UA-43475823-1

The Wrongologist

Geopolitics, Power and Political Economy

September 11, 2018

The Daily Escape:

Has it been 17 years already?

A quote from Edward R. Murrow: “No one can terrorize a whole nation, unless we are all his accomplices”, describes where America is today.

As we remember the 17th anniversary of the al-Qaeda attack on the US, we should realize that most of the geo-political problems we face today can trace their root causes to the attacks on 9/11.

And 17 years later, it appears that we have become the accomplices of terror. We can’t let the Muslim world alone. We’ve continued to keep troops in Afghanistan and Iraq. We’ve beefed up our presence in Africa. The enemy has morphed from al-Qaeda only, to ISIS and al-Qaeda, with branches all across the world.

Just yesterday, Wrongo wrote about our current misadventures in Syria, where we have several thousand troops who were not invited in by the Syrian government. We said that US Syrian policy seems to be teetering on conflict with the other regional powers, Iran and Russia, because we are insisting that Iran exit Syria.

We continue to spend blood and treasure in the Middle East because of 9/11. We were meddling in the ME before 2001, and those efforts helped make bin Laden’s point that the US was responsible both for the suffering the US was causing directly through its sanctions, and the suffering we caused indirectly, by keeping Middle Eastern dictators in power.

To that, bin Laden added a decisive idea: Attack the US to end its power over the Middle East.

Seventeen years later, we are stuck in a Middle East quagmire. We cannot win militarily, but we never lose decisively. On this 17th anniversary, let’s address a few questions to our political and military leaders:

  • Isn’t it improbable that the US military has been unable to extricate itself from Iraq and Afghanistan, its two major wars of this century?
  • Was it improbable that Washington’s post-9/11 policies in the Middle East helped lead to the establishment of the Islamic State’s “Caliphate” in parts of Iraq and Syria and to a movement of almost unparalleled extremism that has successfully “franchised” itself from Libya to Mali, from Nigeria to Afghanistan?

If, on September 12, 2001, you had predicted where we are today, no one would have thought you were credible.

Since 9/11 our presidents have all tried hard to act tough on terror, as have our Senators and Congresspersons. They have all said that our young soldiers are available to go wherever the next Islamist problem arises. So, in the past 17 years, we’ve spent over a trillion dollars to protect the homeland, and while to some degree, we are undoubtedly safer, we haven’t defeated the Islamists.

The current crop of Republicans in the White House are trying more of the same: To convince us that the challenges we face in the world are simple, that we must be realists, aggressively going after what we want. They say it all comes down to “good vs evil.”

Sadly, we really live in an extremely complex world, and ignorance of its complexity is dangerous. Remember in 2006, there were reports that George W. Bush was unaware of the difference between Shia and Sunni as late as two months before the Iraq invasion. Combine that with the ongoing support for the neo-con’s Exceptionalist ideology, and we’ve all paid, and continue to pay, a huge price for their simplistic worldview.

The reality is that when tough talk is divorced from knowledge, you do dumb things, like start wars that diminish our standing in the world, that cost us terribly in lives and money, and that produce zero in the way of political results.

Trump seems ready to place a bet that his tough guy stance on Syria will cause Iran and Russia to back down. Those of us who pay taxes and send our kids off to war, should make it very clear that the American presidency is no place for bullies.

And rather than signifying weakness, traits like thoughtfulness and collaboration are exactly what we want from the Leader of the Free World.

Anyone can say “lock and load, we’re gonna fight!

We need to re-learn how not to fight, and how to exist in an ambiguous world without withdrawing, or being ineffectual. Since 9/11, when things get tough, our politicians strut around with chins out. They prefer form over substance and in the end, they’re just praying that it all works out, but it hasn’t.

Remember the 9/11 heroes and its victims.

But let’s stop listening to those who pander to our fears, and vote them out of office.

Facebooklinkedinrss

Our Small President

The Daily Escape:

Bryce Canyon NP at sunrise – 2018 photo by ThePeachster

McCain will lie in state in Arizona’s capitol. Then, he will lie in state in the Capitol Building rotunda in Washington. Two former presidents will give eulogies at his funeral. Wrongo mused with a relative about why John McCain is being treated so differently from most other politicians who die in office.

She said: “America has no heroes.”

John McCain was a senator. His own party never fully trusted him. Democrats never knew what to make of him. He was occasionally with them, but he was against them on everything else. He called himself a maverick; he was certainly a pain. Why are we celebrating McCain as an American hero?

We are at the confluence of two tides in our history. First, we lionize our soldiers. We thank them for their service, we call them warriors. McCain spent 5+ years in a POW prison. He was tortured, and survived. So he is a heroic face for a war that we lost, a war we are still conflicted about, 40 years later.

In our intervening wars, there are individual soldier-heroes, but few stand out to us. The wars grind on, and the stories of the war heroes of our current time are fuzzy. The soldiers serve multiple tours, or we hear that they are coping with terrible post-traumatic stress. We have few contemporary genuine military heroes.

Second, our politicians have long since ceased to be heroic. McCain served six terms in the US Senate. He was old school, and some this week are calling him the “last lion” of the Senate. That tells us that despite the longevity of several other politicians of McCain’s (and Wrongo’s) generation, those who remain are merely ordinary.

The media wants us to believe that every American politician who dies is a great American. They seem to think that if that ever breaks down, America may stop being Great. This quasi-religious veneration of politicians is unbecoming of us as a people. It has transformed the majority of public offices into ones that are attractive mostly to people who are unfit to hold them.

In today’s politics, we’re usually trying hard to avoid electing the greater fool among the terrible options available to us. Most of the time, we have done that. But here we are: Donald Trump can’t carry John McCain’s jock, but he’s our president. This is from John Pavlovitz:

As the funeral for Senator John McCain approaches, we find ourselves in yet another occasion of national consequence; one our supposed Commander-In-Chief is intentionally excluded from because he is beneath the dignity and capability the moment requires.

More:

This moment plays itself out whenever there is a national tragedy, whenever compassion or decency or strength or goodness are required; whenever an adult leader would be called upon to actually lead us.

In those moments, he does not lead—he tweets.

It would have required very little energy, or thought, to issue a statement recognizing and honoring Sen. McCain. It would have taken almost nothing to keep the flags over the White House and other federal building flying at half-mast, but he couldn’t do even that.

Unsurprisingly, these minimal efforts are a bridge too far for Donald Trump.

There’s something to be said for being able to display grace and compassion upon the untimely passing of your adversary. After all, you’ve outlived him.

Where will we find our heroes in the next few years? It seems almost certain they will not come from Congress or the White House.

McCain was far from the hero that we are portraying him to be, now that he’s gone. But it shouldn’t require something heroic from Trump or his advisors to do the right thing.

Our culture is on the skids, led by our small president and his party.

Let’s give the last words to Pavlovitz:

In the meantime, just as today, we’ll all have to work together to fill in the spectacular gaps in leadership and compassion and intelligence and dignity that used to be filled by our Presidents.

We simply don’t have one right now.

UPDATE:  After the column above was written, the White House, facing a national outpouring of scorn, relented, and once again lowered flags on the WH grounds to half staff in honor of John McCain. Politicians on both sides, along with veterans’ groups, slammed President Trump as vindictive and petty.

The message was sent, and received by our small president.

Despite re-lowering the flag, and providing a military escort for McCain’s coffin, the point remains that Trump isn’t capable of compassion, or dignity. He’s not a leader.

 

Facebooklinkedinrss

Sunday Cartoon Blogging – August 26, 2018

The majority of Americans under 18 live in households that receive “means-tested assistance” from the US government. In 2016, according to the most recent data from the Census Bureau, there were approximately 73,586,000 people under 18 in the United States, and 38,365,000 of them, 52.1%, resided in households in which one or more persons received benefits from a means-tested government program.

Those programs include the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (food stamps), Medicaid, public housing, Supplemental Security Income, the Special Supplemental Nutrition Program for Women, Infants and Children, Temporary Assistance for Needy Families, and the National School Lunch Program.

And when the Census Bureau excluded school lunch programs from its calculations, the percentage of those under 18 who lived in a household receiving means-tested assistance (44.8%), still exceeded the percentage in any other age bracket.

We have now had four straight years: 2013 – 2016, during which a majority of those under 18 lived in a household taking means-tested benefits.

The primary reason for this is that most in this category are single parent households headed by a woman. Many can’t find employment paying a decent wage with some benefits. Many have to choose between full-time work and childcare. Some are working 2-3 part time jobs but still can’t cover their expenses.

But, the economy is good, the stock market is great, so why worry about these banana republic statistics, America? On to cartoons.

Trump sings the Lynyrd Skynyrd song, “What’s That Smell?”

Speak to a Trumpist, and you’ll find a reasonable, fact-driven human being:

Trump tweets about “widespread” killings of white farmers in South Africa. Here’s the truth:

Immigration unmasks the hate:

DeVos shows that she’s a helper:

Mitch reserves his looks of disgust only for Democrats:

Facebooklinkedinrss

The US Also Has Immigration Issues

The Daily Escape:

One World Trade Center viewed from Brooklyn, NY – 2018 photo by nyclovesnyc

Yesterday, we talked about immigration-skepticism in Europe. As if to underline that toxic atmosphere, the Hungarian government just announced it has drafted new laws to criminalize acts that help illegal migrants in Hungary. From the BBC:

If passed in its current form, the legislation could make printing leaflets with information for asylum-seekers and offering them food or legal advice a criminal offence.

Reuters quotes Hungary’s Magyar Hirlap newspaper saying that prison sentences ranging from a few days to a year, are part of the new legislation. Hungary, Poland, the Czech Republic and Slovakia all oppose an EU plan to relocate 160,000 refugees from Italy and Greece, where migrant camps are overcrowded.

While the US is now wrestling with its own immigration issues, it has more immigrants than any other country in the world. Today, more than 40 million people living in the US were born in another country, about one-fifth of the world’s total migrants in 2015.

The US granted nearly 1.2 million individuals legal permanent residency in 2016, more than two-thirds of whom were admitted based on family reunification, a policy that Trump wants to end. Other categories included: employment-based preferences (12%), refugees (10%), diversity (4%), and asylum seekers (3%). At the end of 2017 there were more than four million applicants on the State Department’s waiting list for immigrant visas.

Donald Trump and his Attorney General Jeff Sessions, have many anti-immigrant views. Trump has tried to ban immigrants from predominantly Muslim countries, but it’s clear that his main issue is with migrants from Mexico and Central America, not Muslims. From the Council on Foreign Relations:

Trump more than halved the annual cap of refugees admitted to the US to fifty thousand, and his orders could make it more difficult for individuals to seek asylum; more than 180,000 applied for asylum in 2016. In 2017, the administration ended temporary protected status (TPS) for thousands of Nicaraguans and Haitians who were allowed into the US after environmental disasters in their home countries in 1999 and 2010, respectively….In 2018, Trump ended the same relief program for nearly two hundred thousand Salvadorans who came after a 2001 earthquake.

Trump signed several executive orders (EO) affecting immigration policy. The first, focused on border security, ordered the construction of a physical border wall across the US border with Mexico.

The second EO restricted federal funds to so-called sanctuary cities. That isn’t as bad as Hungary prosecuting anyone who assists migrants, but it’s getting close.

The third banned nationals from Iran, Iraq, Libya, Somalia, Sudan, and Yemen from entering the US for at least 90 days, and blocked nationals from Syria indefinitely.

Trump also cancelled the DACA rules.

But the new policy of separating immigrant kids from their parents should earn the Trump administration a special place in hell. Families crossing the border are being separated, with kids going to a separate place of detention, while their parents go to a different holding facility. To help facilitate the process, Immigration and Customs Enforcement, (ICE), developed a bus fitted with child seats for the small children who still need them, and who were separated from their parents when ICE arrested the parents. Here is a screen grab from website of the ICE contractor, the GEO Group:

Of course putting children on buses can be innocuous. Most of us have ridden on school buses. But the picture is disturbing even if you didn’t know that it was used as part of an immigrant round-up, because every seat is a car seat.

It implies that there are going to be a bunch of infants and toddlers in the bus with few, or no parents. The damage being done by the Trump administration by separating these kids can’t be undone.

It’s like those kids in Detroit drinking lead-laced water. This will damage all of them.

Just when we think humanity’s capacity for vileness can’t be exceeded, we are again proven wrong. It’s not just that the Trump administration had the idea for a prison bus for children to begin with. It’s not just that the contractor is proud enough to advertise the bus on their website. What are they both telling us?

Why do they bother with the child seats?

The implication is: “Sure, we rip these small children away from their mothers, but we care a lot about their safety in traffic.”

Trump and Sessions should live in a pit of fire in their special place in hell.

Facebooklinkedinrss

A Well-Regulated Militia

The Daily Escape:

Sunrise, Mt. St. Helens – 2018 drone photo by russeltrupiano

We live in a country with about five percent of the world’s population, but we possess nearly 50% of the world’s civilian-owned firearms. More guns, more civilian deaths, it’s that simple.

A primary reason that we have more guns is how the meaning of the term “Well Regulated Militia” was mis-appropriated by Second Amendment (SA) absolutists. The Propaganda Professor is writing a series on the SA. His work is always worth a read. Previously, he wrote about the Right to Bear Arms. His second column is about the Well Regulated Militia. The Professor asks:

The purpose of the Second Amendment was actually to guarantee a “well-regulated militia”. But what exactly does that mean? Just what is/was a militia, anyway?

SA absolutists say that “militia” means all citizens, because they think that’s what was meant when the SA was written. There are flaws in this claim. They quote George Mason, a Virginia delegate to the Constitutional Convention:

I ask, sir, what is the militia? It is the whole people, except for a few public officials.

Sadly for them, that wording isn’t included in the actual Amendment. And at the time, it’s unlikely that Mason meant all of the people. The Professor:

Consider that the Second Militia Act of 1792 (passed only a few months after the Second Amendment was written) designated the composition of the militia as being: every free able-bodied white male citizen of the respective States, resident therein, who is or shall be of age of eighteen years, and under the age of forty-five years…

So, if you are an original intent person, today’s “militia” would consist only of white males between 18 and 45. The Act says they should be outfitted with:

…a good musket or firelock, a sufficient bayonet and belt, two spare flints, and a knapsack, a pouch, with a box therein, to contain not less than twenty four cartridges, suited to the bore of his musket or firelock, each cartridge to contain a proper quantity of powder and ball…

The definition of militia has changed over the years. In 1862, a new Militia Act finally eliminated the race restriction; but it still pertained only to men of a certain age.

In 1903, the Dick Act established the National Guard as the official “organized militia” of the US. It said those who were not Guard members were to be called the “unorganized militia“.

The SA absolutists have twisted this, saying that “unorganized militia” means anyone who wants to carry a gun for any purpose. Thus, all civilians are a part of the “unorganized” militia and therefore covered by the SA. That is debatable, but the most important thing about the militia was not who qualified as a member, but its purpose for existing. The Professor points out that the Acts of 1792 make that clear:

That whenever the United States shall be invaded, or be in imminent danger of invasion from any foreign nation or Indian tribe, it shall be lawful for the President of the United States, to call forth such number of the militia of the state or states most convenient to the place of danger or scene of action, as he may judge necessary to repel such invasion…

The Acts of 1792 make it clear that the militia was designed to be an organized armed force supplied by the states to execute the laws of the nation. Nothing in the Militia Acts say citizens can be armed for “defending” themselves against the government.

The purpose of the militia is further defined by the term, “well-regulated”. The gun rights people say it derives from a 1698 treatise, “A Discourse of Government with Relation to Militias” by Andrew Fletcher, in which the term “well regulated” was equated with “disciplined”.

But “well-regulated” in the dictionary has other meanings, and they all apply to a military unit, such as a militia.

Since militia members in Revolutionary days were conscripted for service, it implies that the militia membership was a civic obligation. It isn’t a few guys running around in camo gear on Saturday.

Finally, the Professor points out that militia, like military, is derived from the Latin word for soldier.

The soldier is part of an organized body, and is well-regulated in virtually every possible sense of the term.

It’s not Joe Six-pack and his AR-15.

Facebooklinkedinrss

Sunday Cartoon Blogging – February 18, 2018

Friday brought Robert Mueller’s indictment of 13 Russians for “information warfare against the United States of America“. The best part was that the special counsel’s work was totally under the radar, and there were zero leaks.

And thus far, nobody on the right is claiming Mueller’s indictments are “fake news”.

One interesting takeaway was that Russian cells were formed to establish phony Facebook, Twitter and other accounts that pushed divisive politics in the US. We already knew this, but we didn’t know specifics: At one point, a supposed Islamophobic group protested outside a Texas mosque, and it was met by a pro-Muslim counter-demonstration. Both demonstrations were called for by fake Russian sites. These sites eventually had hundreds of thousands of followers. They spread false memes, including that Clinton supported Sharia law.

Russian sites that were disguised as a part of the Black Lives Matter movement argued that African-Americans should not vote. While it is impossible to show cause and effect, Clinton underperformed with Black voters.

The jury is still out on the extent of Russian influence, and we may never know if it mattered. Still, it is way past time for the Democratic Party to own up to its own failures, rather than continually blaming the Russians, Bernie Sanders, the Green Party, or the deplorables.

After Mueller indictments, Trump and friends now have some ‘splaining to do:

Mitch, Paul and the rest of the GOP think they have zero responsibility for gun violence:

The issue is always the guns:

American Exceptionalism was on display again last week:

Pledge of Allegiance needs new words:

Blockbuster Black Panther movie may help beyond entertaining us:

Facebooklinkedinrss

Saturday Soother – February 3, 2018

The Daily Escape:

Redwood logging, Humboldt County CA – 1915 Photo by AW Ericson, hat tip Eric Loomis

Our problem as Americans is we actually hate history. What we love is nostalgia –Regie Gibson

Can we survive a mal-educated population? The Southern Poverty Law Center (SPLC) just released a study called “Teaching Hard History, American Slavery” that indicts our high school education system, at least as it relates to teaching about the Civil War and slavery. Here are their most damning conclusions:

  • Only 8% of high school seniors surveyed identified slavery as the central cause of the Civil War
  • Almost half identified tax protests as the main cause
  • 68% didn’t know that it took a Constitutional amendment to formally end slavery

Tax protests? Possibly, the kids who thought slavery had to do with “taxation” are conflating the Civil War with the Revolutionary War.

We teach vignettes, not context. We talk about individuals and concepts like the Underground Railroad, Harriet Tubman and Frederick Douglass, Lincoln and the Emancipation Proclamation, or abolitionists. There is little discussion about how slaves were the most important element of net worth in the south, or how hard southern landowners fought to protect that source of value.

The SPLC says that teaching lessons rarely connect slavery to white supremacy, the ideology that grew up to sustain and protect it. They point out that the American ideology of white supremacy, along with accompanying racist dogma, developed precisely to justify the perpetuation of slavery. The report concludes:

If we don’t get the early history of our country right, we are unlikely to be equipped to do the heavy lifting necessary to bridge racial divides now and in the future…

Most towns probably devote an hour a day to history class in high school. If a class year is 180 days, which means kids have 1,000 hours of history a year, at least for high school. That totals to 4000 hours, plenty of time to truly teach American history, regardless of protests about teaching to the test or Common Core.

We can surely do a better job, or we face the consequence that our future is in the hands of Trump’s “poorly educated”, most likely, an easily swayed group of voters.

Welcome to the weekend. By now you, like Wrongo, know what is in the Nunes Memo. The NYT denounced the Memo in advance, but with the caveat that:

None of this is to say the FBI and the rest of the federal law enforcement apparatus should be immune from criticism or reform.

Nope, not when back in the day, the FBI was run by a cross-dressing maniac addicted to blackmail.

Anyway, to get distance from the world, Wrongo is making chili today. That way it can rest overnight before we eat it during the Super Bowl. What are you having?

To help you read The Memo, get in your most comfortable chair and drink a fresh-brewed vente cup of Kicking Horse Coffee. You can choose between “Smart Ass” blend or, their “Kick Ass” blend. Wrongo suggests Smart Ass, only $11.99 for 10 oz at Amazon.

BTW, they sell “Half Ass”, but no “Bad Ass” or “Dumb Ass” brands. Why?

To help you relax and forget DC, Dumb Ass Democrats, and Trump for a while, settle back and listen to the West Ocean String Quartet perform the old Irish melody “The Lark in Clear Air”. This is one of many versions, some include lyrics from a poem by Belfast’s Sir Samuel Ferguson. The tune is from a folk song called “Kathleen Nowlan” or, alternatively, “The Tailor’s Son” from the early 19th Century:

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

Facebooklinkedinrss

Are Smartphones Destroying Teens?

The Daily Escape:

Sunset, September 2017, near Granite Bay CA – photo by David Dodd

The Atlantic’s article, “Have Smartphones Destroyed a Generation?” makes the point that teens today are:

…less likely to date. The initial stage of courtship, which Gen Xers called “liking” (as in “Ooh, he likes you!”), kids now call “talking”-an ironic choice for a generation that prefers texting to actual conversation. After two teens have “talked” for a while, they might start dating. But only about 56% of high-school seniors in 2015 went out on dates; for Boomers and Gen Xers, the number was about 85%.

The decline in dating tracks with a decline in sexual activity. While websites showing sexual content such as www.tubev.sex are only becoming more popular, research appears to show that fewer young people are having sex of their own. Fewer teens having sex has contributed to what many see as one of the most positive youth trends in recent years: The teen birth rate hit an all-time low in 2016, down 67% since its modern peak, in 1991. When they can see the hottest Scottish pornstars from their phones, can you blame them?

The article was written by Jean M. Twenge, a professor of psychology at San Diego State University. The article can be summarized as these teens are more comfortable online than out partying, but they’re on the brink of a mental-health crisis.

More from Dr. Twenge:

Even driving, a symbol of adolescent freedom inscribed in American popular culture…has lost its appeal for today’s teens. Nearly all Boomer high-school students had their driver’s license by the spring of their senior year; more than one in four teens today still lack one at the end of high school…In conversation after conversation, teens described getting their license as something to be nagged into by their parents-a notion that would have been unthinkable to previous generations.

Quite a difference from Wrongo’s growing up in pre-boomer times. The idea of having your mom drive you to an event was as close to being humiliated in front of your friends as you ever wanted to be, so everyone got a driver’s license as soon as possible.

But today’s teens are less likely to leave the house to see friends. Twenge says that the shift is stunning: 12th-graders in 2015 were going out less often than eighth-graders did as recently as 2009.

We have seen this kind of alienation in Japan, where these people are called hikikomori, a term the Japanese use to define those who haven’t left their homes or physically interacted with others for at least six months. Japan has virtual high schools for teens who can’t leave home. Virtual high school is a thing in the US as well.

Add smartphones and video games together, and you can slow or pause social development and engagement with the real world. The real trouble is in the separation of virtual from lived experience that becomes physical separation and alienation. They’re more likely to visit this website, rather than want to experience the act themselves. This creates a generation of socially awkward, dependent, soon-to-be adults who have had a lack of sexual experiences. It is true that they could look for escorts local to them on https://www.escortdirectory.com/escorts-zurich-241/ to give them experience of being with a woman, but the lack of social interaction will surely always hinder them.

No doubt there is a large group of teens who seem to live primarily through social media, some in Wrongo’s own family. Smartphones have made social media much more accessible, but are smartphones in and of themselves the causal factor? Hard to say. Wrongo has had a smart phone for a long time, still sees friends and family, and gets things done.

And the current crop of teens have the tools to be the best informed generation yet. OTOH, they have to be curious enough to perform in-depth search on those smartphones.

So, blaming the smartphone is using correlation to indicate causality.

In fact, this article may describe primarily an upper middle class phenomenon, not something that is society-wide. The kids being coddled are from families with enough money to do it. The intelligent ones among them are opportunistic harvesters of their parents’ resources, and perfectly capable of adaptation.

The genuinely alienated kids exist, but probably not in any larger numbers than the problem kids of earlier generations. But their problems manifest differently than in earlier generations.

If we believe our kids and grandkids are not prepared to face the reality of life, the fault lies with us, as it is our job to prepare them. The responsibility of any parent is to figure out how the world works, and to teach their children how to survive in it – this is true for all mammals.

BTW, today’s photo was shot by Wrongo’s grandson on his smartphone, on the way to his job, after his day at college.

Here is the Who doing “The Kids Are All Right” from their 1965 album, “My Generation“:

Facebooklinkedinrss

IMF Reports US Standard of Living is Falling

The Daily Escape:

Haleakala Crater, Maui

Is it the best of times or the worst of times? This is no longer a partisan discussion. We have an economy in the midst of a long expansion, the third longest since 1850. The statistics say we are close to full employment. But, our mortality rate is moving in the wrong direction, and we have an opioid epidemic that is serious enough to cause jobs to go unfilled. The NYT reports that in Youngstown Ohio, middle class factory jobs go begging:

It’s not that local workers lack the skills for these positions, many of which do not even require a high school diploma but pay $15 to $25 an hour and offer full benefits. Rather, the problem is that too many applicants — nearly half, in some cases — fail a drug test.

The Fed’s regular Beige Book surveys of economic activity across the country in April, May and July all noted the inability of employers to find workers able to pass drug screenings.

So the best of times? Probably not. Bloomberg reports that the International Monetary Fund (IMF) looked at the US economy. This is what they see:

For some time now there has been a general sense that household incomes are stagnating for a large share of the population, job opportunities are deteriorating, prospects for upward mobility are waning, and economic gains are increasingly accruing to those that are already wealthy. This sense is generally borne out by economic data and when comparing the US with other advanced economies.

The IMF then goes on to compare the US with 23 other advanced economies in the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) in this chart:

The chart is a bit of an eye test unless it’s viewed on a big monitor, but its overall point is that the US has been losing ground relative to its past OECD reports by several measures of living standards. 35 countries make up the OECD. The members include all of Western Europe, Russia, Japan, Australia, and several developing nations like Korea and Panama.

This from Bloomberg:

And in the areas where the US hasn’t lost ground (poverty rates, high school graduation rates), it was at or near the bottom of the heap to begin with. The clear message is that the US — the richest nation on Earth, as is frequently proclaimed, although it’s actually not the richest per capita — is increasingly becoming the developed world’s poor relation as far as the actual living standards of most of its population go.

This analysis is contained in the staff report of the IMF’s annual “consultation” with the U.S., which was published last week. The IMF economists haven’t turned up anything shocking or new, it’s just that as outsiders, they have a different perspective than what we hear from our politicians and economists.

For example:

Income polarization is suppressing consumption…weighing on labor supply and reducing the ability of households to adapt to shocks. High levels of poverty are creating disparities in the education system, hampering human capital formation and eating into future productivity.

What is to be done? Well, the IMF report concludes:

Reforms should include building a more efficient tax system; establishing a more effective regulatory system; raising infrastructure spending; improving education and developing skills; strengthening healthcare coverage while containing costs; offering family-friendly benefits; maintaining a free, fair, and mutually beneficial trade and investment regime; and reforming the immigration and welfare systems.

In other words, they suggest substantial reform. It’s doubtful that America can take care of these things anytime soon.

The subtext to most of their suggestions is that other affluent countries have found ways to improve in these areas, while the US has not. We don’t have to look too far into the past to see when those countries were modeling their economies on ours. But today, on all sorts of issues, like taxation, labor markets, health care, and education, the opposite is now true.

One major difference between the US and the rest of the developed world is ideological: Voters and politicians in the US are less willing to raise taxes to finance a better life for our citizens.

Other wealthy countries have figured out how to raise revenue, provide quality education, help the the unemployed, reduce poverty, and keep their citizens healthier than America has.

We must catch up, or admit our time as the world’s indispensable economy is over.

Today’s music (dis)honors the turmoil in the White House. See ‘ya Mooch! Remember that in just six months, Trump has gone through two National Security Advisers, two Chiefs of Staff, two Communications Directors, two Press Secretaries, and two Directors of the FBI.

Here is “Disorder in the House” by the late Warren Zevon and Bruce Springsteen:

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

Facebooklinkedinrss

“We Don’t Need No Education”

The Daily Escape:

Antarctic Relic, 2017 – photo by Daniel Kordan

Pink Floyd’s big mainstream hit has new relevance today, since Pew Research produced these interesting findings on US attitudes towards higher education: (emphasis by the Wrongologist)

While a majority of the public (55%) continues to say that colleges and universities have a positive effect on the way things are going in the country these days, Republicans express increasingly negative views.

A majority of Republicans and Republican-leaning independents (58%) now say that colleges and universities have a negative effect on the country, up from 45% last year. By contrast, most Democrats and Democratic leaners (72%) say colleges and universities have a positive effect, which is little changed from recent years.

The Pew study, conducted from June 8 to 18 among more than 2,000 respondents, found that Democrats and Republicans are growing substantially more divided in their opinions on public institutions, including higher education.

According to the survey that Pew released on Monday, this is the first time that a majority of Republicans have thought that higher education is bad for the country. As recently as 2015, 54% of Republicans said colleges and universities had a positive impact on the way things were going in the country, but by 2016, those results split to 43% positive and 45% negative. On the other side of the aisle, 72% of Democrats continue to think colleges and universities have a positive effect on the country, holding steady with past years’ results. Here is a chart with the study’s top findings:

And if we get granular about the viewpoints, we see the positive view by Republicans has declined dramatically in just three years:

Only 1/3 of Republicans who have graduated from college now believe that college is a positive contributor to the way things are in America today. In fact, Republicans over age 50 support college and universities the least (28%). Even a majority of GOP Millennials do not see higher education as a positive force in our society.

While Pew doesn’t speculate on the reasons for the shift in thinking, it is clear that the last few years have not been kind to higher education. Elite colleges have made headlines for a series of controversies and protests around racism, free speech, and civil rights. We hear constant debate about “trigger warnings”, and “safe zones” for students who can’t be exposed to uncomfortable ideas or situations.

In 2015, the football team at the University of Missouri went on strike to protest the handling of racist incidents on campus, and Yale was rocked by controversy about the proper way to address insensitive Halloween costumes.

More recently, students have protested and sometimes disrupted appearances from controversial figures. But only 28% of college-educated GOP’ers support higher education? From Booman:

It’s really not compatible with being a country club Republican to have a negative view of a college education. A college degree confers respectability and signals status.

Booman makes the point that more and more of them home school their kids to protect them from the opinions of educated people who might have different views, and fewer of them want their children to go to a college where those religious and political views may be undermined.

Perhaps it also says that college is NOW no longer a good thing, either due to economic factors, or all the strict social/cultural paths people want their kids to follow. But, in America today, the unemployment rate for college grads is 2.4%, while it is 4.6% for those without a degree.

Why would Republicans want to deny their children the opportunity to earn a living?

And there is our PISA ranking. PISA rankings are produced by the OECD based on tests taken by 15-year-olds in more than 70 countries every three years. Comparing the US ranking in both 2012 (the last time the test was administered) and 2015, the US fell to 38th from 28th in math out of 71 countries. We ranked 24th in science. For whatever reasons, we just don’t do a good job educating our kids.

But to the larger point, perceptions of college’s value/non-value is symptomatic of a much deeper and very dangerous schism, the devaluation of facts and scientific evidence. The GOP discredits facts and reality. They emphasize school choice (although it is the only thing that they are pro-choice about).

Resentment and fantasy based on ideology drives our discussion of education. So education has become a low priority for the young and old alike.

Today’s tune is appropriately, “The Wall” by Pink Floyd. It was their 11th studio album, released as a double album in November 1979:

Takeaway Lyric:

We don’t need no education

We don’t need no thought control

No dark sarcasm in the classroom

Teachers leave them kids alone

Hey! Teacher!

Leave them kids alone!

All in all, it’s just another brick in the wall

All in all, you’re just another brick in the wall

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

Facebooklinkedinrss