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The Wrongologist

Geopolitics, Power and Political Economy

Saturday Soother – October 21, 2017

The Daily Escape:

Autumn at Lake McDonald, Glacier National Park – photo by Jack Bell

Wrongo wonders where we went wrong. Was it the 2016 election, or were things heading towards the cliff for many years? Is there a way back from our national free-fall?

Another week when Trump dominates the news cycle by making it all about him. The federal response to the Puerto Rican disaster? A 10. Which president calls the next of kin of GIs killed in the line of duty? Trump, not the black guy. Who was for the bi-partisan insurance fix for Obamacare before he was against it? His Orangeness.

There was a notable softness in commentary on what Trump and the GOP are doing that is making America win. And the news from overseas is worse. Friday’s NYT speaks about how our Syrian and Kurdish proxies have taken Raqqa, the headquarters of the ISIS Caliphate. It says that now that our guys have won, we have no idea who/how to fill the political vacuum we just created: (emphasis by the Wrongologist)

Trump administration officials acknowledge privately that the military campaign in Syria has by far outstripped the diplomatic campaign, to the point now where there is no real plan for what to do in a post-Islamic State Syria.

We attacked ISIS in Syria because that was popular with American voters, and doing what the neo-cons really wanted, attacking Assad in Syria, wasn’t something the American public would accept. Now, ISIS is fading into the woodwork, and we will soon be face-to-face with the Syrians, Russians and Iranians. Certainly, Syria expects it will control Raqqa. What’s the Administration’s plan?

This is depressingly similar to what Wrongo has written this week about Iraq and Iran. Lots of energy, but no plan. Certainly, nothing that can be legitimately called “strategy”.

It’s Saturday, time to downshift, and find a calm place. Today, Wrongo suggests a Vente cup of Sakona Coffee Roaster’s Jaizlibel Blend, (€28.00/Kilo). Note that Sakona roasts to order, so you’ll need to plan ahead. Then, find your Bluetooth over the ear headphones, get comfortable, and watch the leaves fall on this October day.

Now, listen to Martha Argerich. The NYT reports that Martha Argerich, the 76-year old Argentinian pianist, and one of the world’s greats, played in NYC on Friday night at Carnegie Hall. She’s one of the last remaining old masters. Once she’s gone, much of what we hear will sound like what everyone else is playing. She rarely visits the US, but there is a large YouTube library of her work. Here is Argerich playing Chopin’s Scherzo No. 2 in B-flat minor, Op. 31 written in 1837. The video is from 1966, when Argerich was 24:

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

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Choosing Between The Iraqis and The Kurds

The Daily Escape:

Fall in Cooperstown, NY – photo by Robert Madden

Yesterday, we talked about the US strategy of keeping all sides at bay in the Middle East (ME). This is supposed to allow us to turn our attention away from the ME to Russia and China. If that leads to conflicts between ME countries (or within them), that is acceptable to us, so long as these conflicts do not threaten Israel, or drag us back into military involvement in the region.

Today, we see our strategy in action in the brewing conflict between Iraq and the Kurds in Iraq. The Iraqi Kurds held a referendum that decisively supported their independence from Iraq. The vote was a historic moment in the Kurds’ generations-long struggle for political independence. But every major player in the neighborhood including the US, opposed even holding the referendum. And Baghdad refused to recognize the results.

In the past few days, the Iraqi military battled Kurdish forces to reclaim the city of Kirkuk from the Kurds. This means that one American-backed ally is fighting another, both with American-supplied weapons. From the NYT: (emphasis by the Wrongologist)

American officials, including President Trump, insisted that the US was not taking sides in the dispute, but some analysts say that the US approved the Iraqi plan to enter Kurdish-held areas and that Iran helped broker the agreement with a Kurdish faction to withdraw its fighters from Kirkuk, allowing the Iraqi forces to take over largely unopposed.

Most of the Kurdish Peshmerga military forces in Kirkuk are loyal to a faction that is opposed to Mr. Barzani, the nominal leader of Iraqi Kurds. They agreed to make way for the advancing Iraqi force. Iran also supports the Iraqi government’s moves on Kirkuk. Iran’s goal is to insert Shiite militias into contested areas, dividing the Kurds, while solidifying Iranian influence over the Iraqi government.

So, does this mean we are now supporting Iran’s moves in Kirkuk? How does that compute when we are calling them out at the UN as state-sponsors of terror? Does it compute as Trump walks us out of the Iran nuclear deal? And why we are doing this when the Kurds are an important ally in our fight against ISIS?

The NYT quotes Joshua Geltzer, a former director for counterterrorism at the National Security Council:

It seems like we just got out of the way as Baghdad rolled the Kurds, and that doesn’t feel right…Plus, it makes little sense for an administration interested in getting tougher on Iran.

So, is this just more of the ME balance of power strategy that we are practicing in the region? Maybe, but the Iraq’s history doesn’t support our idea of E Pluribus Unum.

Iraq emerged from the dissolution of the Ottoman Empire at the end of WWI. Up to that point, the territory that became Iraq had been ruled by the Ottoman Turks for hundreds of years. But at the Versailles peace negotiations, the British were given the lands that are now Iraq, with the intention that the area be made independent at some point.

When Iraq was created, no group thought of itself as Iraqi.  As Pat Lang says, the land comprised:

Arab Sunni Muslims, Arab Shia Muslims, Kurdish Sunni Muslims, Kurdish Shia Muslims, Kurdish Yaziidis, Turkmans, Assyrian Christians, Chaldean Christians and Jews.

And these groups began revolutions against the central government shortly after Iraq was granted independence in 1925. In 2003, when the current Iraqi state emerged, it had ties to the US and to Iran. Now, Iraq is a Shia dominated state, and, despite all of the US blood and treasure expended to stabilize it, Iraq is likely to ally with Iran over time.

That’s the same Iran that Trump and his neo-con friends detest.

On Wrongo’s reading list is Gertrude Bell: Queen of the Desert, Shaper of Nationsby Georgina Howell. It details how Bell, at one time the most powerful woman in the British Empire, was the driving force behind the creation of Iraq in the post-WWI period. As Christopher Hitchens said in his 2007 review:

Howell points out that the idealistic members of Britain’s “Arab Bureau” knew that the promises they gave to the Arab tribes, that they would have self-determination after the war if they joined Britain against the Turks, would be broken.

How remarkable (and tragic) that we would use the Kurds in the same way 100 years later against ISIS.

Is there any reason to have confidence that the Trump administration has a clear plan to deal with what is happening on the ground in Iraq?

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Why Can’t We Quit Poking Iran?

The Daily Escape:

Fall in the Eastern Sierras – photo by Deirdre Harb

You may not remember the tangled history the US has with Iran, but you know that Trump decertified the Iran deal that was developed by the US and 5 other major powers (Russia, China, Germany, England and France). In his decertifying speech, Trump said:

We will not continue down a path whose predictable conclusion is more violence, more terror and the very real threat of Iran’s nuclear breakout…

Just three countries publicly support Mr. Trump’s decision: Israel, Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates. We all know that Iran calls the US “the great Satan”, but we forget how we earned the title. Here is a quick review from the BBC:

  • In 1953, the US overthrew Iran’s elected government. We (and the UK) were not going to stand by and let their Prime Minister, Mohammad Mossadeq nationalize Iran’s oil industry. The CIA led a military coup, and re-installed the Shah.
  • In 1979, a coup overthrew the Shah, and Ayatollah Khomeini took control of the Iran government. In November 1979, Iran took over the US embassy and held 52 Americans hostage for what was 444 days, until 1981.
  • In 1985-86, the US secretly shipped weapons to Iran in exchange for Tehran’s help in freeing US hostages held by Hezbollah in Lebanon. The profits were channeled to rebels in Nicaragua, creating a political crisis for President Reagan.
  • In 1988, a US warship shot down an Iranian Airbus A300 killing all 290 people on board. We said it was a mistake, and Iran apparently forgave us.
  • In 1999, Iran’s new president Katahimi called for “a dialogue with the American people” that went nowhere.
  • In 2002, GW Bush denounced Iran as part of an “axis of evil” with Iraq and North Korea.

Now, nothing in the above excuses Iran’s efforts to destabilize parts of the Middle East, or their deep, abiding hatred of Israel. Nothing excuses Iran’s role in developing and introducing the IED’s that were so lethal to US troops in Iraq.

Time has done little to heal the wounds that each country has inflicted on the other. Mutual enmity remains on full display.

But Trump, like Obama and GW Bush, searched for a way to reduce our presence in the Middle East and shift attention to Russia and China. The solution for all three Presidents was to pit Middle Eastern governments against one another creating a balance of power, attempting to prevent any single country from becoming too influential.

If they make war against each other, that’s an acceptable outcome, as long as Israel remains unscathed.

In that context, Iran’s pursuit of nuclear weapons was something that the US and its European allies couldn’t allow. The Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA), provided a means of halting the program’s progress without risking the outbreak of war. The deal prevented the possibility of an Iranian nuclear bomb destabilizing the region.

By attempting to reopen the JCPOA by withdrawing, Trump hopes to either rein in Iran’s regional meddling, or persuade Tehran to broaden the deal to include restrictions on its ballistic missile program, and on its support for militant groups, such as Hezbollah and Hamas.

Neither of Trump’s goals are reachable. Iran gains nothing by agreeing to them. And the US and the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) agree that there is no evidence to suggest that Iran is not complying with the deal. So, as long as Iran upholds its end of the bargain, the Europeans plus China and Russia, are unlikely to agree with any US attempt to reinstate broad sanctions.

And Trump is making his negotiations with North Korea more difficult. Walking away from the Iran deal justifies North Korea’s belief that negotiation with the US on nuclear issues is futile. Particularly when one president’s agreement can be so easily torn up by his successor.

The American Right has considered Iran one of the “axis of evil” since 9/11. In that context, Trump’s desire to replace diplomacy with sanctions and eventually regime change, is ideologically consistent. The Right is simply using its electoral victory to advance a long-held policy.

We should remember that most of the GOP presidential candidates in 2016 were against the Iran deal, and probably would have acted similarly to Trump.

We are at a crossroads in our relationship with Iran. With the Iran deal, our long-term antipathy could have been moderated, and ultimately replaced by alignment of goals in the Middle East. Peace might have broken out.

But Trump has insured that will now take decades longer than it might have.

 

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Saturday Soother – October 7, 2017

The Daily Escape:

Naiman Nuur (Eight Lakes) National Park, Mongolia. The lakes are just 22 miles from the Orkhon waterfalls, but are accessible only by hiking, or by horse. You can get to it with 4 wheel drive vehicles, but it is 80+ miles one way, 160 if there are heavy rains. You are probably never coming here.

Rick Perry heads Trump’s Department of Energy, (DoE). With the Russians, nuclear war with North Korea, ditching the Iran deal, and hurricanes, we have ignored Perry. But Perry hasn’t ignored the coal industry Trump hired him to protect. The DoE has asked the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC) to begin the rule-making process to subsidize coal and nuclear plant operator’s costs and profits. From Vox:

Perry wants utilities to pay coal and nuclear power plants for all their costs and all the power they produce, whether those plants are needed or not.

This takes a brief unpacking. The DoE did a study of power grid reliability that said:

The loss of coal plants had not diminished grid reliability; in fact, the grid is more reliable than ever. Reliability can be improved further through smart planning and a portfolio of flexible resources.

Then the DoE said to FERC: Address a crisis we determined doesn’t exist. They are asking FERC to adopt a rule forcing utilities in competitive energy markets to pay the full cost of plants that have 90 days’ worth of fuel on-site. Perry’s argument is that the levels of renewable energy produced from wind and solar is variable. And since backup is needed for days with calm winds or cloudy skies, we need to preserve the aging coal and nuclear plants to protect the power grid from dips in availability, because they alone among electric power sources, have 90-days of fuel on hand.

Perry’s contention is that coal and nuclear stored fuel is necessary for grid reliability, and, that these plants are unfairly being driven out of business by subsidies to renewable energy. This is patently false. It is cheap natural gas that is driving coal out of business.

Having fuel on-site does little for grid resilience. No one expects energy outages if coal and nuclear plants continue closing. But, let’s have more corporate welfare for the least useful part of the energy industry!

Perry’s alleged problem isn’t real, and his solution, subsidizing coal and nuclear plants, is a form of theft. A transfer from the most deserving, clean renewable and safe plants, to the least deserving, most polluting and dangerous coal and nuclear plants.

And people will be taxed through artificially higher electricity rates to subsidize coal and nuclear plants. More from Vox:

It’s hard to overstate how radical this proposal is. It is wildly contradictory to both the spirit and practice of competitive energy markets. It amounts to selective re-regulation, but only for particular power sources, which wouldn’t have to compete, they’d just have to have piles of fuel.

So does FERC have to do what DoE asks? No, but consider this: FERC has three commissioners (a quorum), two of which, including the chair, are Trump appointees. The chair is Neil Chatterjee, who was a staffer for Sen. Mitch McConnell, the Senate’s champion of coal. Chatterjee recently said:

I believe baseload power should be recognized as an essential part of the fuel mix. … I believe that generation, including our existing coal and nuclear fleet, needs to be properly compensated to recognize the value they provide to the system.

So, this market-wrecking plan to Make Coal Great Again is likely to happen.

This is an old-school Ayn Rand-style looter giveaway from a bunch of self-described free-market “conservatives” trying to rescue a dinosaur industry that is choking the world.

Just another issue that raises our anxiety level. It’s Saturday, and we need to dial it back, relax and stop thinking about how these Trump termites are quietly undermining everything. Grab a hot, steaming cup of Mystic Monk Paradiso Blend coffee ($15.99/lb.), find a quiet corner, put on the Bluetooth headphones and listen to Telemann’s “Concerto in D major for Violin, Cello, Trumpet and Strings”, TWV 53:D5. Here performed by the Bremer Barockorchester, recorded in a November, 2015 live performance at the Unser Lieben Frauen Church, Bremen, Germany:

Note the valveless trumpet played by Giuseppe Frau. It is an Egger (three-hole system) Baroque trumpet.

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

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A Strong Proposal For Changing Our Gun Laws

The Daily Escape:

Lauterbrunnen, near Bern, Switzerland. Photo by Scott Hafer

Thought for today:

“The right thing is usually not hard to do. And if it is, it’s still the right thing.” – Jason Hirschorn

Pam Keith is a Democratic candidate for Florida’s 18th Congressional District. She was a Navy officer, and lawyer. She has a great take on what to do with guns in America. Here is a series of tweets by Pam:

(The Baker Act allows the holding of mentally-ill people against their will)

WTG Ms. Keith, all are good ideas! Outlawing “bump stocks’ should be added to this list, and it seems that the House is likely to do just that. Will we ever get the National Rifle Association (NRA) out of the business of dictating which gun legislation is, or isn’t acceptable?

Assuming we want changes to our interpretation of the Second Amendment, we must force enough Republicans in Congress to listen, and act. We have control, if we choose to use it.

Or, we can accept the occasional mass slaughter as the “price of freedom” as Bill O’Reilly says we must. The Second Amendment is neither inviolable, nor sacrosanct. We have built this edifice of carnage on the most willfully misinterpreted 27 words in the Constitution. Ms. Keith’s ideas could help save lives, without impacting the rights of responsible gun owners.

As the opening quote says, doing the right thing, even if it is hard to do, very hard, it’s still the right thing.

We could stand idly by, and accept that random, indiscriminate mass slaughter is our new normal.

Here is a musical interlude by the Wailin’ Jennys singing “Light of a Clear Blue Morning” from their soon-to-be released album, “Fifteen”, a series of covers. Here, they are covering Dolly Parton. They turn the tune into a reminder about resilience and hope in each new day. This is particularly appropriate given the Las Vegas mass murder.

They sing in perfect à cappella harmony. Inspiring and beautiful:

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

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Can We Have an Honest Discussion About The GOP Tax Plan?

The Daily Escape:

When the dog lies about his previous sheep-herding experience

A new set of tax policies have been proposed by the White House and the GOP. They involve both tax cuts, and some tax reforms. Here are the bullet points of the GOP’s sales pitch:

  • The tax cut won’t help the rich, and won’t help Donald Trump personally
  • The tax cut will generate enough growth to pay for itself
  • Most of the benefits of the tax cut will go to the middle class

Here are the NYT’s calculations on Trump not gaining anything:

Trump could save more than $1 billion under his new tax plan

And here is the Tax Policy Center’s take on the benefits to the wealthy:

  • The top 1 percent of households (those with incomes above $730,000) would get about 53% of the framework’s net tax cuts, or roughly $130,000 a year on average.
  • The top 0.1 percent of households (those with incomes above $3.4 million) would get roughly 30% of the framework’s net tax cuts, or about $720,000 a year, on average.

Turning to the statement that “tax cuts will pay for themselves”, Trump claimed in a talk with House Ways and Means Committee a few days ago, that his tax plan will produce more than 6% growth.

An economist once said that you don’t need to look at the details of a Republican tax plan. The higher the Republican growth forecast, the worse the actual deficit in their plan. That’s because they need greater revenue growth to cover the deficit hole they are creating. Given Trump’s 6% growth forecast, you just know the tax plan is going to be a budget buster.

We have learned from past GOP tax cuts that they won’t reduce deficits or balance budgets. Want proof?

  • The George W. Bush tax cuts made the deficit larger, while doing little or nothing to stimulate the economy
  • The income-tax cuts in Kansas caused the state’s deficit to accelerate significantly, while economic growth lagged the contiguous states
  • Even Ronald Reagan’s tax analysts, David Stockman and Bruce Bartlett, have acknowledged that unfunded tax cuts don’t create growth, they make for bigger deficits.

Regarding the point that most of the cuts will go to the middle class, it won’t happen. Since 83% of the plan’s cuts are going to the top brackets, there’s not much left for the middle class.

What they don’t talk about is their plan to get rid of personal exemptions, which is a key deduction for middle class families, especially those who itemize deductions. To determine whether middle-class families get a cut or an increase under the new plan, you need to calculate if the higher standard deduction, plus the proposed expansion in the child tax credit, (no details about that yet), is greater than the loss of personal exemptions.

Josh Barro at Business Insider crunched the numbers, and his conclusion is: (emphasis by the Wrongologist)

While there are still a lot of details to be filled in, the information we have available suggests the new Republican tax proposal would raise income taxes on many families who make just a bit more than the national average.

They are promising to eliminate the “alternative minimum tax”, (AMT) a tax provision designed to ensure that wealthy taxpayers (who can have accountants find deductions) would pay some modicum of taxes rather than get off scott-free. In fact, the GOP has it backwards: People who owe the AMT should be paying more tax than they would pay with the AMT. It serves its intended purpose. Elimination of the AMT is another tax break for the wealthy:  For example, Trump has had to pay the AMT, as have most real estate developers.

Now, ask yourself why should personal tax rates be less progressive in 2017 than they were in 1963? Shouldn’t progress towards a more equal society mean our rates would be MORE progressive, not less? It’s not as if we have less inequality, we have more.

The reason we should want to tax the rich (till it hurts) is to reduce their power and overwhelming choke hold on policy.

When will the GOP engage in an honest discussion about their tax plan?

Not soon. Maybe not ever.

Here’s First Aid Kit doing a cover of Simon & Garfunkel’s “America”, from 2014:

We all need to look for America, its getting very hard to find.

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

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Tuesday Wake Up Call – October 3, 2017

Re: Las Vegas: In an America of unlimited guns and unlimited ammo, we live or die at the whims of killers. That is clearly what the Founders intended when they authored the Second Amendment. And “thoughts and prayers”, or lowering the flag to half-staff, are do-nothing pap for the masses.

The Daily Escape:

Madrid, the capital of Spain – Photo by Wilhelm Lappe. The effort by the people of Catalonia to vote for independence from Spain was the largest story of the weekend, until Las Vegas happened. Barcelona, in the northeast part of Spain is home to the Catalans.

About 92% of Catalans who voted in the weekend’s referendum backed independence, on an overall turnout of just 42%. Eight percent of voters rejected independence, and the rest of the ballots were blank, or void.

The entire process of voting for independence was marred by the effort of the Spanish national police to prevent polling places from opening, or votes from being counted. That led to violence in which at least 844 people and 33 police were reported to have been hurt.

The Spanish national government of Mariano Rajoy showed bad judgment in trying to prevent a Catalonian referendum from happening. There were good examples of how to handle this: The UK allowed the Scots to have their vote, and campaigned showing why the Scots would be better off in the UK. The Scots rejected independence. Similarly, Canada permitted Quebec to vote for independence, and campaigned on the benefits of remaining with Canada. The Quebecois voted against separation.

If the Spanish had allowed an open referendum and campaigned against secession, the outcome might well have been that separation was rejected. In an open referendum, those opposed to secession would have been empowered to campaign and vote against it, not participate just by casting blank ballots. From Benjamin Studebaker:

If someone was against Catalan independence, it would be odd to participate in this referendum because the Spanish state–the entity you recognize as sovereign–declared the referendum illegal. An independence referendum that has the backing of the regional authority but not the national authority can only deliver a divisive result.

But, the Spanish government chose to disrupt the referendum with police force. The separatists (call them voters!) chose to confront the police exercising their right of self-determination. That right, codified in the UN Charter, states that a people can freely choose their sovereignty and international political status without interference.

But few nations would agree that the right of self-determination creates a right for a portion of the country to secede from an existing nation state. In the US, a Supreme Court case, Texas vs. White, (1869) held that the Constitution did not permit states to unilaterally secede from the US.

And with the Catalonia vote, Spain is now divided, and what happens next is unclear. The referendum will be followed by a declaration of independence, leaving the central government with few choices but to escalate toward repression.

Spain will be a true test, as the Catalonian movement could well become a feature of this century. The Kurds are attempting it in Iraq. We see a weakening of the nation state as an organizing principle due to the weakening of national identities, and their replacement with micro-identities.

People now have some choice regarding identity, thanks to global flows of information. For example you can identify as conservative, libertarian, Muslim, Jewish, or Jedi Knight-American. The old “brands” – English, Spanish, Italian, American, are being parsed into a subsets with which people identify, organize, and vote. This “identity politics”, organizing around the new identity, is a problem. It’s a threat to unified societies.

This is qualitatively different from simply being a hyphenated American who celebrates their roots.

It’s time to wake up: the old world order isn’t holding. People will not stay inside it voluntarily. We need to look at our system of government, and the ties that bind us. To help us wake up, here is Muse with their tune, “Uprising” from their 2009 album, “The Resistance”. The song is about a proletarian revolt against the 2008 global banking crisis:

Key Lyric:

They will not force us
They will stop degrading us
They will not control us
We will be victorious

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

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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.

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Our Military Needs to Take Charge in Puerto Rico

The Daily Escape:

Floating lanterns in Motoyasugawa River, Hiroshima Japan. The lanterns mark the anniversary of the Hiroshima bombing. There is one lantern for each person who died in the bombing – photo by the Asahi Shimbun

Why hasn’t Trump mobilized America’s military to help rescue Puerto Rico from the disaster that grows worse every day? Why the Band-Aid of repealing the Jones Act?

After eight days of delay, the Trump Administration has issued a Jones Act waiver. The Jones Act prohibits the transportation of cargo between points in the US, on any vessel owned or operated by a foreigner. The Trump administration issued a Jones Act wavier earlier this month, for petroleum products to be delivered for relief assistance in anticipation of the effects of Hurricane Irma.

Similar to many things that happen in Washington, the Puerto Rican Jones Act waiver is a sham. Why? Because it is a 10-day waiver. This, from the DHS announcement: (emphasis by the Wrongologist)

This waiver will ensure that over the next ten days, all options are available to move and distribute goods to the people of Puerto Rico. It is intended to ensure we have enough fuel and commodities to support lifesaving efforts, respond to the storm, and restore critical services and critical infrastructure operations in the wake of these devastating storms…

And the clock has already started. Wrongo used to handle shipping finance in Europe for a top-three bank. It will take a few days to get foreign ships loaded with the appropriate goods. Then it will take many days, possibly a week or more, for them to travel to Puerto Rico.

As an example the US Navy hospital ship USNS Comfort, leaving from Norfolk Virginia will take at least five days to reach Puerto Rico. And the Comfort travels at about the average speed of a container vessel, or a tanker, 17 knots. Even if a foreign tanker or container ship was already loaded and ready to go this morning, it is clear that few, if any, could arrive and unload in less than 5-7 days.

So, Trump’s “waiver” is a sham. OTOH, the situation in Puerto Rico is already far beyond needing a waiver of the Jones Act. Bloomberg reports that:

Thousands of cargo containers bearing millions of emergency meals and other relief supplies have been piling up on San Juan’s docks since Saturday. The mountains of materiel may not reach storm survivors for days.

Distributors for big-box companies and smaller retailers are unloading 4,000 20-foot containers full of necessities like food, water and soap this week at a dock in San Juan operated by Crowley Maritime Corp. In the past few days, Tote Maritime’s terminal has also taken the equivalent of almost 3,000 containers. The two facilities have become choke points in the effort to aid survivors of Hurricane Maria.

Mark Miller, a spokesman for Crowley, said:

…that’s where the supply chain breaks down — getting the goods from the port to the people on the island who need them…Trucks are ready to be loaded with the goods and precious diesel for backup generators, but workers aren’t around to drive. Instead, they’re caring for families and cleaning up flood damage — and contending with the curfew.

The buildings that would hold the supplies are either destroyed, or have no power. The over-the-road transport companies that have staff available and diesel on hand encounter downed poles and power lines while attempting to navigate on washed-out roads.

Planning for something of this scale should have started once we knew that Maria was a CAT 5 storm making a direct hit on Puerto Rico. But that didn’t happen, and now, the number of people who are out of money, food, water, fuel and critical medical supplies grows every day.

We should be sending vast amounts of equipment and manpower to help clear roads, and get things in a condition to where people can begin to rebuild. We should be sending mobile medical teams that can move in and out of remote areas and evacuate those who may die without medical intervention.

Our military has divisions of logistics experts that can supply an army even under very difficult conditions. They have units that can build bridges in a day, or rapidly repair roads for supply convoys.

Our military has the mobile medical teams that can handle wartime injuries. They need to be on the ground. We need a military-style operation to stem the tide of this disaster.

Why hasn’t General Little Hands ordered them into action?

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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.

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