The Wrongologist

Geopolitics, Power and Political Economy

Saturday Soother – February 24, 2018

The Daily Escape:

The futuristic Tianjin Binhai Library opened in November 2017. It is located just outside Beijing, China – photo by Ossip van Duivenbode

Another roller coaster week comes to an end, but Wrongo can’t let go of the Parkland shooting or the gun debate just yet. So here are a few observations from a devastating article in the Atlantic by a radiologist in Florida who saw the CT scans of some of the student’s wounds:

As I opened the CT scan last week to read the next case, I was baffled. The history simply read “gunshot wound.” I have been a radiologist in one of the busiest trauma centers in the nation for 13 years, and have diagnosed thousands of handgun injuries to the brain, lung, liver, spleen, bowel, and other vital organs. I thought that I knew all that I needed to know about gunshot wounds, but the specific pattern of injury on my computer screen was one that I had seen only once before.


In a typical handgun injury that I diagnose almost daily, a bullet leaves a laceration through an organ like the liver. To a radiologist, it appears as a linear, thin, grey bullet track through the organ. There may be bleeding and some bullet fragments.

I was looking at a CT scan of one of the victims of the shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School, who had been brought to the trauma center during my call shift. The organ looked like an overripe melon smashed by a sledgehammer, with extensive bleeding. How could a gunshot wound have caused this much damage?

Still more:

The reaction in the emergency room was the same. One of the trauma surgeons opened a young victim in the operating room, and found only shreds of the organ that had been hit by a bullet from an AR-15…There was nothing left to repair, and utterly, devastatingly, nothing that could be done to fix the problem. The injury was fatal.

Had enough? Here’s more:

Routine handgun injuries leave entry and exit wounds and linear tracks through the victim’s body that are roughly the size of the bullet. If the bullet does not directly hit something crucial like the heart or the aorta, and they do not bleed to death before being transported to…a trauma center, chances are, we can save the victim. The bullets fired by an AR-15 are different; they travel at higher velocity and are far more lethal. The damage they cause is a function of the energy they impart as they pass through the body. A typical AR-15 bullet leaves the barrel traveling almost three times faster than, and imparting more than three times the energy of, a typical 9mm bullet from a handgun.

And finally:

One of my ER colleagues was waiting nervously for his own children outside the school. While the shooting was still in progress, the first responders were gathering up victims whenever they could and carrying them outside the building. Even as a physician trained in trauma situations, though, there was nothing he could do at the scene to help to save the victims who had been shot with an AR-15. Most of them died on the spot, with no fighting chance at life.

This is why these weapons must be banned. Even if America sells no more of them, it will take a generation or more, for them to disappear from general use. The sooner we start banning them, the safer the country will be. Make America Safe Again!

Now, settle back in your most comfy chair with a vente cup of Red Beard Coffee’s Buckshot Blend ($17.95/lb.). The roaster says it tastes of rich caramel and apples. Then, contemplate what you can do personally to help high school kids all across America in their effort to ban AR-15’s.

While you are sitting quietly, listen to the Irish group, The Corrs, covering REM’s hit “Everybody Hurts”.  This is from “The Corrs Unplugged”, one of the MTV Unplugged series, recorded live in October, 1999. A song appropriate to the last two weeks:

Sample Lyric:

When your day is long
And the night,
The night is yours alone
When you’re sure you’ve had enough
Of this life
Well hang on
Don’t let yourself go
‘Cause everybody cries
And everybody hurts sometimes

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


High School Kids Might Be the Real Justice League

The Daily Escape:

Sedona, AZ – 2017 photo by joanwood01

“There is no justice. The rich win; the poor are powerless. We become tired of hearing people lie. And after a time, we become dead, a little dead. We think of ourselves as victims – and we become victims. We become weak; we doubt ourselves; we doubt our beliefs; we doubt our institutions; and we doubt the law… If we are to have faith in justice, we need only to believe in ourselves and act with justice.”
— The closing argument by Paul Newman’s character in “The Verdict” (1982)

Imagine that: Act with justice. Belief in justice is part of believing in democracy. If you lose faith in one, you will lose faith in the other. Those who have refused to give up, like Dr. King, and those who marched for civil rights and then, who marched to end the Vietnam War acted with justice.

Fast forward to today, those Florida high schoolers, who are schooling politicians, are following in those footsteps, attempting to act with justice. They are trying to live up to the founding ethos of the US.

Can the pursuit of justice that gave us successes in civil rights also fuel success in the long, impossibly hard struggle to Make America Safe Again?

Making it Safe from too many guns in the hands of too many Americans?

Before Parkland, Wrongo was about to write off the possibility that gun control activism would achieve much of anything. That we were doomed to remain the world’s most “exceptional” country when it comes to guns.

America thinks that it’s worth it to have a more dangerous society in order to have strong Second Amendment rights. The Second Amendment Absolutists, including the NRA, Trump and the GOP, think the lives we’d save if we had stricter gun controls aren’t worth the freedom that owning guns buys them.

And the rest of us don’t oppose their viewpoint strongly enough to affect change.

Then along came these high school activists. They have become our last, best hope of blunting the Second Amendment Absolutists. Where did these Florida shooting survivors find their activism and organizing? Can they carry through to a place that their elders haven’t been able to reach?

What is refreshing about the students from Stoneman Douglas is that we are hearing about their lived experience.

This has a gravitas far beyond what is handed down from the Beltway. The gun discussions have been mostly led by politicians and lobbyists. But that is being eclipsed by voices with first-hand experience surviving a mass killing. It’s their intimate experience, plus the passion they are bringing that encourages the rest of us to dig in, and help bring about change.

They seem to know that their ground swell of political activism strikes fear into the hearts of politicians. They seem to know that they can make gun control a major issue in the 2018 mid-terms.

They are proving more resilient and savvy than many of us would have given them credit for on the day of the shooting. It isn’t their responsibility to fix the world, but since they have a place in it, and a voice, perhaps they can spur some real change.

They are forcing politicians like Sen. Rubio (R-FL) back on their heels. They are forcing the NRA into PR mistakes. Remember this?

Come mothers and fathers throughout the land

And don’t criticize what you can’t understand

Your sons and your daughters are beyond your command

Your old road is rapidly aging

Please get out of the new one if you can’t lend your hand

For the times they are a-changin‘ – B. Dylan

At the CNN Town Hall on Wednesday night, it was obvious that the NRA’s Dana Loesch and Rubio both knew that these students were far beyond their command. But that doesn’t mean we should sit back, and expect them to do it alone.

We have to stand up, help them, and certainly vote in huge numbers.


Saturday Soother – February 17, 2018

The Daily Escape:

Sigiriya, Sri Lanka – photo by jcourtial for dronestagram. Sigiriya is an ancient rock fortress. The site was the palace for King Kasyapa (477 – 495 BC). It is a UNESCO World Heritage Site.

We live in a seemingly endless loop of outrage. Nothing ever changes, because we waste energy on the “what-about?” arguments from both sides, each attempting to reframe the issue to their side’s advantage. These discussions yield nothing, and solutions are never agreed. This adds to a generalized feeling of powerlessness: The view that everything that is important is out of our hands, and insoluble.

So it is with school shootings, with protecting the DACA kids. And with whatever Russiagate is.

At least the Mueller investigation will run its course. We have to hope that the results will be made public. But if they are released, it will only lead to more debate and disagreement. Until then, we’ll continue to gleefully argue our respective Russiagate viewpoints in a fact-free vacuum.

We have experienced hysterical political times before, but they tended to be single issue events. Has there ever been a time when so many people in both political parties have been so single-mindedly determined to whip up anger?

When we’re looking at just a single issue, one side or the other often simply runs out of steam. Then the issue can be resolved both in Washington and in the mind of the public.

When we experience multiple issues simultaneously, the available energy is expended across the entire spectrum of problems. Thus, there isn’t enough energy to direct successfully at a single issue. So nothing is resolved.

This is where we are in February 2018, in a kind of nervous exhaustion: Too many issues and too few resolutions.

Can something, or someone unite us? Will a big event allow a majority to coalesce around a point of view, or a leader?

History shows that when we are in the grip of anxiety, it can be a relief if something we fear actually happens. Think about when Japan bombed Pearl Harbor. It was widely reported that the response of the public, including anti-war activists, was relief. There was a feeling that at last a course had been set, a key decision made. FDR united the disparate groups behind a war.

While the same situation doesn’t quite apply today, we crave some sort of decisions, perhaps some sort of decisive act. What would that be? It isn’t possible to see from where we are today.

As John Edwards said, there are two Americas. The one that sends their children to private schools, and the second one that sends their children to public schools. The second group has the kids who get shot by the gunmen. And politicians get away with platitudes about their thoughts and prayers.

Unfortunately, they then decide that fixing the problem is not worth their time.

We may have reached a breaking point. Shitty jobs, shitty pay, shitty hours, and little hope of advancement. No easy access to medical care, an uneven social safety net. Wrongo lived through the chaotic 1960’s. He endured Reagan’s show-no-mercy 1980’s. Those were bad times.

But, in a lot of ways, 2018 is worse. Today, there is an immense lack of mutual respect. And there is a ubiquitous atmosphere of a powerless people.

Wow, who said all that??

We desperately need a weekend where we can unplug from the media and focus on other things. In other words, we need a Saturday soother. Start by brewing up a big cuppa Stumptown Coffee’s Holler Mountain Blend, ($16/12oz.) The Stumptown people promise flavors of blackberry, citrus and toffee in a creamy, full body. Your mileage may vary.

Now, get in your favorite chair and listen to some, or all of the musical score from the film “Dunkirk”. Both the score and the film are Oscar-nominated. The film’s director Christopher Nolan suggested to the musical director Hans Zimmer, that they use Elgar’s “Nimrod” from the 1898-99 “Enigma Variations” as part of the theme. They decided that the movie’s music should be about time, and how for the men on the beaches, time was running out. They picked the “Enigma Variations” because it’s part of English culture, less a national anthem than an emotional anthem for the nation. Along the way, consistent with using time, they slowed it down to 6 beats per minute. Listen to their version from the movie:

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


Places That Don’t Matter

The Daily Escape:

Maroon Bells, CO in winter – photo by Glenn Randall

America’s forgotten masses used the ballot box in 2016 to ram home a message to their betters. The message was that we shouldn’t ignore the places that don’t matter, those places that once had middle class jobs, and now have few options. The Trump election was one way to signal all was not well in the America’s decaying small towns.

We long ago retreated from the idea that the central government has a responsibility to look after the lagging places. It isn’t an invisible, unstoppable force that directs all the wealth generation to cities: It’s a system of deliberate centralization, by individuals who control capital, to concentrate productive efficiency and thus, wealth. The left-behinds are on their own.

The reality is that regional or town regeneration is very hard, once the original reason for the town’s existence is lost. Places that don’t matter have to find ways to build wealth locally, and then keep that money local. Locally produced goods and services keep regions alive.

Most solutions are based on the usual arm waving that says: “let them have training” or, “they really need to move where the jobs are”. These ideas have largely failed. Figuring out how to revive these communities requires better policies.

The revenge of the places that don’t matter is the rise of local populism, the increasing opioid use, and declining longevity. The stakes are high, but maximizing the development potential of each town has got to be the answer.

Here is one solution. The WaPo has a long read about how a liberal DC entrepreneur set out to help West Virginians. And for a very long time, Joe Kapp’s help was refused. He was the object of a vicious online campaign, targeted by homophobia, and maligned as a carpetbagger.

When Kapp, 47, an entrepreneur decamped to a West Virginia cabin in 2012 with his partner, he’d come to take a sabbatical. The town is Wardensville, pop. 256. From WaPo:

Those who do work locally gravitate toward poultry processing, furniture manufacturing and agriculture, but the numbers aren’t good. In 2015, the unemployment rate…was 7.5%, compared with 6.7% statewide and 5.3% nationally. The per capita income…was just under $28,000 a year, compared with about $37,000 for the state, and $48,000 nationwide.

The basics are lacking. The area doesn’t have Internet. Kapp says:

You’ve got kids doing their homework in McDonald’s parking lots. People in most of the country just have no idea.

And even community college enrollments suffer. Only 10% of West Virginia high school students enroll in community college, compared to 50% nationwide.

Kapp soon befriended the president at the local community college. From there, it wasn’t long before he was helping the college launch an innovative project, the Institute for Rural Entrepreneurship and Economic Development (IREED), aimed at helping to diversify the regional economy.

Kapp initially failed to gain traction, but things have gradually turned around. He thinks this demographic has more potential than the coastal elites give them credit for. He is certain that by harnessing local knowledge, like agriculture, they can start businesses, and put their own people back to work.

Every town wants its own Amazon, but in rural communities, that’s not an option. They need to create an ecosystem that promotes a small-business culture and entrepreneurship. So Kapp’s assistance in establishing the IREED with the community college got the idea off the ground. No community college in the state had anything of the kind.

The goal of the IREED is to help the local agricultural community think of itself as entrepreneurial.

He is developing a program that will allow community colleges to offer low- or no-interest micro-loans, around $5,000, to aspiring entrepreneurs. These individuals would then take entrepreneurship and business-development courses at the lending college. Kapp:

A bank might say, ‘This guy’s too risky,’ But a community college can say, ‘I know this guy. We work with him. I am vetting and validating his ability to be able to pay back the loan.’

In other words, it’s development banking on a community level. Today, most community banks mainly fund real estate, and they still follow the model where the borrower needs to pledge collateral to get the loan. In a world where services are the business’s primary asset, collateral has no meaning.

So the micro-loans by schools may be a perfect first step to bootstrapping these persistently poor towns.

This is a tentative step. It may not be scalable, but if we are looking for the greatest “social impact indicators”, it is the degree to which people feel secure economically, and safe in their community.

Always has been, always will be.

(The concept of this column, although not the solutions, is taken from “Revenge of the Places That Don’t Matter” by Andrés Rodríguez-Pose, Professor of Economic Geography, London School of Economics. Originally published at VoxEU)


GOP Asks “Hillbilly Elegy” Author To Run For Senate

The Daily Escape:

Snow in the Sahara Desert, Algeria. The snow lasted only a few hours on the ground, since the average low winter temperature is 54°F – 2018 photo by Zinnedine Hashas

With the speculation about Oprah as a candidate, we knew it wouldn’t be long before the Republicans dredged up a celebrity non-politician too. Politico is reporting that Mitch McConnell wants JD Vance to run for the Senate in Ohio against Dem incumbent Sherrod Brown:

Top Senate Republicans have quietly reached out to J.D. Vance — the star author of “Hillbilly Elegy” — about running for Senate in Ohio after the abrupt withdrawal of GOP candidate Josh Mandel last week… McConnell has told associates that he would prioritize the race if Vance jumps in.

McConnell has a good idea. If Vance runs, he is interesting enough to force Democrats to defend an otherwise safe Senate seat. People seem to think Vance is a white working class whisperer.

Wrongo and Ms. Right were persuaded by many Eastern Liberal Elite friends to read Mr. Vance’s book. The pitch was that Vance explains to liberals why white Trump voters from southeastern Ohio and West Virginia wouldn’t vote for Hillary, and don’t lean progressive in their politics.

Maybe. Wrongo thinks that by writing his book, JD Vance was just pushing propaganda that fits the policy preferences of leading Republicans. Try reading this:

We spend our way into the poorhouse. We buy giant TVs and iPads. Our children wear nice clothes thanks to high-interest credit cards and payday loans. We purchase homes we don’t need, refinance them for more spending money, and declare bankruptcy. . . . Thrift is inimical to our being.

Or, this:

We choose not to work when we should be looking for jobs…

Vance’s stereotypes are shark bait for conservative policymakers. They feed the mythology that the undeserving poor make bad choices and are to blame for their own poverty, so why waste taxpayer money on programs to help lift people out of poverty? After all, Vance got out of hillbilly Ohio without them.

People shouldn’t decide policy based on Vance’s anecdotes; they should care about the bigger picture. After all, are conversations with cab drivers a sound basis for economic and geopolitical policy?

It is depressing that Vance places so much blame on welfare rather than, say, neoliberalism and corporatism. They are the ideologies that moved jobs offshore. Their firms leveraged, and later bankrupted manufacturing firms in the heartland. They are the ones who precipitated the economic holocaust in Middle America.

And despite what Vance tells us, most poor people work. Of the families on Medicaid, 78% include a household member who is working. People work hard in jobs that often don’t pay them enough to live on.

After graduation from Yale, JD Vance became a venture capitalist. First, he worked in Silicon Valley for Peter Thiel, and now works for Revolution LLC, a Washington, DC-based venture capital firm, co-founded by AOL founders Steve Case and Ted Leonsis.

It is fair to say that Vance’s hillbilly days are way back in the rear-view mirror. Yet, he remains naïve. He was on “Face The Nation” on December 31st, talking about the Trump tax cut:

When the president talks about tax reform, he talks about the people who will benefit…He talks about American jobs. He talks about the fact that we’re going to be taking money that’s overseas and bringing it back to the US so that it will employ American workers. I think that focus again on the American working and middle class is- is-is to me the most thoughtful and, in some ways, the most genius part of Trump’s approach to politics.

Vance just revealed himself to be another reptilian conservative. We should remember this quote from economist J. K. Galbraith:

The modern conservative is engaged in one of man’s oldest exercises in moral philosophy; that is, the search for a superior moral justification for selfishness.

The grift goes on.



Funding Infrastructure: America’s Great Challenge

The Daily Escape:

Skye Peak, Killington VT – December 2017 photo by wsquared1

Wrongo is Vice-Chair of his town’s roads committee. Just like America, our small town has an infrastructure problem; we have let our roads deteriorate through years of underfunding. It’s a small town, and most of our roads are paved, but today, like most of America, our roads grade out at “D”. That compares to the American Society of Civil Engineers’ grade of “D+” for all of America’s infrastructure.

The federal expenditure to make things right is on the order of $4 Trillion, or 100% of the 2018 federal budget of $4.095 Trillion. About $2 Trillion of that is currently unfunded. Our town is in a smaller boat. We just received a consultant’s report saying that to bring our roads up to an “A” grade would take a one-time expense equal to roughly 45% of the town’s annual budget.

Today we started preparation for the January town council meeting that will address funding of our roads. The fundamental challenge is that we will have to double our spending on roads just to maintain our current “D” rating.

This deferred maintenance is the result of years of underfunding, years of making decisions that directed money to the most obvious projects and programs. Politicians get elected on fiscal responsibility, and then take the shortest-term possible view of what to fund in the budget process.

Accountability is elusive, even when the same pols are on the scene year after year.

The town council’s first question will be: What will this investment get us? Will more people choose to buy/build a home in our town? Will businesses think we are a better location for their next store, shop or factory? And will those decisions add to our tax revenues? Will our roads be safer?

Assuming the answer to question one is positive and persuasive, the council’s second question will be: What parts of our existing budget do we cut in order to fund this need?

This is the crux of America’s problem today.

Government at all levels refuses to raise taxes or other forms of revenue. On the town level, we have little desire to cut expenses for our schools, or our town management. In fact, the pressure is always to increase those budgets.

Turning the desirable into the possible is politically challenging, even though at the Federal level, deficit spending is the rule, not the exception. At the local level, it is always the exception. Our town has a credit rating of AA+, so we have the ability to use bond financing in this historically low rate environment, just like the federal government can and does.

The challenge is how to get the town’s people on the same page, how to convince them that it is smart to finance a long-term asset (like a reconstructed road) with a long-term liability (like a bond).

We call assets like our roads part of the commons: Assets that are not owned by an individual, but by the group, such as the town. The roads are a community resource belonging to all of us, which must be actively maintained and managed for the good of all.

A prime principle is that infrastructure investment be directed to the projects where the return for the economy is the greatest. We should rebuild roads and bridges where we will see a boost to the economy, or as required to maintain citizen safety.

Nobody wins if the commons are allowed to erode. Nobody wins if the commons are appropriated by private ownership.

Funding the commons is one of the greatest challenges facing America. Beware the “public-private partnerships” that the GOP currently has on offer for us.

They lead to absentee ownership, and to skimming part of our tax revenues for a corporation far from home.

Absentee ownership leads to poorer maintenance, and fewer repairs.

And to a lower quality of life for the rest of us.


There is no War on Christmas

The Daily Escape:

River Bann, Northern Ireland

Wrongo isn’t sure how many of you are Spotify users, and it isn’t clear whether Spotify is a true barometer of America’s opinions. But, if you look at Spotify’s “Charts” page for Christmas Day, 2017, this is what you see: Nine of the top ten songs streamed were Christmas songs, with the exception being #10, Post Malone’s “rockstar”.

And the next ten were all Christmas songs. And from #21-30, nine were Christmas songs. From #31-40, six were Christmas songs.

Mariah Carey dominated with her “All I Want For Christmas Is You” at number one, with daily plays of 2,075,827 and cumulative plays of 311,319,704. Brenda Lee was #2. Even Burl Ives makes the top ten at #7 with “A Holly Jolly Christmas”, among Wrongo’s least favorite Christmas tunes.

But Trump says that we have a War on Christmas; that it has been stolen by godless, PC elites. The fear that Christmas is “under attack” has been a recurring phenomenon in the US for the better part of the last century.

But we should see that the real war is elsewhere. Trump should take a minute and understand that legally, Christmas isn’t a Christian holiday in America. Congress passed a bill in 1870 making Christmas a national holiday. The NYT wrote about this in 2013: (emphasis by Wrongo)

If you read the language of the bill, it’s clear that Congress chose dates commonly celebrated as holidays by the American people, not for religious reasons but because of a history of recognition and celebration on those dates…they did not deny religious association with two of the dates, Dec. 25 and Thanksgiving. But the religious association with these days was not the reason behind proposing them as holidays.

Congress got it right in 1870. We get a holiday on Dec 25, and it’s “commonly called Christmas“. You could call it anything you want, or nothing. That’s simply the name commonly used. The government doesn’t presume or direct the manner in which you will spend the day, you can choose to worship the baby Jesus, or you can go bowling, or head out to the gun range to practice your precious Second Amendment rights. The government doesn’t care.

Why, almost 150 years later, Trump and his henchmen in the media are bringing up yet again what individual Americans call the day or the season, or what they do not call it, or whether they celebrate, or do not celebrate it, is not worth anyone’s time.

We live in a time of cultural transition, but one thing is sure: December seems to be about Christmas music.

Despite the fake War on Christmas.


Is Greg Schiano a Pedophile Enabler Because He Worked With a Pedophile?

The Daily Escape:

Red- Palouse Falls State Park, photo by EarthPorn

Wrongo isn’t sure how many of you know who Greg Schiano is. He’s currently the defensive coordinator for the Ohio State football team. He was head coach at Rutgers, and a head coach in the NFL at Tampa Bay. Early in his career, Schiano was an assistant coach at Penn State.

We are talking about Schiano because he applied for the head coach position at the University of Tennessee. The two parties decided they liked each other, and reached a written memorandum of understanding, followed by a contract which apparently, Schiano signed.

Then, a few hours later, Tennessee reneged on hiring Schiano.

Shortly after the intended hiring became public, anyone with a stake in Tennessee football was slinging poo at Schiano. Why? A group raised the issue that Schiano’s time at Penn State overlapped with a Penn State coach, the convicted pedophile Jerry Sandusky. The sum of the Schiano character assassination was this: Greg Schiano worked at Penn State. Someone told someone else that Schiano may, or did know what was going on with Sandusky.

It’s true that Schiano coached at Penn State. He has not been named in any lawsuit. No charges have been filed against him. No witnesses have come forward with any evidence direct or circumstantial, that he knew anything about Sandusky’s acts. The “evidence” of Schiano’s wrongdoing is a third-hand, ten-year old hearsay (one sentence) in a deposition. That’s what triggered the outrage by Tennessee fans.

There were protests on campus. There were statements criticizing Schiano’s hiring from a boatload of Tennessee politicians, including four of the five candidates for governor. It appears that the University and its Athletic Director, John Currie, capitulated to public demand by implying his new hire enabled child rape.

If that wasn’t enough, the White House press secretary weighed in:

Guess who’s the new head football coach at the University of Tennessee. Yup. The guy who covered for Jerry Sandusky. #GregSchiano

The Trump administration takes a position on a football coaching job based on unsubstantiated hearsay, while it openly supports Roy Moore for the US Senate despite reams of potentially credible allegations. Roy Moore says he didn’t do it, and that’s plenty for Trump. But Schiano is guilty as charged based on uninvestigated third hand hallway comments.

Let’s remember that Greg Schiano is not guilty of anything. Rumors are not facts unless proven. If somebody has something that proves that Schiano knew about Sandusky, let’s see it, and then let’s run him out of town.

Wrongo doesn’t believe that the people of Tennessee are outraged about what Schiano might have witnessed a quarter-century ago as a young assistant coach. They were furious because they didn’t think he was “worthy” of a Tennessee football job that used to be prestigious a decade ago. With Schiano’s middling 68-67 record as a head coach at Rutgers, and his failed two-year tenure as head coach of the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, they wanted someone better. And they found a way to torpedo Schiano’s deal.

If Schiano had been a hot-shot coach headed into the upcoming college football playoffs, would the Tennessee fans be up in arms? Highly doubtful.

The real story here is the power of the internet. Baseless charges make their way around the world, the White House has a hot take, fans protest, and outraged state pols demand answers. And then the guy falls like a sack of rocks.

What school is going to hire Schiano after seeing the reaction in Knoxville?

Whoever Tennessee hires next won’t be significantly more or less talented at coaching than Schiano. It’s important that the country sees how loud and ugly it can be when the fan base runs with a false narrative.

This is a teachable moment for our politics as well as for our universities. We need to do a much better job teaching critical thinking, or the mob will always find an audience for guilt by association.

Let’s hope this is something the next school, the next coach, and the next fan base (or voter base) remembers.



Monday Wake Up Call – November 27, 2017

The Daily Escape:

Coyote, Housatonic River – Litchfield County, CT – photo by JH Clery

At the risk of sounding like the discredited Democrat John Edwards, we do live in two Americas. The top rungs of the ladder are living a good life, benefiting from the nine-year rebound from the Great Recession. The other 90% haven’t done well at all. Check out this chart of median household income:


The chart shows median (not average) household income for the US, adjusted for inflation. Unlike average income, median income is not distorted by the enormous gains made by the one-percenters during the past decade.

The chart shows that for a household in the center of the US income distribution, 1999 was the best year ever. The housing bubble brought median household income almost back to its 1999 level in 2007, but not quite. Today, median household income (adjusted for inflation) is slightly lower than it was in 1989, in the first year of the George H.W. Bush administration.

How can this be? The economy is growing, and the US should have a squeaky-tight job market, since unemployment is at a 17-year low at 4.1%, a jobless figure that is near the definition of full employment. We’ve had seven straight years of job growth; job searches lasting 15 weeks or longer are now only 1.5% of the work force, down from 2% a year ago.

But wage growth is anemic. According to the law of supply and demand, employers should be sharply bidding up wages in order to capture increasingly scarce workers. But they aren’t. In October, they raised wages just a bit more than inflation, at an annual rate of 2.4%, down from September’s rate of 2.8%.

This is what imperial decay looks like to the middle class. Keep spending your seed corn tilting at windmills in the Middle East, and pretty soon some in the middle class are dumpster diving.

And consider this: Only a little more than half of America has a retirement account, such as a 401(k) or Individual Retirement Account, according to the Federal Reserve. And the typical household with a retirement account had a balance of $60,000 last year, but there are big variations. Among the top 10% of households by income, the typical amount of savings was $403,000. Middle-income households had a median of $25,000.

Everyone who isn’t in the top 10% knows just how bad things are, and those below the top 20% feel it every day.

But what can they do about it? They work, many working multiple jobs. They get home exhausted. They’re too poor to run for office in a rigged plutocracy. So they go to bed and get up and go to work again in the morning, either depressed and angry, or simply depressed.

That’s about all they can do, except to vote for politicians who have no intention of working to change their economic situation.

Each resulting government is worse than the last. Not to mention at this point in terms of power over people’s lives, even the government is dwarfed by the power of multinational corporations.

It’s long past time to wake up America! We’ve got to stop the hostile takeover of the middle class by plutocrats and corporations, but how to do it? We all have to get off the couch and work for local candidates who will be the bench strength of progressive politics down the road. We also must work to insure that our voting rights are not further eroded by polls that close early, or by efforts to prune the rolls of people who haven’t voted in a few years. This is particularly heinous when less than 55% of eligible people vote even in our presidential elections.

To help us wake up, here is the 1970’s British group XTC with their tune “Wake Up”:

Takeaway Lyric:

You put your cleanest dirty shirt on
Then you stagger down to meet the dawn
You take a ride upon a bus, it’s just a fuss
You know it keeps you born
You get to know a morning face
You get to join the human race
You get to know the world has passed you by


A Year Later…

The Daily Escape:

Chalk Pyramids, Oakley Kansas – photo by Marlon Flores

(Wrongo is writing this on Election Day, and will not know any national or local results before you read the column on Wednesday. Two years ago, Wrongo’s hometown turned out 20+ years of Republican control in a deeply Republican county. The subsequent efforts by local Republicans to block change mirrors exactly what we have seen on a national level. Despite that, much was accomplished. We’ll know on Wednesday if vision or blockage controls the town’s next two years.)

We are one year into the Trump administration. Many of us are still dealing with the reality that the country elected someone who is incapable of empathy, who has very little understanding of how the world works. Someone who treats women, minorities, and people who disagree with him so appallingly.

The worst thing is how bad behavior (by Trump and many in his administration) has become normalized in the eyes of the press and the people. It started immediately with the administration lying about the size of Trump’s inaugural crowd. Martin Longman took a look back and sums it up perfectly:

Looking back a year later, it’s a struggle not to succumb to a well-earned cynicism. We don’t like to repeat our mistakes, which makes it tempting to over-correct for them.

There were…times when President Obama stood up and told the American people that we’re better than this, that we can do better and be better. It’s not a good feeling to know that the response [by voters in 2016] was, “No, we’re not, and no we can’t.”

…But one giant mistake doesn’t condemn us in perpetuity. I actually find comfort and a cause for optimism that so many people were unable to imagine a Trump victory. It means that I wasn’t alone in having some standards or in believing that we can be better than this. It’s just going to be harder and take longer than I was willing to imagine.

Wrongo thinks Martin is too optimistic, and we shouldn’t expect any real change in his lifetime. Why? One reason is that the Democrats can’t stop playing inside baseball long enough to have a winning vision for the country. The Donna Brazile kerfuffle tells all we need to know: There is no leadership in the Democratic Party.

So, no leadership and no vision. The Dems are like your kids fighting in the back seat of the SUV. While the GOP is a well-oiled machine, staying on message, even when they don’t agree with whatever it is that the Donald just did.

The Democratic Party leadership has to go, we can’t stand by them, not even for another election cycle. Mike Allen at Axios suggests we look to mayors for the next Democratic leaders:

Here’s something unusual and refreshing: There are two highly ambitious Democrats who don’t even bother hiding their strong desire to run [for president] in 2020 — and to reshape the party: Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti and New Orleans Mayor Mitch Landrieu, president of the US Conference of Mayors.

Allen thinks that Democrats could be led back from the wilderness by a mayor:

  • Garcetti: “We’re too busy talking to ourselves, and about ourselves…People don’t care about our inner workings, or even our inner leadership battles…We’ve got to get back to speaking plain English. We are so inside baseball right now…Are you a Bernie person? Are you a Hillary person?”
  • Landrieu, speaking about the bipartisanship of the Conference of Mayors: “The one thing we never do in any of our meetings is think about what the Democratic caucus or the Republican caucus in Washington, DC, is doing. It never enters our mind…People in America are feeling unbalanced right now.”

Allen asked top Dem donors and operatives about possible candidates like Garcetti and Landrieu, and heard that they think DC experience is a vulnerability not an asset for a presidential candidate.

Wrongo agrees. America’s mayors actually do things, and getting things done energizes them. Wrongo has seen this from up close in his hometown. Mayors don’t talk like DC pols, they seem to love their jobs.

And it’s a level of government where Democrats have a deep bench.

The GOP’s goal is to destroy the New Deal, the environmental legislation passed during the Nixon administration and all of Johnson’s domestic achievements.

We won’t defeat their goals without a new message and a new messenger.