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The Wrongologist

Geopolitics, Power and Political Economy

Saturday Soother – March 31, 2018

The Daily Escape:

 

Zion National Park – 2001 photo by Wrongo

From Alastair Crooke:

At the beating heart of Trump’s Presidency lies the notion of the “Art of the Deal”.  It is said that Trump has few convictions, but his notion of how to negotiate – with a big stick, maximum leverage, and with credible, fear-inducing ‘threats’ –  is central to his whole Presidency.

Crooke continues:

This underlying notion of the ‘deal’ is transactional in essence, best practiced as a one-to-one operation, rather than in a multilateral context.  But in the sphere of geo-politics this is not so easy….in May… Trump will put his negotiating theory to the test in a very different ambit to that of New York real estate. The North Korean summit should be held; the verdict on the nuclear agreement with Iran is due to be pronounced then; the US Israeli-Palestinian determination is scheduled to be ‘handed down’ in May; the Sunni states’ Iran containment roles [are] to be set; and any punitive tariffs on China will be decided, and enacted.

May will be an important month for America. We could see success in all, some, or none of these negotiations.

Crooke posits that the Chinese, the North Koreans, the Iranians and the Russians all have read and understand the concepts behind the Art of the Deal. They also know that the US is not really in a position to make good on the bluff, and particularly, not in each negotiation, in each part of the globe.

And despite John Bolton’s best efforts to reinforce Trump’s desire to show America as the strongest, baddest version of LeRoy Brown, all of these competitors and would-be adversaries won’t necessarily blink if Trump threatens them.

There are other problems with Trump’s Art of the Deal strategy. He’s not the only one who knows how to play high-stakes poker:  Putin and Xi did not become the undisputed leaders of Russian and China without knowing a bit about strategy and risk-taking.

And the leaders on the other side of each of these Trump initiatives are being told by their own “hawks” that one option is to out-Trump Trump, and win.

This raises the question of a diplomatic “off-ramp”. When Trump warns North Korea that the alternative to accepting America’s demands is military action, what will Trump do if Kim Jong-Un just says “no”? Or, what if Kim answers “yes, but only if America withdraws its nuclear shield from the Korean Peninsula”, or insists that American forces leave northeast Asia altogether?

What does Trump do then?

Does he go to war? The Donald can go to the well too many times with the Art of the Deal strategy.

Over the past 17 years in the Middle East and elsewhere, America’s military might has been shown to have serious limitations, despite our substantial capabilities.

Will Trump be able to bluff his way through May? And if he can’t, then what?

Relax! The good news is that we have a couple of months to figure this out.

Sounds like we need to enjoy the spring, now that it’s finally arrived. Here, the fields of Wrong have finally given up their snow. The birds are returning, and our thoughts turn to a spring clean-up of the damage brought by winter.

So, let’s procrastinate a bit by brewing up a vente cup of Dragonfly Coffee Roasters Ninety Plus Gesha Estates Panama Limited Batch #238, made with the Jose Alfredo Process. ($165/8oz.) Dragonfly claims that the taste is astounding and original, including deeply arousing notes of caramelized green apple surrounding lavish fruit notes that delicately transition the finish into rich cocoa.

Who writes this stuff?

Now, settle back and contemplate the arrival of spring by watching and listening to a video of a Bobolink, by the great Lang Elliott. The Bobolink is a member of the Blackbird family:

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

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Saturday Soother – March 3, 2018

The Daily Escape:

Eagles Nest, Housatonic River, Litchfield County CT – 2018 photo by JH Cleary

To say that the Trump administration has become a dysfunctional mess is an understatement. Here’s one example: Yesterday, the Administration announced that it would impose 25% tariffs on imported steel and 10% on imported aluminum. Here is some detail behind Trump’s tariff announcement:

There were no prepared, approved remarks for the president to give at the planned meeting, there was no diplomatic strategy for how to alert foreign trade partners, there was no legislative strategy in place for informing Congress and no agreed upon communications plan beyond an email cobbled together by [Wilbur] Ross’s team at the Commerce Department late Wednesday that had not been approved by the White House.

No one at the State Department, the Treasury Department or the Defense Department had been told that a new policy was about to be announced or given an opportunity to weigh in in advance.

The Thursday morning meeting did not originally appear on the president’s public schedule.

The greatest danger to America is not Russia or China, it’s actually Donald Trump. When so much of your goods are imports, saying “1, 2, 3, 4, I declare a trade war” will not produce positive outcomes for the average American, who will simply pay more for their imported products. That will cause some inflation, and maybe, impact the bond markets, which hate higher inflation. It could also cause profit pressure for certain companies that rely on steel and aluminum as a basic raw material, companies like auto and airplane manufacturers.

OTOH, while elites will not like Trump’s move, free trade is not always good for Americans.

But, this guy doesn’t know what he’s doing when it comes to global trade. It isn’t a real estate deal. It involves multiple inputs and outputs across multiple industries and countries.

Not simple enough for a Stable Genius to understand.

On the road here in the south, Wrongo stopped at a McDonald’s to pick up a plain burger patty for a dog who was fussy on our trip. Wrongo asks for a plain patty, no sauce, no bun. The clerk says: “What’s a patty?

So, this weekend when the Atlantic Northeast and the Pacific Northwest are both experiencing highly unusual weather, Wrongo and Ms. Right and the dogs are in the Southeast, experiencing spring-like weather. It’s time to forget Trump and his wars, real and imagined, and think spring. Sit back and brew up a hot cup of Kicking Horse’s Smartass Coffee. The brewer says: “just a bright, chocolaty concoction for the smart-thinking, deep-drinking, good-at-their-game-in-the-morning crowd”.

Obviously, not a coffee for Trump.

Now, settle back and listen to “On Hearing the First Cuckoo in Spring” by Frederick Delius. He composed it in 1912. Here it is performed by Portugal’s Orquestra Clássica do Centro in 2013:

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

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Monday Wake Up Call – January 29, 2018

The Daily Escape:

Spricherstadt, Hamburg Germany. Spricherstadt is the warehouse district in Hamburg – 2018 photo by Brotherside

Events move so quickly in Trumpworld, there is little time to consider the full implications of them. By last Friday, few remembered that on Monday, the three-day government shutdown ended. It was just another crisis reconfirming that our political system doesn’t work. The crisis was solved by the Democrats caving on the DACA fix, for a promise that DACA would be considered again soon.

Trump then went to Davos. That could have been disastrous, but Trump toned it down by saying nearly nothing. That led the heads of the world’s largest corporations and banks to conclude that Trump isn’t so dangerous. Some actually liked him, because he didn’t berate the Davos crowds with faux populism.

Everyone seems to agree that was a good thing, and that it could have been worse.

Meanwhile back in the US, on Thursday, the NYT reported that Trump ordered the firing of Special Counsel Robert Mueller last July, only to be dissuaded by White House lawyer Don McGahn. Mueller is still on the job, so, Constitutional crisis avoided.

It’s a lot to process.

Steven Levitsky and Daniel Ziblatt, the authors of “How Democracies Die,” wrote about just how fragile our democracy is in the Sunday NYT. They say that two unwritten norms undergird our Republic that has endured various political and economic crises for two and a half centuries: (emphasis by Wrongo)

The first is mutual toleration, according to which politicians accept their opponents as legitimate. When mutual toleration exists, we recognize that our partisan rivals are loyal citizens who love our country just as we do.

The second norm is forbearance, or self-restraint in the exercise of power. Forbearance is the act of not exercising a legal right. In politics, it means not deploying one’s institutional prerogatives to the hilt, even if it’s legal to do so.

But now, Trump and other politicians push up to the edge of legality. They occasionally have stepped over the line delineating these “norms”. They have dared adversaries (or the courts) to force them back. When there is little pushback, a new norm appears.

This is America today.

In this environment, politicians willingly leverage their power to win at all costs, norms and principles be damned. Last week, Tony Perkins, leader of the evangelical Family Research Council, said in response to allegations that Trump had an affair with a porn star four months after the birth of his son Barron:

We kind of gave him — All right, you get a mulligan. You get a do-over here.

We are in an Orwellian moment. The President and party politicians stand before the nation and swear that up is down, black is white, truths are lies, and wrong is right.

Time to wake up America! We are on a precipice, staring down into the void. The country isn’t going to auto-correct, like your emails. And it can get much, much worse unless people understand the threats to our democracy, and move sharply to stop our downhill slide.

That means understanding the issues. It means voting in off-year elections, starting with your town council, and your state representatives and yes, your House and Senate candidates. It means working to get the word out to your neighbors. It means financial support for local candidates.

It means getting off the sidelines.

To help you wake up, here is The Record Company with their tune, “Off the Ground” from their 2016 album “Give It Back to You”. It reached #1 on the US Billboard Adult Alternative Songs chart:

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

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Monday Wake Up Call – January 22, 2018

The Daily Escape:

Atrium of Zeitz MOCAA, Cape Town South Africa – 2017 photo by Ian Baan. A grain silo is reborn as South Africa’s answer to London’s Tate Modern

Why are we trying to maintain the illusion that our political system functions? The press would have us believe that the shutdown is simply the result of one unfortunate Senate vote. From the BBC:

This is the first time a government shutdown has happened while one party, the Republicans, controls both Congress and the White House. The vote on Friday was 50-49, falling far short of the 60 needed to advance the bill. With a 51-seat majority in the Senate, the Republicans do not have enough votes to pass the bill without some support from the Democrats. They want funding for border security – including the border wall – and immigration reforms, as well as increased military spending. The Democrats have demanded protection from deportation of more than 700,000 undocumented immigrants who entered the US as children.

But, the NYT reports:

In fact, it was Mr. Trump who opted not to pursue a potential deal that he and Senator Chuck Schumer of New York, the top Senate Democrat, had hashed out over lunch at the White House on Friday. The proposal would have kept the government open, funded a border wall and extended legal status to undocumented immigrants brought to the US as children, while including disaster aid funds and money for a federal children’s health insurance program. Mr. Kelly later called Mr. Schumer to say the agreement lacked sufficient immigration restrictions.

What a wonderful way for Trump to start his second year in office. He and his staff have proven that they are absolutely terrible at presidential leadership. It’s not just that they have no desire to govern, it’s that Trump and his cabinet think all that matters is making his Republican base happy.

There have been possible bipartisan deals in the run-up to shutdown that would have passed the Senate and House with both Republicans and Democrats voting for them. But clearly, Trump’s and the GOP’s strategy is to force the Dems to eat a shit sandwich, and when they refuse, to blame them for the shutdown.

That’s not how the “both sides ballet” is supposed to work: The plotline is that the Republicans go crazy, take a few hostages, and the Democrats (the adults in the room), negotiate the release of some of the hostages in exchange for the Republicans getting to shoot a few, and also getting a fully-fueled getaway plane, and a sackful of tax cut money.

Schumer held up his end of the bargain; he offered Trump a deal that was friendly to his racist agenda in exchange for the Republicans keeping the lights on for a few weeks.

No dice from the Orange genius.

It’s interesting how the 60-vote requirement in the Senate in order to end a filibuster, and bring a floor vote, became normalized. When McConnell started filibustering damn near everything Obama wanted, the media accepted it uncritically as part of the political process. It was clear that once the Democrats were in the minority, the filibuster would suddenly become an extreme act once again, and the Dems would be excoriated for using McConnell’s normal legislative tool.

And that’s exactly what’s happening. The Republicans “need” Democratic votes in the Senate to get past a filibuster. And now, we are seeing Trump and Fox News, along with plenty of Republicans talking about how the filibuster has to die.

It isn’t clear who the current impasse will help or hurt in November. But America needs to wake up to the fact that our politics no longer work. Fewer Right Wing ideologues in the House and Senate is the only thing that will turn the ship around.

America has to wake up, and vote them out in November.

To help America wake up, let’s listen to Texas singer-songwriter James McMurtry’s December 2017 song “State of the Union”, in which he takes aim at fascism and racism. The song is a satire. It doesn’t just point fingers as much as it outlines our contentious politics:

Sample Lyrics:

My brother’s a fascist, lives in Palacios,
Fishes the pier every night
He holsters his Glock in a double retention.
He smokes while he waits for a bite.
He don’t like the Muslims. He don’t like the Jews.
He don’t like the Blacks and he don’t trust the news.
He hates the Hispanics and alternate views.
He’ll tell you it’s tough to be white.

It’s the state of the union I guess

It’s always been iffy at best

We’ll do all we’re able

With what we got left

It’s the state of the union I guess

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

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Saturday Soother – January 13, 2018

The Daily Escape:

Wizard Island in winter. Crater Lake, OR – photo by Livid Narwhal

How do we avoid talking about him when he reveals himself so completely? We could split hairs, and discuss whether to call him a racist, or a white supremacist, but why bother? How is this any different from the way he’s always been?  We’re talking about a guy who wanted the Central Park Five executed, and took out full page ads in the New York papers to say so at the time. They were later found innocent.

Trump has become the GOP’s id. He uses an air horn while the rest of them know to use a dog whistle. He asks:

Why are we having all these people from shithole countries come here? Why do we need more Haitians?

Answer: For the same reason your grandfather and mother fled their countries. Americans weren’t clamoring for more Germans and Scots in their day, either.

It is possible that his comment was calculated. The far right wasn’t happy after Trump, during the bipartisan immigration photo op, showed off his stable genius skills, only to end up looking like he had no clue about the GOP’s immigration policy. GOP House Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy tried reeling him back in, but the stable genius was insisting that the GOP try to give the Dems what they wanted on immigration and DACA.

The RW reaction was immediate: Ann Coulter went on Lou Dobbs’ show and trashed Trump. Many others on the right were pissed off.

Immigration is a red line for all deplorables. So maybe calling the countries of black and brown people “shitholes” was just the ticket, to let his base know he still has their backs. And then saying white immigrants “from Norway” are cool, drove it home.

This kind of talk has been normalized. White business leaders and politicians, as recently as the 1970s talked like that, and no one gave it a second thought. Since then, racist talk became shameful. But Trump’s open bigotry carries no shame for him, or for others who engage in it. His base loves him, because now they can come out of the closet with their hate.

And it’s ok, if you accept the argument that PC talk is a worse sin than showing your naked prejudices to the world.

This is how he was raised, and how people talk in his circle of friends. He’s mouthed off like this his entire life with zero consequences. He’s not likely to suffer any consequences from this either. Remember, this is a man who doesn’t understand why we can’t actually use nuclear weapons.

We need to remember this every day until 11/06/2018. And every day after that until Trump can no longer hurt America.

Wrongo certainly requires soothing, and so do you. Maybe we’ll go and see “The Post” this weekend, to remember a time when newspapers had the courage to take on a president.

In the meantime, sit back and make yourself a vente cup of Ethiopian Fancy ($19/lb.) from San Francisco’s Henry’s House of Coffee. Now, put your feet up and listen to the “Sonata in G Minor for Violoncello and Continuo” by Henry Eccles. Eccles was an English violinist and composer in the Baroque era. He was a member of the Royal Band of Queen Anne. He moved to Paris, and entered the service of King Louis XIV. This recording has Simca Heled on violoncello and Edward Brewer on harpsichord, although it is often played with a double bass and piano, or violin and piano:

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

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Saturday Soother – January 6, 2018

The Daily Escape:

Athabasca Glacier, Alberta, Canada. It’s the most visited glacier in North America – 2013 photo by Yan Gao

The publication of Michael Wolff’s book “Fire and Fury” about Trump, seems to have validated what we on the outside already knew, that the election of Der Donald was a terrible mistake.

Wolff struck a chord that resonates by saying that everyone he talked to in the West Wing of the White House during his year researching the book agrees that Trump is “like a child”, and that every one of them agrees that Trump simply cannot function in the job.

Joe Scarborough asked in the WaPo if we can survive Trump: (emphasis by the Wrongologist)

We are a nation that spent the past 100 years inventing the modern age, winning World War I, defeating Hitler and winning World War II, and liberating half of Europe by beating the Soviets in the Cold War. But today we find ourselves dangerously adrift at home and disconnected from the allies abroad that made so many of those triumphs possible. The world wonders how the United States will survive Donald Trump. And I ask, what will finally move Republicans to deliver a non-negotiable ultimatum to this unstable president? Will they dare place their country’s interests above their own political fears? Or will they move to end this American tragedy only when there is nothing left to lose?

A consensus seems to be emerging that we have a president who is not capable of performing his duties. And so the question before the GOP powers that be is: Should they try to remove him? It looks like denial of the obvious is no longer enough. The GOP’s dilemma is: which is worse, continuing to cover for Trump? Or cover in the 2018 mid-terms for a Congress that didn’t acknowledge the danger he poses?

This is where we are at the start of 2018: In the midst of an accelerating decline of America’s capabilities at home, and a weakening of our global reach. The gap between what the US used to be able to do, and what it can still do today is widening, and we really don’t know just how wide that gap is. We don’t know what has fallen into the gap, or what remains on firm ground.

With Trump in the Oval, each passing day looks more like a crap shoot, both domestically and globally. Egypt, a US ally, has quietly leased several air bases to the Russians. This is the first time since 1973 that Russia has had a military presence in Egypt. In the past, the US would have moved heaven and earth to stop this from happening; now Trump does nothing.

The pressure will be to wait and see if Robert Mueller comes up with something.

That is understandable, but Trump’s possible criminality isn’t the primary risk to the country. Events in the world may overtake Mueller’s investigation. Korea could erupt in a nuclear confrontation, the Iranian government is being challenged in the streets, and if weakened, Saudi Arabia and Israel may see a chance to attack Iran, something that would otherwise be far too risky.

We’re entering a period of great consequence. It is probable that some of the most crucial events in the year ahead (Korea, Middle East) will be decided by one man’s gut feeling that is set in motion by tweeting at three in the morning, in response to fragmentary data about a situation too complex for him to understand, or to solve.

And we’ll live with those consequences for decades to come.

Now it’s up to the GOP, who are in a position to solve this problem. They didn’t ask for Trump, but they got him. And then, they caved until he owned them. Every Republican has jumped on the bandwagon.

Otherwise, we must force Republicans from control of the House in the 2018 mid-term election.

Nothing soothing in any of those words. But, it’s Saturday, and time to kick back. If you are in the Northeast, the prime directive is to stay warm. Grab a cup of Death Wish coffee, the world’s strongest. Death Wish has a saying:

Be the best you can be with the clarity and focus that comes with strong coffee.

It’s probably not strong enough to turn Trump into a thinker, but your mileage may vary.

Now, listen to “Deborah’s Theme” from Once Upon a Time in America, a 1984 epic crime film co-written and directed by Italian filmmaker Sergio Leone and starring Robert De Niro. The music is by Ennio Morricone, who was Sergio Leone’s long-time musical collaborator:

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

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You Say You Want a Revolution

The Daily Escape:

Waimea Canyon, Kauai Hawaii

Wrongo has suggested many times that America needs a revolution. He thinks that the US political process has been so captured by large corporations and the very rich that the average person no longer can have any impact on policy. In many states, the average person isn’t even totally confident that he/she will be permitted to vote the next time they go to their local precinct.

We are in the midst of a political crisis: The people have lost faith in systems which they feel don’t respond to real people and in representatives that won’t represent us, or the society at large. Rather than debate issues thoughtfully, we are whipsawed by the appeals to emotion launched daily into the ether by the tweeter-in-chief.

Two current issues demonstrate the danger. First, Jerusalem. It turns out that Tillerson and Mattis opposed the president’s decision to recognize Jerusalem as the capitol of Israel, and move our embassy there. You know from the headlines that Trump wouldn’t listen to anyone who told him this would be a very bad idea. The State Department’s response was to issue a worldwide travel alert for those Americans who think they’re still welcome around the world. The WaPo reported that a Trump confidant said:

It’s insane. We’re all resistant…He doesn’t realize what all he could trigger by doing this.

Second, North Korea. Maybe you read this headline: North Korea says war is inevitable as allies continue war games.

Martin Longman asks the pertinent question:

The so-called adults in the room utterly failed on the Jerusalem issue, so are we supposed to put our trust in them to steer a sane course on the Korean peninsula?

What are we talking about here? Can we wait out Trump, and just work like hell to replace him with a better president in 2020? Would nuclear war get him re-elected?

What about the GOP’s control of both houses of Congress? On Thursday, Speaker Ryan told us what we face next year: the GOP will tackle the budget deficit and national debt by cutting Medicare and possibly Social Security, now that the GOP’s donor class has their tax cuts.

Things have to change, and there are only two options, neither very good. First, we can try and excise the moneyed influence via the ballot box. That is the “democratic revolution” that Bernie championed in 2016. The definition of democratic revolution is:

A revolution in which a democracy is instituted, replacing a previous non-democratic government, or in which revolutionary change is brought about through democratic means, usually without violence.

Since we no longer have a functioning democracy, a “democratic revolution” to bring it back is what we require. Is it the only way to right the American ship of state?

The second option is a coup of some kind.

  • It could be via impeachment, assuming there were high crimes and misdemeanors that Trump had committed, and assuming a Republican House would impeach him, and a Republican Senate would convict him.
  • It could come via a 25th Amendment action, which might be marginally more acceptable to Republicans, but is as unlikely as impeachment.
  • Least desirable, and least likely would be a true coup, where the “adults in the room” (in the oval office, or the Pentagon) get leverage over the Commander-in-Chief. Could a real coup stay bloodless? That seems highly doubtful, and Wrongo would rather trust Trump than a junta.

Removing Trump won’t fix what’s wrong with the Republican Party. We need to prioritize and triage this situation, focusing first on taking back the House and Senate before 2020.

Who can we count on to right the ship?

Not today’s Democrats. They are led by Chuck Schumer who approves of Trump’s Jerusalem decision. The Democrats must fire Pelosi and Schumer, or die.

What about America’s largest voting bloc, Millennials? Can they step up to the challenge?

What about America’s women? In 2016, women supported Clinton over Trump by 54% to 42%, while Trump carried non-college educated white women 64% to 35%. The #metoo movement promises to become much more than the outing of bad guys: It could weaken both male privilege, and their power.

Firing a few slime balls isn’t revolutionary, but voting them out of office would be a paradigm shift.

The stock market is in the stratosphere, and consumers are happily clicking on Amazon’s “place order” tab.

Measly tax cuts will trickle down to rubes like us, while the plutocrats will die of laughter.

Can women and millennial voters look beyond the GOP’s messaging that the Muslims are always to blame, and Israelis suffer the most?

Will they care enough about whatever Mueller turns up on Trump to go out and vote?

Revolution is in the air. Why should the right have all the fun?

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The War of Words with North Korea

The Daily Escape:

Rangdum Monastery, Suru Valley, India. While the monastery is Buddhist, most of the residents of the Suru Valley are Shia Muslims – photo by Sugato Mukherjee

Are you tired of reading about North Korea (NK)? Wrongo is certainly tired of writing about it. Steve Coll had an interesting take on the war between Trump and Kim:

In the history of nuclear diplomacy, no nation-state has ever given up atomic weapons in response to shrill threats.

We all have noted the continuing tit-for-tat between Donald Trump and Kim Jong-Un. Pat Lang has described the state of play between them as “Simian Mutual Hostility“, giving a name to the image of monkeys throwing their poo at each other in anger.

On 9/23, the US Airforce flew a bomber mission, closer to NK than at any time in the past 17 years. Although the flight took place in international airspace, NK called it an act of war, threatening to shoot down American aircraft, even in international airspace, if it happens again.

Are we now just one miscalculation away from the collapse of the Korean Armistice? Or worse, the start of the Second Korean War? Can cooler heads on both sides ratchet back the simian hostility?

Possibly. Since Trump’s election, NK representatives have been interested in figuring out Trump’s strategy. The WaPo reports that:

North Korean government officials have been quietly trying to arrange talks with Republican-linked analysts in Washington, in an apparent attempt to make sense of President Trump and his confusing messages to Kim Jong Un’s regime.

WaPo quotes a person with “direct knowledge”:

 Their number one concern is Trump. They can’t figure him out.

So, could Trump calling Kim “Rocket Man” be a carefully calculated master stroke of foreign policy? It could, but don’t count on that. Trump did use “Crooked Hillary” to his advantage, but will calling Kim Rocket Man change the world’s perception of Kim in ways beneficial to America?

It seems more like a direct challenge from an older man to a younger one, to put up or shut up. It appears that Trump is trying to goad Kim into an openly hostile reaction that could justify a US attack in “self-defense”.

That would be following the Tonkin Gulf playbook, as used by LBJ in 1964. After the attack, which to this day looks like a fabricated incident, the US had a pretext to escalate its involvement in Vietnam, with disastrous consequences. We wouldn’t leave Vietnam for another 11 years.

An air-zone intrusion near (in) NK waters is a perfect way for Trump to replay the Tonkin Gulf plan. Trump may hope that NK will attempt to shoot down one of our B-1B’s. The issue of whether the attack happens in NK territory or in international waters will be disputed, and will not be really understood by the media.

And what about NK saying “it’s an act of war”? “b” at Moon of Alabama says that NK had declared something an “act of war” or a “war declaration” some 200 times in their press, so, perhaps we shouldn’t take exception quite so strongly.

The landscape is that we have two leaders willing to say anything, hoping that the other guy starts the actual fight.

Let’s remember that China and Russia have asked the US to be patient with NK. China has a mutual defense treaty with NK, and has said it would react if NK were attacked. South Korea’s president said he does not want a war to happen.

Our “missile shield” for the US homeland isn’t reliable, yet our military has based its nuclear deterrence on it. And we revere these Pentagon guys as brilliant “strategists”. The systems do not work effectively, yet we act as if they will, and that the technical problems are solvable before we will need them.

We have no ability in the short run to defend the homeland against Kim’s ICBMs, but Trump’s idea is to goad Kim into a first strike.

The “big stick” mindset is at the core of the Pentagon’s philosophy. However, with China next door, and their stance clear, why does Trump continue to piss on Kim’s boots?

The US has a terribly flawed strategic position. When the monkeys are consumed with throwing the shit, the risk that something happens far down the chain of command increases. The Cuban Missile crisis could have escalated were it not for a level-headed US junior submarine officer.

Let’s leave the last word to Steve Coll:

“To overcome the perils of the present”, the President said at the UN last week, “we must begin with the wisdom of the past.” If only there were some evidence that Trump knew what that was, or how to use the power of his office to forge a less dangerous world.

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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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Monday Wake Up Call – March 27, 2017

The Daily Escape:

(Many Glacier, Glacier National Park, August 2016 – photo by Wrongo)

What’s next for the White House? Many are saying that the collapse of the Republicans’ failed effort to pass Trumpcare demonstrated that the ideological cleavage within the House and Senate Republicans will not be easy to overcome. This could make it more difficult for Trump to get much of his agenda passed in the immediate future.

Trump wants to move on many things, including tax reform and passing a budget, but the biggest challenge facing Republicans is the Debt Ceiling. The clock started ticking on the need to raise the debt limit, because it already expired on March 15th. That was a “soft” deadline, since the Treasury department can fire up a well-used arsenal of “extraordinary” measures to delay a reckoning, meaning that Congress can take until the early fall to enact a debt ceiling increase.

More time may not mean that a solution will be forthcoming, since the main adversaries to increasing the debt ceiling are the same people who helped derail Trumpcare. The House Freedom Caucus and their allies in the Senate have in the past, expressed a willingness to let the country default, rather than increase the level of the Treasury’s debt.

Since they were able to face down Trump on health care, they may well be emboldened to stand up to the president and Congressional leadership again on an issue that is so close to their hard hearts.

If America were to default on its debts, Trump would be presiding over the Bananaization of our Republic, and our ability to lead in the world would be eclipsed. Wrongo plans to write more about this in the future, but it will take real management by Trump to head this off, at a time that his management skills have been called into question.

So far, he has shown himself to be little more than a salesman for his ideas.

The famed management guru Peter Drucker, who wrote about management for corporations, non-profits and governments, at one point wrote management rules for presidents, in a 1993 article for the WSJ:

It’s hard to imagine a more diverse group than Bill Clinton’s predecessors in the American presidency — in abilities, personalities, values, styles and achievements. But even the weakest of them had considerable effectiveness as long as they observed six management rules. And even the most powerful lost effectiveness as soon as they violated these rules.

Wrongo has condensed Drucker’s management rules for presidents for your convenience:

  • What Needs to be Done? Is the first thing the President must ask. He must not stubbornly do what he wants to do, even if it was the focus of his campaign
  • Concentrate, Don’t Splinter Yourself. There usually are half a dozen right answers to “What needs to be done?” Yet unless a president makes the risky and controversial choice of only one, he will achieve nothing.
  • Don’t Bet on a Sure Thing…Roosevelt had every reason to believe that his plan to “pack” the Supreme Court…would be a sure thing. It immediately blew up in is face – so much so that he never regained control of Congress
  • An Effective President Does Not Micromanage…the tasks that a President must do himself are already well beyond what any but the best organized and most energetic person can possibly accomplish
  • A President Has No Friends in the Administration…they are always tempted to abuse their position as a friend and the power that comes with it
  • Sixth rule? Harry Truman advised JFK: “Once you’re elected, stop campaigning”

(h/t Barry Ritholtz)

Just how many of these rules does Trump follow, and how many does he violate? Discuss.

Perhaps if he followed all of them, the country would avoid Trumageddon, be less divided, and get a middle of the road agenda enacted.

So here’s a wake-up call for Donald Trump and his advisors: FOCUS!! To help them wake up and get focused, here is the Canadian group Bachman Turner Overdrive with their big hit (#12 in the US) from 1973, “Takin’ Care of Business”:

Wrongo used to take the 8:15 in to the city. Working from home is a major improvement.

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

Sample Lyrics:

And I’ll be taking care of business (every day)
Taking care of business (every way)
I’ve been taking care of business (it’s all mine)
Taking care of business and working overtime, work out

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