The Wrongologist

Geopolitics, Power and Political Economy

Rural Towns Have Polluted Water. Will Trump’s Plan Fix It?

The Daily Escape:

Valley of Desolation, Eastern Cape, South Africa – 2018 photo by Ottho Heldring

The Trump infrastructure plan asks states and cities to partner with private equity to build their roads, bridges and water treatment plants. As the WSJ explains, private equity says they are not interested. Apparently, they don’t want to build things; they prefer to purchase existing assets: (emphasis by Wrongo)

Fund managers say they are mainly looking for assets that are already privately owned—such as renewable energy, railroads, utilities and pipelines—and not the deteriorating government-owned infrastructure like roads and bridges that helped attract the capital in the first place. To the extent they are interested in public assets, the focus is more likely to be on privatizing existing infrastructure than on new development—the heart of Mr. Trump’s push.

One area where private equity may think they have a role to play is with America’s threatened water systems, which are existing assets. When people think of water crises, they think of places like Flint, Michigan, because a failed urban water system affects huge numbers of people.

But most health-based violations of drinking-water standards occur in small towns. Of the 5,000 US drinking-water systems that racked up health-based violations in 2015, more than 50% were systems that served 500 people or fewer.

But when we add up the total number of people affected, rural America’s drinking-water situation is an order of magnitude greater than Flint’s. Millions of rural Americans are subject to unhealthy levels of contaminants in their drinking water, largely from agriculture and coal mining.

And as the rural/urban economic gap grows, this basic inequality won’t get fixed unless something radical is done to improve water quality in rural America.

Agriculture is the culprit in many rural towns, and unhealthy levels of nitrates is the primary cause. Nitrogen-based fertilizer runs off of farmlands and into the nation’s fresh water. The health impact of ingesting nitrates is serious:

  • Two-thirds of communities with nitrate levels at or above 5 ppm are in 10 states where agriculture is big business.
  • Almost three-fourths of communities whose drinking water is at or above the legal limit are found in just five states – Arizona, California, Kansas, Oklahoma and Texas.

Remediation costs vary, but a 2012 report from the Center for Watershed Sciences at UC Davis gives a yardstick. They say that a community of just under 5,000 people could incur annual costs ranging from $195,000 to $1.1 million to build and operate an ion exchange system, while a reverse osmosis system would cost from $1.1 million to $4 million a year. A $4 million system would cost $800 per citizen.

These costs may be far beyond the ability of small towns to finance. What is really going on here is another case of “socializing losses”. Farms are polluting the water, and the town is left to pay for remediation. And the big agriculture lobbies are making sure that their members avoid any liability for poisoning their towns.

We know that we haven’t been able to fund Flint’s water remediation with public funds. How will we deal with the rest of America’s polluted drinking water?  It isn’t likely that towns and cities can do much more. Some cities have debt capacity, the capital markets may be willing to lend to them. However, hostility to new taxes on the local level means that issuing new debt is difficult politically for mayors and town councils.

Trump’s infrastructure plan opens up the Clean Water State Revolving Fund (CWSRF). This federal financial assistance program for water infrastructure projects would allow private firms to both manage and repair water infrastructure at taxpayer’s expense. Previously, only states and municipalities could access the fund.

Funneling CWSRF funds to private water system providers means our most vulnerable towns will have to turn over basic infrastructure to for-profit companies. And those companies will charge for the privilege. On average, private for-profit water utilities charge households 59% more than local governments charge for drinking water, an extra $185 a year.

When your water is poisoning you, should you agree to raise water rates to fix it, or do you expect to get pure water for the money you are already paying?

What if you are unable to move to a place where the water is safe?

If your water system will cost $ millions for a town of 500, how can it possibly be paid for, except by public funding?


Thinking About Trump’s Infrastructure Plan

The Daily Escape:

Lincoln Highway – photo by Andrew Smith. The Lincoln Highway was the first highway to connect the east and west coasts of the USA in 1916. It was a combination of newer and older roads of varying quality.

Eisenhower’s National Highway System had its origin in a road trip that he took across the country in 1919, 33 years before he was elected president. From Atlas Obscura:

Lt. Colonel Dwight D. Eisenhower traveled with the military in a motor convoy across the country, from DC to San Francisco… This was one of the first major cross-country road trips, and it planted the idea in Eisenhower’s mind that the federal government could and should make improving US highways a priority…

In 1919, America’s network of roads that Eisenhower traveled on was, for the most part, still rudimentary.

In 1916, the Lincoln Highway had been designated, but it wasn’t a proper highway. The Eisenhower convoy mostly traveled the Lincoln Highway, with some detours. The motorcade included more than 80 vehicles. It left Washington DC on July 7, 1919, and took seven and a half hours to reach its first stop at Frederick, Maryland, a distance of 46 miles. That’s where Eisenhower joined the group.

That 6 miles an hour pace is what the convoy would average in its drive across the country. It took them 62 days to make it to San Francisco.

In 1919, usable roads hardly existed west of Indiana. When it rained, vehicles got stuck in soft spots on the roads, up to their hubs, and had to be pushed out. In Nebraska, they found sand to be the enemy. One day, it took seven hours to pull all the trucks through 200 yards of quicksand.

Elected in 1952, Eisenhower hoped to build the highways that he had talked about for years. The Federal-Aid Highway Act of 1944 had authorized the construction of a 40,000-mile “National System of Interstate Highways”, but hadn’t provided funding to pay for the construction.

Eisenhower’s new Federal-Aid Highway Act passed in June 1956. It authorized the construction of a 41,000-mile network of interstate highways spanning the nation. It also allocated $26 billion to pay for them. The federal government would pay 90% of the costs of construction, using a national fuel tax.

Thereafter, that great American institution, the road trip, could begin. Today, the Interstate Highway System is more than 46,000 miles long.

Flash forward to 2018. We know public spending peaked at 2.2% of inflation-adjusted GDP in 2009 and has fallen ever since. By late last year, it was down to about 1.6%.

President Trump said while introducing his new infrastructure plan:

It is time to give Americans the working, modern infrastructure they deserve.

Reading Trump’s plan, it is clear he thinks we deserve nothing. Disagree? Start by looking at Trump’s budget proposal. Jared Bernstein says:

The budget proposes $200 billion over 10 years, but as budget analyst Bobby Kogan tweeted: “The budget cuts $178 billion in…transportation [not including cuts to] water, broadband…and energy. This means [Trump is] giving $200 billion with his left hand but taking away that much with his right.”

$20 billion a year doesn’t go very far. The plan shifts at least 80% of the investment in infrastructure to private investors, states, and cities. This is problematic, because Trump’s tax plan significantly lowers the amount of federal taxes that state and local taxpayers can deduct from their tax bill. This will make it much harder for states and cities to raise the revenue to support infrastructure spending, or any other public needs.

The LA Time’s Michael Hiltzik says it best: (brackets and emphasis by Wrongo)

The whole package should mostly be seen as [typical of] the Trump administration’s approach to governing: programs with virtually no rationale and without adequate financing, along with a commitment to getting government off the backs of the people so Big Business can saddle up.

This is Right Wing ideology at work. They passed a huge tax cut in order to “starve the beast” that is the US government, while at the same time, they will “feed the beast” via $trillions of deficit financing. Cities and states are not flush with cash for new infrastructure projects, and the private sector won’t do anything that reduces shareholder return, so Trump’s plan is dead on arrival.

As for financing America’s roads, increase fuel taxes. Let drivers amortize the building costs, a system Eisenhower used. Add tolls where we must. Make the traffic move faster and safer.

Trump should be like Ike: Pay for our infrastructure!

Claw back some tax cuts. Cut defense spending. Pay for purer water for our towns and cities. Pay for better schools, a smart electric grid, and better ports and airports.

Pay for them all with federal dollars.

(Wrongo is indebted to the tywkiwdbi blog for covering the Eisenhower road trip on Lincoln’s birthday)


Funding Infrastructure: America’s Great Challenge

The Daily Escape:

Skye Peak, Killington VT – December 2017 photo by wsquared1

Wrongo is Vice-Chair of his town’s roads committee. Just like America, our small town has an infrastructure problem; we have let our roads deteriorate through years of underfunding. It’s a small town, and most of our roads are paved, but today, like most of America, our roads grade out at “D”. That compares to the American Society of Civil Engineers’ grade of “D+” for all of America’s infrastructure.

The federal expenditure to make things right is on the order of $4 Trillion, or 100% of the 2018 federal budget of $4.095 Trillion. About $2 Trillion of that is currently unfunded. Our town is in a smaller boat. We just received a consultant’s report saying that to bring our roads up to an “A” grade would take a one-time expense equal to roughly 45% of the town’s annual budget.

Today we started preparation for the January town council meeting that will address funding of our roads. The fundamental challenge is that we will have to double our spending on roads just to maintain our current “D” rating.

This deferred maintenance is the result of years of underfunding, years of making decisions that directed money to the most obvious projects and programs. Politicians get elected on fiscal responsibility, and then take the shortest-term possible view of what to fund in the budget process.

Accountability is elusive, even when the same pols are on the scene year after year.

The town council’s first question will be: What will this investment get us? Will more people choose to buy/build a home in our town? Will businesses think we are a better location for their next store, shop or factory? And will those decisions add to our tax revenues? Will our roads be safer?

Assuming the answer to question one is positive and persuasive, the council’s second question will be: What parts of our existing budget do we cut in order to fund this need?

This is the crux of America’s problem today.

Government at all levels refuses to raise taxes or other forms of revenue. On the town level, we have little desire to cut expenses for our schools, or our town management. In fact, the pressure is always to increase those budgets.

Turning the desirable into the possible is politically challenging, even though at the Federal level, deficit spending is the rule, not the exception. At the local level, it is always the exception. Our town has a credit rating of AA+, so we have the ability to use bond financing in this historically low rate environment, just like the federal government can and does.

The challenge is how to get the town’s people on the same page, how to convince them that it is smart to finance a long-term asset (like a reconstructed road) with a long-term liability (like a bond).

We call assets like our roads part of the commons: Assets that are not owned by an individual, but by the group, such as the town. The roads are a community resource belonging to all of us, which must be actively maintained and managed for the good of all.

A prime principle is that infrastructure investment be directed to the projects where the return for the economy is the greatest. We should rebuild roads and bridges where we will see a boost to the economy, or as required to maintain citizen safety.

Nobody wins if the commons are allowed to erode. Nobody wins if the commons are appropriated by private ownership.

Funding the commons is one of the greatest challenges facing America. Beware the “public-private partnerships” that the GOP currently has on offer for us.

They lead to absentee ownership, and to skimming part of our tax revenues for a corporation far from home.

Absentee ownership leads to poorer maintenance, and fewer repairs.

And to a lower quality of life for the rest of us.


Thoughts on Tax Day

The Daily Escape:

Tu Lien Bridge (design, to be built) – Hanoi, Vietnam

Today is officially the day our federal income tax returns are due. That’s because April 15 was a Saturday, while Monday is a holiday in Massachusetts. And as the Bay State goes, so goes America when it comes to filing taxes. Wrongo appreciated the extra time.

Americans shouldn’t mind paying their taxes. We live in a great country, and if you want to fly first class, you gotta pay the fare (unless, of course, you’re flying Air Force One).

The process of filing taxes could (and should) be simplified, but reducing taxes would be a mistake. America has deferred spending for social needs and for infrastructure, and not just on the federal level. Wrongo sits on his town’s Roads Committee. If we were to continue to fix our local roads at the same rate going forward as we have for the past few years, it will take us 40 years to fix just the roads that are rated “poor” quality or worse. Still, many in town think we should spend less, so they could be taxed less. As Justice Oliver Wendell Holmes noted in a dissenting opinion in a 1927 Supreme Court case:

Taxes are the price we pay for a civilized society.

Some of us are still learning that.


Sunday Cartoon Blogging – November 13, 2016

Has this been the worst week ever? And then we learned that Leonard Cohen died last Friday. We will devote Monday to him, but we should be glad that Janet Reno died thinking that Hillary had it in the bag. Wrongo promised some comments for Veteran’s Day:

If we can’t care for the ones we have, perhaps we should stop making new veterans:


Supporting the troops needs to be more than lip service”


The Dems now need to do what the GOP did in 2012. Of course, they will probably ignore the findings too:


We need to change perspective regarding our differences:


 Trump’s infrastructure plan ties everything together:


Comey’s boys played their part:


We leave you with the lyrics to a Steven Stills song:

There’s something happening here

What it is ain’t exactly clear

There’s a man with a gun over there

Telling me I got to beware


I think it’s time we stop, children,

What’s that sound

Everybody look what’s going down


There’s battle lines being drawn

Nobody’s right if everybody’s wrong

Young people speaking their minds

Getting so much resistance from behind


It’s time we stop, hey,

What’s that sound

Everybody look what’s going down


Paranoia strikes deep

Into your life it will creep

It starts when you’re always afraid

You step out of line, the man come and take you away


We better stop, hey,

What’s that sound

Everybody look what’s going down


See you on Monday.


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.


Hillary Should Grab Populism and Run With It

The biggest change in our politics in the past 20 years is the rise of populism on the left and right. The populists believe that we are led by a selfish elite that cannot—or will not—deal with the problems of ordinary working people, and there is ample evidence that they are correct.

Trump and Clinton say they will bring back jobs that corporations have shipped offshore. They make China the scapegoat for lost economic opportunity, while the real causes are automation and the triumph of the spreadsheet in corporate strategy.

Those jobs are never coming back, and a candidate who says they can negotiate with foreign governments to bring jobs back demonstrates either their naiveté about the true cause of job loss, or a simple desire to BS the American public.

Voters can see through that.

Economic and cultural insecurity are the bedrock causes for populists. Unemployment and stagnant wages hurts working-class whites, while cultural issues are a top issue for older white Americans. The first group sees their jobs threatened by automation and globalization. They join with older whites in seeing immigrants as scroungers who work for less, grab benefits and if you believe Trump, commit crimes.

Both groups also believe that American society is being undermined by diversity and foreign-born citizens.

This is the battle line of the 2016 presidential election. The mediocre economy that has been with us for nearly 20 years has caused real harm. We remain a wealthy country, but certain groups now see their opportunity slipping away. Slow growth, or no economic growth, means only a few elites will do well, and most voters see the self-serving political class as siding with the elites.

So can a candidate unify an electorate that now plays a zero-sum political game?

  • The Pant Load has the better position in this game, since he can exploit pre-existing fears that are based in fact.
  • The Pant Suit must carefully calibrate her message, but she cannot be a “maintain the status-quo” candidate and win.

Clinton would do well to consider what William Berkson said in the WaMo:

If there is one national goal that Americans can agree on, it is opportunity for all.

Berkson makes the point that since President Reagan, Republicans have advocated a simple theory of how to grow the economy: The more you reduce government involvement in the economy and the more efficient markets become, the more the economy grows.

Sorry, but the simplistic theory of free market economics has been drowned in a tsunami of fact in the past 35 years. Berkson says:

Both Democratic administrations since Reagan—that of Bill Clinton and Barack Obama—have raised taxes, and under them, the economy grew more rapidly than under the tax-cutters Reagan and George W. Bush.

This opens a path for the Pant Suit. In order to win, she must assure voters that she will deliver more and better jobs. Family income must go up. But how to achieve this?

By advocating a policy of economic opportunity through public investment in infrastructure. It fulfills the promise of opportunity for all, a populist message that has proven to work throughout America’s past. And it allows Clinton to hammer the GOP Congress and Paul Ryan about the lack of any track record for laissez-faire policies, since they have never worked, not even once, as a miracle cure for jobs and income inequality. This would be an open return to Keynesian economics. Here is Eduardo Porter in the NYT:

The Keynesian era ended when Thatcher and Reagan rode onto the scene with a version of capitalism based on tax cuts, privatization and deregulation that helped revive their engines of growth but led the workers of the world to the deeply frustrating, increasingly unequal economy of today.

And led to the low growth economy that drives today’s populist anger.

How to fund that infrastructure expense? More revenue. For the last 40 years, Democrats have been unwilling to counter the conservative argument that higher taxes are a redistribution of wealth between classes. Clinton should argue that current tax policy is really a transfer of resources from tomorrow’s generation to today’s. This is a strong populist message.

Younger Millennials understand this clearly. They already believe Social Security will not be there when they need it. She can win them over if she makes a case for new jobs and new revenues.

When conservatives say that it is unfair for people in their highest earning years to pay more taxes on that income, Clinton can point out that this is a past-due bill that they need to pay just as their elders paid higher taxes that supported the current earners when they were starting out. It was that investment in public resources such as public education and infrastructure, and in research, technology and industry that enabled today’s peak earners to get where they are.

While the strategy opens Clinton to criticism from Grover Norquist and the right about fiscal irresponsibility, it pits Trump against the Tea Party and the GOP. He would need to choose between being a populist or a doctrinaire fiscal conservative. Either way, it will bleed votes from some part of his base.

The strategy could work in down ballot races as well, particularly in the Rust Belt. Maybe working class conservatives will hear her, and not vote against their economic interests for once.

We’ll see if she will move from status quo, to “let’s go” as a campaign strategy.


The Pant Suit vs The Pant Load© Part II – Funding Infrastructure

Here is an issue on which the presidential candidates of the two parties seem to agree: Funding infrastructure, or at least, funding roads.

Over the past 50 years, US investment in transportation infrastructure as a share of GDP has shrunk by half. China is outspending us four to one and Europe two to one on transportation infrastructure. We have over 100,000 bridges in this country old enough to qualify for Medicare.

The Economist reported that the American Society of Civil Engineers (ASCE) thinks that additional spending of $1.6 trillion is needed by 2020 to bring the quality of the country’s infrastructure up from “poor” to “good”. The Economist indicated that over the past decade, America’s roads have fallen from seventh to fourteenth in the World Economic Forum’s rankings of the quality of infrastructure.

Part of the problem is that the federal tax on gasoline, which provides most of the funding for federal spending on roads, has been 18.4 cents per gallon since 1993, yet over that period, the price of construction materials and the wages of construction workers have both risen by more than 75%.

And Congress hasn’t helped. They have passed 35 stop-gap funding bills to extend transportation funding. However, most transportation projects are not built in just one year, they are complex, multi-year projects.

Last December, Congress passed the “Fixing America’s Surface Transportation Act”, or the FAST Act – which authorized $305 billion over fiscal years 2016 through 2020 for roads, bridges, public transit, and rail. Of that amount only $70 billion represents a new cash infusion for road repairs. Since the total highway need is $740 billion, there is a big funding gap.

Bizarrely, most of the funding for FAST was paid for by raiding the capital of the Federal Reserve. The Congressional Budget Office recently projected that the money in the Highway Trust Fund will run out in six years, and the fund faces a shortfall of $100 billion by 2026.

The funding gap hasn’t escaped the attention of the two presidential candidates. In a rare show of agreement, they are both for infrastructure spending. So, what do they want to do? Unsurprisingly, Trump hasn’t proposed a specific funding level. In his book, “Crippled America: How to Make America Great Again“, Trump says he’s in favor of major public investment in infrastructure repair and expansion.

“If we do what we have to do correctly…we can create the biggest economic boom in this country since the New Deal when our vast infrastructure was first put into place. It’s a no-brainer.”

It’s a “no-brainer” but, with “no amount”.

Hillary Clinton wants to commit $275 billion in public funds over five years, including $25 billion in capital for a new national infrastructure bank to generate another $225 billion in direct loans, loan guarantees and other forms of credit.

Neither candidate is proposing anything that meets the total financing need.

Today, the federal government is responsible only for about 25% of spending on highways and the FAST alternative will be an unreliable future funding source. Federal net investment has been negative since 2011, meaning that Congress is not spending enough to maintain the roads and bridges we have.

By contrast, many states have raised local taxes on gasoline: 12 states have raised gas taxes in the last 18 months. Most states tax by the gallon, and have benefited from the falling oil price, which has boosted sales of gasoline by 3% nationally. In fact, states are beginning to spend more than the federal government as a percentage of GDP:

State Spending to GDP Growth

But, state gas taxes have the same problem as the federal gas tax: They are fixed per gallon, so inflation erodes their value over time. And state budgets can’t grow to the sky. In many cases, states are under pressure to balance their budgets.

As a result, state politicians are burning political capital just standing still. That means the presidential candidates and Congress must find a way to finance more federal infrastructure investment.

Perhaps the gas tax is the wrong way to go. Rising vehicle fuel economy means more miles driven on fewer gallons of gas. With the move to electric cars, Highway Trust Fund revenue will be even lower. And fewer people own cars, but everyone benefits from good roads. People buy food trucked on our roads. They buy clothes, furniture, etc. trucked on our roads. They are carried to hospitals in ambulances on those roads.

The solution is a general road tax that everyone pays.

So, be on the lookout for Trump or Clinton’s rhetoric on infrastructure solutions. This is a yuuge problem that is not going away.


Monday Wake Up Call – May 18, 2015

The Amtrak accident in Philadelphia came hours before the House Appropriations Committee was due to meet to debate a transportation bill. Amtrak is a for-profit entity, but its board is appointed by the president, and it is entirely funded by the government, receiving roughly $1.4 billion a year in subsidies. It operates in the red, losing $227 million a year.

Congress has been considering tightening the purse-strings. The Senate has been slow to approve $7.8 billion in Amtrak funding that has been passed by the House. Much of the money would go to prop up sagging rails and refurbish rolling stock.

But John Boehner said discussing Amtrak funding in the wake of the crash was “stupid”. Boehner noted that the crash was caused by the train going too fast, not bad infrastructure. Republicans prefer to attack the national train system because only Democrats ride trains, not good truck driving folks. We should invest in modern high-speed trains to zip Americans around the country. We could also invest in a better safety infrastructure so that train wrecks don’t happen if they are the fault of the engineer or conductor. Instead, the rail industry and its Republican friends are pushing for the reduction of train crews on freight trains, which could cause more crashes.

Sadly, the Goldilocks Moment (when it’s “just right”) to discuss practical responses to a tragedy can be discerned only by Mr. Boehner. Yesterday was too early, and politicized the tragedy by pointing out how Republican policies and governance set the stage for eight people to be killed. At some point, John Boehner will tell us it’s now “too late” to get any legislation in the hopper.

Amtrak has received $45 billion in subsidies from the 1970’s to the present. That’s about one year’s taxpayer support for big oil. Democrats should absolutely push for greater Amtrak funding in the wake of the crash.

Don’t expect Boehner or any Republican to take any real heat for opposing this, but it makes their moral position on these issues completely clear.

Time to wake up America! Infrastructure upgrading is not anti-American. For your morning wake up call, here is the Veery Thrush, also called the Wilson’s Thrush:

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

Monday’s Hot Links:

The Antarctic’s Larsen “B” and “C” ice shelf’s are going away by 2020. NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory says that the “B” shelf is now “approaching demise.” NASA adds that the ice shelf “is likely to disintegrate completely before the end of the decade.” But, global warming is a hoax…

A 10-year-old oil leak where an offshore platform toppled during a hurricane could continue spilling crude into the Gulf of Mexico for a century or more if left unchecked. No, it isn’t the BP leak. Taylor Energy Company owned the platform and has played down the extent and environmental impact of the leak. The Coast Guard provided a leak estimate that is about 20 times greater than one provided by the company. Quelle surprise! An American company tries to minimize its responsibilities.

A New Zealand company called Touchpoint Group is building a robot that will be angry all the time. The idea is to let angry customers speak to a machine instead of human call center agents. The robot will collect the data to better serve you with bullshit responses.

Inequality Watch: Scientists find alarming deterioration in DNA of the urban poor. Well, if you lived a life of constant worry over money and how you would pay your bills, raise your kids with enough food, clothing and self-respect, your DNA might deteriorate too!!!

Raul Castro says that Pope Francis may get him to return to religion. Mr. Castro said: “I will resume praying and turn to the Church again if the Pope continues in this vein.” This Pope may really be the Rightologist!

Here is an extra wake-up for you this spring morning. Unclear how this pose happened, but it is relaxing:



Sunday Cartoon Blogging – May 17, 2015

The “knowing what we know now” argument from the right wing talkers was all over the news this week. They are trying to help Jeb Bush walk back his brother’s decision to invade Iraq. It is a revisionist attempt to explain the past decisions of the Bush administration with the added benefit of indicting Hillary Clinton. After all, while a Senator from NY she voted to invade.

The reframe says that a decision based on “what we knew then” was righteous, that everyone who looked at the same information would have come to the same decision. These guys continue to defend the invasion, despite the fact that we know it was based on lies. Iraq was not a good faith mistake. Bush and Cheney didn’t sit down with the intelligence community, ask for their best assessment of the situation, and then reluctantly conclude that war was the only option.

They decided before the dust of 9/11 had settled to use it as an excuse to go after Saddam. As evil as he was, he had nothing to do with the attack. To make a case for the short little war they expected to fight, they deliberately misled the public, making an essentially fake case about Weapons of Mass Destruction (WMD) and insinuating that Saddam was behind 9/11. From Lambert Strether:

And we played whack-a-mole with one fake WMD story after another: The yellowcake. The drones. The white powder. Judy Miller. Curveball. Cheney at the CIA. As soon as we would whack one story, another would pop up. And then Colin Powell, bless his heart, went to the UN and regurgitated it all (to his subsequent regret). Only subsequently did we come to understand (from the Downing Street Memo) that “the facts and the intelligence were being fixed around the policy,” and that the reason it felt like we were playing whack-a-mole is that we were; Bush’s “White House Iraq Group” was systematically planting stories in our famously free press.

Yet the Neo-cons, including Jeb Bush, say they would still make the same decision.

Bush harkens back to a government that believed its own spin doctoring to the point where it wasn’t able to see the difference between a sales pitch and the hard evidence coming from the Intelligence community. Given the totality of the outcome of these decisions: America nearly bankrupted, hundreds of thousands dead, total conflagration in the Middle East, he spent the week dancing around, saying the intelligence was faulty, but everyone believed it. And saying while you wouldn’t do it now, you would have done it then, is moral depravity.

According to the neo-cons, Obama did it:

COW Obama Did It

Jeb mansplains:

COW Jebs Answer

This week, Obama met with our ME “allies”:

COW ME Strategy

Amtrak off the rails indicts America:

COW Train Wreck

GOP’s new budget is springtime for the 1%:

Clay Bennett, Chattanooga Times Free Press

Clay Bennett, Chattanooga Times Free Press











Trade Deal is still up in the air:

COW Trade Deal