The Wrongologist

Geopolitics, Power and Political Economy


It is now 14 years since this happened:

911 tower collalpse
South Tower falls: 9:59am September 11, 2001

And 14 years on, what have we learned? In Islam, there is an idea that you should deal with your local problems first, and not worry about the far enemy. But, bin Laden believed that in his world, you could not do that. Revolution at home was almost impossible because of the far enemy, the US. As long as the US was the superpower, Islamic revolutionary success would be limited because the US could cripple your economy via sanctions, and it had the military might to attack you with overwhelming force.

Bin Laden’s argument was that the US had to be defeated, at least as regards its ability to project power in the ME. He thought that the evils being done by local regimes (such as Iraq’s Hussein, or Egypt’s Mubarak) could not be ended by simply fighting the local regime, but that the far regime that was their protector, must also be defeated.

Whatever you think of bin Laden, his most powerful point to those in the ME was that the US was responsible both for the suffering the US caused directly through sanctions, and the suffering caused indirectly, by keeping Middle Eastern dictators in power.

To that, bin Laden added a decisive idea: Attack the US.

Fourteen years later, we remain in a quagmire. Thanks a heap, Osama bin Laden. With a small number of supporters, less than $500,000, and 19 suicidal hijackers, most of them Saudis, you pulled off your geopolitical magic trick. On this 14th anniversary, Tom Englehardt asks a few questions:

• Fourteen years later, don’t you find it improbable that the US military has been unable to extricate itself from Iraq and Afghanistan, its two major wars of this century?
• Fourteen years later, don’t you find it improbable that Washington’s post-9/11 policies in the Middle East helped lead to the establishment of the Islamic State’s “Caliphate” in parts of Iraq and Syria and to a movement of almost unparalleled extremism that has successfully “franchised” itself out from Libya to Nigeria to Afghanistan?
• If, on September 12, 2001, you had predicted such a possibility, who wouldn’t have thought you mad?

This brings us to the 2016 presidential election. Sarah Palin on CNN last Sunday, said she’d “rather have a tough president than one who can win at trivial pursuit.” As Ed Kilgore wrote:

By saying that she prefers a “tough” president like Donald Trump, Palin is endorsing his bullying Alpha-male routine against all those emasculated men who know stuff.

So, more of the same from the GOP.

To be fair, “knowing stuff” is a necessary, but insufficient criterion. Obviously, Trump doesn’t seem to have the “necessary” part down just yet. Republicans try to convince us that the challenges we face in the world are simple, and we must be realists, and aggressively go after what we want. It all comes down to “good vs evil.” For Reagan, it was the “evil empire” of the Soviet Union. And for George W. Bush, it was the “axis of evil” made up of Iran, Iraq and North Korea.

Sadly, we live in an extremely complex world, and ignorance of its complexity is dangerous. Remember in 2006, there were reports that George W. Bush was unaware of the difference between Shia and Sunni as late as two months before the Iraq invasion. Combine that with Cheney’s Exceptionalist ideology, (which remained on display this week), and we all paid a huge price for that ignorance.

The reality is that if tough talk is divorced from knowledge, you do dumb things…like start dumb wars that diminish our standing in the world – and that cost us terribly in lives and money.

The GOP considers diplomacy, compromise, or nonviolent remedies to be weak and ineffective. It never occurs to them that knowledge, perspective and persistence are also forms of strength.

We should be very clear that the presidency is no place for bullies. And rather than signifying weakness, traits like compassion, thoughtfulness and collaboration are exactly the kind of thing we need in our leader.

We need to re-learn how to exist in in an ambiguous world without shutting down, or being ineffectual. Lately when things get tough, we strut, shorten our attention spans, prefer form over substance and pray to god that it all works out…we have all become George W. Bush!

Let’s remember the 9/11 heroes and victims.

But let’s stop listening to those who pander to our fears.


Anger is an Energy

We are witnessing the convergence of several trends, which may take politics as we know it and turn it on its head. First, a political trend in which both angry Republicans and angry Democrats now believe that there is zero chance that the government will do anything to improve their lives.

Second, the American Exceptionalism movement is morphing into something that says we must win, and win now. Never mind trying to figure out exactly what “winning” means. We’ve now spawned two generations of Trump wanna-be’s who have no time for losing. They must win, win, win, and they will say or do whatever it takes to win.

Third, people have sorted themselves into groups that are impervious to fact. Presenting people with the best available information doesn’t change many minds. Like a psychic immune response, they reject ideas that they consider harmful. Regardless of whether the subject is climate, vaccines or politics, they prefer and are much more susceptible to, appeals to emotion.

So we live in a time of angry rage. We can’t change most of what we see, but we sure can be pissed about it. The angry voter has been blamed for the insurgent candidacies of Bernie Sanders and Donald Trump, and the possible emergence of a third-party presidential run in 2016.

In the midst of this shit storm, political scientists Alan Abramowitz and Steven Webster of Emory University last week posted an intriguing analysis at Larry Sabato’s Crystal Ball Blog on the role of anger in the 2012 presidential election. They conclude that voters are indeed angry. But their anger is directed mainly at the opposing party, and this anger is increasingly correlated with ideology. In other words, the most liberal and most conservative voters are also the most likely to be angry. Looking forward to 2016, they conclude: (emphasis by the Wrongologist)

The most important influence on the 2016 presidential election as well as the House and Senate elections will be the division of the American electorate into two warring partisan camps. In the seven decades since the end of World War II, Democrats and Republicans have never been as divided as they are today.

Earlier this year, Abramowitz and Webster released a paper cataloging the sharp increase in party-line voting in recent decades. Once upon a time, it was not uncommon for Republicans to vote Democratic and vice versa. In 2012, the authors tell us, the US saw:

The highest levels of party loyalty and straight-ticket voting since the American National Election Studies first began measuring party identification in 1952.

What’s the reason for the polarization? Abramowitz and Webster call it “negative partisanship”, the tendency of voters to think of their ballots not as a way to help their party but as a way to hurt the opposition. In other words, it’s not that our side is so great; it’s that the other side is so awful.

How do we know the other side is awful?’

Abramowitz and Webster say that a crucial element in negative partisanship is the assignment of negative characteristics to the other party. From 1972 to 2012, the proportion of voters who believed there are significant differences between the parties rose from 55% percent to well over 80%. We can argue over why, but, as the authors point out, these changes in perception are rational, since the parties themselves have become more ideologically rigid.

A thought experiment: Is there a party where the voter who is for abortion rights, but against same-sex marriage is comfortable? How about the voter who supports the Affordable Care Act, but is a skeptic on climate change? And if you don’t believe such complex voters exist, you are part of the evidence for the authors’ thesis about party rigidity.

All of us have met political partisans who believe that those on the other side are irredeemably stupid or evil. Yet we know that view of superiority is ultimately enforceable only at the point of a gun — just the opposite of what we expect of our democracy.

So, is anger good for our democracy? In a world of twitter and other social media, there are just way more outlets for anonymous anger. And that anger reproduces itself with every re-tweet.

And if there’s one thing anger loves, its attention.

Maybe we can learn something from what Johnny Rotten said in his book, “Anger is an Energy”, (which is a line from his song “Rise”): (emphasis by the Wrongologist)

When I was writing the Public Image Ltd song ‘Rise’, I didn’t quite realize the emotional impact that it would have on me, or anyone who’s ever heard it since. ‘Anger is an energy’ was an open statement, saying, ‘Don’t view anger negatively, don’t deny it – use it to be creative...’

Anger doesn’t necessarily equate directly to violence. Violence very rarely resolves anything. In South Africa, they eventually found a relatively peaceful way out. Using that supposedly negative energy called anger, it can take just one positive move to change things for the better.

Maybe, a third party presidential run in 2016?


Sunday Cartoon Blogging – July 12, 2015

In recent years, many on the right talk as if they have inside knowledge of what the Creator wants us to think and do. As reported here last week, we have been arguing about the role of religion in our politics since the founding of the Republic. In 1789, George Washington declared a day of “public thanksgiving and prayer.” 12 years later, Thomas Jefferson abruptly canceled the ritual. The First Amendment, explained Jefferson, erected a “wall of separation between church and state.”

But Jefferson’s contractor failed to make that wall strong enough.

So, Wrongo is adding a book to his summer reading list. It is “One Nation Under God: How Corporate America Invented Christian America” by Kevin Kruse. The book tries to explain the religiosity in our politics. Kruse investigates how the idea of America as a Christian nation was promoted in the 1930s and ’40s when industrialists and business lobbies, chafing against the government regulations of the New Deal, recruited and funded conservative clergy to preach faith, freedom and free enterprise. He says this conflation of Christianity and capitalism moved to center stage under Eisenhower’s watch in the ’50s, when the words “Under God” in the Pledge of Allegiance and the phrase “In God we trust” was inserted on the back of the dollar bill.

This week saw the USA Women’s soccer team take Manhattan, the NYSE go dark, Greece on the verge of going dark, the Confederate flag comes down in Charleston and Trump jumps into the lead in Republican opinion polls.

Women’s soccer is America’s new role model:

COW Soccer II

Stock Exchange glitch wasn’t explained clearly, so speculation ensued:

COW Glitch

South Carolina makes something old new again:

Clay Bennett, Chattanooga Times Free Press

Clay Bennett, Chattanooga Times Free Press

Socratic Method not enough to fix Greek quagmire:

COW Socrates

Trump divides Republicans:

COW Trump II

And forces a new strategy:

COW Trump

While W keeps rolling along:

COW W Speech


The Big Picture – An Editorial

“To conquer fear is the beginning of wisdom”Bertrand Russell

Today, we are going to take a short course in The Big Picture. For starters, here is a quote from Digby:

…we are a primitive country. We’ve got idiots on TV screaming about a religion of 1.6 billion people being the toxic cause of violence even as our All American, non-religious school-kids are taking the deadly weapons their parents give them as presents to shoot their schoolmates and themselves. And we have the most sophisticated city on earth acting like a bunch of authoritarian creeps toward people who are doing serious work to stop the spread of an outbreak of a deadly disease — for PR purposes.

Since the Great Recession in 2008-9, we have seen the Federal Reserve move the economy slowly forward while leaving most people behind. Yet, few complain about growing income inequality. People know it and feel it, but don’t vote, or try to do anything else to change things.

• Why doesn’t income inequality upset the average American?
• Why are we more aware of how plastic surgery has changed the looks of an actress than we are about Gen. John Allen’s crazy ideas about winning the war against ISIS?
• How can more Americans be afraid of contracting Ebola than being killed in a car wreck?

What are we afraid will happen if we really dig deeply into an idea or a strategy that is proposed as a “solution” for some problem or other? Why can’t we resist re-tweeting some piece of snark that is the short version of something we believe, or thought we believed?

One visible trend is our increasing distrust of public institutions. We have seen how government, corporations, “charitable” organizations, media, and law-enforcement and the Justice system, all seem to exist for the benefit of those who manage them and not for the public.

This capturing of our institutions is a scary thing, but it is true everywhere in America. You might think that realizing this would spur interest in reform, but in fact, it has just increased our denial. People say in spite of it all, we’ll just soldier on as best as we can, making sure that we and our kids learn to navigate this rigged system.

This is why there is very little interest in politics by young voters.

Another trend is that America’s young know there is no possibility for real growth in personal income. They know that there are policies to promote and stimulate the economy, policies that might work. But, they have no faith in the ability of public officials to implement such policies, so they hang back, hoping somebody comes forward with a better answer. This, from the most connected, most media-savvy, most sophisticated generation in our history.

Voters show no interest in the 2014 mid-term elections. The media asks the same questions of the same Sabbath pundits each week: “Who will win the Senate?” But people don’t care. They watch the media whip up class warfare, cultural warfare and real warfare together into a big stew of propaganda that becomes mind-numbing. So they Facebook, and Tweet.

Most people are both stuck and scared–wanting things to change, but not knowing how. People might get upset, but big change requires commitment and action, and it is hard to get Millennials to change their minds, or to do much.

Political activism succeeds with a clear vision and a solid game plan. Neither Democrats nor Republicans have a list of good ideas about what will work to move us forward. It is possible to attribute political apathy to this lack of ideas, but the destruction of public trust in government is also a big problem.

Changing the future requires getting hold of the levers of government and then using them to do good. That is much more difficult when people don’t vote, and have no faith in their government. Trust in an institution takes a long time to build, but not to destroy. The first step is to take back our captured government.

A basic principle of martial arts is that you use your opponent’s strengths against them. In typical political contests, both sides work to out-raise and out-spend the other. And third parties try to get in the game using the same strategies as the legacy parties.

Today, each candidate is challenging the other’s strength using their own similar strength: It becomes a Sumo-style shoving match.

Conventional wisdom says that it’s expensive to run a campaign (even for local elections, much less national) and so everyone starts their campaign with a fundraising strategy and continues it incessantly even after Election Day. Conventional wisdom says you win with a charismatic candidate, so each party tries to find the best actor they can come up with. Conventional wisdom says candidates should “triangulate” their political views so that they are neither left nor right, just as Democrats are trying to do without success, in Red States this fall.

Instead, insurgent campaigns could be run on social media and the Internet, on as little money as possible—crowdsourcing both dollars and ideas from supporters. They should build constituencies for ideas and for a common future. They should select candidates who can tell the story of a united, desirable future, not some Ken or Barbie cypher for the moneyed interests who run our politics today.

The Big Picture is that we react more strongly to fear than to rationality. We used to fear Hitler. We feared the Communists. We feared al-Qaeda. We fear ISIS. We fear Ebola. We fear for our kids walking to school. We fear that America will let too many brown people across our borders. But we don’t fear climate change, or obesity, or a Congress that can’t enact an agenda to move the country forward.

There should be no mystery about how much corporate power and money drives the culture of fear. Think of it as a 4-step program:

1. Mass media hammers on events that builds general concern and possibly, panic from a few isolated incidents
2. Anecdotal evidence takes the place of hard scientific proof
3. Experts that the media trots out to make comments really don’t have the credentials to be considered experts
4. Entire categories of people (Muslims, West Africans) are labeled as “innately dangerous”

Can a cohesive group with a better way of dealing with the rest of us, gain traction in today’s connected world? Can they help America conquer the long laundry list of fears that constrict and in some cases, stop us from acting on much of anything?

It would take brains, ideas, commitment and energy.

Where are the leaders who have those qualities? How can we support them?


Sunday Cartoon Blogging – October 26, 2014

It’s that time of year, scary monsters in your email and on your TV. That means it’s the mad combo of the election season and Halloween. Be very afraid.

Some celebrate Halloween all year:
COW Fox Haunted














Fear is in the air around Halloween:

COW Fear Wins


Really, Fox? Ben Bradlee must be turning over in his grave:

COW Fox Pic


The reason Democrats will lose the Senate, Part I:

COW Debate Parrot


The reason Democrats will lose the Senate, Part II:
COW Coke v. Pepsi

The House of Fear is open 24 hours a day:

COW House of Fear


Sunday Cartoon Blogging – October 12, 2014

Be afraid. Be very afraid.” In 20 letters, it’s the platform and program of the GOP:

COW Ebola Imports













Complete version: Be afraid of Africans, Hispanics, Democrats, Liberals, Muslims, Atheists, Foreigners, Gays, etc. If fact, be afraid of just about everyone except the GOP. Because those OTHERS will take your money, take your job, take your gun, infect you with diseases, break into you house, rape your women folk, strengthen and enlarge your government, spend your taxes, use your resources, raise your prices, insult your God, hurt your feelings (saying ‘Happy Holidays’ instead of ‘Merry Christmas’), corrupt your children, impoverish your descendants, enlarge your government, make life in your suburb or your condo no better than that of a slave on a plantation… and did we say enlarge your government?

If the above makes sense to you, then vote the Republican ticket in November. The GOP won’t accomplish anything, but they will validate your paranoia, and that will feel so good!

Stock Market gives back all of the year’s gain in one week:


COW Bad Week on Wall Street

The Supremes non-decision causes a wedding:

COW Shotgun Wedding

Malala winning the Nobel makes many parents jealous:

COW Slacker

ISIS recruiting steals American Slogan, “E Pluribus Unum”:

COW Out of many One