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The Wrongologist

Geopolitics, Power and Political Economy

The Pant Load Party

Happy Friday! You are busy, and don’t need a long-form note from Wrongo. But, here are a few items you may have missed that accurately describe the Republican Party today:

First, The GOP didn’t follow its own rules during a vote on Thursday. The subject was a measure to ensure protections for the LGBT community in federal contracts, and it failed to pass after “initially passing” during the time allotted for members to vote. Then, the Republican leadership urged their members to change their votes. The leadership kept the vote open as they pressured members to change sides, allowing lawmakers switch their votes without following the “Regular Order”  process of walking to the well at the front of the chamber.

By changing their votes, the House GOP inserted a poison pill that overrides Obama’s executive order banning LGBTQ discrimination in federal defense contracts. From The Hill:

Initially, it appeared Rep. Sean Patrick Maloney’s (D-NY) amendment had passed, as 217 “yes” votes piled up over 206 “no” votes when the clock ran out. The measure needed 213 votes to pass. But it eventually failed, 212-213, after a number of Republican lawmakers changed their votes from “yes” to “no” after the clock had expired.

More from The Hill:

According to the office of House Minority Whip Steny Hoyer (D-MD.), at least seven Republicans changed their votes, including Reps. Jeff Denham (Calif.), Darrell Issa (Calif.), Bruce Poliquin (Maine), David Valadao (Calif.), Greg Walden (Ore.), Mimi Walters (Calif.) and David Young (Iowa). Denham, Valadao, Poliquin and Young are among the most vulnerable Republicans up for reelection this year. Walden, meanwhile, chairs the House GOP campaign arm.

Twenty-nine Republicans voted for Maloney’s amendment to a spending bill for the Department of Veterans Affairs and military construction projects, along with all Democrats in the final roll call.

But the awesome kicker was House Speaker Paul Ryan’s “see and hear no evil”: When asked about the vote-switching, Ryan denied knowing whether his leadership team pressured Republicans:

I don’t know the answer. I don’t even know…

He then defended the provision in the defense bill: (brackets by the Wrongologist)

This is federalism, the states should do this. The federal government shouldn’t stick its nose in [the states’] its business

Simpler Paul Ryan: The federal government has no business regulating federal defense contracts. That should be left to the states. You know that even Paul Ryan is smarter than that.

Second, The Donald at a Chris Christie funds-raiser in NJ:

Look, a lot of you don’t know the world of economics and you shouldn’t even bother. Just do me a favor, leave it to me.

If you are in the audience, you are insulted, but still cheering. Or this: (brackets by the Wrongologist)

My trade deal is very simple, I am going to make great deals for our country…It [the trade deals?] might be free, it might not be free.

Yes, he said those two things in the same speech. Do either of those statements cause you to trust that you will be better off after a Trump administration?

Finally, this perspective from Matt Taibbi in the Rolling Stone on May 18th after Cruz conceded:

If this isn’t the end for the Republican Party, it’ll be a shame. They dominated American political life for 50 years and were never anything but monsters. They bred in their voters the incredible attitude that Republicans were the only people within our borders who raised children, loved their country, died in battle or paid taxes. They even sullied the word “American” by insisting they were the only real ones…their idea of an intellectual was Newt Gingrich. Their leaders, from Ralph Reed to Bill Frist to Tom DeLay to Rick Santorum to Romney and Ryan, were an interminable assembly line of shrieking, witch-hunting celibates, all with the same haircut – the kind of people who thought Iran-Contra was nothing, but would grind the affairs of state to a halt over a blow job or Terri Schiavo’s feeding tube.

A Cruz supporter lamented: (brackets by the Wrongologist)

People don’t care about civility anymore…Why are we [Republicans] so mean?’

But the real question is, “Why vote for the GOP?”

You know, why vote for a Pant Load Republican who tells you not to worry about economics.

Or a Pant Load Republican who tells you he didn’t know what happened with a House vote that passed after it didn’t pass, a vote, that in effect, vitiated the Civil Rights Act of 1964 for federal contracts.

That very same Pant Load who says we should leave regulating federal contractors to the states.

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GOP Debate Wrap-up – March 5, 2016

(There will be no further blogging until Tuesday 3/8, as Wrongo and Ms. Right make their way back to the World Headquarters of Wrong)

Republicans had a debate on Thursday night at which the size of The Donald’s penis was at least as important subject for discussion as domestic and foreign policy.

Here is the New York Times reporting on it:

COW 5 questions

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Bruni concluded:

So, yes, the size of Trump’s penis matters or, rather, what matters is that it was an actual subject of discussion; that it reflected and set the tone of the encounter; and that this tone favors Trump, because it’s where he lives, it’s his kingdom, and if rivals join him there, they merely become his subjects.

Another proud electoral moment, America! This election cycle is showing the US for what it actually is: racist, exclusive, elitist, white centric, abusive, militaristic, and hopelessly uneducated/uninformed. If this is the level of discourse, there is no possibility that we can maintain any form of democracy at all.

What are these debates for anymore?

This was a nationally televised GOP debate from Detroit. It didn’t get to the Flint water crisis until just before closing statements, when Rubio made the point that the really terrible thing about Flint’s water disaster is the fact that Democrats politicized it. Cruz said that Detroit was decimated by 60 years of left-wing politics, but when asked what he would do to improve Detroit’s economy, Cruz says repeal Obamacare, pull back the EPA, and pass the Cruz tax plan.

But enough about the issues. Let Wrongo take you back 56 years to the Nixon/ Kennedy debates in 1960. The Moderator asks Kennedy about ‘something Harry Truman said”. Kennedy responds:

I believe that issue is something for Mrs. Truman.

Then the moderator (possibly Howard K. Smith) asks Nixon what he thinks. Nixon launched into a minutes-long soliloquy about The Dignity of the Office and how profanity violates it. See the exchange here:

That’s a riot coming from Nixon, whose tapes had to be bleeped every few seconds! For those who read the Wrongologist in email, you can view the video here.

So, 56 years ago, after a former president said: “Go to Hell”, we had a national scandal. But, today, the Republican front-runner can discuss the size of his penis on national television without being booed offstage in disgrace.

Today it isn’t behind the scenes foul mouth invective as practiced prominently by Nixon, and probably every other president, that is the issue. It is vulgarity on stage in front of the cameras, the stupid schoolyard taunts on Twitter. Rubio, Cruz, Christie and Trump can no longer speak like civilized adults.

Imagine, if one of them is elected. There will be an endless stream of cringe-worthy moments for your viewing pleasure.

Maybe the Dems will remember Kennedy’s 1960 line this fall. Perhaps they could modify it a little, and say:

I believe that issue is something for the current Mrs. Trump

That might sting a bit.

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Monday Wake Up Call – August 3, 2015

Today’s wake up is for the US neo-con policy makers who made so many mistakes in the 1960’s and 1970’s that some are still being uncovered. Last week, NHK Tokyo had a report about the US’ operation of a secret experimental nuclear reactor in South Vietnam during the Vietnam War.

We put a nuclear reactor in Vietnam? When there was a war underway?

The site was in the city of Da Lat, 120 miles northeast of Saigon, where Americans had installed a research reactor. It was a General Atomics TRIGA Mark II model. We began building the TRIGA in the 1960s as another example of President Eisenhower’s “Atoms for Peace” campaign at the end of the 1950s, just like the reactor we sent to Iran in 1967.

So many neutrons, so little peace.

According to NHK, as the North Vietnamese Army was approaching, Henry Kissinger ordered the site dismantled to keep the technology out of communist hands. The big news: In the event of an inability to dismantle the reactor, the NHK reports that, as a last-ditch measure, Kissinger ordered that the radioactive core be blown up rather than fall to the North Vietnamese.

NHK interviewed Wally Hendrikson, now elderly, who in 1975 was a nuclear fuel specialist at the Idaho National Laboratory. He was on the small team sent to recover the reactor’s fuel. When Hendrikson arrived at the US Embassy in Saigon:

We were told distinctly that if we could not remove the fuel and get it out of the country, we were to make it inaccessible and to pour concrete…to cover the core.

If all else failed, Hendrikson says,

We were to dynamite the core

Luckily, the team got the fuel out of Vietnam without needing to create a nuclear disaster. Vietnam later rebuilt the reactor, using technology and nuclear fuel from the Soviet Union. Today, the facility remains the only functioning research reactor in Vietnam.

How many times will we have to dodge bullets that the neo-cons and cold war warriors keep loading in guns that keep getting get pointed at America’s head? Wake up, neo-cons! To help you with your wake-up, here is #5 in our songs of summer series, Katrina and the Waves with “Walking on Sunshine”:

For those who read the Wrongologist in email, you can view the video here.

Monday’s Hot Links:

A map of American swearing usage, produced by a lecturer in forensic linguistics at Aston University in Birmingham, UK. Hell, damn and bitch are especially popular in the south and southeast. Douche is relatively common in northern states. Bastard is beloved in Maine and New Hampshire, and those states – together with a band across southern Arizona, New Mexico, and Texas – like using motherfucker. Crap is more popular inland, fuck along the coasts.

Earlier this year, Trump for President, LLC trademarked “Trumpocrat” and “Trumpublican.” Who knew that Trump wanted you to have a ball cap with “Trumpocrat” emblazoned on the front? Doesn’t Trumpocrat sound more like a plutocrat than Democrat? “Trumpocalypse” sounds correct, and has a nice ring to it, but it apparently isn’t one that they trademarked.

Exxon’s lobbying firm donated to Chris Christie’s Super PAC while Christie pushed for favorable 9to Exxon) NJ environmental settlement. Public Strategies Impact, the firm that represents Exxon’s interests in New Jersey, has donated $50,000 to “America Leads,” a super PAC supporting Christie’s presidential campaign. Christie’s proposed settlement, aims to reduce levies against ExxonMobil from $8.9 billion to just $225 million. Christie has defended the agreement as a good one for the state. NJ Democrats legislators have been seeking to block the settlement. Nothing to see here.

Ebola vaccine trial in Guinea proves 100% successful. The trials involved 4,000 people. Unlike using the randomized approach, taking a population at risk of Ebola and vaccinating half of them while giving the other half a placebo, this study used a “ring” design. When Ebola flared up in a village, researchers vaccinated all the contacts of the sick person who were willing to take the vaccine, family, friends and neighbors, and their immediate contacts. Children, adolescents and pregnant women were excluded because of an absence of safety data for them. In practice about 50% of people in these clusters were vaccinated.

To test how well the vaccine protected people, outbreaks were randomly assigned either to receive the vaccine immediately, or three weeks after an Ebola infection was confirmed. Among the 2,014 people vaccinated immediately, there were no cases of Ebola from 10 days after vaccination. In the clusters with delayed vaccination, there were 16 cases out of 2,380. Scientists, doctors, donors and drug companies collaborated to push the vaccine through a process that usually takes more than a decade in just 12 months. Merck owns the rights to the drug. Invest at your own risk.

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Monday Wake Up – December 1, 2014

Today’s Wake Up is for entrenched power in America.

Inequality and political polarization has progressed to the point that the “The Hunger Games” trilogy is being taken seriously as literature with an important message for our time.

Its symbols are appearing in protests around the world and have made it into opinion columns:

Some protesters in Ferguson, Missouri, have adopted Katniss’s revolutionary slogan, “If we burn, you burn with us.” In Thailand, students flashing District 12’s three-fingered salute — a symbol of protest in the film — have recently been arrested. (The salute has apparently been outlawed since spring.) In a few short years, “The Hunger Games” and its symbology have become a part of the cultural commons.

America’s upper middle class thinks that inequality is an issue because it means low GDP growth, solely because people can’t buy enough consumer products to create good jobs. However, there could be an inflection point ahead when having more consumer goods ceases to be the goal of the middle class, or the people in poverty.

Look back at the French and Russian monarchies for a lesson about what that transition might look like, and how fast it can come about.

Today’s wake up music isn’t designed to get you dancing. It is the political anthem, “We Can’t Make It Here” by James McMurtry. McMurtry is the son of the novelist Larry McMurtry. The song won the 2005 Americana Music Award for song of the year. Music critic Robert Christgau has ranked “We Can’t Make It Here” as the best song of the 2000s. Bob Lefsetz said that “We Can’t Make It Here” has stood the test of time because of its unmitigated truth. Listen, while thinking that this was written in 2005, not this year:

Sample lyrics:
Will I work for food, will I die for oil,
Will kill for power and to us the spoils,
The billionaires get to pay less tax,
The working poor get to fall through the cracks

Monday’s Links:

Millennials are having to choose between affordable housing and jobs. It has always been true that there are fewer jobs where housing is affordable, but today, those two halves of the American Dream are living farther apart. Jobs with high wages are in unaffordable cities. The affordable homes cluster in the cities with lower wages and less upwardly mobile families.

Governor Christie (R-NJ) gives early sign that he is running for President. Christie vetoed a bill that would have banned crating pigs. New Jersey has few pig farms, but they are widespread in Iowa.

You can unknowingly lease a dog in San Diego CA. People who thought they purchased a dog using time payments actually leased the pet. After 27 months of payments, they could pay a $93.52 fee to end the lease, or $187.04 to purchase the pet. Why not just get a rescue animal? Read the paperwork, people! This is probably the next Wall Street securitization scheme.

Pope raises eyebrows by saying:

When we read about Creation in Genesis, we run the risk of imagining God was a magician, with a magic wand able to do everything — but that is not so…

His point was that Catholics should believe in evolution and the big bang theory. Next, Kansas and Texas will probably try to excommunicate him. Clearly, he’s been confused by those science-y people.

News from Russia:

Are the sanctions working? Russian firms that are under sanctions by the West must refinance $20 billion by April-sanctions are making that difficult.

There is a serious nuclear waste problem in the Arctic, brought to you by Russia. According to a joint Russian-Norwegian report issued in 2012, there are 17,000 containers of nuclear waste, 19 rusting Soviet nuclear ships and 14 nuclear reactors cut out of atomic vessels sitting on the bottom of the Kara Sea. The worst case scenario is described as “an Arctic underwater Chernobyl, played out in slow motion.” Oh, great, and I was worried about Crimea.

Water thievery is growing in California along with the drought. Thieves are cutting pipes and taking water from fire hydrants, storage tanks, creeks and rivers to get their hands on the precious commodity.

Thought for the week:

I always thought if you worked hard enough and tried hard enough, things would work out. I was wrong. –Katharine Graham (Owner of the Washington Post)

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The Circle of Graft

Trenton, New Jersey is the political home of Republican Governor Chris Christie. The rest of America sees Mr. Christie as a tough-talking know-it-all, a moderate Republican who could be a real threat to win the presidency in 2016.

David Sirota in the International Business Times reports that Christie is sending state pension money to his buddies on Wall Street. The idea was to improve pension plan investment returns. From Sirota:

Gov. Chris Christie’s administration openly acknowledged that more New Jersey taxpayer dollars were going to land in the coffers of major financial institutions. It was 2010, and Christie had just installed a longtime private equity executive, Robert Grady, to manage the state’s pension money. Grady promoted a plan to put more of those funds into riskier investments managed by Wall Street firms. Though this would entail higher fees, Grady said the strategy would “maximize returns while appropriately managing risk”.

Some of the higher risk investments were in hedge funds. Ten years ago, public pension funds stayed away from hedge funds. Possibly hedge funds seemed too risky, or opaque, or exotic. After all, public pension funds invest money so they can afford to keep sending checks to retired schoolteachers, police officers and firefighters. Christie and Robert Grady went ahead.

Now, four years later, New Jersey has achieved about half of their promised results:

NJ pension returns

With the exception of the 2012 fiscal year, annual public pension return rates in New Jersey are significantly lower than the national median. Those differences add up when you are investing a pool of $80 billion. However, the fees NJ paid to its financial managers have more than tripled since Christie assumed office:

NJ Investment fees

Mr. Christie took office in 2010. In all, New Jersey’s pension system has spent $939.8 million on financial fees between fiscal year 2010 and 2013. That’s just slightly less than the amount Christie cut from state education funding in 2010.

Half the results at triple the cost! Madison Avenue is so NOT stealing that claim.

The news gets worse: NJ’s pension fund is $47.2 billion short of what it needs to fulfill its promised benefits to retirees. The gap had narrowed to $36.3 billion in 2010 after Christie signed bills that boosted contributions from employees, raised the minimum retirement age for new workers and froze cost-of- living adjustments for retirees.

But, the gap grew again after Christie skipped a $3 billion pension payment in fiscal 2011. Christie also decided in May to skip this year’s $3.1 billion payment, again, in order to balance the state budget. As justification for the move, he argued that retirement benefits for NJ police officers, firefighters and teachers are unaffordable and therefore must be reduced.

Even more bad news: Many of the Wall Street firms NJ now pays management fees have been donors to Republican groups backing Christie’s election campaigns. Employees of those firms have also donated more than $11 million to the Republican Governors Association and the Republican National Committee. Now, not all of that money goes to support Mr. Christie, but the New York Times reports that both organizations spent big in support of his 2013 reelection campaign: (brackets by the Wrongologist)

A third of the $1.65 million the [National Governors] association raised in New Jersey [in 2013 by Christie] came from people and businesses who had significant contracts with the state, or from utilities, which are prohibited from making any contributions to candidates for governor.

As the IBTimes also reported, at the time many of these campaign contributions were made, Robert Grady was moving about 1/3 of New Jersey’s portfolio to some of the donor firms. Grady is a former managing director of the Carlyle Group, and Carlyle and a subsidiary have received $450 million in New Jersey pension investments since Christie took office.

NJ has a history of pension pratfalls. In 1997, Republican Gov. Christine Whitman issued $3 billion of state bonds and used the proceeds to make a leveraged stock market bet that failed when the Internet bubble popped. Ms. Whitman went on to withhold payments of $ billions to the public employee pension funds over the next few years, using the bulk of that money to balance the state budget.

Wait! There’s more: From 2006-2009, NJ also failed under Democrats: (brackets by the Wrongologist)

Orin Kramer [was]…Chairman of the New Jersey State Investment Council, which is tasked with oversight of the state’s public pension system. In 2006 he successfully pushed to shift a huge chunk of the state’s $72 billion pension fund to private money managers rather than [have them managed by] state employees.

Kramer was also the architect of the decision to invest $400 million in Citigroup and $300 million in Merrill Lynch as those firm tried to survive the sub-prime market crisis in 2008. Later in 2008, Kramer “invested” union pension money into Lehman Brothers shortly before the firm’s collapse.

That move lost $115 million.

Although “public officials” decide where to place pension funds, increasingly with hedge funds, the pension monies belong to state employees.

How ironic that these same public officials blame the employees for the failure of the pension funds to have sufficient funds to meet their obligations.

Why not blame the “public officials”?

Circle of Graft, indeed!

 

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