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The Wrongologist

Geopolitics, Power and Political Economy

Monday Wake Up Call – April 16, 2018

The Daily Escape:

Dumbo, NYC – August 2017 photo by Kelly Kopp

In Republican-land, it’s not as if we don’t have plenty of awful things to process. And, just when you think that it can’t be coarser, or darker, it is! Last week, the Republican governor of Kentucky, Matt Bevin, vetoed the state budget, tax reform, and pension reform bills. Bevin scrapped all three bills in their entirety because he wanted significantly deeper budget cuts, especially to education and infrastructure. He sent the bills back, and announced that unless his cuts were passed, he would call a special session and keep it open until he got his way.

But, the day before Kentucky’s state legislature overrode all three vetoes, Bevin, who has opposed Kentucky teachers’ rallies for pension protection and public education funding since the rallies started, told reporters this:

I guarantee you somewhere in Kentucky today a child was sexually assaulted that was left at home because there was nobody there to watch them….I guarantee you somewhere today, a child was physically harmed or ingested poison because they were home alone because a single parent didn’t have enough money to take care of them.

Is this state-of-the-art 2018 Republican messaging? A Republican governor is saying children are safer in the care of government workers than with their own families. If Bevin is correct, summer vacation must be a season of child carnage in Kentucky. Maybe Kentucky schools should be open 24/7.

Bevin subsequently “apologized” to those who may have been offended.

A larger question: What will it take to eliminate the societal myth that teachers are co-parents? Teachers have huge responsibilities for the children they teach, and most live up to this, but they’re not the kids’ parents. They’re not equipped to co-parent.

Most towns fail to fully equip them to be educators, much less co-parents. And we couldn’t (and shouldn’t) pay them enough to assume that responsibility.

Bevin’s comments are unusual and despicable, but other politicians talk about teachers in similar ways. Consider that Oklahoma’s Republican governor Mary Fallin told CBS News that teachers striking for a salary increase are like “a teenager wanting a better car”.

Newsweek reported that Fallin also suggested that the anti-fascist group Antifa was involved in the ongoing teachers’ protests, claiming it was among the “outside groups” that were demonstrating alongside educators. There was no evidence that Antifa was anywhere near the teachers who were demonstrating.

Governors Fallin and Bevan had a golden opportunity to demonstrate their commitment to educating the children of their states. They could have made it clear that education would be a priority for as long as they remained governors.

But like most Republicans, they feel tax cuts are more important than kids. And in the typically arrogant and dismissive tone Republicans tend to assume, they decided to belittle teachers who are demanding they be fairly compensated for the important work they do.

Fully funding education is a no-win situation for Republicans. They don’t want to fund education because they know that ultimately, it works against their best interests. Their intransigence means they’re facing an angry, empowered, and unified group even in red states that have weak unions. The teachers now fully understand that they have political power, and they intend to exercise it.

Teachers don’t take the job expecting to get rich, but they’re certainly within their rights to expect fair compensation for their work. They’re also right to expect each state to adequately fund public education.

So, it’s time for Republicans to wake up! There really could be a blue wave in the voting booth this fall if red state politicians fail to support public education, despite whatever spew Betsy DeVos is spraying this month. To help them wake up, here is “High School Never Ends” by Bowling For Soup, from their 2006 album, “The Great Burrito Extortion Case”:

Sample Lyrics:

The whole damned world is just as obsessed
With who’s the best dressed and who’s having sex
Who’s got the money, who gets the honeys
Who’s kinda cute and who’s just a mess

And I still don’t have the right look
And I still have the same three friends
And I’m pretty much the same as I was back then
High school never ends
High school never ends
High school never ends
And here we go again

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

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Saturday Soother – April 14, 2018

The Daily Escape:

Pang Mapha Cave in Thailand – photo by John Spies

We’ve made it to Saturday! This concludes one of the more cacophonous political weeks in quite a while.

Paul Ryan is retiring from Congress, and is taking his signed first editions of Ayn Rand’s books back to Janesville, WI. No need to hold a benefit, Paul has $10 million in campaign funds in the bank, and is likely to land a rainmaker job on Wall Street.

Ryan joins the record number of Republicans who’ve decided against seeking re-election. They’re fleeing the anger directed at them for both their hyper-partisanship, and their inability to do much. It is difficult to overestimate the damage Ryan has done to this country. His devotion to the Republican narrative at the expense of truth hasn’t helped our democracy.

His “deficit reduction” proposals were always frauds. The revenue loss from tax cuts always exceeded any explicit spending cuts, so Ryan’s pretense of fiscal responsibility came entirely from “magic asterisks”: Extra revenue from closing unspecified loopholes, reduced spending from cutting unspecified programs.

Ryan took the helm of the House two and a half years ago, because he was seen as the only Congresscritter who could keep Republicans from fratricide. They had already shut down the government, and toppled their former Speaker, John Boehner.

Ryan leaves with the gaps in the party as evident as ever, but drawn along slightly different lines, with nativists and populists following the lead of President Trump. This hard right faction is pitted against what little remains of Mr. Ryan’s brand of traditional conservatism. But Ryan hewed to all of the Right-wing talking points. He faithfully ran interference for those who tried to turn the middle class into serfs beholden to the 1%. And he was in the NRA’s pocket. Sayonara, Mr. Ryan.

And, despite two days of congressional hearings on Facebook, the image that remains is Mark Zuckerberg trying to explain to people who have no idea of how Facebook works what he’s going to do to fix what they don’t understand.

There was a lot of talk about how to better ensure privacy, how to prevent user data from being provided to advertisers. But that is the business model of Facebook: Advertisers use the data collected by Facebook to present specific consumers with what they’re specifically selling.

It works because users often want to buy exactly what they’re being sold. That’s how Facebook makes money.

Users happily share details about themselves and their lives, and Facebook provides those data to advertisers. Even if it’s a little creepy, advertisers are learning way too much about every Facebook user, and most of Facebook’s users are willing participants in the creepiness.

Facebook certainly shouldn’t be allowed to sell those data to any party running a political operation. But it remains to be seen whether Facebook can effectively self-regulate, or whether Congress is up to the task of regulating that which it knows nearly nothing about…sort of like when they tried to regulate Wall Street.

Most of us can read between the political lines. Ryan’s one accomplishment is a flawed tax cut that will turn out huge budget deficits for years.

Zuckerberg? Well, almost everyone’s on Facebook. And on Facebook, like in Congress, half-truths predominate. Facebook gives you the latest selfie of your friends who are at a dinner that you weren’t invited to. Everybody joins because it’s free, and hundreds of millions of Americans already use it.

So this week, Zuckerberg and Ryan both got out of DC unscathed. Hard to believe that Zuckerberg is the more consequential person.

Anyhow, it’s a warm Saturday in the northeast, and the yardwork beckons. For some procrastinators, so does that final touch-up on the old 1040 form. Before getting to all that, it’s time to settle back and have a tall strong cup of PT Coffee of Topeka, Kansas’s Finca Kilimanjaro / Burundi Process + Ethiopia Process with its tasting notes of Fig, Caramel, and Cedar ($54/16oz.).

Now settle back in a chair where you can watch the birds building their nests, and listen to Jean-Baptiste DuPont play Franz Liszt’s, Prélude et Fugue sur Bach on the 1889 Cavaillé-Coll organ in the Basilica Saint-Sernin in Toulouse, France. Liszt composed this in 1855, as an homage to JS Bach. Note that the organist uses no sheet music:

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

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Monday Wake Up Call – April 2, 2018

The Daily Escape:

Wildflowers in Carrizo Plain National Monument, near San Luis Obispo, CA – March 2017 photo by George Rose

Mother Jones reports:

You might know Sinclair Broadcasting, the largest owner of local TV stations in the nation, from 2004, when it required its affiliates to air an anti-John Kerry propaganda film as a news segment and then fired one of its employees who spoke against it….Or from earlier this month, when CNN’s Brian Stelter discovered that it would be forcing its anchors to record “media bashing” promos that parallel President Donald Trump’s…complaints about the “fake news” media—”a promotional campaign,” as Stelter puts it, “that sounds like pro-Trump propaganda.”

In December, Jared Kushner admitted that the Trump campaign had struck a deal with Sinclair during the 2016 election in order to obtain more favorable coverage. Now, Sinclair is awaiting FCC approval on its proposed purchase of Tribune Media, which owns or operates 42 broadcast television stations in 33 markets. If the purchase is approved, Sinclair will be able to broadcast to at least 70% of American households.

Since the Clinton era, we thought of Fox News as the propaganda arm of the GOP. But in the Trump era, it isn’t a cable network, it’s your local network news affiliate. Lots of people (Wrongo included) never watch CNN, MSNBC or Fox News, but they watch local news to see the weather, and learn what’s going on in their communities.

This is where Sinclair comes in. Increasingly, local affiliates are part of the Sinclair Broadcast Group, a conservative far-right media conglomerate that has been buying up local affiliates of the networks, stations that you’ve watched for years.

Think Progress reports that Sinclair has always produced “must-run” segments for its stations that are typically conservative commentary running alongside their regular news coverage. Sinclair is now forcing its reporters to air pre-scripted segments about fake news media, in an attempt to undermine non-Sinclair stations in the same markets:

Seattle-based ABC affiliate KOMO-TV says its owner, the conservative-leaning Sinclair Broadcast Group, is forcing its reporters to air pre-scripted segments about fake news media, in an attempt to undermine non-Sinclair stations.

In recent weeks, KOMO has begun throwing in mentions of “fake news.” The Seattle Post-Intelligencer reproduces the full script:

Hi, I’m (A) ____________, and I’m (B) _________________…

(B) Our greatest responsibility is to serve our Northwest communities. We are extremely proud of the quality, balanced journalism that KOMO News produces.

(A) But we’re concerned about the troubling trend of irresponsible, one sided news stories plaguing our country. The sharing of biased and false news has become all too common on social media.

(B) More alarming, some media outlets publish these same fake stories… stories that just aren’t true, without checking facts first.

(A) Unfortunately, some members of the media use their platforms to push their own personal bias and agenda to control ‘exactly what people think’…This is extremely dangerous to a democracy.

(B) At KOMO it’s our responsibility to pursue and report the truth. We understand Truth is neither politically ‘left nor right.’ Our commitment to factual reporting is the foundation of our credibility, now more than ever.

(A) But we are human and sometimes our reporting might fall short. If you believe our coverage is unfair please reach out to us by going to KOMOnews.com and clicking on CONTENT CONCERNS. We value your comments. We will respond back to you.

(B) We work very hard to seek the truth and strive to be fair, balanced and factual… We consider it our honor, our privilege to responsibly deliver the news every day.

(A) Thank you for watching and we appreciate your feedback.

Sinclair doesn’t say which mainstream news outlets are intentionally running false stories without first fact-checking, they just claim that certain journalists pose a threat to democracy. It should scare you that you could try to watch many different stations, and get only Sinclair’s viewpoint.

Welcome to the era of the Trump regime’s state-run media. You’re living in it, and odds are increasingly good that you and your family are getting their local news from it too.

You can only fight this by being aware it exists. If people start considering a message as propaganda, they will then start asking who it benefits.

That question is the start of getting real news back on our screens.

America’s got to wake up, or lose its democracy. To help all of us wake up here is “No News is Good News” by the punk group, New Found Glory, from their 2004 album Catalyst:

Sample Lyrics:

All along, we follow blindly,
Force-fed prime time, printed nightly,
Why would anybody leave the safety of their home?

And I can’t take much more of this,
We’re all so wrapped up, in it,
Nothing will change, but the channels,
So I turn it off.

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

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Monday Wake Up Call – March 26, 2018

The Daily Escape:

Emma González during her silence at the March for Our Lives

From the NYT:

Emma González spoke for just under two minutes on Saturday before tens of thousands of demonstrators at the March for Our Lives rally in Washington, describing the effects of gun violence in emotional detail and reciting the names of classmates who had been killed.

Then she said nothing for four minutes and 26 seconds.

It was uncomfortable for many in the audience. Then a timer went off, and she said:

Since the time that I came out here, it has been six minutes and 20 seconds. The shooter has ceased shooting, and will soon abandon his rifle, blend in with the students as they escape, and walk free for an hour before arrest. Fight for your lives, before its someone else’s job,

Wrongo likes this analysis by Melissa Byrnes at Lawyers, Guns & Money: (brackets by Wrongo)

[Her silence] It is the loudest call to action I have heard in a long time. We need to be unsettled. We need to question our assumptions about what is possible. We need pay attention to the silent woman who insists that we hear the multitude of silences of those we’ve failed. We need to recognize when that woman is commanding us to listen. We need to rethink what leadership looks and sounds like.

Because this is a woman I am ready to follow.

There is reason to hope that these kids will drive change in our politics. They have stepped into a vacuum caused by our divided politics. They shouldn’t have had to do this, it was our job, and we have failed.

Now, we can’t just become their passive admirers. We have to participate in this movement for political and social change. On the one hand, we are being led by an amazingly courageous person in Washington DC. And on the other, your titular leader, Donald Trump, chose to go golfing in Florida this weekend.

Remember this in November.

For the first time since Trump’s election, we are seeing how issues like gun control, #metoo, BLM and the frustration caused by economic inequality are melding together in a leftward political tilt.

It’s way past time for Trump and politicians on all sides, who purposefully make no progress on the great issues of the day, to wake up, listen and ACT!

To help them wake up, here is Ed Sheeran with his 2017 song “What Do I Know”? Sheeran says that his dad’s advice was to never mention politics, never mention religion and never get involved in other people’s battles. From Sheeran:

The song ‘What Do I Know’ was me looking at the world and being like ‘we aren’t doing too well are we?’ and writing a song about it…

Listen up:

Sample Lyrics:

The revolution’s coming, it’s a minute away

I saw people marching in the streets today

You know we are made up of love and hate

But both of them are balanced on a razor blade

 I’ll paint the picture let me set the scene,

You know the future’s in the hands of you and me

So let’s all get together, we can all be free

Spread love and understanding positivity

 Everybody’s talking about exponential growth

And the stock market crashing and their portfolios

While I’ll be sitting here with a song that I wrote

Saying love could change the world in a moment

But what do I know?

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

 

 

https://www.theguardian.com/us-news/video/2018/mar/24/emma-gonzalezs-powerful-march-for-our-lives-speech-in-full-video

 

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Sunday Cartoon Blogging – March 25, 2018

March for Our Lives  in DC – 3/24/18 NYT photo by Erin Schaff

The March for Our Lives took place yesterday. High schoolers led the rest of us, marching against America’s gun culture, and against politicians who do nearly nothing to solve the slow-moving disaster that is our government’s response to mass murders in our country.

Nobody knows where this will lead. It could be part of something big that changes our society, or it could lead to nothing. But, we can be sure that nothing can change without electing a different set of politicians.

That won’t happen unless the public gets behind the demonstrators. MLK Jr. knew this. Wrongo is sure that Emma Gonzalez, and the other activists from Stoneman Douglas know this too. We must support them, and demand that our politicians actually do something about gun violence, or lose their jobs.

On to cartoons. MLK approves:

Unlike Congress Critters, these kids seem immune to cash that comes with strings attached:

Austin TX is safe, but the bomber didn’t fit the stereotype:

John Bolton’s mustache grows even more alarming:

Facebook’s mismanagement of personal information makes Zuckerberg look bad:

GOP lost gerrymander case in PA. What’s next?

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Saturday Soother – February 24, 2018

The Daily Escape:

The futuristic Tianjin Binhai Library opened in November 2017. It is located just outside Beijing, China – photo by Ossip van Duivenbode

Another roller coaster week comes to an end, but Wrongo can’t let go of the Parkland shooting or the gun debate just yet. So here are a few observations from a devastating article in the Atlantic by a radiologist in Florida who saw the CT scans of some of the student’s wounds:

As I opened the CT scan last week to read the next case, I was baffled. The history simply read “gunshot wound.” I have been a radiologist in one of the busiest trauma centers in the nation for 13 years, and have diagnosed thousands of handgun injuries to the brain, lung, liver, spleen, bowel, and other vital organs. I thought that I knew all that I needed to know about gunshot wounds, but the specific pattern of injury on my computer screen was one that I had seen only once before.

More:

In a typical handgun injury that I diagnose almost daily, a bullet leaves a laceration through an organ like the liver. To a radiologist, it appears as a linear, thin, grey bullet track through the organ. There may be bleeding and some bullet fragments.

I was looking at a CT scan of one of the victims of the shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School, who had been brought to the trauma center during my call shift. The organ looked like an overripe melon smashed by a sledgehammer, with extensive bleeding. How could a gunshot wound have caused this much damage?

Still more:

The reaction in the emergency room was the same. One of the trauma surgeons opened a young victim in the operating room, and found only shreds of the organ that had been hit by a bullet from an AR-15…There was nothing left to repair, and utterly, devastatingly, nothing that could be done to fix the problem. The injury was fatal.

Had enough? Here’s more:

Routine handgun injuries leave entry and exit wounds and linear tracks through the victim’s body that are roughly the size of the bullet. If the bullet does not directly hit something crucial like the heart or the aorta, and they do not bleed to death before being transported to…a trauma center, chances are, we can save the victim. The bullets fired by an AR-15 are different; they travel at higher velocity and are far more lethal. The damage they cause is a function of the energy they impart as they pass through the body. A typical AR-15 bullet leaves the barrel traveling almost three times faster than, and imparting more than three times the energy of, a typical 9mm bullet from a handgun.

And finally:

One of my ER colleagues was waiting nervously for his own children outside the school. While the shooting was still in progress, the first responders were gathering up victims whenever they could and carrying them outside the building. Even as a physician trained in trauma situations, though, there was nothing he could do at the scene to help to save the victims who had been shot with an AR-15. Most of them died on the spot, with no fighting chance at life.

This is why these weapons must be banned. Even if America sells no more of them, it will take a generation or more, for them to disappear from general use. The sooner we start banning them, the safer the country will be. Make America Safe Again!

Now, settle back in your most comfy chair with a vente cup of Red Beard Coffee’s Buckshot Blend ($17.95/lb.). The roaster says it tastes of rich caramel and apples. Then, contemplate what you can do personally to help high school kids all across America in their effort to ban AR-15’s.

While you are sitting quietly, listen to the Irish group, The Corrs, covering REM’s hit “Everybody Hurts”.  This is from “The Corrs Unplugged”, one of the MTV Unplugged series, recorded live in October, 1999. A song appropriate to the last two weeks:

Sample Lyric:

When your day is long
And the night,
The night is yours alone
When you’re sure you’ve had enough
Of this life
Well hang on
Don’t let yourself go
‘Cause everybody cries
And everybody hurts sometimes

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

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High School Kids Might Be the Real Justice League

The Daily Escape:

Sedona, AZ – 2017 photo by joanwood01

“There is no justice. The rich win; the poor are powerless. We become tired of hearing people lie. And after a time, we become dead, a little dead. We think of ourselves as victims – and we become victims. We become weak; we doubt ourselves; we doubt our beliefs; we doubt our institutions; and we doubt the law… If we are to have faith in justice, we need only to believe in ourselves and act with justice.”
— The closing argument by Paul Newman’s character in “The Verdict” (1982)

Imagine that: Act with justice. Belief in justice is part of believing in democracy. If you lose faith in one, you will lose faith in the other. Those who have refused to give up, like Dr. King, and those who marched for civil rights and then, who marched to end the Vietnam War acted with justice.

Fast forward to today, those Florida high schoolers, who are schooling politicians, are following in those footsteps, attempting to act with justice. They are trying to live up to the founding ethos of the US.

Can the pursuit of justice that gave us successes in civil rights also fuel success in the long, impossibly hard struggle to Make America Safe Again?

Making it Safe from too many guns in the hands of too many Americans?

Before Parkland, Wrongo was about to write off the possibility that gun control activism would achieve much of anything. That we were doomed to remain the world’s most “exceptional” country when it comes to guns.

America thinks that it’s worth it to have a more dangerous society in order to have strong Second Amendment rights. The Second Amendment Absolutists, including the NRA, Trump and the GOP, think the lives we’d save if we had stricter gun controls aren’t worth the freedom that owning guns buys them.

And the rest of us don’t oppose their viewpoint strongly enough to affect change.

Then along came these high school activists. They have become our last, best hope of blunting the Second Amendment Absolutists. Where did these Florida shooting survivors find their activism and organizing? Can they carry through to a place that their elders haven’t been able to reach?

What is refreshing about the students from Stoneman Douglas is that we are hearing about their lived experience.

This has a gravitas far beyond what is handed down from the Beltway. The gun discussions have been mostly led by politicians and lobbyists. But that is being eclipsed by voices with first-hand experience surviving a mass killing. It’s their intimate experience, plus the passion they are bringing that encourages the rest of us to dig in, and help bring about change.

They seem to know that their ground swell of political activism strikes fear into the hearts of politicians. They seem to know that they can make gun control a major issue in the 2018 mid-terms.

They are proving more resilient and savvy than many of us would have given them credit for on the day of the shooting. It isn’t their responsibility to fix the world, but since they have a place in it, and a voice, perhaps they can spur some real change.

They are forcing politicians like Sen. Rubio (R-FL) back on their heels. They are forcing the NRA into PR mistakes. Remember this?

Come mothers and fathers throughout the land

And don’t criticize what you can’t understand

Your sons and your daughters are beyond your command

Your old road is rapidly aging

Please get out of the new one if you can’t lend your hand

For the times they are a-changin‘ – B. Dylan

At the CNN Town Hall on Wednesday night, it was obvious that the NRA’s Dana Loesch and Rubio both knew that these students were far beyond their command. But that doesn’t mean we should sit back, and expect them to do it alone.

We have to stand up, help them, and certainly vote in huge numbers.

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Saturday Soother – February 17, 2018

The Daily Escape:

Sigiriya, Sri Lanka – photo by jcourtial for dronestagram. Sigiriya is an ancient rock fortress. The site was the palace for King Kasyapa (477 – 495 BC). It is a UNESCO World Heritage Site.

We live in a seemingly endless loop of outrage. Nothing ever changes, because we waste energy on the “what-about?” arguments from both sides, each attempting to reframe the issue to their side’s advantage. These discussions yield nothing, and solutions are never agreed. This adds to a generalized feeling of powerlessness: The view that everything that is important is out of our hands, and insoluble.

So it is with school shootings, with protecting the DACA kids. And with whatever Russiagate is.

At least the Mueller investigation will run its course. We have to hope that the results will be made public. But if they are released, it will only lead to more debate and disagreement. Until then, we’ll continue to gleefully argue our respective Russiagate viewpoints in a fact-free vacuum.

We have experienced hysterical political times before, but they tended to be single issue events. Has there ever been a time when so many people in both political parties have been so single-mindedly determined to whip up anger?

When we’re looking at just a single issue, one side or the other often simply runs out of steam. Then the issue can be resolved both in Washington and in the mind of the public.

When we experience multiple issues simultaneously, the available energy is expended across the entire spectrum of problems. Thus, there isn’t enough energy to direct successfully at a single issue. So nothing is resolved.

This is where we are in February 2018, in a kind of nervous exhaustion: Too many issues and too few resolutions.

Can something, or someone unite us? Will a big event allow a majority to coalesce around a point of view, or a leader?

History shows that when we are in the grip of anxiety, it can be a relief if something we fear actually happens. Think about when Japan bombed Pearl Harbor. It was widely reported that the response of the public, including anti-war activists, was relief. There was a feeling that at last a course had been set, a key decision made. FDR united the disparate groups behind a war.

While the same situation doesn’t quite apply today, we crave some sort of decisions, perhaps some sort of decisive act. What would that be? It isn’t possible to see from where we are today.

As John Edwards said, there are two Americas. The one that sends their children to private schools, and the second one that sends their children to public schools. The second group has the kids who get shot by the gunmen. And politicians get away with platitudes about their thoughts and prayers.

Unfortunately, they then decide that fixing the problem is not worth their time.

We may have reached a breaking point. Shitty jobs, shitty pay, shitty hours, and little hope of advancement. No easy access to medical care, an uneven social safety net. Wrongo lived through the chaotic 1960’s. He endured Reagan’s show-no-mercy 1980’s. Those were bad times.

But, in a lot of ways, 2018 is worse. Today, there is an immense lack of mutual respect. And there is a ubiquitous atmosphere of a powerless people.

Wow, who said all that??

We desperately need a weekend where we can unplug from the media and focus on other things. In other words, we need a Saturday soother. Start by brewing up a big cuppa Stumptown Coffee’s Holler Mountain Blend, ($16/12oz.) The Stumptown people promise flavors of blackberry, citrus and toffee in a creamy, full body. Your mileage may vary.

Now, get in your favorite chair and listen to some, or all of the musical score from the film “Dunkirk”. Both the score and the film are Oscar-nominated. The film’s director Christopher Nolan suggested to the musical director Hans Zimmer, that they use Elgar’s “Nimrod” from the 1898-99 “Enigma Variations” as part of the theme. They decided that the movie’s music should be about time, and how for the men on the beaches, time was running out. They picked the “Enigma Variations” because it’s part of English culture, less a national anthem than an emotional anthem for the nation. Along the way, consistent with using time, they slowed it down to 6 beats per minute. Listen to their version from the movie:

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

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Places That Don’t Matter

The Daily Escape:

Maroon Bells, CO in winter – photo by Glenn Randall

America’s forgotten masses used the ballot box in 2016 to ram home a message to their betters. The message was that we shouldn’t ignore the places that don’t matter, those places that once had middle class jobs, and now have few options. The Trump election was one way to signal all was not well in the America’s decaying small towns.

We long ago retreated from the idea that the central government has a responsibility to look after the lagging places. It isn’t an invisible, unstoppable force that directs all the wealth generation to cities: It’s a system of deliberate centralization, by individuals who control capital, to concentrate productive efficiency and thus, wealth. The left-behinds are on their own.

The reality is that regional or town regeneration is very hard, once the original reason for the town’s existence is lost. Places that don’t matter have to find ways to build wealth locally, and then keep that money local. Locally produced goods and services keep regions alive.

Most solutions are based on the usual arm waving that says: “let them have training” or, “they really need to move where the jobs are”. These ideas have largely failed. Figuring out how to revive these communities requires better policies.

The revenge of the places that don’t matter is the rise of local populism, the increasing opioid use, and declining longevity. The stakes are high, but maximizing the development potential of each town has got to be the answer.

Here is one solution. The WaPo has a long read about how a liberal DC entrepreneur set out to help West Virginians. And for a very long time, Joe Kapp’s help was refused. He was the object of a vicious online campaign, targeted by homophobia, and maligned as a carpetbagger.

When Kapp, 47, an entrepreneur decamped to a West Virginia cabin in 2012 with his partner, he’d come to take a sabbatical. The town is Wardensville, pop. 256. From WaPo:

Those who do work locally gravitate toward poultry processing, furniture manufacturing and agriculture, but the numbers aren’t good. In 2015, the unemployment rate…was 7.5%, compared with 6.7% statewide and 5.3% nationally. The per capita income…was just under $28,000 a year, compared with about $37,000 for the state, and $48,000 nationwide.

The basics are lacking. The area doesn’t have Internet. Kapp says:

You’ve got kids doing their homework in McDonald’s parking lots. People in most of the country just have no idea.

And even community college enrollments suffer. Only 10% of West Virginia high school students enroll in community college, compared to 50% nationwide.

Kapp soon befriended the president at the local community college. From there, it wasn’t long before he was helping the college launch an innovative project, the Institute for Rural Entrepreneurship and Economic Development (IREED), aimed at helping to diversify the regional economy.

Kapp initially failed to gain traction, but things have gradually turned around. He thinks this demographic has more potential than the coastal elites give them credit for. He is certain that by harnessing local knowledge, like agriculture, they can start businesses, and put their own people back to work.

Every town wants its own Amazon, but in rural communities, that’s not an option. They need to create an ecosystem that promotes a small-business culture and entrepreneurship. So Kapp’s assistance in establishing the IREED with the community college got the idea off the ground. No community college in the state had anything of the kind.

The goal of the IREED is to help the local agricultural community think of itself as entrepreneurial.

He is developing a program that will allow community colleges to offer low- or no-interest micro-loans, around $5,000, to aspiring entrepreneurs. These individuals would then take entrepreneurship and business-development courses at the lending college. Kapp:

A bank might say, ‘This guy’s too risky,’ But a community college can say, ‘I know this guy. We work with him. I am vetting and validating his ability to be able to pay back the loan.’

In other words, it’s development banking on a community level. Today, most community banks mainly fund real estate, and they still follow the model where the borrower needs to pledge collateral to get the loan. In a world where services are the business’s primary asset, collateral has no meaning.

So the micro-loans by schools may be a perfect first step to bootstrapping these persistently poor towns.

This is a tentative step. It may not be scalable, but if we are looking for the greatest “social impact indicators”, it is the degree to which people feel secure economically, and safe in their community.

Always has been, always will be.

(The concept of this column, although not the solutions, is taken from “Revenge of the Places That Don’t Matter” by Andrés Rodríguez-Pose, Professor of Economic Geography, London School of Economics. Originally published at VoxEU)

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GOP Asks “Hillbilly Elegy” Author To Run For Senate

The Daily Escape:

Snow in the Sahara Desert, Algeria. The snow lasted only a few hours on the ground, since the average low winter temperature is 54°F – 2018 photo by Zinnedine Hashas

With the speculation about Oprah as a candidate, we knew it wouldn’t be long before the Republicans dredged up a celebrity non-politician too. Politico is reporting that Mitch McConnell wants JD Vance to run for the Senate in Ohio against Dem incumbent Sherrod Brown:

Top Senate Republicans have quietly reached out to J.D. Vance — the star author of “Hillbilly Elegy” — about running for Senate in Ohio after the abrupt withdrawal of GOP candidate Josh Mandel last week… McConnell has told associates that he would prioritize the race if Vance jumps in.

McConnell has a good idea. If Vance runs, he is interesting enough to force Democrats to defend an otherwise safe Senate seat. People seem to think Vance is a white working class whisperer.

Wrongo and Ms. Right were persuaded by many Eastern Liberal Elite friends to read Mr. Vance’s book. The pitch was that Vance explains to liberals why white Trump voters from southeastern Ohio and West Virginia wouldn’t vote for Hillary, and don’t lean progressive in their politics.

Maybe. Wrongo thinks that by writing his book, JD Vance was just pushing propaganda that fits the policy preferences of leading Republicans. Try reading this:

We spend our way into the poorhouse. We buy giant TVs and iPads. Our children wear nice clothes thanks to high-interest credit cards and payday loans. We purchase homes we don’t need, refinance them for more spending money, and declare bankruptcy. . . . Thrift is inimical to our being.

Or, this:

We choose not to work when we should be looking for jobs…

Vance’s stereotypes are shark bait for conservative policymakers. They feed the mythology that the undeserving poor make bad choices and are to blame for their own poverty, so why waste taxpayer money on programs to help lift people out of poverty? After all, Vance got out of hillbilly Ohio without them.

People shouldn’t decide policy based on Vance’s anecdotes; they should care about the bigger picture. After all, are conversations with cab drivers a sound basis for economic and geopolitical policy?

It is depressing that Vance places so much blame on welfare rather than, say, neoliberalism and corporatism. They are the ideologies that moved jobs offshore. Their firms leveraged, and later bankrupted manufacturing firms in the heartland. They are the ones who precipitated the economic holocaust in Middle America.

And despite what Vance tells us, most poor people work. Of the families on Medicaid, 78% include a household member who is working. People work hard in jobs that often don’t pay them enough to live on.

After graduation from Yale, JD Vance became a venture capitalist. First, he worked in Silicon Valley for Peter Thiel, and now works for Revolution LLC, a Washington, DC-based venture capital firm, co-founded by AOL founders Steve Case and Ted Leonsis.

It is fair to say that Vance’s hillbilly days are way back in the rear-view mirror. Yet, he remains naïve. He was on “Face The Nation” on December 31st, talking about the Trump tax cut:

When the president talks about tax reform, he talks about the people who will benefit…He talks about American jobs. He talks about the fact that we’re going to be taking money that’s overseas and bringing it back to the US so that it will employ American workers. I think that focus again on the American working and middle class is- is-is to me the most thoughtful and, in some ways, the most genius part of Trump’s approach to politics.

Vance just revealed himself to be another reptilian conservative. We should remember this quote from economist J. K. Galbraith:

The modern conservative is engaged in one of man’s oldest exercises in moral philosophy; that is, the search for a superior moral justification for selfishness.

The grift goes on.

 

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