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The Wrongologist

Geopolitics, Power and Political Economy

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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Sunday Cartoon Blogging – July 16, 2017

Trump just returned from France. French President Macron apparently became the “Trump Whisperer” while escorting His Orangeness around Paris, because nothing terrible happened. Trump returned to the incessant talk about who attended Trump Jr.’s meeting with the Russians, what was discussed, and what Trump Sr. knew about it all. OTOH, Mitch McConnell tried to breathe new life into the GOP Health Insurance Plan.

Replacing Obamacare still is looking mean:

 

One insurance option that never made it into the bill:

Putin said he would help Donny find the hackers:

People talk about the uncanny resemblance between Sr. and Jr.:

Baseball’s All-Star break gave the GOP an idea:

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Sunday Cartoon Blogging – July 2, 2017

Governments last only as long as the undertaxed can defend themselves against the overtaxed.” Bernard Berenson

(There is an extra ration of cartoons today. Wrongo is taking a few days to celebrate the hot dogs and potato salad he found in the fridge. Posts will resume on July 5th.)

If this week shows how well we are playing defense, we are all screwed. The party of personal responsibility always blames their opponents when things go wrong. The party of fiscal responsibility will blow up the budget whenever they get in power.

And the party of family values is merrily slashing away at programs that support families:

When it comes to health insurance, the GOP has all the right viewpoints:

Trump revealed his true self with the “Morning Joe” tweets:

The Court-tested, Judges approved Muslim ban is now in effect:

Trump (or his lackeys) made fake Time Magazine covers featuring the Donald:

Trump’s Press Team orders no cameras at most press conferences. So on to Virtual News:

Trump Election Commission asks states for each voter’s personal data, like party affiliation and social security number. What could go wrong?

Why the Fourth of July?

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Sunday Cartoon Blogging – June 25, 2017

Let’s see…New Crown Prince in Saudi, Democrat lost in Georgia, and UBER’s CEO kicked to the curb. What did Wrongo miss? Oh yea, Trumpcare:

Get your health problems fixed while you still can:

Trumpcare may look familiar to some:

GOP plans to include certain pre-existing conditions:

New Saudi Crown Prince gives Trump an idea:

The Dems strike out (again) in Georgia:

The CEO of UBER is kicked to the curb:

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Sunday Cartoon Blogging – June 18, 2017

It’s Father’s Day. Here is Wrongo’s tribute to his own dad, now gone for 19 years. Steve Goodman’s song, “My Old Man”:

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

Takeaway lyric:

I miss my old man tonight
And I can almost see his face
He was always trying to watch his weight
And his heart only made it to fifty-eight.
For the first time since he died
Late last night I cried.
I wondered when I was gonna do that
For my old man.

Happy Father’s Day to all who qualify!

On to cartoons. This week, it’s hard to decide where to look first. How long will the current era of political good feeling last? We can be hopeful, but cracks have already appeared, and the urge to score political points has already begun:

The DC shooting reminds us that Congress still plays the ‘ol ballgame:

NOW we need some protection?

While America’s busy looking at the Russian drama, the GOP has had a breakthrough:

Trump’s team ruminates on replacing Mueller:

 

 

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Sunday Cartoon Blogging – May 7, 2017

The House Republicans’ passage of the Trumpcare Bill dominated the news last week. Sometime later today we will learn the results of the French presidential election, but the hacking of Mr. Macro’s servers and emails sounds depressingly familiar.

America’s “unsolvable problem” with health insurance led us to Obamacare, and now, to the botched GOP effort to replace it. We should remember that this unsolvable problem has already been solved in dozens of countries.

Trumpcare is an event of domestic terrorism:

GOP will need a different pitch to the public:

How the GOP defines “pre-existing”:

Preexisting conditions also include political health:

 

GOP thinks health insurance is only for people who make good choices – like being born rich:

Stay unhealthy my friends:

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Saturday Soother – May 6, 2017

The Daily Escape:

Tulips, Lisse Netherlands, April 2017 – photo by Peter Dejong

We ended the week with Republicans in the House passing the latest version of Trumpcare by a vote of 217-213. All Democrats voted against it, with 20 Republican members defecting to join them. The changes Republicans made to get this version of bill through the House will not be what passes in the Senate. It’s up to Mitch McConnell to craft a bill that can get through the Senate using the budget reconciliation process, which will require 51 votes to pass.

That will most likely be the “real” bill, and then the negotiations between the House and Senate versions will begin.

The problem for America is that the Senate has to pass something awful enough that the House will still vote for it. We are a long way from replacing Obamacare, but Republicans now own the process whereby tens of millions of Americans losing health insurance.

If that isn’t enough to worry about, Buzzfeed has a long read about tiny drones that can be used in a swarm to kill people:

A very, very small quadcopter, one inch in diameter can carry a one- or two-gram shaped charge. You can order them from a drone manufacturer in China…A one-gram shaped charge can punch a hole in nine millimeters of steel…You can fit about three million of those in a semi-tractor-trailer. You can drive up I-95 with three trucks and have 10 million weapons attacking New York City. They don’t have to be very effective, only 5 or 10% of them have to find the target.

The concept is achievable, while the potential consequences are unthinkable:

There will be manufacturers producing millions of these weapons that people will be able to buy just like you can buy guns now, except millions of guns don’t matter unless you have a million soldiers. You need only three guys to write the program and launch them. So you can just imagine that in many parts of the world humans will be hunted…This is the ever-present cloud of lethal autonomous weapons.

They could be here in two to three years.

— Stuart Russell, professor of computer science at the University of California Berkeley

They are called lethal autonomous weapons systems (LAWS); weapons that have the ability to independently select and engage targets once a human releases the machine to perform: no supervision, no recall, and no stop function.

Can we prevent them? Nope, they already exist. Many countries including the US already have (much larger) systems with autonomous modes that can select and attack targets without human intervention: Israel’s Harpy and second-generation Harop, can enter an area, hunt for enemy radar, and kamikaze into it, regardless of where they are set up, as long as the radars are operating.

The Pentagon now is testing drone swarm technology: Weapons moving in large formations with one controller somewhere far away on the ground clicking computer keys. Think hundreds of small drones moving as one, like a lethal flock of bees. You can see a YouTube video of a US drone swarm test here. 103 mini drones were released from two US fighter jets during the test. The drones operate autonomously and share a distributed brain. These drones will make it economical to target people (troops?) in other countries, en masse, without having to send in our own soldiers, or declare war.

Why are we wasting even more human potential devising even more ways to kill each another?

Sorry, this story adds to your stress levels after a tough week, but Wrongo thought you should know. OTOH, with all that is going on, you really need soothing. Wrongo is going for some Stumptown Colombia El Admirador coffee and a listen to “Spring”, from Vivaldi’s Four Seasons, arranged for four pianos.

The pianos are played by Yuja Wang, Emanuel Ax, Nelson Goerner, and Julien Quentin. The performance was recorded at the Salle Médran in Verbier, Switzerland, in 2009:

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

Bonus video in honor of Trumpcare: Jimmy Reed singing “Get Your Insurance” from 1959:

Those who read in email can view the video here.

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Paul Ryan: You Must Be Free to Get Sick With No Insurance

The Daily Escape:

(Stranded bull shark found after flooding from Cyclone Debbie in Australia – photo from Reuters)

In an interview with “CBS This Morning” House Speaker Paul Ryan says he doesn’t want to negotiate with Democrats on health care. Ryan, speaking to co-host Norah O’Donnell:

I don’t want that to happen. You know why? I want a patient-centered system, I don’t want government running health care…The government shouldn’t tell you what you must do with your life, with your health care. We should give people choices.

Ryan centers his defense of the failed Trumpcare bill on the notion of individual freedom. He said he fears that Trump might move to work with Democrats so that he can make good on campaign promises to redo Obamacare, and “that’s not, that’s hardly a conservative thing.”

Ryan’s idea of freedom for the American people is the right to choose whether to have health insurance or not, and if they choose health insurance, to be free to choose expensive or cheap insurance.

But he sees life as a monetary transaction. In this appearance on Face The Nation March 12, 2017: (hat tip Ed Walker)

DICKERSON: How many people are going to lose coverage under this new —

RYAN: I can’t answer that question. It’s up to people. Here — here’s the premise of your question. Are you going to stop mandating people buy health insurance? People are going to do what they want to do with their lives because we believe in individual freedom in this country. So the question is, are we providing a system where people have access to health insurance if they choose to do so…We’re not going to make an American do what they don’t want to do. You get it if you want it. That’s freedom.

Ryan’s freedom will get rid of the Essential Health Benefits that are mandated under the ACA in his Trumpcare bill. The Essentials set the minimum coverage for any policy offered on the exchanges. They include lab tests, drugs, maternity care, treatment for substance abuse and mental illness, and others.

If insurance companies can issue policies that don’t cover these mandated benefits, policies will be cheaper. That will increase the number of people with policies that won’t cover treatment they suddenly need.

So when Ryan says “freedom” he means: You have the freedom to give money to an insurance company to buy any policy you can afford; you can shop around for a policy that may or may not provide the coverage you eventually need; or you can take the risk of bankruptcy and/or denial of health care when you get sick.

But, in Ryanworld, individual freedom to choose doesn’t extend to abortion, despite it being the law of the land.

Ryan assumes that if the government were involved, it couldn’t negotiate better drug prices. He assumes government wouldn’t regulate against the predatory excesses of health insurers, health care providers, and drug companies. Government involvement does violence to his Randian wish for a perfect and omniscient free market. He assumes that people with limited resources would choose to forego rent, food, or education to buy inadequate health insurance.

Let’s give Paul Ryan the benefit of the doubt: Say he knows that this is horseshit, but he needs to legislate. The alternative is that he is the worst kind of ideologue.

Conservatives spill the word “socialism” like beer at a frat party. They think it coats everything and makes everything smell, at least politically.

It’s hard to believe that the GOP has a true notion of what socialism is, or how it works.

It’s all around us, and Republicans are expert practitioners. Their negative talk about socialism is another example of their constant projection onto Democrats and progressives. Is it socialism when Ivy League admissions favor the rich? Or when the rich help other rich people get into the country club? Or when they all appoint the same people to corporate boards?

They despise it when the rest of us use collective action; when voters get their government to combat anti-labor and anti-monopoly practices, when voters work together for better schools, safer foods, clean water and safe working conditions.

That’s bad socialism, not the good socialism practiced in Boston’s Back Bay or on NYC’s Upper East Side.

It’s good socialism when companies work together in the US Chamber of Commerce, share information, and spend millions influencing government to increase their bottom lines.

Its bad socialism when people fight for practical affordable access to health insurance.

Paul Ryan’s vision of freedom has a lot in common with Kris Kristofferson’s “Me and Bobby McGee“:

Take away lyric:

Freedom’s just another word for nothin’ left to lose,

Nothin’ ain’t worth nothin’ but it’s free.

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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Sunday Cartoon Blogging – March 26, 2017

From the NYT: (brackets by the Wrongologist)

33 Republicans stopped the [Trumpcare] bill. 15 were from the “Freedom Caucus,” 10 were “moderates” mostly from the Northeast (the “Tuesday Group”), some of whose districts went for Clinton, and 8 were miscellaneous (“One said he was concerned about its changes to Medicaid expansion, another preferred a full repeal and a third said he was worried about the bill’s impact on treatment for opioid abuse”).

Republicans control 237 seats of the 435 seats in the House. It requires 218 votes to pass a bill. When Paul Ryan and Donald Trump lost 33 Republican votes, the bill couldn’t pass, and had to be withdrawn. That means the GOP really doesn’t control the House, and that’s unchanged since John Boehner was Speaker.

The Republicans have majority control of the House and the Senate. They also have the self-proclaimed greatest deal-maker sitting in the Oval Office.  They have been talking about repealing Obamacare for seven years since it was signed into law, and they couldn’t get their own party to fall in line.

But Trump isn’t a deal maker, he’s a salesman.

And that’s a huge difference. Savvy business people seem willing to buy whatever he is selling. He seems to have the charisma and persuasiveness that in his prior life, made him a top earner as a real estate mogul.

But there’s a difference between making a sale and making a deal. Deal making is hard; you have to build trust, you have to establish real relationships, you need a mastery of your deal points and those of the person on the other side. It can be slow, grinding work.

Trump doesn’t do that, he’s never done that. His entire career is a lurch from one deal to the next, and his Presidency is no different. Trump closed the sale with the American people, but once elected, his job is to make deals.

On to cartoons.

A funny thing happened on the way to the Obamacare execution:

GOP’s Health Care March Madness bracket is now busted:

Boehner shows Ryan how to cope with Freedom Caucus:

Expect the GOP to keep trying to replace Obamacare until we all do this:

Sen. Menendez (D-NJ) burns the GOP:

Sadly, Menendez is also a joke of a Senator. He is about to go on trial for public corruption. Still, the tweet is funny.

Gorsuch epic head-fakes are now a required course in sports:

Trump’s Poodle, Devin Nunes can’t be counted on to keep secrets well, secret:

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