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The Wrongologist

Geopolitics, Power and Political Economy

Monday Wake Up Call – March 18, 2019

The Daily Escape:

View from Angel’s Landing, Zion NP – 2019 photo by ducc517

Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-MA) says that she favors “capitalism with serious rules.” David Leonhardt wrote in Sunday’s NYT:

Her platform aims to reform American capitalism so that it once again works well for most American families. The recent tradition in Democratic politics has been different. It has been largely to accept that big companies are going to get bigger and do everything they can to hold down workers’ pay. The government will then try to improve things through income taxes and benefit programs.

Warren is trying to treat not just the symptoms of inequality, but the underlying disease. Warren also called for an annual wealth tax, for people with assets greater than $50 million. She has proposed a universal child-care and pre-K program. She favors tougher guidelines on future mergers, and also a breakup of the giant tech companies (Google, Facebook) that resemble monopolies.

Of the current crop of Democrats, she’s the reform capitalism candidate. But one idea that Warren hasn’t espoused is the Financial Transactions Tax, (FTT). Wrongo first wrote about a FTT in March 2013.

Sen. Brian Schatz, (D-HI) and Rep. Peter DeFazio (D-OR) introduced a tax of one-tenth-of-one-percent, or 10 basis points (100 basis points equals 1 percentage point), on securities trades, including stocks, bonds, and derivatives. The CBO estimates that the FTT would raise $777 billion over 10 years. Sens. Chris Van Hollen (D-MD), Jeff Merkley (D-OR), and Kirsten Gillibrand (D-NY) are co-sponsors of the bill.

For the math-challenged, 10 basis points on a $1,000 trade equals one dollar. Jared Bernstein says:

FTTs exist in various countries, including the UK and France, with Germany considering the tax (also, Brazil, India, South Korea, and Argentina). The UK is a particularly germane example, where an FTT has long co-existed with London’s vibrant, global financial market.

More from Bernstein: (brackets by Wrongo)

Because the value of the stock holdings is highly skewed toward the wealthy, the FTT is highly progressive: The TPC [Tax Policy Center] estimates that 40% of the cost of the tax falls on the top 1% (which makes sense as they hold about 40% of the value of the stock market and 40% of national wealth).

Vox also reports that an FTT would mostly affect wealthy Americans, because an estimated 84% of the value of stocks is owned by the wealthiest 10% of households. Schatz isn’t the first Democrat to suggest an FTT, Bernie Sanders ran on a similar idea in the 2016 Democratic primary. He pitched it as a way to pay for free college.

Globally, there is plenty of experience with FTTs. In the UK, a 0.5% “stamp tax” is charged when someone buys shares on the stock market, and the UK market is fine. France in 2012 introduced a tax on financial transactions, and a study from the European Commission found that trading volumes declined slightly, but share prices and volatility weren’t meaningfully changed. France and Germany have pushed for a European Union-wide FTT.

Opponents include the high-frequency traders, who note that even a small FTT could upend their extremely low margin business model. Although a dollar on a $1,000 trade doesn’t sound like much, if the industry is making 4 billion trades a day, it can add up.

Time to wake up and support an FTT, America. Sens Warren and Sanders support this idea, and you should too. Those who think that the government should use the tax code to ensure that everyone has an equal opportunity to get ahead, and that we should do more to ensure the well-being of our citizens aren’t socialists.

If that makes us socialists, then Eisenhower, who presided over a 90% top tax bracket, was also a socialist.

To help you wake up, here’s Steely Dan with “Any World That I’m Welcome To from their 1975 album “Kay Lied”. This tune gives you the benefit of hearing the late, great, Hal Blaine on drums. Blaine may have been the most recorded drummer in pop music history. From the late 50s through the mid-70s, Blaine did sessions with Sam Cooke, Ray Charles, The Righteous Brothers, Henry Mancini, Ike & Tina Turner, The Monkees, Nancy Sinatra, The Fifth Dimension, The Byrds, Sonny & Cher, Mamas and the Papas, and The Grass Roots.

The famously picky Steely Dan only used Blaine for this one tune:

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

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Monday Wake Up Call – February 25, 2019

The Daily Escape:

Hooded Merganser with fish, Housatonic River, CT – February, 2019 photo by JH Clery

Disenchantment with the government has become an important part of America’s current mindset. A recent Gallup survey that found that 35% of Americans surveyed named the government as the “top problem” facing the US:

“Gallup has asked Americans what they felt was the most important problem facing the country since 1939 and has regularly compiled mentions of the government since 1964. Prior to 2001, the highest percentage mentioning government was 26% during the Watergate scandal. Thus, the current measure is the highest in at least 55 years.”

(Gallup’s poll was a telephone survey of 1,016 adults in all 50 US states and the District of Columbia. The survey has a margin of error of ± 4%. It was conducted between Feb 1st – 10th, 2019)

This is more significant because this time, Gallup’s question was open-ended, unlike the usual form of the question that Gallup has been asking for decades. In the previous version, Gallup asks “which of the following will be the biggest threat to the country in the future—big business, big labor, or big government?

What’s driving the current historic discontent with government isn’t that government does too much, but that government does too little. Gallup speculates that the increase reflects public frustration with the government shutdown that occurred from late December through most of January. They observed a similar double-digit spike after the 2013 government shutdown, when it climbed from 16% in September 2013, to 33% in October 2013.

Gallup reports that 11% of respondents cited “Donald Trump” as the most important problem, while 5% name “the Democrats” or “liberals” and just 1% named “Congress.” Since January 2017, about the time Trump took office, the government has been the top problem each month, except in Gallup’s November poll, and in July 2018. In both of those months, immigration edged out the government at the top of the list. After the government, the most important problems according to Gallup’s latest poll were immigration, at 19%, and health care, at 6%.

Gallup began asking about the “most important problem” on a monthly basis in 2001; since then, only a few times and a few issues have matched or exceeded the 35% currently mentioning the government:

  • After the 9/11 attacks, mentions of “terrorism” topped the list as the most important problem, peaking at 46% in October 2001.
  • Mentions of the situation in Iraq escalated in early 2007 after G.W. Bush’s announcement of the “surge”. “Iraq” was cited as the biggest problem by 38% in February of that year.
  • In November, 2008, the percentage of Americans naming “the economy” reached 58%.
  • In 2011, as Obama was laying out an ambitious job creation plan, 39% saw unemployment as our major problem.

This time, by frequency of mention, government is our biggest problem among a list of 47 national problems, not terrorism, or the economy or unemployment. Those were individual crises that our government responded to. Now, we’re saying that government itself is dysfunctional.

And Gallup revealed:

“While Democrats were more likely than Republicans to name government and leadership as the top problem facing the nation in the year leading up to the latest poll, both party groups are now about as likely to name government as the top US problem.”

As we might expect, Republicans disproportionately mention Democrats or liberals as the problem, while Democrats (as well as independents) disproportionately mention Trump.

Gallup concludes that while Democrats and Republicans are currently aligned in their negative view, it is for different reasons. For Democrats, the shutdown was caused by a stalemate over a border wall they overwhelmingly rejected, promoted by a president they dislike. Gallup speculates that for Republicans, it is the ramifications of losing control of the House of Representatives and their party’s inability to pass more legislation while it was in power.

This bears watching as the presidential primary season takes form. The poll may offer some fodder for one or more candidates to harness the frustrations of voters who are saying that they are fed up with the gridlock and hyper-partisanship in Washington that has only grown with time.

There’s a window here, the question is who can seize the opportunity. Already, some right-wing pundits are linking the growing disapproval of government by Republicans with the Democrats’ embrace of Medicare for All and other “socialist” programs.

It’s time to wake up, America! People are starting to understand that dysfunctional government isn’t in their interest. The time is right for a messenger who can harness the frustration and move the country back to a functioning democracy.

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Monday Wake Up Call – Green New Deal Edition

The Daily Escape:

Double Rainbow, Kauai, Hawaii – 2018 photo by Charlene Renslow

There has been plenty of talk about the introduction of a Green New Deal (GND) as an answer for what ails America. Here is the text of HR 109. Everyone should take a few minutes and read it.

The power of the GND is that it addresses the power imbalance between established political and business interests in the US and the rest of us. The GND injects compassion into our democracy. Justice for workers is compassion. Care of the environment for future generations is compassion. A more equitable distribution of wealth is compassion.

From Ed Walker:

“The Green New Deal is an overarching statement of political goals for the Democratic Party, something the party has not had for decades. It lays out a vision of a future inspired by the best the party has to offer, Franklin Roosevelt’s Four Freedoms, which he laid out in January 1941 as the US stared at the unfolding crisis in Europe…..It is a combination of Roosevelt’s unfinished goals and the massive work done by liberals to expand the reach of the Constitution to previously disfavored groups. It offers hope and possibility as we confront the crisis of environmental disaster.”

Most people think the GND is about fixing the environment. That’s true, but there is a larger theme running through it, the reform of capitalism.

Capitalism is at the core of our country’s growth and place in the world. It has created wealth for all. In accordance with its tenets, a few of us are fabulously rich, while the majority of us are not. It also imposes economic costs on the 99% while sucking up most benefits for those at the very top. As Ed Walker says:

“You don’t see the rich living next door to petroleum processing plants or airports or gravel pits or trash dumps. You don’t see their kids suffering from asthma caused by factory pollution or heavy truck traffic or worse. You don’t see them unable to pay medical bills or take their kids for needed medical attention. That’s for the little people.”

The GND’s most important virtue is that it doesn’t assume that the entire burden of the disruption caused by economic growth (if the GND becomes law), should be borne only by the 99%. It insures corporations will not grab vast profits, or control adaptation to the new economy for their sole benefit.

For example, when the price of natural gas dropped, capitalists stopped using coal, and coal miners lost their jobs, their insurance, their homes and their futures. Under the GND, when natural gas is phased out in favor of alternative sources, displaced workers will have a job and health care, because the GND offers a job guarantee and universal access to health care.

The knee-jerk reaction from Republicans (and many Democrats) is that the GND is socialism, and it’s impossible to implement in a free society. It is true that HR 109 is designed to rebalance the power about who decides the future of the nation. It explicitly favors the interests of the vast majority. It explicitly limits the power of corporations to dictate what response will be made to the threat of climate change.

This isn’t socialism, it’s an overdue reform of capitalism. Our companies, in particular the large global firms, can no longer be trusted to do the right thing when it comes to the welfare of Americans. For the past 70 years, people accepted that they would do well if American companies did well.

Globalism has made a lie of that ideology. Corporations must pay taxes. Corporations must be responsible for bearing the economic costs for all of us that come from their decisions.

Capitalism reform is a serious challenge not just to corporations and the rich. It is a serious challenge to our current political parties. Democrats claim to be the party of the people. The GND will force them to prove it.

The GOP represents the interests of corporations and the rich against the interests of working people. The GND makes this clear. It offers voters a contrast with the Republican/MAGA vision for this nation.

Both parties claim to want the best for the country’s future. Thinking about the GND forces them to come up with positive programs, or to do nothing in the face of mounting inequality, and a zero-sum political economy. Some have compared a GND transition to the abolition of slavery. Slavery was immensely profitable, and the benefits went to relatively few. And those few held all the political power in the South. It led to war.

Meanwhile, the media focuses on the horse race of ideas, and the cost. Can the Green New Deal pass? How could we ever pay for it?

Democrats and Republicans opposed to the GND must explain why even more neoliberal capitalism will accomplish what voters say they want. Republicans will continue to argue that the GND will turn us into Venezuela or worse.

But the rest of us now have a vision for a better future.

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Monday Wake Up Call – February 11, 2019

The Daily Escape:

The Piedmont Kilns, Wyoming. They were built in 1869 to supply charcoal for the iron smelting industry in Utah. Part of a ghost town, three remain.

A wave of bankruptcies is sweeping the US Farm Belt, and Trump’s trade disputes are adding to the pain. The primary cause is low commodity prices that American farmers have experienced for the past few years. Throughout much of the Midwest, US farmers are filing for Chapter 12 bankruptcy protection at levels not seen for at least a decade.

From the WSJ:

“Bankruptcies in three regions covering major farm states last year rose to the highest level in at least 10 years. The Seventh Circuit Court of Appeals, which includes Illinois, Indiana and Wisconsin, had double the bankruptcies in 2018 compared with 2008. In the Eighth Circuit, which includes states from North Dakota to Arkansas, bankruptcies swelled 96%. The 10th Circuit, which covers Kansas and other states, last year had 59% more bankruptcies than a decade earlier.”

Those states accounted for nearly half of all sales of US farm products in 2017, according to USDA data. Since 2000, China’s share of our agricultural exports has increased from two percent to about 19% in 2017. China has become our largest agricultural trading partner.

The rise in farm bankruptcies tracks a multi-year slump in prices for corn, soybeans and other farm commodities caused by a world-wide glut. Prices for soybeans and hogs further declined after Mexico, along with China, retaliated against US steel and aluminum tariffs by imposing duties on our AG products, and then slashing purchases.

Farmers generally supported Trump’s tariffs when he started the trade war in 2018. China’s retaliation was to virtually cease purchasing American agricultural products. As an example, China moved the sourcing of soybeans from the US to Brazil. When a low margin business like farming loses 20% of sales, only those who aren’t in debt can survive. And most US farmers owe quite a bit to their bankers.

The Trump administration recognized the potential problem, and approved funding to bridge farmers across the decline in Chinese purchases, but the trade war has gone on for longer than anticipated.

Now, bankruptcies are way up, and exports to China are way down:

Source: Econbrowser

Unfortunately, we keep importing from China. But in the past year, the Chinese have stopping buying as much of our goods. Clearly, the bull our farmers got isn’t in their barn, but in the White House.

Republicans are saying that the surge in farm bankruptcies isn’t Trump’s fault, that the problem with the farm product glut started years ago. But, if Republicans want to give Trump credit for the good employment numbers, and a still-robust stock market, they have to blame him for the bad as well.

Time to wake up America! Disruption without a strategy brings chaos. And think back to the SOTU, when Trump said how he stood between us and socialism. But Trump’s picking winners and losers with his trade wars. He’s using tax-payer money to subsidize farmers damaged by his self-imposed trade wars. That sounds eerily like socialism to Wrongo.

Wake up to the fact that farmers are pawns in Trump’s capricious tantrums against China. Those who have played chess know that most of your pawns are gone by the end of the game.

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Monday Wake Up Call – Wreck It Ralph Edition, February 4, 2019

The Daily Escape:

The Expectation — 1936 painting by Richard Oelze

(Patriots won a tough Super Bowl, and the chili was terrific!)

Ralph Northam is the Democratic governor of Virginia. Ralph is on pace to wreck his political life. Here’s the story so far:

On Friday, Northam’s personal page from his 1984 medical school yearbook surfaced. It includes a picture of two unidentified people, one wearing blackface, the other in a Klan robe and hood.

Within a few hours, Northam says he’s one of the people in the picture, although he doesn’t say which of the two people he is.

A few hours later, he says he’s definitely NOT in the picture, but he confesses to a different racist escapade. Around the time that he graduated from medical school, he participated in a Michael Jackson impersonation contest, and used shoe polish to darken his skin.

Eugene Robinson had a great take, using Jackson’s tunes:

But Northam must have done enough in his youth to mistakenly assume that the picture in the yearbook was of him, even though he had never even seen that picture before Friday.

Is anything about his story even plausible, much less true? So the question becomes, what follows IF the story as he’s telling it now is true? Wrongo condemns his actions, and he’s certainly handled this as poorly as possible.

As a practical matter, his political career is over.

Wrongo was born into a racist family system. Both sides of his family were without doubt, white supremacists. But as a child of the silent generation, living in a white suburban NY culture, by 17 years of age, Wrongo and all of his friends had figured out that white supremacy was unacceptable.

If Northam had said, “I grew up in a place and time when racism was tolerated, and even at 25, I hadn’t quite left it behind. But my record shows I’m not that guy now, and haven’t been for 30 years. I am deeply embarrassed and sorry I was such a dope back then“, we could be more forgiving.

But instead, he says he doesn’t recall, and offers up a different racist experience while invalidating the first racist experience.

Northam is undergoing political death by a thousand cuts. He’s done, he just hasn’t come to terms with it. Sadly, it didn’t necessarily have to be that way. He just wasn’t willing to do the difficult work of first, being honest with himself, and then, being honest with the rest of us.

Northam’s whole story is especially upsetting in light of studies that show that medical students believe black people feel less pain than whites. While Northam was training to be a doctor, apparently, he was dressing up blackface, and possibly in Klan costumes.

Did his racism have a negative effect on any black patients he may have treated?

Even if you take at face value his claim that he isn’t in that yearbook photo, he clearly remembered wearing blackface while dressing up like Michael Jackson that same year. If wearing blackface is disqualifying, then his Michael Jackson imitation is reason enough to step down. Remember that he said:

“I only blackened my face a little bit because everybody knows shoe polish is hard to get off your face”

Sorry, but most people have no idea how hard it is to get shoe polish off your face. Or, that shoe polish is the accepted method of blackening your face. Sadly, Northam clearly doesn’t think his blackface admission is disqualifying. He isn’t sorry for doing it–he’s sorry he got caught.

When this type of thing happens, someone always says we shouldn’t punish him for something that happened 35 years ago, that we should forgive and forget. Some will say that Democrats are showing an inappropriately heightened sense of political correctness. That they are exaggerating the offense in this case.

We ought to forgive, but there can be no forgetting.

Time to wake up America! Racism is our original sin, and it is still practiced by both political parties, and by plenty of average citizens. We can’t call for Rep. Steve King (R-IA) to resign for saying that White Supremacy is A-OK, and not also insist that Governor Ralph Northam step down.

 

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Monday Wake Up Call – January 28, 2019

The Daily Escape:

Bell Island, Franz Josef Land with Eira Lodge in foreground. The lodge is a remnant of Benjamin Leigh-Smith’s expedition in 1880 – 2017 photo by Ilya TiminCC BY-SA 4.0.

The largest gathering of billionaires in the world took place last week at the World Economic Forum’s annual conference in Davos. Vanity Fair reports that they:

“…consume $55 Caesar salads and shark canapés, rub shoulders with Matt Damon, and attend parties that involve “endless streams of the finest champagne, vodka, and Russian caviar, dancing Cossacks, and beautiful Russian models…”

Bloomberg added: (emphasis by Wrongo)

“UBS and PwC Billionaires Insights reports show that global billionaire wealth has grown from $3.4 trillion in 2009 to $8.9 trillion in 2017…The fortunes of a dozen 2009 Davos attendees have soared by a combined $175 billion, even as median US household wealth has stagnated…”

And there was this report from Davos in the NYT by Kevin Roose: (emphasis by Wrongo)

“They’ll never admit it in public, but many of your bosses want machines to replace you as soon as possible. I know this because, for the past week, I’ve been mingling with corporate executives at the World Economic Forum’s annual meeting in Davos. And I’ve noticed that their answers to questions about automation depend very much on who is listening.”

Roose goes on to say: (emphasis by Wrongo)

“In public, many executives wring their hands over the negative consequences that artificial intelligence and automation could have for workers. They…talk about the need to provide a safety net for people who lose their jobs as a result of automation.

But in private settings, including meetings with the leaders of the many consulting and technology firms…these executives tell a different story: They are racing to automate their own work forces to stay ahead of the competition, with little regard for the impact on workers.”

Roose quotes Mohit Joshi, president of Infosys, an Indian technology and consulting firm: (emphasis and brackets by Wrongo)

“Earlier they [large businesses] had incremental, 5 to 10% goals in reducing their work force. Now they’re saying, ‘Why can’t we do it with 1% percent of the people we have?’”

And American executives have come up with new buzzwords and euphemisms to disguise their intent. Workers aren’t being replaced by machines, they’re being “released” from onerous, repetitive tasks.

Companies aren’t laying off workers, they’re “undergoing digital transformation.” They’re being “reskilled”.

A 2017 survey by Deloitte found that 53% of companies had already started to use machines to perform tasks previously done by humans. That figure is expected to climb to 72% by next year. As an example, Terry Gou, the chairman of Foxconn, the Taiwanese electronics manufacturer, who makes iPhones, has said his company plans to replace 80% of its workers with robots in the next five to 10 years.

And Wisconsin just gave Foxconn $4.5 Billion to build a plant and employ 13, 000 workers. Can Wisconsin’s soon-to-be laid-off workers be “re-skilled”, and find employment?

A January 2019 report by the very same World Economic Forum estimates that the 1.37 million workers who are projected to be displaced fully out of their roles in the next decade according to the US BLS, may be reskilled to new viable (similar skill set) and desirable (higher wages) jobs:

“The report shows that, in the US alone, with an overall investment of US$4.7 billion, the private sector could reskill 25% of all workers in disrupted jobs with a positive cost-benefit balance. This means that, even without taking into account any further qualitative factors or the significant indirect societal benefits of reskilling, for 25% of at-risk employees, it would be in the financial interest of a company to take on their reskilling.”

The rest presumably will need to fend for themselves. They will likely rely on your taxpayer dollars to be “reskilled”, or go on government assistance.

The real question isn’t how to stem the tide of automation, it’s inevitable. The question for capitalists and our government is how the financial gains from automation and AI will be distributed, and whether the excess profits corporations reap as a result of layoffs will go in part, to workers, or solely to bigwigs and their shareholders.

Will we create a shared prosperity, or just a greater concentration of wealth?

Time to wake up America! This Fourth Industrial Revolution is underway, and estimates are that it will impact as many as 40% of American workers.

It’s time to understand that the 21st Century American corporation isn’t our friend, as constituted and rewarded. It is the enemy of our society, as they quietly work to eliminate your jobs.

We constantly reduce their taxes. 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.

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Monday Wake Up Call – MLK Jr. Edition, January 21, 2019

The Daily Escape:

El Capitan in winter, Yosemite NP, CA – photo by Jonkooo

From Tom Sullivan:

Those of us of a certain age, but not quite old enough, were too young to attend the 1963 March on Washington. The march and Rev. Martin Luther King’s “I Have A Dream” speech influenced our era, our views, and changed the country. There are times one wishes, if only I could have been there for that moment in history. Then again, such thinking fixes the civil rights movement in time. The truth is, that struggle never ended.

Wrongo was in Washington in 1963. Dr. King is one of his heroes. And, as Tom Sullivan says, the struggle has never ended. Wrongo spent the 1960s and 1970s convinced that America would turn a corner, see the wrong in slavery, and know that racism was holding us back.

He thought that we would achieve a point of equilibrium where Americans of all stripes would accept each other as part of a larger tribe, one that shared common beliefs about democracy and equality for all.

Wrongo was wrong. We’re not there. We’ve made some progress, but then we fell back on old beliefs.

Today we are 51 years removed from Dr. King’s assassination, and while America is better and fairer than it was then, we will enter the 2020’s needing to do much to improve society.

This brings me to MLK’s last book, Where Do We Go from Here: Chaos or Community?” published the year before he died. In it, King lays out a vision for America’s future, including the need for both better jobs and housing, higher pay and quality education. King called for an end to global suffering, saying that for the first time, humankind had the resources and technology to eradicate poverty.

He wrote about how Civil Rights reforms had fallen short, but he couldn’t have envisioned what the Supreme Court did in gutting the Voting Rights Act of 1965 with its 2013 decision in Shelby County vs. Holder.

So here we are in 2019 with white kids mocking Native Americans at the Lincoln Memorial, chanting “Build that wall, build that wall.” This happened days after Trump made light of the 1890 massacre at Wounded Knee to mock Sen. Elizabeth Warren.

And for context, we live in a time when chanting the president’s name has become a tool of racial intimidation.

Here we are: Income inequality is the highest it’s been since the 1940s.Our federal government is shut down because we can’t agree about the threat posed by illegal immigrants asking for asylum at the US southern border. And racism is marching back into the light from under rocks all across the country.

Time to wake up America! Racism is the wound that won’t heal. We have much to do, and the work won’t be easy.

To help you wake up here is a 2019 song by The Killers, “Land of the Free”. It is broadly about America and the intolerance holding us back. Listen to it, and reflect on what it makes you feel. Depending on what about it makes you angry, it is a reflection of who you are. The video is very powerful. Please take the time to watch it.

Think about what’s at the heart of this song. People who want the same things we do:

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

Finally, a quote from James Baldwin’s The Fire Next Time:

“White men have had to believe for many years, and for innumerable reasons, that black men are inferior to white men. Many of them, indeed, know better, but, as you will discover, people find it very difficult to act on what they know.”

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Monday Wake Up Call – January 14, 2019

The Daily Escape:

We’re at such a low point, that quoting a racist White Governor at a KKK convention in 1924, doesn’t seem out of character with today’s politics.

Build a wall of steel, a wall as high as Heaven” might have easily been said by Trump on the 2016 campaign trail.

From the NYT:

At midnight on Saturday, the shutdown entered its 22nd day, which makes it the longest gap in American government funding ever. That beats the previous record, under President Bill Clinton in 1995, of 21 days.

Of the 21 federal government shutdowns since 1976, nine of the ten longest occurred under Democratic presidents, where the obstruction was by Republicans.

But the current shutdown is a self-inflicted wound by Trump, so it’s also caused by a Republican.

Trump has help from Mitch McConnell, who is the most powerful man in DC. He has run our national politics since 2010. He was able to neutralize Obama, and now it’s his call how long this shutdown goes on. From the WaPo:

President Trump is not the only person in Washington who could end this government shutdown now.

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) could bring a “clean” funding bill to the floor, free up his GOP caucus to support it and could quite possibly secure enough votes to override a presidential veto.

McConnell already did it once, when he believed he had Trump’s blessing. Before the holidays he allowed a vote to keep the government running until Feb. 8, to avoid a shutdown and buy more time to negotiate Trump’s demand for border wall funding. It passed easily.

After the past three weeks, it should be no surprise that, based on what we know, the GOP’s slogan is:

“Party over People, we really don’t care, do you?”

There are a few simple truths about American history. First, that racism is our worst legacy. Second, that we’re a nation of, and built by, immigrants. Except for Native Americans, we all trace our origins to places beyond our borders.

So why do White nationalists and White Evangelicals insist on saying that we have the right to shut out all immigrants except those from Norway? From NPR:

From 1870 to 1910 a quarter of Norway’s working-age population immigrated, mostly to the United States. You read that right — one-fourth of its workers left the country.

Why? They were economic migrants. Their average wages were less than a third of what they could earn in the US. It also turns out that the immigrants that Norway sent to the US during the 1870s were its poorest and least educated citizens.

According to Leah Boustan, an economist at Princeton University, compared to immigrants from the 15 other European nations that were part of the same wave of arrivals:

…the Norwegians held the lowest paid occupations in the US. They tended to be farm laborers. They were also fishermen. If they were in cities they were just sort of in the manual labor category — what today you would think of as a day laborer.

Does any of this sound familiar?

Twenty years after their arrival in the US, the Norwegian immigrants were still making 14% less than native-born workers. In other words, they have a lot in common with many of today’s immigrants from El Salvador, Guatemala and Nicaragua.

Time to wake up, America! Trump doesn’t want to develop an immigration policy. We know that, because he only creates phony crises, while he wishes away real ones.

Trump has declared conflicts with Mexico, NATO, Australia, and Canada where none exist. He has tried to frighten Americans by fabricating emergencies that do not exist on the Mexican border.

He declares victories where there are none: saying he’s solved North Korea’s nuclear threat, and that he has beaten ISIS in Syria.

This isn’t just Nancy Pelosi’s problem to solve. Republicans in the Senate need to show moral courage, force Mitch McConnell’s hand, and pass a veto-proof funding bill.

The number to call is the Senate’s switchboard: (202) 224-3121.

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Monday Wake Up Call – January 7, 2019

The Daily Escape:

Monastery at Mt. Kachkanar, Ural Mountains, Russia – 2017 photo by Amos Chapple. Built by a Russian Afghanistan war veteran, the monastery sits on land to be mined for its iron deposits. The land is owned by Roman Abramovich, an oligarch with close ties to Russian President Vladimir Putin.

“You’ve got to get yourself together,
You’ve got stuck in a moment,
And now you can’t get out of it.
Don’t say that later will be better
Now you’re stuck in a moment,
And you can’t get out of it”
– U2

The Wall is Trump’s moment. He believes he doesn’t have to cave in to Democrats. Democrats face the same moment. They rightly believe that if they cave in, Trump will ride them all the way to the 2020 presidential election. We the people are all stuck in this moment, too.

So, let’s take a moment, and understand the border wall today. The border with Mexico is roughly 1,900 miles long, and spans four states: California, Arizona, New Mexico and Texas. The Berlin Wall was 96 miles long, while the Great Wall of China is 13,000 miles long.

The current wall consists of about 700 miles of varied barriers, ranging from 10-foot rusted fencing made from military surplus corrugated metal left over from the Vietnam era, to chain link fencing and vehicle barriers that are no barrier to pedestrian traffic. Most of this needs replacing just to maintain the status quo. Here’s a map of where and what kind of wall we have:

Source: The Center for Investigative Reporting and OpenStreetMap contributors

A total of $1.7 billion was appropriated in FY17 and FY18 for new and replacement barriers and fences. Most of these funds have been designated to the Army Corps of Engineers. Much of that has been awarded to contractors. Only a small percentage (6%) has been paid out.

The following projects account for about half of these funds:

  • Near San Diego to replace 14 miles of 8-10 foot metal wall/fence with 18-30 foot tall bollard wall system for $287 million to begin in July 2019.
  • In the Rio Grande Valley to build 8 miles of 18 foot bollard wall and replace existing levee wall for $167 million to begin in February 2019.
  • In New Mexico to replace 20 miles of fencing with bollard wall for $73 million
  • In Arizona to build/replace 32 miles of “primary pedestrian wall” for $324 million to begin in April 2019.

That’s roughly $850 million for 75 miles of replacement fencing. At that rate, rebuilding the existing “wall” will take $8.5 billion and 10+ years.

The existing border fence cost about $2.4 billion. Building the rest of it could cost between $15 billion and $25 billion, with an annual maintenance cost of $700 million, according to an estimate by Marc Rosenblum, the deputy director of the US Immigration Policy Program at the nonpartisan Migration Policy Institute.

Trump will be long gone before his big, beautiful wall from sea to sea is built, if ever. It’s possible that migration patterns will change before that were to happen. And however the barrier system eventually turns out, it still has to be manned and maintained to be effective.

The question on the table this week is does Trump need approval from Congress, or can he just declare a national emergency and build away?

The Secure Fence Act  was signed in 2006 by George W. Bush. The majority of the fencing now in was built before he left office. The last remnants were completed after Obama took office in 2009. However, Trump must follow a decades-old border treaty with Mexico that limits where and how structures can be built along the border.

The 1970 treaty requires that structures cannot disrupt the flow of the rivers, which define the US-Mexican border along Texas and 24 miles in Arizona, according to The International Boundary and Water Commission, a joint US-Mexican agency that administers the treaty.

Turning to Trump’s national emergency idea, The National Emergencies Act was created to limit the power of a president to act without restriction in a situation that he deemed to threaten the republic. It limits the funds available for such construction to funds already appropriated for military construction.

The question is whether Trump can truly declare a “National Emergency” over a political fight. If so, can Trump go forward and legislate by Executive Order in a way that Obama was reviled for?

Time to wake up America! We need to look carefully at what limits on presidential power will be supported by Republicans.

After all, they thought Obama acted as a King.

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