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The Wrongologist

Geopolitics, Power and Political Economy

Saturday Soother – January 5, 2019

The Daily Escape:

Bryce Canyon NP, looking down at the Wall Street trail – this photo was taken on New Year’s Eve by natsmith69. The photographer says he didn’t hike down because of the government shutdown.

Two topics for today: First, the December jobs report, which was encouraging in the face of a roller-coaster stock market. Employment rose a very strong 312,000 jobs in December, bringing the full count of jobs added for 2018 up to 2.6 million, the strongest year for job gains since 2015.

Unemployment ticked up to 3.9%, largely because more people were drawn into the labor market as measured by the civilian labor force participation rate. It moved up two-tenths to 63.1%, its highest level since 2014. That’s a reminder that the job market still has capacity to expand.

Wage growth accelerated slightly, and tied cyclical highs. Weekly hours worked edged up, job gains for the prior two months were revised upwards, and a very high 70% of private industries added jobs.

It seems that low unemployment has finally started to lead to pressure to raise pay.

Despite all of this positive labor market news, there are economic headwinds in the volatile stock market, Trump’s trade war, and slower economic growth abroad.

Some economists are forecasting a grim outlook for near-term US economic growth. OTOH, low unemployment, job gains, and higher wages should boost consumer spending, which accounts for almost 70% of the US economy.

Try to keep calm about the stock market. There isn’t much definitive economic news that should make you decide to bail out of stocks just now.

Item two: The shut-down. On Friday, Sen. Charles Schumer (D-NY) after another meeting about the shut-down, said that Trump threatened to keep the government closed for “months or even years” until he gets his desired wall funding.

Speaker Pelosi (D-CA) described the meeting as a “lengthy and sometimes contentious conversation with the president.” She said both sides agreed to continue talks. She then said: (brackets by Wrongo)

 We cannot resolve this until we open up [the] government…

So far, most Republicans are keeping a stiff upper lip, saying just what Trump says. But there are a few cracks, notably Sen. Cory Gardner (R-CO) and possibly, Susan Collins (R-ME), who are asking to re-open the federal government without a deal on funding the border wall.

Clearly there is a deal to be had. It probably looks like funding Trump’s wall, which is a rounding error in the federal budget, in return for passing a Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) relief bill as part of immigration reform. Lawmakers in both parties are sympathetic to immigrants who entered the country illegally as children.

The Hill reports that Sen. Roy Blunt (R-MO), a member of GOP leadership, said that while he hasn’t been involved in overall immigration discussions, expanding the scope of negotiations could be one way to break the logjam:

You know, sometimes the best way to solve a problem is to make it bigger, and that’s always one of the options here…

Sen. Lamar Alexander (R-TN) is urging Trump to strike a deal on comprehensive immigration reform:

Why would he not agree to such a thing…We could go small, we could go a little bigger… but I’d like to see the president say, ‘OK, we’ve got a new Congress. We’ve got divided government. I’m the president who can actually make this happen.’

Sen. Rob Portman (R-OH) is pitching his proposal that would establish a $25 billion border trust fund and codify protections for DACA recipients. Remember that Trump rejected a similar offer from Senate Democrats last year, so it isn’t clear where the goalposts for such a deal are today. We’ll have to watch the drama unfold.

Time to let go of the news and settle into a Saturday soother, maybe while taking down ornaments. Start the process of soothing by brewing up a yuuge cup of Panama Ninety Plus Perci Lot 50 coffee ($60/8 oz.) from Birdrock Coffee of San Diego, CA. Coffee Review rates it at 97, with tastes of fruit while being giddily brandy-toned. Maybe that’s a rave.

Now settle back in a comfy chair and listen to the “Adagio for Oboe, Cello, Organ and Strings” by Domenico Zipoli. Zipoli was an Italian Jesuit priest who lived much of his life in what is now Argentina. He studied with Scarlatti, became a Jesuit, worked as a missionary and died in 1726 in Argentina at age 38:

If fate had granted Zipoli another 20 to 25 years, he would be regarded today as a major composer.

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Brett Kavanaugh’s Just Another Republican

The Daily Escape:

Storm brewing near Vilano Bridge, St. Augustine FL – June 2018

At Vox, Dylan Matthews has a detailed review of Supreme Court Justice Nominee Brett Kavanaugh’s history of being in the middle of Republican wars since the 1990’s. He represented the 6-year-old Elián González pro bono in an attempt to keep him from being deported to back to his father in Cuba in 2000.

Kavanaugh also worked on GW Bush’s legal team during the 2000 Florida recount, which resulted in Bush winning a party-line Supreme Court vote to install him as president. Then:

Kavanaugh worked in the solicitor general’s office under George H.W. Bush….The SG under George W. Bush was Kenneth Starr, who took a shine to Kavanaugh and hired him to join the independent counsel’s office in 1994.

Kavanaugh became a Republican glamor boy with the investigation into Bill Clinton’s affair with Monica Lewinsky: (link, italics and emphasis by Wrongo)

Eventually, Kavanaugh, and the rest of Starr’s team, moved on from the substance of the Whitewater real estate deal to the matter of Clinton’s affair with Monica Lewinsky. In his history of the investigation, “The Death of American Virtue: Clinton vs. Starr”, Duquesne University’s Ken Gormley notes that Kavanaugh, “considered one of Starr’s intellectual heavy-lifters, pushed hardest to confront Clinton with some of the dirtiest facts linked to his sexual indiscretions with Lewinsky.”

In a memo to “Judge Starr” (with a copy to “All Attorneys”), Kavanaugh wrote:

After reflecting this evening, I am strongly opposed to giving the President any “break” … unless before his questioning on Monday, he either i) resigns or ii) confesses perjury and issues a public apology to you. I have tried hard to bend over backwards and to be fair to him. … In the end, I am convinced that there really are [no reasonable defenses]. The idea of going easy on him at the questioning is thus abhorrent to me….

The President has disgraced his Office, the legal system, and the American people by having sex with a 22-year-old intern and turning her life into a shambles — callous and disgusting behavior that has somehow gotten lost in the shuffle. He has committed perjury (at least) in the [Paula] Jones case. … He has tried to disgrace [Ken Starr] and this Office with a sustained propaganda campaign that would make Nixon blush

It should be unimaginable for a nice young Catholic lawyer, but Kavanaugh then listed a series of ten questions that he wanted Starr to ask Bill Clinton. All of them were explicit and unsavory. Wrongo will offer one, and it is the least unsavory:

If Monica Lewinsky says that you masturbated into a trashcan in your secretary’s office, would she [be] lying?

Starr didn’t ask any of Kavanaugh’s questions, but did ask others that were similar. We’ll never get past what Bill Clinton did to the Democrats. Hillary too.

This is the real Kavanaugh: He’s not just the guy we are told is a good father, CYO basketball coach, and feeder of the poor. He clearly had a prurient interest in Clinton’s affair with Lewinsky.

We know that he will most likely be on the Court if it is tasked with judging the constitutional validity of whatever Special Counsel Robert Mueller produces regarding the man who appointed Kavanaugh. This has nothing to do with impeachment, it is largely about Trump being compelled to testify to a grand jury, as Bill Clinton did in 1998, compelled by Ken Starr and Brett Kavanaugh.

But, we now know that in 2009, Kavanaugh changed his mind and said he is against compelling a president to testify: (emphasis by Wrongo)

Having seen first-hand how complex and difficult that job is, I believe it vital that the President be able to focus on his never-ending tasks with as few distractions as possible. The country wants the President to be “one of us” who bears the same responsibilities of citizenship that all share. But I believe that the President should be excused from some of the burdens of ordinary citizenship while serving in office….

This is not something I necessarily thought in the 1980s or 1990s. Like many Americans at that time, I believed that the President should be required to shoulder the same obligations that we all carry. But in retrospect, that seems a mistake.

Now he’s for insulating the president. The Senate shouldn’t allow him to use what he wrote in 2009 as an alibi for what he would do if a Mueller-related case came before him.

Unless Kavanaugh agrees to recuse himself from any such case, no Senator should vote for him.

Given Kavanaugh’s desire to ask difficult questions of Bill Clinton, Democrats shouldn’t let these hearings pass without some very pointed grilling. Otherwise they will have failed.

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Sunday Cartoon Blogging – June 24, 2018

We wake up each day and think: “There’s no way this could get any worse.” And every day, we’re proven wrong. Our reality is now anger and inhumanity. It is in most instances, instigated and promoted by the Trump administration.

What does all that anger and inhumanity say about America today? It says we must change for the better. It also means 63 million Americans are as morally deficient and as complicit as the president they voted for. Nice work.

Melania needs better jackets in her wardrobe:

ICE has cornered the market on huddled masses:

Science has determined how he does it:

Captain Bone Spur’s trade War is not off to a perfect start:

GOP doesn’t resemble its founder anymore:

Republicans prefer certainty for the midterms:

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Saturday Soother – December 16, 2017

The Daily Escape:

Central Park NYC, December 12th – 2017 photo by Rommel Tan

Long-time readers know that Wrongo has a very low opinion of Speaker of the House Paul Ryan (R-WI), who he considers an intellectual joker. He is often given a pass by the main stream media, who suggest that he is a thoughtful and principled Republican. But once again, he looked like a partially-informed hack on Thursday when he said that Americans need to have more babies or risk a collapse of Medicare and Social Security.

His concern is about the declining US birth rate. The Boston Globe reports that:

Ten years ago, the typical American woman had about 2.1 children. Today, it is about 1.77, representing a collapse in fertility on par with the declines in other countries that yielded Japan’s rapidly graying population in the 1990s, or Canada’s massive present-day demand for immigrants.

From Ryan’s news conference: (parenthesis by Wrongo)

People — this is going to be the new economic challenge for America. People…I did my part, (Ryan has three kids) but we need to have higher birth rates in this country. Meaning, baby boomers are retiring, and we have fewer people following them in the work force…We have something like a 90% increase in the retirement population in America, but only a 19% increase in the working population in America…

It is true that birth rates in the US have declined, but that’s not necessarily bad news. For example, birth rates for teenagers hit a record low last year. Also, Wrongo recently described McKinsey’s report on jobs lost to automation that showed 75 million jobs are at risk in the US by 2030.

Perhaps we already have too many workers for the jobs revolution that is occurring all around us.

And there’s an obvious solution to the problem that Ryan ignores: Allowing more immigrants into the country, either to fill the jobs being vacated by retiring baby boomers, or as necessary to meet tomorrow’s job requirements. But Ryan shows that he’s all in with Trump’s hard line anti-immigration positions.

Should American women become brood mares? This isn’t a new concept. The fear of being outnumbered by racial and ethnic minorities is the driving force behind today’s alt-right, and the view was around in earlier white nationalist movements. HuffPo interviewed Kelly J. Baker, author of “Gospel According to the Klan”. Baker says that the need to ensure that white women were having more white babies was a key part of the Ku Klux Klan’s platform during its resurgence in the 1920s: (emphasis by Wrongo)

Baker said that the 1920s Klan was “nervous” about the possibility of widespread birth control for white women…To push back against the rising availability of effective birth control, the Klan told white women that having as many white children as possible is your job and it matters for your family and your race and for America.

And now, Ryan makes this a mainstream GOP idea. For all of the political empowerment of women in today’s headlines, the Ryan argument lands in the same place as today’s alt-right, and yesterday’s KKK.

Ryan and the GOP want to see more babies, but they won’t support young kids with health insurance through the Children’s Health Insurance Program (CHIP). Quartz reports that next month, 600,000 American children will lose their CHIP coverage. CHIP has been instrumental in ensuring health care coverage of children in US families that aren’t poor enough to qualify for Medicaid, but cannot afford any other form of insurance.

Republicans talk a lot about the cost of healthcare. The cost of not providing healthcare to children in an America with failing schools is impossible to calculate. It is very high, it lasts lifetimes and possibly, generations.

Yet, Ryan is saying that American women need to have more babies to Make America Great Again.

And we know that he’s asking for more white babies.

OK, it’s Saturday, and we need a break from toxic politics, and maybe from obsessing about shopping for gifts. Hanukkah began this week, so Wrongo looked for a soothing piece of music that was inspired by the celebration of the Festival of Lights. Here is “Hanukkah Overture for String Orchestra and Clarinet” by Adam Shugar.

If you look at the YouTube video, you will see that it has just 5,000 views. It should have many more. You should watch it because the music is good, and unlike most orchestral pieces, this string orchestra performs while standing. The video is shot from a high angle, and looking down allows you to see them all as they play together, almost like a choreographed dance. Here is “Hanukkah Overture for String Orchestra and Clarinet” played by the Orchestre Nouvelle Génération under the direction of Airat Ichmouratov, with Mark Simons on clarinet:

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

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Monday Wake Up Call – November 13, 2017

The Daily Escape:

Western Greenland – photo by Marek Biegalski

Remember when conservatives said “activist judges” were a bad thing? Sure you do. Well, last Thursday, the Senate Judiciary Committee on a party-line vote, 11-9, approved 36 year-old Brett J. Talley, a right-wing activist, for consideration by the Senate to be a federal judge in Alabama.

Talley has never tried a case. He was unanimously rated “not qualified” by the American Bar Association’s judicial rating committee. Since 1989, only four people have been ranked not qualified to be federal judges by the ABA, and two of these ratings have taken place under Trump.

Talley has practiced law for only three years, and while blogging last year, he denounced “Hillary Rotten Clinton” and pledged his support for the NRA. Talley said on his blog that he:

Agree[d] completely with a reader’s “thoughtful response” which stated…We will have to resort to arms when our other rights — of speech, press, assembly, representative government — fail to yield the desired results…

BTW, Sen. Jeff Flake (R-AZ), that proud beacon of conservative sanity, and the lamenter-in-chief of the current sorry state of the GOP, voted to approve him.

Talley is not without some qualifications. He earned his BA in philosophy and history, Summa Cum Laude, from the University of Alabama, where he was Phi Beta Kappa. He got his law degree from Harvard, where he served as an articles editor of the Harvard Journal of Law and Public Policy.

In his brief legal career, Talley served as an associate in the DC, offices of Gibson, Dunn & Crutcher. He was a law clerk for Judge Joel F. Dubina on the United States Court of Appeals for the Eleventh Circuit, and was also a law clerk to Judge L. Scott Coogler of the US District Court for the Northern District of Alabama. He served as the Deputy Solicitor General in the Alabama Attorney General’s Office. Earlier, Talley was a speechwriter for Senator Rob Portman and as a senior writer for Mitt Romney’s presidential campaign.

Remember when conservative pundits argued that Sonia Sotomayor was unqualified?

Dianne Feinstein asked Talley how many times he had appeared in a federal district court. This was his reply:

To my recollection, during my time as Alabama’s deputy solicitor general, I participated as part of the legal team in one hearing in federal district court in the Middle District of Alabama…

So, while we were distracted by Trump’s Asia trip and the Judge Roy Moore disaster, a rabidly partisan 36-year-old attack dog with scant legal experience was approved by the Senate Judiciary Committee on a party-line vote for a lifetime appointment to the federal judiciary.

This is another example of how the Republican Party has lost its moral and ethical bearings. They also spent the weekend rallying around their other prize Alabamian, Roy Moore, the sanctimonious candidate for the US Senate, who is accused of sexually molesting a 14-year-old adolescent girl.

A brief meditation about on-the-job experience: A person who lacks significant job experience will always be a poor problem-solver. Job knowledge is a prerequisite to solving problems in your occupation. There are things that you just can’t learn in the classroom, or by reading a textbook. Does anyone want a first year medical student performing surgery on them? If Talley had sat as second chair for 10+ jury trials, he would have had experience equivalent to a doctor’s residency.

How can this guy be turned loose to run an appeals court courtroom?

This is one area where the GOP is just willing to win. Seemingly, they have a killer/competitive instinct that the left lacks. “Holding your nose” isn’t necessary for the GOP. Standards be damned, this Talley guy can be counted on to vote correctly on the key social issues of concern to the Republican base.

Time to wake up America! Trump will fill nearly 100 judgeships that were vacant when Obama left office, thanks to a slowdown engineered by Mitch McConnell during the final two years of Obama’s term.

Now, not all of them will be lightweight, right-wing ideologues like Brett Talley. So, it’s time for America to beat on the heads of Republican senators whenever an awful nominee is put forward. We have to hope that not all Republican senators will march in lock-step, and appoint all of the Brett Talley’s that the GOP can find.

To help you wake up, here is the J. Geils Band with their 1974 cover of “Funky Judge”, originally by Bull & the Matadors:

While on the subject of judges and music, Stephen S. Trott, a justice of the US Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit, was a member of the folk group, The Highwaymen.

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