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The Wrongologist

Geopolitics, Power and Political Economy

We Need a New New Deal, Not a Green New Deal

The Daily Escape:

St. Augustine Beach, FL – 2015 photo by Wrongo

(Wrongo and Ms. Right leave today for Florida and their annual week-long visit with Wrongo’s sisters. We’re leaving 19° for 70°. Blogging will be uneven, unless Trump wins his wrestling match with Kim, or India and Pakistan declare war.)

Raul Ilargi:

“There are lots of people talking about how they much disagree with Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, how silly she is, how dumb and impossible and irresponsible her Green New Deal is, but I think they’re missing a point or two. First of all: what’s the alternative? Who would you trade her for? Would you rather things stay the same?”

Wrongo thinks that Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez seems savvy beyond her years. The septuagenarians in Congress can’t present themselves as she does, because she’s 29 years old, born in 1989. She’s in the first generation to grow up with a ubiquitous internet. For her elders, like Wrongo, that’s an acquired skill.

Wrongo has been thinking a lot about capitalism reform. Changing capitalism to take advantage of lessons learned in the past 50 years should be seen as a good thing, not the first step on the path to socialism as Republicans would have everyone believe.

And the Green New Deal is more New Deal than green. It emphasizes reforming our current economic system by deficit financing a new jobs program aimed at improving our infrastructure. The new infrastructure should create clean power, zero emissions vehicles, and high quality jobs that pay prevailing wages. It would be financed by a new tax structure that adds revenue while tilting the tax burden away from individuals to corporations and the uber-wealthy.

Wrongo isn’t a fan of Ocasio saying she’s a socialist. That’s most likely a bridge too far for America in 2020. It’s also unnecessary. Calling what she, Bernie, Elizabeth Warren and a few others have as policy goals are, for the most part, reform of capitalism.

Of course, cynical politicians can say that the Green New Deal is not realistic. That takes you back to establishment Democrats like Hillary, Pelosi, Biden, Booker, Harris and a few more we can’t hear. That’s fine if you want young Americans to invade a few more foreign nations, or you prefer growing income inequality for people here at home. Otherwise, they would all be terrible political leaders, particularly if you believe those policies must stop.

Turning to the “Green” part of the Green New Deal, Benjamin Studebaker offers a great perspective: (emphasis by Wrongo)

“…at this point, we have integrated the global economy so thoroughly that there may now be many irreducibly global problems that cannot be solved at the national level, even with an American commitment….We don’t have the global political institutions we need to handle problems like this, and every time we try to create them voters balk, accusing us of trying to destroy their cultures and deprive them of “sovereignty” and “national self-determination“, as if there were any meaningful sense in which they still had these things to start with.”

His point is that the US now produces only 15% of total global emissions. More from Studebaker:

“The EU commands a further 10%, while other rich states (such as Japan, Australia, and so on) add another 8%. This means that the rich states only control about a third of total emissions. China controls nearly another third (about 30%), and the rest comes from the remaining developing countries, with India and Russia making the largest contributions (7% and 5%, respectively) of that bunch.”

These developing countries are continuing to increase their emissions. This means that reductions from rich states are cancelled out by the growing emissions of developing countries.

Studebaker concludes that it’s beyond the ability of the US to go green unilaterally, and if we did, it wouldn’t bend the arc of global warming sufficiently to make a meaningful difference.

What we can do is provide an example for the world. We can do the right thing, precisely because it is the right thing to do. And along the way, reforming capitalism will quickly improve the lives of average Americans.

We can form a coalition around capitalism reform that includes most people in the bottom 90% of the economic pyramid. It can include Democrats, Independents and a few Republicans, most of whom would never be part of Bernie’s democratic socialism, or AOC’s Green New Deal.

There will be some version of the Green New Deal that starts in the near future. Let’s call it reform of capitalism, and get started on it today.

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SOTU: Boring Like the Super Bowl, But Without the Snacks and Beer

The Daily Escape:

The sleeping kid is Joshua Trump. He was bullied for sharing the same last name as, you know. The kid is one Trump who has already mastered “Executive Time”.

 Young Trump kinda sums up the SOTU, along with this:

Certainly looks like an “FU” clap from Nancy Smash. Photo by Doug Mills/The New York Times/Getty Images

Wrongo thinks the best part of the 1 ½ hour Trumpshow were the shout outs to people in the audience. They took up about 1/3 of the time, and provided some interest, even if most were ham-handed efforts to represent administration policy. These introductions of citizens in the SOTU audience have been around since Ronald Reagan in 1982, and usually give us a bit of a break from the eternal SOTU spewing.

Other than that? Vox makes a good point:

“There were two truly well-done sections of the speech. One was the troll of the Democrats present around the divisive term ‘socialism.’ The other was a series of moments on the stories of Holocaust survivors and World War II veterans.”

Most of the speech was either recycled campaign themes from 2016, or possible 2020 themes being screen-tested for the Republican faithful. Republicans in the room were very happy to see that Dems wouldn’t clap for the war on abortion, or for Trump’s pledge that America would never be a socialist country.

Wrongo thought that Trump’s review of the economy was effective. It is surprising that he doesn’t reference America’s late-stage economic recovery from the Great Recession more often. That, along with abortion, marauding immigrants, and socialism are setting the stage for what we can expect from Republicans over the next two years.

Why did Trump threaten Democrats about investigations? He said:

“If there is going to be peace and legislation, there cannot be war and investigation. It just doesn’t work that way!”

He’s saying that he will obstruct legislation unless Democrats stand down on investigating him. Fat chance. He also said this:

“An economic miracle is taking place in the United States — and the only thing that can stop it are foolish wars, politics, or ridiculous partisan investigations…”

Nobody should threaten America’s economy for personal reasons. That prompted some boos from Democrats. Even Republicans greeted Trump’s threat to economy with near-silence. And the GOP weren’t totally craven yes boys for Trump elsewhere in the speech. The part about trade was poorly received by GOP members. The part about pulling troops out of Afghanistan and Syria was also met with near-silence.

Nancy Pelosi said afterwards that even though Trump spoke of the honor of being in the House chamber to deliver the State of the Union:

“He threatened the United States Congress not to exercise its constitutional responsibility of oversight.”

The SOTU was as boring as Sunday’s Super Bowl, but without the uncertainty of knowing who would win or lose.

Even before Trump opened his mouth at the SOTU, it was clear that America would be the loser.

 

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Send Establishment Democrats to the Bench

The Daily Escape:

City Hall Subway Station, NYC – via @themindcircle

We live in disorienting times. Disorienting in that our society, and our values, are in motion. We are no longer anchored by social mores, beliefs, or any shared vision of the future. Our politics are evolving as well. We can’t simply blame Trump, or those who elected him for taking us to this scary place. The bipartisan consensus that’s ruled this country since the 1940s — neoliberal domestic policy, and neoconservative foreign policy ─ no longer produces the same results for our citizens that it has produced since the Eisenhower era.

Establishment Democrats bear some of the blame. And looking forward to the mid-terms and beyond, they have failed to do the simplest work — forming a worldview, then persuading others about their vision, and the steps to achieve it.

We can also blame establishment Republicans, but they have collapsed. The new right is much farther right, more authoritarian, and whiter. And who would have thought they would be the pro-Russia, anti-FBI, anti-DOJ, and (maybe not a complete surprise), the pro-police state party?

History shows that when society turns like this, the establishment parties can disappear, as did the Federalists and the Whig parties. And when one party changes, the other must as well. After Lincoln, neither the Republicans, nor the Democrats, were the same parties.

Perhaps it’s time to take these words in the Constitution to heart:

…to secure these rights, Governments are instituted among Men, deriving their just Powers from the Consent of the Governed…

Therefore, if the Dems are to win back the hearts and minds of the people, regardless of what the banks and corporations want to do, Government must be the advocate for the People.

That requires that our political parties confront the banks, corporations, military contractors, and the other oversized creatures that feed at the government trough.

Is that something that the establishment Democrats (Wrongo likes calling them the “Caviar Dems”) are willing to do? They used to champion social and economic justice, but not so much today. Today, they follow the same neo-liberal economic policies that Republicans champion.

And with few exceptions, they are as neo-conservative on foreign policy as any Republican.

Republicans have undergone a different mutation. They celebrate the globalized economy, and support the domestic gig economy as a means of growing corporate profits. They still celebrate Christian values, so controlling Supreme Court appointments is their great achievement, along with ruinous tax cuts.

America’s corporate tax revenues are going down, while social and infrastructure costs keep rising. So far, under both parties, government has continued to spend money it doesn’t have. It borrows, and pretends that everything is under control.

Now, after 10 years of economic expansion, we continue to pile up deficits. What’s going to happen in the next recession? The truth is, we are poorer, and weaker, as a country than we think. But few politicians are willing to help us face reality.

We see both Bernie Sanders and Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, the Democratic nominee for Congress in NY, describe themselves as socialists. But, in fact, that’s not what they are. Merriam-Webster defines socialism as:

Any of various economic and political theories advocating collective, or governmental ownership and administration of the means of production and distribution of goods.

Obviously, they hope to take over the corporate-friendly establishment Democratic Party, but if you call yourself a socialist, then, at a minimum, you need to advocate for government ownership of the means of production, i.e., industry. You’re only a socialist to the extent that you advocate that.

Will Bernie or Alexandria nationalize General Motors, Apple, or ExxonMobil? No.

Even advocating for “Medicare for all,” isn’t socialism. Neither Medicare, nor other single-payer programs like Medicaid, are really socialized medicine. No one is advocating for an actual government takeover of hospitals, or turning doctors into government employees. If they really wanted socialized medicine, their cry would be “VA for all,” not “Medicare for all.”

Sanders and Ocasio-Cortez are social democrats. In a social democracy, individuals and corporations continue to own the capital and the means of production. Wealth remains produced privately.

But taxation, government spending, and regulation of the private sector are much more muscular under social democracy than is the case under today’s neo-liberal economic system.

Joel Pett has a great illustration of the difference between Sanders/Ocasio-Cortez and Republicans:

It’s time for the Dems to change direction. Carry the “Medicare for all” banner proudly. Work to end income inequality. Work to add jobs for the middle class.

Send the establishment Democrats to the bench.

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Monday Wake Up Call – July 9, 2018

The Daily Escape:

Turkeys on the Fields of Wrong – June 2018 photo by Wrongo

We wake up this Monday in an America that seems unlike what it should be, or what it was a few years ago. Two quick stories. First, this action by the Trumpistas encapsulates everything horrible about the Trump administration’s approach to the world: (emphasis by Wrongo)

A resolution to encourage breast-feeding was expected to be approved quickly and easily by the hundreds of government delegates who gathered this spring in Geneva for the United Nations-affiliated World Health Assembly…. Then the United States delegation, embracing the interests of infant formula manufacturers, upended the deliberations.

American officials sought to water down the resolution by removing language that called on governments to “protect, promote and support breast-feeding” and another passage that called on policymakers to restrict the promotion of food products that many experts say can have deleterious effects on young children.

More from the NYT:

When that failed, they turned to threats…Ecuador, which had planned to introduce the measure, was the first to find itself in the cross hairs.

The Americans were blunt: If Ecuador refused to drop the resolution, Washington would unleash punishing trade measures and withdraw crucial military aid. The Ecuadorean government quickly acquiesced.

They scrambled to find another sponsor for the resolution, but at least a dozen countries, most of them in Africa and Latin America, backed off, citing fears of retaliation.

The Russians ultimately introduced the measure — and, no surprise, the American delegation did not threaten them. From Booman:

The Trump administration demonstrated almost every flaw they have here. They put the interests of corporate lobbyists ahead of the health of babies. They showed a complete contempt for science and the consensus of the international community. They abused their power and threatened well-meaning and innocent nations simply because they could.

The message is clear: If a country needs to stand up to America, they should go running to the Godfather, Russia, who will do the right thing. And for America? Another horrible outcome brought to you by Donald Trump.

Second, Politico reported that Trump is obstructing the plan to build a new Gateway Tunnel between New York and New Jersey:

The obstacle is not the usual red tape that delays US infrastructure….the environmental review for the new Hudson tunnel was fast-tracked and forwarded to the Transportation Department for approval in an unusually speedy two years. The obstacle is the Trump administration, which vowed in its infrastructure plan to accelerate the permits process, but has been sitting on this one without explanation. “I wouldn’t say we’re slow-walking it,” one administration official told me, before laughing. “OK, maybe a little.”

Ha-ha. The truth is that Trump is trying to force Chuck Schumer to vote for Trump’s Wall in order to get money for the Tunnel. Here’s the NYT: (brackets and edits by Wrongo)

President Donald Trump was in an unusually bipartisan mood on September 7, when he convened a White House meeting about a massive project to build a rail tunnel under the Hudson River.

The politicians in attendance thought [they had a deal]…. “Ask anyone on either side of the aisle. It was very upbeat, total agreement this needs to get done,” Christie told me. King describes the meeting as a love-in: “Not a single negative word, great body language, everybody on the same page.”

After the meeting, though, Trump asked Schumer to stay behind. He bluntly offered another deal, an offer suggesting he had a rather different conception of Gateway’s larger importance: Schumer could have his tunnel if Trump got his border wall with Mexico.

Schumer said he couldn’t make that trade. And ever since, the Trump administration has been doing just about everything in its power to derail the Gateway project. In March, the president threatened to veto an entire $1.2 trillion government spending bill if it included anything at all for Gateway.

It always comes back to his F*king Wall. He’s promised something he can’t deliver, so the only thing he knows how to do is try to take hostages.

This will simply get worse if we fail to turn out in massive numbers in November, and try to re-take the Senate, and absolutely take back the House of Representatives. To help you wake up today, here is John Prine’s “Long Monday” from his 2005 “Fair and Square” album, which won the Grammy for best Contemporary Folk Album:

There are a host of great musicians on the album, including Jerry Douglas, Allison Krauss and Dan Tyminski. Mindy Smith sings harmony on Long Monday.

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

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Saturday Soother – April 7, 2018

The Daily Escape:

Cherry Blossoms, Tokyo Japan – March 29 photo by Eugene Hoshiko

Maybe Wrongo has Spring Fever, but how could he, when it snowed again yesterday? He promises to put the snow shovel in the garage for its three-season nap on Monday, no matter what.

The delay of spring’s arrival got Wrongo thinking about change. We like to think that little changes in our environments, either natural, or socio-cultural, but change they do, every day. And except for a few details, Wrongo is certain that this blog’s readers are all on the same page: Change is in the air, and nothing stays the same. And we’re not just talking about the weather.

Yesterday is gone
Tomorrow is already here.

Wrongo has been writing this blog since March, 2010. Over the past eight years, he has explained how our political/social/economic systems operate, and why/how they can easily fail. And how we do not seem to have a rational, coherent plan to avoid that failure. Yet, each year we seem to inch closer to failure.

Are we doing anything more than Don Quixote was doing? Wrongo, by writing and you, by reading this blog? But Wrongo persists. He’s here, you are here, and once again, as in 1968, change is in the air.

Millions of people are on the move, leaving their ancestral homes, fleeing conflict and poverty. They are trying to find a place to survive, while others who were left behind are dying in the millions. With the increased efforts by migrants to survive, both Europe and the US are closing the gates, hoping to keep the immigrant mob on the outside. But at home, we already have achieved conflict, poverty and death that isn’t caused by immigrants. It is, to paraphrase Jimmy Buffet, “Our own damn fault”.

On Monday in our little corner of Connecticut, we will have a very New England form of direct democracy, a special town meeting. Those citizens who show up will get to vote on whether the Town issues bonds to finance the repair of our roads, which have suffered 20+ years of deferred maintenance. Maybe 100 people will show up, (out of 8,000 voters) maybe less. Those who do show up will decide if we fix our roads, or not. They will decide if lower taxes are better than safe roads.

So Wrongo and Ms. Right spent today stuffing envelopes into mailboxes. This vote is the culmination of a two-year effort to get our town to address how poor our roads have become. We will see if our efforts today help to break voters from their Golden Slumbers, and participate.

If they fail to show up, it will be their own damn fault if the vote goes against whatever their viewpoint is on the bonds.

Wrongo believes that political change is in the air, but that change locally and nationally depends primarily on voter turnout. Turnout depends on people being motivated enough to waddle on down to their polling place and vote, even if the weather is bad, the candidate isn’t perfect, and their one vote doesn’t seem to matter.

But today’s Saturday, and it’s time to settle back, relax, and get soothed. Or work on your taxes, if you have procrastinated. To help you relax, brew up a cup of Gedeb Lot 83 Ethiopia Natural coffee ($18.95/12oz) from JBC Coffee Roasters in Madison, WI. It has a sweetly tart structure with a rich umami undercurrent and satiny mouthfeel.

Now settle back in your favorite chair and listen to “Spring Waltz” supposedly by Frédéric Chopin.

However, it isn’t really called that, it isn’t a waltz, and it isn’t by Chopin. It is actually “Mariage d’Amour” composed by Paul de Senneville in 1987. It was wrongly titled and became wildly popular, so the various YouTube channels that feature it won’t correct its name. Still it is very beautiful, and of the season:

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

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It’s Past Time To Make Changes To Our Economic System

The Daily Escape:

2011 Art piece by Steven Lambert

Does capitalism work for you? Well, you certainly work for capitalists. The real question is whether capitalism still provides economic security to all of us.

Steve Lambert, the artist who designed the sign, engaged with people across America over a three-year period about whether capitalism was still working. He learned that people were split about 50/50 on the premise:

People usually first react to the piece by falling back on the comfort of abstractions and repeating popular myths. For example, the true/false dilemma is much easier to resolve when the only alternatives to capitalism are presumed to be failed communist dictatorships. It’s also much easier to pretend that the only “true” definition of capitalism is the kind of free-market extreme idolized by thinkers like Ayn Rand and Friedrich Hayek

Or thinkers like Paul Ryan, Mitch McConnell and Donald Trump. Lambert learned that people generally agreed with the concept, assuming “you are willing to work hard, or work smarter”:

I’ve always found the formulation “work hard, work smart” disturbing. When you invert the expression, it implies: if capitalism doesn’t work for you (that is, if you’re poor, out of work or have a demeaning job), it’s your fault. To put it more bluntly, you are lazy and stupid.

If we ignore the fact that until recently, wages have stagnated for decades, and that what most people earn in a lifetime is insufficient to cover a modestly comfortable retirement, maybe you can say that capitalism is working.

We have been told that federal budget deficits impair our ability to grow the economy, or to put food on our individual tables. In fact the opposite is true. This idea makes us believe that our ability to earn a living requires some degree of suffering by other Americans.

As Claire Connelly says: (emphasis by Wrongo)

“We can’t afford it” has been the proverbial comforter of opponents of the welfare state harking back to the Clinton / Blair days….This argument has been used as an emotional crutch for people who don’t want to admit that they’re comfortable with homelessness and unemployment….If their bottom line is stable.

This lie sets us against each other, implying that the well-being of everyone else is a direct threat to our own. And who wins? The beneficiaries of the newly lowered taxes, corporate America and its management teams. More from Connelly:

Do we really want to live in a world….Where most people will be lucky to earn minimum wage, or wait for months to get paid. If at all. A world where we are not entitled either to a job, or an education, or affordable health care or a social safety net?

We are likely to see a $1.3 Trillion budget pass both houses of Congress this week. It is deficit spending run wild. Wrongo knows that both parties believe that deficits don’t matter, and to a great extent, he agrees.

But these deficits are larger than they had to be, due to the massive corporate and wealthy individual tax cuts the Republican House and Senate just passed. And it’s not only the size of the deficits, it’s the mis-allocation of funds by our neo-con overlords.

This is what capitalism has delivered for America: More than 45 million of us (14.5%) live in poverty. In 2016, another 49.5 million Americans were age 65 and older, and half of them (24.75 million) had yearly income of less than $23,394.

That adds up to about 70 million (22%) of Americans.

One idea that is gaining attention is a Jobs Guarantee program. The Center on Budget and Policy Priorities (CBPP) recently released a paper arguing for a national jobs guarantee through a national infrastructure bank. The CBPP plan envisions an infrastructure bank that would fund vital projects and ensure that jobs are well-paid. The government would use this job-creating ability to expand jobs in sectors where the market won’t currently invest, like a national high-speed internet network.

Government guarantees of employment aren’t radical. They aren’t communism, or socialism. We did it before with the New Deal. It reinforces traditional American values around work, and it builds the tax base by taxation on the jobs created. Here’s a final quote from Steve Lambert:

My favorite response to the sign was from a 17-year-old high school student in Boston. She said: “Capitalism can’t work for everyone. If it did, it wouldn’t be capitalism.”

This is where the conversation needs to go: We have to change an economic system that fails so many.

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Utilities Face Declining Demand for Electricity

The Daily Escape:

Mt Baker, WA – 2018 photo by np2fast. The two smaller peaks on the right are Colfax and Lincoln.

We are late to the story, but Bloomberg had a report in April, 2017 that electric power consumption in the US has been stalled for the last 10 years. Since the dawn of the electric light bulb, electricity demand grew in a direct relationship to the growth in GDP, but that relationship no longer holds. Here is a chart showing the divergence:

The white line is US GDP, indexed to 1997. GDP in 2016 was 151% of what it was in 1997, while the blue line, representing US electricity sales, is only at 118% of 1997.

Why? It is a combination of greater energy efficiency, offshoring of heavy industry, and both commercial customers and homeowners generating their own power. Demand for power from utilities is flat, and most forecasts expect it to remain that way.

Flat demand for electricity has big implications for the utility industry. They need to forecast demand for electricity about 20 years ahead, because they invest in large and capital-intensive infrastructure like power plants and transmission lines, costing billions of dollars. The utility wants to be sure that facilities they invest in will produce profits for many years to come. This is why it is important that the utility industry adapts in order to stay competitive by offering cheaper Energy Plans for customers.

But, investor-owned utilities (IOUs), which provide electricity for more than half of Americans, need to make money for their investors. They can’t make money selling electricity; monopoly regulations forbid that. Instead, they make money by earning a rate of return on investments in electric power plants and infrastructure. And with stagnant demand, there’s no value in new investment. And a drop in investment means a drop in profit. So, the IOUs are treading water as their revenues decline.

We are in a new normal. There is pressure from falling power prices, due largely to increased usage of natural gas and renewables to produce power. Wholesale power prices are down 70% percent from 2007, but little of those cost savings have been passed on to consumers.

We should see what’s going on as a good thing, says David Roberts at Vox:

For both economic and environmental reasons, it is good that US power demand has decoupled from GDP growth. As long as we’re getting the energy services we need, we want overall demand to decline. It saves money, reduces pollution, and avoids the need for expensive infrastructure.

More from Roberts:

Only when the utility model fundamentally changes — when utilities begin to see themselves primarily as architects and managers of high-efficiency, low-emissions, multidirectional electricity systems rather than just investors in infrastructure growth — can utilities turn in earnest to the kind of planning they need to be doing.

The electricity sector understands where things are headed: Coal is dying out. Renewables are coming on strong. Distributed energy and sophisticated grid controls are providing increased efficiency. Natural gas may or may not be a long-term answer. Roberts shows how the Trump administration is out of step:

Trump’s love of coal, steel, pollution, and other such manly 19th century pursuits is an anachronism and a curio, but it is having little influence on the thinking and plans of electricity-sector professionals.

So, we have a strategic US industry in transition. They are now stiffing their customers, who have nowhere to go. They are not helped by an administration that is focused on an ideological response guaranteed to make the electric power industry’s efforts to find a better economic model much, much harder to achieve.

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Saturday Soother – February 17, 2018

The Daily Escape:

Sigiriya, Sri Lanka – photo by jcourtial for dronestagram. Sigiriya is an ancient rock fortress. The site was the palace for King Kasyapa (477 – 495 BC). It is a UNESCO World Heritage Site.

We live in a seemingly endless loop of outrage. Nothing ever changes, because we waste energy on the “what-about?” arguments from both sides, each attempting to reframe the issue to their side’s advantage. These discussions yield nothing, and solutions are never agreed. This adds to a generalized feeling of powerlessness: The view that everything that is important is out of our hands, and insoluble.

So it is with school shootings, with protecting the DACA kids. And with whatever Russiagate is.

At least the Mueller investigation will run its course. We have to hope that the results will be made public. But if they are released, it will only lead to more debate and disagreement. Until then, we’ll continue to gleefully argue our respective Russiagate viewpoints in a fact-free vacuum.

We have experienced hysterical political times before, but they tended to be single issue events. Has there ever been a time when so many people in both political parties have been so single-mindedly determined to whip up anger?

When we’re looking at just a single issue, one side or the other often simply runs out of steam. Then the issue can be resolved both in Washington and in the mind of the public.

When we experience multiple issues simultaneously, the available energy is expended across the entire spectrum of problems. Thus, there isn’t enough energy to direct successfully at a single issue. So nothing is resolved.

This is where we are in February 2018, in a kind of nervous exhaustion: Too many issues and too few resolutions.

Can something, or someone unite us? Will a big event allow a majority to coalesce around a point of view, or a leader?

History shows that when we are in the grip of anxiety, it can be a relief if something we fear actually happens. Think about when Japan bombed Pearl Harbor. It was widely reported that the response of the public, including anti-war activists, was relief. There was a feeling that at last a course had been set, a key decision made. FDR united the disparate groups behind a war.

While the same situation doesn’t quite apply today, we crave some sort of decisions, perhaps some sort of decisive act. What would that be? It isn’t possible to see from where we are today.

As John Edwards said, there are two Americas. The one that sends their children to private schools, and the second one that sends their children to public schools. The second group has the kids who get shot by the gunmen. And politicians get away with platitudes about their thoughts and prayers.

Unfortunately, they then decide that fixing the problem is not worth their time.

We may have reached a breaking point. Shitty jobs, shitty pay, shitty hours, and little hope of advancement. No easy access to medical care, an uneven social safety net. Wrongo lived through the chaotic 1960’s. He endured Reagan’s show-no-mercy 1980’s. Those were bad times.

But, in a lot of ways, 2018 is worse. Today, there is an immense lack of mutual respect. And there is a ubiquitous atmosphere of a powerless people.

Wow, who said all that??

We desperately need a weekend where we can unplug from the media and focus on other things. In other words, we need a Saturday soother. Start by brewing up a big cuppa Stumptown Coffee’s Holler Mountain Blend, ($16/12oz.) The Stumptown people promise flavors of blackberry, citrus and toffee in a creamy, full body. Your mileage may vary.

Now, get in your favorite chair and listen to some, or all of the musical score from the film “Dunkirk”. Both the score and the film are Oscar-nominated. The film’s director Christopher Nolan suggested to the musical director Hans Zimmer, that they use Elgar’s “Nimrod” from the 1898-99 “Enigma Variations” as part of the theme. They decided that the movie’s music should be about time, and how for the men on the beaches, time was running out. They picked the “Enigma Variations” because it’s part of English culture, less a national anthem than an emotional anthem for the nation. Along the way, consistent with using time, they slowed it down to 6 beats per minute. Listen to their version from the movie:

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

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Rural Towns Have Polluted Water. Will Trump’s Plan Fix It?

The Daily Escape:

Valley of Desolation, Eastern Cape, South Africa – 2018 photo by Ottho Heldring

The Trump infrastructure plan asks states and cities to partner with private equity to build their roads, bridges and water treatment plants. As the WSJ explains, private equity says they are not interested. Apparently, they don’t want to build things; they prefer to purchase existing assets: (emphasis by Wrongo)

Fund managers say they are mainly looking for assets that are already privately owned—such as renewable energy, railroads, utilities and pipelines—and not the deteriorating government-owned infrastructure like roads and bridges that helped attract the capital in the first place. To the extent they are interested in public assets, the focus is more likely to be on privatizing existing infrastructure than on new development—the heart of Mr. Trump’s push.

One area where private equity may think they have a role to play is with America’s threatened water systems, which are existing assets. When people think of water crises, they think of places like Flint, Michigan, because a failed urban water system affects huge numbers of people. If you’re worried about the quality of your drinking water, take a look at https://waterfilterway.com/.

But most health-based violations of drinking-water standards occur in small towns. Of the 5,000 US drinking-water systems that racked up health-based violations in 2015, more than 50% were systems that served 500 people or fewer.

But when we add up the total number of people affected, rural America’s drinking-water situation is an order of magnitude greater than Flint’s. Millions of rural Americans are subject to unhealthy levels of contaminants in their drinking water, largely from agriculture and coal mining.

And as the rural/urban economic gap grows, this basic inequality won’t get fixed unless something radical is done to improve water quality in rural America.

Agriculture is the culprit in many rural towns, and unhealthy levels of nitrates is the primary cause. Nitrogen-based fertilizer runs off of farmlands and into the nation’s fresh water. The health impact of ingesting nitrates is serious:

  • Two-thirds of communities with nitrate levels at or above 5 ppm are in 10 states where agriculture is big business.
  • Almost three-fourths of communities whose drinking water is at or above the legal limit are found in just five states – Arizona, California, Kansas, Oklahoma and Texas.

Remediation costs vary, but a 2012 report from the Center for Watershed Sciences at UC Davis gives a yardstick. They say that a community of just under 5,000 people could incur annual costs ranging from $195,000 to $1.1 million to build and operate an ion exchange system, while a reverse osmosis system would cost from $1.1 million to $4 million a year. A $4 million system would cost $800 per citizen.

These costs may be far beyond the ability of small towns to finance. What is really going on here is another case of “socializing losses”. Farms are polluting the water, and the town is left to pay for remediation. And the big agriculture lobbies are making sure that their members avoid any liability for poisoning their towns.

We know that we haven’t been able to fund Flint’s water remediation with public funds. How will we deal with the rest of America’s polluted drinking water? It isn’t likely that towns and cities can do much more. Some cities have debt capacity, the capital markets may be willing to lend to them. However, hostility to new taxes on the local level means that issuing new debt is difficult politically for mayors and town councils.

Trump’s infrastructure plan opens up the Clean Water State Revolving Fund (CWSRF). This federal financial assistance program for water infrastructure projects would allow private firms to both manage and repair water infrastructure at taxpayer’s expense. Previously, only states and municipalities could access the fund.

Funneling CWSRF funds to private water system providers means our most vulnerable towns will have to turn over basic infrastructure to for-profit companies. And those companies will charge for the privilege. On average, private for-profit water utilities charge households 59% more than local governments charge for drinking water, an extra $185 a year.

When your water is poisoning you, should you agree to raise water rates to fix it, or do you expect to get pure water for the money you are already paying?

What if you are unable to move to a place where the water is safe?

If your water system will cost $ millions for a town of 500, how can it possibly be paid for, except by public funding?

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Thinking About Trump’s Infrastructure Plan

The Daily Escape:

Lincoln Highway – photo by Andrew Smith. The Lincoln Highway was the first highway to connect the east and west coasts of the USA in 1916. It was a combination of newer and older roads of varying quality.

Eisenhower’s National Highway System had its origin in a road trip that he took across the country in 1919, 33 years before he was elected president. From Atlas Obscura:

Lt. Colonel Dwight D. Eisenhower traveled with the military in a motor convoy across the country, from DC to San Francisco… This was one of the first major cross-country road trips, and it planted the idea in Eisenhower’s mind that the federal government could and should make improving US highways a priority…

In 1919, America’s network of roads that Eisenhower traveled on was, for the most part, still rudimentary.

In 1916, the Lincoln Highway had been designated, but it wasn’t a proper highway. The Eisenhower convoy mostly traveled the Lincoln Highway, with some detours. The motorcade included more than 80 vehicles. It left Washington DC on July 7, 1919, and took seven and a half hours to reach its first stop at Frederick, Maryland, a distance of 46 miles. That’s where Eisenhower joined the group.

That 6 miles an hour pace is what the convoy would average in its drive across the country. It took them 62 days to make it to San Francisco.

In 1919, usable roads hardly existed west of Indiana. When it rained, vehicles got stuck in soft spots on the roads, up to their hubs, and had to be pushed out. In Nebraska, they found sand to be the enemy. One day, it took seven hours to pull all the trucks through 200 yards of quicksand.

Elected in 1952, Eisenhower hoped to build the highways that he had talked about for years. The Federal-Aid Highway Act of 1944 had authorized the construction of a 40,000-mile “National System of Interstate Highways”, but hadn’t provided funding to pay for the construction.

Eisenhower’s new Federal-Aid Highway Act passed in June 1956. It authorized the construction of a 41,000-mile network of interstate highways spanning the nation. It also allocated $26 billion to pay for them. The federal government would pay 90% of the costs of construction, using a national fuel tax.

Thereafter, that great American institution, the road trip, could begin. Today, the Interstate Highway System is more than 46,000 miles long.

Flash forward to 2018. We know public spending peaked at 2.2% of inflation-adjusted GDP in 2009 and has fallen ever since. By late last year, it was down to about 1.6%.

President Trump said while introducing his new infrastructure plan:

It is time to give Americans the working, modern infrastructure they deserve.

Reading Trump’s plan, it is clear he thinks we deserve nothing. Disagree? Start by looking at Trump’s budget proposal. Jared Bernstein says:

The budget proposes $200 billion over 10 years, but as budget analyst Bobby Kogan tweeted: “The budget cuts $178 billion in…transportation [not including cuts to] water, broadband…and energy. This means [Trump is] giving $200 billion with his left hand but taking away that much with his right.”

$20 billion a year doesn’t go very far. The plan shifts at least 80% of the investment in infrastructure to private investors, states, and cities. This is problematic, because Trump’s tax plan significantly lowers the amount of federal taxes that state and local taxpayers can deduct from their tax bill. This will make it much harder for states and cities to raise the revenue to support infrastructure spending, or any other public needs.

The LA Time’s Michael Hiltzik says it best: (brackets and emphasis by Wrongo)

The whole package should mostly be seen as [typical of] the Trump administration’s approach to governing: programs with virtually no rationale and without adequate financing, along with a commitment to getting government off the backs of the people so Big Business can saddle up.

This is Right Wing ideology at work. They passed a huge tax cut in order to “starve the beast” that is the US government, while at the same time, they will “feed the beast” via $trillions of deficit financing. Cities and states are not flush with cash for new infrastructure projects, and the private sector won’t do anything that reduces shareholder return, so Trump’s plan is dead on arrival.

As for financing America’s roads, increase fuel taxes. Let drivers amortize the building costs, a system Eisenhower used. Add tolls where we must. Make the traffic move faster and safer.

Trump should be like Ike: Pay for our infrastructure!

Claw back some tax cuts. Cut defense spending. Pay for purer water for our towns and cities. Pay for better schools, a smart electric grid, and better ports and airports.

Pay for them all with federal dollars.

(Wrongo is indebted to the tywkiwdbi blog for covering the Eisenhower road trip on Lincoln’s birthday)

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