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The Wrongologist

Geopolitics, Power and Political Economy

Tillerson: We’re Staying In Syria

The Daily Escape:

Coquina Rock outcropping, early morning, Flager Beach FL – 2017 photo by sir_oki

(By the time you read this, you may know if the US Congress has willfully kicked another own goal by allowing another government shutdown. If it has happened, it will be because Republicans couldn’t keep their factions in line in the House, and that the Democrats wouldn’t help the GOP in the Senate. As Wrongo writes this, there’s no sign that either are in place, but Wrongo thinks they will avert a shutdown.)

Secretary of State Tillerson visited Stanford University, and spoke about our threadbare geopolitical strategy. From the Guardian:

The US intends to maintain an open-ended military presence in Syria, not only to fight Isis and AL-Qaeda but also to provide a bulwark against Iranian influence, ensure the departure of the Assad regime and create conditions for the return of refugees…

This is laughable. Think about the results to date on our Syrian strategy: US-backed jihadis along with the Assad regime have wrecked Syria, and changed the politics in Europe because of massive refugee migration. And the politics on the ground in Syria are unchanged.

Tillerson’s speech was more of the same old, same old about challenges and threats, some of which are unrelated to a grand strategy of US in the Middle East. But the most basic question, why the US remains in Syria, (and in the Middle East in general), were not addressed, much less answered.

It doesn’t take a 6’3” 239-pound geopolitical genius to figure out that the Trump administration’s prime ME directive is the containment and roll back of Iran’s influence in the region. But our partners are unreliable, and in some cases, disagree with this strategy. Wishful thinking is a bad basis for strategy, it is really a recipe for yet another ME disaster.

The hidden hands enabling America’s obsession with Iran, a country that presents zero military threat to us, are Israel and Saudi Arabia. Israel wants Iran-friendly Hezbollah neutralized in Syria and Lebanon, and is willing to fight to the last American in pursuit of that objective. The Saudis are fighting Iran for dominance in the region.

By carving out territory in Syria, we are creating a fundamentally weak situation, both militarily and politically. Over the next few months, Assad will prevail, and that will be the end of the Syrian civil war. Then, something entirely new will emerge. The Northeast of Syria, the Kurdish-controlled areas where we are placing our 2,000 ground troops, will become a main focus for Syria, Turkey and Syria’s allies, Russia and Iran.

And here, we enter uncharted political territory. We have no legal right to occupy a portion of Syria, and we must expect that at some point, Syria and Russia will call us on that. What will be our response? Is Trump willing to head-to-head with them, and possibly see US troops killed? For what?

Tactically, we have aligned with the Syrian Kurds to try and check a regional grouping who will surround our position. Worse, our policy is opposed by our ally, Turkey, who wants us to stop helping (and arming) the Kurds.

We are engaging in more superficial thinking about the ME, once again attempting to reshape the region. And to help us, we are counting on a rapprochement between Saudi-Arabia and Israel. It also requires them to commit military support to American efforts to block the combined interests of Russia, Iran, Iraq, Syria and Turkey.

When you listen to Tillerson, you would think that the US had defeated ISIS, and our troops are there for the mop-up, that the Syrians, Russians and Iranians were hardly involved. Little of that is true.

Tillerson’s Syrian manifesto requires that Assad step down, now by losing an election, because evicting him by force proved impossible. Yet, it seems probable that Assad would win a fair election.

Isn’t Tillerson’s plan just more neo-con regime change? Think about Iraq. The US wanted Saddam out, and thus handed the country to Iran. In Syria, the goal was to oust Assad. Now, Assad is staying, and Russia has an unprecedented footprint in the region.

Under Trump, we have no end-game in Syria, or in Afghanistan. We choose to sit in the middle of a divided region: Arab vs. Persian, Kurds vs. Turks, Sunni vs. Shia, Saudi Arabia vs. Iran, Israel vs. Palestine, and remnants of ISIS vs. everyone else.

It is a powder keg waiting to go off.

Has Tillerson come up with a sound strategy? Definitely not.

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What Is Free Speech In the Domain of Social Media?

The Daily Escape:

Sunrise with full moon over mountains at Morillion, France – 2018 photo by osg28

Can we justify taking away a person’s First Amendment right of free speech because of its content? Suppose it is hate speech? In the US, we hear people say: “I hate what you say, but I’ll defend your right to say it“. Is that an inviolable default position?

Wrongo has been following this issue as it plays out in Europe. From the Columbia Journalism Review:

A toxic combination of misinformation, hate speech, and online harassment is pushing several European countries to take action against social networks like Facebook, Twitter, and YouTube. But some believe their actions—however well-intentioned—run the risk of stifling free speech and putting dangerous restrictions on freedom of the press.

France, Germany, and the UK are all either discussing, or are already in the process of implementing requirements for social networks to take measures to remove, or block online hate speech, and/or harassment.

Germany in particular is a laboratory for these issues. The Guardian reports that social media firms must remove hate speech, or face fines under a law that went into force on January 1st. The law is known as NetzDG. Under the law, online platforms face fines of up to $60 million if they do not remove “obviously illegal” hate speech and other postings within 24 hours of receiving a notification. A New Year’s Eve tweet by a far-right politician was the first post to be taken down. From the Economist: (emphasis by Wrongo)

‘WHAT the hell is wrong with this country?’ fumed Beatrix von Storch to her 30,000 Twitter followers on December 31st: ‘Why is the official police page in NRW [North Rhine-Westphalia] tweeting in Arabic?’ The MP for the hard-right Alternative for Germany (AfD) party detected in the force’s multilingual new-year greeting a bid ‘to appease the barbaric, Muslim, rapist hordes of men’. The next day her tweet—and, for 12 hours, her entire account, vanished from Twitter.

In Germany, freedom of speech is considered an “inalienable human right”, and is protected under Article 5 (1) of the German constitution:

Everyone has the right freely to express and to disseminate his opinion by speech, writing and pictures and freely to inform himself from generally accessible sources. Freedom of the press and freedom of reporting by radio and motion pictures are guaranteed. There shall be no censorship.

From the Economist:

Germany’s memories of the Gestapo and the Stasi undergird its commitment to free speech. “There shall be no censorship,” decrees the constitution. Even marches by Pegida, an Islamophobic and anti-immigrant movement founded in 2014, receive police protection. But the country of Kristallnacht and the Holocaust also takes a punitive attitude to what it deems “hate speech”. Inciting hatred can carry a prison sentence of up to five years…Irmela Mensah-Schramm, a Berlin pensioner who spray-paints over swastikas and other racist graffiti, is a national hero.

The debate in Germany is whether the NetzDG law should be repealed or modified. How practical is it in an age when a tweet, Facebook post, or YouTube video can spread around the world in minutes?

But the largest question is how can countries balance the people’s legitimate right to free speech with others’ desire to be protected against harmful material? In another German case, Israeli flags were burned in Berlin in response to Trump’s recognition of Jerusalem as the country’s capital. Even with accompanying chants of “Israel, murderer of children”, local police said the act was covered by freedom of speech legislation, and was thus protected.

But should a Muslim immigrant anti-Semite in Germany be allowed to use hate speech that a native German cannot?

Facebook and Twitter have added German-fluent moderators and a few features for flagging controversial content. They have trained their moderators to cope with the NetzDG Act.

Another question is why should the giant social media firms have to regulate free speech? Is it acceptable that private US companies act as a brake on freedom of opinion and the press in Germany?

And how do we “equalize” enforcement of the Free Speech laws in the physical and cyber domains? And where does free expression cross the line between a viewpoint and hatred and incitement to violence?

Should we be ceding control of Free Speech to poorly-paid (and possibly poorly-educated) Facebook and Twitter moderators?

Finally, how will private firms create a tool that grades how hateful a Twitter post is? Who decides that something is beyond say, a seven on the scale, has crossed into hate territory, and must be deleted?

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Monday Wake Up – Martin Luther King, Jr

The Daily Escape:

Two mules draw a farm wagon bearing the casket of Rev. Martin Luther King, Jr. April 9, 1968.

From Katie Mitchell at Bustle:

This year marks the 50th anniversary of Martin Luther King Jr.’s assassination on April 4, 1968. But as a country, in the half-century since King’s death, we haven’t come as far as many involved in the Civil Rights Movement would have hoped. Martin Luther King Jr. Day 2018…comes in the midst of a turbulent social climate, where white nationalists can openly march on college campuses and the president of the United States calls Haiti, which has a majority Black population, a “sh*thole country”…

So true. But Wrongo wants us to focus today on the role of music in the 1960’s. Dr. King described how significant and liberating that music had been to activists in the Freedom Movement:

Much of the power of our Freedom Movement in the United States has come from the music. It has strengthened us with its sweet rhythms when courage began to fail. It has calmed us with its rich harmonies when spirits were down.

Wrongo was reminded of this by a NYT article describing a collaboration between Carnegie Hall and Robert Caro, the historian who has spent much of his lifetime chronicling president Lyndon Johnson. Together, they are hosting a 10-week festival about the 1960’s. Caro says this about the music of the time: (emphasis by Wrongo)

I’ve written about what to me, is the supreme moment showing the power of music to create social change, which was when Johnson took the title of the most important anthem in his 1965 televised address to Congress a week after the Selma march, when he called for passage of a voting rights act. “It’s not just Negroes,” he said, “but really it’s all of us, who must overcome the crippling legacy of bigotry and injustice. And we shall overcome.” The president of the United States takes the key line of the anthem, and uses it to help push the bill through. That’s the power of music.

Today’s wake up is for all of us who remember the political role that music had in the 1960s. It was a call to action, it was a healing salve on wounds, and it united many behind an idea.

And where is today’s protest music? It exists, and has tried to land a few blows, like music did in the ‘60s. But where politically charged music comes from, what it sounds like, who performs it, and how someone identities with it is radically different.

Unlike earlier eras of American popular resistance, there is no single centralized scene for protest songs. Today, protest music travels in a wide range of styles. And today, “protest music” seems like a redundant term; when all identities are politicized, all music feels political.  From Pitchfork:

Joey Bada$$ lamented the “Three K’s, two A’s in AmeriKKKa,” and Kendrick Lamar parsed the prejudice pulling at society’s ever-tenuous seams. The punk band Downtown Boys, led by Latinx frontwoman Victoria Ruiz, flung their stones against “A Wall.” The electrosoul twins Ibeyi remixed Michelle Obama’s wisdom into an elegy, and Hurray for the Riff Raff’s Alynda Segarra, a queer Puerto Rican singer-songwriter, refracted Trump’s hostility towards minorities into a bilingual cry for courage. Perfume Genius’ Mike Hadreas, who is gay, reveled in the euphoria of self-acceptance and teased the zealotry that would blithely stomp his civil rights.

Check out some, or none. Things are different in a different time.

Back to the 1960’s. Here are two selections from the first few days after Dr. King’s assassination. First, Otis Spann and his “Blues for Martin Luther King”. Spann, arguably the greatest blues pianist, and a feature in Muddy Waters’ band, performed this in a storefront church in Chicago, even as buildings were burning all around the church from the riots that erupted after the fatal shooting:

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

Second, listen to Nina Simone playing “Why? (The King of Love is Dead)”. The song was written by Simone’s bass player, Gene Taylor. Here it is performed live on April 7, 1968, three days after the death of MLK at Long Island NY’s Westbury Music Fair. At 12 minutes long, it is outstanding, and well worth your time:

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

Voting rights, Medicare and Medicaid are all under assault right now. They were passed in the 1960s. Every day, the GOP is trying to dismantle them.

Reflect on that on the 50th anniversary of Dr. King’s death.

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Sunday Cartoon Blogging – January 14, 2018

Let’s make something clear. When Trump called Africa and Haiti “shitholes”, the issue wasn’t that the president swore in the Oval Office, that surely has happened with all modern presidents. No one in the media should have a fainting spell because Trump swears. The issue was saying we should promote immigration from predominantly white countries like Norway. That made what Trump said racist. It also places Trump out of the mainstream. Americans have always looked all over the world for talent, and then lured it to our shores.

People migrate primarily for wealth and/or safety, and since the early 1900s, America has offered both. That was the main reason many waves of Europeans came at first, and later, people from other, non-white places came to this country.

Bloomberg View offers some insight about African immigrants: (emphasis by Wrongo)

According to Census data, more than 43% of African immigrants hold a bachelor’s degree or higher — slightly more than immigrants from East Asia. Nigerian immigrants are especially educated, with almost two-thirds holding college degrees — a significantly higher percentage even than Chinese or South Korean immigrants…That education translates into higher household income. Nigerian-Americans, for instance, have a median household income well above the American average, and above the average of many white and Asian groups, such as those of Dutch or Korean descent.

Trump wrongly equates the worth of individuals with the place where they come from, probably like many of his supporters.

This is what Trump meant by strict vetting of immigrants:

Trump’s staffer Steven Miller auditions as the new Lady Liberty:

Mueller asks to speak with Kaiser Tweeto:

Jeff Sessions goes after marijuana. It doesn’t fully mellow him:

Why Florida is exempted from off-shore drilling:

Donny offered new words for the National Anthem when he went to the football game:

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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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Bankers Gotta Bank

The Daily Escape:

Drake Hooded Mergansers with a female Common Merganser tagging along. Housatonic River, Litchfield County CT – January 9, 2018 photo by JH Clery

You missed it. During the Christmas holiday week, the Trump Administration published a notice in the federal register announcing that it would waive the outstanding criminal sanctions against some of the world’s largest banks: Citigroup, JPMorgan, Barclays, UBS and Deutsche Bank.

The banks were facing sanctions stemming from a variety of wrongdoing, including the trillions’ worth of fraud in the LIBOR scandal, and Deutsche Bank’s role in laundering $10B for Russian oligarchs.

The LIBOR fraud effected every interest rate in the world.

Four of the banks receiving waivers, Citigroup, JPMorgan, Barclays and UBS, received temporary waivers from the Obama administration late in 2016 for one year. Now, the Trump administration has offered five-year waivers to Citigroup, JPMorgan and Barclays, and three-year waivers to UBS and Deutsche Bank.

By laws that protect retirement savings, financial firms with affiliates convicted of violating securities statutes are barred from the lucrative business of managing those savings. But, a special exemption will allow these banks to keep their status as “qualified professional asset managers”.

It makes you wonder what a bank has to do to get punished, or for a bank president to go to jail, when laundering money for drug dealers and manipulating global interest rates aren’t serious enough crimes. We’ve entered a period of extreme social stratification in this country, one that is similar to India’s: The bankers and politicians are the Brahmins and the rest of us are the untouchables.

These interactions with the Trump administration and the federal government are transpiring as Deutsche remains a key creditor for Donald Trump’s businesses. From David Sirota:

Donald Trump owes the German bank at least $130 million in loans, according to the president’s most recent financial disclosure form. Sources have told the Financial Times the total amount of money Trump owes Deutsche is likely around $300 million. The president’s relationship with the bank dates back to the late 1990s, when it was the one major Wall Street bank willing to extend him credit after a series of bankruptcies. In 2016, the Wall Street Journal reported Trump and his companies have received at least $2.5 billion in loans from Deutsche Bank and co-lenders since 1998.

In the year leading up to the new waiver for Deutsche Bank, Trump’s financial relationship with the firm prompted allegations of a conflict of interest. The bank also faced Justice Department scrutiny by five separate government-appointed independent monitors.

Meanwhile, the NYT recently reported that federal prosecutors subpoenaed Deutsche for:

Bank records about entities associated with the family company of Jared Kushner, President Trump’s son-in-law and senior adviser.

Not enough for you? The just-appointed number two in the DOJ’s office of the US Attorney for the Southern District of New York, is Robert Khuzami, formerly director of the SEC’s Enforcement Division. And before that, he was Deutsche Bank’s General Counsel.

Nothing to see here. Conflicts of interest are all over this case. Trump’s waiver is a clear conflict of interest. And both his son-in-law Jared and the new US Attorney have more than incidental relationships with Deutsche.

First Obama went easy on the banksters, and now, so does Kaiser Tweeto.

Republicans are happy to see Der Trump helping the banking industry and not pursuing them. And thanks to President Clinton, they no longer suffer under the restrictions of the Glass/Steagall act.

But, what about the conflicts of interest?

Who in this rogue’s gallery is working for us?

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GOP Asks “Hillbilly Elegy” Author To Run For Senate

The Daily Escape:

Snow in the Sahara Desert, Algeria. The snow lasted only a few hours on the ground, since the average low winter temperature is 54°F – 2018 photo by Zinnedine Hashas

With the speculation about Oprah as a candidate, we knew it wouldn’t be long before the Republicans dredged up a celebrity non-politician too. Politico is reporting that Mitch McConnell wants JD Vance to run for the Senate in Ohio against Dem incumbent Sherrod Brown:

Top Senate Republicans have quietly reached out to J.D. Vance — the star author of “Hillbilly Elegy” — about running for Senate in Ohio after the abrupt withdrawal of GOP candidate Josh Mandel last week… McConnell has told associates that he would prioritize the race if Vance jumps in.

McConnell has a good idea. If Vance runs, he is interesting enough to force Democrats to defend an otherwise safe Senate seat. People seem to think Vance is a white working class whisperer.

Wrongo and Ms. Right were persuaded by many Eastern Liberal Elite friends to read Mr. Vance’s book. The pitch was that Vance explains to liberals why white Trump voters from southeastern Ohio and West Virginia wouldn’t vote for Hillary, and don’t lean progressive in their politics.

Maybe. Wrongo thinks that by writing his book, JD Vance was just pushing propaganda that fits the policy preferences of leading Republicans. Try reading this:

We spend our way into the poorhouse. We buy giant TVs and iPads. Our children wear nice clothes thanks to high-interest credit cards and payday loans. We purchase homes we don’t need, refinance them for more spending money, and declare bankruptcy. . . . Thrift is inimical to our being.

Or, this:

We choose not to work when we should be looking for jobs…

Vance’s stereotypes are shark bait for conservative policymakers. They feed the mythology that the undeserving poor make bad choices and are to blame for their own poverty, so why waste taxpayer money on programs to help lift people out of poverty? After all, Vance got out of hillbilly Ohio without them.

People shouldn’t decide policy based on Vance’s anecdotes; they should care about the bigger picture. After all, are conversations with cab drivers a sound basis for economic and geopolitical policy?

It is depressing that Vance places so much blame on welfare rather than, say, neoliberalism and corporatism. They are the ideologies that moved jobs offshore. Their firms leveraged, and later bankrupted manufacturing firms in the heartland. They are the ones who precipitated the economic holocaust in Middle America.

And despite what Vance tells us, most poor people work. Of the families on Medicaid, 78% include a household member who is working. People work hard in jobs that often don’t pay them enough to live on.

After graduation from Yale, JD Vance became a venture capitalist. First, he worked in Silicon Valley for Peter Thiel, and now works for Revolution LLC, a Washington, DC-based venture capital firm, co-founded by AOL founders Steve Case and Ted Leonsis.

It is fair to say that Vance’s hillbilly days are way back in the rear-view mirror. Yet, he remains naïve. He was on “Face The Nation” on December 31st, talking about the Trump tax cut:

When the president talks about tax reform, he talks about the people who will benefit…He talks about American jobs. He talks about the fact that we’re going to be taking money that’s overseas and bringing it back to the US so that it will employ American workers. I think that focus again on the American working and middle class is- is-is to me the most thoughtful and, in some ways, the most genius part of Trump’s approach to politics.

Vance just revealed himself to be another reptilian conservative. We should remember this quote from economist J. K. Galbraith:

The modern conservative is engaged in one of man’s oldest exercises in moral philosophy; that is, the search for a superior moral justification for selfishness.

The grift goes on.

 

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Funding Infrastructure: America’s Great Challenge

The Daily Escape:

Skye Peak, Killington VT – December 2017 photo by wsquared1

Wrongo is Vice-Chair of his town’s roads committee. Just like America, our small town has an infrastructure problem; we have let our roads deteriorate through years of underfunding. It’s a small town, and most of our roads are paved, but today, like most of America, our roads grade out at “D”. That compares to the American Society of Civil Engineers’ grade of “D+” for all of America’s infrastructure.

The federal expenditure to make things right is on the order of $4 Trillion, or 100% of the 2018 federal budget of $4.095 Trillion. About $2 Trillion of that is currently unfunded. Our town is in a smaller boat. We just received a consultant’s report saying that to bring our roads up to an “A” grade would take a one-time expense equal to roughly 45% of the town’s annual budget.

Today we started preparation for the January town council meeting that will address funding of our roads. The fundamental challenge is that we will have to double our spending on roads just to maintain our current “D” rating.

This deferred maintenance is the result of years of underfunding, years of making decisions that directed money to the most obvious projects and programs. Politicians get elected on fiscal responsibility, and then take the shortest-term possible view of what to fund in the budget process.

Accountability is elusive, even when the same pols are on the scene year after year.

The town council’s first question will be: What will this investment get us? Will more people choose to buy/build a home in our town? Will businesses think we are a better location for their next store, shop or factory? And will those decisions add to our tax revenues? Will our roads be safer?

Assuming the answer to question one is positive and persuasive, the council’s second question will be: What parts of our existing budget do we cut in order to fund this need?

This is the crux of America’s problem today.

Government at all levels refuses to raise taxes or other forms of revenue. On the town level, we have little desire to cut expenses for our schools, or our town management. In fact, the pressure is always to increase those budgets.

Turning the desirable into the possible is politically challenging, even though at the Federal level, deficit spending is the rule, not the exception. At the local level, it is always the exception. Our town has a credit rating of AA+, so we have the ability to use bond financing in this historically low rate environment, just like the federal government can and does.

The challenge is how to get the town’s people on the same page, how to convince them that it is smart to finance a long-term asset (like a reconstructed road) with a long-term liability (like a bond).

We call assets like our roads part of the commons: Assets that are not owned by an individual, but by the group, such as the town. The roads are a community resource belonging to all of us, which must be actively maintained and managed for the good of all.

A prime principle is that infrastructure investment be directed to the projects where the return for the economy is the greatest. We should rebuild roads and bridges where we will see a boost to the economy, or as required to maintain citizen safety.

Nobody wins if the commons are allowed to erode. Nobody wins if the commons are appropriated by private ownership.

Funding the commons is one of the greatest challenges facing America. Beware the “public-private partnerships” that the GOP currently has on offer for us.

They lead to absentee ownership, and to skimming part of our tax revenues for a corporation far from home.

Absentee ownership leads to poorer maintenance, and fewer repairs.

And to a lower quality of life for the rest of us.

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Monday Wake Up Call – January 8, 2018

The Daily Escape:

Frozen Waterfall in Adirondacks – 2018 photo by I_am_Bob

A December 29th WSJ article charted the growing gulf in health and well-being between urban and rural America:

About 1 in 7 Americans live in rural parts of the country—1,800 counties that sit outside any metropolitan area. A generation ago, most of these places had working economies, a strong social fabric and a way of life that drew a steady stream of urban migrants. Today, many are in crisis. Populations are aging, more working-age adults collect disability, and trends in teen pregnancy and divorce are diverging for the worse from metro areas. Deaths by suicide and in maternity are on the rise. Bank lending and business startups are falling behind

These rural counties now rank the worst among the four major US population groupings (the others are big cities, suburbs and medium or small metro areas). In November 2016, these rural districts voted overwhelmingly for Donald Trump, based in part on his pledge to revive these forgotten towns by scaling back trade agreements, ending illegal immigration and encouraging manufacturing companies to hire more American workers. He also promised a $1 trillion infrastructure bill that would help create jobs, but, like the other promises, it may never become a reality.

Back in the late 1970s – 1980s, the nation’s basket cases were its urban areas. A toxic stew of crime, drugs and suburban flight made large cities the slowest-growing and most troubled places. But violent crime in the cities (despite claims by a well-known, Very Stable Genius) have declined to the point that there no longer is any “safety premium” from living in rural America.

Today, by most key measures of socioeconomic well-being, the largest cities are as safe, and are much wealthier than our rural and small metro areas.

For decades, America’s small towns barely grew. Rural families had just enough children to offset losses from those who left, and those who died. The decline in median household income is reflective of that trend. The graph below is based on census data. It shows that household incomes (adjusted for inflation) peaked around the end of the Clinton administration and continue to decline, and not just in rural areas:

 

 

These rural parts of America are caught in the vise of limited economic opportunity coupled with terrible health outcomes.

About half of these counties would be called “failed states” if they were countries, meaning that the infrastructure of skilled labor, healthcare, privately owned commerce and aggregate demand for goods and services are not enough to make them economically viable.

Education gaps also have long-term consequences. More jobs, particularly full-time jobs with benefits, require a bachelor’s or advanced degree. Without a larger share of college graduates, small towns have little hope of closing the income gap.

Solution? We need to create a way to finance those who might be willing to move to economically viable regions. Many people today can make a living just by being connected by phone and internet.

If they were to choose to reside in a rural town, they would become an economic generator, helping these communities that truly need the help. If the nascent infrastructure proposals by the GOP include building up our nation’s broadband system, it could help to support a dispersed work group more easily.

Every demographic region except rural America has improved on most quality of life measurements. In those aspects where things have gotten worse, such as diabetes and suicide rates, rural America has the highest rates.

Time for America to wake up: We need a Marshall Plan right here at home to renovate our small towns and rural areas. To help you wake up, listen and watch the Philadelphia sextet The War on Drugs perform “Holding On” from their 2017 album “A Deeper Understanding”. Watch the atmospheric video:

Takeaway Lyric:

I went down a crooked highway
I went all outside the line
I’ve been rejected, now the light has turned and I’m out of time

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

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Sunday Cartoon Blogging – January 7, 2018

Via the NYT comes proof that satire is dead:

Trump, in an extraordinary defense of his mental capacity and fitness for office, described himself on Saturday as a ‘genius’ and ‘a very stable genius at that.’

Very Stable Genius has the Biggest Button. Very Stable Genius could probably solve the opioid crisis on his first try, if only he would try. This is Trump’s version of Nixon’s “I am not a crook.” The fact that he has to say he’s smart says he has a really big problem. And if America doesn’t believe him, it could be enough to cripple him.

If he could read, shit would really hit the fan:

The vaudeville act ends:

Trump is the best negotiator:

The two Koreas are taking about NorKo participating in the Winter Olympics. What could go wrong?

Iran takes up Trump’s mantra:

Mitt looks for his principles. They seem to be missing:

Trump gives Congress a message about the 2018 legislative agenda:

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