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The Wrongologist

Geopolitics, Power and Political Economy

Monday Wake Up Call – December 18, 2017

The Daily Escape:

Sunrise, Island Park ID, November 2017

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

I’m still a rural American.

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

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

We still wave Old Glory down at the courthouse,

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

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

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What Will Dems Do When The GOP Says: “The Deficit Matters”?

The Daily Escape:

Big Ben being cleaned. In order to clean the four clock faces, every 5-7 years, skilled climbers hang down from the belfry on ropes, and they clean the front of each clock face. There is one removable panel of glass on each face, which is removed during the cleaning so that the clock maintenance staff can talk to the cleaners while they’re working. (“you missed a spot?”) Hat tip to Wrongo’s friends at the Goodspeed Opera House!

Yesterday we pointed out that there is a very large program that the country needs to fund if we are to maintain our position in the global superpower competition. The issue at hand is the stunning thought that we might lose up to 75 million jobs to automation in the next 13 years, and that we need to train the out-of-work unfortunates for new jobs in a different economy.

It’s highly unlikely that we would need to train that many, but it could be 25 million Americans. And we have no idea where the money would come from to accomplish that. After all, the Republicans now plan to reduce tax receipts bigly, thus adding to the deficit and thereby, to the total debt of the country.

We know that as soon as the new tax cuts begin accruing to their patrons, the GOP will start talking about reducing the budget deficit by cutting non-military expenses. Ron Brownstein conceives the Republican tax plan correctly:

Gaius Publius observes: (brackets and editing by the Wrongologist)

As they did in the 1980s, Republicans are laying a “deficit trap” for Democrats. As they did before, they’re blowing up the budget, then using deficit [fear] to force Democrats to “be responsible” about cutting social programs — “because deficits matter.”

In the 1980s Republicans ran up the deficit, then insisted that Democrats work with them to raise taxes on the middle class to over-fund the Social Security (SS) Trust Fund. This converted SS from a pay-as-you-go system that increased revenues as needed via adjustments to the salary cap, to a pay-in-advance system. That allowed any excess SS money to be loaned back to the government, partially concealing the large deficits that Reagan was running up.

Today, Republicans are expanding the deficit again, and are already starting to talk about deficits to argue for cuts in what they call “entitlements” — Medicare, Medicaid, and eventually Social Security, even though Social Security can be self-funding.

Fear of deficits is the go-to Republican ploy to try to maim or kill the FDR and LBJ-created social safety net. To the extent that Democrats are willing to accept the GOP’s argument that both parties need to be responsible to decrease the deficits, they will support cuts in social services. Even Obama was willing to consider doing just that in the name of “bipartisanship”. More from Gaius:

The reality — Deficits aren’t dangerous at all until there’s a big spike in inflation, which is nowhere near happening and won’t be near happening for a generation…

Do we want the US government to shrink the money supply year after year after year, by running budget surpluses, or do we want to grow the amount of money in the private sector, making more available for use by the middle class?  The trillions spent on the current GOP giveaway to the already-rich could have been given to college students in debt, or people still underwater in their mortgages since the Wall Street-created crash of 2008. It could have been used to build better roads, airports, seaports or a national high speed internet backbone.

What would be the effect of that re-allocation of money?

Back to Gaius Publius for the final words. Which of these three options would you rather the government choose:

  • Spend money on the already-rich?
  • Spend money on you and the country’s needs, ignoring the pleas of the already-rich?
  • Hoard as much money as possible in a vault and spend the least possible?

The first is the GOP’s current tax plan. The second is a plan for the many, an FDR-style economic policy. The third is the GOP’s wet dream, one that they will ask Democrats to help them accomplish once the already-rich have banked their share of our tax money.

Wrongo’s fear is that at some point down the road, a compromise will be offered up: Cuts to social programs in exchange for a repeal of some of the more onerous tax cuts. The only issue will be the extent of the cuts to social programs.

It will be celebrated as bipartisan sanity returning to Washington.

Our system is revolting. Why aren’t we?

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Are Smartphones Destroying Teens?

The Daily Escape:

Sunset, September 2017, near Granite Bay CA – photo by David Dodd

The Atlantic’s article, “Have Smartphones Destroyed a Generation?” makes the point that teens today are:

…less likely to date. The initial stage of courtship, which Gen Xers called “liking” (as in “Ooh, he likes you!”), kids now call “talking”—an ironic choice for a generation that prefers texting to actual conversation. After two teens have “talked” for a while, they might start dating. But only about 56% of high-school seniors in 2015 went out on dates; for Boomers and Gen Xers, the number was about 85%.

The decline in dating tracks with a decline in sexual activity. Fewer teens having sex has contributed to what many see as one of the most positive youth trends in recent years: The teen birth rate hit an all-time low in 2016, down 67% since its modern peak, in 1991.

The article was written by Jean M. Twenge, a professor of psychology at San Diego State University. The article can be summarized as these teens are more comfortable online than out partying, but they’re on the brink of a mental-health crisis.

More from Dr. Twenge:

Even driving, a symbol of adolescent freedom inscribed in American popular culture…has lost its appeal for today’s teens. Nearly all Boomer high-school students had their driver’s license by the spring of their senior year; more than one in four teens today still lack one at the end of high school…In conversation after conversation, teens described getting their license as something to be nagged into by their parents—a notion that would have been unthinkable to previous generations.

Quite a difference from Wrongo’s growing up in pre-boomer times. The idea of having your mom drive you to an event was as close to being humiliated in front of your friends as you ever wanted to be, so everyone got a driver’s license as soon as possible.

But today’s teens are less likely to leave the house to see friends. Twenge says that the shift is stunning: 12th-graders in 2015 were going out less often than eighth-graders did as recently as 2009.

We have seen this kind of alienation in Japan, where these people are called hikikomori, a term the Japanese use to define those who haven’t left their homes or physically interacted with others for at least six months. Japan has virtual high schools for teens who can’t leave home. Virtual high school is a thing in the US as well.

Add smartphones and video games together, and you can slow or pause social development and engagement with the real world. The real trouble is in the separation of virtual from lived experience that becomes physical separation and alienation.

No doubt there is a large group of teens who seem to live primarily through social media, some in Wrongo’s own family. Smartphones have made social media much more accessible, but are smartphones in and of themselves the causal factor? Hard to say. Wrongo has had a smart phone for a long time, still sees friends and family, and gets things done.

And the current crop of teens have the tools to be the best informed generation yet. OTOH, they have to be curious enough to perform in-depth search on those smartphones.

So, blaming the smartphone is using correlation to indicate causality.

In fact, this article may describe primarily an upper middle class phenomenon, not something that is society-wide. The kids being coddled are from families with enough money to do it. The intelligent ones among them are opportunistic harvesters of their parents’ resources, and perfectly capable of adaptation.

The genuinely alienated kids exist, but probably not in any larger numbers than the problem kids of earlier generations. But their problems manifest differently than in earlier generations.

If we believe our kids and grandkids are not prepared to face the reality of life, the fault lies with us, as it is our job to prepare them. The responsibility of any parent is to figure out how the world works, and to teach their children how to survive in it – this is true for all mammals.

BTW, today’s photo was shot by Wrongo’s grandson on his smartphone, on the way to his job, after his day at college.

Here is the Who doing “The Kids Are All Right” from their 1965 album, “My Generation”:

 

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Monday Wake Up Call – August 28, 2017

The Daily Escape:

Rats Restaurant, NJ Grounds for Sculpture – 2017 photo by Wrongo

The politics of disruption brought us Donald Trump. With hindsight, the evidence was everywhere. Americans were unhappy with our political system. Voters had lost faith in the government and political parties. About 10% of voters believed Congress was doing a good job. Both political parties had favorability ratings of less than 40%.

In 2008, people were frustrated and angry. By November 2016, with continued economic discontent, worsening conflicts in the Middle East, and serious public policy issues left unattended, people voted for the guy who promised to break our politics.

Trump won 53% of the over-65 vote, but was supported by only 37% of 18-29-year-olds. He won the white vote by 58% to 37%. And 51% of American women voted for him.

Mark Leonard  says that the election was decided by pessimistic voters. They were attracted by Trump’s anti-free trade arguments, his anti-Muslim and anti-immigrant rhetoric, his (false) statistics about increased crime, and the loss of American jobs to Asian countries.

Trump said all of this was caused by Washington and could be fixed by a disruptive billionaire. The pessimists won, and felt very hopeful that Trump would change America.

Are they having buyer’s remorse today? No, most say that they still support their guy.

Yesterday, we highlighted some findings of the Public Policy Polling (PPP) national poll taken after Charlottesville. PPP found that Donald Trump’s approval rating was steady despite all of his backtracking around the Charlottesville attack:

40% of voters approve of the job Trump is doing to 53% who disapprove, little change from the 41/55 spread we found for him in July.

This despite that just 26% of Trump voters think he has delivered on his promise to “drain the swamp”, to 53% who say he hasn’t. When asked if Trump has come through on “Making America Great Again,” just 33% of his voters say he has, to 59% who say he hasn’t.

PPP found that 57% of Republicans want Trump to be the party’s nominee in 2020, compared to 29% who say they would prefer someone else. That 28 point margin for Trump against “someone else” is the same as his 28 point lead over Mike Pence. Both Ted Cruz, with a 40 point deficit to Trump at 62/22, and John Kasich, a 47 point deficit to Trump, are weaker potential opponents than ‘someone else’.

All in, Trump is keeping his base together, while losing a few moderate Republicans. So the question is, what will it take to make Trump a one-term president?

If you want to defeat Trump, focus on how his political disruption has only caused destruction. It isn’t enough to tear shit down. Any president has to be a builder, and not just for a phony wall.

Have there been any gains from the disruption? Is there any evidence that Trump has the leadership skills to bring policies into law that will improve the lives of those who voted for him?

The winning message is about building: Build unity. Build the economy. Build a vision for a growing middle class.

Be a builder, not a disruptor.

Wake up America! Find a builder, or be a builder. To help you wake up, here is John Mayer with his 2006 Grammy-winning hit “Waiting On The World To Change”:

Takeaway Lyric:

It’s hard to beat the system
When we’re standing at a distance
So we keep waiting
Waiting on the world to change

Now if we had the power
To bring our neighbors home from war
They would have never missed a Christmas
No more ribbons on their door
And when you trust your television
What you get is what you got
Cause when they own the information, oh
They can bend it all they want.

Don’t wait to be a builder. Dr. King didn’t wait, neither did Mandela. They changed the world. WE have the power to change America.

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IMF Reports US Standard of Living is Falling

The Daily Escape:

Haleakala Crater, Maui

Is it the best of times or the worst of times? This is no longer a partisan discussion. We have an economy in the midst of a long expansion, the third longest since 1850. The statistics say we are close to full employment. But, our mortality rate is moving in the wrong direction, and we have an opioid epidemic that is serious enough to cause jobs to go unfilled. The NYT reports that in Youngstown Ohio, middle class factory jobs go begging:

It’s not that local workers lack the skills for these positions, many of which do not even require a high school diploma but pay $15 to $25 an hour and offer full benefits. Rather, the problem is that too many applicants — nearly half, in some cases — fail a drug test.

The Fed’s regular Beige Book surveys of economic activity across the country in April, May and July all noted the inability of employers to find workers able to pass drug screenings.

So the best of times? Probably not. Bloomberg reports that the International Monetary Fund (IMF) looked at the US economy. This is what they see:

For some time now there has been a general sense that household incomes are stagnating for a large share of the population, job opportunities are deteriorating, prospects for upward mobility are waning, and economic gains are increasingly accruing to those that are already wealthy. This sense is generally borne out by economic data and when comparing the US with other advanced economies.

The IMF then goes on to compare the US with 23 other advanced economies in the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) in this chart:

The chart is a bit of an eye test unless it’s viewed on a big monitor, but its overall point is that the US has been losing ground relative to its past OECD reports by several measures of living standards. 35 countries make up the OECD. The members include all of Western Europe, Russia, Japan, Australia, and several developing nations like Korea and Panama.

This from Bloomberg:

And in the areas where the US hasn’t lost ground (poverty rates, high school graduation rates), it was at or near the bottom of the heap to begin with. The clear message is that the US — the richest nation on Earth, as is frequently proclaimed, although it’s actually not the richest per capita — is increasingly becoming the developed world’s poor relation as far as the actual living standards of most of its population go.

This analysis is contained in the staff report of the IMF’s annual “consultation” with the U.S., which was published last week. The IMF economists haven’t turned up anything shocking or new, it’s just that as outsiders, they have a different perspective than what we hear from our politicians and economists.

For example:

Income polarization is suppressing consumption…weighing on labor supply and reducing the ability of households to adapt to shocks. High levels of poverty are creating disparities in the education system, hampering human capital formation and eating into future productivity.

What is to be done? Well, the IMF report concludes:

Reforms should include building a more efficient tax system; establishing a more effective regulatory system; raising infrastructure spending; improving education and developing skills; strengthening healthcare coverage while containing costs; offering family-friendly benefits; maintaining a free, fair, and mutually beneficial trade and investment regime; and reforming the immigration and welfare systems.

In other words, they suggest substantial reform. It’s doubtful that America can take care of these things anytime soon.

The subtext to most of their suggestions is that other affluent countries have found ways to improve in these areas, while the US has not. We don’t have to look too far into the past to see when those countries were modeling their economies on ours. But today, on all sorts of issues, like taxation, labor markets, health care, and education, the opposite is now true.

One major difference between the US and the rest of the developed world is ideological: Voters and politicians in the US are less willing to raise taxes to finance a better life for our citizens.

Other wealthy countries have figured out how to raise revenue, provide quality education, help the the unemployed, reduce poverty, and keep their citizens healthier than America has.

We must catch up, or admit our time as the world’s indispensable economy is over.

Today’s music (dis)honors the turmoil in the White House. See ‘ya Mooch! Remember that in just six months, Trump has gone through two National Security Advisers, two Chiefs of Staff, two Communications Directors, two Press Secretaries, and two Directors of the FBI.

Here is “Disorder in the House” by the late Warren Zevon and Bruce Springsteen:

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

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“We Don’t Need No Education” – Part II

The Daily Escape:

Dr. Bhau Dajii Lad Mumbai City Museum, Mumbai India

Yesterday, we detailed a Pew Survey that showed a stark divide between Republicans and Democrats on the value of higher education. Only 36% of GOP respondents thought that higher education was a positive force in our country, while 72% of Democrats felt that higher education was positive for our Republic.

How could America be so divided about the value of higher education?

Today, we look at another survey that offers insight into the economic views of Americans by educational level. The survey is by the global PR firm Burson-Marsteller (B-M), working with the survey firm, PSB, an affiliate of B-M. It shows that education level drives a big divide in Americans’ expectations for the future.

According to B-M’s “Making it in America: The View from America”:

  • 42% of Americans with a high school education or less say they have the right skills to succeed in the 21st century, while 71% with a college education or more, say they do.
  • Americans with high school or less education are 25% less likely to say they are optimistic about the future US economy than those with a college education or more. And they are 50% more likely to feel scared about the future of the US economy.
  • 38% of Americans with a college education or more think the American economy is headed in the right direction compared to 30% of those with a high school education or less.
  • 30% of Americans with a high school education or less say automation could replace their job within five years. Only 14% of those with a college education or more said a machine will do their job in the next five years.

Here is a slide from the B-M slide deck:

Only 13% of those with high school or less think that reading comprehension and critical thinking skills are important to future manufacturing jobs, a thought decidedly at odds with business leaders. 58% of business leaders say spending more on infrastructure is the public policy action that will most support job creation in the US. 31% with college or more agree, while just 15% of those with high school or less agree.

The Pew results tell us that if America is sharply divided about the value of higher education, there is little hope for our democracy. When we factor in the top line results for the B-M survey, we see that less educated Americans are fundamentally more pessimistic about their economic future.

So, higher education has little value, and yet, those without degrees are insecure about their current jobs and their economic future.

How does this compute for the GOP? They say that they want more economic growth, and more jobs for Americans. How does having an anti-education worldview support making America great again?

Why isn’t more/better education the top priority for both political parties?

And private, for-profit GOP educational alternatives shouldn’t be favored by anyone seriously interested in a better-educated society.

Today’s music: The Kinks did a concept album about education called “Schoolboys in Disgrace” in 1977. Here they are performing “Education” from the album:

Takeaway Lyric:

Everybody needs education
Open Universities, education
Every race every creed, education
And every little half-breed, education
Every nationality, education
All the little people need education
Eskimos and pygmies need
And even aborigines, education

Well, physics and geography,

Education
Philosophy and history,

Education
Science and biology,

Education
Geometry and poetry,

Education
Well, education, education, education, education

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

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“We Don’t Need No Education”

The Daily Escape:

Antarctic Relic, 2017 – photo by Daniel Kordan

Pink Floyd’s big mainstream hit has new relevance today, since Pew Research produced these interesting findings on US attitudes towards higher education: (emphasis by the Wrongologist)

While a majority of the public (55%) continues to say that colleges and universities have a positive effect on the way things are going in the country these days, Republicans express increasingly negative views.

A majority of Republicans and Republican-leaning independents (58%) now say that colleges and universities have a negative effect on the country, up from 45% last year. By contrast, most Democrats and Democratic leaners (72%) say colleges and universities have a positive effect, which is little changed from recent years.

The Pew study, conducted from June 8 to 18 among more than 2,000 respondents, found that Democrats and Republicans are growing substantially more divided in their opinions on public institutions, including higher education.

According to the survey that Pew released on Monday, this is the first time that a majority of Republicans have thought that higher education is bad for the country. As recently as 2015, 54% of Republicans said colleges and universities had a positive impact on the way things were going in the country, but by 2016, those results split to 43% positive and 45% negative. On the other side of the aisle, 72% of Democrats continue to think colleges and universities have a positive effect on the country, holding steady with past years’ results. Here is a chart with the study’s top findings:

And if we get granular about the viewpoints, we see the positive view by Republicans has declined dramatically in just three years:

Only 1/3 of Republicans who have graduated from college now believe that college is a positive contributor to the way things are in America today. In fact, Republicans over age 50 support college and universities the least (28%). Even a majority of GOP Millennials do not see higher education as a positive force in our society.

While Pew doesn’t speculate on the reasons for the shift in thinking, it is clear that the last few years have not been kind to higher education. Elite colleges have made headlines for a series of controversies and protests around racism, free speech, and civil rights. We hear constant debate about “trigger warnings”, and “safe zones” for students who can’t be exposed to uncomfortable ideas or situations.

In 2015, the football team at the University of Missouri went on strike to protest the handling of racist incidents on campus, and Yale was rocked by controversy about the proper way to address insensitive Halloween costumes.

More recently, students have protested and sometimes disrupted appearances from controversial figures. But only 28% of college-educated GOP’ers support higher education? From Booman:

It’s really not compatible with being a country club Republican to have a negative view of a college education. A college degree confers respectability and signals status.

Booman makes the point that more and more of them home school their kids to protect them from the opinions of educated people who might have different views, and fewer of them want their children to go to a college where those religious and political views may be undermined.

Perhaps it also says that college is NOW no longer a good thing, either due to economic factors, or all the strict social/cultural paths people want their kids to follow. But, in America today, the unemployment rate for college grads is 2.4%, while it is 4.6% for those without a degree.

Why would Republicans want to deny their children the opportunity to earn a living?

And there is our PISA ranking. PISA rankings are produced by the OECD based on tests taken by 15-year-olds in more than 70 countries every three years. Comparing the US ranking in both 2012 (the last time the test was administered) and 2015, the US fell to 38th from 28th in math out of 71 countries. We ranked 24th in science. For whatever reasons, we just don’t do a good job educating our kids.

But to the larger point, perceptions of college’s value/non-value is symptomatic of a much deeper and very dangerous schism, the devaluation of facts and scientific evidence. The GOP discredits facts and reality. They emphasize school choice (although it is the only thing that they are pro-choice about).

Resentment and fantasy based on ideology drives our discussion of education. So education has become a low priority for the young and old alike.

Today’s tune is appropriately, “The Wall” by Pink Floyd. It was their 11th studio album, released as a double album in November 1979:

Takeaway Lyric:

We don’t need no education

We don’t need no thought control

No dark sarcasm in the classroom

Teachers leave them kids alone

Hey! Teacher!

Leave them kids alone!

All in all, it’s just another brick in the wall

All in all, you’re just another brick in the wall

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

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Saturday Soother – June 24, 2017

The Daily Escape:

Waterton Park, part of Glacier International Peace Park – photo by Steve Coyle

Yesterday, we talked about the culture of anxiety that has developed in America in the last 40 years. One thing we didn’t discuss is the growing problem of “till debt do us part”. The average American is dying in debt. According to Bloomberg, the average total household debt in America is just over $132,500. And with the Federal Reserve’s recent rate increases, repayment of that debt will become increasingly more difficult.

Difficult enough that most Americans will be saddled with a sizable chunk of it at the time of their death.

Credit.com has reported that Experian’s FileOne database includes 220 million consumers (there are about 242 million adults in the US). To determine the average debt people have when they die, Experian looked at consumers who, as of October 2016 were not deceased, but then were listed as deceased as of December 2016:

Among the 73% of consumers who had debt when they died, about 68% had credit card balances. The next most common kind of debt was mortgage debt (37%), followed by auto loans (25%), personal loans (12%) and student loans (6%).

Those consumers carried an average total debt balance of $61,554, including mortgage debt. The breakdown of unpaid balances was as follows: credit cards, $4,531; auto loans, $17,111; personal loans, $14,793; and student loans were the largest balance outstanding at $25,391.

Think about this: people who die with student loans outstanding owe $25k on average. That has to cause anxiety for the individual and any family member who guaranteed the debt.

Now, federal student loan debt can be cancelled upon a borrower’s death, but private student loan debt rarely offers the same benefit. They can go after the borrower’s estate for payment. Even then, family members are not then automatically responsible for the debt, but jointly-owned assets like the family home could be in jeopardy.

So, lots of anxiety when the average person is dying with $61.5k in debt. Considering that the median individual net worth in America is $81.1k, the average person is leaving just $20k behind when they die.

So the average American needs a lot of soothing for debt anxiety. To help with that, here are Anna Netrebko & Elīna Garanča performing “Barcarolle” from Offenbach’s “Tales of Hoffman”. Barcarolle is the most famous aria from the opera (Belle nuit, ô nuit d’amour), performed in Act 2. The Barcarolle has been incorporated into many movies, including “Life Is Beautiful” and “Titanic”. Wrongo has featured Netrebko and Garanca before, and we return today to hear how beautifully and clearly their voices meld:

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

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Monday Wake Up Call – June 19, 2017

The Daily Escape:

Round Hill Highland Games – Litchfield County, Connecticut

From Zandar:

The slow death of the civil rights era under the Trump regime continues as Education Secretary Betsy DeVos will proceed with handcuffing the department’s civil rights office, because systemic racism and sexism in education is embarrassing to Dear Leader, so in order to Make America Great Again™ it will no longer be exposed or even acknowledged.

What’s up? The DoE is scaling back investigations into civil rights violations at the nation’s public schools and universities, easing off mandates imposed by the Obama administration that the new leadership says have bogged down the agency. The NYT reports that Candice E. Jackson, the acting head of the Department’s office for civil rights issued an internal memo stating that: (emphasis by the Wrongologist)

Requirements that investigators broaden their inquiries to identify systemic issues and whole classes of victims will be scaled back. Also, regional offices will no longer be required to alert department officials in Washington of all highly sensitive complaints on issues such as the disproportionate disciplining of minority students and the mishandling of sexual assaults on college campuses.

The new directives are Education Secretary Betsy DeVos’ first steps to reshape the DoE’s approach to civil rights enforcement, moving away from President Obama’s efforts to require that schools and colleges overhaul policies addressing a number of civil rights concerns. That approach sent complaints soaring, and the civil rights office found itself understaffed and struggling to meet the department’s stated goal of closing cases within 180 days.

So, DeVos’ new protocols have the cover of “we need to move faster” to resolve the big case backlog.

But civil rights leaders believe that the new directives will have the opposite effect. Since DoE staff members would be discouraged from opening new cases, and efficiency will take priority over thoroughness, the entire process will be weakened. Catherine Lhamon, who was the assistant secretary of the Education Department’s civil rights office under Mr. Obama, and who now heads the United States Commission on Civil Rights says:

If we want to have assembly-line justice, and I say ‘justice’ in quotes, then that’s the direction that we should go.

So the logic of DeVos seems to be: “Well if we can’t close civil rights cases in six months, why bother opening them? Let’s just save the money.”

This is another example of Zero-Sum Thinking by the Trumpists.

Time to wake up America! While you are following the twists and turns of Russiagate, the Trump administration is overturning the civil rights accountability that Obama put in place for the nation’s schools. Obama’s idea was that ALL students should have their civil rights protected, not just the Taylors and Hunters out there in the suburbs, but those kids in the poorer school districts.  

To help you wake up, here is The Weeknd with his newly released “Secrets”, which owes a big debt to Tears for Fears:

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

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Saturday Soother – April 1, 2017

The Daily Escape:

(Wildflowers near Lake Elsinore CA March 2017 − photo by Lucy Nicholson)

The large print giveth, and the small print taketh away, and we had an excellent example this week. From the NYT:

More than 550,000 people have signed up for a federal program that promises to repay their remaining student loans after they work 10 years in a public service job. But now, some of those workers are left to wonder if the government will hold up its end of the bargain — or leave them stuck with thousands of dollars in debt that they thought would be eliminated.

The Department of Education has said in a legal filing that borrowers could not rely on the program’s administrator to say accurately whether they qualify for debt forgiveness. The thousands of approval letters that have been sent by the administrator, FedLoan Servicing, are not binding, and can be rescinded at any time.

The debt forgiveness program covers people with federal student loans who work for 10 years at a government or nonprofit, a group that includes public school employees, museum workers, doctors at public hospitals and firefighters. The federal government approved the program in 2007. And along with this bad news, there is no transparency: When the NYT contacted FedLoan, a spokesman referred questions to the Department of Education, who declined to comment on the suit, or on any of the issues it raised, including whether any mechanism exists for borrowers to challenge a denial.

Loopholes. America loves loopholes. We aren’t a nation of laws, we’re a nation of loopholes.

If all of this wasn’t enough wrong for you this week, Devin Nunes and the White House played “I’ve got a secret” with the House Intelligence Committee and the American people. That brought the usual grandstanding from Republicans, but nothing can top what Rep. Ted Yoho (R-FL) who unintentionally told the truth while defending Nunes on MSNBC:

You gotta keep in mind who he works for…He works for the president. He answers to the president.

Soon, a Yoho spokesperson was walking that back. Yoho, Yoho, and it’s back to school he goes. To learn a bit more about who Congress critters work for.

I know, these two stories sound like April fool’s day fibs, but sadly, both are true.

You need a break, so Wrongo suggests a hot mug of Tanzania Peaberry coffee. Put your feet up and brush off the week’s trail dust. Let’s relax with Mozart’s Violin Concerto No. 3 in G major. He wrote this in 1775. He was only 19 at the time, but was already the Konzertmeister at the Salzburg court. Here is Hillary Hahn with the best 23 minutes of your Saturday:

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

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