UA-43475823-1

The Wrongologist

Geopolitics, Power and Political Economy

Monday Wake Up Call – April 22, 2019

The Daily Escape:

Hout Bay, South Africa – 2012 photo by Wrongo. Hout Bay is a suburb of Cape Town.

Let’s talk a little about ageism and sexism in politics. Are Biden and Sanders too old to be president? Why are the top-polling four 2020 Democratic presidential contenders men?

Over America’s 230 years of presidents, 220 of those years have featured a man who was less than 70 years old. The ten other years consist of most of Reagan’s two terms, along with all of Trump’s time in office, and the last three months of Eisenhower’s second term.

Reagan was 75+ in the last half of his second term. That’s when many in the White House speculated about whether Reagan’s deteriorating mental condition might justify invoking the 25th amendment:

“He was lazy; he wasn’t interested in the job. They said he wouldn’t read the papers they gave him—even short position papers and documents. They said he wouldn’t come over to work—all he wanted to do was to watch movies and television at the residence.”

Does any of that sound familiar?

Biden and Sanders are leading the early polling for the 2020 Democratic nomination, so the possibility of an 80 year-old president is very real (Sanders would be 79 upon taking office, while Biden would be a year younger). If Trump gets re-elected, he would spend the second half of his second term as the oldest president in US history.

People in this age group can perform very well, but their odds of dying or getting dementia are reasonably high. So, why not elect younger people? The idea of electing a white man about to turn 80 to the presidency seems crazy. Maybe not as crazy as re-electing Donald Trump, but we aren’t grading on a curve. There are plenty of perfectly acceptable alternatives that don’t carry anything like these particular risks.

And what explains the fact that in the most diverse primary in Democratic Party history, the top four candidates are all white men? We unfairly hold women who hold, or seek jobs in high places to different standards than men, possibly thinking that in politics, “electability” means “white dude”. This is wrong.

We need to let the policy ideas of this group play out, and let meritocracy prevail. At this point, we have no idea who is “electable”. But Wrongo hopes that we pick from among the younger prospects, someone with energy, ideas and a message that unites rather than divides the country.

Before accusing Wrongo of being ageist, or of playing identity politics, let it be said that his top three presidential prospects at this point are Elizabeth Warren, Pete Buttigieg, and Kamala Harris. All three seem to have the personality that will relish the fight on the campaign trail. Warren offers more policy positions that Wrongo supports. Mayor Pete and Kamala Harris have that elusive “electability” that Warren may lack.

Speaking of identity politics, we shouldn’t forget that Bernie Sanders is Jewish. So his election would be no less historical than electing a woman, a gay or a person of color.

Time to wake up Democrats! We need to support the candidate who can turn current policies in a new direction. Let’s support the candidate who has the courage, stamina, and experience to be successful.

To help you wake up, here is “I Don’t Understand The Poor” from the 2014 Tony Award-winning best musical, “A Gentleman’s Guide to Love & Murder”. This could be sung at every Republican Convention:

Sample Lyric:

I don’t understand the poor

And they’re constantly turning out more

Every festering slum In Christendom

Is disgorging its young by the score

I suppose there are some with ambition

Say, the pickpocket, beggar, or whore

From what I can tell

They do quite well

They’re rising above

And its work they love

But I don’t understand the poor.

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

Facebooklinkedinrss

Saturday Soother – Muller Report Edition

The Daily Escape:

Maui, on the back road to Hana – 2013 photo by Wrongo

The hot takes on the Mueller Report are in, and just like before, there remain two camps. One is glad he got away with it, and the other is unhappy he can’t be fired. Virtually the entire GOP apparatus has been mobilized to defend Trump, and focus blame on the media, the deep state, and liberals.

But Trump is not portrayed as an angel, in fact, the report rips him apart. There are technical and legal reasons why a recommendation not to prosecute Trump was made by the Office of Special Counsel (OSC). Moreover, the OSC believes that Congress can (presumably should?) exercise its “authority to prohibit a President’s corrupt use of his authority in order to protect the integrity of the administration of justice.” They say that Congress “may apply the obstruction laws to the President’s corrupt exercise of the powers of the office,” and that doing so would “accord with our constitutional system of checks and balances and the principle that no person is above the law.” (From Volume 2, page 8 of the Mueller Report)

The OSC lays out the reasons why the DoJ isn’t the “right” authority for dealing with a criminal president. The OSC is also very clear that it does not have confidence “after a thorough investigation of the facts that the president [would be cleared of] obstruction of justice.”

Since the OSC has completed the most thorough investigation of that subject that we have, the clear implication is that while they believe Trump is guilty of committing corrupt and obstructive acts, they don’t reach that conclusion, because they are not charging him.

And this is why they make the case that an impeachment by Congress is the proper forum.

So, Mueller basically punts, and leaves it to the Congress. Trump has not been vindicated, or exonerated. He just wasn’t charged. In this country, a person is innocent until proven guilty. For sitting presidents, that can only be accomplished through impeachment.

The Democrat’s leadership has already said that impeachment is off the table. But Wrongo’s theory is that Nancy Smash will do investigations this term, and find out if there is any more bad news that can help defeat Trump in 2020.

If not, then impeachment could be pursued during his second term. Plan A and Plan B are both in place, and ready for execution.

Conduct the investigations by the various House Committees. Let’s see what is revealed, not only what else goes into the record, but what we learn by observing the behavior of the many Trump administration actors.

The Mueller investigation may have ruled out conspiracy with the Russians, something that Wrongo was unconvinced about. But it was a shot across the bow that should lead to closer examination of future campaigns. The redacted OSC report is bad enough for the President politically. How much more damage might be done if/when the Congressional committees reveal more?

What with the Mueller Report and the Notre Dame fire, western culture seems to be on the skids here in the spring of 2019. No time like right now for an unredacted Saturday Soother!

Start by brewing up a coffee that you probably haven’t had before, Café Granja La Esperanza Sudan Rume Natural ($37.50/8oz.) by PT’s Coffee in Topeka and Kansas City, KS. Wrongo is certain that long-time reader of the Wrongologist, Monty, can write a review for all of us.

Now settle into a comfy chair and listen to music played on the great organ at Notre Dame Cathedral. We now know that the organ was not damaged by fire or water during the conflagration, and was removed intact from the cathedral. Here is Organ Sonata No.1, Op.42 by Alexandre Guilmant, played by Olivier Latry. Latry was awarded the post of one of four titulaires des grands orgues of Notre-Dame when he was 23 years old. That means he has a key to get into the Cathedral and practice on the organ. Watch him play:

Latry was interviewed shortly after the fire happened. He was in Vienna, and said:

“I decided to fly to Paris for a few hours on Sunday. We just have to see the church, even if we are not allowed to go in, which is still forbidden at the moment. It feels like a nightmare we have not yet woken up from. Slowly, hour by hour, I understand the reality more and more. This is very hard.”

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

Facebooklinkedinrss

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

Monday Wake Up Call – April 15, 2019

The Daily Escape:

Tax day! Wrongo got the Wrong family taxes finished, and submitted with a few days to spare. Last week was one of the many that will make you scratch your head. Here are three amazing things from last week:

  • Scientists unveiled an image of a black hole
  • That image is 50 million years old
  • Millions of Americans still believe the Earth is 6,000 years old

And just when you thought America’s cities couldn’t be any more corrupt, check out NYC’s Hudson Yards, Manhattan’s mega-project that is the largest private real estate development in the US by area. Private? City Lab reports that Hudson Yards was partially bankrolled by a federal investor visa program called EB-5, which was meant to help poverty-stricken areas:

“Specifically, the project raised at least $1.2 billion of its financing through a controversial investor visa program known as EB-5. This program enables immigrants to secure visas in exchange for real estate investments. Foreigners who pump between $500,000 and $1 million into U.S. real estate projects can purchase visas for their families, making it a favorite for wealthy families abroad, namely in China. EB-5 is supposed to be a way to jumpstart investment in remote rural areas, or distressed urban ones.”

The threshold for these EB-5 visas can be reduced to $500,000 if investors place their capital in a “targeted employment area” (TEA). The TEA can be either a rural community or distressed urban area with a high unemployment rate (at least 150% of the national average).

Investors typically obtain visas for two additional family members, so Business Insider thinks the development likely created about 10,000 EB-5 visas, the maximum permitted in any year.

These are the kind of immigrants both parties can agree should be let in!

But is Hudson Yards a distressed neighborhood? It is bordered by expensive neighborhoods such as Chelsea and Hell’s Kitchen. It sits at the start of the High Line, and is too wealthy to qualify for the EB-5 program. To solve the problem, the state included a few census tracts from Harlem as part of the Hudson Yards TEA. Here’s a map of the TEA:

This looks just like a gerrymandered Congressional district in North Carolina. And it tells you all you need to know about how our local, state, and federal politicians are in the pocket of private industry. Money is always the driving factor, and it engulfs our politicians of both parties in a stew of questionable ethics.

America can’t be bothered investing in our own people, so we sell visas to bribe foreigners to do the investing for us.

Time to wake up America! This is the tip of the iceberg for the rot in our political process. To help you wake up, listen to “Why We Build the Wall” from the 2010 album “Hadestown” by Anaïs Mitchell. This “folk opera” opens on Broadway on Wednesday. The play is inspired by the story of Orpheus and Eurydice. Here is “Why We Build the Wall”, featuring Greg Brown. Wrongo is seeing the play in the middle of May:

Note that this song was written in 2010, long before Trump, or any politician had any interest in building a wall.

Sample Lyric:

Who do we call the enemy?

The enemy is poverty,

And the wall keeps out the enemy,

And we build the wall to keep us free.

That’s why we build the wall;

We build the wall to keep us free.

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

Facebooklinkedinrss

Saturday Soother – April 13, 2019

The Daily Escape:

Angel’s Rest, Columbia River Gorge, OR – 2019 photo by Thenervouspoops

(Sunday cartoons will be published on Monday, as Wrongo and Ms. Right are visiting a granddaughter in Buffalo NY)

Busy week at the Mansion of Wrong, as Wrongo prepared the Wrong family taxes for presentation to the Swamp on Monday.

His town responsibilities led to interviewing three interns for a part-time (paid) construction accounting position at the Department of Public Works. All three were accounting majors at Western Connecticut State University, and all were smart, articulate and working in multiple jobs while attending college full-time.

Those students made Wrongo feel hopeful about the next generation. That maybe America will avoid being consumed in the dumpster fire that the previous generations are leaving them.

Possibly lost in the news about Assange and William Barr was this from CNN, who reported on the bizarre words by former Pope Benedict XVI. He “retired” just before the current Pope, Francis II was elevated. Benedict wrote an essay on the sex abuse crisis in the Catholic Church that was published this week in a German magazine for priests. In the article, Benedict claims that the sexual abuse of children by priests was caused in part by the sexual revolution of the 1960s and the liberalization of the church’s moral teaching:

“Part of the physiognomy of the Revolution of ’68…was that pedophilia was then also diagnosed as allowed and appropriate…Benedict says that this mentality also affected bishops and Catholic seminaries and caused, the extensive collapse of the next generation of priests….here were — not only in the United States of America — individual bishops who rejected the Catholic tradition as a whole and sought to bring about a kind of new, modern Catholicity….In various seminaries homosexual cliques were established… which acted more or less openly and significantly changed the climate in the seminaries.”

His Awfulness. Benedict blames clerical pedophilia on the swinging sixties. He blames pedophilia on homosexuality.

It’s too bad the Catholic Church didn’t have a guy who is completely and unquestioningly in charge, like some sort of a “Super Bishop” who could have told everyone what to do. Someone who could have put a stop to all the child raping. Yes, that would have been Benedict, or those who came before him, or after.

The sexual revolution wasn’t about raping kids. What kind of moral failure is it on the part of the Catholic Church for the former Pope to say: “But they were doing it too!” Coming from an institution that prides itself on being the arbiter of morality, this is an historic failure.

There are tons of records of priestly pedophilia that predate the 1960’s, including plenty of cases of churchly cover-ups. Why is this retired guy entitled to speak about anything?

Enough! It’s time for our Saturday Soothing! Let’s start by checking out Vancouver, BC’s Notch Coffee’s flagship coffee, Sumatra Boru Batak (C$18.00/340 grams). Expect notes of Baker’s Chocolate, dried mango and tobacco, says the brewer.

Now, contemplate all of your to-be-done yard work while you sip this coffee and listen to “Simple Gifts” from Aaron Copland’s “Appalachian Spring” played in 1962 by the New York Philharmonic conducted by Leonard Bernstein. You’ll remember the melody, and maybe, you will think of the simple gifts that are missing from your life today:

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

Facebooklinkedinrss

Capitalism’s Bad Smell

The Daily Escape:

New Macallan Distillery – 2018 photo via ArchDaily. There are 952 different bottles to taste on site. Bring a designated driver.  

Capitalism in America has gotten bad enough to attract the attention of The Economist:

“Two things stand out about business in America today. One is how successful American firms are: they account for 57 of the world’s 100 most valuable listed firms. The other is the bad smell hanging over a number of powerful companies.”

No one says that The Economist has a liberal worldview. They are the news journal of globalism and neoliberalism. But, even they think that the time has come to revisit how we treat our largest companies.

They go through a litany of all-too-familiar corporate abuses.

  • Boeing selling 737 MAX planes with dangerous software that you had to pay extra to get.
  • Criminal charges have been filed against Goldman Sachs in Malaysia for its role in arranging $6.5 billion of debt for a fraudulently run state fund.
  • A jury in California has just found that Monsanto failed to warn a customer that its weed killer could cause cancer.
  • Wells Fargo admitted creating 3.5 million in unauthorized bank accounts.
  • Facebook’s data practices are under scrutiny in several countries.
  • Purdue Pharma is the subject of a lawsuit by New York’s attorney general, along with McKesson and Johnson & Johnson.

The Economist points out that America has been no stranger to corporate scandals. In the 19th century meat packers sold rotten meat. In the 1960s, Detroit made cars that were in the words of Ralph Nader, “unsafe at any speed”. In the 1990s, tobacco companies and asbestos manufacturers had to settle class action suits that cost them more than $150 billion.

In the early 2000s, WorldCom, Enron and Tyco committed accounting fraud. And nobody forgets the mortgage fraud by our large banks and insurance firms that caused the Great Recession in 2008.

Back to the Economist: (brackets by Wrongo)

“Today’s crises…have common elements. The firms tend to be established, with dominant market positions. Outrage infuses social media and Congress. And yet the financial cost [to these bad actors] has been limited.”

They say that of ten big American listed firms involved in scandalous episodes, their median share price only lagged the stock market by 11% after the event. And just two of the CEOs at scandal-ridden firms were fired. Worse, for the ten firms, the total pool of senior executive pay has risen over the four most recent years to almost $600 million.

Doesn’t corporate America just see these things as the cost of doing business?

We need to remember that this just doesn’t happen here. Volkswagen cheated on emissions tests, as did Audi and Nissan. Sweden’s Swedbank is facing a criminal investigation for money-laundering.

American capitalism needs reform. The Economist says that in the past, three forces constrained corporate conduct: regulation, litigation and competition. Since the 2008 financial crisis, each of these three forces have been weakened by both our elected officials, and by US regulators. This provides an incentive for firms to take an extended walk on the wild side.

First, America’s regulatory system features both capture and incompetence. The FDA has allowed opioids to be sold in huge numbers, clearly beyond what was medically necessary. The FAA delegated its inspection process to Boeing. The FTC can’t police Facebook. The Fed, the FDIC, and the Comptroller of the Currency, our bank regulators, fail to indict bank executives. They impose fines that are small, relative to value of the gains made by rules breaking.

Second, litigation is no longer a deterrent. The Economist says that:

“Criminal cases leading to jail terms for top executives are as rare as socialists at Goldman Sachs.”

The same is true for civil actions. Arbitration clauses cause both customers and employees to forfeit the right to pursue class actions. Firms are more likely to extend cases by appealing, which can take years.

Finally, we all expect the market will punish bad behavior by corporations, because customers have options. But we know that America’s corporations have gotten larger, primarily by acquisition. That makes it harder for angry customers to move to competitors. There’s just one alternative to Boeing; Airbus, but it doesn’t have spare capacity. Users aren’t leaving Facebook. If you need OxyContin, you have just one source. Try changing your cable provider.

Econ 101 shows that the trajectory of monopoly begins with economies of scale, and ends with economies of exploitation. And remember that six corporations own 90% of the media. We won’t hear much about wrongdoing at Amazon from the WaPo.

Voters need to push for more enforcement of regulations, which can only be done by the federal government.

We have to insist that the protection of citizens is more important than protecting corporations and the 1%.

Facebooklinkedinrss

Monday Wake Up Call – April 8, 2019

The Daily Escape:

Three Brothers, Yosemite NP – February, 2019 photo by mattfloresfoto

Last week, the House of Representatives voted to reauthorize the Violence Against Women Act (VAWA). The reauthorization was opposed by 157 Republicans including four of the thirteen Republican women in the House. The debate turned on provisions in the bill that restrict those convicted of domestic abuse, assault, or stalking from buying or owning a firearm.

You would think that supporting the bill would be a no-brainer, but only 33 House Republicans voted for the bill. The NRA was opposed, warning that a vote in favor of the bill would be reflected in individual Congressperson’s NRA ratings.

The current law has been on the books for 25 years. The original law already prohibits spouses or former spouses convicted of abuse from purchasing a firearm, but an amendment to the bill closed the so-called “boyfriend loophole,” adding unmarried partners to the language. It would also prohibit people convicted of misdemeanor stalking offenses from owning or buying firearms, as well as abusers subject to temporary protective orders.

That all was a bridge too far for the NRA. NRA spokesperson Jennifer Baker:

“The gun control lobby and anti-gun politicians are intentionally politicizing the Violence Against Women Act as a smoke screen to push their gun control agenda…”

The NRA’s objection was that too many violent people would be prevented from owning a gun.

Nancy Pelosi said in a speech on the House floor:

“There should be nothing partisan or political about ending the scourge of domestic violence and sexual assault, which one in three women faces today…”

Is this a good look for Republican lawmakers? We think of the GOP as excellent in controlling the political narrative, but a headline that says “157 House Republicans support violence against women” will leave a mark. It doesn’t help the NRA either. The group can be said to favor gun rights more than they care about protecting women from domestic violence. Another bad look.

It gets worse for both the GOP and the NRA: Think back to the Texas church mass shooting, and remember that the shooter got a gun because the US Air Force never reported his domestic violence court martial conviction — 26 people died.

Common sense is not common. The VAWA has been in place for 25 years, and there has been very little serious opposition until now. The amendment seems reasonable. This may be a case where the NRA lost its ability to think objectively. But, the bill faces an uncertain future. With these new gun control provisions, it is likely to be dead on arrival in the GOP-held Senate.

It’s clear now that the NRA doesn’t care about the problem of domestic violence. All they want is more gun sales.

And the Republicans are right there with them. Their motto should be: Greed, Guns and God.

Time to wake up, America! The GOP’s position against the VAWA demonstrates their bias against women and in favor of the NRA. To help you wake up, Wrongo brings back the Monday rock song feature. Today we hear from Chrissy Hyde of the Pretenders. We present her song “My City is Gone” from her third album, “Learning to Crawl”. It was released 35 years ago in 1984.

The song’s title was chosen because there had already been a song called “Ohio” by Crosby, Stills, Nash and Young:

Some might realize that the bass line in this song is used by the execrable Rush Limbaugh as the music bumper on his radio show. Hyde agreed to let him use it as long as the proceeds were donated to animal rescue.

Sample Lyrics:

I went back to Ohio
But my city was gone
There was no train station
There was no downtown
South Howard had disappeared
All my favorite places
My city had been pulled down
Reduced to parking spaces
A, o, way to go Ohio

Her lyrics could have been a letter sent 35 years ago to the Democrats as a warning about what was happening in the heartland. It was unread, and marked “return to sender”.

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

Facebooklinkedinrss

Saturday Soother – Final Four Edition

The Daily Escape:

Aiguille du Midi – 2019 photo by Berenicids. The Aiguille du Midi (12,605 ft.) is part of the Mont Blanc massif in the French Alps. It can be directly accessed by cable car from Chamonix. If you enlarge the picture, the cable car building is visible at the very top of the mountain.

The end of Wrongo’s favorite sport, the college basketball season, happens on Monday. Tonight is the Final Four, the Wrong family’s equivalent of the Super Bowl, with family gathering for food and drink around the TV.

But, that doesn’t start until the early evening, so we’ve got time to talk about another scary piece of news this week: There will be severe human impacts caused by the next wave of automation. The bottom line is that plenty of jobs will be lost and we’ll see societal disruption as machines and robots take over American jobs. Axios takes it from there:

In a new report, the Aspen Institute nudges policymakers away from any notion that the American economy will naturally adjust as robots are introduced at an accelerated pace over the coming two and three decades.”

Axios goes on to quote Aspen’s Alistair Fitzpayne who says that, workers displaced in prior technological cycles “have experienced profound downward mobility” in new jobs at much lower pay and benefits.

The report’s executive summary warns, “Artificial intelligence and other new technologies may lead to deeper, faster, broader, and more disruptive automation”, and retraining programs may be unable to mitigate the downward trend in earnings and social status. Aspen warns that fewer jobs may be created than are destroyed:

  • No one knows how many new jobs will be produced, where they will be created, or how much they will pay.
  • Most studies play down the real possibility that the automation age could go very wrong, for an extended period, for large swaths of workers and their communities.
  • Workers who lost their jobs in the wave of manufacturing layoffs in the early 1980s, for instance, were still earning 15%-20% less in their new work 20 years later, according to the Aspen report.

Axios reports that Aspen tries to pull the punch, saying that with the right policy choices, we can choose to create an economy that works for everybody. That we can encourage employers to adopt a more “human-centric approach” to delivering the bottom line. That we can support displaced workers through retraining, reemployment services, and unemployment insurance to help them transition to new jobs and careers.

Maybe, but it seems questionable that those things will spontaneously happen. Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-NY) suggests all this new technology might be liberating, but she has reservations:

“The reason we’re not excited by it is because we live in a society where if you don’t have a job, you are left to die. And that is, at its core, our problem.”

The cultural stigma attached to job loss is profound, and that is unlikely to change by adding more retraining programs. Conservatives are not about to celebrate jobless people having more time to learn, to create art, or enjoy the world they live in, as long as they are unemployed.

The merciless mantra of shareholder value above all, and our corporate masters’ acceptance of the inevitability of technological change means that low and moderate-skill workers are expendable. Efficiency for more bottom line is more important than the lives of human workers.

This coming automation disruption is hard to see now. But estimates are that it will impact as many as 40% of American workers.

The 21st Century American corporation isn’t our friend, as currently constituted and rewarded. It is the enemy of our society, because they are quietly working to eliminate our jobs. We constantly reduce their taxes, vainly hoping for them to create more jobs. We look the other way when they pollute our environment. We allow them to disproportionately finance our elections.

It’s time for a new Capitalism.

But you’ve had enough for this week, so on to the Saturday Soother. Start slowly, particularly if you plan to stay up until the last Final Four game ends at around midnight. Let’s brew up a cup of New Hampshire’s Flight Coffee’s single origin Tanzania Tarime AB, ($17/12oz.), with its floral fragrance and intensely sweet flavor. Now settle into your favorite chair and listen to “Spring Morning” by Frederick Delius, played by the Royal Scottish National Orchestra and conducted by David Lloyd Jones. “Spring Morning” is the third of ‘Three Small Tone Poems’ by Delius:

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

Facebooklinkedinrss

Trump is Deregulating Pork Inspections

The Daily Escape

Zhongshuge Bookshop in Chongqing, China. There is a mirrored ceiling that enhances the visual effect of the stairs that might have been inspired by an MC Escher painting.

Under Trump, the executive branch has been policing its own damn self, and that’s working out splendidly! Think Mar-a-Lago’s security. And if Boeing inspecting themselves isn’t bad enough, the Trump administration is outsourcing much of the responsibility for food safety inspections in hog plants to the pork industry.

Trump will cut the number of federal inspectors by about 40%, and will replace them with plant employees. This could make trichinosis great again! From the WaPo (paywalled): (emphasis by Wrongo)

“Under the proposed new inspection system, the responsibility for identifying diseased and contaminated pork would be shared with plant employees, whose training would be at the discretion of plant owners. There would be no limits on slaughter-line speeds.”

This accelerates the Department of Agriculture’s plan to delegate on-site inspections to the livestock industry. It started under Obama, when poultry plant owners were given more power over safety inspections. One difference is that the Obama administration didn’t allow higher line speeds. The Trump administration starting last year, has allowed some poultry plants to increase line speeds.

WaPo says that The Trump administration is working to also shift inspection of beef to plant owners:

 ”Agriculture Department officials are scheduled next month to discuss the proposed changes with the meat industry. “

If you are a Trump fan, these moves are part of his administration’s plans to reduce regulations that large corporations want totally eliminated.

It’s standard-issue Republican Party pandering to their corporate base. And it’s ongoing, despite the administration coming under fire for delegating aircraft safety oversight responsibilities to Boeing, developer of the 737 Max jets that have crashed twice in the past six months. While FAA certification of the two aircraft involved in the crashes took place under President Trump, the major shift toward delegating key aspects of aviation oversight began under GW Bush.

Letting food producers regulate themselves: What could go wrong? That whole Listeria thing is way overblown, and the spinach growers are sure to guarantee that there’s no E Coli contamination in their produce.

Until there is.

Industry self-regulation is really no regulation at all. There’s only one case where private “regulation” has some teeth: FINRA, the not-for-profit that protects America’s investors by making sure the broker-dealer industry operates fairly and honestly. But, that’s the only example Wrongo can think of.

The real irony in this is that one of the key reasons food recalls have gotten so frequent is the cutbacks in inspections that have been going on for some time. It means that every time something IS discovered, they have to pull everything that went out since the last government inspection.

The longer the time between inspections, the more stuff that has to be pulled off the shelves.

You can be sure that if a pork plant contaminates their meat products and hundreds of people are poisoned, the free market will take care of the poor corporation. How? By letting the corporation declare bankruptcy to avoid paying victims and their next of kin. Then, the law allows them to quietly reorganize under a different business name, and sell more pork.

Of course, maybe a Boeing Max Jet will fall out of the sky, and land on one of these self-inspected pork producers.

Thomas Hobbes, in his “Leviathan”, in 1651, described what life would be without government:

“In such condition, there is no place for industry; because the fruit thereof is uncertain: and consequently no culture of the earth; no navigation, nor use of the commodities that may be imported by sea; no commodious building; no instruments of moving, and removing, such things as require much force; no knowledge of the face of the earth; no account of time; no arts; no letters; no society; and which is worst of all, continual fear, and danger of violent death; and the life of man, solitary, poor, nasty, brutish, and short.”

Sounds like a Republican paradise!

Facebooklinkedinrss

DHS Disbanded Its Domestic Terrorism Group

The Daily Escape:

Detail of the Dome at Qasr Al Watan Palace, Abu Dhabi – 2019 photo by Ottho Heldring

(Wrongo apologizes for the lack of articles, as other priorities have intervened. He has responsibilities on his town’s Municipal Road Committee. We are preparing to spend about $10 Million on improving our roads. There are very tight deadlines for finishing our analysis, getting approval of the town council, holding a referendum, and then going to the bond market for the funds. This is a huge time sink. So, for the next 10 days, posting may be intermittent.)

From The Daily Beast: (parenthesis by Wrongo)

“The Department of Homeland Security (DHS) has disbanded a group of intelligence analysts who focused on domestic terrorism, The Daily Beast has learned. Numerous current and former DHS officials say they find the development concerning, as the threat of homegrown terrorism—including white supremacist terrorism—is growing.”

The group in question was a branch of DHS’s Office of Intelligence and Analysis (I&A). They focused on the threat from homegrown extremists and domestic terrorists. Their analysts shared information with state and local law enforcement to help them protect communities from these threats. According to the Daily Beast, the reorganization happened last year, and had not been previously reported.

DHS defended the reorganization. Pressed by The Daily Beast, a senior DHS official pushed back:

 “The same people are working on the issues….We just restructured things to be more responsive to the…customers within DHS and in local communities while reducing overlap with what the FBI does. We actually believe we are far more effective now.”

Ok. But one local community “client” is Los Angeles, and Sgt. Mike Abdeen with the LA County Sheriff’s Department told The Daily Beast:

“It’s been very quiet lately….It’s changed with the new administration. It doesn’t seem to be as robust, as active, as important…it’s not a priority. It doesn’t seem like engagement, outreach, and prevention are seen as a priority as we used to see in the past. There were roundtable meetings in the past…more training, more seminars. Now it seems like it’s gone away.”

Nobody would say that domestic terrorism has been declining, so you have to decide whether this is an unintended consequence of another Trump appointee trying to streamline a government process, or whether it is an intentional effort to bury bad news about elements within Trump’s base of support.

Is Trump’s ability to appoint people who will undermine the efforts of our civil service better, or worse than his use of the judges’ roster provided by the Federalist Society to pack the courts?

Wrongo votes that it’s a tie.

Trump has said repeatedly that he doesn’t consider white nationalist groups to be an actual threat. So out goes the white nationalist task force.

Is this merely DHS accepting the viewpoint that when a disgruntled white male takes an assault rifle and kills people in a school or Synagogue, he isn’t committing an act of terror, he’s merely a troubled person expressing concern about the fragility of the few remaining white people in America?

This is a GOP problem. There’s been a consistent drumbeat to sweep right-wing terrorism under the rug, and it predates Trump. Consider that in 2009, the Obama administration’s DHS released a report warning about Rightwing Extremism. The report warned that “rightwing extremists may be gaining new recruits by playing on their fears about several emergent issues.” It also predicted that the possibility of new gun restrictions and the return of “military veterans facing significant challenges reintegrating into their communities” might mean “emergence of terrorist groups or lone wolf extremists capable of carrying out violent attacks.

That report called this convergence of factors the “most dangerous domestic terrorism threat in the United States”. Republicans went ballistic:

“Rep. Lamar Smith (R-TX) said the administration was “awfully willing to paint law-abiding Americans, including war veterans, as ‘extremists.’” Then-Rep. Steve Buyer (R-IN) — the top Republican on the House Veterans’ Affairs committee at the time — called it “inconceivable” that some veterans could pose a threat.”

John Boehner (Former GOP Speaker of the House) said:

“The Secretary of Homeland Security owes the American people an explanation for why…her own Department is using [“terrorist”] to describe American citizens who disagree with the direction Washington Democrats are taking our nation…”

Then-DHS head Janet Napolitano was forced to apologize, and she soon buried the report.

FWIW, Christopher Hasson, the Coast Guard officer who was a “domestic terrorist” and self-described white nationalist was arrested in February. But he’s not Muslim, so no worries, nothing more to see here.

Wrongo is old-school enough to believe that Republicans used to care about all of America. That they had different (and usually wrong-headed) approaches to our priorities and the solutions to problems, but they wanted what’s good for the country in general.

It’s gone. Trump-Republicans only want good things for people in their in-crowd. That excludes the majority of Americans.

Trump doesn’t want to stop domestic terrorism by white nationalists. He wants to harness it.

Facebooklinkedinrss