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The Wrongologist

Geopolitics, Power and Political Economy

Monday Wake Up Call – May 6, 2019

The Daily Escape:

Torres del Paine NP, Chile – 2016 photo by Andrea Pozzi

After our granddaughter’s graduation in PA (summa cum laude), we had a few wines and beers, and talk turned to politics and the mess America is in now. Son-in-law Miles, (dad of next week’s grad) asked a very good question. “Is now really the worst of times? What about when Martin Luther King was assassinated?

Wrongo immediately flashed back to JFK’s assassination. He was a DC college student when JFK died. But his focus wasn’t on the loss of a president, or what that meant to the country. His focus was on what the loss of JFK meant personally.

That changed in 1968 with the assassinations of MLK and RFK. Wrongo was in the Army, stationed in Germany when Dr. King was killed. There was great tension in the enlisted men’s barracks. For a few days, it took a lot of effort in our small, isolated unit to keep anger from boiling over into outright fighting between the races.

By the time we lost RFK, it was clear that the Vietnam War would drag on, killing many of Wrongo’s friends. But, Wrongo’s job was to defend America from the Russians, with nuclear weapons if necessary.

It was difficult to see how or when Vietnam would end. It was hard to imagine Richard Nixon, Henry Kissinger, or Robert McNamara doing much to stop young Americans from dying in Asia.

The year 1968 also included the Tet Offensive. Mark Bowen in his book, Hue 1968, says:

“For decades….the mainstream press and, for that matter, most of the American public, believed their leaders, political and military. Tet was the first of many blows to that faith in coming years, Americans would never again be so trusting.” (p. 507)

When Americans finally saw the Pentagon Papers in 1971, they learned that America’s leaders had been systematically lying about the scope and progress of the war for years, in spite of their doubts that the effort could succeed. The assassinations, Vietnam, and Watergate changed us forever.

Our leaders failed us, it was clearly the worst of times. We were in worse shape in 1968 than we are in 2019. Back then, it felt like the country was coming apart at the seams, society’s fabric was pulling apart. Then, May 4th 1970 brought the killings of college kids at Kent State, which was probably the lowest point in our history, at least during Wrongo’s life time.

Last week, we acknowledged the 49th anniversary of America’s military killing American students on US soil. We vaguely remember the Neil Young song “Ohio” with its opening lyrics:

“Tin soldiers and Nixon coming, we’re finally on our own…”

That’s why the decade from 1960-1970 was the worst of times. We got through it, but we have never been the same.

In 1968, we saw that change can arrive suddenly, fundamentally, and violently, even in America. Bob Woodward spoke at Kent State last week, on Saturday, May 4th. He offered some brand-new information about Nixon’s reaction to the student shootings: (emphasis by Wrongo)

“In a conversation with his chief of staff H.R. Haldeman in September 1971, Nixon suggested shooting prisoners at New York’s Attica Prison riot in a reference to the Kent State tragedy. “You know what stops them? Kill a few,” Nixon says on a tape of the conversation.”

Woodward continued:

“We now know what really was on Nixon’s mind as he reflected…on Kent State after 17 months….Kent State and the protest movement was an incubator for Richard Nixon and his illegal wars.”

Woodward meant that what was coming was a war on the news media, creation of the “Plumbers” unit to track down leaks, and attempts to obstruct justice with the Watergate cover-up.

Many of us see 2020 shaping up as another 1968. Some see Nixon reincarnated in Trump.

We haven’t faced this particular set of circumstances before, so we can’t know just how it will go. Will it be worse than the 1960s, or just another terrible American decade? Is it the best of times, or the worst of times?

Are we willing to fight to preserve what we have anymore?

Wake up America, you have to fight for what America means to us. Constitutional liberties are under attack. The right to vote is being undermined. Extreme Nationalism has been emboldened.

To help you wake up, listen once again to “Ohio” by Neil Young in a new solo performance from October, 2018. He’s added some documentary footage and a strong anti-gun message:

You may not know that Chrissie Hynde, the future lead singer of The Pretenders was a Kent State student, and was on the scene at the time.

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

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Will Dems Develop a Winning Message?

The Daily Escape:

Lady Liberty from the water – June, 2015 photo by Wrongo

Joe Biden kicked off his run yesterday by saying that he’s for the middle class, and against Trump. CNN is reporting that Biden now leads the field with 39% of voters supporting him. Sanders is second with 15%. Warren is third with 8%, and Buttigieg fourth with 7%.

It’s good to remember that there are still 551 days to go before the 2020 election. Here are a few other past poll leaders with 551 days to go: Hillary Clinton led the Democratic primary by 9.1% in 2008. In the 2008 GOP primary, Giuliani led by 12.4 points. In the 2016 presidential election, Hillary Clinton once led by 56.6 points. In the 2016 GOP primaries, Jeb! Bush led by 1.2 points. All of them lost.

The biggest issue for Democrats right now is squaring the circle on their message. The leading Dems don’t divide neatly by labels. Some are Republican lite, some are very progressive. All have to articulate policy and show charisma, while working to garner enough delegates to win the nomination.

Let’s discuss two issues: First, are they really going to run against Wall Street? Are they going to take campaign funding from the financial services industry? As Wrongo said last week, there is an inherent tension in the current funding strategy of the Dem candidates. They all are targeting small donors in order to demonstrate substantial grass-roots support. But, the nominee will need to raise more than $1 billion for the general election, and it’s doubtful that individual donors have such deep pockets.

That means they will eventually have to turn to PACs and corporations in order to win.

But Sanders and Warren have pushed the party to the left on Wall Street and capitalism. NY Mag had a piece describing a meeting among Wall Street Democrats, who are unhappy with the field. They dislike Sanders and Warren, and when they strategize, the financiers’ primary goal is to find a Democrat who can both deny either of them the nomination, and also beat Trump:

By evening’s end, multiple donors walked away planning to write checks to three or four or five candidates — hoping they stay relatively moderate — rather than going all in on any one. Among the committed Democrats on Wall Street, this wait-and-see, as-long-as-it’s-not-Bernie-or-Elizabeth posture has become the norm.

Can the Democrats win without Wall Street’s money? Will the current crop of candidates walk away from their promise to take on the financiers, in order to beat Trump?

Asking for a friend.

Second, what will their message be on the economy? Trump is presiding over a late-stage economic boom. By November, 2020, Trump will be able to claim credit for the longest period of uninterrupted growth in American history. How will Democrats counter a Republican argument to stay the course?

The best possible message may be: That big corporations aren’t paying their fair share (as opposed to more taxing of the rich). That too much of the prosperity that working people create stays with the corporations. That the cost of both health care and education are too damn high.

Just this week, the WaPo asked voters, “Do you think the economic system in this country mainly works to benefit all people, or mainly works to benefit those in power?”

  • 60% of all respondents said it benefits those in power
  • 66% of independents said the same thing
  • 81% of Democrats agreed as well

Regardless of how strong the economy is for the next 19 months, Americans are sure to remain discontented with the economic dominance of the powerful. The NY Mag Intelligencer says the Dems should focus on Wisconsin, Michigan, and Pennsylvania: (brackets by Wrongo)

We know that this tiny subpopulation leans left on economic issues and tends to resent the rich. We also know it leans right on immigration and tends to resent “illegals.” When Barack Obama and Mitt Romney [made] the 2012 election a referendum on whether rich business owners earned every penny they have, a critical mass of Midwestern swing voters broke for the Democrats. When Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump agreed to make 2016 about whether rapid demographic change was making America “Stronger Together” — or less great than it used to be — they broke right.

In 2012, Barack Obama told an “us versus them” story about class conflict. Sanders, Warren and Biden are doing that right now. A message that says “the rich have rigged our economic and political systems to their advantage” is an immensely popular message.

If Democrats don’t run on it in 2020, it won’t be out of concern for alienating voters, it will be out of concern for alienating Wall Street.

Let’s close with a tune in honor of May Day. Here’s Sierra Boggess singing “The Lusty Month of May” from Camelot, performed at BBC Proms 2012.

Your May mileage may vary:

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

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Sunday Cartoon Blogging – April 28, 2019

In an interesting column in the Cook Political Report, Amy Walter notes: (emphasis by Wrongo)

“…one way to look at the 2020 Democratic primary contest was to think of it as a battle between those candidates who wanted a ‘revolution’ versus those who want to see more of a ‘restoration.’ The leaders of the ‘revolution’ wing, Sens. Bernie Sanders and Elizabeth Warren, aren’t running to simply replace President Trump, but to bring serious, structural change to the country. This week, the leader of the ‘restoration’ wing — Vice President Joe Biden— announced his candidacy. To Biden, it’s not the system that’s broken as much as it is the person in charge of the system who is broken.”

She goes on to quote Biden’s first campaign video:

“I believe history will look back on four years of this president and all he embraces as an aberrant moment in time,”

Biden says he’s only running because of Trump. The revolutionaries would be running even if another Republican was in the White House. Walter points out that makes Biden like many of the Democratic candidates who ran for Congress in the 2018 mid-terms. They weren’t politically seasoned like Biden, but they were similarly moved to run by Trump’s presidency. More from Walter: (emphasis by Wrongo)

“And, like Biden, most of those Democratic congressional candidates emphasized not a radical change but a check; a check on Trump’s presidency and his policies. But, most of those candidates were also running in suburban, swing districts where a message of moderation was a winning strategy. Biden is running to win in a much more diverse and ideologically fragmented primary contest.”

She says that most of the 20 candidates for the 2020 Democratic presidential nomination are closer to the ‘restoration’ wing than the ‘revolutionary’ wing of the Party. And she closes with:

“To me, the big question for these next few months is if Biden will take the fight directly to the revolutionaries in a way the other candidates have not…..Now, he has a chance to pivot to the offense. And, to reset the rules and terrain of the game that have, until this point, been set by Bernie Sanders. Let’s see if — and how — he does it.

Interesting viewpoint as we sail on toward the first Democratic primary debates on June 26-27. BTW, 16 candidates have qualified for inclusion, showing that the bar was set far too low. On to cartoons.

Biden’s also running against himself:

Mueller called Trump “Individual 1”. Here’s to 10-20 in 2020:

Warren’s policies cause concern among the 1%:

Dems face a quandary. Trump will be happy with whichever they choose:

Trump will stonewall responding to subpoenas all the way to 2020:

Trump also has a yuuge grey wall:

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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.

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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%.

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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.

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Sunday Cartoon Blogging – April 7, 2019

This year is the 50th anniversary of Woodstock. Times have changed:

Biden doesn’t get it right, but consider the alternative:

Trump wants to be the health care president. Won’t happen:

Feminists come in two sexes:

Elizabeth Warren said this on Friday:

“When Democrats next have power, we should be bold and clear: We’re done with two sets of rules — one for the Republicans and one for the Democrats,”…. “And that means when Democrats have the White House again, if Mitch McConnell tries to do what he did to President Obama and puts small-minded partisanship ahead of solving the massive problems facing this country, then we should get rid of the filibuster.”

Warren referenced a bill passed in the Senate last year that made lynching a federal crime, and pointed out that it was first introduced in 1918.

“It nearly became the law back then. It passed the House in 1922. But it got killed in the Senate — by a filibuster. And then it got killed again. And again. And again,” Warren will say. “More than 200 times. An entire century of obstruction because a small group of racists stopped the entire nation from doing what was right.”

Warren is correct on the merits about the filibuster, as she is on many other issues. The filibuster is a blunt tool for the reactionary forces in the Senate.

From a policy viewpoint, she is by far the best candidate. But she lags in the polls, and many are convinced that she can’t be elected. She also trails in funds raising, behind Bernie and Beto. Warren hasn’t released her first quarter totals, but her campaign’s finance director just left. HuffPo tells us that:

“A tricky gender gap is emerging in the race for donor dollars in the 2020 Democratic presidential race.”

That hasn’t affected Kamala Harris who is raising large amounts from corporate donors. Maybe she has corralled the bigger feminists.

Barr’s playing it cute with the Democrats in the House:

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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.

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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!

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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.

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