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The Wrongologist

Geopolitics, Power and Political Economy

Boeing: Poster Child for Capitalism Reform

The Daily Escape:

La Sal Mountains in background, Canyonlands NP and Colorado River in foreground, UT – 2019 photo by Larnek

The Boeing 737 MAX story is getting worse. Just when you thought you had the whole story, you find more ugliness underneath. Ralph Nader published an open letter to Dennis A. Muilenburg, CEO of Boeing, and it’s quite the takedown, capturing the essence of Boeing’s problem:

“Aircraft should be stall-proof, not stall-prone.”

The stall-prone MAX was supposedly fixed, but then it failed. Nader has a personal interest in the MAX’s problems, since his niece, 24-year-old Samya Stumo, was among the 157 victims of an Ethiopian Airlines flight crash last month. Here’s a part of his letter:

“Your narrow-body passenger aircraft – namely, the long series of 737’s that began in the nineteen sixties was past its prime. How long could Boeing avoid making the investment needed to produce a “clean-sheet” aircraft and, instead, in the words of Bloomberg Businessweek “push an aging design beyond its limits?” Answer: As long as Boeing could get away with it and keep necessary pilot training and other costs low…as a sales incentive.”

Nader draws a connection between Boeing’s decision to “push an aging design” and their financial engineering.

“Did you use the $30 billion surplus from 2009 to 2017 to reinvest in R&D, in new narrow-body passenger aircraft? Or did you, instead, essentially burn this surplus with self-serving stock buybacks of $30 billion in that period?”

Nader notes that Boeing is one of the companies that MarketWatch labelled as “Five companies that spent lavishly on stock buybacks while pension funding lagged.” Their pension fund is only 79.6% funded. More:

“Incredibly, your buybacks of $9.24 billion in 2017 comprised 109% of annual earnings….in 2018, buybacks of $9 billion constituted 86% of annual earnings….in December 2018, you arranged for your rubberstamp Board of Directors to approve $20 billion more in buybacks.”

Nader’s focus on stock buybacks shows that Boeing had the capital to invest in developing a new plane. From Bloomberg in 2019:

”For Boeing and Airbus, committing to an all-new aircraft is a once-in-a-decade event. Costs are prohibitive, delays are the norm and payoff can take years to materialize. Boeing could easily spend more than $15 billion on the NMA, according to Ken Herbert, analyst with Canaccord Genuity….”

NMA means the New Middle-of-the-Market Aircraft. Boeing has already spent a total of $30 billion in share repurchases, with another $8 billion to come in 2019. A new aircraft would have cost half of that amount.

The main reason may have been Boeing’s earlier problems with the launch of the 787:

“In the summer of 2011, the 787 Dreamliner wasn’t yet done after billions invested and years of delays. More than 800 airplanes later…each 787 costs less to build than sell, but it’s still running a $23 billion production cost deficit.…”

The 737 MAX was Boeing’s answer. It allowed them to continue their share buybacks while paying for the 787 cost overruns. Abandoning the 737 for a new plane would’ve meant walking away from its financial golden goose. OTOH, someone should be responsible for the 346 deaths Boeing’s MAX has caused.

Finally, there are reports that some pilots are giving the MAX a vote of no confidence. The FAA has opened another 737 Max investigation based on reports on the FAA whistleblower hotline:

“A source familiar with the matter says the hotline submissions involve current and former Boeing employees describing issues related to the angle of attack sensor — a vane that measures the plane’s angle in the air — and the anti-stall system called MCAS, which is unique to Boeing’s newest plane.”

Reuters says:

“American Airlines pilots have warned that Boeing’s draft training proposals for the MAX do not go far enough to address their concerns, according to written comments submitted to the FAA.”

Stock buybacks like Boeing’s were once illegal because they are a type of stock market manipulation.

But in 1982, then President Reagan wanted to do his banker buddies a favor. So his Securities and Exchange Commission passed rule 10b-18, which created a legal process for share buybacks. That opened the floodgates for companies to start repurchasing their stock en masse.

Is it too much to ask that the Boeing CEO be asked to resign, even if he did kill a lot of people?

After all, wasn’t he only trying to maximize shareholder value?

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Monday Wake Up Call – April 29, 2019

The Daily Escape: (In recognition of Poway, CA)

There’s no escape, we’re staying on the hamster wheel

And this:

All these killers used the same weapon, the AR-15 (or a knock-off of the AR-15). And just how many “lone wolf” killers will it take before America realizes they’re a pack? Do you have any hope that the Congress will rein in assault-type weapons?

Time to wake up, America. This weekend we saw two more acts of domestic terrorism against non-Christians. One by an Islamophobic Christian who mistakenly thought Sikhs are Muslim, and another by an anti-Semitic white supremacist who targeted Jews.

In the first case, a white man drove into a family of Sikhs in Sunnyvale, California, believing they were Muslims. He was allegedly on his way to a Bible study group, and was praising Jesus when authorities caught him.

In the second, another white man, gunned down several people in a synagogue in Poway CA, killing one and injuring three. He apparently wrote an anti-Semitic manifesto. The letter talks about planning for the attack. The letter writer also claims responsibility for an arson fire that blackened the walls of the Islamic Center in Escondido on March 24th, but no one was injured.

The Poway suspect also championed Robert Bowers, who killed 11 people and wounded six others in the Tree of Life synagogue shootings in Pittsburgh six months ago.

None of this is to downplay the ISIS killings of Christians in Sri Lanka. But today, we’re focusing on America, and two converging trends: The ubiquity of guns in America, and the growing and unbridled domestic racism that has returned to daylight.

We can blame Republicans for some of the escalating number of US white terrorist acts against non-Christians and non-whites. We all know that Trump has in many cases, encouraged hate to come out of the closet. This from David Atkins:

“White supremacist, anti-Semitic, Islamophobic and misogynist rhetoric runs rampant across the entirety of the conservative movement. The transformation of the Republican Party into a vehicle of violent white male grievance has rapidly accelerated its longtime trend under Trump.”

Atkins notes that the weekend attacks came one day after Trump congratulated the white player picked second in the NFL draft while ignoring the black player picked first. In 2016, Trump won both states that the two players played for, so it wasn’t politics. That’s who he is, and he doesn’t care who knows it.

We on the liberal side of the ledger continue to debate whether the “reachable” Trump voters are as racist as the rest of the MAGAs. Some Democratic pols wonder how many of them could be persuaded to vote for a Democrat in 2020. It’s unlikely that the “reachable” Trump voters are more than 4% of the electorate, but that could well swing what shapes up as a very close presidential election.

Can Democrats appeal to their base and to the persuadable Republicans by hammering on the moral repugnance of these white terrorists, while downplaying any program to weaken the Second Amendment?

At the same time, what will Republicans do? We can be sure that Trump will double down, but will the rest of the Party follow him? More, from Atkins:

“…violent acts of terrorism by their own base are much harder to sweep under the rug. Vague statements of general condemnation against violence won’t cut it as these despicable acts continue to increase, and as the Republican Party becomes increasingly associated with them.”

The thing is, the fires of hatred are not a tool you can use only to fire up your voters to do what you want. Once ignited, it’s not your kitchen stove, where you can turn the heat up, down, or off at your choosing. These are wildfires. You can ignite them, and use them to heat things up, but they can take on a life of their own, burning whatever they reach.

We’re told over and over that we have a civility crisis in this country. That the Democrats aren’t being polite enough to the right.

We do have a civility crisis in this country. We are far too civil to bigots. We are far too tolerant of those who would oppress, or kill others.

The right wing needs to pay a price for its toleration and cultivation of bigotry. It has no right to demand civility when it allows some of its base to treat people with contempt just for being who they are.

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Sunday Cartoon Blogging – April 28, 2019

In an interesting column in the Cook Political Report, Amy Walter notes: (emphasis by Wrongo)

“…one way to look at the 2020 Democratic primary contest was to think of it as a battle between those candidates who wanted a ‘revolution’ versus those who want to see more of a ‘restoration.’ The leaders of the ‘revolution’ wing, Sens. Bernie Sanders and Elizabeth Warren, aren’t running to simply replace President Trump, but to bring serious, structural change to the country. This week, the leader of the ‘restoration’ wing — Vice President Joe Biden— announced his candidacy. To Biden, it’s not the system that’s broken as much as it is the person in charge of the system who is broken.”

She goes on to quote Biden’s first campaign video:

“I believe history will look back on four years of this president and all he embraces as an aberrant moment in time,”

Biden says he’s only running because of Trump. The revolutionaries would be running even if another Republican was in the White House. Walter points out that makes Biden like many of the Democratic candidates who ran for Congress in the 2018 mid-terms. They weren’t politically seasoned like Biden, but they were similarly moved to run by Trump’s presidency. More from Walter: (emphasis by Wrongo)

“And, like Biden, most of those Democratic congressional candidates emphasized not a radical change but a check; a check on Trump’s presidency and his policies. But, most of those candidates were also running in suburban, swing districts where a message of moderation was a winning strategy. Biden is running to win in a much more diverse and ideologically fragmented primary contest.”

She says that most of the 20 candidates for the 2020 Democratic presidential nomination are closer to the ‘restoration’ wing than the ‘revolutionary’ wing of the Party. And she closes with:

“To me, the big question for these next few months is if Biden will take the fight directly to the revolutionaries in a way the other candidates have not…..Now, he has a chance to pivot to the offense. And, to reset the rules and terrain of the game that have, until this point, been set by Bernie Sanders. Let’s see if — and how — he does it.

Interesting viewpoint as we sail on toward the first Democratic primary debates on June 26-27. BTW, 16 candidates have qualified for inclusion, showing that the bar was set far too low. On to cartoons.

Biden’s also running against himself:

Mueller called Trump “Individual 1”. Here’s to 10-20 in 2020:

Warren’s policies cause concern among the 1%:

Dems face a quandary. Trump will be happy with whichever they choose:

Trump will stonewall responding to subpoenas all the way to 2020:

Trump also has a yuuge grey wall:

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Saturday Soother – April 27, 2019

The Daily Escape:

Hemingway’s desk, Finca Vigía, Cuba – 2014 photo by Wrongo. Hemingway lived here for 15 years, and wrote most of “For Whom the Bell Tolls” and “The Old Man and the Sea” here.

Spring has sprung in the Litchfield Hills. Bluebirds are again nesting in the bluebird houses on the fields of Wrong. We have flowers on our plum, pear and cherry trees. Hopefully, you are enjoying early spring as well.

There are 555 days left until the next presidential election. We don’t want to live through 2016 a second time, so Wrongo hopes that all of you will remember how energized you were during the 2018 mid-terms, and gear up again for 2020.

In retrospect, the Democratic Party handed Trump the gift of Russiagate. For two years, the Dems fought him primarily on the grounds of Russian influence on the 2016 election. However, the public was more concerned with health care and a square deal on jobs and wages. That Trump/Russia wasn’t the key issue was proven by the Dems winning the House in the 2018 mid-terms when they primarily ran on health care. The Party has now lost that fight, since the Mueller Report found nothing actionable against Trump.

While investigations loom in the House, Trump is completely stonewalling. His decision to simply defy all attempts by Congress to investigate either Russian interference, or his possible obstruction, makes it clear that Congress is being deprived of its lawful investigative powers.

His defiance will tip the scales in favor of initiating impeachment proceedings against him. He will play the victim, and make the contest with House Democrats a major 2020 campaign issue. Will that energize anyone who is not in his base? Time will tell.

Turnout will again be the key factor in 2020 as it was in 2016 and 2018. A key question for turnout is where are rank and file Democrats on the issues compared to the positions of the 20 Democratic nominees? Larry Sabato says:

“National polling from the past several years finds that Democrats are less ideological than Republicans, are less likely to express a desire for their party to move further away from the political center, and are more likely to value experience in a presidential nominee.”

Pew recently found that only 40% of Democrats wanted the party to move more to the left, while 53% said they wanted the party to move in a more moderate direction. Gallup’s ongoing measure of ideological self-identification among Democrats shows that while liberal self-identification is growing, the party is still split about evenly between those who identify as liberal versus those who identify as moderate or conservative.

In contrast, Pew found that 58% of Republicans wanted the GOP to move more to the right, while just 38% wanted the party to move in a more moderate direction. Gallup found that about three-quarters of Republicans identify as conservative while just a quarter identify as moderate or liberal.

Wrongo isn’t ready to accept the findings of Pew and Gallup, but most of the Democratic candidates are Obama-like: Joe Biden, Cory Booker, Beto O’Rourke, Pete Buttigieg, Kirsten Gillibrand, Kamala Harris, and Amy Klobuchar. Some of the (pardon the label) “no names” with no chance to win also fall into the centrist category.

There are only two real progressives, Sanders and Warren. Another question for the Party to answer through the primary process is whether the Dems can win without strong progressive positions.

Will the general election Democratic turnout be high enough to win with a centrist candidate? Or, will the Democrats just repeat 2016, winning the popular vote, while losing the Electoral College?

But enough navel-gazing, it’s time to gaze at the daffodils and dandelions in your yard.

It’s time for some Saturday Soothing. Start by brewing up a hot vente cup of Sumatra, Lintong – Medium Roast Single Origin coffee ($17/12 oz.) from Georgia’s Peach Coffee Roasters. The brewer says it is citrusy and floral, tart in structure with a juicy mouthfeel.

Now take your cup to your most comfortable chair, and contemplate springtime while listening to “Spring Morning” by Frederick Delius. This melodic portrait of nature is a companion piece to his “Idlle de Prinetemps” composed a year earlier in 1887. It is performed here by the Royal Scottish National Orchestra conducted by David Lloyd Jones:

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

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Politics Friday

The Daily Escape:

Dun Briste Sea Stack – 2010 photo by John Coveney. The Stack shows 350 million years of sediment. In 1981, scientists found the remains of a medieval house, walls, cultivation ridges, and a corn grinding stone on the top. Must have been a tough commute.

We may be over-emphasizing the Mueller report. From Politico:

“The Mueller report may be consuming Washington — but it barely registers for vulnerable Democrats meeting voters outside the Beltway. In a half-dozen town halls from California to Connecticut this week, swing district Democrats fielded few — if any — questions about special counsel Robert Mueller’s nearly two-year probe, even as it threatens to dominate the party’s summer agenda.”

This is called a “District Work Period” for the House, and many members are conducting town halls. Politico reports that:

“Livestreamed events by Reps. Antonio Delgado (D-NY) and Jahana Hayes (D-CT) began with Mueller briefings, but quickly pivoted to education funding and local pollution and mostly stayed there.”

More from Politico:

“I’ve been very surprised by how few people brought [Mueller] up since I’ve been back,” said Rep. Dean Phillips (D-Minn.) after two weeks back in his suburban Twin Cities district.”

No one brought up the Mueller report at Rep. Abigail Spanberger’s (D-VA.) town hall in her district west of Richmond:

“In the big spectrum of everything, people are still deeply concerned about prescription drug prices….People are still deeply concerned about the opportunity to get their kid’s education. They’re wanting to see Washington focused on immigration reform.”

Rep. Josh Harder of California told Politico he had “10 times the amount of interest on issues like health care, immigration and student debt than on impeachment or investigations into Trump.”

Wrongo’s Congressperson, Jahana Hayes along with Antonio Delgado, are members of the Congressional Black Caucus. Hayes’ roughly 90-minute event focused more on the Green New Deal and education spending.

So, it’s good to realize that the attendees at town halls may be more representative of the country than what we see on MSNBC, PBS or FOX.

Normal people aren’t political junkies.

In other political news, Joe Biden declared he’s running for the Democratic 2020 presidential nomination. The NYT says that he’s starting with $0. This raises the question of funding strategy. Sen. Sanders and Sen. Warren have sworn off attending high-dollar fund-raisers to bolster their populist credentials. Most others have said that they will not take PAC money.

Some top Obama fund-raisers are lining up with Sen. Kamala Harris and Mayor Pete Buttigieg, who are trying to have it both ways. From the NYT: (brackets by Wrongo)

“Unlike [Sanders and O’Rourke], Mr. Biden does not have an at-the-ready list of hundreds of thousands of contributors to ply for small donations. He must rely heavily, at least at first, upon an old-fashioned network of money bundlers….who can expedite dozens, if not hundreds, of checks for $2,800 each, the legal maximum an individual can contribute in the primary.”

This raises two questions. First, Biden has been a poor funds raiser in the past. He was near the back of the fund-raising pack in his 2008 presidential primary run. He raised $8.2 million from individual donors in 2007; while his competitor, Barack Obama, raised more than $100 million during the same year.

The Times says Biden felt that he couldn’t raise the tens of millions of dollars necessary to compete against Hillary Clinton in the 2016 race. That was one reason why he decided in 2015 not to run.

A second point is that whoever wins the Democratic nomination for president will need to raise tons of cash. It is doubtful that individual donors can provide the $1 billion or so it will probably take to defeat Trump. If the nominee can’t rely solely on individual donations, he/she will need money from PACs and Corporations.

This is the inherent tension in the current funding strategy of the Democratic Party.

Biden will go after big donors, and he’s likely to succeed. He was the VP for 8 years, and he has deep ties to moneyed donors and big companies, many of which are incorporated in his home state of Delaware. The rest of the field has a choice to make: They can criticize Joe for taking corporate donations, but ultimately, the Democratic nominee will have to turn to the big “bundlers”, along with corporations and PACs to win the election.

Their current strategy runs the risk of making the ultimate Democratic candidate look cynical at a time when the candidates want to appear authentic, believable, and on the side of the little guy.

The NYT says that Biden has to raise $100,000/day from here to Christmas to match what Sanders has already raised. We’ll see if he’s up to it this time.

It’s gonna take lots of money to stand out in a field of 20 candidates.

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US Army Woefully Unprepared

The Daily Escape:

Double Arch, Arches NP, Utah – photo by Bryol. The size of the people in the foreground give an indication of the mass of these formations.

Are you aware that the US Army is transitioning away from the counter-insurgency mindset that we have used for nearly 20 years in Iraq and Afghanistan? Or that we are now focusing on fighting large-scale, conventional battles against foes of equal strength?

Who are we talking about when we say “foes of equal strength”? It means countries with large land-based traditional armies. One new objective is to train Army personnel to fight underground. That doesn’t mean in the claustrophobic Vietnamese tunnels our GIs fought in during the 1970s, it means urban warfare in subways, large tunnel structures, and sewers. These days, most big cities all have utilities, water, electricity, sewer, and communications underground.

It also means fighting in subterranean facilities. Military.com estimates that there are about 10,000 large-scale underground military facilities around the world that are intended to serve as subterranean cities.

Some of these targets are in North Korea, where vast infiltration tunnel networks can move 30,000 NK soldiers an hour directly to the border with South Korea. China and Russia also have vast underground networks, so presumably, they might be targets as well.

In a way, this is old news. In addition to Vietnam, history reminds us that during the Battle of Stalingrad, the Russians used their sewer systems to spring surprise attacks behind the German lines. In Iraq, US troops conducted search missions in tunnels.

In late 2017, the Army launched an effort costing more than $500 million to train and equip most of its 31 active Brigade Combat Teams (BCTs) to fight in subterranean structures that exist beneath dense urban areas around the world.

There are big problems, though. The US Army hopes to meet its goals for urban warfare by 2022, but Military.com says most young sergeants don’t know how to maneuver their squads:

“For example, sergeants in the majority of the Army’s active brigade combat teams (BCTs) don’t know the importance of gaining a foothold when leading squads on room-clearing operations, according to a series of report cards from the service’s Asymmetric Warfare Group, known as the AWG.”

It gets worse. They can’t do basic land navigation: (emphasis by Wrongo)

“Additionally, the Army’s Non-commissioned Officer Academy is seeing sergeants routinely show up for courses unable to pass a basic land navigation course using a map and compass.”

And even worse. sergeants show up with:

“…poor physical fitness and body composition, and….not able to qualify as Marksman using backup iron sights.”

This means that many sergeants can’t shoot straight without either an optic lens, or laser pointer on their weapon!

This is surprising. Sergeants are the backbone of the Army. They are supposed to be the best-trained, best motivated members of their units. The basic unit in the Army is the squad, so when sergeant squad leaders can’t do basic land navigation, or shoot a gun without technology, we have a huge problem.

Remember that for the past 17.5 years in Afghanistan, we have been fighting an untrained enemy wearing flip-flops. Of course, they know how to shoot without optics. Maybe that’s why they won.

Wrongo was in the US Army in the late 1960s. At that time, a Corporal (E-4) or a Sgt. (E-5) had to know squad and fire team maneuvers, hand signals, placement of personnel in attack and defense, and fire direction (how to direct remote artillery or planes to a ground target).  All of that required map reading. So, Wrongo finds this disturbing, as should everyone else.

If using a map, protractor and compass is too difficult for today’s sergeants, then we need more/better training. Infantry soldiers must be proficient in these skills. Even though today’s soldiers rely on modern technology, those technologies sometimes fail, and sometimes tools like GPS aren’t available.

For example, we know that GPS won’t work reliably in a tunnel or sewer, so we need a continued emphasis on knowing how to use those non-technical solutions that worked back in the day. All Non-Commissioned Officers (NCOs) should be able to meet these basic infantry leadership requirements. All soldiers should be taught land navigation, regardless of whether they wind up in front-line combat units or support units.

We are being deluded by our military brass. We are no more ready to fight an urban war than we were ready to fight a counter-insurgency war in the Middle East. And why urban wars? What scenarios will get us into a fight in the big cities of Asia, or Europe? Or Russia?

Here’s a thought: How about the US doesn’t get involved in a foreign war where we have to “occupy” a city?

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Iran: Trump Is All Gambit, No Plan

The Daily Escape:

The Mitten Buttes, Monument Valley, UT – photo by Nathan Fitzgerald

Here we go, a new gambit on Iran. The Trump administration moved on Monday to isolate Tehran economically and undercut its power across the Middle East by not extending the waivers of sanctions against countries purchasing Iranian oil.

Secretary of State Pompeo announced that the waivers which allowed eight countries to import Iranian crude oil without being subject to US sanctions will expire on May 2nd. The eight countries included are China, India, Turkey, South Korea, Japan, Greece, Italy and Taiwan. From the NYT:

“Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said in announcing that current sanctions waivers…would expire on May 2, clearing the way for American economic penalties against all companies or financial institutions that continue to take part in transactions linked to buying Iranian oil.”

This decision to stop Iran’s biggest customers (China, who buys half of Iran’s oil exports) along with Japan, South Korea, India and Turkey, is a strike at Tehran’s lifeline. They export one million barrels of oil daily, and it accounts for 40% of their GDP.

Immediately, there were repercussions. Bloomberg reported that Iran threatened to close the Straits of Hormuz, a choke point in the Persian Gulf, while the Washington Examiner reported that the US has positioned a second aircraft carrier in the region.

What Trump seems intent upon is regime change. He campaigned against further wars in the Middle East, but now is catering to Saudi Arabia and Israel, both of whom, along with National Security Advisor John Bolton, are intent upon toppling the Iranian regime.

Trump’s Iran obsession makes us look terrible. Taking pages from the Iraq War playbook, Trump and Pompeo paint a picture of a rogue, outlaw, terrorist regime bent on acquiring nuclear weapons and whose “malign activities” are the cause of all the chaos in the Middle East.

This is straight from the neocon playbook: The one they’ve used before. They are building a case for war. America wants Iran out of Syria. We condemn their support for Hezbollah. We say that Iran supports the Houthis in Yemen, against our great friends, the Saudis.

This latest move is called the doctrine of “Maximum Pressure”. The goal is to cut Iran’s oil exports to zero. Will this gambit force the capitulation, or collapse, of the regime? That seems difficult to believe, but Trump and Bolton may have teed up a war.

Think about this: America is now decreeing to the rest of the world that only we decide which countries get to trade with whom. We’re telling China, the second largest economy in the world, that it lacks the sovereign authority to buy oil from Iran if it so desires.

Which do you think China will do? Both Iran and China appear to hold a better hand than the US. We can’t invade Iran and win. We can’t force China to do anything they refuse to do.

The rest of the world will have trouble understanding what Trump thinks the US can gain from this gambit, because there is no plan behind it. If Iran closes the Straits of Hormuz, will we bomb, bomb, bomb, bomb, bomb Iran?

If China, Turkey, India and Japan continue to purchase Iranian oil, will we freeze their dollar-denominated assets in the US? If this leads to the creation of a non-dollar global payments system, what happens to the dollar as the global reserve currency? Has anyone in the Trump administration thought about that?

Once, the US used its reserve currency status and clout (largely) for good. Now, it’s just more bullying by Trump. In the end, the Trump administration may achieve a new level of worldwide cooperation against a common enemy: the USA.

Aren’t Americans sick of this neocon warmongering? Americans don’t want to be drawn into yet another ME action. It isn’t an accident that Trump’s National Security Advisor John Bolton, declared unequivocally in November 2002:

“We are confident that Saddam Hussein has hidden weapons of mass destruction and production facilities in Iraq…”

Is now the chief strategist behind Trump’s drive towards war, with Secretary of State Pompeo, happily riding shotgun.

It doesn’t matter that US intelligence, along with Israeli intelligence and the International Atomic Energy Agency confirm that Iran is complying with the Iran Nuclear Agreement. Or, that the US invasion of Iraq is the principle cause of Middle East chaos today.

Trump officials will cherry-pick information, package it, and amplify it, exactly as the Bush administration did in the lead-up to the Iraq war.

The real question is whether American voters will fall for this again.

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Taxes Aren’t Theft

The Daily Escape:

Humpback Whale, Tonga – Photo by Rita Kluge

Joseph Stieglitz has an op-ed in the NYT about saving capitalism from itself. He wants to re-brand capitalism as “progressive capitalism”: (emphasis by Wrongo)

“There is an alternative: progressive capitalism. Progressive capitalism is not an oxymoron; we can indeed channel the power of the market to serve society….The prescription follows from the diagnosis: It begins by recognizing the vital role that the state plays in making markets serve society. We need regulations that ensure strong competition without abusive exploitation, realigning the relationship between corporations and the workers they employ and the customers they are supposed to serve. We must be as resolute in combating market power as the corporate sector is in increasing it.”

America has been debating the role of capitalism in our society since our beginnings. In 1790, John Adams published the Discourses on Davila in which he said that entrenched economic inequality would create a political oligarchy in America similar to what had already occurred in Europe.

The problem isn’t inequality. We’ve survived a permanent underclass, but until recently, it has been a statistical minority. But, we won’t survive today’s continuing erosion of the middle class. Stieglitz says:

“We are now in a vicious cycle: Greater economic inequality is leading, in our money-driven political system, to more political inequality, with weaker rules and deregulation causing still more economic inequality.”

He calls for:

“…a new social contract between voters and elected officials, between workers and corporations, between rich and poor, and between those with jobs and those who are un- or underemployed.”

Call it progressive capitalism, capitalism plus, democratic capitalism, or whatever you want. At the core of any reform of capitalism is less corporate control over the levers of power, and a redistribution of wealth. Along with the growth in economic inequality and political impotence, so grows the myth propagated by the ultra-rich that higher taxes are a public theft of their hard earned fortunes, and are a threat to their personal freedoms.

Let’s spend a minute on the difference between positive and negative rights.

In the simplest terms, negative rights (most of the Constitution’s Bill of Rights) protect us from the government. They tell us what the government can’t do. The Constitution was designed as primarily a negative rights document, to maximize our individual liberty, and to protect us from the government interfering in our lives. They are most helpful to people whose rights are already protected.

Positive rights are different. They include things like the right to an education, and in some countries, the right to healthcare. Most of us define freedom as: freedom from hunger, freedom from ignorance, freedom from exploitation, freedom from poverty, freedom from hopelessness and despair. Very few positive rights are enumerated in the Constitution, with the exception of the right to have the government protect private property.

Today, if there’s one enduring myth that drives US politics, it is the myth that the rich have earned their reward, through nothing but their own hard work and savvy. The rich want no income redistribution, which they call “socialism”, just as the fat cats said in this cartoon from 1912:

The Republicans in the 1930s called FDR a socialist. Now, as we are thinking about a New Deal 2.0, today’s Republicans want to again brand all Democrats as socialists.

Corporations and the 1% ignore how much they are helped by a system designed by them, and for them. They are contemptuous of government and public authority, which they say act as agents of the poor, attempting to extort the rich.

They forget that our government facilitates and protects their wealth. If not for the many Federal agencies that write regulations favorable to industry, the Federal Reserve, protectors of the banking industry along with others, there would be a lot less wealth for corporations and the 1% to aggregate.

Therefore, they should pay the most.

And remember, rural electrification was a federal project under FDR. The dams on the Columbia River made irrigation possible, opening up western lands to agriculture. The Tennessee Valley Authority (TVA) was the Green New Deal of its time, and was the basis for development of a modern Southeastern US. The railroads that opened up the West relied on government property provided to private companies (redistribution?) to develop.

Let’s decide to reform capitalism. First, by making it responsive to the positive rights that average Americans are longing for. Second, paying for that with much high taxes on corporations. If the loopholes created by savvy corporate tax lawyers remain on the books, let’s create a stiff Alternative Minimum Tax (AMT) for corporations.

Just like the AMT that Wrongo has had to pay for lo, these many years.

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Monday Wake Up Call – April 22, 2019

The Daily Escape:

Hout Bay, South Africa – 2012 photo by Wrongo. Hout Bay is a suburb of Cape Town.

Let’s talk a little about ageism and sexism in politics. Are Biden and Sanders too old to be president? Why are the top-polling four 2020 Democratic presidential contenders men?

Over America’s 230 years of presidents, 220 of those years have featured a man who was less than 70 years old. The ten other years consist of most of Reagan’s two terms, along with all of Trump’s time in office, and the last three months of Eisenhower’s second term.

Reagan was 75+ in the last half of his second term. That’s when many in the White House speculated about whether Reagan’s deteriorating mental condition might justify invoking the 25th amendment:

“He was lazy; he wasn’t interested in the job. They said he wouldn’t read the papers they gave him—even short position papers and documents. They said he wouldn’t come over to work—all he wanted to do was to watch movies and television at the residence.”

Does any of that sound familiar?

Biden and Sanders are leading the early polling for the 2020 Democratic nomination, so the possibility of an 80 year-old president is very real (Sanders would be 79 upon taking office, while Biden would be a year younger). If Trump gets re-elected, he would spend the second half of his second term as the oldest president in US history.

People in this age group can perform very well, but their odds of dying or getting dementia are reasonably high. So, why not elect younger people? The idea of electing a white man about to turn 80 to the presidency seems crazy. Maybe not as crazy as re-electing Donald Trump, but we aren’t grading on a curve. There are plenty of perfectly acceptable alternatives that don’t carry anything like these particular risks.

And what explains the fact that in the most diverse primary in Democratic Party history, the top four candidates are all white men? We unfairly hold women who hold, or seek jobs in high places to different standards than men, possibly thinking that in politics, “electability” means “white dude”. This is wrong.

We need to let the policy ideas of this group play out, and let meritocracy prevail. At this point, we have no idea who is “electable”. But Wrongo hopes that we pick from among the younger prospects, someone with energy, ideas and a message that unites rather than divides the country.

Before accusing Wrongo of being ageist, or of playing identity politics, let it be said that his top three presidential prospects at this point are Elizabeth Warren, Pete Buttigieg, and Kamala Harris. All three seem to have the personality that will relish the fight on the campaign trail. Warren offers more policy positions that Wrongo supports. Mayor Pete and Kamala Harris have that elusive “electability” that Warren may lack.

Speaking of identity politics, we shouldn’t forget that Bernie Sanders is Jewish. So his election would be no less historical than electing a woman, a gay or a person of color.

Time to wake up Democrats! We need to support the candidate who can turn current policies in a new direction. Let’s support the candidate who has the courage, stamina, and experience to be successful.

To help you wake up, here is “I Don’t Understand The Poor” from the 2014 Tony Award-winning best musical, “A Gentleman’s Guide to Love & Murder”. This could be sung at every Republican Convention:

Sample Lyric:

I don’t understand the poor

And they’re constantly turning out more

Every festering slum In Christendom

Is disgorging its young by the score

I suppose there are some with ambition

Say, the pickpocket, beggar, or whore

From what I can tell

They do quite well

They’re rising above

And its work they love

But I don’t understand the poor.

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

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Sunday Cartoon Blogging – April 21, 2019

If you think that America still can act rationally about immigration, or even wants to act rationally, you are wrong. The NYT reports:

“A right-wing militia group operating in southern New Mexico has begun stopping groups of migrant families and detaining them at gunpoint before handing them over to Border Patrol agents, raising tension over the tactics of armed vigilantes along the border between the United States and Mexico.”

This group, one of many, calls itself the United Constitutional Patriots. They filmed several of their detentions including one of a group of 200 migrants who crossed the border near Sunland Park, NM, with the intention of seeking asylum.

Many different militias operate along the border. They say that their mission is to support the Border Patrol by attempting to curb the flow of undocumented migrants into the US.

The NYT and other media use the word “detain” to describe what these militias are doing. But they aren’t law enforcement. They don’t have any authorization to detain. They’re simply holding people hostage at gunpoint. Detained is NOT the right word to use here. It’s a euphemism that minimizes the unconstitutionality of their actions.

Americans should have no issue with legal immigration, which includes legally seeking asylum under current law. Immigrants may cross our border anywhere and ask for asylum. See 8 US Code 1158. Regardless of what the Trumpists think, this is US law. “If you don’t like the law, change it”, is something Republicans always say. To paraphrase the late Daniel Patrick Moynihan, you are free to express your own opinions, but you are not free to make up laws based on your opinions.

On to cartoons. Here’s a new administration separation policy that’s just coming into focus:

The dog who ate America’s homework:

What to do with the Mueller Report changes by Party:

Some answers aren’t obvious:

 

What’s happened in France and America will take years to fix:

We forget just how old some icons truly are:

 

 

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