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The Wrongologist

Geopolitics, Power and Political Economy

Saturday Soother – December 17, 2016

Welcome to Saturday. For the rest of the year, we are going to rely heavily on music and cartoons to help get us through to the inauguration of El Jefe, our Orange Overlord. This is how Wrongo expects it will go on January 20th:

Our collective futures have been placed on hold by electing Donald Trump. His big idea is that America should return to doing what grandma and grandpa did, because fifty years ago those policies were just so darn successful.

Generals will be in charge of foreign policy, while banksters will run our domestic policy.

The lesser agencies will be re-designed to make America great again. They will be run by people specifically picked to destroy them from within. The white shoe classes are about to get free rein, knowing America will soon be willing to work for food.

And all it took to achieve this brilliant result was fooling the usual suspects, those who started following Trump when he yelled about the birth certificate, and who stayed for the yelling about the emails.

America is finally getting the government it deserves.

Today’s musical soother is no soother. It’s a Christmas partying song that pokes fun at the issues we all see when we get together with family on the holidays. Here are Dropkick Murphys with “The Season’s Upon Us”. Play this early and often:

This is for Wrongo’s Irish family, and all families everywhere!

Sample Lyrics:

The season’s upon us, it’s that time of year
Brandy and eggnog, there’s plenty of cheer
There’s lights on the trees
And there’s wreaths to be hung
There’s mischief and mayhem
And songs to be sung

There’s bells and there’s holly, the kids are gung-ho
True love finds a kiss beneath fresh mistletoe
Some families are messed up while others are fine
If you think yours is crazy
Well you should see mine

My sisters are whack-jobs, I wish I had none
Their husbands are losers and so are their sons
My nephew’s a horrible, wise little twit
He once gave me a gift wrapped box full of shit

My mom likes to cook, push our buttons and prod
My brother just brought home another big broad
The eyes roll and whispers come loud
From the kitchen I’d come home more often

If they’d only quit bitching

The table’s set, we raise a toast
The Father, Son and the Holy Ghost
I’m so glad this day only comes once a year
You can keep your opinions, your presents, your “Happy New Year”
They call this Christmas where I’m from
They call this Christmas where I’m from

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Make Social Security Great Again

A senior House Republican is circulating a proposal that would make major cuts and changes to the Social Security system.

Insiders think this is a move to contravene President-elect Trump’s vow to leave the retirement program for 61 million retirees and their families untouched.

The proposal was drafted by Rep. Sam Johnson (R-TX), chair of the subcommittee on Social Security of the House Ways and Means Committee. It was formally introduced as a bill last Thursday. It includes two measures that might attract some interest from Democrats. One would increase retirement benefits for lower-income workers, and another would increase the minimum benefit for low-income earners who worked full careers.

OTOH, other provisions put in place a series of highly controversial measures long debated by both parties. Those measures include:

  • Gradually raising the retirement age for receiving full benefits from 67 to 69.
  • Adopting a less generous cost of living index than the current one.
  • Inaugurating means testing by changing the benefits formula to reduce payments to wealthier retirees.
  • Eliminating the annual COLA adjustments for wealthier individuals and their families.

Democrats think that Johnson’s plan, if adopted, would cut current benefits. From Nancy Pelosi:

Slashing Social Security and ending Medicare are absolutely not what the American people voted for in November…Democrats will not stand by while Republicans dismantle the promise of a healthy and dignified retirement for working people in America.

Rep. Johnson is 86 and has both a military pension and a congressional pension, so Social Security is far less important to him than it is to you.

For Republicans, Johnson’s bill is the opening salvo in a much larger conversation about Medicare and Medicaid in the coming year. Speaker Paul Ryan (R-WI) and House Budget Committee Chair Tom Price (R-GA), who will be the next secretary of health and human services, are both on record as wanting major changes to Medicare and Medicaid.

Democrats see the 2017 GOP plans as a frontal assault on the nation’s social safety net.

The argument has been that the Social Security trust fund will run out of money, but it is not in imminent danger. The Trustees Report in March warned that the fund will begin running out of money in 2034 when beneficiaries will have to face a 21% benefit cut.

Last week, Rep. Tom Cole of Oklahoma, a House Republican, and Rep. John Delaney of Maryland, a Democrat, renewed their support for a plan to create a bipartisan, 13-member panel to recommend to Congress ways to prevent the massive trust fund from running out of money while extending its solvency for another 75 years.

They envision that the new commission would operate along the lines of one created 35 years ago, in the Reagan administration. That commission helped pave the way for legislation that extended the life of Social Security by 50 years. Some possible proposals, such as raising the retirement age, increasing federal payroll tax revenues or altering the cost of living adjustments to save money will trigger strong opposition from the AARP, progressive activists and Democrats.

It’s long been a GOP theme that since Social Security needs a fix by 2033, we need to cut benefits now. Never mind that a minor upward adjustment to the income limit for the Social Security tax would resolve the problem with no cuts to benefits.

We’ll see if President Donald J. Trump supports this bill, after saying very loudly during the campaign that he was against touching Social Security.

Maybe the J stands for “just kidding.”

Since we’re on the verge of becoming “great” again, or, at the very least, having the trains run on time, maybe El Jefe can get the GOP to leave Social Security alone?

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Sunday Cartoon Blogging – December 11, 2016

We are seeing the shape of Trump’s cabinet, and it’s clear that we will soon be working for idiots who used to be in sales. So, it’s time for some definitions: What are Kleptocracy and Kakistocracy?

Kleptocracy is a government where the rulers (kleptocrats) use their power to exploit the people and natural resources of their country in order to extend their personal wealth and power.

Kakistocracy means a state or country run by the worst, least qualified, or most unscrupulous citizens. The word comes from the Greek words kakistos (worst) and kratos (rule), with a literal meaning of government by the worst people.

Posted for your reference, in case something happens after January 20th that requires you to know about either term.

Trump’s commitment to renewable energy was on display in his Boeing tweet:

cow-hot-air-force-1

His cabinet, er, his junta:

cow-general-election

We’ve had high-ranking military men serve in high positions in our government since the beginning of the country, starting with George Washington through Andrew Jackson, Ulysses S. Grant, Dwight D. Eisenhower, through Colin Powell.  But Trump is surrounding himself with an awful lot of them, and some of them have had issues with both their temperament and civil liberties. Just like the man hiring them.

Any issue with so many generals? The NYT offers this:

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Man of the Year is questioned, but it is real my friends:

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Trump’s EPA will be his undoing in the next election:

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Pearl Harbor is hardly remembered:

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It’s another Family of Trump voters having quality time at home. Never have so many known so little about so much.

I’m stepping through the door, and I’m floating in a most peculiar way…and the stars look very different today:

cow-john-glenn

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Trump Promised Jobs. That’s Why He Won

Take a good look at this map. It shows which counties switched parties in the 2016 US Presidential election compared to 2012. Red counties switched from Democrat to Republican, blue counties switched from Republican to Democrat and the vast majority in grey did not switch parties:

counties-that-changed-partys

Source: Brilliant Maps

Of course, it doesn’t show vote margin or size of the total vote in each county. The main thing this map shows is the large number of counties in the North East and Midwest that flipped to Trump, after having been Democratic counties in the prior election. The effect was large enough to deliver the normally Democratic leaning states of Iowa, Michigan, Pennsylvania, and Wisconsin into the Republican camp.

Tim Duy has an article about how economists and most politicians get so wrapped up that they miss the human element in economic dislocations. Duy makes the point that they ignore two of the negative impacts of job losses. First, they say how lost jobs free up human capital for use elsewhere in the economy. Of course, as jobs are added to the economy, skill levels and training determine whether laid-off workers are part of that equation.

“High-skilled” workers is what we need, but they are not always the kind of workers that were laid off.

Second, Duy reminds us that most workers have little ability to move to where better jobs might be found. Politicians tell us that the economy is shifting to urban and suburban areas; to higher skilled jobs; that workers must go and get retrained. That misses the point.

Most new jobs for those who were laid off will only be found if workers are able to relocate, to move from rural or devastated urban locations to geographic areas where jobs are expanding. Duy notes it is particularly difficult for rural areas:

The speed of regional labor market adjustment to shocks is agonizingly slow in any area that lacks a critical mass of population…Relative to life spans, in many cases the shocks might as well be permanent.

We don’t have answers for most of these communities. Rural and urban economic re-development is hard. The people living in these regions have experienced job losses (or no jobs growth) for decades; positive jobs growth has occurred elsewhere.

And the laid-off workforce isn’t mobile. In effect, we have limited access to housing in our major cities by pushing housing costs beyond the reach of most middle class workers. This, from Kevin Erdmann:

If you lost your manufacturing job in Buffalo, and you’re thinking of moving to New York City because there are more jobs there, you might decide not to move because it is too expensive. It is the affordability that is keeping you out. But, even here, the affordability problem is just the messenger. It is the rationing mechanism for a housing stock that is relatively fixed for political reasons.

If you decide to move to the NYC area, you see that the housing supply is largely fixed. New buildings are hard to get through zoning. Construction costs in big cities are very high. Income taxes are rising rapidly.

Erdmann makes the point that housing in big cities doesn’t move up with increased demand:

So, it doesn’t matter if Brooklyn apartments rent for $500, or $1,000, or $2,000, or $4,000. There isn’t one for you. Fixing this by fixing affordability isn’t going to change the supply curve. It’s simply substituting non-monetary rationing mechanisms for the monetary one.

Trump’s message that US firms need to consider domestic jobs as much as their bottom line, also resonated with middle and upper-middle class households. OTOH, it’s not like Trump took on the Coal Industry on behalf of workers. He blamed federal environmental policy, but that isn’t what caused the loss of coal industry jobs.

Trump doesn’t really have any answers, but he pretends to care while pretending to have answers. Pretending to care and pretending to have answers gave him the switched counties on the electoral map above. People want work. They want secure jobs.

Trump might be running a “jobs” scam, but if it fails, what is the Democrats’ alternative?

We have four years until the next election, two if you are looking at Congress. What policies will work? Will we just trade Trump’s scam for another one peddled by the establishment?

Business as usual hasn’t delivered. The idea that economic growth creates jobs is a pipe dream for many: For the past 40 years, economic growth did not improve wages.

Trump’s promise swung the election. If he fails, what will be the Democrats’ response?

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Monday Wake Up Call – December 5, 2016

We’ve entered uncharted territory. Trump had a phone call with the president of Taiwan. Why is that such an issue? Presidents speak to other world leaders all the time, but American presidents have not spoken to the president of Taiwan since 1979. This studied form of non-recognition is at the core of the One-China Policy.

That policy states that there is only one state called “China”, despite the existence of two governments claiming to be China. This diplomatic dance works precisely because everybody agrees to abide by rules that don’t make complete sense.

We learned from experience in Korea and Vietnam, where we acted with hostility to both “two country” standoffs between a communist and a non-communist government. We learned, and then changed the game when it came to the two Chinas. That is, until President-Elect Trump was lured into the Taiwan call by his advisors, John Bolton and Stephen Yates. This from the Guardian: (strike out and brackets by the Wrongologist)

Bolton wrote in the Wall Street Journal in January: “The new US administration could start with receiving Taiwanese diplomats officially at the State Department; upgrading the status of US representation in Taipei from a private ‘institute’ to an official diplomatic mission; inviting Taiwan’s president to travel officially to America; allowing the most senior US officials to visit Taiwan to transact government business; and ultimately restoring full diplomatic recognition.”

Stephen Yates, a former White House aide to Dick Cheney now advising the Trump transition was in Taiwan at the time of [Trump’s] the call. “It’s great to have a leader willing to ignore those who say he cannot take a simple call from another democratically elected leader,” Yates tweeted.

China reacted by saying Trump needs to be educated about the world. Scott Adams, Trump butt-boy, puts it in about the most favorable light possible:

Trump is “setting the table” for future negotiations with China. He just subtracted something from China’s brand that they value, and later he will negotiate with them to maybe give it back in some fashion. Probably in return for some trade concessions.

It didn’t end there. Trump apparently has invited Philippine President Duterte to the White House. Figuring out how to resolve Duterte’s issues with the US, his embrace of China, and his demonstrated abuse of human rights in the Philippines should be high on the new administration’s list of issues. It would have been smart to have the outline of an agreed joint solution in place before rewarding Duterte with a state visit.

And there was Trump’s phone call with the Prime Minister of Pakistan. According to the Pakistani account of the conversation, Trump told Nawaz Sharif that Pakistan is a “fantastic” country full of “fantastic” people that he “would love” to visit as president.

Just awesome, except for Trump ignoring that India, our real partner in that part of Asia, is Pakistan’s enemy. Trump risks appearing to reward Pakistan at the expense of our relationship with India. Again, the US has maintained a balancing act between these two countries, who have a history of war and skirmishes over their disputed border.

The jury is out on what Trump is trying to do, and whether it is based on strategy, or ideology. Speaking with Taiwan’s and Pakistan’s leaders are potentially dangerous moves, as is his engagement with Duterte.

They are also potentially revolutionary. Every out-of-the-box move by Trump challenges norms and potentially blows up longstanding ways of doing things. If you are gonna shake things up, it’s all-important that you understand exactly why we have done things the way we have, and what the implications are of change. We know Trump is an instinctive guy, and not a willing student. The danger is his willingness to overturn complex situations where governmental institutions have had very good reasons for the policy they support.

This is the dark underbelly of Trump’s populism. He was elected to shake things up by voters who dismiss facts, if presented by journalists.

You start by discrediting what came before. You call it elite failure. You shake things up because you can.

Time to wake up, America! Think about Michael Moore’s calling Trump a human Molotov cocktail on NBC’s “Meet the Press”:

Across the Midwest, across the Rustbelt, I understand why a lot of people are angry. And they see Donald Trump as their human Molotov cocktail…I think they love the idea of blowing up the system.

So, let’s wake up today with the Billy Joel song, “We Didn’t Start the Fire”. The lyrics to this song catalog both personalities and historic events from 1949 until 1989:

We didn’t start Trump’s fire, but get ready, we may very well have to put it out.

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

Sample lyrics:
Harry Truman, Doris Day, Red China, Johnnie Ray
South Pacific, Walter Winchell, Joe DiMaggio
Joe McCarthy, Richard Nixon, Studebaker, Television
North Korea, South Korea, Marilyn Monroe

Rosenbergs, H-Bomb, Sugar Ray, Panmunjom
Brando, The King And I, and The Catcher In The Rye
Eisenhower, Vaccine, England’s got a new queen
Marciano, Liberace, Santayana goodbye

We didn’t start the fire
It was always burning
Since the world’s been turning
We didn’t start the fire
No we didn’t light it
But we tried to fight it

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Sunday Cartoon Blogging – December 4, 2016

Quite the week. Trump makes Cabinet appointments, he tweets about taking citizenship away from US flag burners exercising freedom of speech, he takes a call from the president of Taiwan, and gets a formal protest from China.

That wasn’t all. You missed it, but Congress passed HR 5732, the “Caesar Syria Civilian Protection Act”. The bill sets the stage for the implementation of a no-fly zone (NFZ) over Syria. It requires the administration to submit to the appropriate congressional committees a report:

That assesses the potential effectiveness, risks and operational requirements of the establishment and maintenance of a no-fly zone over part of all of Syria.

These Congressional chicken hawks may not realize that NFZs are a form of limited war. Politicians are usually the first to forget that limited wars only stay limited by mutual agreement. The military will tell you to never declare an NFZ unless you are entirely willing to fight a real air and ground war to enforce it. In the case of Syria, a No-Fly Zone would require the destruction of Syrian aircraft and missile systems from Day 1, probably leading to the death of Russians shortly thereafter. We could have a shooting war with Russia by the end of the first week.

Syria has over 130 air defense systems. A dozen or so are in the Aleppo area. Syria also has over 4,000 air defense artillery pieces and a few thousand portable infrared-guided missile systems. Russia has also located its advanced S-400 anti-aircraft missiles into Syria to protect their bases in Latakia Province. Those missile systems effectively give Russia control over Syria’s airspace, and for the US to impose a no-fly zone would require an air battle with Russia, which would all but guarantee the loss of a large number of US warplanes.

Over the last 25 years, there has been an evolving political infatuation with two pillars of “political airpower”: airstrikes and no-fly zones. Did we get the results our politicians promised?

Onward to cartoons. Trump goes to Indiana, gives Carrier tax breaks:

cow-carrier

It was great political theater, but it is a standard “socialize the losses” GOP play: tax breaks for jobs. The taxes earned from keeping the jobs never pay the cost of the tax credits.

Paul Krugman had a good observation:

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Fidel Castro dies:

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Free speech isn’t well understood by the Orange Overlord:

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Nancy Pelosi is reelected as Minority Leader. Many are pleased:

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Mitt wants work, will say anything:

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Trump still has lots of posts to fill. Word is that former vice presidential candidate and Tina Fey impersonator Sarah Palin is on the list of possible Cabinet appointments.

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Smart Guys, Smart Power

When we think of entrepreneurs involved in renewable energy, usually just one name comes to mind, Elon Musk, a smart guy who has given Tesla a new meaning. He just merged Tesla with Solar City.

But smart entrepreneurs in solar are emerging. The NYT wrote yesterday about Nicholas Beatty, a former banker who has covered about 25 acres of his farm in England with solar panels. This isn’t a new phenomenon, lots of farms have solar arrays both in the UK and elsewhere:

What’s new in Mr. Beatty’s field is a hulking 40-foot-long shipping container. Stacked inside, in what look like drawers, are about 200 lithium-ion cells that make up a battery large enough to store a substantial portion of the electricity the solar farm puts out.

The battery and its smart software give Mr. Beatty an advantage over other solar panel farmers. Power prices rise and fall depending on the supply and demand. The spread between the high and low price can be dramatic. By storing power in the battery, Mr. Beatty can feed it into the grid when prices are high:

The battery effectively takes power off the line when there is too much and puts it on when there is too little…

Improved industrial-sized batteries are a way of achieving that flexibility. Mr. Beatty’s battery storage system cost about $1 million, but could increase revenue for his solar farm by as much as $250k per year. Beatty is one of many entrepreneurs and businesses trying to play the fast-shifting electric power landscape. This is a capital-intensive business:

With about a dozen friends and family members…he spent £6.5 million ($8 .1 million) to build the solar farm in 2014. The solar panels…generate about £650,000 ($810k) in revenue a year…

Improved battery storage and its smart controlling software has been one of the two pillars required to make solar power competitive with non-renewable energy sources. The other is the cost of solar panels. Tesla has been working on both axis. They have built a solar demonstration project on the island of Ta’u in American Samoa that generates 1.4 megawatts of energy. The microgrid has 60 Tesla Powerpacks, the company’s large commercial battery with 6 megawatt hours of battery storage. These batteries can be fully charged with only 7 hours of daylight from 5,300 solar panels.

The microgrid facility can fully power the island of 600 residents for 3 days on battery power. It is expected to save the island 109,500 gallons of diesel per year or $8 million in fuel costs. Ta’u previously relied on diesel fueled generators for power.

Cost of solar energy per kilowatt or megawatt hour has been uncompetitive for a long time, but that is changing. And most countries and most US states now are willing to purchase power from independent generators, like Mr. Beatty in the UK. The Economist has this chart of the relative costs of sources of energy:

price-of-solar

All of this means that American farmers could open a new revenue stream by becoming smart solar power generators. Farmers own large acreage in sunny locations. They have a deep understanding of farming, another capital-intensive business. They understand that farming is a climate-dependent enterprise, another factor in common with solar power generation.

A key factor is whether their state allows interconnection with the power grid, and whether the state’s program to pay the independent power generator for power sent to the grid at an economic rate.

Let’s hope that Donald Trump’s fascination with coal doesn’t lead to bad policy. The Economist reports that Trump has promised to make more public land available to miners; but access to coal reserves isn’t their problem. Coal employment peaked in the 1920s, and today, fewer electric utilities want to use coal. If he intervenes on behalf of coal, he will be actively handicapping renewables and natural gas. If Trump’s energy policy is focused on a few unprofitable coal-mines, China will take a commanding lead in batteries, solar panels and wind turbines. That wouldn’t be so smart.

We are at a time when the cost of solar energy has dropped dramatically, and with greater economies of scale, it will fall even further.

It is past time for a few smart entrepreneurs to take up the disruption of the fossil fuel industry and its fellow travelers, the electric utilities.

 

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Monday Wake Up Call – November 28, 2016

Someone once said that if the Republican Party was a refrigerator, it would say its job was to let ice melt.

Apparently Ben Carson was offered the job as head of Housing and Urban Development (HUD). This is a cabinet-level appointment. Carson had initially turned down a cabinet appointment at Health & Human Services (HHS) because, (according to his staff) he was unqualified. But he’s changed his mind: (brackets by the Wrongologist)

Ben Carson has demonstrated the ability to do two things at a world-class level: perform surgical operations, and run [several] lucrative scams. By his own admission, he is patently unqualified to run a federal agency. Nonetheless, he is apparently on the verge of accepting a job as secretary of Housing and Urban Development…

History tells us that HUD has had just one use in Republican administrations. The agency’s program structure lends itself to profiteering. HUD works closely with private developers to build affordable housing. Without careful oversight, the agency can easily become a slush fund to distribute sweetheart contracts to the administration’s buddies.

Samuel Pierce, Ronald Reagan’s HUD secretary, did just that. Reagan’s HUD regularly handed out loans and grants on the basis of political contacts. Ultimately, some Reagan-era HUD officials were convicted, including three assistant secretaries, for such crimes as accepting illegal loans, obstructing justice, and illegal gratuities.

George W. Bush’s housing secretary, Alphonso Jackson, resigned in 2008 after a series of scandals, including sweetheart deals and inflated salaries for his friends. He instructed his staff to steer contracts to Bush supporters. Jackson was investigated by HUD’s inspector general, the Department of Justice and the FBI, none of which resulted in a conviction.

Since Trump says that he will continue running his real estate empire in office, a loyalist like Carson, someone with no experience in government, but who has relevant experience in bilking, will oversee an agency whose mission lends itself to corruption.

One of the reasons to appoint Carson is because HUD will likely cease its anti-segregation and anti-discrimination activities as soon as the Trumpets assume control. He is on record supporting ending that mission. This from the WSJ:

Under the Obama administration, the department has beefed up enforcement of fair-housing regulations to combat zoning policies that result in segregation, threatening the loss of millions of dollars in federal funding to municipalities that don’t comply. Mr. Carson sharply criticized those policies as “mandated social-engineering schemes” that repeated a pattern of “failed socialist experiments in this country,” in a 2015 op-ed published in The Washington Times.

If there is a bright side to Ben Carson running HUD, it is that he’s not running HHS with the second largest share of the federal budget. Imagine him saying: “I’m a physician. Med school taught me everything there is to know about health care.”

Remember, HUD spelled backward is DUH…

It’s time to wake up America! The writing is on the wall, Trump’s cabinet hires are terrible, and we have to pressure him to do better than Ben Carson.

You can go to social media and complain directly to your Orange Overlord at: #therealDonaldTrump.

To help you wake up, listen to the Crystals from 1962 singing “Uptown”. Phil Spector originally recorded the song with Little Eva, the 19 year-old babysitter to Carole King and Gerry Goffin. The end result didn’t meet Spector’s standards, so he produced it a second time with the Crystals. Here is “Uptown”:

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

Sample Lyrics:

He gets up each morning
And he goes downtown
Where everyone’s his boss
And he’s lost in an angry land
He’s a little man

But then he comes uptown
Each evenin’ to my tenement
Uptown where folks don’t have
To pay much rent
And when he’s there with me
He can see that he’s everything
Then he’s tall, he don’t crawl
He’s a king

Downtown he’s just one of a million guys
He don’t get no breaks
And he takes all they got to give
‘Cause he’s got to live

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Sunday Cartoon Blogging – November 27, 2016

Are you sick of all the winning yet?

You have probably heard that Fidel Castro died yesterday. Wrongo was in college in October 1962, at the time of the Cuban missile crisis. We were glued to TV waiting for a nuclear attack that never came.

That Castro survived JFK by 53 years is remarkable, particularly since at least two American Presidents tried to kill him. At the time, Kennedy offered two things in exchange for Soviet removal of the Cuban missiles: (1) the US would pledge never to invade Cuba and (2) the US would secretly withdraw missiles from Turkey. The removal of the nukes from Turkey was delayed several months, so that the US would not appear weak in the face of the Cuban missile threat. The Soviet Union accepted this offer the next day.

After the fall of the Soviet Union, their archives of the Missile crisis showed that Castro wanted the USSR to fire the missiles at the US. Khrushchev came to regard Castro as a lunatic, bent on war. We came very close to invading Cuba, and the Soviets never fully trusted Castro again.

In most ways, Castro’s death is anticlimactic. He retired, and appointed his brother Raul to head the government years ago, and recently, the Obama administration has been effective in improving relations with Cuba. Had Fidel died during a period of greater tension, it might have signaled the possibility of a positive change in relations between our two countries. Sadly, it is probable that the next great change in Cuban/American relations will move us backward under a Trump Administration.

Onward to cartoons. Thanksgiving and Trump’s staffing plans dominated the week.

Many avoided politics at the family repast:

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Democrats weigh their strategy with Trump:

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Trump meets with the New York Times, tells them how to cover the news:

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Our Orange Decider has yet to decide a few things:

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Paul Ryan is locked and loaded for 2017:

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Many who voted for Trump have little or no retirement savings, or regular savings for that matter. Ironically, a majority of them will be reliant on Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid in later life. Sadly, they can’t seem to connect the dots between Ryan’s Ayn Randian dreams of privatization, and how it will affect their lives. It may be too late for many of them.

Deficits are part of the Art of the Deal:

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Those “responsible Republican deficit hawkswanted to restore earmarks the week after the election, but Ryan is making them wait until the new Congress is seated. That way, they won’t destroy the PRETENSE of budget deficits mattering.

The GOP really can’t wait to take off the debt girdle:

cow-deficit-girdle

 

 

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Our New Political Majority

(This is the last column for this week. We will resume on Sunday with cartoons. Everyone has reasons to be thankful, so take the time to talk about them with your loved ones, or your close friends this week.)

Last weekend, like most Americans, Wrongo spoke with friends and family about how we got to the disappointing political place where we are today.

Der Spiegel Online asked: If you think back ten years, could you have imagined in 2006 that America’s reality would be Donald Trump as president of the US? Probably not, but ten years ago:

  1. Economic growth and job growth both fell in 2006 as the residential housing boom came to an end.
  2. Wages were the smallest share of national income since the government began compiling the statistic in 1947.
  3. Consumer debt soared to new heights, while consumer debt payments rose to the highest on record.

Those were dispatches from the ongoing war that corporations and neoliberal economic elites made on our citizens. And it didn’t stop there. After 2006, we had the financial meltdown and the Great Recession. Banks had to be bailed out. Millions of people lost their jobs. Debt grew, and faith in government’s willingness and ability to improve the fortunes of their citizens evaporated.

The clear losers were workers in traditional economic sectors, particularly in manufacturing. According to a study by economists David Autor, David Dorn and Gordon Hanson, the increase in imports from China have resulted in the loss of 1.5 million manufacturing jobs since the early 1990s.

But automation had a greater impact: In total, some 6.9 million manufacturing jobs were lost in the US between the early 1990s and 2011. For those who have lost their jobs, it seems that their political representatives have forgotten them. Particularly when establishment Democrats and Republicans continue to push for more trade, by which they mean more imports from our global corporations who continue to export those jobs to lower-wage countries.

In 2016, despite substantially better economic times, many American still worried about losing their jobs and their financial security. They saw themselves as the losers in a game that only helps corporations and the elites. This domination of our politics by the economic elites has produced a defacto disenfranchisement of everyone else.

A new political map has emerged, one that doesn’t neatly fit into the Left vs. Right model of our politics. The new dividing line is between those who support, and those who oppose, America’s economic elites and their neoliberal policies. Those on both sides of the old ideologies who distrust the elites are connected by their fear of being left behind. This was clear in 2016 in those precincts where Trump outperformed Romney, and where Clinton underperformed Obama.

This is today’s landscape, but in 1998, Richard Rorty, an American philosopher who died in 2007, wrote “Achieving Our Country” which predicted our current political situation. According to the NYT, the following fragment of the book has been retweeted thousands of times since the election:

Members of labor unions, and unorganized unskilled workers, will sooner or later realize that their government is not even trying to prevent wages from sinking or to prevent jobs from being exported. Around the same time, they will realize that suburban white-collar workers — themselves desperately afraid of being downsized — are not going to let themselves be taxed to provide social benefits for anyone else.

At that point, something will crack. The nonsuburban electorate will decide that the system has failed and start looking around for a strongman to vote for — someone willing to assure them that, once he is elected, the smug bureaucrats, tricky lawyers, overpaid bond salesmen, and postmodernist professors will no longer be calling the shots.

One thing that is very likely to happen is that the gains made in the past 40 years by black and brown Americans, and by homosexuals, will be wiped out. Jocular contempt for women will come back into fashion…All the resentment which badly educated Americans feel about having their manners dictated to them by college graduates will find an outlet.

Rorty’s basic contention is that the left abandoned its core philosophy in favor of a neo-liberal worldview that promoted globalism and corporatism. Rorty said in a lecture in 1997:

This world economy will soon be owned by a cosmopolitan upper class which has no more sense of community with any workers anywhere than the great American capitalists of the year 1900.

Mr. Rorty’s most prescient words:

The cultural Left has a vision of an America in which the white patriarchs have stopped voting and have left all the voting to be done by members of previously victimized groups.

Rorty said that in 1998. And in 2016, it was Hillary Clinton’s failed election strategy.

What’s so striking about “Achieving Our Country” is Rorty’s argument that both the cultural and political left abandoned economic justice in favor of identity politics, ignoring too many economically disadvantaged Americans.

According to voter turnout statistics from the 2016 election, 58.4% of eligible voters actually voted (135.2 million). Clinton received about 63.7 million votes (27.5% of eligible voters) to Trump’s 62 million, (26.8%) while 9.5 million votes went to others.

This means that 41.6% of America voted for nobody, far outweighing the votes cast for Trump or Clinton.

That the majority of Americans did not vote is not because they don’t care. They voted no confidence in a political system that forgot about them a long time ago.

A minority elected Trump. The majority voted against our neoliberal political system.

 

(BTW, Tuesday was the 53rd anniversary of JFK’s assassination. While it remains fresh in Wrongo’s mind, it hardly registers in the minds of the press or the public. A new idea on Oswald’s motives appeared in the LA Times. Take a look.)

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