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The Wrongologist

Geopolitics, Power and Political Economy

Saturday Soother – August 19, 2017

The Daily Escape:

Orchha, on the banks of the Betwa River, India – photo by Arian Zwegers cc 2.0

Quite the week: After threatening nuclear war with North Korea, musing about invading Venezuela, and equivocating over Charlottesville, Trump folded two advisory councils and then decided against forming a council on Infrastructure. He also Twitter-attacked more Republican senators than Democrats this week, a bad strategy for someone who can’t be sure what Special Counsel Mueller may come up with.

But, according to a Survey Monkey poll as reported by Axios, Trump’s statements about Charlottesville have overwhelming support of Republican voters. Survey Monkey asked whether people agreed with a verbatim quote from President Trump on Tuesday:

You had a group on one side that was bad, and you had a group on the other side that was also very violent

Republicans agreed with the Trump comment, 87%-11%. Democrats disagreed, 83%-15%. Independents disagreed, 59%-39%.

When we no longer agree on basic facts, civil debate is impossible.

This is a dangerous moment. America is split. We need to stop fighting about the little things. Wrongo usually is against “slippery slope” arguments, but will make an exception in the case of our Civil War history: What is the objective of removing Civil War statues and monuments? Will their removal change the historical record of slavery?

Of course not. How would supporters of removal say we should polarize the continuum of history? What would be next? Removal of history books that mention the Confederacy or former slave owners?

One of Wrongo’s favorite histories of the Civil War is “A Diary from Dixie” by Mary Boykin Chestnut. It is a day-to-day diary of her experience as a southern partisan during the Civil War. Most Civil War historians have read and consulted it in the preparation of their own work. Should we burn the book because it was written by a slave-holding partisan?

Of course not.

Many want to draw a red line regarding slavery and the Civil War, and that is totally understandable. But where to draw it? Can it be drawn in a way that keeps our children in touch with our past, even the sordid bits?

We need to own our history.

We should ignore the false moral equivalencies mentioned by Trump, such as Lee and Washington. Both owned slaves, so statues of Washington must go too. It is true that both owned slaves, but Washington fought to build this country, while Lee fought to destroy it in support of slavery.

Some have pointed to the fact that Jews would never let Auschwitz, Dachau or Buchenwald be taken down. This is another false equivalency. Auschwitz is maintained not to celebrate Nazism, but to show its horrors.

Maybe that IS the lesson: Add interpretation to the Confederate monuments: Make them say that we do not want anyone to forget what happened, and that we want to make sure it can never happen again.

It’s Saturday, so we MUST get some distance between where we are as a country now, and where we need to be.

Wrongo’s prescription? Brew a cup of Brooklyn’s  Toby’s Estate El Ramo Columbian coffee. El Ramo means the bouquet in Spanish ($14 for 12oz.), close the door, and put on your over-the-ear headphones. Now, listen to G.P. Telemann’s “Concerto in G major for Viola, Strings and Basso continuo, TWV 51:G9”.

Wrongo and Ms. Right heard it last week at the final summer concert of the New Baroque Soloists at the Washington Meeting House in Washington, Connecticut. Here it is performed live by the Remember Barockorchester, in the Unser Lieben Frauen Church, Bremen, on November 21st, 2015:

The Viola Soloist is Tomoe Badiarova

Those who read the Wrongologist in email supplied by the execrable Feedburner, can view the video here.

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Getting Past Charlottesville

The Daily Escape:

Upper Peninsula MI, 2017 – photo by Otto Heldring

There’s a depressing overtone to Charlottesville that suggests the arc of history is the energy behind the story. Is the nation’s soul about to be divided as it has been many times before? Americans get two chits: One for the ballot box, and another for the soap box. Many people feel compelled to use both. The existential question is how best to use them.

The Charlottesville incident left a woman dead, and many others badly injured from a car-ramming. It has the flavor of a “first shot” in a new civil war. And the president’s criticisms of counter-protesters in Charlottesville seem to be far outside the mainstream. Frank Bruni, NYT:

We’re stuck for now with a morally bankrupt plutocrat for president, someone so defensive and deluded that he’s urging more nuance in the appraisal of neo-Nazis.

Still, many Republicans have been reluctant to condemn Trump’s Charlottesville rhetoric. The right would do well to excise any association with the Hitlerites who chanted “blood and soil” in their torch-lit pseudo Nuremberg rally in Virginia. America remains the land of the free and the home of the brave, but Nazis? Nein, Danke.

We have two conflicts arising from Charlottesville:

  • Does every group still have the right to assemble (peacefully) and speak their minds?
  • What are we to do about the symbols from our divided past?

The 1st Amendment protects most speech, but not the sensibilities of those who are exposed to it. Some speech is guaranteed to be offensive. America has lived with neo-Nazis, the KKK, et al for Wrongo’s entire lifetime, and has survived it, no matter how odious. Even the ACLU assisted the neo-Nazis in Charlottesville.

But there are recognized limits. No one has a right to incite violence. Individuals have no right to defame someone. Some of the limits are easier to define than others: The concept of inciting a riot can lead to a subjective reading of the facts and the application of nebulous standards.

Today’s wrinkle are the armed demonstrators. They imply that a peaceful assembly could be placed at grave risk at any moment. It shouldn’t be difficult to foresee that local people will come out to confront neo-Nazis and white supremacists that are marching in their town. That creates even greater risk of physical violence, and requires that local police are well-trained and disciplined.

Second, there are Confederate statues all over America. The white supremacists who went to Charlottesville to “protect” Lee’s statue need to hear that we will not re-litigate the Civil War. The south’s and the nation’s history are what they are. The Civil War should be given due weight, learned from, pondered, and not shunted aside. Are Robert E. Lee’s existence, deeds, and historical relevance news to anyone?

A suggestion: In Bulgaria, the USSR monuments were removed and placed in a single museum park. The museum’s collection covers the period 1944 to 1989, from the introduction of communism in Bulgaria, to the end of the totalitarian regime. Herding those statues into one place makes a statement that speaks loudly about the era, and how the USSR deprived Bulgarians of their rights.

Maybe a few such statue parks could have a similar effect here.

Let’s not get sidetracked from the most important issue before us: How we remake the US economy so that it provides a decent standard of living and expanding opportunity to as many people as possible.

There are plenty of “deplorables” who would benefit from universal health care, inexpensive college tuition for their children, infrastructure that worked, and good-paying jobs. Uniting the US population around programs that achieve these goals would do much to subdue the angry ethnic divisions that these “political entrepreneurs” are trying to foment.

Moreover, this program is not of the right or the left.

It’s a path toward political stability and a better society – one that would allow people the opportunity to develop into contributing, thoughtful citizens, capable of fully participating in the Republic.

Ok, a tune to help you think about peaceful assembly and whether the statues should stay or go. Here is Depeche Mode with “Where’s The Revolution” from their 2017 album “Spirit”. Wrongo didn’t know they were still working, much less producing relevant tunes:

Takeaway Lyric:

You’ve been kept down
You’ve been pushed ’round
You’ve been lied to
You’ve been fed truths
Who’s making your decisions?
You or your religion
Your government, your countries
You patriotic junkies

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

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Saturday Soother – August 12, 2017

The Daily Escape:

Lisbon, Portugal 2016 – photo by Wrongo

Wrongo has written many times about vote suppression, including earlier this week. We now see that the GOP in Indiana (who control the place) are disenfranchising Democratic precincts, but not the Republican ones. IndyStar, a local paper in Indianapolis, reported:

From 2008 to 2016, GOP officials expanded early voting stations in Republican dominated Hamilton County…and decreased them in the state’s biggest Democratic hotbed, Marion County.

Maybe now that GOP JeffBo is our Attorney General, Republicans feel they no longer even have to be subtle about voter suppression. More from the IndyStar:

That made voting more convenient in GOP areas for people…And the results were immediate.

Most telling, Hamilton County saw a 63% increase in absentee voting from 2008 to 2016, while Marion County saw a 26% decline. Absentee ballots are used at early voting stations.

The paper acknowledges that population growth may have played a role, but Hamilton County Clerk Kathy Richardson, a Republican, told IndyStar the rise in absentee voting in Hamilton County was largely a result of the addition of two early voting stations, which brought the total to three.

More from IndyStar:

Other Central Indiana Republican strongholds, including Boone, Johnson and Hendricks counties, also have added early voting sites — and enjoyed corresponding increases in absentee voter turnout. But not Marion County, which tends to vote Democratic, and has a large African-American population.

During that same 2008-16 period, the number of early voting stations declined from three to one in Marion County, as Republican officials blocked expansion.

Indiana voted for Obama in 2008, and apparently, that was enough for the GOP.

More early voting stations for Republican precincts in suburban white Republican counties, fewer early voting stations for Democratic precincts in urban black counties. So is this willful rigging that Republican officials are engaging in? Seems like it’s a plan.

Fewer opportunities for early voting disproportionately affects those who don’t get the early voting opportunity.

The real message here is that Indiana is showing us another level of rigging of the voting system by GOP operatives. With gerrymandering and restrictive voting practices across this country, voter suppression is the real threat to our democracy, not the very few cases of voter fraud. The question is: How do we correct this, and build a system with accountability?

We have previously reported on voter suppression here, here, here and here.

This is yet another Wrongologist column for those people who say “both parties are the same, it doesn’t matter who you vote for”. Do you get it yet?

Timeout.  Let’s go somewhere to escape from the noise and the madness of the week.

Wrongo recommends Bluetooth over the ear headphones, and a VERY generous pour of Bushmills 21-year old Irish, matured in a mixture of Oloroso Sherry and Bourbon casks, before a two year marrying period spent in Madeira casks.

For those who cannot abide alcohol, just the headphones for you.

Now, listen to the Casta Diva prayer from the opera Norma by Vincenzo Bellini, performed by Anna Netrebko in 2007 with the Symphony Orchestra of Baden-Baden und Freiburg. This opera is regarded as a leading example of the bel canto genre. The soprano prayer Casta diva occurs in Act I:

The most prolific Norma was Maria Callas, who gave 89 stage performances of the opera.

Those who read the Wrongologist in email sent by the execrable Feedburner, can view the video here.

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FCC Says America Doesn’t Need Fast Internet

The Daily Escape:

Gibraltar, looking toward the Atlantic, 2016 – photo by Wrongo

The FCC has just said that Americans might not need a fast home internet connection. Instead, mobile internet via a smartphone might be all the public needs. From Ars Technica:

The suggestion comes in the FCC’s annual inquiry into broadband availability. Section 706 of the Telecommunications Act requires the FCC to determine whether broadband (or more formally, “advanced telecommunications capability”) is being deployed to all Americans in a reasonable and timely fashion. If the FCC finds that broadband isn’t being deployed quickly enough to everyone, it is required by law to “take immediate action to accelerate deployment of such capability by removing barriers to infrastructure investment and by promoting competition in the telecommunications market.”

Today’s Wrongologist column is for all of those people who said “both parties are the same, it doesn’t matter who you vote for”. Nothing like the “small government” folks at the FCC telling America what type of internet access we need.

During the Obama administration, the FCC determined that broadband wasn’t reaching Americans fast enough, particularly in rural areas. And, they did not consider mobile broadband to be a full replacement for a home (or “fixed”) internet connection via cable, fiber, or other technologies.

Last year, the FCC concluded that Americans needed BOTH home and mobile access:

34 million Americans, about 10% of the country, still lack access to fixed broadband at the FCC’s benchmark speed of 25Mbps for downloads, 3Mbps for uploads…

The FCC also concluded under then-Chairman Tom Wheeler that since home internet connections and smartphones have different capabilities and limitations, Americans should have access to both instead of just one or the other.

But now we have a Republican administration. Ajit Pai, the GOP’s new FCC Chairman, is poised to change that policy by declaring that mobile broadband with speeds of 10Mbps downstream and 1Mbps upstream is all anyone needs. This is a deep tongue kiss from the FCC to the broadband industry.

More from Ars Technica: (brackets by the Wrongologist)

This [Agit’s plan] would be the first time that the FCC has set a broadband speed standard for mobile; at 10Mbps/1Mbps, it would be less than half as fast as the FCC’s home broadband speed standard of 25Mbps/3Mbps.

In Europe you can now routinely get 250Mbps internet service, and higher speeds in parts of Asia. Good job FCC!

The changes were signaled in an FCC Notice of Inquiry, the first step toward completing a new analysis of broadband deployment. The document asks the public for comments on a variety of questions, including whether mobile broadband can substitute for fixed Internet connections.

Pai has previously made it clear that he thinks mobile broadband can substitute for fixed connections. In 2012, Pai’s first year as a member of the FCC board, he criticized the then-Democratic majority for concluding that mobile internet service can’t replace home Internet.

Those who work from home need faster speeds, and the number of “at home” workers is growing. Companies have learned that letting employees work from home gets them a lifestyle improvement by ending the weeks of their year spent commuting. Working from home also lets companies lower their commercial rents.

Consumer internet usage will increase. With the current costs of mobile data, an evening of Netflix delivered by smartphone will put the average US consumer over their data plan maximum. The data caps in most mobile plans are low, and the costs of overages are high. Reliability is another issue. The service is fragile in storms, and unstable under high volume usage, such as at large public gatherings.

Do you remember the good old days when we made fun of Russia and China for their quaint infrastructure? Now, Republicans are trying to pretend the future doesn’t exist.

Maybe America doesn’t need interstate highways, local roads might be good enough. Pai is playing to Trump voters: Why would they want anything faster than mobile? They get Trump’s Twitter feed, so what else to they need?

You don’t like this? Is it making you angry?

You should know what to do by now. Hint: It usually happens on a Tuesday.

Music appreciation: Today we hear “Hymn to Freedom” by the Oscar Peterson Trio. It was written in 1962 in support of the Civil Rights movement. Here it is live in Denmark in 1964, with Oscar Peterson on Piano, Ray Brown on Bass and Ed Thigpen on Drums:

Freedom from the FCC and the Ajit Pai’s of the world is what we need.

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

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The DOJ Wants Infrequent Voters Off The Voting Rolls

The Daily Escape:

Bryce Canyon, 2001  – photo by Wrongo

From Mother Jones:

The Justice Department released an amicus brief in the case, currently before the Supreme Court, over whether Ohio can continue to remove “infrequent voters” who fail to cast a ballot over a six-year period. One of those voters, Larry Harmon, is a lead plaintiff in the lawsuit brought by Demos and the ACLU of Ohio. The 60-year-old software engineer and Navy veteran voted in 2008 and then returned to the polls for a local referendum in 2015, only to find that he was no longer registered, even though he hadn’t moved or done anything else to change his status.

Ohio has purged about 2 million voters from its rolls, including 1.2 million for infrequent voting. From the WaPo:

In a court filing late Monday, Justice Department attorneys took the opposite position from the Obama administration in a case that involves Ohio’s removal last year of tens of thousands of inactive voters from its voting rolls.

In their brief, government lawyers say they reconsidered the Ohio vote-purging issue after the “change in Administrations,” and they argue that the state’s actions are legal under federal law.

Ohio allows the purging process to begin when voters have not cast a ballot in two years. The person is sent a notice asking them to confirm their registration. If the voter does not respond and does not cast a ballot over the next four years, they are removed from the rolls.

But a federal appeals court ruled that Ohio had violated the National Voter Registration Act, a 1993 law that made it easier to register at the DMV and other public agencies and stipulated that voter-roll maintenance: (emphasis by the Wrongologist)

…shall not result in the removal of the name of any person from the official list of voters registered to vote in an election for Federal office by reason of the person’s failure to vote.

Trump’s DOJ has decided that “use it or lose it” applies to your right to vote.

We are witnessing a steady erosion of voter rights that started with the Supreme Court’s 2013 decision in Shelby County v. Holder. The Court struck down Section 4(b) of the 1965 Voting Rights Act (VRA). That Section required states with a history of voting discrimination to get pre-approval from the Justice Department for any changes to voting qualifications or procedures.

Since the Shelby ruling, many states, including some that were formerly covered under the VRA, have instituted stricter voter identification laws and instituted voter roll purges. Ari Berman lists examples from the 2016 election — the first election without full protection of the VRA:

  • There were 868 fewer polling places in states with long histories of voting discrimination, such as Arizona, Texas and North Carolina.
  • In Wisconsin, 300,000 registered voters lacked strict forms of voter ID, and voter turnout was at its lowest levels in 20 years. This was particularly apparent in Milwaukee, where voting was down13%, where 70% of the state’s African-American population lives.
  • In North Carolina, black turnout decreased 16% during the first week of early voting because in 40 heavily black counties, there were 158 fewer early polling places.

The plan is this: First, make voting as complicated and inconvenient as possible and then, when people basically give up on voting, you drop them from the rolls for non-participation.

What harm is there in keeping a non-voter or irregular voter on the rolls? Voter impersonation happens about as often as winning the Power Ball lottery, so why not leave a name on the rolls until removal is substantiated? When you move from one state to another, and register to vote, no one has committed voter fraud. No one took Wrongo’s parents off the Florida voter rolls after they died. That wasn’t voter fraud either.

The false concern about voter fraud is a cloak for a determined effort to gut every improvement the country has made on voting rights in the past 50 years.

On to music. Glenn Campbell had an outsized influence on American music. His free and fluid mix of country, pop and light rock left a big mark in Nashville. Here is Campbell doing “Classical Gas”:

Few who knew Campbell only as the singer of “By the Time I Get to Phoenix” and “Wichita Lineman” also knew that he was a very accomplished guitarist.

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

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Silicon Valley Will Escape the Revolution

The Daily Escape:

Waterfall Jumping Competition (from 69 feet up), Bosnia, August 5th – photo by Amel Emric

Antonio Garcia Martinez:

Every time I meet someone from outside Silicon Valley – a normy – I can think of 10 companies that are working madly to put that person out of a job…

Well, that makes most of us “normies”. In context, we are the people who do not work in Silicon Valley. We are the people who use technology, rather than invent technology, and many of us ought to see technology as a threat to our jobs and our place in society.

We are not in the beautiful peoples’ club. Our names are not on the list. We’re not software engineers who work just to pay the taxes on their company stock.

And who is this Martinez guy? From Mashable:

He’d sold his online ad company to Twitter for a small fortune, and was working as a senior exec at Facebook (an experience he wrote up in his best-selling book, Chaos Monkeys). But at some point in 2015, he looked into the not-too-distant future and saw a very bleak world, one that was nothing like the polished utopia of connectivity and total information promised by his colleagues.

Martinez pointed out that there are enough guns for every man, woman and child in this country, and they’re in the hands of people who would be hurt most by automation:

You don’t realize it but we’re in a race between technology and politics, and technologists are winning…

Martinez worries about how the combination of automation and artificial intelligence will develop faster than we expect, and that the consequences are lost jobs.

Martinez’s response was to become a tech prepper, another rich guy who buys an escape pod somewhere off the grid, where he thinks he will be safe from the revolution that he helped bring about. More from Mashable: (brackets by the Wrongologist)

So, just passing [after turning] 40, Antonio decided he needed some form of getaway, a place to escape if things turn sour. He now lives most of his life on a small Island called Orcas off the coast of Washington State, on five Walt Whitman acres that are only accessible by 4×4 via a bumpy dirt path that…cuts through densely packed trees.

He’s not alone. Reid Hoffman, co-founder of LinkedIn told The New Yorker earlier this year that around half of Silicon Valley billionaires have some degree of “apocalypse insurance.” Pay-Pal co-founder and venture capitalist Peter Thiel recently bought a 477-acre escape hatch in New Zealand, and became a Kiwi. Other techies are getting together on secret Facebook groups to discuss survivalist tactics.

We’ve got to expect that with AI and automation, our economy will change dramatically. We will see both economic and social disruption until we achieve some form of new equilibrium in 30 years or so.

It will be a world where either you work for the machines, or the machines work for you.

Robert Shiller, of the famous Case-Shiller Index, wrote in the NYT about the changing meaning of the “American Dream” from the 1930s where it meant:

…ideals rather than material goods, [where]…life should be better and richer and fuller for every man, with opportunity for each according to his ability or achievement…It is not a dream of motor cars and high wages merely, but a dream of a social order in which each man and each woman shall be able to attain to the fullest stature of which they are innately capable…

That dream has left the building, replaced by this:

Forbes Magazine started what it calls the “American Dream Index.” It is based on seven statistical measures of material prosperity: bankruptcies, building permits, entrepreneurship, goods-producing employment, labor participation rate, layoffs and unemployment claims. This kind of characterization is commonplace today, and very different from the original spirit of the American dream.

How will the “Normies” survive in a society that doesn’t care if you have a job? That refuses to provide a safety net precisely when it celebrates the progress of technology that costs jobs?

The Silicon Valley survivalists understand that, when this happens, people will look for scapegoats. And we just might decide that the techies are it.

Today’s music is “Guest List” by the Eels from the 1996 album “Beautiful Freak”:

 Takeaway Lyric:

Are you one of the beautiful people
Is my name on the list
Wanna be one of the beautiful people
Wanna feel like I’m missed

Are you one of the beautiful people
Am I on the wrong track
Sometimes it feels like I’m made of eggshell
And it feels like I’m gonna crack

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

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Saturday Soother – August 5, 2017

(Sunday Cartoons will appear on Monday as Wrongo is attending a family event on Saturday)

The Daily Escape:

Mt. Bromo volcano Java Indonesia, 2016 – photo by Reynold Riksa Dewantara

We flushed another week down the crapper. A few things to think about: At a rally in Huntington, WV, Donald Trump characterized the investigation into his campaign as a “total fabrication” and again demanded Hillary Clinton be investigated.

The US Secret Service couldn’t agree on a lease with the Trump Organization to keep a command post in Trump Tower in NYC, so they have moved to a trailer outside. Do ya think that Trump could call Trump and worked this thing out?

But, everyone is talking about Special Counsel Mueller’s convening of a Grand Jury. As important, the Senate blocked Trump from being able to make recess appointments while they are on their August break. This requires the agreement of every senator, so the Senate will be in session every three business days throughout the August recess. That means Trump can’t fire Attorney General Jeff Sessions and/or Robert Mueller, and use the recess appointment process to appoint a successor without Senate confirmation of the appointment.

And Trump is going on vacay just like the Senate. The guy who once asked, “What’s the point?” about vacations, left on Friday for a 17-day vacation at his Bedminster, New Jersey golf resort. While he’s away, the White House will undertake a number of repairs, including replacing the heating and cooling system, and repairing steps on the South Portico.

Is that why Trump called the White House a dump?

Too much to think about, so let’s take a Saturday Soother break. Get yourself an iced La Colombe Pure Black Cold Brew coffee, sit in a cool dark room, and watch this video of a flash mob doing Gustav Holst’s “Jupiter, the Bringer of Jollity“, the 4th movement from Holst’s “The Planets”. It is performed by the Berklee Contemporary Symphonic Orchestra (BCSO) in November 2016 at Boston’s Prudential Center:

Why doesn’t this happen when Wrongo is at the mall?

To cap off our Saturday shout-out to Gustav Holst, this same movement of Holst’s “The Planets” was also used to set the following poem by Sir Cecil Spring Rice to music, and is a hymn to Britain:

I Vow to Thee, My Country

I vow to thee, my country, all earthly things above,

Entire and whole and perfect, the service of my love;

The love that asks no question, the love that stands the test,

That lays upon the altar the dearest and the best;

The love that never falters, the love that pays the price,

The love that makes undaunted the final sacrifice.

 

And there’s another country, I’ve heard of long ago,

Most dear to them that love her, most great to them that know;

We may not count her armies, we may not see her King;

Her fortress is a faithful heart, her pride is suffering;

And soul by soul and silently her shining bounds increase,

And her ways are ways of gentleness, and all her paths are peace.

 

It was sung at the funerals of Winston Churchill, Princess Diana and Margaret Thatcher.

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

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IMF Reports US Standard of Living is Falling

The Daily Escape:

Haleakala Crater, Maui

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

This from Bloomberg:

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

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

For example:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Hackers Break Into Our Voting Machines

The Daily Escape:

London, England

Nobody knows whether the Russians hacked the 2016 presidential election. One thing on which there seems to be broad agreement is that no foreign power was able to change the actual vote totals, since we have 192,480 precincts in the US. And we use so many different vote collection and vote processing technologies throughout the country, hacking would be very difficult.

Over the weekend at Def Con, a convention of hackers held in Las Vegas, hackers managed to break into many different US electronic voting systems, taking control of some of them in less than 90 minutes. The hackers successfully broke in through the voting system hardware, or through wireless communication. From The Hill:

…[the hackers] at the annual DEF CON in Las Vegas were given physical voting machines and remote access…[and] within minutes, hackers exposed glaring physical and software vulnerabilities across multiple US voting machine companies’ products. Some devices were found to have physical ports that could be used to attach devices containing malicious software. Others had insecure Wi-Fi connections, or were running outdated software with security vulnerabilities like Windows XP.

By the end of the weekend, every one of the 30 machines, including those used to tabulate votes and to check voters in when they go to the polls, had been hacked. The Telegraph reported that:

They purchased 30 different election machines from a US Government auction…

Who knew you can buy these voting machines at a US government auction? Is there a legitimate purpose for them after they’ve been decommissioned? Isn’t this a way for hackers to study the weaknesses in these machines, and maybe figure out a way to hack ones that are currently in use?

The idea that electronic voting machines could be hacked has been around for a while. Computer programmer Harri Hursti, hacked into Diebold voting machines in 2005. That hack is now known as the “Hursti Hack”. Electronic voting machines require regular software security updates. Updates lead to a  re-do of each state’s voter machine certification process, which can cost over $1 million to complete.

Gizmodo reports that even though the most recent election security standards were released in 2015, most state’s machines are only compliant with standards from 2002 because of the costs of updates. That cost breaks down to about $30-$40 per voter, and most states just don’t have the money.

OTOH, a hack of the last presidential election would have only needed to change the votes in three states (Wisconsin, Michigan, and Pennsylvania) to be successful in changing the result. And the absolute margin of victory in each of those states was small enough that it could have been accomplished without accessing all polling places. Still, no credible group is saying hacking on that scale occurred in 2016.

It is glib to suggest that the answer is to use paper ballots. With upwards of 150 million votes to count, that would require a huge number of volunteers. It begs the question of what method of “auditing” the count will be used, and who will perform it.

If we persist in electronic voting, those states would need to adopt a comprehensive sampling methodology for the machines before results can be certified. This would mean that we simply can’t accept using machines that don’t provide a paper trail, or a way to audit their vote tally.

We need to remember that we call the winners based on initial uncertified vote tallies. Before we know it, someone has conceded while we’re still counting votes. Hillary Clinton’s popular vote margin grew for about a month after the 2016 election as more and more votes were counted, even though it had no bearing on the Electoral College.

For the presidency, the federal government could specify that states that can’t certify their results up to a pre-set federal standard of accuracy, using a pre-set methodology, wouldn’t be allowed to cast votes in the Electoral College. This would pressure the states to put in better protections against hacking.

Finally, the federal government should pay for any required upgrades.

Continuing Wrongo’s tour of music by old guys, here is “Why Worry” from a 1986 PBS recording by Chet Atkins, the Everly Brothers, Mark Knopfler, and Michael McDonald. This song was written by Mark Knopfler for The Everly Brothers, and it beautifully demonstrates their unique harmony:

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

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Monday Wake Up Call – July 31, 2017

The Daily Escape:

Mont Saint-Michel, France – photo by Stephane L’olliver

We start this week like all the others in the past six months, staring at the latest shiny thing that the Trump-obsessed media produced for our inspection. But we need to shift our focus to what Der Donald is doing with his nominations to the federal judiciary. From the Fiscal Times:

When it comes to nominating judges to the federal bench, Trump is moving at a breakneck pace. And the number of nominees for vacant US attorney positions, a crucial area, is dwarfing that of the past administration this early on.

The media tells us that Trump isn’t getting his nominations for key posts either submitted or approved, but that’s not true for the federal bench. Here, Trump is rushing to fill what are lifetime appointments.

More from the Fiscal Times:

Through July 14…he had nominated 18 people for district judgeship vacancies, 14 for circuit courts and the Court of Federal Claims, and 23 for US attorney slots. During that same time frame in President Barack Obama’s first term, Obama had nominated just four district judges, five appeals court judges, and 13 US attorneys. In total, Trump nominated 55 people, and Obama just 22.

Of those 55 nominees, 45 are from, or are nominated for, jobs in states Trump won outright in the election. If you remove the positions based in Washington, DC, that number becomes 45 of 48, a remarkably high 94%. Just 64% of Obama’s initial nominees hailed from states he carried in the 2008 presidential election. And there’s a reason for that:

It’s known as the “blue slip,” or the consent of both home-state senators. And it’s a Senate tradition to not advance any judicial or US attorney nominee without having the blue slip.

In states with two Republican senators, Trump has made 30 of the total 55 nominations. In states with two Democratic senators, he has nominated just five.

Trump has an impressive number of vacancies to fill. The federal bench has 136 vacancies. Trump fired half of the 93 US attorneys in March, creating a need for nominations, though seeking to quickly replace US attorneys is not uncommon at the start of a new administration. In August 2009, Obama faced 85 vacancies on the federal bench.

One of Trump’s most controversial nominees, John Bush, was confirmed last week to the 6th US Circuit Court of Appeals. Bush, a Kentucky lawyer, cleared the Senate with unanimous Republican support and unanimous Democratic opposition. Bush came under fire for his past blog posts, written under a pseudonym that compared abortion and slavery and called them “the two greatest tragedies in our country.” Bush had also promoted the Obama birther conspiracy.

Trump’s targeting the low-hanging fruit first, but ultimately he will need support from the Democratic side of the aisle to fill appointments where Dems might put a “hold” on a nomination.

Maybe the partisan chickens will come home to roost when that happens.

So, time to wake up America! Stop browsing just the mainstream media and work a little harder to get educated about what’s going on in the background. To help you wake up, here is Mick Jagger.

You are saying “Wrongo, why music from another old guy?”

But, just when you think Mick Jagger has become old and irrelevant, he writes two new things with overtly political messaging. Could he become relevant again? Today, listen to “Gotta Get a Grip”. He released this as a straight video, with great production value, but it was boring. Luckily, he also worked with young artists to make a series of cool remixes of the songs, all with the same crummy video, but all are compelling listening. Here is “Gotta Get a Grip”, the Seeb remix:

 

Gotta Get A Grip (Seeb Remix) by Mick Jagger & on VEVO.

Takeaway Lyrics:
Everybody’s stuffing their pockets
Everybody’s on the take
The news is all fake
Let ’em eat chicken and let ’em eat steak
Let ’em eat shit, let ’em eat cake

I tried diversion and I tried coercion
Mediation and medication
LA culture and acupuncture
Overeating and sex in meetings
Induced insanity, Christianity
Long walks and fast drives
And wild clubs and low dives
I pushed and I strived
But I can’t get you, can’t get you
Can’t get you out of my mind

Immigrants are pouring in
Refugees under your skin
Keep ’em under, keep ’em out
Intellectual, shut your mouth

Chaos crisis instability, ISIS
Lies and scandals, wars and vandals
Metadata scams and policy shams
Put ’em in a slammer

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

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