UA-43475823-1

The Wrongologist

Geopolitics, Power and Political Economy

Saturday Soother – May 6, 2017

The Daily Escape:

Tulips, Lisse Netherlands, April 2017 – photo by Peter Dejong

We ended the week with Republicans in the House passing the latest version of Trumpcare by a vote of 217-213. All Democrats voted against it, with 20 Republican members defecting to join them. The changes Republicans made to get this version of bill through the House will not be what passes in the Senate. It’s up to Mitch McConnell to craft a bill that can get through the Senate using the budget reconciliation process, which will require 51 votes to pass.

That will most likely be the “real” bill, and then the negotiations between the House and Senate versions will begin.

The problem for America is that the Senate has to pass something awful enough that the House will still vote for it. We are a long way from replacing Obamacare, but Republicans now own the process whereby tens of millions of Americans losing health insurance.

If that isn’t enough to worry about, Buzzfeed has a long read about tiny drones that can be used in a swarm to kill people:

A very, very small quadcopter, one inch in diameter can carry a one- or two-gram shaped charge. You can order them from a drone manufacturer in China…A one-gram shaped charge can punch a hole in nine millimeters of steel…You can fit about three million of those in a semi-tractor-trailer. You can drive up I-95 with three trucks and have 10 million weapons attacking New York City. They don’t have to be very effective, only 5 or 10% of them have to find the target.

The concept is achievable, while the potential consequences are unthinkable:

There will be manufacturers producing millions of these weapons that people will be able to buy just like you can buy guns now, except millions of guns don’t matter unless you have a million soldiers. You need only three guys to write the program and launch them. So you can just imagine that in many parts of the world humans will be hunted…This is the ever-present cloud of lethal autonomous weapons.

They could be here in two to three years.

— Stuart Russell, professor of computer science at the University of California Berkeley

They are called lethal autonomous weapons systems (LAWS); weapons that have the ability to independently select and engage targets once a human releases the machine to perform: no supervision, no recall, and no stop function.

Can we prevent them? Nope, they already exist. Many countries including the US already have (much larger) systems with autonomous modes that can select and attack targets without human intervention: Israel’s Harpy and second-generation Harop, can enter an area, hunt for enemy radar, and kamikaze into it, regardless of where they are set up, as long as the radars are operating.

The Pentagon now is testing drone swarm technology: Weapons moving in large formations with one controller somewhere far away on the ground clicking computer keys. Think hundreds of small drones moving as one, like a lethal flock of bees. You can see a YouTube video of a US drone swarm test here. 103 mini drones were released from two US fighter jets during the test. The drones operate autonomously and share a distributed brain. These drones will make it economical to target people (troops?) in other countries, en masse, without having to send in our own soldiers, or declare war.

Why are we wasting even more human potential devising even more ways to kill each another?

Sorry, this story adds to your stress levels after a tough week, but Wrongo thought you should know. OTOH, with all that is going on, you really need soothing. Wrongo is going for some Stumptown Colombia El Admirador coffee and a listen to “Spring”, from Vivaldi’s Four Seasons, arranged for four pianos.

The pianos are played by Yuja Wang, Emanuel Ax, Nelson Goerner, and Julien Quentin. The performance was recorded at the Salle Médran in Verbier, Switzerland, in 2009:

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

Bonus video in honor of Trumpcare: Jimmy Reed singing “Get Your Insurance” from 1959:

Those who read in email can view the video here.

Facebooklinkedinrss

Is Taxing Robots a Solution to Fewer Jobs?

The Daily Escape:

(Slot canyon with dust devil – photo by Angiolo Manetti)

Yesterday, the Dutch voted in an election pitting mainstream parties against Geert Wilders, a hard-right, anti-Islam nationalist whose popularity is seen as a threat to politics-as-usual across Europe, and possibly, as an existential threat to the EU.

Wilders, who wants to “de-Islamicize” the Netherlands and pull out of the EU, has little chance of governing, as all of the mainstream parties have already said they won’t work with him. Given Holland’s complicated form of proportional representation, up to 15 parties could win seats in parliament, and none are expected to win even 20% of the vote. OTOH, polls show that four in 10 of the Netherlands’ 13 million eligible voters were undecided a day before voting, and there is just 5 percentage points separating the top four parties, so Wilders could surprise everyone.

As Wrongo writes this, the Dutch election results are not known, but PBS NewsHour coverage on Tuesday surfaced a thought about taxing robots. PBS correspondent Malcolm Brabant was interviewing workers in Rotterdam:

Niek Stam claims to be the country’s most militant labor union organizer. He says the working class feel insecure about their prospects because of relentless automation and a constant drive to be competitive. The union is campaigning for robots to be taxed.

Brabant then interviewed a worker:

Robots do not buy cars. Neither do they shop for groceries, which leads to a fundamental question: Who’s going to buy all these products when up to 40% of present jobs vanish?

This isn’t an entirely new idea. Silvia Merler, blogging at Bruegel, says:

In a recent interview, Bill Gates discussed the option of a tax on robots. He argued that if today human workers’ income is taxed, and then a robot comes in to do the same thing, it seems logical to think that we would tax the robot at a similar level. While the form of such taxation is not entirely clear, Gates suggested that some of it could come from the profits that are generated by the labor-saving efficiency…and some could come directly in some type of a robot tax.

The main argument against taxing robots is made by corporations and some economists (Larry Summers), who argue that it impedes innovation. Stagnating productivity in rich countries, combined with falling business investment, suggests that adoption of new technology is currently too slow rather than too fast, and taxing new technology could exacerbate the slowdown.

It can be argued that robots are property, and property is already taxed by local governments via the property tax. It might be possible to create an additional value-added tax for robots, since an income tax wouldn’t work, as most robots are not capable of producing income by themselves.

Noah Smith at Bloomberg argues that the problem with Gates’ basic proposal is that it is very hard to tell the difference between new technology that complements human work, and new technology that replaces them. Shorter Noah Smith: Taxation is so hard!

Why are Western economies stagnant? Why has wage growth lagged GDP growth? Automation is certainly a key factor, but rather than point the finger at the corporations who continually benefit from government tax policies, let’s just assign blame to an object, a strawbot, if you will. That way, we won’t look too carefully at the real problem: The continuing concentration of economic and political power in the hands of fewer and fewer corporations.

Automation isn’t the issue, tax laws that allow economic treason by corporations in their home countries are the issue.

Why is nationalism on the march across the globe? Because fed-up workers see it as possibly the only answer to the neoliberal order that is destroying the middle class in Western democracies.

Let’s find a way to tax robots. Something has to offset Trump’s tax breaks for the rich.

Now, a musical moment. Did you know that “pre-St. Patrick’s Day” was a thing? Apparently, some dedicated celebrators prepare for the day itself by raising hell for up to a week beforehand. With that in mind, here is some pre-St. Pat’s Irish music, with Ed Sheeran singing “Nancy Mulligan” a love song about his grandparent’s marriage during WWII, against the wishes of her parents, and despite their Catholic/Protestant differences:

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

Facebooklinkedinrss

New FCC Chair Guts Net Neutrality

Today we premiere a new feature, the “Daily Escape”, a photo that hopefully will take you away from all that is wrong just now. Some photos will be by Wrongo, but most will be from professionals. They will not have any particular relevance to the topic of the day. They are here to help you pause for a moment, and go to a different place.

Today’s Daily Escape: George Peabody Library, Johns Hopkins University

Now, on to what’s wrong…

The principle that all Internet content should be treated equally as it flows to consumers is called “net neutrality”. Net neutrality looks all but dead under Trump’s new head of the FCC. From the NYT:

In his first days as President Trump’s pick to lead the Federal Communications Commission, Ajit Pai has aggressively moved to roll back consumer protection regulations created during the Obama presidency.

Mr. Pai took a first swipe at net neutrality rules designed to ensure equal access to content on the internet. He stopped nine companies from providing discounted high-speed internet service to low-income individuals. He withdrew an effort to keep prison phone rates down, and he scrapped a proposal to open the cable box market to competition.

Before he became FCC Chair, Pai served as an FCC commissioner, one of the Republican minority under the Obama administration. In that role, he opposed reclassifying broadband providers as common carriers, which allows the agency to regulate them like utility companies, a necessary step if the FCC was to enforce net neutrality rules. That reclassification might be next to go.

Today consumers can pay Internet service providers for a higher-speed Internet connection, but regardless of the download speed they choose, under new Chair Pai’s plan, they might get some content faster, depending on how much their content provider has paid the service provider.

Tim Wu at the New Yorker offered some insight: (emphasis by the Wrongologist)

With broadband, there is no such thing as accelerating some traffic without degrading other traffic. We take it for granted that bloggers, start-ups, or nonprofits on an open Internet reach their audiences roughly the same way as everyone else. Now they won’t. They’ll be behind in the queue, watching as companies that can pay tolls to the cable companies’ speed ahead

The new rule gives broadband providers what they’ve wanted for about a decade: the right to speed up some traffic at the expense of others. The motivation is not complicated. The broadband carriers want to make more money for doing what they already do. Never mind that American carriers already charge some of the world’s highest prices for a service that costs less than $5/month to provide.

In the large-scale server market, Internet traffic is nearly free. In that market, a terabyte of data costs about $1/month. That’s 1000 gigabytes/month, if you are not familiar with usage of that size.  The home user pays 10x to as much as 1000x more than that per month; $100 for 100 gigabytes of traffic is not uncommon. A recent offer from AT&T for 45 M/bit internet is $30/month, which includes 1TB of data/mo. So 1000 gigabytes costs $30, or $1 per 33 gigabytes, but, if you exceed ATT’s limit, the price goes up dramatically: You would have to pay $10 per each additional 50 GB.

No volume discount for you, but Netflix will get one.

Requiring access fees for faster service will be good for Netflix, since it won’t have to worry as much about competitive traffic, particularly from small companies. The ultimate result will be to lock in the current set of incumbents who control the internet, ushering in the era of big, fat, (and possibly) inefficient monopolies.

Republicans and big corporations like to say that they are against regulation because the free market should rule. That economic efficiency brings lower prices.

It is always a lie.

Facebooklinkedinrss

Monday Wake Up Call – Russian Hacking Edition, January 9, 2017

“A great deal of intelligence can be invested in ignorance when the need for illusion is deep.” Saul Bellow

Trump had his briefing last Friday by the Intelligence Community (IC), about the Russian hacking. He then released this statement:

I had a constructive meeting and conversation with the leaders of the Intelligence Community this afternoon. I have tremendous respect for the work and service done by the men and women of this community to our great nation.

While Russia, China, other countries, outside groups and people are consistently trying to break through the cyber infrastructure of our governmental institutions, businesses and organizations including the Democratic National Committee, there was absolutely no effect on the outcome of the election including the fact that there was no tampering whatsoever with voting machines…

Whether it is our government, organizations, associations or businesses we need to aggressively combat and stop cyberattacks. I will appoint a team to give me a plan within 90 days of taking office. The methods, tools and tactics we use to keep America safe should not be a public discussion that will benefit those who seek to do us harm. Two weeks from today I will take the oath of office and America’s safety and security will be my number one priority.

He denied nothing that the IC presented, and agreed with several points. His bottom line, that the hacking did not affect the outcome of the election, is important: Trump is all about meme creation and meme destruction. His goal is to prevent the “Russians elected Trump” meme from becoming the next birther movement. If his tweets stay on message, he’ll get by this moment.

For what it is worth, hacking isn’t noteworthy; it’s been going on for years, by the Russians, the Chinese, the US and just about everyone else. There is way more hacking now, since most management systems are online, and few corporations are willing to invest enough to insure real protection from it.

OTOH, disinformation is a big deal. Social media makes Russia potentially a potent force in opinion control in the US and Europe. Hacked information can now be fed into the disinformation machine to great effect. We ignore Russia’s ability to influence US public opinion at our own risk.

Trump’s reaction to the IC briefing is comforting, since there was no histrionics or name calling. He said in this tweet that he will continue to push for a good relationship with Russia:

Having a good relationship with Russia is a good thing, not a bad thing. Only “stupid” people, or fools, would think that it is bad!

This makes him seem reasonable, so he can get on with the work of NOT going to war with Russia over the hack of the DNC.

When you look at the IC Report, it looks like Russian hackers were responsible for the phishing attack against John Podesta. The same accounts were used to hack into the DNC.

The next thing to know is whether it was the Russian hackers who shared this information with WikiLeaks. That appears to be the case, although we are taking it on faith, since the IC hasn’t shown us their work:

US intelligence has identified the go-betweens the Russians used to provide stolen emails to WikiLeaks, according to US officials familiar with the classified intelligence report that was presented to President Barack Obama on Thursday.

We may never see more on how they identified them, since it may be a little too sensitive to divulge.

It pains Wrongo to say this, as a lifelong Democrat, but if Trump manages to beat back the neocon/pro-New Cold War crowd and work cooperatively with the Russians, the world will be a safer place.

Hillary would never had gone there as president.

This is perhaps the silver lining to a Trump presidency, possibly avoiding what looked to be a showdown with Russia and potentially, WWIII.

From a domestic policy perspective, however, the odds have increased that we tear this country apart by 2020.

So, today everybody needs a Wake-Up. The hacking didn’t change the election result, instead, we got this outcome as the result of a successful campaign strategy by Trump, and a failed campaign strategy by Clinton.

No music today, instead, we will watch a short clip from the 1983 movie, “War Games”. Matthew Broderick hacks into a Pentagon computer, assisted by his sidekick, Ally Sheedy. He then plays “Global Thermonuclear War” with the computer, except it isn’t a game. Broderick plays the Russians and the computer plays the USA. Ultimately, the world is saved:

Facebooklinkedinrss

How Do You Solve a Problem Like Ohio?

Our industrial heartland has withered away, in that there are fewer manufacturing jobs than ever, while manufacturing revenues have never been higher. Forty years of promises by politicians have come to nothing: These people are victims of a world order in which corporations have either exported or automated those jobs, with no responsibility to workers. It is left to the towns of Middle America and the federal government to clean up their mess.

This world order we live in today was born in 1980, with Thatcher and Reagan. According to Ian Welsh, the world order made a few core promises:

If the rich have more money, they will create more jobs.

Lower taxes will lead to more prosperity.

Increases in housing and stock market prices will increase prosperity for everyone.

Trade deals and globalization will make everyone better off.

Those promises were not kept, and in America’s Midwest, economic stress is now the order of the day. That stress has contributed to rising rates of drug addiction and falling life expectancy.

Understandably frustrated, Ohioans and other Midwesterners gave Donald Trump a victory in November. His win has refocused attention by pundits and pols on the plight of our failing de-industrialized areas. While we have economic growth, we also have growing inequality. Here is a graphic illustration of the problem, comparing the US with the EU:

The Economist reports that from 1880 to 1980, the incomes of poorer and richer American states tended to converge, at a rate of nearly 2% per year. The chart above shows that the pattern no longer exists. This causes us to ask if the shift of resources and people from places in decline to places that are growing is simply taking longer to adjust, or has the current world order failed our people? In econo-speak, the gains in some regions should compensate those regions and towns harmed by the shift, leaving everyone better off.

But that is a political and financial lie promulgated by the very corporations that benefited, and by their political and economist cheerleaders.

With economic decline, some towns and cities became poverty traps. A shrinking tax base means deterioration in local services (think Detroit). Public education that might provide the young with new skills and thus opportunities, fails. Those that remain are on government subsidies or hold low-wage service jobs, or both. It is impossible to tell these citizens that the decay of their home town is an acceptable cost of the rough-and-tumble of the global economy.

Politicians are short on solutions. Since housing costs have risen sharply in towns and cities that are growing, underemployed Americans are less likely to move, and those who do, are less likely to head for richer places. Enrico Moretti of the University of California, Berkeley and Chang-tai Hsieh of the University of Chicago argue that our GDP could be 13.5% higher if this wasn’t the situation in America.

But if moving isn’t an option, what can be done to improve the outlook for those who are left behind?

Would more government subsidies help? Prosperous tax payers already support poorer ones. Subsidies for health insurance costs with Obamacare, as well as industrial tax incentives provide some cushion, but they are not likely to deliver long-run economic recovery, and they have not stemmed the growth of populist political sentiment.

To be fair, many people in Ohio and elsewhere want good jobs, but without having to move too far to get them. That may be impossible.

In the 19th century, the federal government gave land to states, which they could sell to raise proceeds for “land-grant universities”. Those universities, including some that are among our finest, were given a practical task: to develop and disseminate new techniques in agriculture and engineering. They went on to become centers of advanced research and, in some cases, hubs of local innovation and economic growth.

Politicians and academic economists might disdain a modern-day version of the program, one that would train workers, foster new ideas, and strengthen weakened regional economies.

But if our politicians do not provide answers, our populist insurgents will.

Time for a Christmas song. Here is Elvis with “Santa Claus Is Back in Town & Blue Christmas”, from his comeback special on NBC. This was recorded over six days in June, 1968 and aired on December 1, 1968. Elvis flubs “Santa Claus is Back in Town”:

Despite his flub, he does get this line right:

You don’t see me comin in no big black Cadillac

Kind of like out-of-work Ohioans.

Facebooklinkedinrss

Capitalism Is Past Its Sell-By Date

“This is a government of the people, by the people, and for the people no longer. It is a government of corporations, by corporations, and for corporations…” Rutherford B. Hayes (March, 1888)

Nearly 130 years ago at the height of the Gilded Age, President Hayes had it right. Capitalism then was an economic free-for-all. Today, capitalism again is rewarding too few people. And data show that the problem is worse than we thought. The WSJ reported on a study by economists from Stanford, Harvard and the University of California that found:

Barely half of 30-year-olds earn more than their parents did at a similar age, a research team found, an enormous decline from the early 1970s when the incomes of nearly all offspring outpaced their parents.

Using tax and census data, they identified the income of 30-year-olds starting in 1970, and compared it with the earnings of their parents when they were about the same age. In 1970, 92% of American 30-year-olds earned more than their parents did at a similar age. By 2014, that number fell to 51%. Here is a chart showing the results:

wsj-30-year-olds-make-less

And we know that real median household income in the US today is basically the same as in 1989. The paper doesn’t provide specific reasons for the decline in incomes for younger Americans, but it generally blames slower economic growth and, especially, the rapidly widening income gap between the top 20% and the rest of society.

They found that the inability of children to out-earn their parents is greatest in the Midwest. This underlines that those who voted for Trump have a point: The Midwest has been hit harder by import competition, especially from Japan and China, and by technological changes, than other regions of the US.

When looking only at males nationally, the decline is even starker: In 2014, only 41% of 30-year-old men earned more than their fathers at a similar age.

There are some issues with the study worth mentioning: Most kids born in the 1940s did well in their thirties, maybe because their parents were 30 during the Depression and WWII. By the 1960s, an industrialized economy brought significantly higher wages to 30 year olds. A high denominator in the ratio of parent’s income to child’s income (compared to the past) made it more difficult for succeeding generations to exceed their parents’ incomes.

The economy also has shifted in the past 30 years and is now service-based, as factories moved overseas, and automation became prevalent. This change swapped higher wage manufacturing jobs for mostly lower wage service jobs. That alone could make it all but impossible for young adults to hit the ratios that their parents did relative to their grandparents.

Maybe the American Dream didn’t die; it just never really existed in the sense of broadly-based income mobility. Have another look at the chart, upward mobility (as measured by making more than your parents) has been declining since the mid-1940s.

Why? Between rising globalization and rapid advances in automation, we now have more people than jobs. And no matter whom we elect, this trend will continue. Those manufacturing jobs are never coming back. Even in China, robots are now displacing workers in factories.

We don’t need “good paying manufacturing jobs”; we need good paying jobs.

This is the most serious challenge capitalism has faced in the US. Without improving personal income, there will be fewer who can afford college, or afford to buy the things that capitalism produces. Low personal income growth puts sand in the gears of our economy.

The left offers a critique of contemporary global capitalism but no real practical alternative. Neither does the right, but their memes of America First, nostalgia for a golden (gilded?) age, and more tax cuts seem like less of a stretch than a Bernie Sanders-like frontal assault on capitalism.

No one in either party has a plan for a world in which robots displace the demand for labor on a large scale. And the under-30 cohort is now spending at least 4 times more (in the case of Wrongo’s university, 10 times) for a college education than what their parents paid, and they are earning less.

If people matter at all to our leaders, and if 90+% of them lack the means to live without working, America must make employment our top priority, despite the fact that many have been deemed redundant by capitalists in the private sector.

Surplus labor drives the price of labor down; allowing the employer class to afford a pool boy, or a nanny, or another cook.

And it makes the waiters more attentive to Mr. Trump.

Facebooklinkedinrss

What’s JOE – 2035?

Haven’t heard of JOE- 35? Not surprising, since it is very difficult to find any mention of it in any major media news outlet. Google JOE- 35, and you get a series of links for a cast stone fire pit that is 35” in diameter.

Wrong. It refers to the “Joint Operating Environment 2035” [pdf] (JOE – 35), issued in July by the Joint Chiefs of Staff. It lays out the environment that the military and the nation will be facing 20 years from now. It is written as a guide to how the Defense Department should be spending resources today in order to protect against tomorrow’s threats. They identify six broad geopolitical challenges the US Military will have to deal with in 20 years:

  • Violent Ideological Competition: irreconcilable ideas communicated and promoted by identity networks through violence. That is, states and non-state actors alike will pursue their goals by spreading ideologies hostile to US interests and encouraging violent acts to promote those ideologies.
  • Threatened US Territory and Sovereignty: encroachment, erosion, or disregard of US sovereignty and the freedom of its citizens.
  • Antagonistic Geopolitical Balancing: increasingly ambitious adversaries maximizing their own influence while actively limiting US influence. That is, rival powers will pursue their own interests in conflict with those of the United States. Think China in the Philippines.
  • Disrupted Global Commons: denial or compulsion in spaces and places available to all but owned by none. Think that the US will no longer be able to count on unimpeded access to the oceans, the air, space, or the electromagnetic spectrum in the pursuit of its interests.
  • A Contest for Cyberspace: a struggle to define and credibly protect sovereignty in cyberspace. That is, US cyberwarfare measures will increasingly face effective defenses and US cyberspace assets will increasingly face effective hostile incursions.
  • Shattered and Reordered Regions: states increasingly unable to cope with internal political fractures, environmental stress, or deliberate external interference. That means states will continue to be threatened by increasingly harsh pressures on national survival, and the failed states and stateless zones will continue to spawn insurgencies and non-state actors hostile to the US.

The report also warns that the rise of non-state actors such as ISIS, described in the report as “privatized violence“, will continue, as will the rapidity by which those groups form and adapt. The spread of 3D-printing technologies and readily available commercial technology such as drones, means those groups can be increasingly effective against a fully equipped and highly technological US military.

The study says:

Transnational criminal organizations, terrorist groups, and other irregular threats are likely to exploit the rapid spread of advanced technologies to design, resource, and execute complex attacks and combine many complex attacks into larger, more sustained campaigns…

John Michael Greer has a review of JOE-35 that is worth reading in its entirety. His criticism of the report is that:

Apparently nobody at the Pentagon noticed one distinctly odd thing about this outline of the future context of American military operations: it’s not an outline of the future at all. It’s an outline of the present. Every one of these trends is a major factor shaping political and military action around the world right now.

Like so many things in our current politics, the JOE projections are mostly about justifying current procurement/pork barreling by a linear extrapolation of today’s threats. That, and the institutional blindness that sets in when there have been no real challenges to the established groupthink, and the professional consequences of failure in the military are near-zero.

The JOE list may not be imaginative or fully predictive, but that doesn’t make it wrong. None of the problems they forecast are going away. For instance, the use of ideology to win and shore up support from potential fighters and allies is as old as ancient times, so why would ideological conflict NOT be an issue in 2035?

Threats to US sovereignty and territory go along with the Joint Chiefs’ recognition that the US is an empire most likely on a downward curve, unless there is great change in our policies, domestic and foreign.

In this sense, the report is quietly critical of our politicians.

The admission in the JOE report that we will be actively required to defend our home ground by 2035 is a mark of just how much our geopolitical environment has changed since 9/11.

It is indeed worth your time to read both the JOE report, and that of John Michael Greer very carefully.

Both will make you smarter than reading about the latest Trump outrage.

Facebooklinkedinrss

Who Moved My Cheese?

Some may remember the book by this name by Spencer Johnson, published in 1998. The underlying message of the book is “Don’t waste time fighting against change: accept that bad stuff will happen to you for no good reason and just keep moving”.

This outdated and simplistic message remains the message of the Democratic Party to the White Working Class (WWC). Donald Trump’s message is different. He offers them nothing but a dream, to limit immigrants working in the US and to cut off the US market from China. And since the WWC knows that more of the same isn’t going to work, they’re voting for Trump.

It is useful to remember that since our “Most Favored Nation” trade deal with China in 1979, we have lost 35% of all manufacturing jobs in this country.

The WWC thinks that the Democrats have not been able to do anything to help them keep their jobs. The reasons for failure can be at least equally shared by the Parties, but since Dems have said for years that they are the party of the working class, they are getting the greater share of the blame for 35 years of no results.

There are two issues that dominate the discussion: Illegal immigration and transition assistance when jobs are lost. Regarding Immigration:

  • The WWC knows that Dems need the political support of the Hispanic community, and that requires Dems to show sympathy with illegal immigration.
  • The WWC believes that illegal immigration has put downward pressure on job opportunities and wages in the trades, in restaurant and hotel work, and in service sectors where immigrants may be overly represented.
  • That’s why Trump’s stance on immigration is so popular with the WWC. They probably know in their hearts that kicking all the Mexican workers out, or building a wall is ridiculous. But the Democrat’s position on immigration is diffuse, and is viewed as “soft” on illegals by the WWC.

Despite anything the Dems say about retraining or “transition assistance”, the WWC knows that someone on job transition assistance can’t earn enough to support a family. Other problems:

  • Identifying the fields/industries that workers can train in that will produce stable, living wage employment is an inexact science. So, demand for retrained workers is often less than the supply for any given job type.
  • Businesses have been very successful at shifting the burden (and cost) of training displaced workers from themselves to society. This is helped along by a corporate critique that public and not-for-profit private schools are failing to maintain standards, and they can’t churn out sufficient grads with qualifications that meet the corporations’ highly specific requirements.
  • Hence the continuing financial opportunities for for-profit technical schools and for-profit universities, (can you say Trump University?)

And Ford Motor Co. just gave Trump a big wet kiss:

Ford Motor Co. says it’s moving all of its US small car production to Mexico…The company is building a new $1.6 billion assembly plant in San Luis Potosi, Mexico. It will make small cars there starting in 2018.

What can the Pant Suit say about this that would go beyond what the Pant Load will certainly say? And if she did, would WWC people believe her?

On the macro level, our current capitalism has turned to technology to produce much of what is needed with far less human labor input than ever before. That leaves job growth (and job opportunity) in only the low-skilled, low-paid “service” jobs; or in highly advanced, specialized jobs requiring very advanced training/skills/talent.

This means that the dogma of Endless Economic Growth, which we have accepted since the Industrial Revolution, is dead. Along with killing that, we need to kill off the current organizing principle of our economic system, where humans exist solely to fulfill the needs of businesses.

Work helps us find our place in society. It is something that we see as having an inherent value, something that fills a basic human need, similar to food and shelter. But our current economic system no longer recognizes that, and our economy provides little opportunity for fulfilling that basic need for a large portion of American citizens, including many in the WWC.

The idea of government deploying under-utilized labor to build and repair our infrastructure, or to re-tool our country to reduce carbon emissions would be a step that might return the WWC to jobs and a place in society. It would cost a ton.

But the idea that the government would create demand is too socialist for most politicians to accept, despite the fact that the rest of the tools just haven’t worked in 35+ years.

Tell me again why Bernie Sanders was a terrible choice.

Facebooklinkedinrss

Monday Wake Up Call – Rule of Law Edition

While America celebrated the Labor Day weekend, we overlooked an extremely important decision by a three-judge panel of the US Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit.

Last week, they issued a sweeping decision in the Federal Trade Commission v ATT, that drastically restricts the Federal Trade Commission’s (FTC) consumer protection authority over companies that offer “common carrier” services (e.g., telephone services, mobile data, and internet services) whether or not these services comprise their core business. Moreover, since no other federal agency has the necessary scope of regulatory authority over this area, if this decision stands, significant activities of such companies would become largely unregulated.

As the WaPo reports:

The ruling could wind up giving Google and Facebook — not to mention other companies across the United States — the ability to escape all consumer-protection actions from the FTC, and possibly from the rest of government, too, critics claim, unless Congress intervenes.

A little history: The FTC had brought an action against ATT over the adequacy of the company’s consumer disclosures regarding its data throttling plan, by which ATT intentionally reduced the data speed of customers to whom it had sold unlimited mobile data plans:

  • In 2007, ATT became Apple’s sole wireless provider for iPhone.
  • In 2011, ATT began reducing the speed at which unlimited data plan users received data on their smartphones.
  • Under ATTs data throttling program, unlimited data plan customers were throttled for the remainder of a billing cycle once their data usage during that cycle exceeded a certain threshold.

So the FTC filed suit against ATT. The FTC’s argument was that ATT was not providing an “unlimited” service, which is what subscribers thought they were buying. After signing up the initial subscribers, ATT changed to tiered plans, under different contracts. And ATT neglected to inform the original customers – the ones who thought they’d purchased an unlimited plan – that they weren’t getting what they paid for.

But the FTC lost. To understand the complicated legal issues and why the FTC lost, you can read all about it here.

The implications are huge. The decision means that any company that creates or purchases either a phone company or an internet service provider (ISP) can escape federal consumer protection regulations entirely. This is particularly important for individual privacy and security matters, since the FTC currently is trying to impose comprehensive privacy and data security regulations on ISPs, and this decision may hamper that effort.

The court decided that the FTC lacks authority to regulate common carriers. So, no matter how egregious the company’s conduct– even for false, deceptive, misleading practices, the FTC would be unable to do anything about it. Nor, at the moment, can any other federal agency.

The ATT case concerned regulation of advertising. But, since the court’s decision rejected outright the FTC’s claim to be able to regulate any activities of companies deemed to be common carriers, it is not limited to deceptive advertising alone. Facebook and Google already gorge themselves on your personal data and the decision prevents the FTC, the agency that has a track record of regulating privacy issues, from exercising any oversight of these activities (provided that Facebook and Google make the appropriate acquisitions or otherwise position themselves to qualify as common carriers).

So it’s time to wake up America! The steady erosion of your privacy and consumer protection rights continues under the flag of “the rule of law”. In the REAL world, the wealthy and powerful are often above the law. The Wall Street banking cartels committed mortgage fraud, foreclosure fraud, and securities fraud. They laundered money for terrorists and drug cartels. They rigged interest rates. Aside from stockholders paying token fines, no human was prosecuted for these massive, organized criminal activities.

Let’s groove to “I Fought the Law”, written in 1958 by Sonny Curtis of the Crickets, and later popularized by the Bobby Fuller Four who had a top-ten hit with it in 1966. It was also recorded by the Clash in 1977, and Green Day in 2004. In 1989, during the US invasion of Panama, the US military blasted loud rock music—including the Clash’s version of “I Fought the Law“, to pressure Manuel Noriega to surrender.

The guitar riff in this Bobby Fuller version sounds positively Hollyesque:

After this decision against the FCC, maybe in 20 years, instead of saying “he got railroaded”, we’ll be saying “he got telecommed”.

For those who read the Wrongologist in email, you can view the video here.

Facebooklinkedinrss

WTF Is It With Cellphone Cameras?

The NYT had an article last Thursday about a suicide rescue on the George Washington Bridge by a bicyclist. Julio De Leon, 61, was biking home from work across the GW Bridge when he saw someone about the jump off the bridge and into the Hudson River. From the NYT:

Then he saw it: a dog in the pathway, tethered to a rail. “This is something unusual, and I looked to my left, and I saw the guy,” Mr. De Leon said.

More from the NYT:

The guy was a 19-year-old from Massachusetts. He had climbed over the rail that separates the path from the concrete ledge.

(Suicide attempts are common on the GWB. This year, eight people have leapt or fallen to their deaths. Another 40 times, passers-by or police officers have intervened. That’s a 20% “success” rate in jumping.)

Back to the story:

“In one second, only in a second, I just moved and grabbed like this”— his right arm curled like a shepherd’s crook — “and I keep him with me,” Mr. De Leon said. “He started to see reality. He was crying. I tried to calm him down.”

Great story. To this point.

It turns out another guy was crossing the bridge, and saw the person about to jump. He sprang into action by taking pictures with his cellphone. After Mr. De Leon grabbed the young man, the guy with the phone decided to become a co-rescuer. Together, he and Mr. De Leon pulled the distraught man over the railing, to the safety of the pathway.

As the NYT says:

It was striking that one man should have first taken a picture…before moving to help

After jointly hauling the potential suicide onto the bridge deck, De Leon asked the guy with the cell phone to call the police.

The guy was a cameraman before he decided to help with the rescue. It wasn’t so long ago that we didn’t have cameras in our pocket, or other digital technologies. To be honest, some of us were spectators even then. Remember Kitty Genovese?

But it wasn’t so long ago that people were reluctant to be photographed. Today, people take a pic and pass their phones back and forth, showing their friends the latest. The friends smile, and comment on what they are seeing. It is a new thing, and at the same time, a surprisingly traditional form of communicating, updated from when the roll of film in the camera was developed, and returned as photographs.

The question is has digital technology degraded our impulse act in a situation? Is our instinct now to observe and record? Let’s hope not.

There is no question that cell phone camera and video technology has improved transparency in our society. We need people to record injustice when they see it. Having a digital record of newsworthy events that the media haven’t or can’t get to is useful to the public.

Cat videos…not so much.

So, here is today’s Monday Wake-up call for all of us who exercise the camera in the phone before we ask ourselves: “Could I do something else in this situation that would be useful?”

Wake up voyeurs! To help with that, here is Suzanne Vega with “Left of Center”, her song from 1986 that was on the soundtrack of “Pretty in Pink”. That’s Joe Jackson on the piano. She sings:

 When they ask me
“What are you looking at?”
I always answer
“Nothing much” (not much)
I think they know that
I’m looking at them

Here is “Left of Center”:

For those who read the Wrongologist in email, you can view the video here.

Facebooklinkedinrss