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The Wrongologist

Geopolitics, Power and Political Economy

Monday Wake Up Call – Trump Credibility Edition, June 17, 2019

The Daily (no) Escape:

Did Donald Trump lose all credibility last week? First, more of the “Russia, if you are listening…” in which he solicited election help from foreign governments, before backing down a little bit.

Next, hours after an attack on two tankers in the Gulf of Oman, Trump said he knew who did it:

“Iran did do it and you know they did it,”
Donald Trump on “Fox & Friends”, June 14th.

This was before experts had much evidence, let alone time for analysis. Next, US Central Command released a video which they said showed:

“Iran’s Revolutionary Guard removing an unexploded limpet mine from one of the oil tankers targeted near the Strait of Hormuz, suggesting the Islamic Republic sought to remove evidence of its involvement from the scene.”

The video is of such poor quality that it’s impossible to tell what’s really going on, where the boat came from, or who’s on board. Trump and Pompeo want us to believe that Iran cruised over to a heavily surveilled tanker in broad daylight to remove a limpet mine, placed several feet above the water line.

Also, it’s hard to believe that military photography technology has again failed just when we needed it. We’re back to blurry Brownie box camera pictures. When Russian artillery was photographed in Ukraine, we saw blurry indistinct B&W photos. When Russia aircraft were photographed in Syria, we saw razor sharp color images. Why can’t the US Navy buy a few iPhones to use in videoing the “Iranians”?

Finally, it’s interesting that America’s Enemy du Jour always does exactly what we want them to do, and just when we want them to do it!

The captain of the Japanese tanker said he was hit from the air, not by a mine. A photo of the Japanese tanker shows two holes well above the waterline. Iran might have done this, or it might have been a false flag operation.

We should remember that in the past 20 years, the US has attacked nations based on similar information to this. There are groups other than Iran that would benefit from the US stepping up its anti-Iran campaign, moving from an economic war to a military one.

But let’s widen out to strategy: While Trump and Pompeo were itching for a fight with Iran, China’s President Xi was completing a three-day visit to Moscow. He hailed China’s strategic ties with Russia. At the same time, Chinese and Russian military commanders met to discuss deepening their strategic partnership.

Then, both Putin and Xi met with Iran’s President Rouhani and expressed their full support for Iran despite the smoking tankers, or the US evidence that Iran was behind the attack. And China afforded its highest diplomatic status to Iran.

A strategically-minded US president would have turned the situation with tankers burning in the Persian Gulf to an advantage. It could have been an opportune time to engage China and Russia in a diplomatic coalition to deal with threats to commerce and free navigation in the Gulf.

Both China and Russia understand the potential impact of a Persian Gulf conflict to their economies. They probably would have listened. Our European allies are waiting for real proof of what happened to those tankers before expressing an opinion, given the state of America’s credibility. Only the UK currently supports Trump.

Another opportunity missed, thus advantage to Iran, while limiting US options.

Trump’s (and Bolton’s) policies of piling on more strategic risk without any gain is driving our allies away, and pushing our peers/competitors closer together.

Trump is increasing our risk of conflict, and the ramifications are global.

The main issue is credibility. We can no longer trust our government. When you can lie without consequence, then there is no value to discussing policy. If Trump wants a war, he’ll have one.

We need to wake up the American voters, who are the only people who can change this.

Their record to date, however, isn’t promising. Hopefully, the world won’t be in tatters before the November 2020 election.

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Dysfunction in the House?

The Daily Escape:

Doubtful Sound, NZ – photo by patlue1101

Wrongo doubts that the way Congressional Democrats are going about their business will make them completely successful in 2020. The media would have us believe that the House is all about investigations. That is compounded by the way they are spinning their wheels about a decision to impeach Trump.

In reality, House Democrats haven’t been squandering time. In addition to the investigations, they’ve been passing legislation. In all, the House has taken up 51 bills since January, of which, 49 have passed.

Do you remember the House voting to end the longest government shutdown in history? Or, passing a bill to lower prescription drug prices, or to protect preexisting medical conditions? They also passed nine bills on veteran’s issues. You should remember HR-1, aimed at getting money out of politics and increasing transparency around donors, and expanding voting rights.

A complete list of what the House has passed is here. Despite Trump’s complaints about doing nothing on infrastructure, lots of legislation has been passed in the House.

The few things the House has been able to agree with Senate Republicans on include the bill to reopen the federal government, a resolution to end US involvement in Yemen (later vetoed by Trump), and the recent federal disaster aid agreement.

So why does the media make it seem like Congress isn’t getting anything done? The vast majority of their bills hit a dead end in the Republican-controlled Senate, and the media is only interested in the investigations, and the fight with the White House.

Trump’s attempts to thwart these investigations have turned into a mud wrestling contest between the administration and the Democratic committee chairs. Congress is attempting to perform its constitutionally mandated role of overseeing the executive branch, while Trump is attempting to obstruct their oversight.

A few individuals have agreed to testify, others, including AG Bill Barr and former WH counsel Don McGahn, have been held in “civil contempt” of Congress.

In the case of the Census question, the media gets it wrong. The DOJ handed over tens of thousands of pages about the Census question, but the media didn’t mention that those materials were not what was subpoenaed, and in some cases, not even relevant. Thus, Barr’s contempt citation.

Civil contempt has no teeth, unless enforced by the courts. Even then, after a federal court held that Trump cannot block a House subpoena targeting his accounting firm, Trump’s lawyers filed a brief asking a federal appeals court to reverse this decision. That case will languish until it is decided by the Supreme Court, most likely, next year.

We could nap from now until September, and wake up to find zero progress in Congress on their investigations. Nothing will happen until after the August recess, and most likely, we won’t see much until next year.

A decision to open an impeachment inquiry strengthens immeasurably all of Congress’s arguments for information. They would have an unambiguous Constitutional basis for their demands, much stronger than what backs their common legislative oversight demands. It all might still wind up in the courts, but Congress’s chances of prevailing would be enhanced.

Finally, Trump walked into a propeller on Wednesday when he said he would accept opposition research from a foreign government. It is illegal to accept foreign campaign contributions, although an exchange of political information isn’t unambiguously a contribution. Mueller didn’t decide if opposition research provided for free by a foreign government constitutes a “thing of value” and thus is an illegal foreign campaign contribution.

OTOH, you would think that Mr. Art of the Deal must know that if he accepts information that is useful to his campaign from a foreign government, it comes with strings attached. When he then says he’d do it again, he shows that he’s learned nothing from 2016, or from the Mueller Report’s conclusion about foreign government intervention in the 2016 election.

Trump has again invited the Russians and others to intervene in our elections. The question is will he get away with it?

Should Congress continue down the path of waiting on the courts to decide to get them the information they need to make a case? Or, should they launch an impeachment inquiry that limits the legal defenses of the administration?

Time has come for the Congressional Democrats to leave the “do little, say less” portion of their current term behind. We are already six months into the current Pelosi Speakership. That means just 18 months remain until the House is up for re-election.

The war for 2020 has already begun. Democrats shouldn’t worry about the political implications of an impeachment inquiry. It’s time to do what’s right by holding the Trump administration accountable.

It’s time to let America know what Democrats in the House are doing.

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Monday Cartoon Blogging – June 10, 2019

We’re back from the beach to review the week that was! Trump toured Buckingham Palace. The world observed the 75th anniversary of D-day, and the 30th anniversary of China’s Tiananmen Square. Some are saying that the vicious attack by security forces on protesters in Sudan is Africa’s first Tiananmen Square-type event. At home, Joe Biden renounced the Hyde Amendment that barred public financing for abortions, a position he held for nearly 40 years. Republicans pounced, framing Biden’s change in position as a gaffe. You might say he was for it before he was against it. On to cartoons.

Biden has another bi-partisan moment with GOP:

 

Trumpy oh Trumpy, where have you been? I’ve been to London to visit the Queen:

What D-Day shows us about today:

Mueller’s subliminal messages:

GOP ponders raising voting age:

Trump has genuine concerns about voting:

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Remembering RFK

The Daily Escape:

Whidbey Island, WA at sunset – 2019 photo by 11mdg11

(This is the last column until Monday, June 10th. Wrongo and Ms. Right are enjoying a few beach days.)

This week shouldn’t be allowed to pass into the books without remembering Robert F. Kennedy. On June 5th, few of us were conscious of that same day 51 years ago, when he was assassinated in Los Angeles, moments after declaring victory in the California Democratic Presidential primary.

On June 5, 1968, Wrongo was running a US Army nuclear missile unit in Germany. We were in the midst of the Vietnam War, and LBJ had announced in March that he wasn’t running for reelection. Sen. Eugene McCarthy, an anti-Vietnam War candidate, had shown surprising strength in the New Hampshire primary, finishing second. Although he was initially given little chance of winning, January’s Tet Offensive had galvanized opposition to the war.

Bobby Kennedy entered the race in March, and it seemed that Democrats were poised to take the Party in a new direction. Kennedy was drawing huge crowds everywhere he went; he was on the cover of Time Magazine’s May 24th issue.

Most saw RFK as a continuation of optimism that JFK had demonstrated in his shortened presidency. From over in Europe in the days before the internet, Wrongo thought that Bobby Kennedy could win the nomination, and beat Richard Nixon in November.

That wasn’t to be. Armed Forces Radio carried the news that Robert Kennedy had been shot, and that doctors would be holding a press conference on his condition. We had all heard that earlier with the death of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. in April.

That summer, American cities burned, the police rioted at the Democratic convention in Chicago, and the Russians invaded Czechoslovakia. In fact, Wrongo’s summer days were spent checking radar images of planes landing and taking off from Prague.

Hubert Humphrey began his campaign to keep the White House in the hands of the Democrats, while trying to distance himself from both LBJ and the War. The Republicans nominated Richard Nixon. George Wallace, the segregationist governor of Alabama launched a third-party run designed to draw conservative blue-collar Democrats. Wallace carried five southern states with ten million votes.

Nixon received 31,784,000 votes to Humphrey’s 31,272,000 million votes. It took until the next day to know the outcome. But as now, the Electoral College totals weren’t close at all: Nixon won 301 to 191 for Humphrey, with 46 votes going to Wallace.

It’s interesting to note that in 2016, Trump got 306 electoral votes in a two-way race.

In 1968, Wrongo believed we needed to end the Vietnam War, and that required Bobby Kennedy to be president. He has certainly felt since then that he needed to vote for Democrats. But only Bill Clinton’s first run, and both by Barak Obama, seemed to inspire the feeling of intensity and commitment that RFK sparked in a young Lieutenant in Germany.

There have been 13 presidential elections since the assassination of RFK. The Democrats have won five of those contests. Most of the Party’s losing candidates were by any political standard, uninspiring: Hubert Humphrey; Walter Mondale; Michael Dukakis; Al Gore; John Kerry and Hillary Clinton. All were mediocre campaigners.

Wrongo fears that our choices for 2020 are also uninspiring, and reflect a similar degree of mediocrity.

Not every candidate can be JFK or RFK. We all understand that.

But we must hope for better, for someone who can express what we are feeling. A person who sees the world as we do, who can make us want to get out of our chairs, and work to make that someone president.

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Sunday Cartoon Blogging – June 2, 2019

The Daily Escape:

Everest traffic jam – May 2019 photo by Nirmal Nims Purja

People look at this photo of bumper-to-bumper climbers on Everest and think that it proves there is too much money in the world. Enough, that people can chase experiences that were unattainable even ten years ago. Wrongo sees this photo as a metaphor for the Democratic 2020 presidential nomination. Too many climbers reaching for the summit of American politics. Some will fall by the wayside, and with such a crowd, it isn’t clear if the best climbers will reach the top.

The point of the climb is to whittle the number of candidates down to the few who have a chance to win in 2020. The DNC just announced that its September 2019 rules will be much stricter than the current requirements to make it into the June debates. The third debate will require both 130,000 donors and achieving 2% in four polls. Some campaigns are already complaining. Isn’t complaining just telling on yourself?

Wrongo is fine with a progressively more challenging requirement for candidates to appear at the debates.

On to cartoons. Special Counsel Robert Mueller finally spoke. That led to a flowering of Mueller cartoons this week. Mueller didn’t want to speak beyond Thursday’s quickie press conference, so the cartoonists spoke for him.

Trump decides to stay seated:

Mueller makes his point:

Parsing of Mueller Report continues:

Mueller speaks. Pelosi has difficulty hearing:

Highlights by Barr and Mueller are vastly different:

You can lead a horse to water, but maybe not a donkey:

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Saturday Soother – Trump Mexican Tariff Edition, June 1, 2019

There’s No Escape Today:

More tariffs! This from CNN:

“President Donald Trump threatened on Thursday to impose new tariffs on Mexico if the country does not step up its immigration enforcement actions, combining his boiling border-related frustrations with his preferred method of punishing foreign countries.

Trump said in a White House statement that the first round of tariffs would begin on June 10 at 5% ‘on all goods imported from Mexico.’ The statement said Trump would carry out his threat under authority from the International Emergency Economic Powers Act and that he would lift tariffs only ‘if the illegal migration crisis is alleviated through effective actions taken by Mexico.’

The statement warned further that if Mexico does not act as Trump demands, tariffs would go up to 10% by July, 15% by August, 20% by September and reach a permanent level of 25% by October.”

Mexico probably does need to do more to stop migrants crossing their country.

OTOH, they like America, have rules that safeguard migrants. It’s doubtful that the Trump administration has studied those rules or cares about them, any more than they care about ours.

According to Forbes, The US imported $346.5 billion in goods from Mexico last year and for the first three months of 2019, they increased 5.4%. At that rate there would be $365 billion imported in 2019. At a 5% tariff, companies would have to either raise prices or take an $18 billion hit to profits. And it is companies and eventually consumers that will pay these new Trump tariffs, not the exporting country as Trump consistently misrepresents.

This is why the DOW fell 355 points on Friday.

Trump used the International Emergency Economic Powers Act as his legal basis to place tariffs on Mexico. It’s a Cold War-era law that actually vests the presidency with absurdly broadly defined, near-dictatorial powers in many areas. But, prior presidents, even Reagan and Bush 43, never conceived in their wildest dreams of using them except in an ACTUAL emergency. And they didn’t.

Trump doesn’t care, he sees a hammer, and decides that it isn’t for driving nails; it’s for breaking Mexican kneecaps. Matt Yglesias explains that there’s an easy climb down for Trump in this. Migration from/through Mexico is very seasonal, peaking in the spring, and declining sharply in the summer.

Trump will probably pretend to get some concessions from Mexico and declare victory in a couple of months. His moron supporters will surely applaud that.

At some point, Democrats will have to frame these and Trump’s other tariffs for what they are: a national sales tax on imports. Dems need to start explaining to the public that these tariffs are a national sales tax on everything from Mexico, including cars and components for US car manufacturers. Maybe saying this:

“Trump is making Americans pay a sales tax on imports until illegal immigration stops. How will Americans paying higher taxes force Mexico to stop illegal immigration?”

That’s how it should be framed.

Enough! We’ve been Mueller ’ed and Trump ’ed all week, and it’s time for your Saturday Soother!

On the first day of June, Wrongo hopes that you are in short sleeves, and thinking of getting outdoors, and that doesn’t mean shopping at the mall.

Let’s start by brewing up a vente cup of Hawaii Kau Champagne Natural from Paradise Roasters ($19.95/12 oz.). This coffee tied for the highest rating in Coffee Review’s May 2019 tasting report of Hawai’i-grown coffees. They say that its tropical and floral aromas lead into a sweet and complex dessert-like cup.

Paradise has experimented with yeast fermented coffees that produce a more intense and complex flavor than traditional methods. It evokes Champagne, fruity but dry, and not effervescent. They only roast this coffee on one day: June 3rd, 2019. So you have been alerted to act fast.

Now, move outside, assuming you live in a part of the world that isn’t suffering from rain or tornadoes. Put on your wireless headphones, and listen to a Philadelphia-based Irish band, BarleyJuice, play their tune, “Weekend Irish”:

Sample Lyric:
And the blood runs deep,
When the booze is cheap,
Long as you ain’t got an agenda to keep,
You can be a Weekend Irish, hey!
Aye, aye, we’re the Weekend Irish

And we’ll raise a hand,
To the motherland,
Best part of being an American,
To be a Weekend Irish

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

The Wrongologist does not condone identity politics, unless it involves weekend singing, dancing and drinking.

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Monday Wake Up Call – 2019 Memorial Day Edition

The Daily Escape:

Memorial Day, Arlington National Cemetery – 2013 photo by William Coyle

 “Patriotism is supporting your country all the time, and your government when it deserves it.” Mark Twain

Today we celebrate the sacrifice of those who died fighting in America’s wars. We mourn those we knew, and we remember those we never knew.

We can’t seem to get our fill of war. In fact, since 1943, the year of Wrongo’s birth, the US has been at peace for just five years: 1976, and 1977, 1978, 1997 and 2000 are America’s only years with no major war.

So today, we celebrate those who have died in service of our global ambitions. Maybe we watch a parade, shop at the mall, and attend the first cookout of the year. Perhaps we should be required to spend more time thinking about how America can increase the number of years when we are not at war.

But today also brings us something else to think about. The Yale School of Forestry published an article about the use of Agent Orange in Vietnam, Fifty Years After, A Daunting Cleanup of Vietnam’s Toxic Legacy. Here is a snippet:

“From 1962 to 1971, the American military sprayed vast areas of Vietnam with Agent Orange, leaving dioxin contamination that has severely affected the health of three generations of Vietnamese. Now, the US and Vietnamese governments have joined together in a massive cleanup project.”

During the US Air Force campaign known as Operation Ranch Hand, Agent Orange was used to strip bare the coastal mangroves of the Mekong Delta and the dense triple-canopy forests that concealed enemy fighters and supply lines. One-sixth of South Vietnam was blanketed with 20 million gallons of herbicides, and as many as 4.8 million Vietnamese civilians were exposed to the spraying.

The three remaining hot spots of dioxin contamination were the US airbases at Da Nang, Bien Hoa, and the smaller air base at Phu Cat. These were the sites from where the spraying was launched. The residual levels of dioxin on those sites posed a serious ongoing threat to public health. Of the three, Bien Hoa was by far the worst. During our war in Vietnam, it was said to be the busiest airport in the world.

Phu Cat was cleaned up by the Vietnamese without US assistance. Next came Da Nang, a six-year project that was completed last October. It cost $110 million, of which $100 million came from the US State Department, channeled through USAID.

The sheer volume of soils and sediments that must be remediated is staggering. In Da Nang, it was 90,000 cubic meters; in Bien Hoa it is 495,300. The US has agreed to commit $300 million to the Bien Hoa cleanup over 10 years, but USAID couldn’t bear the entire cost. So, after much debate, the Department of Defense agreed to contribute half of the total.

This has to be done, since dioxin is a deadly chemical. It is both hydrophobic and lipophilic: it hates water and loves fat. It sinks into the sediment at the bottom of bodies of water, it attaches to organic matter and moves up the food chain, from plankton to small aquatic animals and finally to fish. In soil, it ends up in free-range chickens and ducks and their eggs.

It becomes more concentrated at each stage, a process known as bioaccumulation. Eighty-seven percent of dioxin enters the body through ingestion, before migrating into fatty tissue, the liver, and breast milk. And fish and poultry are staples of the Vietnamese diet.

The WHO stipulates a tolerable maximum of 1 to 4 picograms (one trillionth of a gram) per kilogram of body weight per day. The mean amount they found in breastfed infants in the Bien Hoa area was 80 picograms.

And we shouldn’t forget how haphazardly the VA has dealt with the medical issues of Vietnam Vets who were exposed to Agent Orange. For many years veterans with Agent Orange-related diseases were denied disability compensation by the VA. This only changed with the passage of the Agent Orange Act of 1991. Now, the VA acknowledges certain cancers and other diseases are caused by Agent Orange.

The Vietnam War ended in 1975. The Vietnam vets that survived the war only to suffer from Agent Orange-related diseases had to wait at least 16 years before our government began helping the majority of them. Vietnam waited 50 years before our government acknowledged our culpability in destroying much of their environment.

This is a sad reminder about today’s Memorial Day, all of our past Memorial Days, and the ones to come.

It is good to be reminded again about our dead soldiers, and also to be reminded of what our government ordered them to do.

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Sunday Cartoon Blogging – May 26, 2019

In another “elections have consequences” story, The Economic Policy Institute (EPI), has a new report about how states can blunt the 2018 Supreme Court decision in Epic Systems v. Lewis. In that case, the court ruled that employers can use forced arbitration clauses to strip workers of their right to join together in court to fight wage theft, discrimination, or harassment. The EPI forecasts that by 2024, more than 80% of private-sector, nonunion workers will be covered by forced arbitration clauses.

They argue that, given the current very conservative Supreme Court, it will be up to individual states to pass “whistleblower enforcement” laws like those introduced in Massachusetts, Maine, New York, Oregon, Vermont, and Washington, to empower workers who need to sue law-breaking employers, including those covered by arbitration clauses.

On to cartoons. Here’s a look at abortion from the GOP white male perspective:

Trump won’t (can’t?) deal:

GOP’s accomplishments are transparent, even if they are not:

The Parties see things differently:

Summer replacement series doesn’t get raves:

Graduation speakers aren’t created equal:

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Saturday Soother – May 25, 2019

The Daily Escape:

Man of War Bay, Dorset, UK – 2019 photo by bluecalxx

Yesterday at lunch with long-time friend and blog reader Fred, he asked about what we have lost in the time of Trump. I answered that America has lost experiencing the difference between following the spirit, and the letter of the law.

We always have had politicians who cut corners, but they understood their obligations as servants to the community at large. They were people who understood that they had an obligation to represent the best of our ideals to the rest of us.

Politicians now stick (barely) to the letter of the law: “If it doesn’t say I can’t do it, I’ll just do what I want.”

But this age didn’t begin with Trump’s 2016 win. In 1973, Arthur M. Schlesinger, Jr. wrote “The Imperial Presidency” in which he argued that the power of the presidency had exceeded the limits set by our Constitutional checks and balances.

Schlesinger was focused on the Nixon presidency. Yet, for all his flaws, Nixon was unwilling to tear down our government to save himself. Trump has shown us that when a president is absolutely willing to cross the line of what we formerly called the spirit of the law, nothing holds him back.This is a deep flaw in our Constitution.

And now, 35 years after Nixon, our government might just get torn down by Trump and his sycophants.

On Thursday, Trump gave AG William Barr authority to conduct a review into how the 2016 Trump campaign’s ties to Russia were investigated. The intention is to portray Trump as the real victim of the Russia investigation. Trump also granted Barr the power to unilaterally declassify documents of the CIA, FBI and other intelligence agencies. More from the NYT: (emphasis by Wrongo)

“The move — which occurred just hours after the president again declared that those who led the investigation committed treason — gave Mr. Barr immense leverage over the intelligence community and enormous power over what the public learns about the roots of the Russia investigation.”

The declassification process will be selective, in service of a predetermined narrative. Barr now has the ability to again control the narrative, much like his “summary” of the Mueller Report that mischaracterized the Report’s content.

And there won’t be any way to distinguish between selective declassification and flat-out lies. This is the equivalent of a judge who announces at the start of the trial that he’s going to allow every objection by the prosecution, while ruling against every defense motion. It will be a show trial.

David Frum at the Atlantic says:

“The mission he has assigned them: Fight to suppress documents properly subpoenaed by Congress to answer important public questions, then pick and choose US national secrets to defame career professionals who sought to protect the integrity of the nation’s elections against foreign adversaries who manipulated those elections in Trump’s favor.”

Worse, we the people will have to rely on the media to tell facts from spin without seeing all of the classified information. Information that caused the intelligence agencies to worry about the Trump campaign’s Russia connections in the first place. That evidence led them to request warrants. A federal court reviewed that evidence, and authorized and subsequently, reauthorized the warrants. Frum asks:

“Will that evidence be declassified?”

If you’re an FBI agent, and you’ve been chasing down what Deutsche Bank knew about Trump’s dealings with overseas oligarchs, and you hear that your ultimate boss, Barr, is about to investigate the investigators, you’re probably not sleeping well tonight. Particularly after Trump says that the investigators committed treason.

And that’s the point.

Time to downshift into our long Memorial Day weekend, beginning with that ritual we call the Saturday Soother. There is no need for coffee this weekend, we’re already overly amp’ed up by the news.

So, let’s move on to music to soothe the savage within. Find a comfy chair and your wireless headphones, and listen to a Mexican waltz, “Sobre las Olas” or “Over the Waves” by Juventino Rosas. It was first published in Mexico in 1888. You have certainly already heard the piece if you’ve been on a carnival ride. In 1950, the music was adapted for the movie The Great Caruso as the song, “The Loveliest Night of the Year”. Later, Mario Lanza recorded it, and it reached Number 3 in the 1951 US Billboard Charts:

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

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Monday Wake Up Call – May 20, 2019

The Daily Escape:

Steps leading to Franciscan Sanctuary, La Verna, Tuscany, Italy – photo by Guiseppe Pepperoni

Over the weekend, Wrongo and Ms. Right, along with a few friends, saw “Hadestown” on Broadway. It is a theatrical home run that has received 14 Tony nominations. Describing the plot is difficult. Most reviews focus on the mythology at the heart of the play. The story is a re-imagination of Orpheus and Eurydice set in contemporary time.

The mythological story is that Orpheus is the world’s greatest poet, and Eurydice is his bride. It is intertwined with the love story of King Hades and his wife Persephone. During the play, we take an epic journey to the underworld and back.

In the myth, Eurydice is killed by a snake bite, and the mourning Orpheus travels to the underworld to beg Hades to return his wife to life. To make his case, Orpheus sings a song so beautiful that Persephone begs Hades to let Eurydice go.

That is loosely followed in the play, where these mythic characters are pawns in a central metaphor of capitalism as death. That seems so current in today’s predatory capitalism, and yet, the play is not a polemic. In the play, Eurydice isn’t bitten by a snake. Instead, she’s lured into Hadestown by Hades’s promise of work and food.

Hadestown is a factory town, and Hades is both the god of death and a merciless taskmaster, forcing his subjects to build an endless wall around Hadestown. In his April 15thMonday Wake Up Call”, Wrongo used Hades’s call and response song, “Why We Build the Wall”. The song seems right for 2019 because of our Orange Overlord, but in reality it was written in 2010.

Wrongo posts a sample lyric for you:

Who do we call the enemy? The enemy is poverty, And the wall keeps out the enemy, And we build the wall to keep us free. That’s why we build the wall;

We build the wall to keep us free.

The Wall makes us free. Arbiet macht frei. The few Trumpets in the audience demonstratively did not applaud the song, while the vast majority cheered. Partisanship is an always-on emotion.

Some call-outs to cast members: Patrick Page and Amber Gray are standouts, he as Hades, and she as Persephone. The legendary André De Shields, plays Hermes. He’s the show’s narrator. His cool swagger pulls the audience into the play from the opening curtain.

See it if you can.

During our pre-theater meal, we talked about the Democratic presidential candidates, a list that seems destined to continue growing. Our friends at dinner follow politics quite closely, and none are fully happy with any of the Democrats on offer.

Most defaulted to “electability”, espousing the view that it is “Do-or-Die” time in America, that we can’t take four more years of what we are experiencing now. That leads them to accept Joe Biden’s candidacy. Wrongo has a different view, as captured in this Vanity Fair article: (emphasis by Wrongo)

“Since Vietnam, every time a Democrat has won the presidency, it’s because Democrats voted with their hearts in a primary and closed ranks around the candidate who inspired them, promising an obvious break from the past and an inspiring vision that blossomed in the general election. Jimmy Carter. Bill Clinton. Barack Obama. All were young outsiders who tethered their message to the culture of the time. When Democrats have picked nominees cautiously and strategically—falling in line—the results have been devastating, as Michael Dukakis, Al Gore, John Kerry and Hillary Clinton made plain.”

So, what will happen this time? Those who believe in Biden’s electability should remember that there are 45 million Americans with student loans: 22% of those loans are in default, and 99% of them fail to qualify for loan forgiveness.

It was Biden’s decision to make student loans not dischargeable in bankruptcy. That’s going to be one large group of people who, when they learn who is behind their plight, probably will vote against him.

Biden has been on the job in Washington for around 50 years. Suddenly, according to Bloomberg, he wants to “Fix Things”?

Wake up Democrats! Find a candidate who inspires YOU. Work for that candidate in the primaries. Don’t buy the argument “but he/she isn’t electable” until that is proven by the results of the primaries.

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