UA-43475823-1

The Wrongologist

Geopolitics, Power and Political Economy

Democrats Can’t Let Trump Beat Them On Immigration

The Daily Escape:

Barcelona balcony – 2016 photo by Wrongo

We should talk about the Democrats’ unwillingness to articulate an immigration policy. Wrongo has shied away from talking much about immigration, because it is a very complicated problem without a school-book answer. It’s an emotional issue, but it is also a complex problem that isn’t easily addressed.

Amy Walter of the Cook Political Report says that immigration will be a key issue in 2020, since Trump will surely stoke more immigration fear to hold on to his base while trying to peel away working-class white voters who might otherwise be voting for Democrats.

Despite historical data that show border crossings are relatively low, we’re faced with a genuine border crisis. The number of people attempting to cross the border and seek asylum rose to about 100,000 in March. If sustained, that would be more than a million asylum seekers a year.

There are now 800,000 pending cases in immigration courts, and each case requires about 700 days to process. Most of these families have woefully inadequate resources for housing, food and medical care. And now, Trump plans to ship them from detention to America’s sanctuary cities.

We’re at a critical juncture. Trump’s Immigration policy based on incarceration, deportation, and border militarization has proven to be a disastrous failure. But what should replace it? As the crisis grows, maybe the possibility for political change can improve. The NYT’s David Leonhardt said this about Democrats:

“…not so long ago. The party’s leaders knew what they favored and felt comfortable saying so. Their platform generally included: 1) a path to citizenship for immigrants who came to this country illegally but had since obeyed the law; 2) deportation of undocumented immigrants who had since broken the law in significant ways; 3) fairly robust border security and investigation of companies employing undocumented immigrants, to hold down current and future levels of illegal immigration.”

In the past, Democrats were also willing to talk about limiting immigration. David Frum has a must read article in April’s Atlantic. His biggest point is that “If Liberals Won’t Enforce Borders, Fascists Will”. He feels that we are at an inflection point, and that Democrats in particular, need to promote policies to prevent Trump from riding the wave of anti-immigrant sentiment into a second term.

Democrats, including some 2020 presidential hopefuls, have expressed ever greater unease about removing unauthorized border-crossers. Julián Castro wants to decriminalize the very act of crossing the border illegally, by repealing 1325, the section of the US Code that makes unauthorized entry into the US a federal crime. No other Democrat is willing to go that far.

Speaker Pelosi spoke this week about immigration overhaul: (brackets by Wrongo)

“Our view of how we go forward is if we can….give [the American] people confidence, end some of their insecurities about their own economic situation, there will be a better atmosphere among some who are opposed to immigration in the country….”

This is why Democrats are more focused on their economic agenda than rewriting immigration laws.

When it comes to immigration, public sentiment is not on the Democrats’ side. A Gallup poll from early March found opinions largely split on how much voters worry about illegal immigration: 36% of those surveyed said they worried a “great deal,” followed by, “only a little” at 24%, “not at all” at 21% and a “fair amount” at 18%.

A different Gallup poll in February found that 47% of respondents felt that large numbers of undocumented immigrants entering the US was a critical threat. Another 30% said it was important, while 22% said it was not important. That 77% who view undocumented immigrants as a threat was up by 8 points from a year earlier.

The pressure on Democrats will be to run as pro-immigrant in 2020 since it contrasts completely with Trump’s position. But with so many people concerned about border security and illegal immigration; that may not be a wise political decision.

Dems can make a case that it would be destabilizing and impractical to remove all who have been living peaceably in this country for many years. But they can’t support a position like Castro’s that says any non-felon who sets foot in the US should be allowed to remain here.

Wrongo favors setting hard overall quotas for all immigration, and a hard sub-quota for asylum requests.

We can’t solve the illegal immigration problem overnight, but we can warn potential migrants that once the yearly quota is reached, all will be denied entrance.

And Wrongo is in favor of letting in fewer low-skills immigrants and more high-skills immigrants. That could help reduce poverty among immigrants while also potentially lifting domestic economic growth.

Facebooklinkedinrss

Saturday Soother – Amazon Bails on NYC Edition

The Daily Escape:

Marijuana Museum, Amsterdam, Netherlands – 2017 photo by Wrongo

When Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez and Michael Bloomberg agree on something, it’s worth taking seriously, and neither wanted the Amazon deal with NYC. And this week, Amazon scuttled its plans to build its HQ2 in Long Island City, (LIC) Queens, New York City, citing opposition by “state and local politicians.”

Amazon’s abrupt announcement to withdraw from the deal came after it was roughed up at two City Council meetings along with enduring the indignity of having to contend with anti-gentrification protestors and union leaders.

There were two big problems that Amazon faced in LIC. First, they were getting a huge tax subsidy, about $2.8 billion. The tax subsidy looked even worse when we learned this week that Amazon nearly doubled its profits to $11.2 billion in 2018 from $5.6 billion the previous year and, once again, didn’t pay a single cent of federal income taxes.

It didn’t help that the state and city announced the massive subsidies when both are also contending with large budget deficits. NYC Mayor Bill de Blasio, citing a shortfall of $1 billion in revenues, told city agencies to cut their budgets by $750 million by April. And these cuts would have to be recurring.

This helped build outrage about the nearly $3-billion corporate welfare program for Amazon.

The second problem was gentrification in the LIC neighborhood. Immediately after the announcement, real estate prices zoomed, precisely when Manhattan prices were falling. The NY real estate industry was to be one of the primary beneficiaries of the HQ2 project, but local residents would be driven out of their neighborhoods.

Amazon has a poor track record in Seattle. They had fiercely opposed a local tax on large companies to fund housing for the homeless, and got it reversed one month after it had taken effect. Microsoft, after the tax law was scuppered, pledged $500 million to fund affordable housing for the low and middle income in the Puget Sound area, and encouraged other companies to make similar efforts.

Amazon didn’t join with Microsoft.

All is not lost. Amazon says it will still be expanding employment in NYC. And LIC has been a hot real estate/development market for several years, long before Bezos started playing his urban version of the Hunger Games. If the commercial construction in LIC over the past five years was happening in a second-tier US city, it would be equivalent to an entirely new business district.

A third problem was Amazon’s sense of entitlement. They expected zero push back, and their New York City campaign was inept. Amazon seems to have thought that since it had the governor and mayor in its pocket, all it had to do was show up for photo ops. The NYT points out Amazon didn’t even hire a native to grease the wheels:

“…the company did not hire a single New Yorker as an employee to represent it in discussions with local groups. Its main representatives traveled between Washington and Manhattan, and only one had moved into an apartment to work with community members and foster support.”

Amazon’s leaving was celebrated by Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-NY), who represents the district. She complained about the “creeping overreach of one of the world’s biggest corporations“, and maybe that was the final straw for Bezos.

So props to AOC, and to the local politicians for standing up to this example of corporate welfare.

It’s possible that Jeff Bezos’s sudden change of heart was that he couldn’t stomach the idea of not being able to push around NYC the way he bullied Seattle into dropping its homeless tax. In NYC, he’d have to curry favor, feign interest in the concerns of locals, and make occasional contributions to the city.

Bezos may have felt all that was too high a price. But we should assume Amazon penciled out the deal, and didn’t like the result. For Amazon, it may have been a prudent business decision, artfully dressed up as a response to the political opposition the incentive package was facing.

Maybe, it’s no longer business as usual in America. AOC and other young people may not have money, but that doesn’t mean they can’t use power.

These corporate tax subsidy deals never add up for the cities that make them. Maybe people in other cities will learn from this NYC moment, and fight against the selling of our cities and towns to the uber-wealthy.

Now, it’s time to let go of Amazon, AOC, and Trump’s National Emergency. It’s time to get some Saturday Soothing.

Start by brewing up a vente cup of Roasting Rabbi Coffee, where the company slogan is: “Releasing the Holy Spark in Each Bean!” Try their Breakfast Blend.

Now settle into your most comfy chair and listen to Valentina Lisitsa play Liszt’s Hungarian Rhapsody No. 2, recorded live in May, 2010 in Leiden, Holland:

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

 

Facebooklinkedinrss

Another Lie From Trump

The Daily Escape:

The Cuernos del Paine in Chile – photo via Live Science. The 4,300-mile-long Andes, the longest continuous mountain range in the world, didn’t form slowly by one geologic plate sliding under another. They grew in two growth spurts helped by volcanic action. (Hat tip to Ottho H.)

What Trump said about El Paso in the SOTU:

“The border city of El Paso, Texas, used to have extremely high rates of violent crime—one of the highest in the country, and (was) considered one of our nation’s most dangerous cities. Now, with a powerful barrier in place, El Paso is one of our safest cities,”

Local politicians weren’t happy with Trump’s false claims that the city was violent and dangerous before a border wall was built. Trump was repeating bogus information from Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton. And, he had made the same claim at the American Farm Bureau convention in mid-January.

Here is an example of the local outrage. Jon Barela, the chief executive officer of the Borderplex Alliance, which leads economic development efforts in the El Paso region, tweeted:

Texas Monthly reports that El Paso has made lists of the nation’s safest cities for almost two decades. But what are facts when you have a wall to build on the back of a racist narrative?

Wrongo lived in El Paso for a time when he was in the military (Vietnam era), back before there was talk of a wall, before the Maquiladora factories became a part of NAFTA, when Ciudad Juarez was probably far more dangerous than it is today. But back then, El Paso couldn’t be considered dangerous for someone who went to college in Washington DC, and lived on the outskirts of NYC.

One state over in New Mexico, Governor Michelle Lujan Grisham, a Democrat, has ordered the withdrawal of the majority of National Guard troops stationed at the US state’s southern border, denouncing as “a charade” President Donald Trump’s warnings about migrants swarming the border, saying:

“I reject the federal contention that there exists an overwhelming national security crisis at the southern border, along which are some of the safest communities in the country,”

Are you getting the theme here? Two of the states closest to “the problem” say there isn’t a problem.

Kevin Drum at MoJo gathered the El Paso statistics. He shows that Trump cherry-picked the data, looking at 2005-2009. There was a spike from 400 crimes/100,000 people in 2005 to 450 crimes/100,000 people in 2008. Here is a chart showing the same statistics from 1993 to 2013:

Do you see the big reduction that came with the Wall? The Wall had almost no effect on crime in El Paso. It’s also important to remember that crime rates have come down throughout the US since the 1980’s.

The most damning fact about crime on the southern border is that it is way down. American Progress reports that:

  • Border cities are among the nation’s safest: Phoenix and other large border (and near-border) cities have some of the nation’s lowest crime rates, including San Diego, El Paso, and Austin
  • Border counties have low violent crime rates: Counties along the southwest border have some of the lowest rates of violent crime per capita in the nation. Their rates have dropped by more than 30% since the 1990s.
  • There’s no evidence of “spillover” of violence from Mexico: El Paso, Texas, has three bridges leading directly into Ciudad Juarez, Mexico, a city which has suffered a significant percentage of the national death toll brought on by the Mexican war on drug cartels, which approaches 23,000 today.
  • El Paso experienced only 12 murders in 2009, which was actually down from 17 in 2008. San Diego, California saw 41 murders in 2009, down from 55 in 2008, and Tucson, Arizona experienced 35 in 2009 a significant decrease from the 65 murders committed in 2008.

We should remember that Trump is from Queens, an outer borough of New York City. He lived there during the 1970s and 1980s, so he knows first-hand what living in a high crime city feels like. He also knows that the high crime he (and Wrongo) experienced, wasn’t caused by immigrants. That was when the Guardian Angels were founded in NYC. Trump lived there the whole time, he probably even took the subway.

His argument is false, and is clearly purely political. He’s playing to the fears of those suburbanites too intimidated to visit NYC, even if they live less than 25 miles away. His audience is suburbanites in the Midwest and Northern states.

These same people believe European cities like London and Paris are full of Muslim “no-go” zones. You can show them evidence that those cities are safer than their own suburbs, but that’s not the point.

Maybe “safe” really means “white”, so any place with too many non-whites is just too dangerous.

Facebooklinkedinrss

Tax Abatements Are Killing School Budgets

The Daily Escape:

Egmont National Park, NZ – photo by vicarious_NZ

A new report shows that US public schools in 28 states lost at least $1.8 billion in tax revenues last year as a result of tax incentives granted to corporations. The study analyzed the financial reports of 5,600 of the nation’s 13,500 independent public school districts.

Good Jobs First examined the first full year of reporting under a new accounting standard for school districts, adopted by the Governmental Accounting Standards Board (GASB), the body that sets accounting rules for all states and most localities. The new rule, GASB Statement No. 77 on Tax Abatement Disclosures, requires most state and local governments to report annually on the amount of revenue they’ve lost to corporate tax abatements.

This is extremely important, since most local schools are very dependent on revenue from property taxes, but they rarely have influence over corporate tax abatements granted by their towns, and/or the cities or counties where they are located.

And local voters have had no way to see how much they are forced to pay in additional taxes that were lost to enrich the pockets of corporate employers.

Good Jobs found that the 10 most affected states could have hired more than 28,000 new teachers if they were able to use the lost revenues. Or, they could have avoided higher home property taxes, or provided their teachers with better resources, or higher pay.

States and cities have long used abatements and other tax incentives to lure companies, or to keep them from leaving, and/or to encourage them to expand locally. Often, those companies make their choice of location based on the quality of local schools and colleges.

These abatement deals are made by local politicians and are meant to boost local economic development. Their proponents say the lost tax revenue is worth it, because they grow the local economy. But it is difficult to know whether the benefits outweigh the burdens.

And until GASB 77, it has been impossible to see just how much a school system may have lost because of a company’s tax break. The new rule is especially helpful in understanding local schools finances, because it requires the reporting of revenue losses even if they are suffered passively by the school system as the result of decisions made by another body of government.

Of the five districts that lost the most, three are in Louisiana. Together, they lost more than $158 million, or $2,500 for each student enrolled. The School District of Philadelphia, which only last year regained local control from the state after climbing out of a deep fiscal crisis, lost the second most revenue at $62 million.

Overall, nearly 250 school districts lost at least $1 million each, and in four districts, tax abatements reduced classroom resources by more than $50 million.

But most school districts have not yet complied with Rule 77, which was implemented in 2015. Good Jobs First estimates that another $500 million of subsidies and abatements are currently unreported.

Most of us believe that our governments are supposed to govern in the interests of the “general welfare,” that when voters put people in positions of power, based on the legitimacy of our electoral process, is the limit of our responsibility as voters.

We accept that somebody has to say what the rules are, and then enforce them.

But in our neoliberal economic times, voters have to remember that our governments often act as wholly owned subsidiaries of the 1%. It takes suspension of belief to accept that our republic, ruled as it is by an oligarchy, is working for the general welfare of all of our citizens.

Why do we think that, our “governments”, all of which are subject to capture and ownership by the few, are going to somehow provide decency, comity, or fairness to all of us?

We need to abandon the article of faith that the free market, one without government oversight, promotes the best economic outcome for all of us.

Today’s inequality says the opposite.

We need a new vision of the role of government. But it isn’t really a “new” vision. It is simply a return to insisting on the “promotion of the General Welfare for all” as the paramount object of government.

Here’s another thought from Gordon Wood, in his book, Creation of the American Republic:

In a republic each individual gives up all private interest that is not consistent with the general good, the interest of the whole body. For the republican patriots of 1776 the commonweal was all encompassing—a transcendent object with a unique moral worth that made partial considerations fade into insignificance.

The last outcome that American revolutionaries wanted was to be ruled by oligarchs. But, here we are.

We need to reform our capitalism.

Facebooklinkedinrss

Monday Wake Up Call – June 4, 2018

The Daily Escape:

The Blue Grotto, Malta – photo by SingularET. Not to be confused with THE Blue Grotto on Capri, the hangout of the Roman emperor, Tiberius.

NewdealDemocrat over at Angry Bear raised a few excellent points about historically low unemployment and stagnant wage growth: (emphasis by Wrongo)

As I noted several weeks ago, even though we are at least closing in on full employment, the percentage of employers not raising wages at all has gone up in the last year:

(The blue line is the percentage of employers who have not increased wages. The grey shaded areas are recessions.)

There was more bad news from Axios , reporting on a meeting with the Dallas Federal Reserve about how big companies aren’t planning on raising wages at all:

The message is that Americans should stop waiting for across-the-board pay hikes coinciding with higher corporate profit; to cash in, workers will need to shift to higher-skilled jobs that command more income.

Troy Taylor, CEO of the Coke franchise for Florida, said he is currently adding employees with the idea of later reducing the staff over time “as we invest in automation.” Those being hired: technically-skilled people. “It’s highly technical just being a driver,” he said.

The moderator asked the panel whether there would be broad-based wage gains again. “It’s just not going to happen,” Taylor said. The gains would go mostly to technically-skilled employees, he said. As for a general raise? “Absolutely not in my business,” he said.

John Stephens, chief financial officer at AT&T, said 20% of the company’s employees are call-center workers. He said he doesn’t need that many. In addition, he added, “I don’t need that many guys to install coaxial cables.”

The Civilian Non-Institutional Population (those who the government tracks for jobs analysis), grew 21.3% between April 2000 and April 2018, yet, full-time jobs grew only 11.7%. This means that we can’t possibly be at full employment, despite the government’s headline unemployment rate of 3.8%, the lowest since 2000.

And if most employers are thinking like those at Coke and AT&T, wages won’t increase, despite the country’s nine-year economic recovery. If wages will not be increasing, where do employers think increased demand will come from? And, if companies are freezing wages during the supposed good times, what will happen when times turn bad?

Corporate policies are designed primarily to respond to the requirements of its management and its institutional shareholders, not employees. Employers’ profits have been increasing steadily, but the wealth keeps getting transferred upwards. And it’s the employers who are responsible for layoffs, and who use other methods to increase profits, such as automation, which leave the surviving workers in an increasingly poor negotiating position when it’s time for the annual raise discussion.

Do workers “deserve” an annual increase? By performing their jobs, workers produce value for the company. If a company is profitable, workers should get a cut, and if profits go up, so should their share.

If a particular individual isn’t performing well, then in an efficient/well-managed company, they’ll be replaced. If the job itself is not structured to produce effectively, in an efficient/well-managed company, the job will change. And if the company fails to do either, then in an efficient/well-managed company, the company will change, or it will fail.

It appears that with their paltry increases, workers are losing ground. Rents are rapidly rising in most cities. Wrongo saw a story about a New York City couple who moved from Brooklyn, NYC to Westport, CT for cheaper housing. It wasn’t many years ago that Westport was substantially more expensive than Brooklyn. In fact, it was once the home town of Paul Newman and Martha Stewart.

Many workers are fighting for a 2% raise. (Remember, 2.6% is the average, which means many workers are getting less than that). Factor in the rising rents, food costs, and health care insurance, and you can see that the average hourly worker has little chance of upward mobility.

Is this an inevitable outcome caused by Mr. Market? Not really. Our government has its thumb on the scale via tax benefits to corporations, combined with a Federal minimum wage that is impossibly low.

Time to wake up, America! We must stop letting corporations hoard the profits! Capitalism is institutionalized avarice. Its purpose is concentration of power. And one outcome is the spreading of economic misery.

To help you wake up, here is the Soup Nazi who, says, “No soup for you! Come back 1 year!” Just like many employers say when hourly employees ask for a raise.

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

Facebooklinkedinrss

Monday Wake Up Call – January 8, 2018

The Daily Escape:

Frozen Waterfall in Adirondacks – 2018 photo by I_am_Bob

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Takeaway Lyric:

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

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

Facebooklinkedinrss

Monday Wake Up Call – December 18, 2017

The Daily Escape:

Sunrise, Island Park ID, November 2017

The WSJ’s Weekend Edition had an article about the cultural and economic split between small towns and big towns in America. In “One Nation, Divisible”, Michael Phillips follows a young woman, Caity Cronkhite, who left rural Indiana for San Francisco. Caity recalls:

All growing up, if we were too smart or too successful or too anything, there was always someone ready to say, ‘Don’t be so proud of yourself’…

Caity was smart. She bucked the system to graduate from high school a year early, but the school would not let her be named valedictorian, because she had skipped a grade. She left town, got a scholarship to Carnegie-Mellon, graduated and became a technical writer for SalesForce.com.

Still, she remained attached to her home town. She wrote an online 5000+ word essay about Kingman IN. It brought thousands of hateful responses from Kingman, including:

So keep your elitists’ rear ends in your little office cubicles while we handle the tough, physical things that keep you and your perfect friends alive…

That anger about town vs. city brought to mind Merle Haggard’s 1969 tune, “Okie from Muskogee”. Haggard and the band were on a bus outside of Muskogee when a band member joked that the citizens in Muskogee probably didn’t smoke marijuana. In about 20 minutes, Haggard had the song. The band played it the next night at the Fort Bragg, NC officers club. And after the verse:

We don’t burn our draft cards down on Main Street,
We like living right and being free.

The officers stood and gave huge applause. They had to play the song four times to get offstage. The song later went to number one on the Billboard country music charts. At the time, Reuters reported: (emphasis by Wrongo)

Haggard has tapped, perhaps for the first time in popular music, into a vast reservoir of resentment against the long-haired young and their underground society.

So in 2017, a young woman worries about being accepted in her small home town after finding success while living in San Francisco. While 48 years earlier, “Okie” was telling small town America to have pride, and that it was ok to be for the Vietnam War, and against student protesters.

These two events made Wrongo think about the roots of today’s fractious sociopolitical divide in America.

People in small towns have to fit in, the place is too small to look different, or subscribe to ideas that are outside the main stream in their town’s culture. If they do, the local hierarchy has ways of enforcing conformance with the dominant ethos. People insist that you should fit in. They think that everybody should fit in, and they don’t understand why there are places in America that don’t operate that way.

Haggard’s hit brought small-town America self-identification and pride. And it galvanized the “us” vs. “them” attitudes in small-town USA that were opposed to the growing counter-culture of the 1960’s, and the student opposition to the Vietnam War.

Americans always gather into relatively small groups. People in cities have misconceptions about small town life, just like rural Americans have them about cities.

The nature of today’s politics, and the nature of group identity in America pushes us into sparring camps. You can call it your “tribe”, your “people”, or your “team”, but groups in small-town America have a well-defined sense of identity. It is different from the identity politics in big-city America, where there are hundreds of examples of people of many different groups. Large metropolitan areas are much more diverse, but they are also knitted together by a transcendent identity with place.

Ms. Cronkhite’s parents planned on selling the farm and retiring, but Caity wasn’t ready to let it all go:

If I ever have kids, they’re never going to understand this huge part of me…I want there to be a reminder of where I come from and who I am.

Her parents sold her about 10 acres for the per-acre price her father had paid in 1972. Caity plans to build a small house. She said:

I’m still a rural American.

But she doesn’t plan on moving back just now. Fewer and fewer of us are rural Americans, and while those societies shrink, no dominant identity is replacing it.

But the sometimes-toxic sociology of small groups, or Merle Haggard’s sentiments, can’t be allowed to destroy what America has in common. In fact, appropriation of culture and patriotism by one tribe is a threat to our common good. Thus when Haggard says:

We still wave Old Glory down at the courthouse,

He’s misappropriating, since every town has always flown Old Glory at the courthouse, and wouldn’t dream of taking it down.

Time to wake up America! Fight the appropriation of our symbols and ideals. To help you wake up, here is Merle Haggard with “Okie from Muskogee”:

Facebooklinkedinrss

Letter From London – October 12, 2017

A day off, with “American in Paris” on tap for tonight. But today was throwback Thursday, so Wrongo and Ms. Right visited old haunts from Wrongo’s time in London with the global bank. A visit to Harrods was our first stop, where we saw this outrageous jacket:

2017 photo by Wrongo

Wrongo asked a young Harrods employee if this was the most garish jacket in the Men’s department, and he replied “Sorry, it’s just the tip of the iceberg.” And apparently so. There was even one that seemed to be a faux royal military outfit that might have been worn by Michael Jackson back in the day.

We then went to the Food Halls for some sweets:

Hard to believe, logo chocolates! 2017 photo by Wrongo

We moved on to visit the public school Wrongo’s sons attended, which is co-ed now, these many years later. Then to the flat that Wrongo lived in on Cadogan Square in Knightsbridge. It sold recently for about £7.5million, a tribute to how out-of-reach real estate has gotten in central London in the intervening years.

We went to Ottolenghi Belgravia to purchase spices; sumac, and black garlic specifically. By now we were hungry, and moved on to Dishoom, one of the best Indian restaurants in London. For Connecticut residents, quality Indian food is very difficult to find, without driving at least an hour. So when one of the best is a ten-minute walk from your hotel, you have to visit. Maybe twice.

We loved Dishoom’s Mahi Tikka, the Lamb Boti Kebab, and the House Black Daal, among others that were simply terrific.

Last evening we saw “Apologia” at the Trafalgar Studios. The play is about a disastrous family reunion between a Boomer career mother, her two grown male children, and the women in their lives. Stockard Channing is the mom (Kristen) who became an eminent and successful art historian, but was unable to keep custody of, or stay connected to, her two sons when they were young. Joseph Millson plays both sons very effectively. Some in our group didn’t realize the same actor performed both roles. Simon says:

I have to tell you now that the thing I remember most about you is your absence.

Things do not go well at Mom’s birthday dinner. The triggering point is Kristen’s recently published book about her life, in which she fails to mention either son, Peter or Simon. When the sons and their partners Trudi (Downton Abbey’s Laura Carmichael) and Claire (Freema Agyeman) show up for Kristen’s birthday, they want only to confront her about her decisions, both about her career and the book that represents it. Over the course of the evening, Kristen is forced to confront her sons’ antipathy for her, because of her commitment to career over family.

There is plenty of humor to cut the tension of the many confrontations, but ultimately, Kristen is left alone and unloved, a prisoner of the choices she made.

Stockard Channing is the lead, and turns in an excellent performance as Kristen, but it was Laura Carmichael as Trudi, the “Wisconsin nice” fiancée of Peter who knocks it out of the park. Trudi is a born-again Christian who seems naïve, possibly insipid, and a less-than-worthy opponent for Kristen. But it is Trudi who delivers the coup de grace to Kristen in the final moments of the play.

Excellent. See it if it comes to the US.

Facebooklinkedinrss

Saturday Soother – September 30, 2017

The Daily Escape:

Reflection Canyon, in the Glen Canyon National Recreation Area, Utah. This spot became popular with hikers after Apple used it to promote its Mac Book Pro high resolution with retina display. People first learned about the location after this photograph was taken by Michael Melford in 2006.

Texas has a $10 billion rainy day fund. Now, you would think that when the rains came to Houston, Gov. Greg Abbott would say “It’s a rainy day fund, let’s send some to Houston”.

Nope. The Texas Observer reports: (brackets and emphasis by the Wrongologist)

On Tuesday, after Turner [Houston’s Democratic mayor, Sylvester Turner] made a public request for money from the rainy day fund, Governor Greg Abbott joined in, telling reporters that the fund wouldn’t be touched until the 2019 legislative session. Turner “has all the money that he needs,” Abbott said. “In times like these, it’s important to have fiscal responsibility as opposed to financial panic.” The governor went on to accuse the mayor of using Harvey recovery efforts as a “hostage to raise taxes.”

This is an epic statement of Evil. The Texas rainy day fund has $10 billion. The bill for Harvey is estimated at $180 billion, but Houston has all the money needed.

The Observer also quoted Lt. Governor Dan Patrick from early August, less than a month before Hurricane Harvey made landfall:

Where do we have all our problems in America?…Not at the state level run by Republicans, but in our cities that are mostly controlled by Democrat mayors and Democrat city council men and women. That’s where you see liberal policies. That’s where you see high taxes. That’s where you see street crime.

Ideology always comes first in Texas. You would think that these ultra-conservative chimps would be looking for ways to help Houston, if not its mayor. But, it’s business as usual: Everything good in Texas is to the credit of the brave GOP legislators in Austin, and everything bad is the fault of county commissioners, mayors, city councils and school boards.

Oh, and the immigrants.

Six of the nation’s 20 largest cities are in Texas. And those six have half of the state’s population, and they generate most of its economic activity. But, Republicans consider them a threat, either because of their “liberal” values or the demographic, and thus, the political threat they represent to the Texas Republican Party.

This could be a real problem for the entire country in the future. Increasingly, we are seeing the GOP in red states using their control of the political system to make war on the blue cities in their states. Think about Flint, MI where local interference by the governor and state-level Republicans partly brought about the lead-in-the-water crisis that remains unresolved, and which the state won’t pay for.

Maybe this is a good time to remember that Greg Abbott received a multi-million dollar settlement for an accident that paralyzed him, and put him in a wheelchair. He is also the guy that subsequently proposed, sponsored and shepherded tort reform in the Texas legislature.

He’s the guy that acts as if tort reform doesn’t keep present day accident victims from getting the kind of compensation that he received. He closed the door after he got his millions in a settlement.

Texas is dominated by right-wing extremists determined to turn everything to advance their ideological agenda. Forget that Texas already has massive disparities between whites and non-whites in terms of social services, policing, and most other government functions.

Turning their back on Houston just makes the ideology more visible.

In Texas, they just do everything bigger and badder.

Time to relax and think about summer being over. Fall is officially here, the leaves are turning and falling onto the fields of Wrong. Time to brew up a Vente-sized cup of Durango Coffee Company’s Costa Rica Las Lajas Perla Negra ($16.95/lb.), put on the Bluetooth headphones, and watch the leaves fall.

While you do, listen to “Woods”, the second cut on the 1980 album “Autumn” by George Winston. It was his second solo piano album. Wrongo chose this because of the great fall-inspired video that accompanies the music:

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

Facebooklinkedinrss

Distressed Communities: Another Divide In America

The Daily Escape:

“Impressions of Lijiang” Show, Yunnan Province China. Lijiang Impressions is a cultural show about the traditions and lifestyles of the minorities in Lijiang. The open-air stage is at 10,000 ft. above sea level. The Dragon Snow Mountains behind the stage are higher than 16,000 ft.

The Economic Innovation Group (EIG) has an interesting report on Distressed Communities in the US. They have surveyed changes in counties in distress, from 2000-2015, using census data. The study notes:

America’s elite zip codes are home to a spectacular degree of growth and prosperity. However, millions of Americans are stuck in places where what little economic stability exists, is quickly eroding beneath their feet.

The study found that the majority of new jobs created as the recovery began came in the 20% of American ZIP codes that were already the most prosperous. The 20% of ZIP codes in the least prosperous areas generated just 1% of jobs created between 2011 and 2015.

This isn’t a Republican or Democratic problem. Both parties represent distressed areas. But the economic fortunes of the haves and have-nots have widened the political chasm between them, and it has yet to be addressed by substantial policy proposals on either side of the aisle.

The EIG study captured 99% of the US population. It covers 26,000+ US zip codes that have a population of at least 500 people, the more than 3,000 counties with at least 500 people, and the nearly 800 cities with at least 50,000 people.

Here is a map from the study showing areas of economic advance and retreat:

Our most significant modern recession and the subsequent deeply uneven recovery has exacerbated the gap between wealthy communities and poorer areas, creating a patchwork map of economic haves and have-nots around the country.

Here is another map from the study, showing the most disadvantaged small and mid-sized cities:

 

In Hartford, CT; Newark, NJ; Stockton, CA; and Trenton, NJ, more than one in five residents are now foreign-born. In general, cities with smaller foreign-born populations are more likely to be distressed: In the average distressed city, 15% of the population is foreign-born; in all other quintiles, the average is between 18 and 19%.

In the Northeast, more than two-thirds of the population living in distressed zip codes reside in high density neighborhoods, so distress in the Northeast is predominantly an urban phenomenon. In the South, nearly 60% of the distressed population resides in low density, mainly rural zip codes.  But, all types of distressed communities can be found in all regions.

A full two-thirds of distressed zip codes contained fewer jobs in 2015 than they did in 2000, while 72% saw more businesses close than open over that same time span. In total, 55% suffered net losses in both categories

Fifty-two million Americans live in the most distressed ZIP codes across the nation. Those people are more likely not to have graduated from high school. The poverty rate in those communities is 11 points higher than the national average. And adults in those communities are twice as likely to be out of work as in the wealthiest counties.

They are also far more likely to live near sites polluted or contaminated enough that the Environmental Protection Agency is working to clean them up. There are nearly 13,000 of these brownfield sites in distressed ZIP codes, compared to 3,700 in the most prosperous ZIP codes.

Those who live in distressed areas have a life expectancy almost five years shorter than those who live in prosperous areas. Rates of cancer, suicide and violence are all markedly higher in the poorest areas, and substance abuse disorders are 64% percent more likely, the report found.

The report concludes by saying:

It is fair to wonder whether a recovery that excludes tens of millions of Americans and thousands of communities deserves to be called a recovery at all.

The days of “pull yourself up by your bootstraps” are gone forever. You can’t use trickle-down economics arguments to fool all of the people all of the time, and you can’t even fool a majority of them for very long.

And now, time’s up.

Capitalism hasn’t worked for all of the people since well, never.

Facebooklinkedinrss