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The Wrongologist

Geopolitics, Power and Political Economy

Saturday Soother – August 5, 2017

(Sunday Cartoons will appear on Monday as Wrongo is attending a family event on Saturday)

The Daily Escape:

Mt. Bromo volcano Java Indonesia, 2016 – photo by Reynold Riksa Dewantara

We flushed another week down the crapper. A few things to think about: At a rally in Huntington, WV, Donald Trump characterized the investigation into his campaign as a “total fabrication” and again demanded Hillary Clinton be investigated.

The US Secret Service couldn’t agree on a lease with the Trump Organization to keep a command post in Trump Tower in NYC, so they have moved to a trailer outside. Do ya think that Trump could call Trump and worked this thing out?

But, everyone is talking about Special Counsel Mueller’s convening of a Grand Jury. As important, the Senate blocked Trump from being able to make recess appointments while they are on their August break. This requires the agreement of every senator, so the Senate will be in session every three business days throughout the August recess. That means Trump can’t fire Attorney General Jeff Sessions and/or Robert Mueller, and use the recess appointment process to appoint a successor without Senate confirmation of the appointment.

And Trump is going on vacay just like the Senate. The guy who once asked, “What’s the point?” about vacations, left on Friday for a 17-day vacation at his Bedminster, New Jersey golf resort. While he’s away, the White House will undertake a number of repairs, including replacing the heating and cooling system, and repairing steps on the South Portico.

Is that why Trump called the White House a dump?

Too much to think about, so let’s take a Saturday Soother break. Get yourself an iced La Colombe Pure Black Cold Brew coffee, sit in a cool dark room, and watch this video of a flash mob doing Gustav Holst’s “Jupiter, the Bringer of Jollity“, the 4th movement from Holst’s “The Planets”. It is performed by the Berklee Contemporary Symphonic Orchestra (BCSO) in November 2016 at Boston’s Prudential Center:

Why doesn’t this happen when Wrongo is at the mall?

To cap off our Saturday shout-out to Gustav Holst, this same movement of Holst’s “The Planets” was also used to set the following poem by Sir Cecil Spring Rice to music, and is a hymn to Britain:

I Vow to Thee, My Country

I vow to thee, my country, all earthly things above,

Entire and whole and perfect, the service of my love;

The love that asks no question, the love that stands the test,

That lays upon the altar the dearest and the best;

The love that never falters, the love that pays the price,

The love that makes undaunted the final sacrifice.

 

And there’s another country, I’ve heard of long ago,

Most dear to them that love her, most great to them that know;

We may not count her armies, we may not see her King;

Her fortress is a faithful heart, her pride is suffering;

And soul by soul and silently her shining bounds increase,

And her ways are ways of gentleness, and all her paths are peace.

 

It was sung at the funerals of Winston Churchill, Princess Diana and Margaret Thatcher.

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

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Trump’s Termites

The Daily Escape:

Missouri Breaks, MT – photo (via)

US Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke announced that there would be no change for the Missouri Breaks National Monument. Zinke is from Montana, so saving one for his peeps isn’t a big surprise.

Missouri Breaks is one of 27 monuments established during the previous 20 years by presidents using the Antiquities Act. The Antiquities Act allows presidents to set aside objects of historic or scientific interest to prevent their destruction. The law was created in 1906 to guard against looting of sacred American Indian sites.

In April, Trump ordered the Department of the Interior to review the status of every national monument designated since 1996. As a result of the review, these cultural and/or natural treasures could be significantly reduced in size or even eliminated, and the Antiquities Act itself could be severely limited. The land would remain owned by the federal government, but might lose its protected status, and be contracted to private enterprises. When you allow corporations to ‘lease’ land for oil, fracking, mining, ranching, etc. fences go up, private police forces are hired to keep people out for their ‘safety’.

Not everyone agrees that Trump has the authority to do what he wants. From the Washington Times:

If President Donald Trump or any successor desires the authority to revoke national monument designations, they should urge Congress to amend the Antiquities Act accordingly. They should not torture the plain language of the Act to advance a political agenda at the expense of regular constitutional order.

The LA Times disagrees:

Indeed, those who claim that the Antiquities Act does not grant a reversal power cannot find a single case in another area of federal law that supports that contention. To override the norm, legislators have to clearly limit reversal powers in the original law; the plain text of the Antiquities Act includes no such limits.

Who knows? Next, Der Donald will lease the Grand Canyon to China for use as a landfill.

But the bigger picture is that behind the smoke and mirrors of Trump’s pathological lying and the media’s obsession with Russia, his cabinet appointees are working like industrious termites, eating away much of the support beams of our nation’s rules-based edifice.

Consider Attorney General Jeff Sessions. From the New Yorker: (brackets and editing by the Wrongologist)

He [Sessions] has reversed the Obama Administration’s commitment to voting rights…He has changed an Obama-era directive to federal prosecutors to seek reasonable, as opposed to maximum, prison sentences for nonviolent drug offenders…he has revived a discredited approach to civil forfeiture, which subjects innocent people to the loss of their property. He has also backed away from the effort…to rein in and reform police departments, like the one in Ferguson, Missouri, that have discriminated against African-Americans.

Although candidate Trump promised to protect LGBT rights, President Trump last week vowed to remove transgender service members from the armed forces, and Sessions…took the position in court that Title VII, the nation’s premier anti-discrimination law, does not protect gay people from bias. Most of all, Sessions has embraced the issue that first brought him and Trump together: the crackdown on immigration…

All across the government, Trump appointees are busy chewing through the existing regulatory edifice, ending not just Obama-era rules, but others that have been in place for decades.

Another truly damning thing is Trump’s surrogates’ efforts to undermine foreign policy. The WaPo reports:

Trump signed off on Iran’s compliance with profound reluctance, and he has since signaled that when Iran’s certification comes up again — as it will every 90 days, per a mandate from Congress — he intends to declare Iran not in compliance, possibly even if there is evidence to the contrary.

According to the New York Times: (brackets by the Wrongologist)

American officials have already told allies they should be prepared to join in reopening negotiations with Iran or expect that the US may [unilaterally] abandon the agreement, as it did the Paris climate accord.

It is difficult to see how this ends well for the US. Imagine, Iran and North Korea both pursuing nuclear weapons to deploy against the US. Why would we want to engage on two fronts, when one (North Korea) is already so problematic?

What is the Trump agenda? Are there any articulated goals? What are the strategies to achieve them?

Have we heard a concrete proposal for any of his big ideas (health care, tax reform, or infrastructure)?

We have not, but his termites keep chewing, and soon, our whole building will be compromised.

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IMF Reports US Standard of Living is Falling

The Daily Escape:

Haleakala Crater, Maui

Is it the best of times or the worst of times? This is no longer a partisan discussion. We have an economy in the midst of a long expansion, the third longest since 1850. The statistics say we are close to full employment. But, our mortality rate is moving in the wrong direction, and we have an opioid epidemic that is serious enough to cause jobs to go unfilled. The NYT reports that in Youngstown Ohio, middle class factory jobs go begging:

It’s not that local workers lack the skills for these positions, many of which do not even require a high school diploma but pay $15 to $25 an hour and offer full benefits. Rather, the problem is that too many applicants — nearly half, in some cases — fail a drug test.

The Fed’s regular Beige Book surveys of economic activity across the country in April, May and July all noted the inability of employers to find workers able to pass drug screenings.

So the best of times? Probably not. Bloomberg reports that the International Monetary Fund (IMF) looked at the US economy. This is what they see:

For some time now there has been a general sense that household incomes are stagnating for a large share of the population, job opportunities are deteriorating, prospects for upward mobility are waning, and economic gains are increasingly accruing to those that are already wealthy. This sense is generally borne out by economic data and when comparing the US with other advanced economies.

The IMF then goes on to compare the US with 23 other advanced economies in the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) in this chart:

The chart is a bit of an eye test unless it’s viewed on a big monitor, but its overall point is that the US has been losing ground relative to its past OECD reports by several measures of living standards. 35 countries make up the OECD. The members include all of Western Europe, Russia, Japan, Australia, and several developing nations like Korea and Panama.

This from Bloomberg:

And in the areas where the US hasn’t lost ground (poverty rates, high school graduation rates), it was at or near the bottom of the heap to begin with. The clear message is that the US — the richest nation on Earth, as is frequently proclaimed, although it’s actually not the richest per capita — is increasingly becoming the developed world’s poor relation as far as the actual living standards of most of its population go.

This analysis is contained in the staff report of the IMF’s annual “consultation” with the U.S., which was published last week. The IMF economists haven’t turned up anything shocking or new, it’s just that as outsiders, they have a different perspective than what we hear from our politicians and economists.

For example:

Income polarization is suppressing consumption…weighing on labor supply and reducing the ability of households to adapt to shocks. High levels of poverty are creating disparities in the education system, hampering human capital formation and eating into future productivity.

What is to be done? Well, the IMF report concludes:

Reforms should include building a more efficient tax system; establishing a more effective regulatory system; raising infrastructure spending; improving education and developing skills; strengthening healthcare coverage while containing costs; offering family-friendly benefits; maintaining a free, fair, and mutually beneficial trade and investment regime; and reforming the immigration and welfare systems.

In other words, they suggest substantial reform. It’s doubtful that America can take care of these things anytime soon.

The subtext to most of their suggestions is that other affluent countries have found ways to improve in these areas, while the US has not. We don’t have to look too far into the past to see when those countries were modeling their economies on ours. But today, on all sorts of issues, like taxation, labor markets, health care, and education, the opposite is now true.

One major difference between the US and the rest of the developed world is ideological: Voters and politicians in the US are less willing to raise taxes to finance a better life for our citizens.

Other wealthy countries have figured out how to raise revenue, provide quality education, help the the unemployed, reduce poverty, and keep their citizens healthier than America has.

We must catch up, or admit our time as the world’s indispensable economy is over.

Today’s music (dis)honors the turmoil in the White House. See ‘ya Mooch! Remember that in just six months, Trump has gone through two National Security Advisers, two Chiefs of Staff, two Communications Directors, two Press Secretaries, and two Directors of the FBI.

Here is “Disorder in the House” by the late Warren Zevon and Bruce Springsteen:

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

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Hackers Break Into Our Voting Machines

The Daily Escape:

London, England

Nobody knows whether the Russians hacked the 2016 presidential election. One thing on which there seems to be broad agreement is that no foreign power was able to change the actual vote totals, since we have 192,480 precincts in the US. And we use so many different vote collection and vote processing technologies throughout the country, hacking would be very difficult.

Over the weekend at Def Con, a convention of hackers held in Las Vegas, hackers managed to break into many different US electronic voting systems, taking control of some of them in less than 90 minutes. The hackers successfully broke in through the voting system hardware, or through wireless communication. From The Hill:

…[the hackers] at the annual DEF CON in Las Vegas were given physical voting machines and remote access…[and] within minutes, hackers exposed glaring physical and software vulnerabilities across multiple US voting machine companies’ products. Some devices were found to have physical ports that could be used to attach devices containing malicious software. Others had insecure Wi-Fi connections, or were running outdated software with security vulnerabilities like Windows XP.

By the end of the weekend, every one of the 30 machines, including those used to tabulate votes and to check voters in when they go to the polls, had been hacked. The Telegraph reported that:

They purchased 30 different election machines from a US Government auction…

Who knew you can buy these voting machines at a US government auction? Is there a legitimate purpose for them after they’ve been decommissioned? Isn’t this a way for hackers to study the weaknesses in these machines, and maybe figure out a way to hack ones that are currently in use?

The idea that electronic voting machines could be hacked has been around for a while. Computer programmer Harri Hursti, hacked into Diebold voting machines in 2005. That hack is now known as the “Hursti Hack”. Electronic voting machines require regular software security updates. Updates lead to a  re-do of each state’s voter machine certification process, which can cost over $1 million to complete.

Gizmodo reports that even though the most recent election security standards were released in 2015, most state’s machines are only compliant with standards from 2002 because of the costs of updates. That cost breaks down to about $30-$40 per voter, and most states just don’t have the money.

OTOH, a hack of the last presidential election would have only needed to change the votes in three states (Wisconsin, Michigan, and Pennsylvania) to be successful in changing the result. And the absolute margin of victory in each of those states was small enough that it could have been accomplished without accessing all polling places. Still, no credible group is saying hacking on that scale occurred in 2016.

It is glib to suggest that the answer is to use paper ballots. With upwards of 150 million votes to count, that would require a huge number of volunteers. It begs the question of what method of “auditing” the count will be used, and who will perform it.

If we persist in electronic voting, those states would need to adopt a comprehensive sampling methodology for the machines before results can be certified. This would mean that we simply can’t accept using machines that don’t provide a paper trail, or a way to audit their vote tally.

We need to remember that we call the winners based on initial uncertified vote tallies. Before we know it, someone has conceded while we’re still counting votes. Hillary Clinton’s popular vote margin grew for about a month after the 2016 election as more and more votes were counted, even though it had no bearing on the Electoral College.

For the presidency, the federal government could specify that states that can’t certify their results up to a pre-set federal standard of accuracy, using a pre-set methodology, wouldn’t be allowed to cast votes in the Electoral College. This would pressure the states to put in better protections against hacking.

Finally, the federal government should pay for any required upgrades.

Continuing Wrongo’s tour of music by old guys, here is “Why Worry” from a 1986 PBS recording by Chet Atkins, the Everly Brothers, Mark Knopfler, and Michael McDonald. This song was written by Mark Knopfler for The Everly Brothers, and it beautifully demonstrates their unique harmony:

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

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Monday Wake Up Call – July 31, 2017

The Daily Escape:

Mont Saint-Michel, France – photo by Stephane L’olliver

We start this week like all the others in the past six months, staring at the latest shiny thing that the Trump-obsessed media produced for our inspection. But we need to shift our focus to what Der Donald is doing with his nominations to the federal judiciary. From the Fiscal Times:

When it comes to nominating judges to the federal bench, Trump is moving at a breakneck pace. And the number of nominees for vacant US attorney positions, a crucial area, is dwarfing that of the past administration this early on.

The media tells us that Trump isn’t getting his nominations for key posts either submitted or approved, but that’s not true for the federal bench. Here, Trump is rushing to fill what are lifetime appointments.

More from the Fiscal Times:

Through July 14…he had nominated 18 people for district judgeship vacancies, 14 for circuit courts and the Court of Federal Claims, and 23 for US attorney slots. During that same time frame in President Barack Obama’s first term, Obama had nominated just four district judges, five appeals court judges, and 13 US attorneys. In total, Trump nominated 55 people, and Obama just 22.

Of those 55 nominees, 45 are from, or are nominated for, jobs in states Trump won outright in the election. If you remove the positions based in Washington, DC, that number becomes 45 of 48, a remarkably high 94%. Just 64% of Obama’s initial nominees hailed from states he carried in the 2008 presidential election. And there’s a reason for that:

It’s known as the “blue slip,” or the consent of both home-state senators. And it’s a Senate tradition to not advance any judicial or US attorney nominee without having the blue slip.

In states with two Republican senators, Trump has made 30 of the total 55 nominations. In states with two Democratic senators, he has nominated just five.

Trump has an impressive number of vacancies to fill. The federal bench has 136 vacancies. Trump fired half of the 93 US attorneys in March, creating a need for nominations, though seeking to quickly replace US attorneys is not uncommon at the start of a new administration. In August 2009, Obama faced 85 vacancies on the federal bench.

One of Trump’s most controversial nominees, John Bush, was confirmed last week to the 6th US Circuit Court of Appeals. Bush, a Kentucky lawyer, cleared the Senate with unanimous Republican support and unanimous Democratic opposition. Bush came under fire for his past blog posts, written under a pseudonym that compared abortion and slavery and called them “the two greatest tragedies in our country.” Bush had also promoted the Obama birther conspiracy.

Trump’s targeting the low-hanging fruit first, but ultimately he will need support from the Democratic side of the aisle to fill appointments where Dems might put a “hold” on a nomination.

Maybe the partisan chickens will come home to roost when that happens.

So, time to wake up America! Stop browsing just the mainstream media and work a little harder to get educated about what’s going on in the background. To help you wake up, here is Mick Jagger.

You are saying “Wrongo, why music from another old guy?”

But, just when you think Mick Jagger has become old and irrelevant, he writes two new things with overtly political messaging. Could he become relevant again? Today, listen to “Gotta Get a Grip”. He released this as a straight video, with great production value, but it was boring. Luckily, he also worked with young artists to make a series of cool remixes of the songs, all with the same crummy video, but all are compelling listening. Here is “Gotta Get a Grip”, the Seeb remix:

 

Gotta Get A Grip (Seeb Remix) by Mick Jagger & on VEVO.

Takeaway Lyrics:
Everybody’s stuffing their pockets
Everybody’s on the take
The news is all fake
Let ’em eat chicken and let ’em eat steak
Let ’em eat shit, let ’em eat cake

I tried diversion and I tried coercion
Mediation and medication
LA culture and acupuncture
Overeating and sex in meetings
Induced insanity, Christianity
Long walks and fast drives
And wild clubs and low dives
I pushed and I strived
But I can’t get you, can’t get you
Can’t get you out of my mind

Immigrants are pouring in
Refugees under your skin
Keep ’em under, keep ’em out
Intellectual, shut your mouth

Chaos crisis instability, ISIS
Lies and scandals, wars and vandals
Metadata scams and policy shams
Put ’em in a slammer

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

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Sunday Cartoon Blogging – July 30, 2017

Boy Scouts, Priebus out, Mooch in power, Sessions on the ropes, GOP fumbles Repeal and Replace. Hard for the White House to have had a worse week than we just saw. Let’s hope it gets better. The worst thing this week was how the supposedly non-political boy scouts cheered or booed just when Trump wanted.

Whatever did the Donald say to the Boy Scouts?

Spicer and Priebus are out. Who’s next through the revolving door?

The foul-mouthed Scaramucci is the new Trump front man:

GOP is on to their next idea:

Expect the GOP and McConnell to be back at what they do best very soon:

Trump decides to ban Trans GIs:

 

Trump’s best deal:

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Saturday Soother – July 29, 2017

The Daily Escape:

Old Harry Rocks, Dorset England – drone photo by Ryan Howell

Wrongo has, like so many others, spent the last eight months in disbelief. Every day, more stupid tweets, more stupid legislation proposed, more threats to the American people.

He went to bed last night expecting to wake up this morning to the GOP celebrating the thinnest of wins, another blow to our health insurance. But, there was a small victory in the dead of night. Now we gear up for the next battle. The Republicans are not defeated, and cannot give up on what they promised their base for the past seven years, so we should expect to see another attempt on this soon.

A great letter to the editor in the NYT accurately captures GOP dysfunction: (emphasis by the Wrongologist)

Republican attempts to overturn the Affordable Care Act by flinging irresponsible alternatives that would wreak havoc with the health of millions of citizens have set a new low in legislative responsibility.

The outcome of many of these votes was a foregone conclusion. That the Republican leaders are comfortable putting on a show rather than seriously addressing the problems of access to and cost of health care is an embarrassment.

Their actions are not worthy of the salaries that they are paid.

In the past six months, we’ve come to expect the bizarre from Trump and his GOP Trumpets.

This week was no exception. Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke threatened both Alaska Senators with withholding of federal funds for their state because Sen. Lisa Murkowski planned to vote against the Republican health care bill. These Sopranos-like threats happen all the time in DC. Murkowski gets extra credit for telling Trump to go to hell by putting a few of his nominees on hold before voting against the GOP bill.

But, the strangest of strange this week was Trump’s speech to the Boy Scouts: Trump crowed about his election victory, attacked the news media and criticized Hillary Clinton and former President Barack Obama. Now, the Scouts are non-political, and few of them are old enough to vote. The speech resulted in the Scouts’ sending a letter of apology to the American people.

Then there was Trump’s new hired gun, Scaramucci, who said to the New Yorker:

I’m not Steve Bannon, I’m not trying to suck my own cock.

In less than a year we’ve gone from “Grab ‘em in the pussy” to “I’m not trying to suck my own cock.”

It’s demeaning. Wrongo is not offended by the language. He has heard, and in the remote past used those words, if not in that precise order. But Wrongo doesn’t work in the White House. Trump and his team represent all of us, and we deserve better.

It’s Saturday, and you expect better, too. Time to brush off the trail dust, let go of the shenanigans and vote to repeal and replace this entire week. Here is Debussy’s “Arabesque No. 1 and No. 2”. He wrote them between 1888 and 1891. Debussy said of these arabesques:

That was the age of the ‘wonderful arabesque’, when music was subject to the laws of beauty inscribed in the movements of Nature herself.

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

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Book Review: “The First Congress” by Fergus M. Bordewich

The Daily Escape:

251 1st Street, Brooklyn, NYC – photo by Miguel de Guzman

It is time to review “The First Congress – How James Madison, George Washington, and a Group of Extraordinary Men Invented the Government” by Fergus M. Bordewich, which has been on Wrongo’s reading list since winter.

Bordewich says that the First Congress was the most important in US history, because it established in some detail how our government would actually function. Had it failed − as it nearly did − it’s possible that the US would exist in a different form today.

Congress began its work in New York City, then a fast-growing and chaotic shipping port of 30,000. Its first meeting was hardly auspicious: On March 4, 1789 they met as the new government after ratification by 11 of the 13 original states. But, there was no quorum to do business in either house. Bordewich outlines how difficult it was to make overland journeys: Boston to New York required six days, trips from the South were much longer. The House achieved a quorum of 29 members on April 1st, and the Senate followed on April 5th, but some members did not arrive until late summer.

Bordewich states that the need to accomplish something quickly was pressing:

Confidence in government was abysmally low…contempt for politicians was rife…and many political men held an equally low opinion of the voting public.

Sounds just like today.

The members were sharply divided, with huge differences of philosophy and opinion. The anti-federalists were opposed to a strong federal government, and had largely been against the ratification of the Constitution, preferring that power remain in the hands of the states. The Federalists wanted a stronger national government and supported the new Constitution.

Underlying everything were issues of North vs. South, rural agrarian vs. urban manufacturing economies, and pro-slave and anti-slave views.

During two years of political struggle, they passed the first ten amendments to the Constitution; they resolved regional rivalries to choose the location for a new national capital; they set in place the procedure for admitting new states to the union; they created the Supreme Court, and worked through the respective roles of the federal and state judiciaries. They established a national bank that was later dissolved by Andrew Jackson in 1832.

But the First Congress also confronted issues that are still with us: the appropriate balance between states’ rights and the powers of national government, and the proper balance between legislative and executive power. The issue of slavery would fester for almost seven decades before being resolved.

The reason that the First Congress succeeded was that they compromised. Without a willingness to compromise, all might have been lost. The great motivator behind their willingness to compromise was the fear that the anti-Federalists would walk away from the new Constitution. There was real reason to fear secession, and it was threatened many times by both the slave-holding South, as well as by the New England states.

Bordewich shows the regional splits that played out in the effort to create a national bank:

The balloting also had a disturbing subtext: all but one of the twenty votes against the bank hailed from the South…Of the thirty-nine votes in favor of the bank, all but five were from the North – yet another omen of the embryonic divide that would dominate the nation’s politics for years to come.

There are wonderful nuggets like this: (emphasis by the Wrongologist)

The First Amendment…became so only by default, when the two preceding amendments – on congressional apportionment and compensation for members – failed to achieve ratification by enough states…Three states – Massachusetts, Connecticut and Georgia – would not officially ratify even the ten amendments until…1939. (pg. 140)

In all, 39 amendments received meaningful debate. As important as passing the 10 we know about, was the rejection of others that would have imperiled a strong federal government, including one that gave voters the right to give legislators binding instructions on how to vote.

There was nothing inevitable about the survival and success of the new government. It came about by men from all sections of the country, each with an agenda, who overlooked their prejudices to create a government. The result of their spirit of compromise was the successful launch of our government.

Sharp divisions, rural vs. urban, states’ rights vs. federal authority: We face many of the same issues today that the First Congress had to face in 1789.

But, they had Washington, Jefferson, Madison, and Hamilton.

Who do we have?

Mitch McConnell and Paul Ryan. Chuck Schumer and Nancy Pelosi.

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Trump Suggests Active Duty Military Do Something Illegal

The Daily Escape:

Assateague Island, July 25, 2017 – photo by Kendall Lavoie

Donald Trump’s visit to Norfolk VA last Saturday probably went mostly unnoticed, because of the Senate’s attempt at three-dimensional chess with their health care legislation. When Trump spoke at the commissioning for USS Gerald R. Ford, the US Navy’s newest aircraft carrier, he urged the audience to lobby their lawmakers to pass a budget that contains an additional $54 billion in Defense Department funding for fiscal year 2018: (brackets and emphasis by the Wrongologist)

And you will get — believe me, President Trump, I will tell you — you will get it [the defense money]. Don’t worry about it. But I don’t mind getting a little hand. So call that congressman, and call that senator and make sure you get it…And by the way, you can also call those senators to make sure that you get healthcare.

The audience was active duty military. There are at least two things wrong here. First, why would the military lobby Congress for health care? They already have a single payer system called Tricare. They are automatically enrolled, and it’s free for most in the military while their dependents and retirees pay premiums, just like civilians do. Does Trump even know how health insurance works in the military?

Second, by asking them to lobby Congress for more defense money, they would be crossing an important line. It is illegal for officers on active duty to be involved in any partisan political activity. Federal Law (Titles 10, 2, and 18, US Code), Department of Defense (DOD) Directives, and specific military regulations strictly limit a military active duty person’s participation in partisan political activities, including lobbying.

Current and former US military officers take great pride in the way that the active-duty officer corps is seen as being above politics. From the Atlantic:

Contemporary military officers, as Samuel Huntington famously observed, belong to a profession. They are professional managers of violence. We arm, train, and equip uniformed military officers to do frankly horrific things—killing, maiming, and intimidating people with force—in order to achieve favorable political outcomes.

So, many US military officers were appalled when Der Donald encouraged his uniformed audience to call their representatives to lobby for the president’s policies—including his budget increasing defense spending at the expense of other domestic priorities.

It is clear that members of the military have political views. It is also clear that they tilt Republican. In “The Role of the Military in Presidential Politics”, Steve Corbett and Michael Davidson say:

Despite the military’s official position, there has been a growing concern that the officer corps is becoming increasingly politicized. The current officer corps regularly votes and “identif[ies] with a political philosophy and party,” usually Republican. Indeed, military voting patterns indicate that members of the armed forces vote “in greater percentages than that of the general population.”

We treat our military as a privileged class—men and women who by their willingness to serve and risk all, are first among equals, slightly above the citizens they are sworn to defend. They have a credibility based on their military service. Trump risks that by attempting to politicize them. He also risks the public’s trust in our professional military as a politically neutral institution, something that has been a fundamental principle of our Nation. What Trump suggested is illegal, and against centuries of policy and practice.

That is what Trump and his speech writers failed to understand when he asked active duty military to lobby on behalf of his agenda.

We all accept that high level retired military will serve in government, or in high-ranking positions in lobbying, cable news punditry, or in corporate positions. We accept that retired military often express political opinions that they keep under wraps while on active duty.

Citizens have to trust that active duty military officers will never use their power to bring about a political result here in the US, the way it has happened so often abroad.

Here is music to take us away from this nonsense, Richard Thompson’s “Vincent Black Lightening 1952”:

Saw him last summer, still in great voice.

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

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Do Trump’s Poor Approval Ratings Mean Much?

The Daily Escape:

Lake Louise Sunrise, Alberta, Canada

On Monday, Gallup released Trump’s job approval rating in all 50 states, based on a collection of over 81,000 survey results gathered in the six months between the president’s inauguration on January 20 and June 30. The results show an interesting trend, particularly if you divide them into three categories: states where Trump is above 50%, states where Trump is in the 40%’s, and states where Trump is under 40%:

The dark green states where Trump is above 50% are states Trump carried in 2016. The yellow states, where Trump is under 40%, are all states that Clinton carried in 2016. The light green states are 2016’s swing states: New Hampshire, Ohio, Pennsylvania, Florida, North Carolina, Michigan, Wisconsin, Iowa and Nevada. From Gallup:

Trump largely owed his victory in the 2016 presidential election to his wins in three key Rust Belt states — Michigan, Pennsylvania and Wisconsin — that had not backed a Republican for president since the 1980s. In these states, his January-June approval ratings were just slightly above his overall average of 40%, including 43% in Pennsylvania and Wisconsin and 42% in Michigan.

So those three states that put him over the top in the 2016 Electoral College could now be in play. Other interesting data:

  • In the 2016 election, Trump won all 17 of the states where Gallup now shows him with an approval rating of at least 50%.
  • During the six-month survey period, residents in West Virginia (60%), North Dakota (59%) and South Dakota (57%) gave Trump his highest approval ratings. Montana, Wyoming and Alabama all had average approval ratings of 55% or higher.

This is consistent with the geographic patterns of Republican strength nationally. Trump’s highest approval ratings tend to be in Southern, Plains and Mountain West states. His lowest ratings are in Northeast and West Coast states.

Maine, Georgia, Missouri, Indiana, Mississippi, Arizona and Texas are now in the minority-favorable category. Clinton carried Maine and Nevada, but the rest are states that voted for Trump.

In Michigan, North Carolina, Florida and Texas, Trump is at 42% and at least nine points underwater with majority disapproval. Majority disapproval in Texas could help Dems in 2020.

This means that Trump is solidly under 50% in 33 states, including every swing state.

Gallup has been running this daily tracking poll for about 70 years. It showed Trump’s approval at 46% at inauguration. Now the same Gallup poll, done with the same protocol, shows Trump’s approval at 36%.

But this doesn’t mean that Trump is toast in 2020, or that the Democrats have a path to control either the House or Senate in 2018. Peter Hessler had an interesting article in The New Yorker about how Trump has a deeper influence on his voters than we previously thought:

If anything, investigations into the Trump campaign’s connections with Russia have made supporters only more faithful. “I’m loving it – I hope they keep going down the Russia rabbit hole,” Matt Peterson told me, in June. He believes that Democrats are banking on impeachment instead of doing the hard work of trying to connect with voters. “They didn’t even get rid of their leadership after the election…”

Trump is drawn to making silly statements on the Twitter machine like a moth to flame, and it is scorching him enough to reflect in his approval numbers. But Russia alone won’t be a winning hand for Democrats, as the New Yorker article shows. These Russia investigations may not amount to anything, or they may be something that takes until Trump’s second term to fully flower.

In the meantime, the Dems issued a new manifesto, “A Better Deal”, a re-branding of their greatest hits: more and better-paying jobs, lower health care costs, and cracking down on the abuses of big business.

But this time, they really mean it.

It is doubtful that the new slogan or its underlying policies will have Republicans quaking in their Ferragamos.

If there is one lesson Democrats should have learned from 2016, it is that opposition to Trump is not enough to win elections. They need new leadership and a better message.

Otherwise, despite the rosy (for Democrats) poll results on Trump favorability, Democrats will be explaining what went wrong again when the 2018 midterms roll around.

On to today’s tune. Here is Aretha Franklin doing “It Ain’t Necessarily So“, with lyrics and music by George and Ira Gershwin. It is from their opera, “Porgy and Bess”:

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

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