Saturday Soother – August 19, 2017

The Daily Escape:

Orchha, on the banks of the Betwa River, India – photo by Arian Zwegers cc 2.0

Quite the week: After threatening nuclear war with North Korea, musing about invading Venezuela, and equivocating over Charlottesville, Trump folded two advisory councils and then decided against forming a council on Infrastructure. He also Twitter-attacked more Republican senators than Democrats this week, a bad strategy for someone who can’t be sure what Special Counsel Mueller may come up with.

But, according to a Survey Monkey poll as reported by Axios, Trump’s statements about Charlottesville have overwhelming support of Republican voters. Survey Monkey asked whether people agreed with a verbatim quote from President Trump on Tuesday:

You had a group on one side that was bad, and you had a group on the other side that was also very violent

Republicans agreed with the Trump comment, 87%-11%. Democrats disagreed, 83%-15%. Independents disagreed, 59%-39%.

When we no longer agree on basic facts, civil debate is impossible.

This is a dangerous moment. America is split. We need to stop fighting about the little things. Wrongo usually is against “slippery slope” arguments, but will make an exception in the case of our Civil War history: What is the objective of removing Civil War statues and monuments? Will their removal change the historical record of slavery?

Of course not. How would supporters of removal say we should polarize the continuum of history? What would be next? Removal of history books that mention the Confederacy or former slave owners?

One of Wrongo’s favorite histories of the Civil War is “A Diary from Dixie” by Mary Boykin Chestnut. It is a day-to-day diary of her experience as a southern partisan during the Civil War. Most Civil War historians have read and consulted it in the preparation of their own work. Should we burn the book because it was written by a slave-holding partisan?

Of course not.

Many want to draw a red line regarding slavery and the Civil War, and that is totally understandable. But where to draw it? Can it be drawn in a way that keeps our children in touch with our past, even the sordid bits?

We need to own our history.

We should ignore the false moral equivalencies mentioned by Trump, such as Lee and Washington. Both owned slaves, so statues of Washington must go too. It is true that both owned slaves, but Washington fought to build this country, while Lee fought to destroy it in support of slavery.

Some have pointed to the fact that Jews would never let Auschwitz, Dachau or Buchenwald be taken down. This is another false equivalency. Auschwitz is maintained not to celebrate Nazism, but to show its horrors.

Maybe that IS the lesson: Add interpretation to the Confederate monuments: Make them say that we do not want anyone to forget what happened, and that we want to make sure it can never happen again.

It’s Saturday, so we MUST get some distance between where we are as a country now, and where we need to be.

Wrongo’s prescription? Brew a cup of Brooklyn’s  Toby’s Estate El Ramo Columbian coffee. El Ramo means the bouquet in Spanish ($14 for 12oz.), close the door, and put on your over-the-ear headphones. Now, listen to G.P. Telemann’s “Concerto in G major for Viola, Strings and Basso continuo, TWV 51:G9”.

Wrongo and Ms. Right heard it last week at the final summer concert of the New Baroque Soloists at the Washington Meeting House in Washington, Connecticut. Here it is performed live by the Remember Barockorchester, in the Unser Lieben Frauen Church, Bremen, on November 21st, 2015:

The Viola Soloist is Tomoe Badiarova

Those who read the Wrongologist in email supplied by the execrable Feedburner, can view the video here.


Getting Past Charlottesville

The Daily Escape:

Upper Peninsula MI, 2017 – photo by Otto Heldring

There’s a depressing overtone to Charlottesville that suggests the arc of history is the energy behind the story. Is the nation’s soul about to be divided as it has been many times before? Americans get two chits: One for the ballot box, and another for the soap box. Many people feel compelled to use both. The existential question is how best to use them.

The Charlottesville incident left a woman dead, and many others badly injured from a car-ramming. It has the flavor of a “first shot” in a new civil war. And the president’s criticisms of counter-protesters in Charlottesville seem to be far outside the mainstream. Frank Bruni, NYT:

We’re stuck for now with a morally bankrupt plutocrat for president, someone so defensive and deluded that he’s urging more nuance in the appraisal of neo-Nazis.

Still, many Republicans have been reluctant to condemn Trump’s Charlottesville rhetoric. The right would do well to excise any association with the Hitlerites who chanted “blood and soil” in their torch-lit pseudo Nuremberg rally in Virginia. America remains the land of the free and the home of the brave, but Nazis? Nein, Danke.

We have two conflicts arising from Charlottesville:

  • Does every group still have the right to assemble (peacefully) and speak their minds?
  • What are we to do about the symbols from our divided past?

The 1st Amendment protects most speech, but not the sensibilities of those who are exposed to it. Some speech is guaranteed to be offensive. America has lived with neo-Nazis, the KKK, et al for Wrongo’s entire lifetime, and has survived it, no matter how odious. Even the ACLU assisted the neo-Nazis in Charlottesville.

But there are recognized limits. No one has a right to incite violence. Individuals have no right to defame someone. Some of the limits are easier to define than others: The concept of inciting a riot can lead to a subjective reading of the facts and the application of nebulous standards.

Today’s wrinkle are the armed demonstrators. They imply that a peaceful assembly could be placed at grave risk at any moment. It shouldn’t be difficult to foresee that local people will come out to confront neo-Nazis and white supremacists that are marching in their town. That creates even greater risk of physical violence, and requires that local police are well-trained and disciplined.

Second, there are Confederate statues all over America. The white supremacists who went to Charlottesville to “protect” Lee’s statue need to hear that we will not re-litigate the Civil War. The south’s and the nation’s history are what they are. The Civil War should be given due weight, learned from, pondered, and not shunted aside. Are Robert E. Lee’s existence, deeds, and historical relevance news to anyone?

A suggestion: In Bulgaria, the USSR monuments were removed and placed in a single museum park. The museum’s collection covers the period 1944 to 1989, from the introduction of communism in Bulgaria, to the end of the totalitarian regime. Herding those statues into one place makes a statement that speaks loudly about the era, and how the USSR deprived Bulgarians of their rights.

Maybe a few such statue parks could have a similar effect here.

Let’s not get sidetracked from the most important issue before us: How we remake the US economy so that it provides a decent standard of living and expanding opportunity to as many people as possible.

There are plenty of “deplorables” who would benefit from universal health care, inexpensive college tuition for their children, infrastructure that worked, and good-paying jobs. Uniting the US population around programs that achieve these goals would do much to subdue the angry ethnic divisions that these “political entrepreneurs” are trying to foment.

Moreover, this program is not of the right or the left.

It’s a path toward political stability and a better society – one that would allow people the opportunity to develop into contributing, thoughtful citizens, capable of fully participating in the Republic.

Ok, a tune to help you think about peaceful assembly and whether the statues should stay or go. Here is Depeche Mode with “Where’s The Revolution” from their 2017 album “Spirit”. Wrongo didn’t know they were still working, much less producing relevant tunes:

Takeaway Lyric:

You’ve been kept down
You’ve been pushed ’round
You’ve been lied to
You’ve been fed truths
Who’s making your decisions?
You or your religion
Your government, your countries
You patriotic junkies

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


Trump Can’t Lead

The Daily Escape:

Zion NP Utah, 2001 – photo by Wrongo

Leader of the Free World. Leader of the Republican Party. Commander-in-Chief. Leader of the US Government. Donald Trump holds all of these titles, but he isn’t a leader. We just lived through a lab experiment in Trump’s leadership, his curious response to the Charlottesville protests. Either he had a lapse in clear thinking, or he cannot show empathy when the rest of us need it.

Either way, he failed as a leader.

On Saturday, America reacted to a moment in which armed racism was celebrated by members of the KKK, neo-Nazis, white nationalists and white supremacists, who sought a confrontation to help them achieve high status among the far right. The ugliness of the rally – which included crowds of young white men carrying torches, an air of menace, and the offering of the Nazi salute — should make our president think about how not just to defuse the situation, but how to blunt this from becoming a wave of similar protests across the nation.

Trump’s remarks on Saturday said in essence, “All lives matter”. By Monday, when most of America thought that what he said was far less than the situation required, he gave a terse speech saying:

Racism is evil…Those who cause violence in its name are criminals and thugs, including the KKK, neo-Nazis, white supremacists and other hate groups that are repugnant to everything we hold dear as Americans.

There was no emotion or believability behind it, he said what he was told needed to be said, not what he believed. Where was Trump’s sympathy for Jews, African-Americans, Muslims and others that these white-right protesters savaged?

And where was his leadership? Richard Neustadt wrote “Presidential Power” in 1960, a definitive book for its time. Wrongo read it as a freshman in college. Here is a quote:

The president’s primary power is to persuade and bargain, not to command. When a president has to resort to commanding people, he is showing weakness. Commands only work in very special circumstances. The essence of a President’s persuasive task is to convince…that what the White House wants of them is what they ought to do for their sake…

The power to persuade is perhaps the most important tool a president has. Power in our government is dispersed, so the president must bargain and persuade others that what he knows is in their best interest, and coach them to move in the right direction. Do you see Trump doing that?

Dr. Christine Porath of Georgetown thinks that “warmth” is the most important trait for a leader to have:

Warmth is the primary characteristic that people judge you by, and they make that judgment first…Can I trust you? If you seem warm, then that’s great…Leading with warmth, for leaders, has shown to be helpful. It’s a way to connect with people and again they’re more likely to work harder for you and perform better.

Do you see any warmth in Trump? Any empathy? It isn’t there.

Neustadt agrees. He calls how the public views the president, “public prestige”. Even though the public has no direct association to policymaking, the public’s view of the president affects how legislation moves through the Congress and into law. Neustadt also says that a president should think and act prospectively, so decisions he makes today aid his ability to persuade tomorrow.

Trump’s opinion polls are in the dumpster. A very small core of Americans find him believable.

Scott Adams the Dilbert guy, has said that Trump is a master persuader, and that he won the election because of his mad persuasion skills. But, those skills, which did seem to exist in the 2016 primaries and general election, have deserted Der Trump, and have been replaced by continuing Twitter attacks on a growing list of institutions, groups of people, and individuals.

Charlottesville was a protest by those who define themselves not just by who they are, but by who they hate. And they also define themselves as Trump supporters. There were shouts of “Heil Trump” on Friday night. They see no benefit in finding commonality with a diverse America, but pointedly, thrive off of hating our differences.

These people are content to blame “The Others” for their lot in life, and Trump persuades mostly by telling us what he hates, rather than what he likes.

In the 1960s we had much larger, and more violent (though mostly unarmed) protests. Those protesters didn’t want to jet us back to the past, but to propel us forward to a better future.

The white nationalist agitators in Charlottesville want to return us to an era that cannot (and should not) be recreated. All in the name of making America “great again.”

And they back Trump, a charlatan who pretends to lead.


Sunday Cartoon Blogging – August 13, 2017

This just in from PBS shows how badly Democrats have hurt themselves since 2008:

After high-profile candidates lost decisively in the last two elections…the party now finds itself in unprecedented territory for the 2018 ballot: with no major candidate to run. Democratic leaders haven’t yet lined up a substantial name to represent the party and its message despite months of trying.

Ann Richards, elected in 1990, was the last Texas Democratic governor. And now, no major Dem candidate will run for governor. This is despite a booming Hispanic population and Democratic dominance in the state’s largest cities.

Democrats have expanded their advantage in California and New York. Combined, these states gave Clinton a 6 million vote edge, more than twice her national margin. But those two states elect only 4% of the Senate.

We once thought that there was an “Obama coalition” that would only grow because of demographics: Left-leaning populations were growing, America was becoming less white, and this alone would guarantee Democrat majorities well into the future. This idea has failed. Is it time for the DNC establishment to accept the awful truth that they are no longer a national party?

The Cook Political Report says that even if Democrats won every single 2018 House and Senate race for seats in districts that Hillary Clinton won, or that Trump won by less than 3 percentage points, they would still fall short of the House majority and lose five Senate seats. Some permanent majority. Time for a few new Democrats to lead.

On to cartoons. Many people pointed out that there were some similarities between Trump and Kim:

Strategic thinking, Trump-style:

Uncle Rex tells America a bedtime story:

Trump said that his North Korea comments were similar to a few other guys:

Foxconn gets $3 billion in tax breaks in exchange for building a $10 billion factory in Wisconsin. It will take 20 years for the state to break even:


Saturday Soother – August 12, 2017

The Daily Escape:

Lisbon, Portugal 2016 – photo by Wrongo

Wrongo has written many times about vote suppression, including earlier this week. We now see that the GOP in Indiana (who control the place) are disenfranchising Democratic precincts, but not the Republican ones. IndyStar, a local paper in Indianapolis, reported:

From 2008 to 2016, GOP officials expanded early voting stations in Republican dominated Hamilton County…and decreased them in the state’s biggest Democratic hotbed, Marion County.

Maybe now that GOP JeffBo is our Attorney General, Republicans feel they no longer even have to be subtle about voter suppression. More from the IndyStar:

That made voting more convenient in GOP areas for people…And the results were immediate.

Most telling, Hamilton County saw a 63% increase in absentee voting from 2008 to 2016, while Marion County saw a 26% decline. Absentee ballots are used at early voting stations.

The paper acknowledges that population growth may have played a role, but Hamilton County Clerk Kathy Richardson, a Republican, told IndyStar the rise in absentee voting in Hamilton County was largely a result of the addition of two early voting stations, which brought the total to three.

More from IndyStar:

Other Central Indiana Republican strongholds, including Boone, Johnson and Hendricks counties, also have added early voting sites — and enjoyed corresponding increases in absentee voter turnout. But not Marion County, which tends to vote Democratic, and has a large African-American population.

During that same 2008-16 period, the number of early voting stations declined from three to one in Marion County, as Republican officials blocked expansion.

Indiana voted for Obama in 2008, and apparently, that was enough for the GOP.

More early voting stations for Republican precincts in suburban white Republican counties, fewer early voting stations for Democratic precincts in urban black counties. So is this willful rigging that Republican officials are engaging in? Seems like it’s a plan.

Fewer opportunities for early voting disproportionately affects those who don’t get the early voting opportunity.

The real message here is that Indiana is showing us another level of rigging of the voting system by GOP operatives. With gerrymandering and restrictive voting practices across this country, voter suppression is the real threat to our democracy, not the very few cases of voter fraud. The question is: How do we correct this, and build a system with accountability?

We have previously reported on voter suppression here, here, here and here.

This is yet another Wrongologist column for those people who say “both parties are the same, it doesn’t matter who you vote for”. Do you get it yet?

Timeout.  Let’s go somewhere to escape from the noise and the madness of the week.

Wrongo recommends Bluetooth over the ear headphones, and a VERY generous pour of Bushmills 21-year old Irish, matured in a mixture of Oloroso Sherry and Bourbon casks, before a two year marrying period spent in Madeira casks.

For those who cannot abide alcohol, just the headphones for you.

Now, listen to the Casta Diva prayer from the opera Norma by Vincenzo Bellini, performed by Anna Netrebko in 2007 with the Symphony Orchestra of Baden-Baden und Freiburg. This opera is regarded as a leading example of the bel canto genre. The soprano prayer Casta diva occurs in Act I:

The most prolific Norma was Maria Callas, who gave 89 stage performances of the opera.

Those who read the Wrongologist in email sent by the execrable Feedburner, can view the video here.


FCC Says America Doesn’t Need Fast Internet

The Daily Escape:

Gibraltar, looking toward the Atlantic, 2016 – photo by Wrongo

The FCC has just said that Americans might not need a fast home internet connection. Instead, mobile internet via a smartphone might be all the public needs. No matter how fast the public’s internet connection is, people all over America will still be regularly accessing adult content websites such as, whether it be through their smartphone or any other device. From Ars Technica:

The suggestion comes in the FCC’s annual inquiry into broadband availability. Section 706 of the Telecommunications Act requires the FCC to determine whether broadband (or more formally, “advanced telecommunications capability”) is being deployed to all Americans in a reasonable and timely fashion. If the FCC finds that broadband isn’t being deployed quickly enough to everyone, it is required by law to “take immediate action to accelerate deployment of such capability by removing barriers to infrastructure investment and by promoting competition in the telecommunications market.”

Today’s Wrongologist column is for all of those people who said “both parties are the same, it doesn’t matter who you vote for“. Nothing like the “small government” folks at the FCC telling America what type of internet access we need. It is fortunate that there are still internet providers out their devoted to giving a high-quality service, such as the internet Nebraska has.

During the Obama administration, the FCC determined that broadband wasn’t reaching Americans fast enough, particularly in rural areas. And, they did not consider mobile broadband to be a full replacement for a home (or “fixed”) internet connection via cable, fiber, or other technologies. Many rural areas are now benefiting from higher speed internet providers moving into their locations, if you’re wanting to learn more about whether fiber could come to you look into Denham Springs news.

Last year, the FCC concluded that Americans needed BOTH home and mobile access:

34 million Americans, about 10% of the country, still lack access to fixed broadband at the FCC’s benchmark speed of 25Mbps for downloads, 3Mbps for uploads…

The FCC also concluded under then-Chairman Tom Wheeler that since home internet connections and smartphones have different capabilities and limitations, Americans should have access to both instead of just one or the other.

But now we have a Republican administration. Ajit Pai, the GOP’s new FCC Chairman, is poised to change that policy by declaring that mobile broadband with speeds of 10Mbps downstream and 1Mbps upstream is all anyone needs. This is a deep tongue kiss from the FCC to the broadband industry.

More from Ars Technica: (brackets by the Wrongologist)

This [Agit’s plan] would be the first time that the FCC has set a broadband speed standard for mobile; at 10Mbps/1Mbps, it would be less than half as fast as the FCC’s home broadband speed standard of 25Mbps/3Mbps.

In Europe you can now routinely get 250Mbps internet service, and higher speeds in parts of Asia. Good job FCC!

The changes were signaled in an FCC Notice of Inquiry, the first step toward completing a new analysis of broadband deployment. The document asks the public for comments on a variety of questions, including whether mobile broadband can substitute for fixed Internet connections.

Pai has previously made it clear that he thinks mobile broadband can substitute for fixed connections. In 2012, Pai’s first year as a member of the FCC board, he criticized the then-Democratic majority for concluding that mobile internet service can’t replace home Internet.

Those who work from home need faster speeds, and the number of “at home” workers is growing. Companies have learned that letting employees work from home gets them a lifestyle improvement by ending the weeks of their year spent commuting. Working from home also lets companies lower their commercial rents.

Consumer internet usage will increase as you’re able to read by viewing this source here and similar pages regarding internet stats in the past and future. With the current costs of mobile data, an evening of Netflix delivered by smartphone will put the average US consumer over their data plan maximum. The data caps in most mobile plans are low, and the costs of overages are high. Reliability is another issue. The service is fragile in storms, and unstable under high volume usage, such as at large public gatherings.

Do you remember the good old days when we made fun of Russia and China for their quaint infrastructure? Now, Republicans are trying to pretend the future doesn’t exist.

Maybe America doesn’t need interstate highways, local roads might be good enough. Pai is playing to Trump voters: Why would they want anything faster than mobile? They get Trump’s Twitter feed, so what else to they need?

You don’t like this? Is it making you angry?

You should know what to do by now. Hint: It usually happens on a Tuesday.

Music appreciation: Today we hear “Hymn to Freedom” by the Oscar Peterson Trio. It was written in 1962 in support of the Civil Rights movement. Here it is live in Denmark in 1964, with Oscar Peterson on Piano, Ray Brown on Bass and Ed Thigpen on Drums:

Freedom from the FCC and the Ajit Pai’s of the world is what we need.

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


The DOJ Wants Infrequent Voters Off The Voting Rolls

The Daily Escape:

Bryce Canyon, 2001  – photo by Wrongo

From Mother Jones:

The Justice Department released an amicus brief in the case, currently before the Supreme Court, over whether Ohio can continue to remove “infrequent voters” who fail to cast a ballot over a six-year period. One of those voters, Larry Harmon, is a lead plaintiff in the lawsuit brought by Demos and the ACLU of Ohio. The 60-year-old software engineer and Navy veteran voted in 2008 and then returned to the polls for a local referendum in 2015, only to find that he was no longer registered, even though he hadn’t moved or done anything else to change his status.

Ohio has purged about 2 million voters from its rolls, including 1.2 million for infrequent voting. From the WaPo:

In a court filing late Monday, Justice Department attorneys took the opposite position from the Obama administration in a case that involves Ohio’s removal last year of tens of thousands of inactive voters from its voting rolls.

In their brief, government lawyers say they reconsidered the Ohio vote-purging issue after the “change in Administrations,” and they argue that the state’s actions are legal under federal law.

Ohio allows the purging process to begin when voters have not cast a ballot in two years. The person is sent a notice asking them to confirm their registration. If the voter does not respond and does not cast a ballot over the next four years, they are removed from the rolls.

But a federal appeals court ruled that Ohio had violated the National Voter Registration Act, a 1993 law that made it easier to register at the DMV and other public agencies and stipulated that voter-roll maintenance: (emphasis by the Wrongologist)

…shall not result in the removal of the name of any person from the official list of voters registered to vote in an election for Federal office by reason of the person’s failure to vote.

Trump’s DOJ has decided that “use it or lose it” applies to your right to vote.

We are witnessing a steady erosion of voter rights that started with the Supreme Court’s 2013 decision in Shelby County v. Holder. The Court struck down Section 4(b) of the 1965 Voting Rights Act (VRA). That Section required states with a history of voting discrimination to get pre-approval from the Justice Department for any changes to voting qualifications or procedures.

Since the Shelby ruling, many states, including some that were formerly covered under the VRA, have instituted stricter voter identification laws and instituted voter roll purges. Ari Berman lists examples from the 2016 election — the first election without full protection of the VRA:

  • There were 868 fewer polling places in states with long histories of voting discrimination, such as Arizona, Texas and North Carolina.
  • In Wisconsin, 300,000 registered voters lacked strict forms of voter ID, and voter turnout was at its lowest levels in 20 years. This was particularly apparent in Milwaukee, where voting was down13%, where 70% of the state’s African-American population lives.
  • In North Carolina, black turnout decreased 16% during the first week of early voting because in 40 heavily black counties, there were 158 fewer early polling places.

The plan is this: First, make voting as complicated and inconvenient as possible and then, when people basically give up on voting, you drop them from the rolls for non-participation.

What harm is there in keeping a non-voter or irregular voter on the rolls? Voter impersonation happens about as often as winning the Power Ball lottery, so why not leave a name on the rolls until removal is substantiated? When you move from one state to another, and register to vote, no one has committed voter fraud. No one took Wrongo’s parents off the Florida voter rolls after they died. That wasn’t voter fraud either.

The false concern about voter fraud is a cloak for a determined effort to gut every improvement the country has made on voting rights in the past 50 years.

On to music. Glenn Campbell had an outsized influence on American music. His free and fluid mix of country, pop and light rock left a big mark in Nashville. Here is Campbell doing “Classical Gas”:

Few who knew Campbell only as the singer of “By the Time I Get to Phoenix” and “Wichita Lineman” also knew that he was a very accomplished guitarist.

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


China: Competitor, or Enemy?

What’s Wrong Today:

The relationship between China and the US is that of a rising power confronting a status quo power. China’s emergence as a challenger to the current global power structure and to the US as the world’s dominant power is based in part on challenging its neighbors, Japan, the Philippines and Vietnam in order to consolidate its maritime interests in its territorial waters and beyond. In each of these situations,
it will confront our proxies, or it will confront the US.As
Professor David Lai of the US Army War College asks: Is
the Pacific Ocean big enough for China and the US
? His answer is, maybe not.

China’s recent assertiveness on the global stage is based upon their economic growth in the past 25 years. China’s spectacular growth is hard to wrap your
mind around. Bill Gates helpfully tweets:

Gates shares Vaclav Simil’s book, Making of the Modern World, in which Simil argues that the most important man-made material is concrete. Concrete is the literal foundation for the massive expansion of urban areas globally for the past several decades. In 1950, the world made roughly as much steel as cement (a key ingredient in concrete); by 2010, steel production had grown by a factor of 8, but cement had increased by a factor of 25. This animated GIF from The Atlantic shows the dramatic transformation of the Shanghai skyline since 1987. Most of what you’re seeing in that picture is new concrete, steel, and glass.

So, in the next 25 years, the US won’t grow as fast as China has for the past 25 years. That means that China is likely to become the world’s largest economy.
What will that mean for America? Let’s compare our economies today. Start by remembering what makes up GDP. From our barely remembered college econ 101
course comes the formula: GDP = Consumer spending + Investment + Government spending + the Net of imports and exports. So to compare the US and China:














$  8.2T





Source: Dr. John Troxell, Army War College

China’s economy is about half the size of ours, and investment spending drives it. That explains all of the new
buildings and new infrastructure that is reshaping its landscape. That investment has brought 600 million people out of poverty and added 200 million Chinese to the middle class. In order to sustain its growth, China’s challenge is to move more of its GDP to consumption, since government investment in infrastructure cannot continue at current levels forever. Looking at GDP/capita, it is $49.9k in the US and $6.1k in China, so they have a ways to go for the average Chinese to meet our standard of living, or to catch the US economy. 

Given that China is a strong economic competitor that is morphing into a challenger to our role as the only superpower, what should our strategy be in dealing with them?

Should we consider them an “enemy”?

In the business world, all companies compete for market share with a variety of other firms. They engage their competitors, at industry meetings, on the golf course, over drinks, and in frequent communication. Along the way, they pick up some industrial espionage, facts that are useful to their strategy and businesses. For the most part, they
maintain active friendships with the top people at their competitors.

To a large degree, that is what was intended with the Obama Administration’s “Rebalancing” of our military as part of the US “pivot” to Asia. This is a good idea, but we have probably not executed it as well as we could have.

We need to have a comprehensive engagement with China, including greater strategic and economic dialogue. The
objective should be to deepen our cooperation across the spectrum of issues confronting the world.

If we are to retain our position as the world’s superpower, we must compete more effectively with China. The issues that we have to confront are here at home. We need to:

  • Improve the quality of our education
  • Modernize our infrastructure: Ports, Airports, Highways and Internet
  • Improve our export competitiveness
  • Strengthen our commitment to innovation

Given the lack of responsibility shown by Congress, our success at achieving these things may be doubtful.

China has the capabilities and ambition to challenge the US as the great superpower. How should we react to
that threat? The question becomes, do we want China to succeed or fail, as an economy and as a nation? The answer is not simple.

Our temptation will be to focus on China’s ring of potential conflicts with our regional partners. It will be difficult for America to let those conflicts play out without intervening and moving the conflict to one between China and the US. If that happens, we will almost certainly decide that the Pacific Ocean is not big enough for the two of us.

On the other hand, China has its own domestic challenges. It is the world’s #1 polluter. It has huge demographic issues that grew out of the one child policy. The one-child policy will reduce China’s labor force by 67 million people by 2030, equivalent to the population of France. While they have moved away from the policy, the economic impact is
already baked in. By 2040, China will face a labor shortage of almost 140 million workers, surely the biggest job crunch the world has ever seen. That will have a big impact on wage inflation and will hurt their export competitiveness.

The Chinese know that they have to move from a low-cost manufacturing country to a value-added innovator. That
will be an enormous challenge, and it will be difficult to bring off, without further reforming their tolerance for entrepreneurship and innovation.

They need to enhance the safety net for the world’s largest elderly population, which will be 300 million (the current size of the US) by 2025. The question of who will pay for these social safety net expenses is an open question. Local governments fund today’s costs by appropriating
local property and then selling it to developers or they use it as collateral for municipal borrowing. That is an unsustainable model.  

We should want China to succeed, because we are now part of a concept that originated with Richard Katz in Foreign Affairs, called Mutually Assured Production. During the Cold War, the United States and the Soviet Union avoided triggering a nuclear war because “mutually assured destruction” meant that each side knew that any conflict would mean the obliteration of both countries.

But, no two nations with integrated economies can realistically go to war with the other. Today, in any potential tensions between China and the US, an economic version of mutual deterrence should preserve the status quo between both sides. Our economic interdependence is profound and likely to grow. Foreign-owned companies in China account for 52.4% of all Chinese exports, they account for 82% of high tech exports, and 99% of computer exports. That means both sides have a stake in staying cool, even in potentially hot situations.

Where do China and the US go from here?

China is challenging the existing world order, and the US will not look the other way. How both countries learn to sublimate their aggressive instincts and actions in favor of healthy competition will determine the shape of the world for the next several decades.


Dispatch From China, Part II

one becomes a China expert in 10 days. But, some things seem clear. China is said
to be part of the Third World. That is misleading, since much of its population
lives in a near-first world environment, enjoying the fruits of a remarkable
advance in China’s standard of living in the past 20 years. China’s government
has succeeded in improving the lives of hundreds of millions of people, even
while depriving them of political liberty. Still, much of China remains a brutal
and poor place, and a significant number live in a third world economy.

the two decades since Tiananmen, the overwhelming majority of young Chinese
have been apolitical, and the 25th anniversary of that event passed
without mention in Shenzhen. The “Great Wall” of Internet censorship prevented searches on any of the key words about Tiananmen.

The basic contract has been an understanding that the government
will grow the economy rapidly, that conditions of life in the cities will
continue to improve, that most people will become financially comfortable. Roland
Soong, a Chinese author, has said:

new members of the middle class won’t bet their apartments, cars, television
sets, washing machines and hopes, on a prayer

is no alternative to the contract. No one speaks critically of the Chinese government,
except in Hong Kong.

spent 7 days in Shenzhen proper and its Shekou district. In Shenzhen, we walked
the crowded main shopping street on a Sunday. The department stores were packed
with young families. Housewares were expensive. We saw woks costing nearly
$500, but young couples were purchasing these expensive household goods. We saw
families checking out what we would call efficiency apartment-sized
refrigerators, with double doors and freezer below that were selling for the
RMB equivalent of $6,000. There were 5-10 Android and iPhone stores in the
space of a few blocks. We saw 4 McDonald’s and 3 Starbucks in a 15 minute walk
from the hotel.

is a construction site, with a new subway project going through downtown, and office
towers going up all around the city. Here is a sign on the Subway construction
project underway outside our hotel:

sign says: “Empty talk endangers the
nation, practical work brings prosperity
”. Words to live by in China.

of the more interesting aspects to life in China is the omnipresence of TV
cameras on all streets and in the subways. We asked our host about whether the
cameras made her feel safe or threatened. She said “safe”, and told about a
time when her husband and their children’s nanny got separated after a
misunderstanding as to where/when to meet. After an hour of searching for the
nanny, who didn’t have a mobile phone, they contacted the police, who searched the available video, found the
nanny with the two kids, sitting in a subway car. She was headed back to the
couple’s apartment. They were able to meet her a short way from home.

a nation of economic strivers, the premise is that CCTV helps locate kids and
oldsters who have wandered off. Never mind the other purposes for surveillance.

autocratic government makes the often-said point: “If you have nothing to hide, you have nothing to fear”. That
is originally attributed to Goering, but you will hear it said in America
today, and it pertains in China as well.

Empty talk
hurts the nation, CCTV is a boon to finding lost children. George Orwell would have a
field day with all that. He called this “blackwhite”:

willingness to say that black is white, when Party discipline demands it

Evan Osnos,
in his book about China, “Age of
”, quotes publisher Lu Jinbo:

China, our culture forces us to say things that we don’t really think. If I
say, ‘Please come over to my place for dinner today,’ the truth is I don’t
really want you to come. And you’ll say, ‘You’re too kind, but I have other
arrangements’…All Chinese people understand that what you say and what you
think often don’t match up

Ms. Oh So
Right spoke at the Shekou People’s Hospital. Shekou is a district of Shenzhen.
It was the first hospital in China to receive accreditation by The Joint
Commission International (JCI). This accreditation is sought by many American
hospitals, is difficult and expensive to get, and not all have it. Shekou
received theirs in July, 2013. The 15 story, 2 wing building was modern with
all medical disciplines represented. It was an extremely busy place, with the
main floor packed the patients and visitors, and a huge pharmacy. In the lobby,
there was a huge electronic board which listed
all the services offered by the hospital, with their associated price
Below is a picture of the services board:

The above picture is a blow-up from an entrance hall photo. The column on the left is the
service code, the next is a description of the service and the third column
from the left is the price. Say what you will about private enterprise, we will
never have that kind of transparency in the US.

The hospital’s
elevator directory showed that it has a broad and deep service offering:

We then traveled about 25 miles out of Shenzhen to the popular tourist destination of
Dameisha. In Dameisha, Ms. O So Right was speaking at a national convention of nurses
about the need for critical thinking to improve quality care and patient
safety. We stayed at the convention hotel. It is an older tourist hotel,
decidedly mid-level. Yet the parking area held a new Bentley, 2 Porsche
Cayenne’s, a Land Rover, several Audis and VW’s. Cars may not be a perfect
proxy for wealth, but clearly, some guests at the hotel had serious dough. BTW,
most of the hotel guests that day were
Chinese nurses
. Here is another hotel on the beach in Dameisha:

modern hotel is in a rural area that caters exclusively to the people of
Shenzhen. Interestingly, we saw no satellite dishes on any non-governmental
building while in China, until we got to Hong Kong. Though we did see rooftop
solar on even some modest Chinese apartment buildings:

all of the Obama administration’s political rhetoric about terror, and/or about
Russia, China is America’s prime competitor in this century, and it should be
our focus. Our efforts should not be to “contain” them politically or geographically.

  • We
    should be working to out-build them with modern infrastructure

  • We
    should be trying to out-work them to win global markets

  • We
    should be out-pacing them in education

South China Post had an
article today about how Chinese families see education as their way out of
rural poverty. The focus of the piece was on the Chartered Financial Analyst
(CFA) certification, which is an international certification that many analysts
on Wall Street and in other global financial centers hold. A CFA and some
experience can garner a $100k salary on Wall Street. This year, some 150,000 people globally took the exam; 25,000 of
them live in China. Another 6,000 Hong Kong candidates took it as well.
That’s about 21% of all who took the exam

is supposed to be the home of superstar financial engineers, but maybe this is
another area in which we will be eclipsed by China in a few years.

just when many Americans are thinking advanced education is a waste of time,
the Chinese are trying harder. Many of those in attendance at Ms. Oh So Right’s
talks were striving for additional education and the larger salaries and autonomy that comes
with the advanced learning.

can we learn from our prime competitor? Can we use what we learn to compete more
effectively with China and make this a richer, safer country for all of us?

we have what it takes to improve the standard of living for tens of millions of
our citizens? Quick and dirty is no way to solve any of our real world problems.

need to try harder. Like the Chinese, maybe?


The Future for Today’s College Grads is Terrible

Notice from the Wrongologist:

The Wrongologist leaves next Thursday for a 10-day visit to Shenzhen China, where Foxconn makes the iPhone and iPad, and half of the world’s mobile phones are manufactured. If any blog reader has friends or contacts in Shenzhen, and you are willing to share their contact information, email the Wrongologist privately @:

What’s Wrong Today:

a million students will graduate from college this month. As they walk with their
diplomas, they face a familiar worry: Will I get a job? Will I get a job I
actually want? Will it let me pay off my student loans? Will my income be enough for me to cover all of my additional bills and finances? Could I turn to somewhere like Qik Car Title Loans to apply for a loan based on the value of my car if I find that I’m ever short of money? Will this help me to keep on track of my current finances?

US Department of Labor (DOL) announced that unemployment among 2013 graduates is at 10.9%, down from
13% for graduates in 2012. That’s still weaker than the economy overall, and
worse than it was pre-recession.

more, those who are working have increasingly settled for jobs outside their
fields of study or for less pay than they’d expected. CNN

college graduates were stuck last year working at or below the federal minimum
wage of $7.25 an hour, more than double the numbers of minimum wage-earning
college grads in 2007

high unemployment, plus low pay for many who DO find jobs, and then there is the
high debt load many graduates have taken on.

Richter of the Testosterone
reports, student debt outstanding has soared 362% to $1.1 trillion
since 2003, during a period when mortgage debt rose “only” 65% to $8.2 trillion
and credit card debt actually declined by 4.2% to $660 billion. Wolf
asks a great question: How will the
burden of servicing the increasing student debt level impact these recent
graduates’ efforts to buy a home

the signs point to them having great difficulty. The proportion of first-time
buyers – the single most important sign of a healthy housing market – has been
shrinking for years. This could simply be down to the fact that graduates don’t have the finances to be able to pay for a house of their own. Luckily, people who have a degree in the medical field may be eligible to qualify for physician loans to help them when it comes to buying a property of their own. But others aren’t so lucky and will have to look for an alternative in the housing market.

70% of the students who are sitting through a commencement speech this spring
have student loans. They will start their careers (if any) with an average
student loan balance
of $33,000.

when adjusted for inflation, that’s about twice as much debt as 20 years ago.

then, only 43% of students graduated with student loans. However, after decades
of sustained tuition and fee increases, working your way through college in
four years has become a difficult task. And every year, it gets worse: The
Class of 2012 was the most indebted ever. Then the Class of 2013 took that
dubious honor, only to be trumped by the Class of 2014.

year, that honor will go to the Class of 2015.

equation might not have gone so horribly wrong if each class of graduates had
seen their median incomes move in line with their average student debt. That
didn’t happen:

2005 and 2012, (the last year for which the data are available), the
inflation-adjusted average student loan balance of graduates under 30 years old
grew by 35%; while the median annual income adjusted
for inflation for college graduates between 25 and 34 years old has declined by 2.2%.

According to the Department of Numbers blog, in
2012, 36.09% of households were renters, up 3 percentage points since 2008, at the
start of the recession.
For the US, they calculate median
monthly gross rent as a fraction of median household income at 20.65% in 2012.

also have an analysis of how much
of a mortgage loan someone can borrow, given a monthly mortgage payment equal
to 30% of the median household income, with a 30 year fixed-rate loan. Their
estimate of the maximum amount a
household could borrow
to purchase a home in February 2014 was $257.7k,
while the median US home asking price was $280.4k.

Another disparity is that the current median household income for the United States is $51,371,
yet the overall average starting salary for Class of 2013 new college graduates
was $6k lower, at $45,327, according to the September 2013 Salary
by the National Association
of Colleges and Employers (NACE), a non-profit group.

the Class of 2014 takes their record-setting pile of student loans and their skimpy
wages out into the American economy. They will become the next generation of
first-time home buyers. And on top of student loans, they’re facing higher
interest rates and higher prices for real estate, forces which will suffocate some
first-time buyers.

has to give. Not raising the minimum
wage in line with inflation is based on a conservative principle that says the
profits of companies are more important than the needs of the working poor.
And surely, paying workers just enough to provide food and basic shelter,
instead of paying them living wages, helps the conservatives’ goals

grads may have to blow up the system if they are to see change that works for
them. Perhaps they already have: They’re not buying houses, they’re renting in
urban environments, they’re not buying cars, and they’re not getting cable TV.
In short, they are adopting a significantly different lifestyle from that of
their parents. They have to. Rent payments and a subway/bus pass instead of a
mortgage and a car.

That’s not the American dream.

kids are part of a generation that will have difficulty building a middle class
lifestyle because finding that middle class wage is harder than ever. At the
same time, due to growing inequality and economic insecurity, the earnings and
status gap between those with a college education and those without is growing,
so aspiring students and parents will
remain willing to pay the price in order to reach for a middle class life

though student loan programs may have been designed with good intentions, they
now simply aid and abet the colleges in extracting ever more money from the
future lives of students.

debt levels are high because college costs way more than it used to cost. And state
governments are not subsidizing public colleges the way they used to.

If only the masters of the universe would take off
their blinders and see that they are wiping out the future for many kids.

Short term gains today at the expense of tomorrow
will cost the country royally.