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The Wrongologist

Geopolitics, Power and Political Economy

Is Ending Income Inequality a “Radical” policy?

The Daily Escape:

Mount Robson & Berg Glacier, BC, Canada – June 2019 photo by DrTand the women

New York Magazine’s Eric Levitz writes: (brackets and emphasis by Wrongo)

“…the Federal Reserve just released…its new Distributive Financial Accounts data series [that] offers a granular picture of how American capitalism has been distributing the gains of economic growth over the past three decades. Matt Bruenig of the People’s Policy Project took the Fed’s data and calculated how much the respective net worth of America’s top one percent and its bottom 50 percent has changed since 1989.

He found that America’s super-rich have grown about $21 trillion richer since Taylor Swift was born, while those in the bottom half of the wealth distribution have grown $900 billion poorer.”

This is what a few of the Democratic presidential candidates have been talking about, some loudly and some quietly, for the past few months. Levitz asks the right question:

“So, is an economic system that distributes its benefits in this manner consistent with Americans’ common-sense views of economic justice? If not, would incremental changes be sufficient to bring it into alignment with the median American’s values? Or would more sweeping measures be required?”

In a sense, Democrats are testing whether advocating for changing Capitalism is an argument that voters will accept in 2020. More from Levitz:

 “Some Democratic presidential candidates say that America’s economic system is badly broken and in need of sweeping, structural change. Others say that the existing order is fundamentally sound, even if it could use a few modest renovations. The former are widely portrayed as ideologues or extremists, the latter as moderates.”

Essentially, the question is “who’s the extremist?” in the Democratic Party. This conflation of “extreme” or “radical” with “bad” is what the GOP and the Main Stream Media do every day, and it weakens our policy-making.

We use “extremist” or “radical” as a way of signaling that a policy position is too awful to consider.

If you simply say that something is bad, then you are forced to defend your position. But, when you describe it as “extreme“, you’ve called it bad, and people will HEAR that you think it’s much too big a change to even discuss.

Respectable talking heads like Judy Woodruff will ask: “Will Americans really go for THAT?”

This is bad faith messaging about important questions. This is so ingrained into people who talk about politics that it largely goes unquestioned. We shouldn’t care about pundits and broadcasters saying how extreme or not extreme something is. We should care about the merits of the argument.

Republicans have been calling Democrats “extreme” “radical” and “Socialist” for decades. They’re using bad-faith tactics; de-legitimizing an idea or a candidate without having to debate on the merits.

Bernie Sanders and Elizabeth Warren are offering “extreme” policies only if our baseline is what the average Congress critter’s economic agenda looks like. It’s not clear why that’s an appropriate yardstick.

Did we think calls for sweeping change in Egypt were extremism when students took to the streets demanding basic civil rights? Do we think the young people demonstrating today in Sudan are radicals?  Our assessment (and support) of these dissenters’ ideologies has more to do with how far their values are from those of their corrupt political and military leaders.

And also by how close they seem to be to our core values.

Whether it is extreme or moderate to propose sweeping changes to American capitalism should depend on how close our existing system is to how a just economic system operates. And these latest data show that the one percent have gotten $21 trillion richer since 1989, while the bottom 50% have gotten $900 million poorer.

This is what economic class warfare looks like. Saying that isn’t hyperbole. The earnings and wealth of a majority of our citizens has been systematically declining with the complicity and power of our government, in order to benefit the rich.

It shows how bad things are when the “radical” in American politics is anybody who argues that the American economy isn’t working for a huge percentage of the population.

Judy Woodruff may think that the economy is great, but incrementalism has failed most of us for the past 40 years.

Given all this, any politician who insists that American capitalism is “already great” is clearly someone who is indifferent to economic inequality.

We need to adopt redistributive economic policies. That may sound like an extreme position, but the alternative of continuing our growing wealth inequality, should really be thought of as far more radical.

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Monday Wake Up Call – May 6, 2019

The Daily Escape:

Torres del Paine NP, Chile – 2016 photo by Andrea Pozzi

After our granddaughter’s graduation in PA (summa cum laude), we had a few wines and beers, and talk turned to politics and the mess America is in now. Son-in-law Miles, (dad of next week’s grad) asked a very good question. “Is now really the worst of times? What about when Martin Luther King was assassinated?

Wrongo immediately flashed back to JFK’s assassination. He was a DC college student when JFK died. But his focus wasn’t on the loss of a president, or what that meant to the country. His focus was on what the loss of JFK meant personally.

That changed in 1968 with the assassinations of MLK and RFK. Wrongo was in the Army, stationed in Germany when Dr. King was killed. There was great tension in the enlisted men’s barracks. For a few days, it took a lot of effort in our small, isolated unit to keep anger from boiling over into outright fighting between the races.

By the time we lost RFK, it was clear that the Vietnam War would drag on, killing many of Wrongo’s friends. But, Wrongo’s job was to defend America from the Russians, with nuclear weapons if necessary.

It was difficult to see how or when Vietnam would end. It was hard to imagine Richard Nixon, Henry Kissinger, or Robert McNamara doing much to stop young Americans from dying in Asia.

The year 1968 also included the Tet Offensive. Mark Bowen in his book, Hue 1968, says:

“For decades….the mainstream press and, for that matter, most of the American public, believed their leaders, political and military. Tet was the first of many blows to that faith in coming years, Americans would never again be so trusting.” (p. 507)

When Americans finally saw the Pentagon Papers in 1971, they learned that America’s leaders had been systematically lying about the scope and progress of the war for years, in spite of their doubts that the effort could succeed. The assassinations, Vietnam, and Watergate changed us forever.

Our leaders failed us, it was clearly the worst of times. We were in worse shape in 1968 than we are in 2019. Back then, it felt like the country was coming apart at the seams, society’s fabric was pulling apart. Then, May 4th 1970 brought the killings of college kids at Kent State, which was probably the lowest point in our history, at least during Wrongo’s life time.

Last week, we acknowledged the 49th anniversary of America’s military killing American students on US soil. We vaguely remember the Neil Young song “Ohio” with its opening lyrics:

“Tin soldiers and Nixon coming, we’re finally on our own…”

That’s why the decade from 1960-1970 was the worst of times. We got through it, but we have never been the same.

In 1968, we saw that change can arrive suddenly, fundamentally, and violently, even in America. Bob Woodward spoke at Kent State last week, on Saturday, May 4th. He offered some brand-new information about Nixon’s reaction to the student shootings: (emphasis by Wrongo)

“In a conversation with his chief of staff H.R. Haldeman in September 1971, Nixon suggested shooting prisoners at New York’s Attica Prison riot in a reference to the Kent State tragedy. “You know what stops them? Kill a few,” Nixon says on a tape of the conversation.”

Woodward continued:

“We now know what really was on Nixon’s mind as he reflected…on Kent State after 17 months….Kent State and the protest movement was an incubator for Richard Nixon and his illegal wars.”

Woodward meant that what was coming was a war on the news media, creation of the “Plumbers” unit to track down leaks, and attempts to obstruct justice with the Watergate cover-up.

Many of us see 2020 shaping up as another 1968. Some see Nixon reincarnated in Trump.

We haven’t faced this particular set of circumstances before, so we can’t know just how it will go. Will it be worse than the 1960s, or just another terrible American decade? Is it the best of times, or the worst of times?

Are we willing to fight to preserve what we have anymore?

Wake up America, you have to fight for what America means to us. Constitutional liberties are under attack. The right to vote is being undermined. Extreme Nationalism has been emboldened.

To help you wake up, listen once again to “Ohio” by Neil Young in a new solo performance from October, 2018. He’s added some documentary footage and a strong anti-gun message:

You may not know that Chrissie Hynde, the future lead singer of The Pretenders was a Kent State student, and was on the scene at the time.

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

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Sunday Cartoon Blogging – April 7, 2019

This year is the 50th anniversary of Woodstock. Times have changed:

Biden doesn’t get it right, but consider the alternative:

Trump wants to be the health care president. Won’t happen:

Feminists come in two sexes:

Elizabeth Warren said this on Friday:

“When Democrats next have power, we should be bold and clear: We’re done with two sets of rules — one for the Republicans and one for the Democrats,”…. “And that means when Democrats have the White House again, if Mitch McConnell tries to do what he did to President Obama and puts small-minded partisanship ahead of solving the massive problems facing this country, then we should get rid of the filibuster.”

Warren referenced a bill passed in the Senate last year that made lynching a federal crime, and pointed out that it was first introduced in 1918.

“It nearly became the law back then. It passed the House in 1922. But it got killed in the Senate — by a filibuster. And then it got killed again. And again. And again,” Warren will say. “More than 200 times. An entire century of obstruction because a small group of racists stopped the entire nation from doing what was right.”

Warren is correct on the merits about the filibuster, as she is on many other issues. The filibuster is a blunt tool for the reactionary forces in the Senate.

From a policy viewpoint, she is by far the best candidate. But she lags in the polls, and many are convinced that she can’t be elected. She also trails in funds raising, behind Bernie and Beto. Warren hasn’t released her first quarter totals, but her campaign’s finance director just left. HuffPo tells us that:

“A tricky gender gap is emerging in the race for donor dollars in the 2020 Democratic presidential race.”

That hasn’t affected Kamala Harris who is raising large amounts from corporate donors. Maybe she has corralled the bigger feminists.

Barr’s playing it cute with the Democrats in the House:

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Reform of Capitalism Isn’t Socialism

The Daily Escape:

Graffiti in Greece by Lotek

The NYT reported that Rep. Tom Emmer (R-MN), chairman of the National Republican Congressional Committee, said: (brackets by Wrongo)

“Socialism is the greatest vulnerability by far that the House Democrats have…He added that he had also instructed his team to spotlight “all the [Dems] extreme wild ideas on a daily basis, on an hourly basis if it’s available.”

As we said yesterday, most Democrats are not socialists. They are for reform of capitalism. The problem is that our economic system is broken; it does not meet the needs of the vast majority of our people.

Capitalism has metastasized into a financialized cancer. Its growth-at-any-cost, profit-over-purpose ideology has wreaked havoc with the lives of millions of people. From Forbes:

“One example: For more than 400 years, 12.5 million Africans were kidnapped, enslaved and sold to build wealth and power largely for white men in the US, Europe and South America. The first enslaved Africans were shipped directly to the Americas in 1518, one year after Martin Luther nailed his 95 Theses to the door of Castle Church. The centrality and largely unconstrained profit motive in capitalism has been with us since the beginning.”

Today, corporations track our every movement. Algorithms manipulate us to buy things, or to vote certain ways. We’ve put outsized power into the hands of corporations. We have to ask: What do we need from capitalism in the 21st Century? Is it more of the same, or something different?

Capitalist Reform is about re-imagining the purpose of business and redefining its success. The doctrine of shareholder primacy must be the first to go. It needs to be recognized as a form of oppression of human nature since it doesn’t value our humanity.

According to a 2019 Politico/Morning Consult survey, 76% of registered voters want the wealthiest Americans to pay more. Politico also notes that a recent poll from Fox News shows that 70% of Americans supporting increased taxes for those earning more than $10 million, and 54% of Republicans also supported it. People are contemplating not just piecemeal tax increases, but a wholesale reversal of the Reagan-era shift in tax policy. The Economist reported that in 2016, more than half of young Americans no longer support capitalism.

There is an urgent need to push back against the widening economic inequality in the US. Taxing the rich is an easy answer, because so few of us are rich.

But, step one should be increasing corporate income taxes. Corporations’ share of total taxes paid has decreased to about 9% of total US tax revenue in 2017, from about 33% in 1952. How many stories like Amazon’s failure to pay anything in taxes on $11 billion in profits should it take to begin the task of closing corporate tax loopholes and increasing corporate income taxes?

Step two is to break up corporate concentrations. Wrongo addressed this here. The primary issue with corporate concentration is that it drives up prices. The fewer sellers, the fewer choices consumers have for goods and services, and thus, there is little pressure for big competitors to hold prices down.

Step three is to help workers. The share of profits that goes to workers must increase. This shouldn’t punish capitalists. Higher wages for workers means more business for American companies.

We were founded on republicanism as a public virtue: The Constitution implies that a citizen is duty-bound to abandon self-interest when it conflicted with the General Welfare. Capitalism has usurped republicanism by insisting that abrogation of self-interest violates the doctrine of “survival of the fittest,” and it’s also an attack on individual liberty.

We need to revive the understanding of public virtue. So, some form of “mixed economy” is in our future. It’s obvious to all except right wing ideologues that socialized medical insurance is in our future. But it is doubtful that a majority want to socialize production and distribution of America’s products and companies.

The task for Congress and the next president is to figure out what activities and/or economic sectors are best guided by tax and economic policy, and which are best left to “market forces”.

We’re a country where vast wealth is rewarded with tax cuts, loopholes, and endless ways to ensure that corporate dollars earn even more dollars. While average people are bankrupted because of a health crisis, and we value semi-skilled labor at $7.25 an hour.

Today’s capitalism is anti-democratic. General welfare and public virtue derive from a desire to improve the human condition. That needs to be the goal of political action to reform capitalism, and it needs to be hammered home again and again.

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The Power of Messaging

The Daily Escape:

Buttermere Lake, Cumbria, England – photo by Matt Owen-Hughes

On Monday in El Paso TX, Trump attacked Democrats, calling them:

“The party of socialism, late-term abortion, open borders and crime…To pave the way for socialism, Democrats are calling for massive tax hikes and the complete elimination of private health care…They’re coming for your money and they’re coming for your freedom.”

Trump’s focus on “socialism” is based on the few liberal Democratic presidential candidates who have called for Medicare-for-all, or environmental proposals intended to lower carbon emissions.

He brought up the “Green New Deal”, saying it would virtually eliminate air travel and that it sounds “like a high school term paper that got a low mark.”

This is just the latest stage in the war waged by the right against the ideals and programs of the New Deal. Kim Phillips Fein, reviewing the new bookWinter War: Hoover, Roosevelt, and the First Clash Over the New Deal” by Eric Rauchway, writes: (brackets by Wrongo)

Throughout the [1932] campaign, Hoover had attacked what he considered a “social philosophy very different from the traditional philosophies of the American people,” warning that these “so-called new deals” would “destroy the very foundations” of American society. As Hoover later put it, the promise of a “New Deal” was both socialistic and fascistic; it would lead the country on a “march to Moscow.”

2020 will be all about messaging. Once again, just like 88 years ago, Republicans will run on socialism. Trump will add the threats posed by open borders and abortion to the right-wing stew.

The question is what will be the 20+ Democrats who are running for president be talking about? Michael Tomasky in The Daily Beast suggests: (emphasis by Wrongo)

I am saying, though, that Democrats should stop pretending they can unite the country. They can’t. No one can. What they can do, what they must do, is assemble a coalition of working- and middle-class voters of all races around a set of economic principles that will say clearly to those voters that things are going to be very different when they’re in the White House…

There is a power to fashioning a new political coalition around the concept of economic justice. We live in a time when politicians of both parties have followed a consistent strategy: massage the economic numbers and the media, keep the rich and powerful happy, and make sure you stay on the “fiscally conservative” side of the line.

Now, a few Democrats are pushing the party elders to re-consider economic justice as FDR did in the1930s. These Democrats intuit that most Americans are trying to reconcile the life they were told they would have with today’s reality. The gulf between what they were told, and what actually happened is wide. And it looks as if it will only get wider.

Many Americans feel that they can’t pay their bills anymore, and they are afraid. Their jobs aren’t stable, they can’t look forward to retirement. About 20% say they have more credit card debt than savings. The lives they thought they’d live are upside down, and they’re not sure they can do anything about it. Quite a few followed their preachers and a few charlatan Republicans, and can’t understand why things are so scary and bad for them.

America is divided, but maybe not in the way you are thinking. It’s the left behinds and millennials who are worried about their future. And it’s both of them against the politicians, corporations and the oligarchs. As David Crosby sang:

“There’s something happening here, what it is ain’t exactly clear”

In 2020, we’ll be fighting for not just the soul of our country, but the meaning of American life: Should the one with the most toys win?

What is more important, universal health care, or outlawing abortion? Better roads and bridges, or keeping out immigrants? A better environment, or lower taxes?

Ocasio-Sanchez’s Green New Deal (GND) can easily be dismissed, but what really is the difference between how the Green New Deal might be financed, and how the Federal Reserve spent nearly $4 Trillion on its Quantitative Easing (QE) schemes?

The big difference is who profits. QE was welfare for the banks. For the GND, society at large would benefit.

You will get to decide, and plenty of people are already fighting for your attention.

Some are worth listening to. What will you choose to do?

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

The Daily Escape:

The Expectation — 1936 painting by Richard Oelze

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

As a practical matter, his political career is over.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

The Daily Escape:

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

From Tom Sullivan:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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We’re Being Sold a Story

The Daily Escape:

Plague Fort (or Fort Alexander), St. Petersburg, RU. It was built between 1838 and 1845 on an artificial island in the Gulf of Finland. From 1899 to 1917, the fort housed a research lab focused on plague and other bacterial diseases. It was abandoned in 1983.

The Economist has an 8500-word interview with the documentary film maker, Adam Curtis. For 30 years, Curtis has produced documentaries on politics and society. Apparently, he has emerged as a cult-hero to the UK’s young thinkers trying to comprehend our chaotic world.

His latest film, “HyperNormalisation” (you can view the trailer here, or watch the entire 2+hour documentary here) argues that governments, financiers, and technological utopians have, since the 1970s, structured a simple “mostly fake world” for us, run by corporations, and kept stable by politicians.

Wrongo was attracted to this in part because Curtis takes the title of his documentary from work by a Russian historian, Alexei Yurchak, now a professor at Berkley. He introduced the word in his book Everything Was Forever, Until It Was No More: The Last Soviet Generation (2006). Yurchak says that in the 1980s, everyone from the top to the bottom of Soviet society knew that it wasn’t working. They knew that it was corrupt. They knew that the bosses were looting the system. They knew that the politicians had no vision. And they knew that the Party bosses knew they knew that.

Everyone knew it was fake, and they just accepted the fakeness as normal. Yurchak coined the term “HyperNormalisation” to describe that feeling. When Wrongo was in Russia in October, he heard a few Russians express this exact idea about the end stages of the Soviet Union in the 1980s.

The fall of the Soviet Union didn’t stop them from despising Gorbachev, who ended the state economy and replaced it with a less-than-functioning market economy. They longed for the simpler state of affairs, with less to think about, and less to worry about. Where everyone knew that the system didn’t work, but they all had jobs, and there was food in the markets.

2018 America is far from being the Soviet Union, but this is exactly the way the US is today. In most ways, everything the government touches, like elections, environment, tax policy, and health policy, could be substantially better for all of our citizens.

We all know everyone is unhappy, but everyone just says, “It’s the system. We can’t change it.”

A quote from Curtis:

There is a sense of everything being slightly unreal; that you fight a war that seems to cost you nothing and it has no consequences at home; that money seems to grow on trees; that goods come from China and don’t seem to cost you anything; that phones make you feel liberated, but that maybe they’re manipulating you, but you’re not quite sure.

He talks about the concept of “risk”, and how it entered our discussion, migrating from finance to politics in the 1980s. Today, everything has become about risk analysis, and how to stop bad things happening in the future: (emphasis by Wrongo)

Politics gave up saying that it could change the world for the better and became a wing of management, saying instead that it could stop bad things from happening. The problem with that is that it invites all the politicians to imagine all the bad things that could possibly happen—at which point, you get into a nightmare world where people imagine terrible things, and say that you have to build a system to stop them.

Can the people take power back from corporations and their captured politicians? Maybe, maybe not. People like stability and they fear instability. We saw that with Gorbachev in Russia in the 1980s.

But if we are to move past the collusion of corporations and politicians trying to keep us accepting things we know are unacceptable, we need to have better politicians.

The job of a master persuader is to tell a story that says, “Yes this is risky, but it’s also thrilling, and it might lead to something extraordinary”. The persuader must say, “Yes, I understand your fears but look, what’s happening isn’t right. We can do better than this”.

People are asking, “What is our future? What is this existence for?

  • If you live in West Virginia surrounded by people taking opioids, you surely want to know what all that sorrow is for
  • If you are a recently laid-off GM worker, you’re asking the same thing
  • If you’re a student with $75k in student debt, and a cog job, you’re asking the same thing
  • If you’re a plumber with no health insurance and pancreatic cancer, you’re asking the same thing
  • If you’ve worked hard to elect someone who just lost because of ballot-stuffing, you’re asking the same thing

These are the questions that our politicians should be answering.

Do you see someone who can bring people together behind a better vision?

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Tax Abatements Are Killing School Budgets

The Daily Escape:

Egmont National Park, NZ – photo by vicarious_NZ

A new report shows that US public schools in 28 states lost at least $1.8 billion in tax revenues last year as a result of tax incentives granted to corporations. The study analyzed the financial reports of 5,600 of the nation’s 13,500 independent public school districts.

Good Jobs First examined the first full year of reporting under a new accounting standard for school districts, adopted by the Governmental Accounting Standards Board (GASB), the body that sets accounting rules for all states and most localities. The new rule, GASB Statement No. 77 on Tax Abatement Disclosures, requires most state and local governments to report annually on the amount of revenue they’ve lost to corporate tax abatements.

This is extremely important, since most local schools are very dependent on revenue from property taxes, but they rarely have influence over corporate tax abatements granted by their towns, and/or the cities or counties where they are located.

And local voters have had no way to see how much they are forced to pay in additional taxes that were lost to enrich the pockets of corporate employers.

Good Jobs found that the 10 most affected states could have hired more than 28,000 new teachers if they were able to use the lost revenues. Or, they could have avoided higher home property taxes, or provided their teachers with better resources, or higher pay.

States and cities have long used abatements and other tax incentives to lure companies, or to keep them from leaving, and/or to encourage them to expand locally. Often, those companies make their choice of location based on the quality of local schools and colleges.

These abatement deals are made by local politicians and are meant to boost local economic development. Their proponents say the lost tax revenue is worth it, because they grow the local economy. But it is difficult to know whether the benefits outweigh the burdens.

And until GASB 77, it has been impossible to see just how much a school system may have lost because of a company’s tax break. The new rule is especially helpful in understanding local schools finances, because it requires the reporting of revenue losses even if they are suffered passively by the school system as the result of decisions made by another body of government.

Of the five districts that lost the most, three are in Louisiana. Together, they lost more than $158 million, or $2,500 for each student enrolled. The School District of Philadelphia, which only last year regained local control from the state after climbing out of a deep fiscal crisis, lost the second most revenue at $62 million.

Overall, nearly 250 school districts lost at least $1 million each, and in four districts, tax abatements reduced classroom resources by more than $50 million.

But most school districts have not yet complied with Rule 77, which was implemented in 2015. Good Jobs First estimates that another $500 million of subsidies and abatements are currently unreported.

Most of us believe that our governments are supposed to govern in the interests of the “general welfare,” that when voters put people in positions of power, based on the legitimacy of our electoral process, is the limit of our responsibility as voters.

We accept that somebody has to say what the rules are, and then enforce them.

But in our neoliberal economic times, voters have to remember that our governments often act as wholly owned subsidiaries of the 1%. It takes suspension of belief to accept that our republic, ruled as it is by an oligarchy, is working for the general welfare of all of our citizens.

Why do we think that, our “governments”, all of which are subject to capture and ownership by the few, are going to somehow provide decency, comity, or fairness to all of us?

We need to abandon the article of faith that the free market, one without government oversight, promotes the best economic outcome for all of us.

Today’s inequality says the opposite.

We need a new vision of the role of government. But it isn’t really a “new” vision. It is simply a return to insisting on the “promotion of the General Welfare for all” as the paramount object of government.

Here’s another thought from Gordon Wood, in his book, Creation of the American Republic:

In a republic each individual gives up all private interest that is not consistent with the general good, the interest of the whole body. For the republican patriots of 1776 the commonweal was all encompassing—a transcendent object with a unique moral worth that made partial considerations fade into insignificance.

The last outcome that American revolutionaries wanted was to be ruled by oligarchs. But, here we are.

We need to reform our capitalism.

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Saturday Soother – December 1, 2018

The Daily Escape:

Yukon Grizzly before hibernation – 2014 photo by Paul Nicklen

Quite the week. We had barely digested Thanksgiving dinner when we heard about Russia seizing three Ukrainian Navy vessels in the Azov Sea. We learned that Paul Manafort lied to Robert Mueller, and that his lawyer reported everything that occurred between Manafort and Mueller to the White House. Then, we heard that Trump’s former in-house lawyer, Michael Cohen has admitted to lying to Congress, and is now cooperating with Mueller. Who knows what it all means?

But, the big story this week was that we learned that life expectancy in the US fell to 78.6 years, a 0.3 year decline from our peak. From CNN:

Overdose deaths reached a new high in 2017, topping 70,000, while the suicide rate increased by 3.7%, the CDC’s National Center for Health Statistics reports.

We are witnessing social decay in America. This is consistent with what Angus Deaton and Ann Case called “deaths of despair” in 2017. The WSJ has a detailed breakdown, and also points out how other countries are continuing to show progress:

Data the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention released on Thursday show life expectancy fell by one-tenth of a percent, to 78.6 years, pushed down by the sharpest annual increase in suicides in nearly a decade and a continued rise in deaths from powerful opioid drugs like fentanyl. Influenza, pneumonia and diabetes also factored into last year’s increase.

From Yves Smith:

Americans take antidepressants at a higher rate than any country in the world. The average job tenure is a mere 4.4 years. In my youth, if you changed jobs in less than seven or eight years, you were seen as an opportunist or probably poor performer. The near impossibility of getting a new job if you are over 40 and the fact that outside hot fields, young people can also find it hard to get work commensurate with their education and experience, means that those who do have jobs can be and are exploited by their employers.

The 2017 data paint a dark picture of health and well-being in the US, reflecting the effects of addiction and despair, particularly among young and middle-aged adults. In addition, diseases are plaguing people with limited access to health care.

In the late part of the last century, and the early years of this century, there was a steady decline in heart-disease deaths. That offset a rising number of deaths from drugs and suicide. Now, we’re not seeing those heart-related declines, while drug and suicide deaths occur earlier in life, accounting for more years of life lost.

The worst aspect is that it never had to be this way. These drug and suicide deaths are “collateral damage” caused by the social and economic changes in America since the 1970s.

And we made most of those changes by choice.

Wrongo is reminded that last month, he learned that something similar had happened in Russia under Gorbachev. Under Perestroika, millions of Russians lost jobs. The government’s budget deficits grew. The death rate exceeded the birth rate. Nearly 700,000 children were abandoned by parents who couldn’t afford to take care of them. The average lifespan of men dropped to 59 years.

Are we in a slow motion disaster that could be similar to what Russia went through back in the 1990s?

We’ve become hardened. These American deaths are largely anonymous. When AIDS was ravishing the gay community in the 1980s, people were able to appreciate the huge number of deaths by seeing, or adding to, the AIDS Memorial Quilt, which eventually weighed more than 50 tons.

There is no equivalent recognition for these deaths of despair.

A traitorous American ruling class has sold out its middle and lower classes. If you doubt that, think about Wal-Mart. The Walton’s fortune was made by acting as an agent of Chinese manufacturers, in direct competition with US manufacturers. Doesn’t that seem like treason?

Relax, there’s nothing you can do about all of this today, the first day of December. Time to get what solace you can from a few minutes having a coffee, and a listen to a piece of soothing music.

Start by brewing a cup of Kona Mele Extra Fancy coffee from Hula Daddy Kona Coffee ($64.94/lb.). It has an aroma of dark chocolate, fruit and flowers. And shipping is free.

Now settle back and listen to a few minutes of George Winston’s “December”. Here are Part 1: Snow, Part 2: Midnight, and Part 3: Minstrels:

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

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