our own respective…little managers? To an extent, sure. They didn’t do what they promised to when they swore their respective oaths. But maybe just maybe we should blame ourselves more, for picking little managers to lead our countries in the first place. We should have known that they were never going to be more than 2nd rate “leaders” who were never going to deliver more than 2nd rate societies.“

Hard to improve on that.

We’re all going through hell with no choice but to keep going. So, let’s take a breath, and try to spend our self-isolating time concentrating on something other than COVID-19. Here are “Two English Idylls” by the little-known George Butterworth, who was part of the English pastoral idiom.

These are Butterworth’s earliest surviving orchestral pieces, with No. 1 dating from 1910-1911, while No. 2 is from 1911. Butterworth and Ralph Vaughan Williams were close friends, and you may hear similarities in their music. Butterworth was killed in 1916 in WWI during the Battle of the Somme, he was 31.

Here it’s performed by the Academy of St. Martin-in-the-Fields, under Sir Neville Marriner, in 1975. The accompanying photography of the English countryside is transporting and wonderful, so Wrongo urges you to take a few minutes to watch:

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

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Saturday Soother (Not) – March 28, 2020

The Daily Escape:

Mono Lake, CA, just after sunset – 2020 photo by hodldeeznutz. Those columns are called tufa, and are made of limestone.

Trump has finally made America number 1! We’re again showing the world our exceptionalism by having more COVID-19 cases than any other country in the world.

The House has also passed the stimulus bill, and Trump has signed it, so we will also spend the greatest amount of money on the pandemic, with the smallest fraction of it going to the people who really need it.

Or on the medical equipment that we need the most.

Don’t let anyone tell you that the $2 trillion does a whole lot more than provide relief to very rich people and corporations. This from the NYT:

“Senate Republicans inserted an easy-to-overlook provision on page 203 of the 880-page bill that would permit wealthy investors to use losses generated by real estate to minimize their taxes on profits from things like investments in the stock market. The estimated cost of the change over 10 years is $170 billion.”

The NYT explains that under the existing tax code, when real estate investors generate losses from depreciation, they can use some of those losses to offset other taxes.

This is a big tax break because depreciation is a paper loss, resulting in cash flowing to the investor while tax deductions also flow to the investor.

But the use of those losses was limited by the 2017 tax cut. The paper losses could be used only to shelter the first $500,000 of a married couple’s nonbusiness income. Any leftover losses had to be carried forward and used in future years.

The new stimulus bill lifts the $500,000 restriction for three years, this year, and two retroactive years, a boon for couples with more than $500,000 in annual capital gains or income from sources other than their business.

The IRS says the group that benefits comprises the top 1% of taxpayers. Final words to the NYT:

“A draft congressional analysis this week found that the change is the second-biggest tax giveaway in the $2 trillion stimulus package.”

As we approach a new week, doesn’t it seem like fear is setting in? One thing that might have helped would be an empathetic leader in the White House, but you fight the pandemic war with the bozo you have.

In the Thursday evening Coronavirus briefing he acted like a mafia boss, saying that one governor:

“Used to be a big wise guy but not so much anymore…we saw to it he’s not so much anymore.”

He’s referring to New York’s Andrew Cuomo asking for more ventilators. This is GoodFellas meets House of Cards.

As long as Trump controls the distribution of federal resources, he will use it to bully and threaten states for his own political benefit. And think about this: Trump is willing to hand out $500 billion to corporations to save executives, but isn’t willing to spend $1 billion on more ventilators to save sick Americans?

This is what the Trump administration has become:

Trump is NEVER going to do what is necessary to bring this pandemic under control. Success will only be achieved through cooperative action by the States. And, by the rest of us.

Reality is sinking in, we’re gonna be in our houses for a long time. 2020 is becoming the people vs. Donald Trump.

But, there are uplifting moments if you look carefully. Here’s a small effort at a Saturday Soother, aided by the students of Berklee College of Music in Boston MA. After the school closed down and the kids left for home, they created a virtual performance of Bert Bacharach’s “What The World Needs Now”:

Despite Trump, the rest of us are in this together. Protect yourself and your loved ones, this will eventually end, and you want to be here.

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

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Saturday’s (No) Soother – March 14, 2020

The Daily Escape:

Mt. Pavlov and Pavlov’s sister, the Aleutians, AK – Pavlov is the most active volcano in the US. Hat tip: Ottho H.

We’re crossing a threshold between what we knew about public health, toward an unseen future. There’s no certainty about what that future will look like. As important as it is to remove Trump, his incompetence has made his removal our second national priority. He’s made beating the Coronavirus our number one priority.

This has a domino effect: We don’t just have a national health emergency, but soon, a recession. So many things cancelled. So much commerce deferred, and for how long? Think about how many working people are/will be out of work due to postponements and cancellations, due to small companies closing. Due to illness of family and deaths of loved ones.

Widespread illness is showing the cracks in our health care delivery system: In early January, America was among the best-prepared nations for an epidemic. Our large number of ICU beds, plus our stockpiles of drugs and medical equipment, made us the envy of many nations.

And we took an early lead: On January 6, the CDC issued a Level 1 travel watch for China. On January 7, the CDC established a 2019-nCoV Incident Management group. On January 8, the CDC began alerting clinicians to watch for patients with respiratory symptoms and a history of travel to Wuhan. On January 17, the CDC issued an updated interim Health Alert Notice (HAN) Advisory to inform state and local health departments and health care providers about this outbreak. We began screening passengers on flights from Wuhan to five major US airports.

On January 31, Trump announced blocking of entry of Chinese nationals and mandatory quarantines on US citizens who returned from affected parts of China.

Since then, we’ve had inaction and mistakes by the FDA and CDC, including screwing up the provision of desperately needed tests. Even now the CDC and FDA say there’s an inadequate supply of reagents used in the tests, a bottleneck that should have been dealt with in January.

Organizations require strong leadership. That allows established process and procedures to rule in an emergency. That’s why we need good elected leaders in charge of the experts. Today, it’s the other way around. This is inexcusable.

Here’s a thought about one of the detestable people who helped bring us to this new threshold between where we were, and where we’re going: Sen. Susan Collins (R-ME). In 2009, she singlehandedly removed $870 million in pandemic funding from the economic stimulus package:

From Grunwald’s tweet:

“Collins also deleted the pandemic flu preparations as a nonstarter”

Stop saying that Sen. Collins is a reasonable Republican. She’s proven time and again she’s not. It’s possible that there may not be any reasonable Republicans left. Please donate to Collins’s opponent, Democrat Sara Gideon.

Finally, haven’t we had enough of the lying and purposeful misinformation spewed by Trump? Eric Boehlert has a great idea: The media and the rest of us should stop listening to Trump:

“The President of the United States is actively endangering the American public, and at what point does the press decide that dutifully broadcasting Trump’s misinformation is not in the nation’s best interest. At what point does the press unplug Trump for the good of the country?”

His forum should be restricted to only FOX news. There is no reason to have presidential debates, since no fact-checking organization, much less any citizen, can keep up with Trump’s lies and misstatements. Sure, the GOP will complain that Biden (or Sanders) are chickens, that they’re too old to match wits with Trump. But the truth is, Trump should be denied a forum when and wherever possible.

He hasn’t earned being normalized by the rest of us. And don’t say we should respect the office – he doesn’t.

We need only one point to prove this: Trump did not push to do aggressive Coronavirus testing because more testing might have led to more Coronavirus cases being discovered. Trump made it clear the lower the numbers on Coronavirus, the better for him and his re-election this fall.

That disqualifies him.

Here’s a little tune to help you through the weekend. It’s “Enjoy Yourself (it’s later than you think)” by Jools Holland, The Specials, Hozier, Rhiannon Giddens and others performed in 2015:

And it IS later than you think! Those who read the Wrongologist in email can view the video here.

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Saturday Soother – Bill Barr Edition

The Daily Escape:

Peyto Lake, Jasper NP, Alberta CN – 2019 photo by TheMilkMan26

America needs a Trumpectomy, and that won’t happen until January 2021. The problem is that Trumpism is like a metastasized cancer, and maybe even excising Trump won’t be enough to cure the country.

When the story broke that AG William Barr had intervened in the sentencing recommendation for Roger Stone, most of the country was in an uproar. Career DOJ prosecutors left the case, and most of us were angry and in disbelief that Trump was directing the DOJ’s case along with his accomplice, AG Barr.

The Justice Department was also in disbelief. NBC News’ Ken Delanian reported that Department of Justice employees almost walked out en masse on Wednesday over Barr’s actions. Barr responded to the criticism from inside and outside the DOJ by telling ABC News that Trump’s constant tweets “make it impossible for me to do my job.” The first blush reaction to Barr’s statement was that Barr was complaining about Trump getting in his grill.

A much more realistic (and troubling) take is that Barr is defending his action as “perfect”, and the only reason that he’s taking flack is a completely unrelated tweet from Trump.

Barr’s criticism of Trump is about as real as professional wrestling. He’s a fan of executive power, and too aware of Trump’s personality to have done this without coordinating with the White House.

And if that wasn’t enough, the NYT reported on Friday that Barr assigned yet another outside prosecutor to scrutinize the DOJ’s criminal case against Michael Flynn, Trump’s former national security adviser. This is yet another case of political interference by the DOJ into the work of its own career prosecutors.

Flynn pleaded guilty, but at the start of the sentencing phase, he hired a new attorney, Sidney Powell, a darling of the right wing media, who is also a FOX contributor. She is contesting his guilty plea.

Barr said just the other day that he would not be bullied or swayed for political reasons, and would only act in the name of maintaining the highest judicial standards. Now, the question for Barr is: How did he pick the Stone and Flynn cases for the DOJ to pursue?

Flynn’s judge, Emmet Sullivan, wrote a 92-page opinion in December laying out why the things that Barr just hired another counsel to second-guess won’t affect Flynn’s guilt. Why is the entire Right wing is going to the mats to defend Flynn, a guy who was secretly on Turkey’s payroll while acting as Trump’s NatSec advisor?

Their hero is a guy who was selling out the US for $600K.

It’s important to remember that Flynn, Manafort, and Stone broke the law repeatedly. Barr is working to undermine our judicial process on their behalf. Now, you can prosecute the bad guys, but don’t mess with the president’s friends. Do that and you’ll be out of work, or worse.

This of course, changes how prosecutors will do their jobs.

Successfully performing the Trumpectomy will be an all hands on deck effort. We can’t give up hope. Wrongo returned from his military service in 1969, and protested the Vietnam War until it ended in 1975.

We need to resist Trumpism until it ends. Let’s close with two excerpts from Thomas Merton’s “Letter to a young activist”, written during the Vietnam War in 1966:

“This country is SICK, man. It is one of the sickest things that has happened. People are fed on myths, they are stuffed up to the eyes with illusions. They CAN’T think straight. They have a modicum of good will, and some of them have a whole lot of it, but with the mental bombardment everybody lives under, it is just not possible to see straight, no matter where you are looking.”

Sound familiar? Merton goes on to say:

“Vietnam is the psychoanalysis of the US. I wonder if the nation can come out of it and survive. I have a hunch we might be able to. But your stresses and strains, mine, Dan Berrigan’s, all of them, are all part of this same syndrome, and it is extremely irritating and disturbing to find oneself, like it or not, involved in the national madness.”

We’ve been here before, and with huge voter turnout, we can beat Trumpism.

We really need today’s Saturday Soother. To help you begin, let’s brew up a mug of Kona Bourbon Pointu Laurina, ($62.50/8oz.). Wrongo know that’s expensive, but use some of your Trump winnings to buy it from Hula Daddy, an artisanal coffee grower in Kona, Hawaii.

Now put on your headphones and listen to “21st Century USA” by the Drive By Truckers from their new album “Unraveled”. This isn’t designed to soothe you, but to fire you up:

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

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Saturday Soother – Acquittal Edition

The Daily Escape:

View from the top of Mt. Baden Powell in the Los Angeles National Forest – February 2020 photo by David Dodd

(Sunday cartoons will appear on Monday)

Is the game of investigating Trump over? What are the arguments for continuing to pick at this wound? This is a political calculation only. It no longer matters who said what in Ukraine, regardless of the damage caused by Trump. That ship has sailed.

It’s time to focus on the 2020 election, particularly on the House and Senate races. Focusing on winning those elections, and particularly on holding the House while winning a majority in the Senate, requires that the Democratic Party deal with its current schism. The Party is messily divided between social liberals who are for reform of capitalism along with Medicare for All, and free college, and moderates who wish to tack back towards the middle of the road.

The question that Democrats have to deal with is which of these two poles can make it a majoritarian party in 2020 and beyond?

This dilemma faced the Republicans only a short time ago, when the Tea Party threatened to split the GOP in two. Those cracks remained evident until Trump came along and united them in a way that today makes them seem more like a cult than a political party.

In some ways, Democrats are like the American Whig party was in the early 1850’s, when it could no longer bridge the gap between the Whigs of the northern industrial states and the Whigs of the southern farming/slavery states. It was an irreconcilable dilemma, and in short order, the party simply ceased to exist, only to re-emerge as the Republican Party in 1856.

The Democrats have been trending this way since LBJ forced southern Democrats to vote for/against the Civil Rights Act in 1964 and the Voting Rights Act of 1965. Later, the formation of the Democratic Leadership Council in 1985, founded in part by Bill Clinton, pushed the Democrats rightward.

The “Left Party” that is trying to emerge from the current shambles of the Democratic Party could be more properly defined as a reactionary movement. An attempt to return to the days of the New Deal and the rise of the middle class.

In that sense, Wrongo is a New Deal Reactionary. The New Deal was a good deal for most of us. We should want our New Deal back again.

The question on the table is: Which half of the divided Democratic Party should New Deal Reactionaries support? Is it the Sanders/Warren half, or the Biden/Bloomberg/Buttigieg half of the Party? If it’s Sanders, can we get a New Deal Revival, but no Recreational Socialism to go along with that?

Can the moderate/ConservaDems realistically be counted on to bring back the New Deal? We see that ConservaDems are willing to strap on their running shoes and do 3 miles in the morning, because “no pain no gain”. But somehow, once at work in the House or Senate, they claim that the hardship doesn’t make sense economically, so why even try?

The answers to these twin questions: Whether the Party can be re-united similar to the way Trump united the GOP, and which half of the Party should attempt that unification in November 2020, will determine the arc of our democracy for decades to come.

It was a terrible week, and now we need a break from “all acquittal, all the time”. That means it’s time for our Saturday Soother, a brief window when we can forget about the outside world and concentrate on breathing slowly and relaxing mind and body.

Let’s start by brewing up a vente cup of El Salvador Finca el Cerro Natural ($22.99/12oz.). The roaster, Virginia’s Red Rooster Coffee says it tastes of strawberry and tangerine zest with a viscous mouthfeel.

Now, grab a seat by the fire and listen to Anna Netrebko perform “Solveig’s Song” from Peer Gynt’s Suite No.2, live with the Prague Philharmonia conducted by Emmanuel Villaume in 2008:

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

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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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