Friday brought Robert Mueller’s indictment of 13 Russians for “information warfare against the United States of America“. The best part was that the special counsel’s work was totally under the radar, and there were zero leaks.
And thus far, nobody on the right is claiming Mueller’s indictments are “fake news”.
One interesting takeaway was that Russian cells were formed to establish phony Facebook, Twitter and other accounts that pushed divisive politics in the US. We already knew this, but we didn’t know specifics: At one point, a supposed Islamophobic group protested outside a Texas mosque, and it was met by a pro-Muslim counter-demonstration. Both demonstrations were called for by fake Russian sites. These sites eventually had hundreds of thousands of followers. They spread false memes, including that Clinton supported Sharia law.
Russian sites that were disguised as a part of the Black Lives Matter movement argued that African-Americans should not vote. While it is impossible to show cause and effect, Clinton underperformed with Black voters.
The jury is still out on the extent of Russian influence, and we may never know if it mattered. Still, it is way past time for the Democratic Party to own up to its own failures, rather than continually blaming the Russians, Bernie Sanders, the Green Party, or the deplorables.
After Mueller indictments, Trump and friends now have some ‘splaining to do:
Mitch, Paul and the rest of the GOP think they have zero responsibility for gun violence:
The issue is always the guns:
American Exceptionalism was on display again last week:
Pledge of Allegiance needs new words:
Blockbuster Black Panther movie may help beyond entertaining us:
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.
Spricherstadt, Hamburg Germany. Spricherstadt is the warehouse district in Hamburg – 2018 photo by Brotherside
Events move so quickly in Trumpworld, there is little time to consider the full implications of them. By last Friday, few remembered that on Monday, the three-day government shutdown ended. It was just another crisis reconfirming that our political system doesn’t work. The crisis was solved by the Democrats caving on the DACA fix, for a promise that DACA would be considered again soon.
Trump then went to Davos. That could have been disastrous, but Trump toned it down by saying nearly nothing. That led the heads of the world’s largest corporations and banks to conclude that Trump isn’t so dangerous. Some actually liked him, because he didn’t berate the Davos crowds with faux populism.
Everyone seems to agree that was a good thing, and that it could have been worse.
Meanwhile back in the US, on Thursday, the NYT reported that Trump ordered the firing of Special Counsel Robert Mueller last July, only to be dissuaded by White House lawyer Don McGahn. Mueller is still on the job, so, Constitutional crisis avoided.
It’s a lot to process.
Steven Levitsky and Daniel Ziblatt, the authors of “How Democracies Die,” wrote about just how fragile our democracy is in the Sunday NYT. They say that two unwritten norms undergird our Republic that has endured various political and economic crises for two and a half centuries: (emphasis by Wrongo)
The first is mutual toleration, according to which politicians accept their opponents as legitimate. When mutual toleration exists, we recognize that our partisan rivals are loyal citizens who love our country just as we do.
The second norm is forbearance, or self-restraint in the exercise of power. Forbearance is the act of not exercising a legal right. In politics, it means not deploying one’s institutional prerogatives to the hilt, even if it’s legal to do so.
But now, Trump and other politicians push up to the edge of legality. They occasionally have stepped over the line delineating these “norms”. They have dared adversaries (or the courts) to force them back. When there is little pushback, a new norm appears.
This is America today.
In this environment, politicians willingly leverage their power to win at all costs, norms and principles be damned. Last week, Tony Perkins, leader of the evangelical Family Research Council, said in response to allegations that Trump had an affair with a porn star four months after the birth of his son Barron:
We kind of gave him — All right, you get a mulligan. You get a do-over here.
We are in an Orwellian moment. The President and party politicians stand before the nation and swear that up is down, black is white, truths are lies, and wrong is right.
Time to wake up America! We are on a precipice, staring down into the void. The country isn’t going to auto-correct, like your emails. And it can get much, much worse unless people understand the threats to our democracy, and move sharply to stop our downhill slide.
That means understanding the issues. It means voting in off-year elections, starting with your town council, and your state representatives and yes, your House and Senate candidates. It means working to get the word out to your neighbors. It means financial support for local candidates.
It means getting off the sidelines.
To help you wake up, here is The Record Company with their tune, “Off the Ground” from their 2016 album “Give It Back to You”. It reached #1 on the US Billboard Adult Alternative Songs chart:
Those who read the Wrongologist in email can view the video here.
2018 is supposed to be a “Blue Wave” election, but Wrongo has doubts. We spoke yesterday about the pathetic performance of Team Dem during the shutdown. The Financial Times (paywalled) quoted Adam Green, co-founder of the liberal Progressive Change Campaign Committee: (brackets and emphasis by Wrongo)
The Republicans are very good at casting this debate [DACA] as being about illegal immigration and Democrats were not willing to own that this was at its core about the Dreamers and to define the Republican position as hurting kids and tearing apart families…The Trump people were clearly thinking about their messaging in advance and preparing ads in advance and there was almost no [Democratic] co-ordination with outside groups and no air cover by Democratic strategists…
That Schumer, Pelosi, et al. had no Plan B shows that they weren’t serious, no doubt because DACA isn’t an important issue for their base, the top 10%. Can the current Democratic Party leaders turn a wave opportunity into another squeaker like they did in 2016?
There is a large group of disaffected and/or disappointed voters who can be claimed in the 2018 Congressional elections. It’s a group of voters so disgusted with both parties that they could, just as easily vote in huge numbers, or stay home in droves.
Democrats said after the 2016 election that one new principle was to “crack down on corporate monopolies”, but since then, have done nothing. Here is a candidate that should be an example to Democrats on the subject of corporate power over the lives of regular people. Austin Frerick is a 22-year-old running as Democrat in the 3rd Congressional District in Iowa against a conservative Republican. Watch him explain concentrated corporate power in a way that Schumer and Pelosi can’t, and won’t:
(Those who read the Wrongologist in email can view the video here.)
The basic skill a politician must have is to bring disparate groups a message about what they want/need, and how to get it. Chuck Shumer, the beacon of Wall Street, can’t be the guy fighting for Main Street voters. Anything Schumer comes up with will not be the kind of clear and concise message that Austin Frerick can use to win his district.
Civil Rights activists in the 1960s didn’t win the prize on day one, but they never took their eyes off the ball once they achieved a few small wins. It’s important to remember that in the 1960s, the Party’s leadership was aligned with their Main Street supporters. But today, Democrats in Congress and their usual Democratic supporters have little in common. Schumer/Pelosi are not seeking the same prize as Main Street Democrats. They are captured by the monied elites, and have no message directed at the little people. Their only message is “Russians! Trump!”.
So far, Dems have won a few special elections, and won the Governorship in NJ, which should never have been lost to Christie in the first place. It’s time for the progressives in Congress to stage an actual coup, replacing today’s leaders with a few of their own. Otherwise, 2018’s messaging will be: 2016 – the sequel.
Will Wrongo be wrong again? Will the Democrats win with their current leaders? Or will they field so many unpalatable mainstreamers, backed by no message at all, that few will vote for them?
We’ll know in just a few months, and then, 2020 is just around the corner.
Drake Hooded Mergansers with a female Common Merganser tagging along. Housatonic River, Litchfield County CT – January 9, 2018 photo by JH Clery
You missed it. During the Christmas holiday week, the Trump Administration published a notice in the federal register announcing that it would waive the outstanding criminal sanctions against some of the world’s largest banks: Citigroup, JPMorgan, Barclays, UBS and Deutsche Bank.
The LIBOR fraud effected every interest rate in the world.
Four of the banks receiving waivers, Citigroup, JPMorgan, Barclays and UBS, received temporary waivers from the Obama administration late in 2016 for one year. Now, the Trump administration has offered five-year waivers to Citigroup, JPMorgan and Barclays, and three-year waivers to UBS and Deutsche Bank.
By laws that protect retirement savings, financial firms with affiliates convicted of violating securities statutes are barred from the lucrative business of managing those savings. But, a special exemption will allow these banks to keep their status as “qualified professional asset managers”.
It makes you wonder what a bank has to do to get punished, or for a bank president to go to jail, when laundering money for drug dealers and manipulating global interest rates aren’t serious enough crimes. We’ve entered a period of extreme social stratification in this country, one that is similar to India’s: The bankers and politicians are the Brahmins and the rest of us are the untouchables.
These interactions with the Trump administration and the federal government are transpiring as Deutsche remains a key creditor for Donald Trump’s businesses. From David Sirota:
Meanwhile, the NYTrecently reported that federal prosecutors subpoenaed Deutsche for:
Bank records about entities associated with the family company of Jared Kushner, President Trump’s son-in-law and senior adviser.
Not enough for you? The just-appointed number two in the DOJ’s office of the US Attorney for the Southern District of New York, is Robert Khuzami, formerly director of the SEC’s Enforcement Division. And before that, he was Deutsche Bank’s General Counsel.
Nothing to see here. Conflicts of interest are all over this case. Trump’s waiver is a clear conflict of interest. And both his son-in-law Jared and the new US Attorney have more than incidental relationships with Deutsche.
First Obama went easy on the banksters, and now, so does Kaiser Tweeto.
Republicans are happy to see Der Trump helping the banking industry and not pursuing them. And thanks to President Clinton, they no longer suffer under the restrictions of the Glass/Steagall act.
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.
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.
We made it through 2017! Some doubted that we could, but the sun rose in the east every day, and here we are. Tonight we hoist a drink, and say “good riddance” to 2017. The question for tomorrow is: Where are we? What follows is a brief review of 2017 in cartoons.
Of course, one option is no review at all:
2017 was business as usual in DC:
Voodoo economics made a comeback in 2017:
A Year-end view of his Twitterness from the Netherlands:
#MeToo caught a few big abusers, but some escaped:
The big question is will the tax bill really go through reconciliation, or can Paul Ryan convince House Republicans to vote for it essentially as is? The three factions Ryan has to deal with inside his own party might make a straight agreement a hard sell. Will a successful reconciliation happen? Odds seem to be in its favor. However, things could go sideways. There’s plenty in the bills to anger just enough of the three Republican House factions, and they’re more exposed to a potential 2018 wave election than the Senators. State and local tax deduction are a sticking point, and what about the deficit? It will be an interesting and stressful next few weeks.
Returning to yesterday’s David Stockman’s analysis: The standard deduction is doubled in both bills to $24,000 per household, costing $737 billion while changing the tax brackets from seven to four (in the House bill) costs $1.17 trillion.
When all the puts and takes are finished on the personal income tax side, what America gets from 2018-2027 is a $1.20 trillion net reduction in personal income taxes. But, as we showed in yesterday’s chart, dead people and rich people stand to benefit the most.
So, what’s left is a tiny $352 billion tax cut for rest of America’s 145 million tax filers over the entire next decade. On average, that’s about $242 per person per year!
Couldn’t $1.4 trillion been better spent on refurbishment of our infrastructure rather than in giveaways to corporations? Do corporations really need more government aid at a time when they are recording near-record profits, and hold huge cash reserves that they are not spending on hiring, wage increases or investment in the USA?
It’s long past time for America to wake up!! Whether you support the tax bill or hate it, it’s also past time to clean out the sewer that is Congress. It will take about six years of organizing, finding progressive candidates, and GETTING OUT THE VOTE, to deliver mostly new faces in DC.
We must break up the “old thugs club” that Congress has become. To help us wake up and start on political renewal, let’s listen to George Harrison’s “Taxman”. This was the Beatles’ musical complaint about how much they were paying in taxes in the UK. “Mr. Wilson” and “Mr. Heath” are mentioned in the lyrics. They are former British Prime Ministers Harold Wilson and Edward Heath, who contributed to writing English tax laws that at one point had a 95% marginal tax rate.
There are no high-def video recordings of the tune available online by the Beatles (it was released in 1966 on “Revolver”), so here is Joe Bonamassa performing “Taxman” live at Liverpool’s Cavern Club, in June 2016. It’s his bluesy take on the Beatles’ pop sensibilities:
Those who read the Wrongologist in email can view the video here.
Naiman Nuur (Eight Lakes) National Park, Mongolia. The lakes are just 22 miles from the Orkhon waterfalls, but are accessible only by hiking, or by horse. You can get to it with 4 wheel drive vehicles, but it is 80+ miles one way, 160 if there are heavy rains. You are probably never coming here.
Rick Perry heads Trump’s Department of Energy, (DoE). With the Russians, nuclear war with North Korea, ditching the Iran deal, and hurricanes, we have ignored Perry. But Perry hasn’t ignored the coal industry Trump hired him to protect. The DoE has asked the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC) to begin the rule-making process to subsidize coal and nuclear plant operator’s costs and profits. From Vox:
Perry wants utilities to pay coal and nuclear power plants for all their costs and all the power they produce, whether those plants are needed or not.
The loss of coal plants had not diminished grid reliability; in fact, the grid is more reliable than ever. Reliability can be improved further through smart planning and a portfolio of flexible resources.
Then the DoE said to FERC: Address a crisis we determined doesn’t exist. They are asking FERC to adopt a rule forcing utilities in competitive energy markets to pay the full cost of plants that have 90 days’ worth of fuel on-site. Perry’s argument is that the levels of renewable energy produced from wind and solar is variable. And since backup is needed for days with calm winds or cloudy skies, we need to preserve the aging coal and nuclear plants to protect the power grid from dips in availability, because they alone among electric power sources, have 90-days of fuel on hand.
Perry’s contention is that coal and nuclear stored fuel is necessary for grid reliability, and, that these plants are unfairly being driven out of business by subsidies to renewable energy. This is patently false. It is cheap natural gas that is driving coal out of business.
Having fuel on-site does little for grid resilience. No one expects energy outages if coal and nuclear plants continue closing. But, let’s have more corporate welfare for the least useful part of the energy industry!
Perry’s alleged problem isn’t real, and his solution, subsidizing coal and nuclear plants, is a form of theft. A transfer from the most deserving, clean renewable and safe plants, to the least deserving, most polluting and dangerous coal and nuclear plants.
And people will be taxed through artificially higher electricity rates to subsidize coal and nuclear plants. More from Vox:
It’s hard to overstate how radical this proposal is. It is wildly contradictory to both the spirit and practice of competitive energy markets. It amounts to selective re-regulation, but only for particular power sources, which wouldn’t have to compete, they’d just have to have piles of fuel.
So does FERC have to do what DoE asks? No, but consider this: FERC has three commissioners (a quorum), two of which, including the chair, are Trump appointees. The chair is Neil Chatterjee, who was a staffer for Sen. Mitch McConnell, the Senate’s champion of coal. Chatterjee recently said:
I believe baseload power should be recognized as an essential part of the fuel mix. … I believe that generation, including our existing coal and nuclear fleet, needs to be properly compensated to recognize the value they provide to the system.
So, this market-wrecking plan to Make Coal Great Again is likely to happen.
This is an old-school Ayn Rand-style looter giveaway from a bunch of self-described free-market “conservatives” trying to rescue a dinosaur industry that is choking the world.
Just another issue that raises our anxiety level. It’s Saturday, and we need to dial it back, relax and stop thinking about how these Trump termites are quietly undermining everything. Grab a hot, steaming cup of Mystic Monk Paradiso Blend coffee ($15.99/lb.), find a quiet corner, put on the Bluetooth headphones and listen to Telemann’s “Concerto in D major for Violin, Cello, Trumpet and Strings”, TWV 53:D5. Here performed by the Bremer Barockorchester, recorded in a November, 2015 live performance at the Unser Lieben Frauen Church, Bremen, Germany:
If we lose respect for the First Amendment, then politics becomes purely about power. If we no longer fight to secure the same rights for others that we demand for ourselves, we become more tribal, and America becomes less exceptional.
A comparison for your consideration: A year ago, Colin Kaepernick knelt for the Anthem, and then pledged to donate $1 million to American citizens in oppressed communities. He has donated $800k so far. In the past eight months, now deposed HHS Secretary Tom Price has sat on chartered jets, stealing $1 million from American citizens.
And who do most Americans think is a real patriot?
On to cartoons. Trump’s helping hand for Puerto Rico is insufficient:
Trump’s tax plan looks like it will cost $2.4 TRILLION, but he alone can fix it:
Trump moves on in his quest to make America great:
With so many pre-existing conditions, the GOP should insist they are included in Trumpcare: