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The Wrongologist

Geopolitics, Power and Political Economy

Monday Wake Up Call – December 18, 2017

The Daily Escape:

Sunrise, Island Park ID, November 2017

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

I’m still a rural American.

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

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

We still wave Old Glory down at the courthouse,

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

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

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Saturday Soother – December 16, 2017

The Daily Escape:

Central Park NYC, December 12th – 2017 photo by Rommel Tan

Long-time readers know that Wrongo has a very low opinion of Speaker of the House Paul Ryan (R-WI), who he considers an intellectual joker. He is often given a pass by the main stream media, who suggest that he is a thoughtful and principled Republican. But once again, he looked like a partially-informed hack on Thursday when he said that Americans need to have more babies or risk a collapse of Medicare and Social Security.

His concern is about the declining US birth rate. The Boston Globe reports that:

Ten years ago, the typical American woman had about 2.1 children. Today, it is about 1.77, representing a collapse in fertility on par with the declines in other countries that yielded Japan’s rapidly graying population in the 1990s, or Canada’s massive present-day demand for immigrants.

From Ryan’s news conference: (parenthesis by Wrongo)

People — this is going to be the new economic challenge for America. People…I did my part, (Ryan has three kids) but we need to have higher birth rates in this country. Meaning, baby boomers are retiring, and we have fewer people following them in the work force…We have something like a 90% increase in the retirement population in America, but only a 19% increase in the working population in America…

It is true that birth rates in the US have declined, but that’s not necessarily bad news. For example, birth rates for teenagers hit a record low last year. Also, Wrongo recently described McKinsey’s report on jobs lost to automation that showed 75 million jobs are at risk in the US by 2030.

Perhaps we already have too many workers for the jobs revolution that is occurring all around us.

And there’s an obvious solution to the problem that Ryan ignores: Allowing more immigrants into the country, either to fill the jobs being vacated by retiring baby boomers, or as necessary to meet tomorrow’s job requirements. But Ryan shows that he’s all in with Trump’s hard line anti-immigration positions.

Should American women become brood mares? This isn’t a new concept. The fear of being outnumbered by racial and ethnic minorities is the driving force behind today’s alt-right, and the view was around in earlier white nationalist movements. HuffPo interviewed Kelly J. Baker, author of “Gospel According to the Klan”. Baker says that the need to ensure that white women were having more white babies was a key part of the Ku Klux Klan’s platform during its resurgence in the 1920s: (emphasis by Wrongo)

Baker said that the 1920s Klan was “nervous” about the possibility of widespread birth control for white women…To push back against the rising availability of effective birth control, the Klan told white women that having as many white children as possible is your job and it matters for your family and your race and for America.

And now, Ryan makes this a mainstream GOP idea. For all of the political empowerment of women in today’s headlines, the Ryan argument lands in the same place as today’s alt-right, and yesterday’s KKK.

Ryan and the GOP want to see more babies, but they won’t support young kids with health insurance through the Children’s Health Insurance Program (CHIP). Quartz reports that next month, 600,000 American children will lose their CHIP coverage. CHIP has been instrumental in ensuring health care coverage of children in US families that aren’t poor enough to qualify for Medicaid, but cannot afford any other form of insurance.

Republicans talk a lot about the cost of healthcare. The cost of not providing healthcare to children in an America with failing schools is impossible to calculate. It is very high, it lasts lifetimes and possibly, generations.

Yet, Ryan is saying that American women need to have more babies to Make America Great Again.

And we know that he’s asking for more white babies.

OK, it’s Saturday, and we need a break from toxic politics, and maybe from obsessing about shopping for gifts. Hanukkah began this week, so Wrongo looked for a soothing piece of music that was inspired by the celebration of the Festival of Lights. Here is “Hanukkah Overture for String Orchestra and Clarinet” by Adam Shugar.

If you look at the YouTube video, you will see that it has just 5,000 views. It should have many more. You should watch it because the music is good, and unlike most orchestral pieces, this string orchestra performs while standing. The video is shot from a high angle, and looking down allows you to see them all as they play together, almost like a choreographed dance. Here is “Hanukkah Overture for String Orchestra and Clarinet” played by the Orchestre Nouvelle Génération under the direction of Airat Ichmouratov, with Mark Simons on clarinet:

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

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Trump Signs Bill Containing Warning on Climate Change

The Daily Escape:

The Fuego Volcano in Guatemala erupts under the Milky Way, Antigua, Guatemala – photo by Albert Dros

While we were all focused on the Alabama senate election, on Tuesday, Donald Trump signed the National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA), a bill that sets spending limits for the US military in the coming fiscal year.

Buried in the bill is a discussion of climate change. The NDAA contains a provision making clear that “the sense of Congress” is that:

Climate change is a direct threat to the national security of the United States.

The provision cites statements from Defense Secretary Jim Mattis, former defense secretary Robert Gates, Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Gen. Joseph F. Dunford Jr. and the Office of the Director of National Intelligence (DNI).

This creates an interesting moment for Trump, who signed the bill knowing this was in its language. He did not add a signing statement disavowing the provision, so he’s placing the climate change provisions of the NDAA directly opposite his stance on climate change, and his disavowal of the Paris Agreement.

By signing the bill, Trump also ordered a report on “vulnerabilities to military installations” that climate change could cause in the next 20 years. More from the bill:

As global temperatures rise, droughts and famines can lead to more failed states, which are breeding grounds of extremist and terrorist organizations…In the Marshall Islands, an Air Force radar installation built on an atoll at a cost of $1 billion, is projected to be underwater within two decades. A three-foot rise in sea levels will threaten the operations of more than 128 United States military sites, and it is possible that many of these at-risk bases could be submerged in the coming years…

Lawfare reports that the bill’s climate change provision is as important for what it doesn’t require as for what it does. The bill doesn’t require that Gen. Mattis develop a policy to solve the problems that it acknowledges climate change poses. Instead, it merely requires that he provide an explanation of its “effects.”

This was Congress’s way of dealing with an earlier contentious debate about including the climate provision at all. The amendment to deny its inclusion failed by 185-234. Also, the military is not the agency responsible for regulating carbon emissions, so the impact of its requirements on policy may be small.

While the requirement that Mattis produce a report on the “mitigations” that will ensure “resiliency” could be construed as creating a policy response, the fact remains that there is no explicit direction that he implement any of the mitigations on which he’ll be reporting.

More from Lawfare: (brackets and emphasis by the Wrongologist)

According to the Congressional Research Service, as of 2012, the Department of Defense was ‘the largest organizational user of petroleum in the world.’…And the thousands of [military] aircraft…accounted for 22% of all jet fuel used by the US as of 2008.

The bill includes money to buy 30 more planes than the military asked for (24 reliable old F/A-18s instead of 14, and 90 of the newer lemon, the F-35, instead of 70). The US Navy asked for one new Littoral Combat Ship. The NDAA budgets for three.

Translation: $Billions for the aerospace and ship-building government contractors. This year, the Defense expenditures tab will come to about $2,160 for every man, woman and child in the US.

Feel like you’re getting your money’s worth?

 

A quick note about Rock and Roll Hall of Fame nominee Sister Rosetta Tharpe. Most haven’t heard of her, but she was an innovator on the electric guitar. She preferred to play a Gibson SG, and she was among the first to use heavy distortion. In 1947, Sister Rosetta put the then 14-year-old Little Richard on stage. Johnny Cash said that she was his favorite singer, and biggest inspiration. When she plays, you understand where Chuck Berry got his big guitar ideas. Here is Sister Rosetta Tharpe doing “That’s All” from 1964’s “Live in Paris “album:

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

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Saturday Soother – December 9, 2017

The Daily Escape:

Fall in Sugar Hollow 2017, near Charlottesville, VA

Wrongo doesn’t have much Christmas spirit this year. Maybe the fractured state of US politics has something to do with his grumpiness. But, it’s Saturday, and we need something positive as we face the start of the gift-buying and gift-giving season, so let’s focus on Iceland: (editing and brackets by the Wrongologist)

Icelanders have a beautiful tradition of giving books to each other on Christmas Eve and then spending the night reading. This custom is so deeply ingrained in the culture that it is… [called] the Jolabokaflod, or “Christmas Book Flood,” when the majority of books in Iceland are sold between September and December in preparation for Christmas giving.

Imagine sitting around with the family on Christmas Eve and everyone reading by the fire. That sounds positively subversive in our consumer-driven culture. OTOH, in Iceland, all the restaurants are closed on the 24th and only a few open on the 25th, so the incentive to stay at home is greater than in the US.

Treehugger points out that Iceland, with a population of only 329,000 people, is an extraordinarily literary country where people love to read and write. And according to the BBC:

The country has more writers, more books published and more books read, per head, than anywhere else in the world…One in 10 Icelanders will publish [a book].

Icelanders receive a free catalog of new books called the Bokatidindi in the fall. They then pore over the new releases and choose which ones they want to buy. Baldur Bjarnason, Icelandic book industry researcher says:

It’s like the firing of the guns at the opening of the race…It’s not like. this is a catalog that gets put in everybody’s mailbox and everybody ignores it. Books get attention here.

And people prefer physical, paper books. A bookstore manager told NPR:

The book in Iceland is such an enormous gift, you give a physical book. You don’t give e-books here.

Now, at The Mansion of Wrong, physical books are always on the Christmas gift menu. This year, Wrongo intends to give multiple copies of two books to family:

  • American Wolf” by Nate Blakeslee is the biography of a single female wolf in Yellowstone. But the story is told from many sides, including those ranchers who opposed the re-introduction of wolves into the park, the wildlife biologists that worked to help wolves flourish in Yellowstone, and the hunters looking for their next trophy. It shows the best, and the pettiest of our society in a microcosm.
  • Spy of the First Person” by Sam Shepard tells Shepard’s story of facing death from ALS. This isn’t for everyone, but Wrongo’s brother died of ALS in 2016, and this first-person account of what an ALS victim goes through has meaning for Wrongo, his sisters, and all who loved Kevin.

Reading on a winter evening is something everyone ought to incorporate into their family’s celebration of Christmas. At the Mansion of Wrong, we celebrate physical books. They are among the few things we collect, that we read, and occasionally re-read, that we pass on to family and friends. Remember: 30 minutes of reading per day equals about 2.2 million words a year. And you could learn a few things!

So, for at least a few minutes we have forgotten politics and toxic personalities. Keep it going by brewing a fresh cup of Redbeard Blue Collar Coffee: ($16.95/lb.). With its “notes of milk chocolate and salted caramel and a smooth body at a medium roast level”, it’s kind of a Christmas blend. Sit by the window and watch the last few leaves fight to remain on the trees, and listen to The Chamber Music Center of NY perform a flash mob of chamber music at the Bank of America Tower:

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

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Monday Wake Up Call – December 4, 2017

The Daily Escape:

Old railroad tracks near Folsom, CA – December 2017 photo by Merrill Dodd

This will be Wrongo’s last column discussing the tax bill. Here is a chart describing the differences between the Senate and House tax bills:

Source: WSJ

The big question is will the tax bill really go through reconciliation, or can Paul Ryan convince House Republicans to vote for it essentially as is? The three factions Ryan has to deal with inside his own party might make a straight agreement a hard sell. Will a successful reconciliation happen? Odds seem to be in its favor. However, things could go sideways. There’s plenty in the bills to anger just enough of the three Republican House factions, and they’re more exposed to a potential 2018 wave election than the Senators. State and local tax deduction are a sticking point, and what about the deficit? It will be an interesting and stressful next few weeks.

Returning to yesterday’s David Stockman’s analysis: The standard deduction is doubled in both bills to $24,000 per household, costing $737 billion while changing the tax brackets from seven to four (in the House bill) costs $1.17 trillion.

When all the puts and takes are finished on the personal income tax side, what America gets from 2018-2027 is a $1.20 trillion net reduction in personal income taxes. But, as we showed in yesterday’s chart, dead people and rich people stand to benefit the most.

So, what’s left is a tiny $352 billion tax cut for rest of America’s 145 million tax filers over the entire next decade. On average, that’s about $242 per person per year!

Couldn’t $1.4 trillion been better spent on refurbishment of our infrastructure rather than in giveaways to corporations? Do corporations really need more government aid at a time when they are recording near-record profits, and hold huge cash reserves that they are not spending on hiring, wage increases or investment in the USA?

It’s long past time for America to wake up!! Whether you support the tax bill or hate it, it’s also past time to clean out the sewer that is Congress. It will take about six years of organizing, finding progressive candidates, and GETTING OUT THE VOTE, to deliver mostly new faces in DC.

We must break up the “old thugs club” that Congress has become. To help us wake up and start on political renewal, let’s listen to George Harrison’s “Taxman”. This was the Beatles’ musical complaint about how much they were paying in taxes in the UK. “Mr. Wilson” and “Mr. Heath” are mentioned in the lyrics. They are former British Prime Ministers Harold Wilson and Edward Heath, who contributed to writing English tax laws that at one point had a 95% marginal tax rate.

There are no high-def video recordings of the tune available online by the Beatles (it was released in 1966 on “Revolver”), so here is Joe Bonamassa performing “Taxman” live at Liverpool’s Cavern Club, in June 2016. It’s his bluesy take on the Beatles’ pop sensibilities:

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

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Monday Wake Up Call – November 27, 2017

The Daily Escape:

Coyote, Housatonic River – Litchfield County, CT – photo by JH Clery

At the risk of sounding like the discredited Democrat John Edwards, we do live in two Americas. The top rungs of the ladder are living a good life, benefiting from the nine-year rebound from the Great Recession. The other 90% haven’t done well at all. Check out this chart of median household income:

Source

The chart shows median (not average) household income for the US, adjusted for inflation. Unlike average income, median income is not distorted by the enormous gains made by the one-percenters during the past decade.

The chart shows that for a household in the center of the US income distribution, 1999 was the best year ever. The housing bubble brought median household income almost back to its 1999 level in 2007, but not quite. Today, median household income (adjusted for inflation) is slightly lower than it was in 1989, in the first year of the George H.W. Bush administration.

How can this be? The economy is growing, and the US should have a squeaky-tight job market, since unemployment is at a 17-year low at 4.1%, a jobless figure that is near the definition of full employment. We’ve had seven straight years of job growth; job searches lasting 15 weeks or longer are now only 1.5% of the work force, down from 2% a year ago.

But wage growth is anemic. According to the law of supply and demand, employers should be sharply bidding up wages in order to capture increasingly scarce workers. But they aren’t. In October, they raised wages just a bit more than inflation, at an annual rate of 2.4%, down from September’s rate of 2.8%.

This is what imperial decay looks like to the middle class. Keep spending your seed corn tilting at windmills in the Middle East, and pretty soon some in the middle class are dumpster diving.

And consider this: Only a little more than half of America has a retirement account, such as a 401(k) or Individual Retirement Account, according to the Federal Reserve. And the typical household with a retirement account had a balance of $60,000 last year, but there are big variations. Among the top 10% of households by income, the typical amount of savings was $403,000. Middle-income households had a median of $25,000.

Everyone who isn’t in the top 10% knows just how bad things are, and those below the top 20% feel it every day.

But what can they do about it? They work, many working multiple jobs. They get home exhausted. They’re too poor to run for office in a rigged plutocracy. So they go to bed and get up and go to work again in the morning, either depressed and angry, or simply depressed.

That’s about all they can do, except to vote for politicians who have no intention of working to change their economic situation.

Each resulting government is worse than the last. Not to mention at this point in terms of power over people’s lives, even the government is dwarfed by the power of multinational corporations.

It’s long past time to wake up America! We’ve got to stop the hostile takeover of the middle class by plutocrats and corporations, but how to do it? We all have to get off the couch and work for local candidates who will be the bench strength of progressive politics down the road. We also must work to insure that our voting rights are not further eroded by polls that close early, or by efforts to prune the rolls of people who haven’t voted in a few years. This is particularly heinous when less than 55% of eligible people vote even in our presidential elections.

To help us wake up, here is the 1970’s British group XTC with their tune “Wake Up”:

Takeaway Lyric:

You put your cleanest dirty shirt on
Then you stagger down to meet the dawn
You take a ride upon a bus, it’s just a fuss
You know it keeps you born
You get to know a morning face
You get to join the human race
You get to know the world has passed you by

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Saturday Soother – November 25, 2017

The Daily Escape:

Blue Mosque, Istanbul -2013 photo by Wrongo

Wrongo planned on taking the rest of the week off, but couldn’t resist this:

We live in a time when inequality of wealth, income and influence is thought to be greater than at any time in history. Inequality strengthens social injustice and with it the existence of The Privileged and The Disadvantaged. Of those who have influence and feel they are entitled to everything, and those who expect little, receive even less but need most. Government policies are fashioned by The Privileged for their own benefit. The Disadvantaged, having little or no voice, are ignored, allowing the Cycle of Containment to be maintained, change to be suppressed and social divisions to deepen.

This is from a post entitled What Price Humanity? at Dissident Voice, and it is a pretty accurate description of where we are in America. More:

Sitting at the center of this socio-economic tragedy is an economic ideology that is not simply unjust, it is inhumane. Compassion and human empathy are pushed into the shadows in the Neo-Liberal paradigm, selfishness, division and exploitation encouraged. The system promotes short-term materialistic values and works against mankind’s natural inclination towards unity, social responsibility and cooperation, inherent qualities that are consistently made manifest in times of crisis, individual hardship and collective need.

Graham Peebles is asking what are We the People entitled to in 2017 America? And his answer is grim.

Wrongo thinks nothing is more appropriate to this discussion than FDR’s Second Bill of Rights as stated January 11, 1944 in his message to the US Congress on the State of the Union:

  • The right to a useful and remunerative job in the industries or shops or farms or mines of the nation;
  • The right to earn enough to provide adequate food and clothing and recreation;
  • The right of every farmer to raise and sell his products at a return which will give him and his family a decent living;
  • The right of every businessman, large and small, to trade in an atmosphere of freedom from unfair competition and domination by monopolies at home or abroad;
  • The right of every family to a decent home;
  • The right to adequate medical care and the opportunity to achieve and enjoy good health;
  • The right to adequate protection from the economic fears of old age, sickness, accident, and unemployment;
  • The right to a good education.

FDR could foresee the end of WWII when he gave this speech. He concluded that: (emphasis by the Wrongologist)

All of these rights spell security. And after this war is won we must be prepared to move forward, in the implementation of these rights, to new goals of human happiness and well-being.

Sadly, on this 2017 Thanksgiving weekend, we remain very far from these goals.

The inequality and sense of entitlement we see today won’t be turned around without work. Financialization is a poisonous monster. It dictates government policy, and makes the rules about how our businesses and governments at all levels engage with our people and our environment.

People are little more than sources of revenue: Their capacity to spend, to invest and consume determines how they are valued. Driving virtually every decision within the suffocating confines of the ideal is an addiction to profit.

FDR’s ideas seem quaint in 2017. The US cannot even ensure basic civil rights such as racial equality, much less “life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.” Most Americans have freely indentured themselves to the financial sector so that they can pretend to own a house in which to raise their kids, and a car to drive to work in order to earn income so they can make loan payments on the house and the pick-up.

Enough! Let’s forget about life for a while. Grab a cup of Climpson & Sons Signature Espresso that is 100% Adamo Sasaba from Ethiopia, and stay away from the turkey Tetrazzini at lunchtime.

Now, watch and listen to Narciso Yepes interpret Joaquin Rodrigo’s Concerto d’Aranjuez (Adagio) on his 10-string guitar. The 10-string was conceived in 1963 by Yepes, who ordered it from José Ramírez [III].

The conductor is Raphael Frübeck de Burgos with the Radio Symphony Orchestra of Frankfurt. It’s a lovely piece with a remarkable guitar:

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

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Thanksgiving Day – November 23, 2017

(This is the last post before the Thanksgiving holiday. Drive safely if you are taking to the roads. We will resume with the Monday Wake Up Call on 11/27.)

The Daily Escape:

Turkey Parade, Litchfield County CT – 20014 photo by Wrongo

It is a tradition on Thanksgiving at the Mansion of Wrong to play “Alice’s Restaurant” by Arlo Guthrie. Arlo was convicted of littering in November, 1965 in Stockbridge, MA. This year we are changing things up a bit, so Arlo isn’t featured on the front page.

But, we are still having turkey, and gratitude is still the word for the day.

It turns out the more grateful people are, the healthier they are. NPR reported on a study by Paul Mills, a professor of public health at UC San Diego, that showed people who were more grateful had better cardiac health:

We found that more gratitude in these patients was associated with better mood, better sleep, less fatigue and lower levels of inflammatory biomarkers related to cardiac health…

More from Dr. Mills:

Taking the time to focus on what you are thankful for…[and] letting that sense of gratitude wash over you…helps us manage and cope.

Who knew? Being thankful can keep your heart healthy. That, and no seconds on stuffing and gravy.

This is our 1319th column since entering the blogging business in 2010. Wrongo wants to thank all who have stuck around since the beginning, all of you who read the work, and those who both comment, and/or criticize. We got started with the idea of highlighting what is wrong in our world, and suggesting that you take action to make the world more like you think it should be, rather than sitting and watching it continue on the current path.

So on this day of yuuge portions of turkey, gravy, pies, dressing, etc. Wrongo is very grateful to all of you!

Finally, Wrongo is posting two tunes for Thanksgiving. First, a re-post of one of the great non-Thanksgiving Day tunes of thanksgiving: “Be Thankful for What You’ve Got” by William DeVaughn. This one-hit wonder sold two million copies in 1974, reaching #1 on the US R&B charts and #4 on the Billboard chart. It reminds us of a time when there was more optimism in America:

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

Second, let’s listen to the late Tom Petty and his band Mudcrutch. Petty started his career by forming Mudcrutch, but everyone knows his next group, The Heartbreakers, from which most of his hits were launched. Petty returned to Mudcrutch twice, the last time in 2016, when they released the album “Mudcrutch 2”. Here is Mudcrutch with Petty singing “I Forgive it All”. In a sense, that’s a wonderful sentiment for the rock icon who left us this year:

Takeaway Lyric:

I ain’t broke and I ain’t hungry

But I’m close enough to care.

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

Since you are reading this, you woke up on this side of the dirt! Another reason to be grateful…

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Monday Wake Up Call – November 20, 2017

The Daily Escape:

El Ateneo Grand Splendid bookstore in Buenos Aires, which has more bookstores per person than any other city in the world – photo by Alamy

One of the arguments that Republicans use to support their tax bill is that it will unleash investment, but the data say otherwise. Currently, most US economic sectors are operating far below maximum capacity utilization. Here is a Federal Reserve chart showing current industrial utilization/capacity:

The left axis shows the percentage of utilization across both durable and non-durable goods. The US is currently tracking at about 75% utilization, which is about as low as it gets in non-recession times. What that implies is corporations have no need to invest in additional capacity in the US. They have plenty of spare capacity to meet any spike in demand, should it arise. So, today, it makes far more sense for companies to bring unused capacity back online rather than to buy new equipment.

So, what would corporations do with a windfall tax cut that they didn’t need to invest in the US? Won’t they just invest it outside the US in order to keep expanding their global markets? There would be no increased revenues or jobs from investment at home, so why would they keep the windfall at home? That wouldn’t be smart, and those guys and their tax lawyers are pretty smart.

What corporations might do with increased after-tax income:

  • Buy back more of their own stock
  • Update their factories in Mexico, China or elsewhere around the world
  • Invest in companies working on artificial intelligence or robots with human-like dexterity. You know, something on the bleeding edge!

The corporates will ask the question: What do Americans need that they do not have? More self-driving cars?

American consumers simply do not earn enough money to purchase the products that are already available. Total household debt now exceeds the previous peak in the 3rd quarter of 2008. You know, the peak driven by the housing bubble and the accompanying refinancing of debt.

So if a corporation does come up with some product for which there is a genuine need, who will have the money to buy it? What products (or services) would Americans stop purchasing so that they could use their borrowed money to buy this new product?

And given that the tax cuts will not accrue to anyone who makes under $75k the way the GOP has designed their tax cuts, there won’t be any more money in the pockets of the middle class to add jobs and GDP growth here at home. Here is a chart from David Leonhardt in the Sunday NYT, showing what everyone who will gain from their discredited trickle down tax plan, once it is fully implemented:

Notice that it doesn’t go to the people who really need it.

The Republican’s belief in tax cuts and supply side economics is a cult religion. They just don’t care about evidence.

So, time to wake up! We have broken subways, broken bridges, and stagnant wages. Why not spend the money on infrastructure instead of giving it away in tax cuts to be used offshore?

That might actually do some good. This could be the final opportunity for the Senate (the House is a lost cause) to do the right thing and actually represent the interests of the middle class in the US. It is way past time for this 100-member body to set aside the petty complaints of their corporate benefactors and the rich, and offer something real to the ordinary tax-paying citizens who try to pay their bills and put a little aside for retirement.

Time to wake up Senators! We need you to escape your cognitive dissonance, and think about what you are doing. To help you wake up, here is U2 with “Stuck in a Moment” from their 2000 album, “All That You Can’t Leave Behind”:

Takeaway Lyric:

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

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

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Saturday Soother – November 18, 2017

The Daily Escape:

Sunrise at Mesa Arch, Canyonlands National Park, Utah

It’s Saturday, and the dominant issue should be the Republicans’ efforts to enact a tax cut, now that the House has passed its version of the legislation. The plan distills Republican economic philosophy perfectly: Take lots of money and give it to the people at the top, while pretending that doing so will help everyone else.

Speaker Paul Ryan said it’s a middle-class tax cut:

This plan is for the middle-class families in this country who deserve a break. It is for the families who are out there living paycheck to paycheck, who just keep getting squeezed… The Tax Cut and Jobs Act will deliver real relief for people in the middle, people who are also striving to get there.

David Leonhardt offered this view:

Amazingly, the bill…would increase taxes, on net, for families that have at least one child and make less than $100,000. That conclusion comes from a rigorous independent analysis of the bill, released yesterday afternoon by the Tax Policy Center.

The elevator version of the Republican plan is to add $1.5 trillion to the deficit in order to give permanent tax cuts to corporations. Since that sounds terrible, the GOP proposes holding down the bill’s total cost by raising taxes on middle-class and poor families. More from Leonhardt:

A big reason is that personal exemptions — the $4,000 in income, per person, that families can write off — would disappear. The bill would increase standard deductions that all taxpayers can take, but the increase isn’t large enough for many families to make up for the disappearance of per-person exemptions…

OTOH, households making at least $5 million would receive an ANNUAL tax cut of almost $300,000 once the bill is fully phased in.

The cynicism is spectacular: Congressional leaders want to raise taxes on most of the middle and lower classes, while claiming that the bill does just the opposite. Senate Leader Mitch McConnell, said:

At the end of the day, nobody in the middle class is going to get a tax increase.

Worse, if the GOP tax bill becomes law, and we look a few moves ahead, we know that Republicans will once again pose as deficit hawks and look to gut Medicare and Medicaid.

On our backs. Happy Thanksgiving!

Our Republican friends plan to fund a permanent tax cut for their beloved constituents, American corporations. For decades Americans have been against increased taxes. We bought the idea that cutting taxes would give people an incentive to work harder and thus make the American economy flourish. The GOP tells us this as they try to roll back corporate taxes, as they plan to eliminate the estate tax, and as they continually work to prevent the government from taking action against offshore tax havens.

We endure potholes, we live in fear of collapsing highway bridges because our leaders want their special constituents to have more. Our kids sit in underfunded schools so that a handful of wealthy individuals can sit in gated communities or on their own private beaches.

Think of what we might do with the sums we will lose to this GOP “tax reform” over our lifetimes. Think about the crumbling infrastructure that could be fixed. Think of all the young people saddled with student-loan debt: We could make that unnecessary, rather than give more to corporations by denying students the deductibility of the interest on their loans. Think of the drug-addicted people all over America: With these tax cuts, we will never help them.

Until the words “discredited trickle down tax plan” come out of the mouth of every single Democratic politician, we won’t have a great chance of killing the Republican’s tax plan.

Enough! It’s Saturday, and time to let the mind wander. So grab a Vente cup of Union’s Hand-Roasted Coffee, Brewer’s El Topacio Microlot, El Salvador (just £8 for 200g). Now sit near a big window and watch the last days of fall, while listening to Beethoven’s “Violin Concerto in D major Op, 61” here performed in 1959 by violinist David Oistrakh with the French National Radio Orchestra, directed by Andre Cluytens.

Listen to the sound of a Stradivarius played by one of the giants on 20th Century violin:

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