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The Wrongologist

Geopolitics, Power and Political Economy

Saturday Soother – September 22, 2018

The Daily Escape:

Bridge of Sighs, Venice, Italy — photo by _enk

Another week in Trumplandia is in the books. And, for the second consecutive year, there was no “Trump’s Summer Reading List“. That idea seems so preposterous that his handlers don’t even try to fake it. He’s never wandered far from the limo or the hotel lobby. He’s simply not interested in our world.

With that as background, consider Trump’s meeting with Spanish Foreign Minister Josep Borrell in which Trump suggested building a wall across the 3,000 mile-long Sahara Desert to prevent African migrants from making their way into Europe:

You need to build a wall around the Sahara…When Borrell asked Trump if he understood just how big the Sahara is, Trump argued that “it can’t be bigger than our border with Mexico.” Borrell then informed Trump that the Sahara is far bigger than the U.S. border with Mexico.

And this was in The Guardian, not The Onion. Hold on to Trump’s fixation with walls for a bit, and read this tweet:

I want to know, where is the money for Border Security and the WALL in this ridiculous Spending Bill, and where will it come from after the Midterms? Dems are obstructing Law Enforcement and Border Security. REPUBLICANS MUST FINALLY GET TOUGH!

— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) September 20, 2018

He tweeted this because the Senate approved their conference report with the House by a bipartisan 93-7 majority. It funds the departments of Defense, Labor, Health and Human Services, and Education for the next fiscal year.

The best part was that it included a continuing resolution to keep the rest of the government agencies funded until after the mid-term election, so no shut-down, unless Trump refuses to sign the bill.

And, Congress designed it to prevent a standoff about Donald Trump’s border wall. Apparently, the lack of wall funding was a surprise to Trump, so he asks via tweet, “where is the money for the WALL?”

Once the Kavanaugh/Dr. Ford’s: “is it attempted rape, or just teen-age hijinks?” debate stops sucking up all of the oxygen in DC, Democrats should start praising Congressional Republicans continuously for defying Trump about the wall.

Dems should loudly praise Republicans for sending Trump a bill he can’t veto. They should hammer that wedge hard.

And, if Trump does veto it, we’ll see an instant shipwreck for the Republicans.

But right now, you need to get away from it all for at least a few minutes. You need to let your brain calm down. Wrongo calls this the Saturday Soother. We start by brewing a hot steaming cup of coffee. Today, we return to coffee roaster Geoffrey Martinez of Compton, CA’s Patria Coffee. Wrongo purchased a 12 oz. bag of Patria’s Peru Amazonas WP Decaf, and it was liked by all. So why not brew up a Vente cup of that, and enjoy. (A blog reader asked Wrongo if he receives any payment for these weekly coffee recommendations. He does not.)

Settle back in a comfy chair and watch the fall season begin outside your windows. Here, on the fields of Wrong, the crab apple, birch, and tulip trees are losing their leaves. The deer visit the crab apples several times a day to eat the fruit that falls to the ground.

Now, wearing your Bluetooth headphones, listen to trumpeter Chris Botti and violinist Lucia Micarelli perform “Emmanuel” live in Boston as part of Botti’s 2009 PBS special. The music was written by Michel Colombier, and released in 1971. Emmanuel was written to honor the memory of Colombier’s son, who died when he was only 5 years old. This piece will help you forget about Trump, Kavanaugh, and the Russians for a while:

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

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Saturday Soother – February 10, 2018

The Daily Escape:

Lighting the Olympic torch – photo by Chang W. Lee

Did anybody see the bus that ran over Wrongo’s 401k?? It was a tough week on the retirement savings front for anyone who uses the capital markets to bolster their net worth. Retail investors are trapped – they can’t sell their holdings quickly, and there doesn’t seem to be a safe haven for their cash if they manage to get out of the markets only slightly bruised. Fear seems to be guiding Mr. Market.

Also, Washington finally passed a bi-partisan budget deal, but only after a brief shutdown. Sadly, it adds more than $1 Trillion to the national debt. It’s hard to square the Republicans’ deficit hawk ideology with their sudden willingness to spend whatever it takes to give the military whatever it wants.

During the recession, (Obamatime) the Republicans argued that responsible people tighten their belts when times are bad, just like people do with their household expenses. Now, we really shouldn’t use that argument for governments who can create their own currency. Despite that, if you really think the government should be run like a household, wouldn’t a responsible family increase their savings and pay down their debts when times are good? That would give them a “rainy day” fund that they could dip into when times were bad. Or, they could then go back into debt to get through the rough patch.

But today’s Republicans are saying: “Times are great! Let’s max out the credit card”. This will soon be followed by: “Oh shit, now I have to starve the kid so I can make the payments on my student loans”.

They won’t even follow their own dumb rules.

That was the week that was. A stomach-churning, no sleeping, hot steaming pile of anxiety. You need a real break.

To help you forget about your financial losses and your government’s foolishness, settle into a comfortable chair with a Vente cup of Volcanica Coffee’s Blue Mountain Peaberry coffee from the Clydesdale estate in Jamaica (only $89.88/lb.). You can’t afford it after what happened on Wall Street, but like Congress, you have a credit card. So go for it!

The Clydesdale coffee region is near the center of Jamaica’s Blue Mountain coffee area. The Clydesdale Estate was founded in the 1700’s.

Now, listen to a throwback to the 2012 Olympics in London. Here is the London Symphony Orchestra conducted by Sir Simon Rattle with a performance of “Chariots of Fire”. The performance includes physical comedy by Mr. Bean (the British comedian Rowan Atkinson):

This isn’t high art, but it is fun, and tangentially relevant to the Olympics.

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

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Saturday Soother – August 26, 2017

The Daily Escape:

Depression Bread Line by George Segal, 1999, at the NJ Grounds for Sculpture – 2017 photo by Wrongo

There are two political imperatives facing America by the end of September: The House, Senate and the president must extend the Federal borrowing limit, and pass a budget. When Obama was president, extension of the borrowing limit was a dicey thing, as was passing a budget. From 2008-2016, we largely avoided government shutdowns, we passed spending bills, but not an entire budget.

And we never even considered tax reform, but it’s the third item on the GOP’s 2017 to-do list.

In some sense, everything except increasing the debt ceiling is optional. As of now, there are only twelve days in September when the House and Senate are jointly in session. The Senate has a few more legislative days on their schedule than the House, but it’s unclear how they’ll use them.

Republicans and Wall Street used to have concerns about the consequences for America if we didn’t get our finances under control. They said that the growing federal debt could eventually drag down the economy, burden future generations, and even threaten national security. CEOs of corporations and the biggest banks joined a campaign called Fix the Debt, arguing that the size of our debt was our most pressing issue.

But now these same people are all in on Trump’s plan to cut taxes for corporations and high earners, saying it is the way to fuel economic growth. That, despite estimates that Trump’s plan could reduce federal revenue by $3.9 trillion over 10 years, thereby increasing the debt that CEOs used to hate. From Bloomberg:

Goldman Sachs Group Inc. CEO Lloyd Blankfein, a Fix the Debt supporter…in 2012 told CNBC he’d be for higher taxes if they helped mend the fiscal gap. After the 2016 election, Blankfein told colleagues…that Trump’s proposals, including tax reform, ‘will be good for growth and, therefore, will be good for our clients and for our firm.’

Hmmm. Aren’t Treasury Secretary Steve Mnuchin and Trump’s Economic Adviser Gary Cohn both from Goldman?

Dean Baker, co-director of the Center for Economic and Policy Research sees the policy shift clearly: (brackets by the Wrongologist)

They [CEOs] were yelling, Deficits, deficits, deficits… [and] as soon as George W. Bush gets in the White House? Oh, we’ll have a big tax cut.

The same thing is happening now. Bloomberg reports that according to Seth Waugh, chairman of wealth adviser Alex. Brown, many in finance have moved on from the debt: (brackets and emphasis by the Wrongologist)

It’s not a fun, sexy thing to talk about…Waugh, another Fix the Debt member, recalls playing golf with a private equity executive…Waugh told his friend it would be nice if Congress addressed deficits… [but]…The private equity executive said nobody was talking about that. It was a dead issue, and they should take the good news: Paying less in taxes, the friend reminded him, means getting richer.

It’s probably a distant dream. The GOPs plan for tax reform involves using the budget reconciliation process, which allows them to pass it with just 51 votes, that is, without Democrats. Otherwise, they face a filibuster. Reconciliation starts with passing a budget resolution for the coming fiscal year. In that budget resolution, they need to include special budget directives or instructions:

To start the reconciliation process, the House and Senate must agree on a budget resolution that includes “reconciliation directives” for specified committees. Under the Congressional Budget Act, the House and Senate are supposed to adopt a budget resolution each year to establish an overall budget plan and set guidelines for action on spending and revenue.

So they need to pass a budget, but before that, Republicans need to vote to raise the borrowing authority of the government. That may be impossible without support from Democrats.

We’ll know very soon if Dems are willing to get on board with Paul Ryan and Mitch McConnell on any of this.

It’s Saturday again, and despite the brief three-minute respite from politics brought by the solar eclipse, Trump had another successful week. (If success is his continued destruction of what remains of America’s psyche).

We are now in desperate need of something soothing to kick off next week’s war for truth. So grab a couple of Trader Joe’s Cold Brew Latte Dessert Bars (40 calories and 7 grams of sugar each), put on your best Bluetooth headphones, and listen to the late guitarist John Abercrombie, who died this week. Here is Abercrombie with Dave Holland on bass, and Jack DeJohnette on drums doing “Homecoming” live in 1995. Let’s hope it’s not the best few minutes of your week:

Pay attention to Abercrombie’s remarkable and airy technique.

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