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The Wrongologist

Geopolitics, Power and Political Economy

Oliver North, Role Model

The Daily Escape:

Denver Botanical Gardens – 2018 photo by J3DImindTRIP

On Monday, the NRA named Oliver North as its next president. North is a retired Marine Lieutenant Colonel best known for his central role in the 1980s Iran-Contra affair. He was found to have played a key role in the secret sale of arms to Iran, which was under an arms embargo at the time. Proceeds from the secret weapons sales were funneled to help support the Contra’s armed resistance to Nicaragua’s dictatorship led by the Somoza family. Under the Boland Amendment, funding of the Contras by the government had been prohibited by Congress.

North admitted during congressional testimony in 1987 to having lied to the House Intelligence Committee about Iran-Contra, and to having destroyed evidence of the scheme’s existence. He was subsequently convicted of related felonies, but they were vacated because of the finding that a witness against North had been influenced by his congressional testimony, which North had given in exchange for a grant of immunity from prosecution.

In summary, a guy who lied to Congress about illegal weapons sales to Iran is now the president of an organization whose central belief is that legal gun ownership is the key to maintaining a safe country.

Here is Charlie Pierce: (emphasis by Wrongo)

A trade association for the arms industry now will be headed by the most famous arms-trafficker in American history. An organization that wears patriotism as though it were the masque of the Red Death will be headed by a guy who sold missiles to one of the world’s leading sponsors of terrorism.

Wait a minute. North sold weapons to Iran. And the NRA loves Trump. And Trump is the guy who yesterday tore up the Nuclear Arms Deal with Iran, claiming that a lie was truth:

Last week Israel published intelligence documents, long concealed by Iran, conclusively showing the Iranians’ regime and its history of pursuing nuclear weapons.

With news like this, how does the Onion stay in business?

Jon Chait argues that the Republicans’ defense of Oliver North begat Donald Trump:

Three decades ago, Lieutenant Colonel Oliver North took the Fifth Amendment in a private Senate hearing on the Iran-Contra scandal….Conservatives rallied to North’s defense, insisting the law barely mattered in comparison to the noble intentions North was following. “It is not whether some technical laws were broken, but whether we stop communism in Central America,” argued White House communications director Pat Buchanan.

So in the 1980s, Republicans were willing to overlook illegal actions if their own political priorities were supported. The story evolved, as a reading of the National Security Archive makes clear. The rest of those indicted or convicted were all pardoned in the final days of the presidency of George H. W. Bush, who had been Reagan’s Vice President at the time.

By doing that, Bush went further than any other president with the pardon power. His pardons made it impossible to pursue already-developed plans to investigate Bush himself in greater detail. At the time, the Iran-Contra Independent Counsel, Lawrence Walsh, told Newsweek:

It’s hard to find an adjective strong enough to characterize a president who has such contempt for honesty.

Until today, The North/Iran-Contra paved the way for our present political predicament where progressives are fighting to find truth hidden by actions in Washington, while Conservative lies distort current American policy. More from Jon Chait:

The North saga prefigured many things…about conservative politics in the present moment. It reveals the naïveté of the common belief that President Trump would never dare to take the Fifth Amendment in the Russia investigation, or that doing so would carry an unbearable political price.

Of course Trump’s base would tolerate Trump taking the Fifth in questioning by Mueller. Or pardoning people even before they were tried. After all, Pappy Bush got away with did it. More about the straight line from North to Trump:

Conservatives rallied to North’s defense because he was on their side, next to which the breaking of “technical laws” was a trifling concern. Trump can count on the same reflexive defense.

A convicted felon is now head of the NRA, a convicted felon leading the Republican Senate primary in West Virginia.

So, with all his Republican support, why would Trump ever worry about Mueller?

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Monday Wake Up Call – May 7, 2018

The Daily Escape:

Banff, Alberta, Canada – 2018 photo by erubes1

If you attend a demonstration, and the person marching beside you throws a rock, are you responsible for the damage? According to prosecutors at the DOJ’s Washington, DC office, the answer is yes, you are.

On January 20, 2017, 230 people were arrested in Washington, DC while protesting Donald Trump’s inauguration. More than 200 faced felony charges under a federal riot statute. A small group of defendants were acquitted, and in January, prosecutors dropped charges against 129 people. However, 59 people still are charged with crimes.

Rolling Stone gives some background: (brackets by Wrongo)

Trump’s inauguration on January 20th, 2017 drew a number of protests…but the “anti-capitalist and anti-fascist march,” now widely referred to as “J20” (a reference to the date of the protest) garnered the most attention. The protesters were primarily dressed in black…Protesters and others there to report on or observe the protest left DC’s Logan Circle as the inauguration ceremony began, and soon thereafter, several individuals broke off from the larger black-clad group and smashed the windows of a several storefronts. [And a limousine]

In response to the destruction of property, DC police arrested 230 people. Six went to trial and were acquitted in December. Australia’s Sydney Morning Herald carried this quote from Assistant US Attorney Jennifer Kerkhoff from the trial of the six:

We don’t believe the evidence is going to show that any of these six individuals personally took that crowbar or that hammer and hit the limo or personally bashed those windows of that Starbucks in…

Yet, she still argued that they all should be convicted of crimes punishable by up to 61 years in prison. Kerkhoff’s theory relates all protest activities within a legal concept called the Pinkerton rule, which allows the legal system to charge you with a crime for aiding and abetting the commission of that crime, even if you didn’t directly do it yourself.

The J20 cases show that the right of dissent is facing a broad legal challenge. What’s new is not that a lot of people who were protesting got arrested enmasse, we’ve seen that for decades. What’s alarming is that so many people were charged with felony conspiracy to riot, which is unprecedented.

America is now seeing how the line between what is defined as a protest and what is a riot is arbitrary, and is entirely up to the police and prosecutors to define.

The problem isn’t confined to DC. Shadowproof reports that:

Across the US, almost 60 bills have been introduced in Republican-controlled state legislatures since Trump’s election broadening the definition of rioting or increasing penalties for protesters found to have broken the law.

These efforts by legislators and prosecutors are important and chilling. Think about how easy it is at a protest for violence or window-breaking to be done by a person who is not part of the protesting group. Possibly sent by an opposing group, or even by law enforcement, specifically to discredit the protest.

Now, nobody should defend goons who break windows and set cars on fire at rallies or marches. But the rest of us who are protesting cannot be deemed guilty of the same crimes.

These are old tactics, returning in new, improved forms. Implementing these new laws could lead to unintended consequences. Under the 1949 4th Geneva Conventions, collective punishment is a war crime. And the Additional Protocol II of 1977 explicitly forbids collective punishment in local situations.

But, isn’t this what the police and prosecutors are doing?

Time to wake up America, before we lose the few rights we have as citizens!

It should be shocking that this story isn’t being covered by the US mainstream media. And it is shocking that 60 people, many of whom were not conspiring to riot may go to jail. We must elect representatives who have an understanding of the First Amendment.

To help you wake up, here is “I Ain’t Marching Anymore” by Phil Ochs from his 1965 LP:

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

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Teacher Strikes Are Pointing the Way to Change in 2018

The Daily Escape:

Baltimore Oriole in crab apple tree – 2014 photo by Wrongo

Happy (or unhappy) tax day!

Yesterday, we talked about two red state revolutions led by teachers who are demanding better pay and funding to address educational needs. We also talked about the shameful reactions of the governors of Kentucky and Oklahoma to the demonstrators.

But the governors are not the only local officials with tin ears. Valerie Vande Panne, writes in AlterNet:

In Oklahoma, the Oklahoma Education Association (OEA) is the primary teacher’s membership organization. It recently announced that the strike is over. But, Oklahoma teachers continue to strike, and are seeking a new union that would actually represent their interests. Meanwhile, legislators are seeking ways to punish the striking teachers, and have accused them of bussing in protesters, and local police call the teachers “terrorists.”

2018 is a gubernatorial election in Oklahoma, in addition to seats in the House and Senate. There are rumblings in the state to replace every single elected official this year.

Wrongo is indebted to Ms. Vande Panne’s article for the facts about Oklahoma below.

Despite the common view that Oklahoma is Republican red, most voters in Oklahoma are registered Democrats or are unaffiliated. Bernie Sanders won the 2016 presidential primary. Bernie got more votes in the 2016 primary than Trump. A third of Oklahomans are African Americans, Native Americans, Latinos, or are of mixed race.

And the demographics are changing rapidly: In Guymon, a small town in the Oklahoma panhandle, just north of the Texas border and hours from the nearest shopping mall, 37 languages are spoken in the public school system of 3,000 students.

Everyone knows that Oklahoma should be a wealthy state: Oil, gas, and coal are kings of the economy, but decades of sweetheart deals have left the state paying those industries more than those industries pay the state.

There seems to be a lot of red state unrest right now.

Are people finally getting fed up? Is the right wing’s mantra of too much government and not enough freedom starting to lose its grip? Has social media ended that mass media’s control of the narrative so much that opinion can easily be mobilized?

The strikes in West Virginia and Oklahoma are “wildcat” strikes. The rank and file basically decided to advocate for their own interests, and when “leadership” in WV (and apparently in OK) made an agreement with the legislature that was less than what the strikers had demanded, the rank and file defied its own union “leaders”.

These states have right-to-work laws, and few protections for labor, but when the teachers act together, they have political power. Without strong unions, labor has nothing to lose, if they mobilize enough of their rank and file. The union leadership has for years cozied up to local politicians, and now seems to have lost control over their own rank and file.

These reliably “red” states have a very different political history than we might expect. During the late 19th and early 20th centuries, Oklahoma, Kansas and much of the Confederate South were hotbeds of populist uprisings, from the Farmers’ Alliance and the Peoples’ Party. These parties even elected Members of Congress, and Senators. The Peoples’ Party merged into the Democratic Party in 1896.

This sets the stage for the 2018 elections. Those who want change on the local or national level shouldn’t run simply as anti-Trump. They need to address local issues that are resonating, like teacher pay and school funding. At the root of these issues is the continued cutting of taxes for corporations and the wealthy. Without revenues, schools cannot be improved, and teachers’ pay will stagnate.

Fight for equal pay for the same jobs, work to eliminate the barriers to voting, and end gerrymandering.

Run on these issues. See what happens.

 

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1968 – America Has Never Been The Same

The Daily Escape:

National Guard, March 29, 1968 during a strike supporting sanitation workers in Memphis, TN. MLK would be assassinated in Memphis on April 4th.  

Today is the 50th anniversary of the assassination of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. in 1968. It was a signal event that for practical purposes, ended the era of 1960’s activism in the US.

Dr. King was an exemplar who reached all Americans with a peaceful, moral message that still resounds today. Wrongo is aware that many blog readers were not alive in 1968, and thus have no personal connection to a time when doing the right thing was still paramount in our society.

All of us, those who lived through the 1960s and those who did not, should stop today and look back on the events of 1968, and their meaning for today. On March 31, 1968, President Johnson announced that he would not run for another term. Despite all of his legislative achievements, including Medicare, Medicaid, the Civil Rights Act and the Voting Rights Acts, his undoing was the Vietnam War.

Four days later, Dr. King was killed in Memphis. Subsequently more than 100 riots took place in our cities.

Two months later, Robert Kennedy too would be dead, assassinated like both his brother and Dr. King. Their murders dashed the hope that figures like King and the Kennedys had stirred in the American people earlier in the decade. In August, anti-war riots also had a large impact at the Democrat’s national convention in Chicago.

The riots showed the frustration and fury felt by many African-Americans who lived in poor housing with minimal opportunities, thanks to institutional racism and discriminatory government policies. For others, however, the riots reinforced the sense that the country was spinning out of control and that only a heavy hand with rioters and criminals would restore peace and keep our prosperity.

This dichotomy continues to shape our politics today.

In November ‘68, Richard Nixon was elected by 512,000 votes over Hubert Humphrey. He would continue the war, and later resign over Watergate.

The assassinations and the riots, combined with the lack of trust caused by the Vietnam War and Watergate eroded Americans’ faith in government. Without trust in government, America moved in many different directions. And voters eventually soured on liberal activist policies for more than a generation.

According to Lenny Steinhorn, a historian at American University who has studied the 1960s:

1968 was the perfect storm that crystallized the differences in society. The Tet offensive drove home the un-winnability of the war, and the assassinations drove home the despair…. All these clouds that were gathering became an electrical storm…. What was clear was how we were divided and this played out for the next 50 years.

Bill Galston of the Brookings Institution, says:

It was a terrible year. I think it was the worst year for American society since the Civil War. It was a combination of race, gender and Vietnam that was a lethal cocktail…. We were in even worse shape than we are now. We were divided about things that are more fundamental than we are now. It felt like the country was coming apart at the seams, the fabric pulling apart. But we got through it.

1968 illustrated how change can arrive suddenly and fundamentally, even in America. And many Americans see 2018 shaping up as another 1968.

We are as polarized as we were then, and this time it’s also along ideological and partisan lines. Deadly violence is again regularly erupting, this time in the form of mass shootings such as the massacres in Las Vegas, Orlando, San Bernardino and Parkland. And we saw ideological violence in Charlottesville.

Our political system is under attack again, led by President Trump and his followers who believe in disrupting the status quo, without a coherent thought about what should replace it.

If the decade of the 1960’s marked an American apogee of sorts, will the 2020’s mark its perigee? We have not faced this particular set of circumstances before, so we can’t know just now, but it is likely we may know soon.

One bright spot is the return of teenagers to activism. We have had many marches over the 50 years since 1968, but few have felt as if they would deliver political change. The Parkland activists, joined by teens all across America are media-savvy. They use different tools, and seem to be more than a flash in the pan. So maybe, the mass movement-type of activism will make a comeback.

Parkland’s student leaders have accomplished something, but we’ll have to see if it delivers results in the voting booth.

MLK remains the hero of a generation of Americans for whom activism was a building block of their personal journey to adulthood. In most ways, our nation has never recovered that sense of can-do, or that achieving your Big Idea remains possible.

Can we get it back?

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Monday Wake Up Call – April 2, 2018

The Daily Escape:

Wildflowers in Carrizo Plain National Monument, near San Luis Obispo, CA – March 2017 photo by George Rose

Mother Jones reports:

You might know Sinclair Broadcasting, the largest owner of local TV stations in the nation, from 2004, when it required its affiliates to air an anti-John Kerry propaganda film as a news segment and then fired one of its employees who spoke against it….Or from earlier this month, when CNN’s Brian Stelter discovered that it would be forcing its anchors to record “media bashing” promos that parallel President Donald Trump’s…complaints about the “fake news” media—”a promotional campaign,” as Stelter puts it, “that sounds like pro-Trump propaganda.”

In December, Jared Kushner admitted that the Trump campaign had struck a deal with Sinclair during the 2016 election in order to obtain more favorable coverage. Now, Sinclair is awaiting FCC approval on its proposed purchase of Tribune Media, which owns or operates 42 broadcast television stations in 33 markets. If the purchase is approved, Sinclair will be able to broadcast to at least 70% of American households.

Since the Clinton era, we thought of Fox News as the propaganda arm of the GOP. But in the Trump era, it isn’t a cable network, it’s your local network news affiliate. Lots of people (Wrongo included) never watch CNN, MSNBC or Fox News, but they watch local news to see the weather, and learn what’s going on in their communities.

This is where Sinclair comes in. Increasingly, local affiliates are part of the Sinclair Broadcast Group, a conservative far-right media conglomerate that has been buying up local affiliates of the networks, stations that you’ve watched for years.

Think Progress reports that Sinclair has always produced “must-run” segments for its stations that are typically conservative commentary running alongside their regular news coverage. Sinclair is now forcing its reporters to air pre-scripted segments about fake news media, in an attempt to undermine non-Sinclair stations in the same markets:

Seattle-based ABC affiliate KOMO-TV says its owner, the conservative-leaning Sinclair Broadcast Group, is forcing its reporters to air pre-scripted segments about fake news media, in an attempt to undermine non-Sinclair stations.

In recent weeks, KOMO has begun throwing in mentions of “fake news.” The Seattle Post-Intelligencer reproduces the full script:

Hi, I’m (A) ____________, and I’m (B) _________________…

(B) Our greatest responsibility is to serve our Northwest communities. We are extremely proud of the quality, balanced journalism that KOMO News produces.

(A) But we’re concerned about the troubling trend of irresponsible, one sided news stories plaguing our country. The sharing of biased and false news has become all too common on social media.

(B) More alarming, some media outlets publish these same fake stories… stories that just aren’t true, without checking facts first.

(A) Unfortunately, some members of the media use their platforms to push their own personal bias and agenda to control ‘exactly what people think’…This is extremely dangerous to a democracy.

(B) At KOMO it’s our responsibility to pursue and report the truth. We understand Truth is neither politically ‘left nor right.’ Our commitment to factual reporting is the foundation of our credibility, now more than ever.

(A) But we are human and sometimes our reporting might fall short. If you believe our coverage is unfair please reach out to us by going to KOMOnews.com and clicking on CONTENT CONCERNS. We value your comments. We will respond back to you.

(B) We work very hard to seek the truth and strive to be fair, balanced and factual… We consider it our honor, our privilege to responsibly deliver the news every day.

(A) Thank you for watching and we appreciate your feedback.

Sinclair doesn’t say which mainstream news outlets are intentionally running false stories without first fact-checking, they just claim that certain journalists pose a threat to democracy. It should scare you that you could try to watch many different stations, and get only Sinclair’s viewpoint.

Welcome to the era of the Trump regime’s state-run media. You’re living in it, and odds are increasingly good that you and your family are getting their local news from it too.

You can only fight this by being aware it exists. If people start considering a message as propaganda, they will then start asking who it benefits.

That question is the start of getting real news back on our screens.

America’s got to wake up, or lose its democracy. To help all of us wake up here is “No News is Good News” by the punk group, New Found Glory, from their 2004 album Catalyst:

Sample Lyrics:

All along, we follow blindly,
Force-fed prime time, printed nightly,
Why would anybody leave the safety of their home?

And I can’t take much more of this,
We’re all so wrapped up, in it,
Nothing will change, but the channels,
So I turn it off.

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

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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.

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Rural Towns Have Polluted Water. Will Trump’s Plan Fix It?

The Daily Escape:

Valley of Desolation, Eastern Cape, South Africa – 2018 photo by Ottho Heldring

The Trump infrastructure plan asks states and cities to partner with private equity to build their roads, bridges and water treatment plants. As the WSJ explains, private equity says they are not interested. Apparently, they don’t want to build things; they prefer to purchase existing assets: (emphasis by Wrongo)

Fund managers say they are mainly looking for assets that are already privately owned—such as renewable energy, railroads, utilities and pipelines—and not the deteriorating government-owned infrastructure like roads and bridges that helped attract the capital in the first place. To the extent they are interested in public assets, the focus is more likely to be on privatizing existing infrastructure than on new development—the heart of Mr. Trump’s push.

One area where private equity may think they have a role to play is with America’s threatened water systems, which are existing assets. When people think of water crises, they think of places like Flint, Michigan, because a failed urban water system affects huge numbers of people.

But most health-based violations of drinking-water standards occur in small towns. Of the 5,000 US drinking-water systems that racked up health-based violations in 2015, more than 50% were systems that served 500 people or fewer.

But when we add up the total number of people affected, rural America’s drinking-water situation is an order of magnitude greater than Flint’s. Millions of rural Americans are subject to unhealthy levels of contaminants in their drinking water, largely from agriculture and coal mining.

And as the rural/urban economic gap grows, this basic inequality won’t get fixed unless something radical is done to improve water quality in rural America.

Agriculture is the culprit in many rural towns, and unhealthy levels of nitrates is the primary cause. Nitrogen-based fertilizer runs off of farmlands and into the nation’s fresh water. The health impact of ingesting nitrates is serious:

  • Two-thirds of communities with nitrate levels at or above 5 ppm are in 10 states where agriculture is big business.
  • Almost three-fourths of communities whose drinking water is at or above the legal limit are found in just five states – Arizona, California, Kansas, Oklahoma and Texas.

Remediation costs vary, but a 2012 report from the Center for Watershed Sciences at UC Davis gives a yardstick. They say that a community of just under 5,000 people could incur annual costs ranging from $195,000 to $1.1 million to build and operate an ion exchange system, while a reverse osmosis system would cost from $1.1 million to $4 million a year. A $4 million system would cost $800 per citizen.

These costs may be far beyond the ability of small towns to finance. What is really going on here is another case of “socializing losses”. Farms are polluting the water, and the town is left to pay for remediation. And the big agriculture lobbies are making sure that their members avoid any liability for poisoning their towns.

We know that we haven’t been able to fund Flint’s water remediation with public funds. How will we deal with the rest of America’s polluted drinking water?  It isn’t likely that towns and cities can do much more. Some cities have debt capacity, the capital markets may be willing to lend to them. However, hostility to new taxes on the local level means that issuing new debt is difficult politically for mayors and town councils.

Trump’s infrastructure plan opens up the Clean Water State Revolving Fund (CWSRF). This federal financial assistance program for water infrastructure projects would allow private firms to both manage and repair water infrastructure at taxpayer’s expense. Previously, only states and municipalities could access the fund.

Funneling CWSRF funds to private water system providers means our most vulnerable towns will have to turn over basic infrastructure to for-profit companies. And those companies will charge for the privilege. On average, private for-profit water utilities charge households 59% more than local governments charge for drinking water, an extra $185 a year.

When your water is poisoning you, should you agree to raise water rates to fix it, or do you expect to get pure water for the money you are already paying?

What if you are unable to move to a place where the water is safe?

If your water system will cost $ millions for a town of 500, how can it possibly be paid for, except by public funding?

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Places That Don’t Matter

The Daily Escape:

Maroon Bells, CO in winter – photo by Glenn Randall

America’s forgotten masses used the ballot box in 2016 to ram home a message to their betters. The message was that we shouldn’t ignore the places that don’t matter, those places that once had middle class jobs, and now have few options. The Trump election was one way to signal all was not well in the America’s decaying small towns.

We long ago retreated from the idea that the central government has a responsibility to look after the lagging places. It isn’t an invisible, unstoppable force that directs all the wealth generation to cities: It’s a system of deliberate centralization, by individuals who control capital, to concentrate productive efficiency and thus, wealth. The left-behinds are on their own.

The reality is that regional or town regeneration is very hard, once the original reason for the town’s existence is lost. Places that don’t matter have to find ways to build wealth locally, and then keep that money local. Locally produced goods and services keep regions alive.

Most solutions are based on the usual arm waving that says: “let them have training” or, “they really need to move where the jobs are”. These ideas have largely failed. Figuring out how to revive these communities requires better policies.

The revenge of the places that don’t matter is the rise of local populism, the increasing opioid use, and declining longevity. The stakes are high, but maximizing the development potential of each town has got to be the answer.

Here is one solution. The WaPo has a long read about how a liberal DC entrepreneur set out to help West Virginians. And for a very long time, Joe Kapp’s help was refused. He was the object of a vicious online campaign, targeted by homophobia, and maligned as a carpetbagger.

When Kapp, 47, an entrepreneur decamped to a West Virginia cabin in 2012 with his partner, he’d come to take a sabbatical. The town is Wardensville, pop. 256. From WaPo:

Those who do work locally gravitate toward poultry processing, furniture manufacturing and agriculture, but the numbers aren’t good. In 2015, the unemployment rate…was 7.5%, compared with 6.7% statewide and 5.3% nationally. The per capita income…was just under $28,000 a year, compared with about $37,000 for the state, and $48,000 nationwide.

The basics are lacking. The area doesn’t have Internet. Kapp says:

You’ve got kids doing their homework in McDonald’s parking lots. People in most of the country just have no idea.

And even community college enrollments suffer. Only 10% of West Virginia high school students enroll in community college, compared to 50% nationwide.

Kapp soon befriended the president at the local community college. From there, it wasn’t long before he was helping the college launch an innovative project, the Institute for Rural Entrepreneurship and Economic Development (IREED), aimed at helping to diversify the regional economy.

Kapp initially failed to gain traction, but things have gradually turned around. He thinks this demographic has more potential than the coastal elites give them credit for. He is certain that by harnessing local knowledge, like agriculture, they can start businesses, and put their own people back to work.

Every town wants its own Amazon, but in rural communities, that’s not an option. They need to create an ecosystem that promotes a small-business culture and entrepreneurship. So Kapp’s assistance in establishing the IREED with the community college got the idea off the ground. No community college in the state had anything of the kind.

The goal of the IREED is to help the local agricultural community think of itself as entrepreneurial.

He is developing a program that will allow community colleges to offer low- or no-interest micro-loans, around $5,000, to aspiring entrepreneurs. These individuals would then take entrepreneurship and business-development courses at the lending college. Kapp:

A bank might say, ‘This guy’s too risky,’ But a community college can say, ‘I know this guy. We work with him. I am vetting and validating his ability to be able to pay back the loan.’

In other words, it’s development banking on a community level. Today, most community banks mainly fund real estate, and they still follow the model where the borrower needs to pledge collateral to get the loan. In a world where services are the business’s primary asset, collateral has no meaning.

So the micro-loans by schools may be a perfect first step to bootstrapping these persistently poor towns.

This is a tentative step. It may not be scalable, but if we are looking for the greatest “social impact indicators”, it is the degree to which people feel secure economically, and safe in their community.

Always has been, always will be.

(The concept of this column, although not the solutions, is taken from “Revenge of the Places That Don’t Matter” by Andrés Rodríguez-Pose, Professor of Economic Geography, London School of Economics. Originally published at VoxEU)

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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.

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Monday Wake Up Call – January 29, 2018

The Daily Escape:

Spricherstadt, Hamburg Germany. Spricherstadt is the warehouse district in Hamburg – 2018 photo by Brotherside

Events move so quickly in Trumpworld, there is little time to consider the full implications of them. By last Friday, few remembered that on Monday, the three-day government shutdown ended. It was just another crisis reconfirming that our political system doesn’t work. The crisis was solved by the Democrats caving on the DACA fix, for a promise that DACA would be considered again soon.

Trump then went to Davos. That could have been disastrous, but Trump toned it down by saying nearly nothing. That led the heads of the world’s largest corporations and banks to conclude that Trump isn’t so dangerous. Some actually liked him, because he didn’t berate the Davos crowds with faux populism.

Everyone seems to agree that was a good thing, and that it could have been worse.

Meanwhile back in the US, on Thursday, the NYT reported that Trump ordered the firing of Special Counsel Robert Mueller last July, only to be dissuaded by White House lawyer Don McGahn. Mueller is still on the job, so, Constitutional crisis avoided.

It’s a lot to process.

Steven Levitsky and Daniel Ziblatt, the authors of “How Democracies Die,” wrote about just how fragile our democracy is in the Sunday NYT. They say that two unwritten norms undergird our Republic that has endured various political and economic crises for two and a half centuries: (emphasis by Wrongo)

The first is mutual toleration, according to which politicians accept their opponents as legitimate. When mutual toleration exists, we recognize that our partisan rivals are loyal citizens who love our country just as we do.

The second norm is forbearance, or self-restraint in the exercise of power. Forbearance is the act of not exercising a legal right. In politics, it means not deploying one’s institutional prerogatives to the hilt, even if it’s legal to do so.

But now, Trump and other politicians push up to the edge of legality. They occasionally have stepped over the line delineating these “norms”. They have dared adversaries (or the courts) to force them back. When there is little pushback, a new norm appears.

This is America today.

In this environment, politicians willingly leverage their power to win at all costs, norms and principles be damned. Last week, Tony Perkins, leader of the evangelical Family Research Council, said in response to allegations that Trump had an affair with a porn star four months after the birth of his son Barron:

We kind of gave him — All right, you get a mulligan. You get a do-over here.

We are in an Orwellian moment. The President and party politicians stand before the nation and swear that up is down, black is white, truths are lies, and wrong is right.

Time to wake up America! We are on a precipice, staring down into the void. The country isn’t going to auto-correct, like your emails. And it can get much, much worse unless people understand the threats to our democracy, and move sharply to stop our downhill slide.

That means understanding the issues. It means voting in off-year elections, starting with your town council, and your state representatives and yes, your House and Senate candidates. It means working to get the word out to your neighbors. It means financial support for local candidates.

It means getting off the sidelines.

To help you wake up, here is The Record Company with their tune, “Off the Ground” from their 2016 album “Give It Back to You”. It reached #1 on the US Billboard Adult Alternative Songs chart:

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

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