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The Wrongologist

Geopolitics, Power and Political Economy

You Say You Want a Revolution

The Daily Escape:

Waimea Canyon, Kauai Hawaii

Wrongo has suggested many times that America needs a revolution. He thinks that the US political process has been so captured by large corporations and the very rich that the average person no longer can have any impact on policy. In many states, the average person isn’t even totally confident that he/she will be permitted to vote the next time they go to their local precinct.

We are in the midst of a political crisis: The people have lost faith in systems which they feel don’t respond to real people and in representatives that won’t represent us, or the society at large. Rather than debate issues thoughtfully, we are whipsawed by the appeals to emotion launched daily into the ether by the tweeter-in-chief.

Two current issues demonstrate the danger. First, Jerusalem. It turns out that Tillerson and Mattis opposed the president’s decision to recognize Jerusalem as the capitol of Israel, and move our embassy there. You know from the headlines that Trump wouldn’t listen to anyone who told him this would be a very bad idea. The State Department’s response was to issue a worldwide travel alert for those Americans who think they’re still welcome around the world. The WaPo reported that a Trump confidant said:

It’s insane. We’re all resistant…He doesn’t realize what all he could trigger by doing this.

Second, North Korea. Maybe you read this headline: North Korea says war is inevitable as allies continue war games.

Martin Longman asks the pertinent question:

The so-called adults in the room utterly failed on the Jerusalem issue, so are we supposed to put our trust in them to steer a sane course on the Korean peninsula?

What are we talking about here? Can we wait out Trump, and just work like hell to replace him with a better president in 2020? Would nuclear war get him re-elected?

What about the GOP’s control of both houses of Congress? On Thursday, Speaker Ryan told us what we face next year: the GOP will tackle the budget deficit and national debt by cutting Medicare and possibly Social Security, now that the GOP’s donor class has their tax cuts.

Things have to change, and there are only two options, neither very good. First, we can try and excise the moneyed influence via the ballot box. That is the “democratic revolution” that Bernie championed in 2016. The definition of democratic revolution is:

A revolution in which a democracy is instituted, replacing a previous non-democratic government, or in which revolutionary change is brought about through democratic means, usually without violence.

Since we no longer have a functioning democracy, a “democratic revolution” to bring it back is what we require. Is it the only way to right the American ship of state?

The second option is a coup of some kind.

  • It could be via impeachment, assuming there were high crimes and misdemeanors that Trump had committed, and assuming a Republican House would impeach him, and a Republican Senate would convict him.
  • It could come via a 25th Amendment action, which might be marginally more acceptable to Republicans, but is as unlikely as impeachment.
  • Least desirable, and least likely would be a true coup, where the “adults in the room” (in the oval office, or the Pentagon) get leverage over the Commander-in-Chief. Could a real coup stay bloodless? That seems highly doubtful, and Wrongo would rather trust Trump than a junta.

Removing Trump won’t fix what’s wrong with the Republican Party. We need to prioritize and triage this situation, focusing first on taking back the House and Senate before 2020.

Who can we count on to right the ship?

Not today’s Democrats. They are led by Chuck Schumer who approves of Trump’s Jerusalem decision. The Democrats must fire Pelosi and Schumer, or die.

What about America’s largest voting bloc, Millennials? Can they step up to the challenge?

What about America’s women? In 2016, women supported Clinton over Trump by 54% to 42%, while Trump carried non-college educated white women 64% to 35%. The #metoo movement promises to become much more than the outing of bad guys: It could weaken both male privilege, and their power.

Firing a few slime balls isn’t revolutionary, but voting them out of office would be a paradigm shift.

The stock market is in the stratosphere, and consumers are happily clicking on Amazon’s “place order” tab.

Measly tax cuts will trickle down to rubes like us, while the plutocrats will die of laughter.

Can women and millennial voters look beyond the GOP’s messaging that the Muslims are always to blame, and Israelis suffer the most?

Will they care enough about whatever Mueller turns up on Trump to go out and vote?

Revolution is in the air. Why should the right have all the fun?

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Monday Wake Up Call – November 27, 2017

The Daily Escape:

Coyote, Housatonic River – Litchfield County, CT – photo by JH Clery

At the risk of sounding like the discredited Democrat John Edwards, we do live in two Americas. The top rungs of the ladder are living a good life, benefiting from the nine-year rebound from the Great Recession. The other 90% haven’t done well at all. Check out this chart of median household income:

Source

The chart shows median (not average) household income for the US, adjusted for inflation. Unlike average income, median income is not distorted by the enormous gains made by the one-percenters during the past decade.

The chart shows that for a household in the center of the US income distribution, 1999 was the best year ever. The housing bubble brought median household income almost back to its 1999 level in 2007, but not quite. Today, median household income (adjusted for inflation) is slightly lower than it was in 1989, in the first year of the George H.W. Bush administration.

How can this be? The economy is growing, and the US should have a squeaky-tight job market, since unemployment is at a 17-year low at 4.1%, a jobless figure that is near the definition of full employment. We’ve had seven straight years of job growth; job searches lasting 15 weeks or longer are now only 1.5% of the work force, down from 2% a year ago.

But wage growth is anemic. According to the law of supply and demand, employers should be sharply bidding up wages in order to capture increasingly scarce workers. But they aren’t. In October, they raised wages just a bit more than inflation, at an annual rate of 2.4%, down from September’s rate of 2.8%.

This is what imperial decay looks like to the middle class. Keep spending your seed corn tilting at windmills in the Middle East, and pretty soon some in the middle class are dumpster diving.

And consider this: Only a little more than half of America has a retirement account, such as a 401(k) or Individual Retirement Account, according to the Federal Reserve. And the typical household with a retirement account had a balance of $60,000 last year, but there are big variations. Among the top 10% of households by income, the typical amount of savings was $403,000. Middle-income households had a median of $25,000.

Everyone who isn’t in the top 10% knows just how bad things are, and those below the top 20% feel it every day.

But what can they do about it? They work, many working multiple jobs. They get home exhausted. They’re too poor to run for office in a rigged plutocracy. So they go to bed and get up and go to work again in the morning, either depressed and angry, or simply depressed.

That’s about all they can do, except to vote for politicians who have no intention of working to change their economic situation.

Each resulting government is worse than the last. Not to mention at this point in terms of power over people’s lives, even the government is dwarfed by the power of multinational corporations.

It’s long past time to wake up America! We’ve got to stop the hostile takeover of the middle class by plutocrats and corporations, but how to do it? We all have to get off the couch and work for local candidates who will be the bench strength of progressive politics down the road. We also must work to insure that our voting rights are not further eroded by polls that close early, or by efforts to prune the rolls of people who haven’t voted in a few years. This is particularly heinous when less than 55% of eligible people vote even in our presidential elections.

To help us wake up, here is the 1970’s British group XTC with their tune “Wake Up”:

Takeaway Lyric:

You put your cleanest dirty shirt on
Then you stagger down to meet the dawn
You take a ride upon a bus, it’s just a fuss
You know it keeps you born
You get to know a morning face
You get to join the human race
You get to know the world has passed you by

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Saturday Soother – November 25, 2017

The Daily Escape:

Blue Mosque, Istanbul -2013 photo by Wrongo

Wrongo planned on taking the rest of the week off, but couldn’t resist this:

We live in a time when inequality of wealth, income and influence is thought to be greater than at any time in history. Inequality strengthens social injustice and with it the existence of The Privileged and The Disadvantaged. Of those who have influence and feel they are entitled to everything, and those who expect little, receive even less but need most. Government policies are fashioned by The Privileged for their own benefit. The Disadvantaged, having little or no voice, are ignored, allowing the Cycle of Containment to be maintained, change to be suppressed and social divisions to deepen.

This is from a post entitled What Price Humanity? at Dissident Voice, and it is a pretty accurate description of where we are in America. More:

Sitting at the center of this socio-economic tragedy is an economic ideology that is not simply unjust, it is inhumane. Compassion and human empathy are pushed into the shadows in the Neo-Liberal paradigm, selfishness, division and exploitation encouraged. The system promotes short-term materialistic values and works against mankind’s natural inclination towards unity, social responsibility and cooperation, inherent qualities that are consistently made manifest in times of crisis, individual hardship and collective need.

Graham Peebles is asking what are We the People entitled to in 2017 America? And his answer is grim.

Wrongo thinks nothing is more appropriate to this discussion than FDR’s Second Bill of Rights as stated January 11, 1944 in his message to the US Congress on the State of the Union:

  • The right to a useful and remunerative job in the industries or shops or farms or mines of the nation;
  • The right to earn enough to provide adequate food and clothing and recreation;
  • The right of every farmer to raise and sell his products at a return which will give him and his family a decent living;
  • The right of every businessman, large and small, to trade in an atmosphere of freedom from unfair competition and domination by monopolies at home or abroad;
  • The right of every family to a decent home;
  • The right to adequate medical care and the opportunity to achieve and enjoy good health;
  • The right to adequate protection from the economic fears of old age, sickness, accident, and unemployment;
  • The right to a good education.

FDR could foresee the end of WWII when he gave this speech. He concluded that: (emphasis by the Wrongologist)

All of these rights spell security. And after this war is won we must be prepared to move forward, in the implementation of these rights, to new goals of human happiness and well-being.

Sadly, on this 2017 Thanksgiving weekend, we remain very far from these goals.

The inequality and sense of entitlement we see today won’t be turned around without work. Financialization is a poisonous monster. It dictates government policy, and makes the rules about how our businesses and governments at all levels engage with our people and our environment.

People are little more than sources of revenue: Their capacity to spend, to invest and consume determines how they are valued. Driving virtually every decision within the suffocating confines of the ideal is an addiction to profit.

FDR’s ideas seem quaint in 2017. The US cannot even ensure basic civil rights such as racial equality, much less “life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.” Most Americans have freely indentured themselves to the financial sector so that they can pretend to own a house in which to raise their kids, and a car to drive to work in order to earn income so they can make loan payments on the house and the pick-up.

Enough! Let’s forget about life for a while. Grab a cup of Climpson & Sons Signature Espresso that is 100% Adamo Sasaba from Ethiopia, and stay away from the turkey Tetrazzini at lunchtime.

Now, watch and listen to Narciso Yepes interpret Joaquin Rodrigo’s Concerto d’Aranjuez (Adagio) on his 10-string guitar. The 10-string was conceived in 1963 by Yepes, who ordered it from José Ramírez [III].

The conductor is Raphael Frübeck de Burgos with the Radio Symphony Orchestra of Frankfurt. It’s a lovely piece with a remarkable guitar:

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

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Monday Wake Up Call – November 6, 2017

The Daily Escape:

Balloon Festival, Armenia. In the background is Mt Ararat – photo by Karen Minasyan

As bad as you think it is in Trumpland, it’s actually worse.

It’s likely that you missed the letter that 84 members of Congress sent to Attorney General Jeff Sessions last Monday. The letter suggests to Sessions that those engaged in activism disrupting or damaging pipeline operations should face criminal prosecution as an act of terrorism under the Patriot Act.

The letter’s broad definition of terrorism, if adopted, would allow prosecutors to treat people who chain themselves to pipelines or construction equipment involved in pipeline projects as terrorists. This would treat climate activists in a harsher way than Charleston killer Dylann Roof, or the congressional baseball shooter James Hodgkinson were treated under existing laws.

Interestingly, Rep. Steve Scalise (R-LA), a victim of Hodgkinson’s attack, co-signed the pipeline terrorism letter.

While the letter cites a series of pipeline-cutting operations by radical environmentalists that occurred last October as its principal motivation, its language would include even the nonviolent resistance tactics employed by the Standing Rock Sioux to halt the Dakota Access Pipeline.

The 80 Republicans who co-signed the letter are from states with significant oil and gas industry activity. Four Texas Democrats also signed the letter.

Two days after the Congressional letter to AG Sessions was published, the Energy Equipment and Infrastructure Alliance’s (EEIA) announced the creation of an “Energy Infrastructure Incident Reporting Center.” The initiative also is a reaction to pipeline protests. Their database initiative says its purpose is tracking:

Incidents of eco-terrorism, sabotage, arson, vandalism, and violence are on the rise as severe actions have become a regular feature of pipeline protests, endangering public safety, the environment, jobs, and leaving taxpayers on the hook for millions of dollars…

Annie Leonard, executive director for Greenpeace USA, denounced the database. Leonard told the AP:

Corporations and their governmental enablers are desperate to silence dissent every way they can… [the database is] more fear-mongering by corporate bullies hoping to see what they can get away with in Trump’s America.

Peaceful protest = terrorism.

Attacking peaceful protesters with rubber bullets and water cannons = law enforcement.

Sentencing peaceful protesters as terrorists = the end of the First Amendment

Should our elected and non-elected co-conspirators be able to say peaceful civil protests against pipelines are an act of terrorism under the Patriot Act?

Time to wake up America! We need to fight to keep our Constitution or face the Orwellian future that Jeff Sessions and Trumplandia want so badly for all of us. To help you wake up, here is Neil Young and Crazy Horse with “Rockin in the Free World” from his 1989 album “Freedom”:

Takeaway Lyric:

There’s colors on the street
Red, white and blue
People shufflin’ their feet
People sleepin’ in their shoes
But there’s a warnin’ sign
on the road ahead
There’s a lot of people sayin’
we’d be better off dead
Don’t feel like Satan,
but I am to them
So I try to forget it,
any way I can.

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

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Saturday Soother – November 4, 2017

The Daily Escape:

Grand Tetons early morning – 2011 photo by Wrongo

Two short thoughts for your Saturday. First, hidden in the language of the GOP’s Tax Bill  is a something that would change the Johnson Amendment, a provision in the tax code that prohibits churches, faith communities, and other non-profits from outright endorsing political candidates:

…The provision is not a complete repeal of the Johnson Amendment. As written, it would only free up religious communities—not all non-profits—to endorse candidates and appears to prohibit churches from going out of their way to campaign for a candidate outside of their normal religious activities.

The GOP wants to erode the separation of church and state. Let’s see who, if anyone, in Congress is willing to fight for the Constitution.

Second, the Democrats had a grenade go off inside the DNC when an excerpt from Donna Brazile’s new book was published by Politico. She claims that the Clinton administration assumed control over the Democratic National Committee (DNC) in exchange for keeping it solvent, then funneled most of the funds raised into her campaign, leaving the states with very little to support down-ballot races.

The states kept less than half of 1 percent of the $82 million they had garnered from the Hillary fund-raisers the campaign was holding to support state-level candidates. That’s about $4.1 million.

When Howard Dean was chair of the DNC he instituted a 50-state policy, saying the DNC would maintain full time workers in each state, to contest seats up and down the ballot from the county, to state legislature to house and senate races.

When Obama won, Dean was out, and the 50-state policy was dismantled. After that, the DNC was reorganized to serve only national level elections. And Obama For America took its place as the funds-raising vehicle for the presidential re-election. And Hillary did much the same with the Hillary Victory Fund, but she went further, as Brazile reveals: The DNC would covertly back Hillary in the primaries.

And now, through these efforts, the Democrats have lost the White House, the Senate and the House, in addition to most state governments.

It’s hard to decide what’s worse, that the party is run by incompetents, or that it is just hopelessly corrupt.

Time for a hostile takeover of the Democratic Party.

On to the weekend. You obviously need to go to a happy place that doesn’t include continual assaults by our national media. So brew up a cup of London-based Union Hand-Roasted Coffee’s El Topacio Microlot, El Salvador, available online for £8/200g.

Now kick back someplace you can see the natural world outside, and listen to Peter Mulvey playing his instrumental, “Black Rabbit”. Mulvey is known for his guitar chops and songwriting. He got started by playing in the Boston metro. This short acoustic gem is executed with ease, and pure musicality:

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

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Monday Wake Up Call – October 30, 2017

The Daily Escape:

Fall at the Statehouse in Augusta, Maine – photo by Robert F. Bukaty

Welcome to what we may start to call Robert Mueller Monday. Ray Dalio, the founder of the Bridgewater Associates, the world’s largest hedge fund has serious concerns about the uneven recovery of the US economy.

In a LinkedIn post, Dalio said that if politicians and business people look only at the economy’s average statistics about how Americans are doing, they could easily make “dangerous miscalculations” because the averages mask deep differences in how people in various income segments are doing.

Dalio divides the economy into two sections: the top 40%, and the bottom 60%. He then shows how the economy for the bottom 60% of the population, (that’s three in five Americans for you English majors), has been much less successful than for those in the top bracket.

For example, Dalio notes that since 1980, real incomes have been flat or down for the average household in the bottom 60%. Those in the top 40% now have 10 times as much wealth as households in the bottom 60%, up from six times as much in 1980.

Dalio says that only about one-third of people in the bottom 60% (20% overall) save any of their income. Only a similar number have any retirement savings. These three in five Americans are experiencing increasing rates of premature death. They spend about four times less on education than those in the top 40%. Those in the 60% without a college education have lower income levels, and higher divorce rates.

Dalio believes these problems will intensify in the next five to ten years. The inequality problem is caused by our politics and our fiscal policies, not by the Fed’s monetary policies.

OTOH, Dalio’s concerns aren’t a surprise to anyone who follows the political economy. In fact, it isn’t a surprise to anyone who has walked through any mid-sized American city, or driven through any small town in the heartland.

The problem is not low wage growth.

The problem is not long-term unemployment, as degrading and humiliating as that is.

The problem is that the US economy has been restructured over the past 30 years as an underemployment, low-wage economy in which most new jobs created are temporary jobs (whether you are a laborer, a technician, a service worker or a professional) with no job security, low wages and few benefits.

The real question is can we solve the problem? Many old lefties argue for a Universal Basic Income, (UBI), but Wrongo thinks that’s, er, wrong. If the UBI were high enough to provide even a subsistence living for every American, it would be massively inflationary. And it would merely allow businesses to pay lower wages, which is why some wealthy business people, like Peter Thiel, support a UBI.

Wrongo thinks we should support guaranteed work, not guaranteed income. Most people need and want to work in order to keep their place in our society. Getting a check just isn’t sufficient. If people matter at all, and if 95% of them lack the means to live without working, society must strive to employ all of those who have been deemed redundant by the private sector.

And there is plenty to do around America. Start with the 5,000+ bridges and dams that need replacing, or the 104 nuclear power plants that are falling apart.

We need real tax reform that can’t be loopholed. Corporations must pay more, not less. Stop the move to give corporations incentives to repatriate offshore earnings by lowering their effective tax rates. That only compromises our future tax stream. Corporations have to pay more in taxes, and agree to increase the wages of average workers.

Economically, we are in a pretty scary place. People across party lines and socio-economic levels are frightened for their financial security. We need a jobs guarantee, not a UBI.

So, wake up America! Letting corporations and the rich dictate our investment in human capital or infrastructure has us on the road to eclipse as a country. To help you wake up, here is Todd Snider performing “Conservative Christian, Right Wing, Republican, Straight, White American Male“, live at Farm Aid 2014 in Raleigh, North Carolina in September, 2014:

Why aren’t the Dixie Chicks singing harmony on this?

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

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Saturday Soother – September 9, 2017

The Daily Escape:

Stepwell, Rahasthan India – photo by Victoria Lautman. Stepwells were carved to make it possible to bring water up from deep wells. Only about 250 stepwells remain.

Big week. Trump cozies up to Schumer and Pelosi, earning the enmity of Ryan and McConnell. Hurricane Irma slices through the Caribbean, and is making landfall in Florida as Wrongo writes this. The Wrong family offers its best wishes to those who are still in the path of the storm.

But, there is another storm brewing over at Equifax, who was nailed by a breach that could have essentially exposed everyone with a credit record in the US:

Equifax, a provider of consumer credit reports, said it experienced a data breach affecting as many as 143 million US people after criminals exploited a vulnerability on its website. The US population is about 324 million people, so that’s about 44% of its population.

Equifax said:

Criminals exploited a US website application vulnerability to gain access to certain files…

Probably yours, 143 million credit records were exposed. Equifax is offering free credit monitoring to anyone affected, but that’s a cheap make-good for compromising the credit information of almost everyone in the US with an Equifax credit file. That includes anybody who ever had a credit card, or completed a loan application in the past 25 years.

Needless to say, consider your identity compromised, and take steps before Equifax strikes again. If you’re wondering whether heads will roll at Equifax, don’t fret. It looks like they knew what was coming, and acted in their own self-interest:

Three Equifax Inc. senior executives sold shares worth almost $1.8 million in the days after the company discovered a security breach that may have compromised information on about 143 million U.S. consumers.

Equifax says that it discovered the intrusion on July 29.

Regulatory filings show that three days later, Chief Financial Officer John Gamble sold shares worth $946,374 and Joseph Loughran, president of US information solutions, exercised options to dispose of stock worth $584,099. Rodolfo Ploder, president of workforce solutions, sold $250,458 of stock on Aug. 2. None of these transactions were listed as part of 10b5-1 pre-scheduled trading plans, so they most likely were spur-of-the-moment.

In other words, these titans of capitalism knew for over a month, but didn’t tell anyone, and then sold shares before revealing the breach. BTW, Equifax’s stock crashed on the news. We used to call that insider trading, but we no longer expect corporate America to pay for its mistakes.

In a society that respected its laws, these guys would be already in jail. Not only have they hidden the attacks, giving people less time to react, but they have also sold their shares using privileged information.

The corporate rats always jump ship before the boat sinks.

In honor of Hurricane Irma, and to help those who have boarded up, filled the tank and moved out, we have two pieces of music today. For the fans of popular music, here is “Ridin’ The Storm Out”, from the 1973 album of the same name, by REO Speedwagon:

Takeaway Lyric:
The wind outside is frightening

But it’s kinder than the lightning

Life in the city it’s a hard life to live

But it gives back what you give

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

And for those who wish to be contemplative while experiencing the devastation, or awaiting news of it, grab a hot steaming cup of Georgio’s Colombia Pink Bourbon Los Cedrol coffee. Now, put on your headphones, and listen to Rossini’s “La Tempesta – VI Sonata a quattro in D major” for two violins, violoncello and double bass. Rossini wrote this in 1804, when he was 12 years old. Go ahead, eat your heart out, you’re unlikely to be that good, ever. This version is performed by Orchestra Atalanta Fugiens, conducted by Vanni Moretto:

 

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Houston’s Petrochemical Industry Fails to Protect City

The Daily Escape:

Ranwu Lake Campsite, Tibet photo by Arch-exist Photography. Ranwu Lake is a tourist attraction in SE Tibet, and is called the “Tibetan Switzerland”.

Life in the age of corporatism resembles life in the food chain. In a potentially disastrous outcome from the Harvey flooding, a chemical plant in Crosby, Texas belonging to French industrial giant Arkema, has had several explosions of peroxide and other volatile chemicals. From the NYT:

The company had already ordered all workers to leave the damaged plant, and Harris County ordered the evacuation of residents within a 1.5-mile radius.

These chemicals have to be refrigerated. When the plant’s warehouses lost power, they transferred the product to diesel-powered refrigerated containers. But later, the backup generators were swamped by flood waters, so cooling was lost, and the explosions began. On Tuesday, the company released a statement:

Refrigeration on some of our back-up product storage containers has been compromised due to extremely high water, which is unprecedented in the Crosby area. We are monitoring the temperature of each refrigeration container remotely….while we do not believe there is any imminent danger, the potential for a chemical reaction leading to a fire and/or explosion within the site confines is real.

The rains are over, but the chemical fires linger. Richard Rowe, the CEO of Arkema’s American operations said:

The company has no way of preventing chemicals from catching fire or exploding at its heavily flooded plant…the company has no way to prevent…this worst case outcome.

The CEO says, “No way to prevent explosion“. Back in the olden days, that would be known as a “major design flaw”. Most engineers would have recommended placing the generator sets above at least the 100-year high water mark, just to prevent this kind of fun event. They would also put the diesel tanks above that water line.

Maybe next time. The Houston Chronicle had this amazing map of chemical plants in the Houston area:

In case it is hard to read the map legend, the yellow markers are for petrochemical plants that have a “medium” potential for harm based on their location within the 100-year flood plain. The red markers have a ”high” risk for harm. Houston’s ship channel and the surrounding area along the Gulf coast represent about 40% of U.S. petrochemical manufacturing. At least 25 Houston-area plants have either shut down, or experienced production issues due to Hurricane Harvey’s flooding.

Any guesses that the concentration of plants in the Houston flood zone will cause our corporate overlords to think about relocation of a few of these sites? Or, how they best secure them from the next 500-year flood, which looks like it will happen in say, the next five years? From Forbes:

Harvey was a wake-up call, reminding us that it is time to take a more serious look to ensure the safety of the petrochemical industry and the public at large, just as the nuclear power industry has done in reaction to the Fukushima disaster.

But Arkema has worked hard to change EPA rules in their favor. David Sirota reports that the new rules, which were set to go into effect this year, were halted by the Trump administration after a lobbying campaign by Crosby plant owner Arkema and its affiliated trade association, the American Chemistry Council:

Those rules — which would have taken effect on March 14 — were blocked by EPA administrator Scott Pruitt. The move was a big win for the chemical industry that has spent more than $100 million supporting federal lawmakers since 2008.

Apparently, sacrifices must be made in the name of making America great.

The closures are not just disrupting markets; they’re also causing the release of toxic pollutants that pose a threat to human health. The NYT reports that damaged refineries and oil facilities have already released more than two million pounds of hazardous substances into the air.

The sheer number of facilities around Houston that have to come back online at the same time creates another huge emissions problem. From City Lab:

The real problem is that the plants are allowed to operate so close to residential areas in the first place. Houston’s lack of zoning regulations have been front-and-center in discussions about why Harvey has been so terrible for the city, and that’s no different in the discussion about air pollution.

Not to worry, Houston, your petrochemical corporations will be fine. They have insurance. They will get to write off any damage against their profits. They will get tax incentives to rebuild, or if they choose to move, tax credits from the town down the road.

The people? Most will have no insurance to rebuild their homes or to purchase new furniture.

And the pollution impact? A cost of doing business for the petrochemical industry.

Unfortunately, for the people, pollution’s about their health. And there will be no help forthcoming for the most vulnerable Houstonians.

Have a slice of Texas-themed music: Here is Robert Earl Keen, doing “Corpus Christi Bay” from his 1993 album “A Bigger Piece of Sky”:

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FCC Says America Doesn’t Need Fast Internet

The Daily Escape:

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

The FCC has just said that Americans might not need a fast home internet connection. Instead, mobile internet via a smartphone might be all the public needs. From Ars Technica:

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

Today’s Wrongologist column is for all of those people who said “both parties are the same, it doesn’t matter who you vote for”. Nothing like the “small government” folks at the FCC telling America what type of internet access we need.

During the Obama administration, the FCC determined that broadband wasn’t reaching Americans fast enough, particularly in rural areas. And, they did not consider mobile broadband to be a full replacement for a home (or “fixed”) internet connection via cable, fiber, or other technologies.

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

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

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

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

More from Ars Technica: (brackets by the Wrongologist)

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

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

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

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

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

Consumer internet usage will increase. With the current costs of mobile data, an evening of Netflix delivered by smartphone will put the average US consumer over their data plan maximum. The data caps in most mobile plans are low, and the costs of overages are high. Reliability is another issue. The service is fragile in storms, and unstable under high volume usage, such as at large public gatherings.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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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.

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