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The Wrongologist

Geopolitics, Power and Political Economy

Monday Wake Up Call – April 9, 2018

The Daily Escape:

Canada Warbler

Are you worried yet? Last week ended with the stock market falling off the cliff. The Dow was down over 700 points, but recovered slightly to lose “just” 572 points. Trump caused this by seemingly being pissed that the Chinese would fight back after his in-your-face tariff announcements.

Now, the Dow Jones average is down 9% from its January high.

And the administration couldn’t seem to get its messaging straight. Former TV pundit Larry Kudlow, now Trump’s economic advisor, told reporters on Wednesday the threat of trade sanctions was only a negotiating tactic. A rally of more than 3% followed. But Trump upended that notion on Thursday, ordering a review of even larger tariffs. So, on Friday, Kudlow said the opposite, claiming he had just heard about the additional $100 billion in tariffs Trump announced on Chinese imports.

From Bloomberg:

The Republican president’s renewed ramblings on trade dominated US equity markets this week, with a tweet-induced swoon on Friday leaving the S&P 500 Index 1.4 percent lower than where it started on Monday.

And there goes Trump’s reputation as the stock market president. A retired former colleague of Wrongo’s at the big NY bank is all over Facebook touting the Donald’s success at driving the stock market, but this chart from Bloomberg shows he’s wrong. It compares Trump’s first 444 days with the first 444 days of other presidents:

So, what to do? Do investors ride the roller coaster that is the Trump approach to trade, and watch Mr. Market deal with it by hammering their 401k? Or do they jump into cash and lock in a loss? From Benjamin Studebaker:

Theoretically, a full blown trade war with China could be really damaging. If the US and China were to stop trading tomorrow, the total value of US-Chinese trade lost would be about $648.5 billion. That’s about 3.5% of US GDP and 5.7% of China’s.

US inflation would increase, since American consumers will try to substitute more expensive goods for those they can’t import from China. Chinese unemployment would rise, as non-Chinese firms relocate from China to other developing countries to evade the tariffs.

The US wouldn’t be hurt as badly, because after a while, firms would find new locations to operate from. But the trade war won’t create many new American jobs – the offshore firms would either stay offshore, or they’d automate production in North America. The Chinese would be more lastingly damaged, as there isn’t a consumer market large enough to replace America’s.

That’s what Trump means when he says that trade wars are “easy to win” for the US. We can damage China more than China can damage us. Studebaker concludes:

But make no mistake–such a trade war would be highly disruptive. In 2009, the US economy contracted by 2.8%. A full blown trade war would blow this figure out of the water. It would be political suicide for the administration.

Trump’s stated goal is to get China to negotiate to protect US intellectual property rights. This is why his proposals have been relatively small – he’s not looking to break Beijing, just to bring it to the table.

If Trump can get China to make a deal with him, he can pass this off as a major foreign policy achievement. And because the stock market has been in panic mode, any positive result could make Trump look good in the eyes of his supporters.

OTOH, his supporters, like my former Bank colleague, think everything Trump does looks good.

Maybe the trade war won’t happen. But, maybe Trump should remember what Luke Skywalker said in the Last Jedi:

This is not going to go the way you think…

The “Art of the Deal” guy should know there are two sides to any negotiation.

So, wake up, Mr. Market! Stop jumping off a cliff with every tweet. To encourage you, here are Elvis Costello and the Attractions with their 1978 hit “Pump It Up”. Maybe it will give Mr. Market an idea about the right direction for the stock market:

Sample Lyrics:

Pump it up, until you can feel it

Pump it up, when you don’t really need it

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

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Sunday Cartoon Blogging – Christmas Eve 2017

(The Wrongologist is taking a brief holiday break. Blogging will resume on Wednesday, 12/27. In the meantime, Merry Christmas!)

The Daily Escape:

Jingle Bell Jog – Ft. Lauderdale FL, 2017. Better for ya than SantaCon.

A final Christmas Eve word about the unwanted gifts the Trump tax cut is foisting on us. In the short term, it will stimulate consumer demand. The economy may “grow”, but our tax receipts cannot.

Soon, these tax cuts will place our government on a fiscally precarious footing. Expect the credit rating agencies (Moody’s, Standard & Poors) to start wagging their tongues, warning of their concerns about the country’s overall debt levels. It is possible that the repatriation of some of the massive off-shore profits that American firms have hoarded may come home. To the extent that they return, and some taxes are paid on them, this (one time) tax receipt will likely make the 2018 and 2019 annual budget deficits somewhat smaller than the colossal ones to follow.

After that, the government’s income will fall, and we will hear bi-partisan calls for deficit reduction, and lower spending targets will be the norm. The effects of tax legislation can take a long time to shake out, and there often are unintended effects.

But make no mistake, the GOP will start talking about the Coming Debt Apocalypse next month.

On to a few cartoons. Here is the difference between the parties:

 

Trump’s year in review:

War is the answer to any question:

Trump’s touting of something terrific slides downhill:

Congress flies home for Christmas:

Congress gives empty present to our kids:

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You Say You Want a Revolution

The Daily Escape:

Waimea Canyon, Kauai Hawaii

Wrongo has suggested many times that America needs a revolution. He thinks that the US political process has been so captured by large corporations and the very rich that the average person no longer can have any impact on policy. In many states, the average person isn’t even totally confident that he/she will be permitted to vote the next time they go to their local precinct.

We are in the midst of a political crisis: The people have lost faith in systems which they feel don’t respond to real people and in representatives that won’t represent us, or the society at large. Rather than debate issues thoughtfully, we are whipsawed by the appeals to emotion launched daily into the ether by the tweeter-in-chief.

Two current issues demonstrate the danger. First, Jerusalem. It turns out that Tillerson and Mattis opposed the president’s decision to recognize Jerusalem as the capitol of Israel, and move our embassy there. You know from the headlines that Trump wouldn’t listen to anyone who told him this would be a very bad idea. The State Department’s response was to issue a worldwide travel alert for those Americans who think they’re still welcome around the world. The WaPo reported that a Trump confidant said:

It’s insane. We’re all resistant…He doesn’t realize what all he could trigger by doing this.

Second, North Korea. Maybe you read this headline: North Korea says war is inevitable as allies continue war games.

Martin Longman asks the pertinent question:

The so-called adults in the room utterly failed on the Jerusalem issue, so are we supposed to put our trust in them to steer a sane course on the Korean peninsula?

What are we talking about here? Can we wait out Trump, and just work like hell to replace him with a better president in 2020? Would nuclear war get him re-elected?

What about the GOP’s control of both houses of Congress? On Thursday, Speaker Ryan told us what we face next year: the GOP will tackle the budget deficit and national debt by cutting Medicare and possibly Social Security, now that the GOP’s donor class has their tax cuts.

Things have to change, and there are only two options, neither very good. First, we can try and excise the moneyed influence via the ballot box. That is the “democratic revolution” that Bernie championed in 2016. The definition of democratic revolution is:

A revolution in which a democracy is instituted, replacing a previous non-democratic government, or in which revolutionary change is brought about through democratic means, usually without violence.

Since we no longer have a functioning democracy, a “democratic revolution” to bring it back is what we require. Is it the only way to right the American ship of state?

The second option is a coup of some kind.

  • It could be via impeachment, assuming there were high crimes and misdemeanors that Trump had committed, and assuming a Republican House would impeach him, and a Republican Senate would convict him.
  • It could come via a 25th Amendment action, which might be marginally more acceptable to Republicans, but is as unlikely as impeachment.
  • Least desirable, and least likely would be a true coup, where the “adults in the room” (in the oval office, or the Pentagon) get leverage over the Commander-in-Chief. Could a real coup stay bloodless? That seems highly doubtful, and Wrongo would rather trust Trump than a junta.

Removing Trump won’t fix what’s wrong with the Republican Party. We need to prioritize and triage this situation, focusing first on taking back the House and Senate before 2020.

Who can we count on to right the ship?

Not today’s Democrats. They are led by Chuck Schumer who approves of Trump’s Jerusalem decision. The Democrats must fire Pelosi and Schumer, or die.

What about America’s largest voting bloc, Millennials? Can they step up to the challenge?

What about America’s women? In 2016, women supported Clinton over Trump by 54% to 42%, while Trump carried non-college educated white women 64% to 35%. The #metoo movement promises to become much more than the outing of bad guys: It could weaken both male privilege, and their power.

Firing a few slime balls isn’t revolutionary, but voting them out of office would be a paradigm shift.

The stock market is in the stratosphere, and consumers are happily clicking on Amazon’s “place order” tab.

Measly tax cuts will trickle down to rubes like us, while the plutocrats will die of laughter.

Can women and millennial voters look beyond the GOP’s messaging that the Muslims are always to blame, and Israelis suffer the most?

Will they care enough about whatever Mueller turns up on Trump to go out and vote?

Revolution is in the air. Why should the right have all the fun?

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Saturday Soother – May 27, 2017

The Daily Escape:

Baltimore Oriole

Trump returns from his international visits having moved the US into siding with the Sunnis in the Middle East. In this, he has also sided with his generals. This also puts him on the side of al Qaeda, a Sunni terror organization that did you-know-what.

Significantly, it is clear that the entire Trump foreign policy is anti-terrorism. That is one approach, but Trump’s take is mystifying: He calls Iran an enemy because they are a sponsor of terror, which is true. But he embraces Saudi Arabia, the largest sponsor of terrorism by far in the ME, and has attempted to make them his ally in the War on Terror.

The Saudis will now expect that the US will accept that their $110 billion in defense purchases and $40 billion in contributions from the Saudi state’s sovereign wealth fund will buy them enhanced power in Washington and that their demands will be greeted with great receptivity in the future.

That will probably be a difficult pill for Israel to swallow.

Siding with the Sunnis means that the “Shia Crescent” (Iran, Iraq, Egypt, and Syria) will be difficult for the US to maintain as friends, partners, or allies. In fact, it was reported this week that Russia, Syria and Iran have been proclaimed as allies by the Iraqi Interior Minister. For all the money and blood that we spent, for all of the domestic programs that we sacrificed, the US now has little to show for its last 15 years in Iraq except a huge, and under Donald Trump, a growing national debt.

We are obviously and irredeemably ignorant, and apparently determined to remain so. The Shia Crescent will be an Iranian/Shia alliance extending through Iraq, Syria and Lebanon to the sea, with Russian and Chinese backing to boot.

Whomever heads ME strategy for Trump needs to hear: “You’re fired!

Trump also met with NATO and the EU, and both relationships look less confident than at any time in recent history. In fact, European Council President Donald Tusk has said that Trump and senior European Union officials failed to find common ground on the main issues at their meeting in Brussels.

Consider this: Trump emerges from this trip as closer to Saudi Arabia, the Gulf States and Israel than he is with the democracies of Western Europe. We can now start preparing for US War on Terror Part B; followed by Sunni insurgency 3.0: now with even better weapons and funding.

Do these thoughts make you feel that you need something to help you calm down? Wrongo’s advice is stop watching or reading the news for a few days, as he did while traveling in Europe. Talk to locals in your area. Ask them about why they think as they do.

Then grab a vente cuppa chamomile tea and listen to Janine Jansen play French composer Jules Massenet’s “Meditation from Thaïs”:

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

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Worry About Hunger and Homelessness Higher Than Ever

The Daily Escape:

White-Faced (Capuchin) Monkey, Costa Rica, 2015 – photo by Wrongo

The American economy has never been very kind to people at the lower income levels. In most ways, since 2008’s Great Recession, the economy has become riskier, and more tension-filled for lower income Americans, those making $30,000 or less per year. Nothing makes this clearer than this Gallup poll conducted March 1-5, 2017. Gallup surveyed 1,018 adults in all 50 US states. From Gallup:

Over the past two years, an average of 67% of lower-income US adults, up from 51% from 2010-2011, have worried “a great deal” about the problem of hunger and homelessness in the country.

More from Gallup:

Concern about hunger and homelessness now ranks as high as, or higher than, concern about most other issues tested in Gallup’s annual Environment survey. The only issue with a significantly higher “worried a great deal” percentage in this year’s poll is the availability and affordability of healthcare, at 57%.

People’s perspectives are based on their experience, so it shouldn’t be surprising that Gallup found that people making more than $75k/year had other concerns, and ranked hunger and homelessness much lower, at 37%. Still, even that number is up substantially from 23% in 2001.

The survey asks participants to rank their concern about 13 elements, and the differences between the concerns of the $30k or less cohort and the $75k or more cohort are stark.

  1. Americans making $30k and less rank their top seven worries in this order:
  • Hunger/homelessness
  • Crime/violence
  • Healthcare
  • Drug use
  • Terrorism
  • Social Security
  • Economy
  1. Americans making $75k or more ranked their top seven in this order:
  • Healthcare
  • Budget deficit
  • Economy
  • Social Security
  • Environment
  • Race relations
  • Hunger/homelessness

One reality is that the lower income Americans list “terrorism” in their top five, while it does not appear at all as a top worry of higher income Americans. Lower-income Americans worry more in general than those with higher incomes; everything is riskier and tougher for them. But nothing compares to the worries about hunger and homelessness. Gallup:

On average, across the 13 issues, the percentage of lower-income adults who worry a great deal is seven percentage points higher than among middle-income Americans, and 17 points higher than among upper-income Americans.

Here is Gallup’s chart showing the relative degree of “worry” by economic group:

No surprise that more money brings one fewer big worries. No individual worry of the $75k+ cohort was felt by as many people as the seventh-ranking worry by the $30k or less cohort.

In fact, the greater than $75k cohort sees the “budget deficit” as its second-most worried about item. Of course, this dooms any chance for the people making less than $30k to have greater security in life. Congratulations to Pete Peterson and the GOP deficit hawks on a job well done! Their decades of propaganda have made austerity a political obsession for the well-off, because government must tighten its belt, and cut its way to greatness.

Paging Dr. Maslow! Your theory of the hierarchy of needs is again demonstrated in the real world by Gallup. Here it is 2017, near the twilight of the empire. Physiological and safety needs are in the top five of the major worries of a population that is hanging on to our society by their fingernails.

Tighten your belts. Lower your dreams. Ignore the fact WE live in 10,000 sq. ft. mansions. We deserve it, and you don’t.

The American dream is a fallacy. Free markets are a fallacy. They are propaganda used to fool those poor Americans who live every day in all-too visible peonage.

Here is a 2005 tune by Coldplay, “Fix You” from their album “X&Y”. It gives a few words of empathy:

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

Takeaway Lyric:

When you try your best, but you don’t succeed
When you get what you want, but not what you need
When you feel so tired, but you can’t sleep
Stuck in reverse
And the tears come streaming down your face
When you lose something you can’t replace
When you love someone, but it goes to waste
Could it be worse?

 

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Monday Wake Up Call – March 27, 2017

The Daily Escape:

(Many Glacier, Glacier National Park, August 2016 – photo by Wrongo)

What’s next for the White House? Many are saying that the collapse of the Republicans’ failed effort to pass Trumpcare demonstrated that the ideological cleavage within the House and Senate Republicans will not be easy to overcome. This could make it more difficult for Trump to get much of his agenda passed in the immediate future.

Trump wants to move on many things, including tax reform and passing a budget, but the biggest challenge facing Republicans is the Debt Ceiling. The clock started ticking on the need to raise the debt limit, because it already expired on March 15th. That was a “soft” deadline, since the Treasury department can fire up a well-used arsenal of “extraordinary” measures to delay a reckoning, meaning that Congress can take until the early fall to enact a debt ceiling increase.

More time may not mean that a solution will be forthcoming, since the main adversaries to increasing the debt ceiling are the same people who helped derail Trumpcare. The House Freedom Caucus and their allies in the Senate have in the past, expressed a willingness to let the country default, rather than increase the level of the Treasury’s debt.

Since they were able to face down Trump on health care, they may well be emboldened to stand up to the president and Congressional leadership again on an issue that is so close to their hard hearts.

If America were to default on its debts, Trump would be presiding over the Bananaization of our Republic, and our ability to lead in the world would be eclipsed. Wrongo plans to write more about this in the future, but it will take real management by Trump to head this off, at a time that his management skills have been called into question.

So far, he has shown himself to be little more than a salesman for his ideas.

The famed management guru Peter Drucker, who wrote about management for corporations, non-profits and governments, at one point wrote management rules for presidents, in a 1993 article for the WSJ:

It’s hard to imagine a more diverse group than Bill Clinton’s predecessors in the American presidency — in abilities, personalities, values, styles and achievements. But even the weakest of them had considerable effectiveness as long as they observed six management rules. And even the most powerful lost effectiveness as soon as they violated these rules.

Wrongo has condensed Drucker’s management rules for presidents for your convenience:

  • What Needs to be Done? Is the first thing the President must ask. He must not stubbornly do what he wants to do, even if it was the focus of his campaign
  • Concentrate, Don’t Splinter Yourself. There usually are half a dozen right answers to “What needs to be done?” Yet unless a president makes the risky and controversial choice of only one, he will achieve nothing.
  • Don’t Bet on a Sure Thing…Roosevelt had every reason to believe that his plan to “pack” the Supreme Court…would be a sure thing. It immediately blew up in is face – so much so that he never regained control of Congress
  • An Effective President Does Not Micromanage…the tasks that a President must do himself are already well beyond what any but the best organized and most energetic person can possibly accomplish
  • A President Has No Friends in the Administration…they are always tempted to abuse their position as a friend and the power that comes with it
  • Sixth rule? Harry Truman advised JFK: “Once you’re elected, stop campaigning”

(h/t Barry Ritholtz)

Just how many of these rules does Trump follow, and how many does he violate? Discuss.

Perhaps if he followed all of them, the country would avoid Trumageddon, be less divided, and get a middle of the road agenda enacted.

So here’s a wake-up call for Donald Trump and his advisors: FOCUS!! To help them wake up and get focused, here is the Canadian group Bachman Turner Overdrive with their big hit (#12 in the US) from 1973, “Takin’ Care of Business”:

Wrongo used to take the 8:15 in to the city. Working from home is a major improvement.

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

Sample Lyrics:

And I’ll be taking care of business (every day)
Taking care of business (every way)
I’ve been taking care of business (it’s all mine)
Taking care of business and working overtime, work out

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Sunday Cartoon Blogging – November 27, 2016

Are you sick of all the winning yet?

You have probably heard that Fidel Castro died yesterday. Wrongo was in college in October 1962, at the time of the Cuban missile crisis. We were glued to TV waiting for a nuclear attack that never came.

That Castro survived JFK by 53 years is remarkable, particularly since at least two American Presidents tried to kill him. At the time, Kennedy offered two things in exchange for Soviet removal of the Cuban missiles: (1) the US would pledge never to invade Cuba and (2) the US would secretly withdraw missiles from Turkey. The removal of the nukes from Turkey was delayed several months, so that the US would not appear weak in the face of the Cuban missile threat. The Soviet Union accepted this offer the next day.

After the fall of the Soviet Union, their archives of the Missile crisis showed that Castro wanted the USSR to fire the missiles at the US. Khrushchev came to regard Castro as a lunatic, bent on war. We came very close to invading Cuba, and the Soviets never fully trusted Castro again.

In most ways, Castro’s death is anticlimactic. He retired, and appointed his brother Raul to head the government years ago, and recently, the Obama administration has been effective in improving relations with Cuba. Had Fidel died during a period of greater tension, it might have signaled the possibility of a positive change in relations between our two countries. Sadly, it is probable that the next great change in Cuban/American relations will move us backward under a Trump Administration.

Onward to cartoons. Thanksgiving and Trump’s staffing plans dominated the week.

Many avoided politics at the family repast:

cow-i-survived

Democrats weigh their strategy with Trump:

cow-turkey-talk

Trump meets with the New York Times, tells them how to cover the news:

cow-trumpy-times

Our Orange Decider has yet to decide a few things:

cow-the-decider

Paul Ryan is locked and loaded for 2017:

cow-paul-ryans-targets

Many who voted for Trump have little or no retirement savings, or regular savings for that matter. Ironically, a majority of them will be reliant on Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid in later life. Sadly, they can’t seem to connect the dots between Ryan’s Ayn Randian dreams of privatization, and how it will affect their lives. It may be too late for many of them.

Deficits are part of the Art of the Deal:

cow-white-house-puppy

Those “responsible Republican deficit hawkswanted to restore earmarks the week after the election, but Ryan is making them wait until the new Congress is seated. That way, they won’t destroy the PRETENSE of budget deficits mattering.

The GOP really can’t wait to take off the debt girdle:

cow-deficit-girdle

 

 

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Friday Links – September 30, 2016

It’s been a busy week at the Mansion of Wrong, with out-of-town family staying with us. There were parties, dinners, trips to NYC, and limited blogging. Wrongo and Ms. Right accompanied our guests to the 9/11 Memorial Museum. Since our first visit, the Museum decided to exhibit a composite of five floors worth of material from one of the Twin Towers that was heat-fused and compacted during their collapse. It is a truly horrible object, a charred and pitted lump of fused concrete, melted steel, carbonized furniture and less recognizable elements, a meteorite-like mass that no human force could have forged, and it is unforgettable. It is among Wrongo’s favorite pieces in the collection:

wtc-composite

This weighs between 12 and 15 tons. It is four feet high. If you ever thought that humans remaining in the WTC when it collapsed might have survived, consider this pancake comprising five floors of the North Tower. Please visit the Memorial and Museum if you haven’t been there yet.

Here are a few links for Friday wherein Congress acted with unusual bipartisan, but self-serving alacrity:

Congress overrode Mr. Obama’s veto of the bill permitting 9/11 victims to sue Saudi Arabia: Despite the efforts of the White House to kill “The Justice Against Sponsors of Terrorism Act “(JASTA), it will become law after yesterday’s veto override. The vote was 97-1 in the Senate, and 348-77 in the House. Very few in Congress wanted to be seen as against the 9/11 families in the weeks leading up to the election. The bill allows 9/11 victims and their families to sue Saudi Arabia for damages. JASTA is fairly narrowly tailored to Saudi Arabia, but it is unlikely to result in any accountability on the part of the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia.

In another show bipartisanship, Congress averted a government shutdown Wednesday as the Senate and the House approved a short-term spending bill, allowing lawmakers to avoid a crisis and return home to campaign. The Senate approved the bill by 72 to 26. The House then approved it by 342 to 85. This kicks the can down the road for 10 weeks, when the partisans will come out all over again with knives sharpened.

The House passed a bill Thursday that would give tax breaks to Olympic athletes who win medals. The measure does not apply to athletes with incomes over $1 million. The Senate approved it earlier this year. The House approved it 415 to 1. What Congress person wants to be viewed as anti-Olympian in an election year?

The lone dissenting vote came from Rep. Jim Himes (D-CT), who said:

We’ve got a Zika crisis, an opium epidemic and gun violence in the news every day…I think those are the issues that Congress should be spending time on.

He is not Wrongo’s Congress Critter, but he has Wrongo’s vote. Why should Olympians get tax breaks when other extraordinary Americans don’t? Nobel Peace Prize winners and Special Operations soldiers still have to pay their taxes. You pay your taxes, (well, maybe not you, Donald Trump). Another piece of bad policy by Congress.

That’s three cases of false bipartisanship in one week by the cynical people we keep electing.

This article suggests questions that should be asked of Trump about his taxes. Trump claims he can’t release his returns because he’s under audit. That could be a legitimate concern. It would hardly be fair if hundreds of tax professionals who oppose Trump politically helped the IRS by publishing their own analyses of the returns.

But, Trump pissed off Wrongo when he said how smart he was not to pay any taxes. On the one hand, none of us wants to pay more than we have to, but then along comes a billionaire who pays no taxes, and brags about it.

This is the guy who complains about the size of national debt, and says NATO members aren’t paying their “fair share”, when he isn’t paying his “fair share”.

Finally, a statue of Eagle Glenn Frey has been installed in the “Standing on the Corner” Park in Winslow, Arizona. Frey died in January. You remember the lyric:

Well, I’m standing on a corner in Winslow, Arizona, such a fine sight to see/It’s a girl, my Lord, in a flatbed Ford slowin’ down to take a look at me.

Frey’s statue joins that of song co-writer Jackson Browne that has been in the park since the late 1990s.

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Congress Returns to Do (Not) Much

From Roll Call:

After the longest summer break in modern times, lawmakers are required to accomplish a single legislative task before leaving again. But it’s a job far more politically fraught than it is procedurally simple: Assuring normal government operations continue through the end of this budgetary year and into the new one.

That’s right, once again, it’s time to fight about funding the government. And as Booman says,

This ridiculous election season would not be complete without the threat of another government shutdown, and how much money would you be willing to risk betting on Mitch McConnell and Paul Ryan to find a way to pass a continuing resolution that either the majority of their own caucus would support or that relies (again) on mostly Democratic votes?

The potential stalemate over spending is a headache for Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) and House Speaker Paul D. Ryan (R-WI) who would like to avoid a shutdown threat just weeks before the election.

The Tea Party and GOP conservatives want to kick the can ahead for six months with a temporary resolution. But Democrats and some Republicans want to finish the annual budget work in the lame duck session after the election.

Both sides are digging in for a fight.

This could become an object lesson on why Republicans shouldn’t be in the majority. The party with the majority in the House is supposed to produce the bills and along with the Senate, supply the votes to pass appropriations. But, John Boehner couldn’t do it, because the Freedom Caucus and the other conservative R’s wouldn’t work as a coalition with other Republicans and/or Democrats to actually pass spending bills.

Ryan was able to do it last time, but it isn’t looking like those Republican factions will roll over again.

If Ryan and McConnell want to buck their own members on the length of the continuing resolution, the Dems are free to refuse to provide any votes. And the Democrats do not have to protect the sitting president, so they can watch as the GOP twists in the wind.

Fun times on Capitol Hill!

Here are a few links to news you may have missed over the holiday:

Experimental new opioid blocks pain without being addictive or deadly in primates. In monkeys, the drug is a highly effective pain reliever without downsides. It needs more trials, including in humans. Meanwhile, the DEA is attempting to ban a natural, safe herb which has been used for thousands of years to do the same thing.

Holy Labor Day: On Friday, an estimated 150 million workers refused to show up for work in India and instead took to the streets to demonstrate against labor conditions. The unions involved issued 12 demands to Prime Minister Modi, including raising the minimum wage, introduction of universal social security, and a minimum pension.

Is an end to the Asian sweatshop in sight? A recent report from the International Labor Organization found that more than two-thirds of Southeast Asia’s 9.2 million textile and footwear jobs are threatened by automation. Here are the numbers: 88% of those jobs in Cambodia, 86% in Vietnam, and 64% in Indonesia. Will this be good for the workers? Doubtful.

13 Tips for reading election polls like a pro. After Labor Day, the polling deluge will begin. A guide to making sense of it all.

Boeing gets $2B in bonuses for flawed missile-defense system. From 2002 through early last year, the Pentagon conducted 11 flight tests of the nation’s homeland missile-defense system. The interceptors failed to destroy their targets in six of the 11 tests — a record that has prompted independent experts to conclude the system can’t be relied on to foil a nuclear strike by North Korea or Iran. Yet the Pentagon paid Boeing, the prime contractor, $1,959,072,946 in performance bonuses for a Job? Well? Done?

Maybe we shouldn’t complain: The US government is spending money. Money = jobs. Of course, money also = corruption. And isn’t it a good deal if Boeing’s shit doesn’t work?

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Capitalism, It’s Not You, It’s Me

There is a meme that has gone global since the early days of the Occupy movement. Here it is as a wall graffiti from Greece that uses the same meme we first saw in NYC in 2011:

Capitalism Lotek

Just kidding capitalism, it really is you.

The artist is a Greek who styles himself as Lotek. The name Lotek is derived from the short story (and later, a film) by William Gibson called Johnny Mnemonic. The story is set in 2021, in a world ruled by corporations. An anti-authoritarian gang that are called Lo-Teks, fight the power. They are in fact not low tech at all, but are high tech hackers. Sound familiar?

Greece is surely a place at war with neoliberalism and free market capitalism. So is it also time for us to reconsider capitalism?

Consider this from Mark Blyth in Foreign Affairs:

An inherent tension exists between capitalism and democratic politics since capitalism allocates resources through markets, whereas democracy allocates power through voting.

The compromises both systems have struck with each other over recent history shapes our contemporary political and economic world. Blyth observes:

  • In the three decades that followed World War II, democracy set the rules, taming markets with the establishment of protective labor laws, restrictive financial regulations, and expanded welfare systems.
  • Starting in the 1970s, a globalized, deregulated capitalism, unconstrained by national borders, began to push back.

And today, capital markets and capitalists are setting the rules, and democratic governments follow them.

Some background: Cutting taxes in the 1980s caused government revenues to fall. Deficits widened, and interest rates rose as those deficits became harder to finance. At the same time, conservative govern­ments, especially in the UK and the US, dismantled the regulations that had reined in the excesses of the financial service industry since the 1940s.

The financial industry began to grow unchecked, and as it expanded, investors sought safe assets that were highly liquid and provided good returns: the debt of developed countries.

This allowed governments to plug their deficits and spend more, all without raising taxes.

But the shift to financing the state through debt came at a cost. Since WW II, taxes on labor and capital had provided the foundation of postwar state spending. But, as govern­ments began to rely more on debt, the tax-based states of the postwar era became the debt-based states of today.

This transformation had pro­found political consequences. The increase in government debt has allowed capitalists to override the preferences of citizens:

  • Bond-market investors can now exercise an effective veto on policies they don’t like by demanding higher interest rates when they replace old debt with new debt.
  • Investors can use courts to override the ability of states to default on their debts, as happened recently in Argentina
  • They can shut down an entire country’s payment system if that country votes against the interests of creditors, as happened in Greece in 2015.
  • Citizens United dictates who runs for office in the US, and in many cases, who wins.

Now that the financial industry has become more powerful than the people, should we blindly follow capitalism’s meme as the only way forward?

Free-market rhetoric hides the dependence of corporate profits on conditions provided for, and guaranteed by, governments. For example:

  • Our financial institutions insist that they should be free of meddlesome regulations while they depend on continuing access to cheap credit from the Federal Reserve.
  • Our pharmaceutical firms have resisted any government limits on their price-setting ability at the same time that they rely on government grants of monopolies through our patent system.

To use a sporting metaphor, it’s as if the best football team purchased not only the best coaches and facilities, but also bought the referees and the journalists as well. Those responsible for judging economic competition have lost all authority, which leaves the dream of ‘meritocracy’ or a ‘level playing field’ in tatters.

In our country, the divide between the business oligarchs, the political class and “the people” increasingly appears unbridgeable, marked by hostility and deep distrust. When people are told for a generation that government mustn’t make decisions that interfere with free markets, it is inevitable that people will lose faith in democratic governance, and in government’s capacity to help them solve their problems.

Capitalism in its current form no longer works for the people. We have seen a reaction in the start of movements by Occupy, by Bernie, and by others in Europe.

Remember that the greatest prosperity in living memory in the US came during the brief social democratic moment, in the 1950s and 1960s, when the constraints on business were the greatest.

More democracy and more economic justice are the necessary foundations for the path to a more prosperous, and sustainable economy.

A reformed capitalism must be a part of what emerges from that fight.

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