Skip navigation

Category Archives: postings from others


h]

Please Donate

“The phrase was popularised in the United States by Mark Twain (among others), who attributed it to the British prime minister Benjamin Disraeli: “There are three kinds of lies: lies, damned lies, and statistics.” However, the phrase is not found in any of Disraeli’s works and the earliest known appearances were years after his death. Several other people have been listed as originators of the quote, and it is often erroneously attributed to Twain himself.”

No matter who said it first the statement explains the current administration and a majority of the current Congress. It has apparently become politically normal to lie to the people who voted for you and lie again to gain acceptance of the deceit. My sense of this is that we need to do our own research and not totally rely on the media to give us the complete picture. There are few politicians who have a squeaky clean background no matter how minor the issue may be but the major issues need to be outed by the candidate (in the spirit of honesty). We have now become  in the age of mass media  inured to the faux pas’ of our elected officials and do not equate that behavior to their actions (supposedly on our behalf) to how they vote on bills and enact laws. The most flagrant outrages as far as I am concerned is the law regarding their COLA (cost of living adjustment) which was enacted to side step the public airing of this publicly financed event. Couple this with their treatment of so called “Obamacare” by exempting themselves from the penalizing part of the act rather than doing the legislative work to make the legislation better. So to encompass this long time use of deception we should always keep in mind that there are “lies, damn lies and statistics (aka facts). 

Advertisements

The two (2) year slog of this administration to do the bidding of uninformed leader is beginning to wear on all of us who are paying attention beyond the rhetoric. Oddly enough that same wear is showing on the perpetrator of these flawed policies especially since he can’t run away or hide from them as he has done in his business life.  There is more to consider beyond personal beliefs and friendships. In a ship with many rats there is no escaping the inevitable turning on one another and desertion. The current issue (disaster?) is still the so called “witch hunt” aka the “Mueller Investigation”. In thinking about the lead up to this (mis) administration is the dissatisfaction by the voters  with the Congressional neer do wells who (we) they have elected on an ongoing basis. The fault for this poor administration started when Congress failed us by becoming extremely partisan to the extent of being at war with one another This war was fueled by the huge amounts of money allowed to be infused by the “citizens United” decision which removed all restraints on the amounts Corporations could donate to campaigns. This decision by our Supreme court in a partisan vote has allowed the rise of Trump and the re election of the worst representatives we have had in decades. It is bad enough that our “Representatives” years ago enacted a law that gives them a cost of living adjustment with no public scrutiny, they are also responsible for the U.S.Post office seeming to be insolvent but that appearance  is due to a law by Congress which mandated. The piece below explains the Post Office mess

“Congress, Not Amazon, Messed Up the Post Office
Legislators passed a law that made the USPS less competitive with the private sector.
By Barry Ritholtz
‎April‎ ‎4‎, ‎2018‎ ‎12‎:‎38‎ ‎PM‎ ‎CDT Corrected ‎April‎ ‎6‎, ‎2018‎ ‎2‎:‎59‎ ‎PM‎ ‎CDT
Before the news cycle gets consumed by the U.S.-China trade war in the making, let’s go back to something I find much more intriguing: the U.S. Postal Service. Specifically, is Amazon.com Inc.’s contract with the USPS kosher, or is it a sweetheart deal that amounts to a government giveaway?
Let’s get one thing out of the way up front: President Donald Trump’s endless grousing about Amazon is nothing more than a thinly disguised complaint about the Washington Post, which has done a fine job reporting on his administration, revealing its many warts and ethical lapses. He has made no secret of his hostility, as a brief review of his Twitter posts would show.
But let’s set that aside and try to answer whether the USPS provides an unfair subsidy to Amazon. To better understand these claims requires a fuller understanding about the Post Office.
Let’s start with the USPS mandate: It was formed with a very different directive than its private-sector competitors, such as FedEx Corp. and United Parcel Service Inc. Those two giant private shippers, along with a bevy of smaller ones, are for-profit companies that can charge whatever they believe the market will bear. The USPS, by contrast, is charged with delivering to every home and business in America, no matter how remote. And, they can only charge what Congress allows; increases require approval. It also has congressional pressure and oversight on where it must maintain postal offices. The USPS has been slowly closing sites where there is insufficient customer demand. But closing an obsolete or little-used facility invariably entails a battle with each representative, who in turn faces voter anger when the local post office is targeted for closing. FedEx or UPS can open or close locations with little problem as demand and package traffic dictate.
Then there is the Postal Accountability and Enhancement Act of 2006 (PAEA), which some have taken to calling “the most insane law” ever passed by Congress. The law requires the Postal Service, which receives no taxpayer subsidies, to prefund its retirees’ health benefits up to the year 2056. This is a $5 billion per year cost; it is a requirement that no other entity, private or public, has to make. If that doesn’t meet the definition of insanity, I don’t know what does. Without this obligation, the Post Office actually turns a profit. Some have called this a “manufactured crisis.” It’s also significant that lots of companies benefit from a burden that makes the USPS less competitive; these same companies might also would benefit from full USPS privatization, a goal that has been pushed by several conservative think tanks for years.
Paying retiree obligations isn’t the issue here; rather, being singled out as the only company with a congressional requirement to fully fund those obligations is. It puts the USPS at a huge competitive disadvantage. Yes, a retirement crisis is brewing; most private-sector pensions are wildly underfunded. But the solution is to mandate that ALL companies cover a higher percentage of their future obligations — not just one entity.
What about lobbying Congress for changes to these rules? Unlike private-sector entities, the Postal Service is barred from lobbying. Similar restrictions do not apply to FedEx or UPS or other carriers.
Perhaps it helps to think of the USPS as two separate entities co-existing together: On one side is the congressionally mandated operation that delivers letters everywhere in the country. This is the side that helped knit together the far-flung cities, towns and settlements that defined the U.S. at the time of the nation’s founding. The modern innovations of email, texts and the internet helped turn this into a money-losing business.
The other side of the USPS is the parcel-delivery service, which is profitable. It both competes with, and provides services to, private-sector delivery businesses.
Indeed, both UPS and FedEx contract with USPS to perform so-called last-mile delivery for their rural and most-expensive routes. They leverage the existing infrastructure of USPS to provide services for their client base without having to build that same costly last-mile infrastructure for letters and parcels. Effectively, they arbitrage what would otherwise be low-margin or unprofitable deliveries.
The problem for the USPS isn’t the packages from the likes of Amazon, but rather, the rest of the Post Office’s mandate. In its annual report, the USPS noted that 2017 saw “mail volumes declined by approximately 5.0 billion pieces, or 3.6 percent, while package volumes grew by 589 million pieces, or 11.4 percent.” Amazon and other internet retailers are a source of profitable deliveries for the post office; the relationship is in no way a subsidy for the retailers. Incidentally, the PAEA bars the Post Office from pricing parcel delivery below-cost.
Pricing, locations, hiring, funding? The Post Office has broad limitations about making routine business decisions that its private-sector competitors do not.
Trump has raised a valid issue in pointing out the unfair conditions under which the USPS operates. He is looking, however, at the wrong side of the problem.”
(Corrects fifth paragraph of article published April 4 to delete inaccurate reference to 75-year retiree benefit funding obligation.)
This column does not necessarily reflect the opinion of the editorial board or Bloomberg LP and its owners.
To contact the author of this story:
Barry Ritholtz at britholtz3@bloomberg.net
To contact the editor responsible for this story:
James Greiff at jgreiff@bloomberg.net
Barry Ritholtz is a Bloomberg Opinion columnist. He founded Ritholtz Wealth Management and was chief executive and director of equity research at FusionIQ, a quantitative research firm. He is the author of “Bailout Nation.”

Please donate


By Shawn Donnan, Andrew Mayeda, Jenny Leonard and Jeremy C.F. Lin
‎October‎ ‎2‎, ‎2018
The U.S., Canada and Mexico reached a deal on a successor to the 24-year-old Nafta, capping more than 13 months of negotiations and overcoming major sticking points from Canadian dairy market access to minimum wage requirements for automobile production. Here are the major differences between the old deal and the new one, called the U.S.-Mexico-Canada Agreement, or USMCA, which President Donald Trump hailed Monday as a historic achievement.
U.S.-Mexico-Canada Agreement North American Free Trade Agreement
Cars The new deal increases the portion of a car that needs to be produced in North America to 75 percent to avoid tariffs. It also requires at least 40 percent of that come from factories where the average wage is $16/hour. The current Nafta, which came into force in 1994, requires that 62.5 percent of cars produced in the trade zone be made in North America. There’s no minimum-wage requirement.
Dairy U.S. dairy farmers will be allowed to sell more milk to Canada. Dairy wasn’t part of the original deal. The U.S. has long complained that Canada’s system of domestic quotas protects its dairy farmers from foreign competition.
Disputes The new deal severely restricts chapter 11 between the U.S. and Mexico, while eliminating it between the U.S. and Canada. Chapter 19 and 20 both survived, virtually intact. Nafta has three kinds of dispute settlement systems. Chapter 11 provides a mechanism for solving disputes between companies and Nafta governments. Chapter 19 allows for cross-border mediation when Nafta partners clash over dumping or subsidy cases. Chapter 20 governs disputes between states.
Currency The new deal includes a new currency chapter that commits the three countries to maintain market-determined exchange rates and refrain from competitive devaluations of their currencies. The pledge won’t have much effect on policymaking in the three nations, all of which have free-floating exchange rates. But it could serve as a template for future trade deals, giving the U.S. leverage over countries such as China. The current Nafta doesn’t include a currency chapter. Automakers and some lawmakers have been calling for one as a way to shield against currency manipulation.
Sunset Clause The U.S. had demanded a sunset clause that would kill Nafta after five years unless the countries agreed to extend it. In the end, the countries settled on a 16-year term for the deal, with a review to identify and fix problems and a chance of a deal extension after six years. There is no automatic sunset clause under the current Nafta. But any of the three partners can withdraw from the agreement on six months’ notice.

btn_donateCC_LG

Please Donate


btn_donateCC_LG

Please Donate

Non Sequitur Comic Strip for November 29, 2018


To bring a comparison: These are the same types of activities used by one A. Hitler and his associates to impose his policies on the German people which gave rise to the  brutal Nazi regime culminating in WWII and ending in the destruction of Germany , much of Europe and Africa. MA
Damir Mujezinovic

November 24, 2018

Many have questioned President Donald Trump’s mental health and overall stability over the years, citing reckless and erratic behavior, implying that the president is mentally unstable and therefore harming the country. At least once, criticism got to the president, prompting him to proclaim via Twitter that “mental stability” and being “like, very smart” are two of his greatest assets.
But some psychiatrists beg to differ. One of them, Yale psychiatry professor Bandy X. Lee, claims to not diagnose lightly, but she has nonetheless repeatedly, and publicly suggested that Donald Trump should be evaluated by psychiatrists, as she did in a September interview with Salon. Apart from suggesting that Trump should willingly undergo psychiatric evaluation, Professor Lee has developed a theory of her own: A theory about the mental state of Donald Trump, which she concisely laid out in a recent interview.
Lee notes that her theories do not reflect the professional opinion of Yale University.
In a conversation with Raw Story‘s Tana Ganeva, Lee explained that psychiatrists look for patterns in an effort to develop theories about one’s mental health. When it comes to Donald Trump, Lee claims, his behavior fits the pattern “of someone acting that is driven by emotional compulsions.” The president has found a way to capitalize on this, managing to reframe losses — like the recent midterm election, for instance — as victories, therefore convincing his supporters that he is indeed winning.
Emotionally-driven, relatively uninformed, and dependent on Trump, his supporters don’t question him and tend to take his claims at face value, according to the psychiatrist. She adds, however, that emotionally manipulating his supporters is not a matter of strategy for President Trump. Rather,” this can be explained through their emotional wounds.”
President Trump himself, in Lee’s assessment, is “driven by pathology rather than healthy choices.” According to her, Trump sometimes makes seemingly effective choices, without realizing that they are actually self-destructive. He is manipulative, demeaning, deceptive, and destructive, she asserts.

“He is driven by pathology rather than healthy choices. He’ll make choices that are self-destructive even if they seem effective at the time and produce results that appear to benefit him.”
According to the psychiatrist, President Donald Trump’s behavior is not only threatening to destroy him, but it also poses a grave danger to the United States. Prof. Lee has previously written extensively about Trump, notably for Vice, when she called for a psychiatric evaluation with his consent.
“He’s choosing a self-destructive course, not just for him but for the nation,” she opined.
inquisitr.com
All content © 2008 – 2018 The Inquisitr.

btn_donateCC_LG

Please Donate


December 6, 2018 Issue
The Fifth Risk
by Michael Lewis
Norton, 221 pp., $26.95

Writing about her friend the famously unpleasant Evelyn Waugh, Frances Donaldson reflected that
the weakness in attributing any particular quality to Evelyn is that he could not allow anyone to dictate his attitude or virtues to him. Consequently, if he was accused of some quality usually regarded as contemptible, where other men would be aroused to shame or hypocrisy, he studied it, polished up his performance, and, treating it as both normal and admirable, made it his own…. Consequently, it was never any good looking straight at him to learn the truth about him.
Donald Trump is not often compared to a great English novelist, and the word “studied” does not apply—he is all instinct. But his instincts lead him in precisely the same direction. He disorients us by wearing his most contemptible qualities as if they were crown jewels, by brandishing as trophies what others would conceal as shameful secrets. He uses his dirty linen as a cloth with which to polish up his performance.
Thus, on the evening of October 24, the day it was discovered that explosive devices had been mailed to several leading Democrats, Trump, at a rally in Mosinee, Wisconsin, mouthed the expected platitudes about coming together in “peace and harmony.” Any politician of the kind we are used to would have left it at that, keeping a straight face and willing his audience to forget his own hate-mongering. But Trump did not leave it at that. He tickled his fans with a teasing acknowledgment that this emollient rhetoric was unreal and that stirring up hatred was, and would remain, his essential effect: “By the way, do you see how nice I’m behaving tonight? Have you ever seen this?” The message was not subtle: I’m adjusting my act a little tonight but don’t worry, normal service will resume shortly.
Or, while any other politician accused of breaching electoral law to cover up a sexual liaison with a porn star would try to avoid the subject, Trump feeds the story by calling Stormy Daniels “Horseface” on Twitter. Or, while any conventional party leader would want to erase from the public memory an incident in which one of his candidates (Greg Gianforte) violently assaulted a reporter (Ben Jacobs) for asking him a question, Trump returned to it a year and a half later to propel it back into the headlines just as the murder of another journalist (Jamal Khashoggi) was on everyone’s mind. Or, while any other rash Tweeter might at least privately regret tweeting that the women demonstrating against the nomination of Brett Kavanaugh to the Supreme Court were “paid professionals,” Trump circled back to simultaneously retreat and up the ante: “The paid D.C. protesters are now ready to REALLY protest because they haven’t gotten their checks—in other words, they weren’t paid!”
And so on. When Guy Debord wrote in 1967 that “by means of the spectacle the ruling order discourses endlessly upon itself in an uninterrupted monologue of self-praise,” he can hardly have imagined that his insight would be so literally embodied or that an American president’s self-praise would take a form that, in conventional politics, would be self-sabotage.
Most of us are conditioned to regard these incidents as mere proof of Trump’s inability to control his impulses. But his urges are powerfully honed by decades of collusion with the scandal-mongers and gossip columnists who made him famous and helped him to create his brand. The outbursts and asides establish and maintain his alpha-male reputation in the eyes of his fans (though they might not quite put it like this) by not allowing anyone to “dictate his attitude or virtues to him.” Trump’s flaunting of his own most shameful qualities deflects the damage that any revelation can do to him. When he displays his vices so openly, the drama of revelation leads only to a shrug of the shoulders: tell us something we didn’t know. His outbursts normalize the outrageous—habit, as Samuel Beckett has it, is a great deadener. Most subtly but most effectively, they play havoc with one of the things we think we know about politics: the game of distraction.
We all know that people in power deploy distraction as a professional skill, much as magicians do. We are used to it. In every act of political communication, “Look at this” is always the explicit obverse of an implicit “Don’t look at that.” But Trump confounds us by using as distractions the very things that other politicians want to distract us from. In democracy as we think we have known it, the art of governance is, in part, the skill with which our attention is diverted from the sordid, the shameful, the thuggish. Yet these same qualities are the gaudiest floats in Trump’s daily parade of grotesqueries. This is his strange, and in its own way brilliant, reversal: instead of distracting us from the lurid and the sensational, Trump is using them to distract us from the slow, boring, apparently mundane but deeply insidious sabotaging of government. He is the blaring noise that drowns out the low signal of subversion.
There is, surely, a reason why books that give us Trump in all his outlandish tawdriness—like Michael Wolff’s Fire and Fury and Bob Woodward’s Fear: Trump in the White House—cannot, however appalling their accounts may be, do him any harm. They are exercises in “looking straight at him to learn the truth about him,” an act that seems entirely right by any traditional political and journalistic standard but that misses the specificity of Trump’s performance. If you look straight at such a glaring object, you are blinded.
Michael Lewis’s The Fifth Risk is a much shorter, simpler book, with no great drama and no real claims to be comprehensive or definitive. But it does something both brave and highly intelligent: it looks at Trump not straight but crooked. He is hardly in the book at all and yet it tells us more than Wolff or Woodward about the long-term damage he is doing. For while they give us an aberrant buffoon whose incompetence must surely doom him, allowing the normal business of government to resume, Lewis points toward a much deeper assault on government itself.
Lewis is (justly) a nonfiction star, a weaver of propulsive, character-driven narratives in which people, money, and technology are thrown into a dizzying spin. Moneyball and The Big Short have been made into gripping movies. Michelle and Barack Obama have acquired the rights to The Fifth Risk for a possible Netflix series, but it is hard to imagine that they faced much competition from more typical movie producers. The pitch would be the toughest since The Producers. “So Trump’s in this, right?” “Well, he makes a cameo appearance at the start. But we’ve got John MacWilliams who used to work for the Department of Energy and Catherine Woteki who used to be chief scientist at the Department of Agriculture and Kathy Sullivan who was head of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration ( NOAA ) at the Department of Commerce and D.J. Patil who was Obama’s chief data scientist.” “Never heard of them. And what is this fifth risk anyway?” “We find out in the big reveal at the end of the first act: it’s ‘project management.’”
The Fifth Risk is a passionate, even earnest, book about people who have worked as public servants for the federal government and the things they worry about. But it is also a challenge to think about not who Trump is but what he is doing, to see how, in some important respects, the phrase “the Trump administration” is an oxymoron. His project is not to administer the government of the United States. It is to bring it into disrepute.
In October 1987 Ronald Reagan sprayed his folksy charm over an old antigovernment joke: “You know, it’s said that the ten most frightening words in the English language are: ‘Hello, I’m from the government, and I’m here to help.’” Reagan was speaking to small-business owners likely to be receptive to the idea that even the most well-intentioned government agencies do nothing but get in the way. There was always an element of hypocrisy in this—Republican politicians have gone on deploying the power of federal patronage, and their supporters have never been allergic to taxpayer dollars. Republican presidents thus continued, even as they starved some parts of the federal government, to have an interest in actually running it.
The joke, though, was always likely to become a serious proposition sooner or later. If you keep saying that government is not the solution but the problem, that “Washington” as a generic term for all the institutions that manage the public realm is just a swamp to be drained, you will end up wanting to destroy it. And if this is what you want to do, then the aspects of Trump that seem most like political weaknesses—his ignorance and his incompetence—are not weaknesses at all. They are powerful weapons of administrative destruction. The best way to undermine government is to make it as stupid and as inept as your rhetoric has always claimed it to be.
The American system is uniquely vulnerable to this maneuver. Americans tend to think they have the best system of government in the world. Yet from the outside, one aspect of it seems insane. Most functioning democracies have a permanent civil service that is legally obliged to be politically neutral. It takes orders from elected politicians but is protected from subversion by protocols of parliamentary accountability and the difficulty of firing its members. In the US, there is of course a vast permanent public service of two million employees. But the top layers of each department and institution are made up of four thousand presidential appointees. Not only is there no continuity of management, but chaos is easy to create. All an incoming president needs to do is appoint people to these agencies who should not be allowed anywhere near them—or indeed appoint no one at all. There is in the US system an opportunity to abuse power by simply declining to use it.
According to Lewis, in August 2016 Trump was enraged to discover that the head of his transition team, then New Jersey governor Chris Christie, had raised several million dollars to meet the campaign’s legal obligations to start planning to take over the government after the presidential election. He yelled at Christie: “You’re stealing my money! You’re stealing my fucking money! What is this?… Fuck the law. I don’t give a fuck about the law. I want my fucking money.” He was dissuaded from shutting down the transition team only by Steve Bannon’s argument that the media would take this as evidence that he had abandoned hopes of winning in November. But Trump had his revenge. At the instigation of Jared Kushner, whose animosity toward Christie was seated in the latter’s successful prosecution of his father, Charles Kushner, for illegal campaign contributions, tax evasion, and witness tampering, Trump fired Christie and his entire team almost immediately after the election and effectively shredded all the work they had done to find suitable appointees.
As of October 22, 2018, according to a tracker maintained by The Washington Post and the Partnership for Public Service, almost two years after his election, Trump has failed even to put forward a nominee for 139 of the top 704 positions requiring confirmation by the Senate. The Department of Agriculture ( USDA ), for example, has no undersecretary for food, nutrition, and consumer services. This is a part of the department that managed a budget of $112.2 billion in 2015.
This undersecretary administers a system bigger than many countries. He or she runs the food stamp program that provides a vital lifeline to millions of Americans. The undersecretary is supposed to supervise fifteen federal nutrition assistance programs, including school meals and the Special Supplemental Nutrition Program for Women, Infants and Children, and to develop policies to end hunger and stop kids from being raised on junk food. While failing to fill the post, Trump did manage to fill the lower echelons of the USDA with patronage appointees, described by Lewis as “a long-haul truck driver, a clerk at AT&T , a gas- company meter-reader, a country-club cabana attendant, a Republican National Committee intern, and the owner of a scented-candle company.”
But who knows or cares about a nonexistent undersecretary for food, nutrition, and consumer services? It’s a boring question about a quiet void. When Trump makes sure that we have an outrage a day to feed on, who has time to think about the nonmanagement of food stamps or school meals? As it happens, Lewis does, and he talks extensively to the last holder of the office, Kevin Concannon. He held the position from 2009 until January 2017, and had “spent the better part of a trillion dollars feeding people with taxpayer money while somehow remaining virtually anonymous.” Before that, he ran successively the human services departments of the states of Iowa, Maine, and Oregon.
The norm under both Republican and Democratic administrations is that the incoming president’s appointee to this job, usually a very experienced administrator who, like Concannon, had done a similar job at the state level, would begin detailed briefings with the incumbent almost immediately after the election. Concannon prepared extensively for the transition. He had, for example, reduced the rate of fraud in the food stamp program to an all-time low—something Republicans, who like to go on about fraud, might at least want to learn about. By the time he left office, no one from Team Trump had spoken to him or to any of his subordinates, ever. He waited and waited but nobody came. Two years on, no one has yet arrived to take his place.
What’s going on here is easily enfolded within the terms that the big narratives of the Trump presidency offer us: chaos, ignorance, incompetence. The terms are not inapt, but they are radically insufficient. They demand modifiers. In the entire nexus of right-wing politics and business interests around Trump, deliberate chaos, willful ignorance, and strategic incompetence can be embraced as virtues. If you despise the food stamp program as a disincentive to the shiftless poor to buck up and take responsibility for themselves, if you make your profits from supplying junk food for school meals fed to 30 million American children, if you think that ensuring that pregnant women and new mothers get proper nutrition is socialist tyranny, then the easiest thing to do is nothing. Avoid briefings so you don’t have to know what these programs do and why they do it. Let the knowledge and experience embodied in people like Concannon just vanish into thin air. Leave vacuums of leadership, authority, and accountability that will, with any luck, lead to drift and demoralization. Let public agencies rot on the vine and then point to the rottenness as proof that Big Government doesn’t work.
It helps that the US federal government is astonishingly bad at letting people know about the good things it does. Lewis talks to Lillian Salerno, who ran the Rural Development division of the USDA , including a $220 billion bank that makes loans to needy communities and individuals in small-town and agricultural America—the places that voted most heavily for Trump. Before taking public office, she developed, in response to the AIDS crisis, the first retractable needles in a manufacturing company she started near Dallas. She did so with a business loan from a local bank. She had no idea that the bank was merely the conduit for the real source of the money—the very federal agency she ended up running in the Obama years. She recalls making similar loans while in that job: “In the red southern states the mayor sometimes would say, ‘Can you not mention that the government gave this?’”
Even the titles of departments are bushels specially made for hiding lights under. The Department of Agriculture is mostly not concerned with agriculture—70 percent of its budget goes to the programs Concannon used to run, which are essentially social welfare services. The Department of Energy is not primarily in the energy business—half its budget goes toward maintaining the US nuclear arsenal and protecting the public from nuclear threats and another quarter toward, in Lewis’s colorful description, “cleaning up all the unholy world-historic mess left behind by the manufacture of nuclear weapons.” The Department of Commerce has almost nothing to do with promoting businesses. It gathers data (including the census), sets material and technological standards—and predicts the weather. More than half of its budget goes to NOAA , which in turn runs the National Weather Service.
Here we come to another way of wrecking government. Alongside malign neglect, Trump has a second option: appoint the worst possible person. Trump’s pattern of appointing to the top layers of government people who were openly antagonistic to the very departments they would run—Wilbur Ross, Betsy DeVos, Scott Pruitt, Ben Carson, and Rick Perry among them—was obvious enough. But arguably of even greater import was his approach to the appointment of the people who actually run things, the low-profile technocrats and bureaucrats crucial to a competent administration.
According to the criteria drawn up by Mitt Romney’s team for the transition he hoped would take place in 2012, the head of NOAA should have a “strong scientific background in either oceans or climate,” as well as extensive management experience, preferably in NOAA or another government agency. This ought to be a given, since the agency’s 11,000 employees are primarily engaged in scientific work. Hence George W. Bush appointed Conrad Lautenbacher, who had been the CEO of the Consortium for Oceanographic Research and Education and deputy chief of naval operations in the US Navy. Barack Obama appointed first Jane Lubchenco, professor of marine biology at Oregon State University and president of both the International Council for Science and the Ecological Society of America; and then Kathryn Sullivan, previously NOAA ’s chief scientist, an assistant secretary of the Department of Commerce, and, incidentally, an astronaut and the first American woman to walk in space.
Who could replace Sullivan? According to Lewis, a former Bush administration adviser whom he does not name but who had worked at the Commerce Department for eight years, was asked by the White House to provide an answer. This man was well aware that Trump would not want a leading climate scientist—constructed ignorance of climate change being a core presidential principle. But he still reckoned that the appointee would be an experienced scientist: “If you don’t believe in climate change, you at least want to understand the climate.” He drew up a list of six “qualified Republicans, inoffensive to Trump.” Emphatically not on it was Barry Myers, who has no scientific or public service credentials. He is the CEO of AccuWeather, a private company that makes its money by taking the weather data created at great public expense by NOAA ’s National Weather Service, marketing it through apps, a website, and a TV network, and tailoring it for private clients like newspapers, ski resorts, and home improvement stores.
Myers managed to define AccuWeather, in reality parasitic on the government, as a private sector competitor of the government, and therefore insisted that the National Weather Service not be allowed to provide citizens with the information they pay for through their taxes: “The government should get out of the forecasting business.” He argued that the NWS was like the Post Office, while AccuWeather was FedEx: “It was,” he told a congressional hearing in 2013, “like the Post Office and Federal Express, except it would be like the Post Office offering to carry every letter without postage, and every package for free.” Myers donated to Rick Santorum, who in turn introduced a bill in the Senate in 2005 that would have forced the NWS to issue forecasts only through “data portals designed for volume access by commercial providers” (like, of course, AccuWeather) and would have effectively banned it from issuing any public information except immediate severe storm warnings.
Making Myers head of NOAA would therefore be, to use his own analogy, like putting the CEO of FedEx in charge of the Post Office, with the power to decide that it should cease to provide any services that compete with private courier companies. (Though to make the analogy complete, FedEx would already have free use of the Post Office’s trucks and distribution systems.) In October 2017, Trump nominated Myers as head of NOAA , a nomination quickly confirmed along party lines in committee but still awaiting Senate approval.
Lewis is at his vivid best in teasing out the implications of this, for it is a story in which a little movie-style melodrama is entirely justified. He points out that Myers has spent much of his career trying to make the NWS look bad. Why else would people pay for his service when the government provides the same information for free? But now he will acquire the power to actually make it bad, to limit its investment in refining and communicating its forecasts:
The dystopic endgame is not difficult to predict: the day you get only the weather forecast you pay for. A private company will become better than the Weather Service at knowing where a hurricane will make landfall: What will it do with that information? Tell the public or trade it inside a hedge fund? You know what Hurricane Harvey is going to do to Houston before Houston knows: Do you help Houston? Or do you find clever ways to make money off Houston’s destruction?
We know what Donald Trump the mogul would have done, and in the light of that knowledge it is not surprising that he would want to steal the weather. But even to say this is, of course, to be distracted, to move from the mundane business of who controls food stamps and weather forecasts back into the appallingly entertaining psychodrama with which he keeps us transfixed. Old habits die hard, and it is very hard to shake off the habitual assumption that every administration, beneath the surface, has a basic interest in being able to show with some credibility that it is governing well. We imagine that those in power at least want to convey the impression that they know what they are doing and that they do it capably. Neither of these assumptions applies to Trump. When you want to discredit government itself, obliviousness and ineptitude are their own rewards. In drawing attention to what public service is and how it is being abused, Michael Lewis has himself done the public a considerable service.

btn_donateCC_LG

Please Donate


 

Rick Newman
Senior Columnist
Yahoo News, November 21, 2018

 

The sharp cut in tax rates President Trump signed last year was supposed to trigger an investment boom. In June, six months after the tax cuts went into effect, Trump called the tax-cut law an “economic miracle” and said, “Our country is doing so well. I don’t think it’s ever done like this, in terms of the economy.”
The miracle was more like a mirage. One key element of the Republican tax legislation was a sharp cut in the corporate tax rate, from 35% to 21%, which went into effect at the start of the year. As expected, the tax cuts roughly doubled the growth rate in corporate profits. Investors expected a stock-market rally. Yet equities have wobbled all year and the S&P 500 is down slightly in 2018.
The market, apparently, hasn’t been fooled by the bubbly math accompanying the corporate tax cuts. Earnings growth for the S&P 500 rose from 12% last year to an estimated 23% this year, according to Goldman Sachs. But EPS growth is likely to drop back to 6% next year and just 4% in 2020. Those numbers are still good, and the lower growth rates of the next two years will come atop higher baseline profits. But the sharp slowdown in earnings growth that investors now expect explains a good part of the stock-market selloff of the last two months.
Trump also claimed that corporations overflowing with profits would spend bigly on new facilities and more workers. But that isn’t happening, either. A variety of indicators, such as business fixed investment and capital goods orders, show that businesses are spending at roughly the same pace, or perhaps even a bit less, than they were before the tax cuts went into effect. “There has been a clear leveling off in both capital goods orders and shipments, which suggests that the near stagnation in business equipment investment in the third quarter may be the beginning of a more sustained weakness,” research firm Capital Economics wrote recently to clients. Stagnation was not something Trump or his fellow Republicans promised.
Job growth is strong, one reason the underlying economy remains relatively healthy. But the pace of job growth, averaging 213,00 new jobs per month, is just slightly above the pace in 2016 and 2017, and actually lower than the pace of job growth in 2014 and 2015. The White House says the corporate tax cuts will eventually raise pay by around $4,000 per year, which would be a 6.5% raise for a family earning the median household income of around $63,000. But pay this year is only rising by 3.1%, which is better than last year but still barely ahead of inflation. The tax windfall hasn’t trickled down yet.

As for the overall economy, GDP growth was strong in the second quarter of this year, at 4.2%—but that may have been the peak. The third-quarter growth rate dropped to 3.5%, and fourth quarter growth is running at just 2.3%, according to forecasting firm Macroeconomic Advisers. Most economists expect a slowdown during the next two years, perhaps to 2% growth. Stocks have sold off during the last several weeks in large measure because investors believe slower growth will put a lid on corporate profits and possibly lead to a recession.
Republicans who were the sole backers of last year’s tax cuts thought voters would thank them with a Republican sweep in the 2018 midterms, which was obviously a miscalculation. Many Americans say they haven’t noticed any tax cut for themselves, even as corporate coffers swell. Meanwhile, the government’s annual deficit, which normally goes down when the economy is strong because more economic activity generates more tax revenue, is going the opposite direction now. Annual deficits will soon top $1 trillion, with some analysts worried all that federal borrowing could force interest rates higher—another worrying contributing to the selloff in stocks.

So nearly a year after the historic Republican tax cuts, the stock market is lower, a growth slowdown seems to be underway and investors are worried about soaring levels of federal debt. This party barely got started before it was over.
Confidential tip line: rickjnewman@yahoo.com. Click here to get Rick’s stories by email.

btn_donateCC_LG

Please Donate


How much infrastructure repair will  210 billion buy? MA
ROBERT BURNS, Associated Press 13 hours ago

WASHINGTON (AP) — Using thousands of military troops to help secure the Southwest border will cost an estimated $210 million under current plans, the Pentagon told Congress on Tuesday, even as questions arose about the scope and duration of the controversial mission.
The total includes $72 million for approximately 5,900 active-duty troops providing support to Customs and Border Protection, plus $138 million so far for 2,100 National Guard troops who have been performing a separate border mission since April, according to a report sent to Congress on Tuesday but not released by the Pentagon.
A copy of the report was obtained by The Associated Press. After the AP published its story the Pentagon released a statement confirming the active-duty portion of the deployments is estimated at $72 million. It did not mention the $138 million in National Guard costs.
The total would grow beyond the current combined estimate of $210 million if the active-duty mission is extended beyond the current completion date of Dec. 15. Officials said an extension appeared likely but had not yet been agreed upon.
The Pentagon also was working on a potential adjustment to the mission that would give the active-duty troops who are operating in Texas, Arizona and California the authority to defend Customs and Border Protection personnel if necessary. The troops, who include military police, are currently authorized to defend themselves.
About 2,800 of the active-duty troops are in South Texas, far from the main migrant caravan in Tijuana, Mexico, south of California. The movement of the Central American migrants into Mexico in October was the stated reason that President Donald Trump ordered the military to provide support for Customs and Border Protection.
Trump, who called the migrant caravan an “invasion,” has been accused by critics, including some retired military officers, of using the military deployment as a political tool in the run-up to the Nov. 6 midterm elections.
Sen. Dianne Feinstein, a California Democrat, said Tuesday the Pentagon’s cost report shows the mission was a “charade.”
“These soldiers spent weeks away from home and the Pentagon wasted millions of taxpayer dollars so President Trump could stoke fears of asylum seekers and try to influence election results,” she said. “Using our military men and women as political pawns to support an anti-immigrant agenda is a low point, even for this president.”
On Tuesday, Trump said he was sure the troops are happy to be on the border mission, even though it means being away from home over Thanksgiving.
“Don’t worry about the Thanksgiving. These are tough people,” Trump told reporters before flying to Florida for the holiday. “They know what they’re doing and they’re great and they’ve done a great job. You’re so worried about the Thanksgiving holiday for them. They are so proud to be representing our country on the border where if you look at what’s happening, Mexico, the people from Tijuana are saying, wow these are tough people. They’re fighting us.”
If, as expected, the mission is extended beyond Dec. 14, at least some of the troops are likely also to be away for Christmas.
Defense Secretary Jim Mattis has declined to publicly discuss cost estimates for the border mission, saying as recently as last week that he had little confidence in the accuracy of figures he had seen thus far.
“We can estimate costs all we want, I’d prefer to give you real costs. Right now, I can’t give that to you,” Mattis told reporters last Wednesday when he flew to Texas to see the military’s work. “It’s the cost of deploying them, it’s the cost of transferring their equipment to the border, it’s fuel costs, it’s all those kinds of costs. So, I just don’t want to get into something I can’t give you what I believe confidently is accurate.”
In its report to Congress on Tuesday, the Pentagon said it expects the deployment of 5,900 active-duty troops through Dec. 15 to cost $72 million, while adding that the mission, which is now three weeks old, is still being refined. The cost includes $19 million for personnel, $20 million for transportation of personnel, equipment and supplies, $28 in operating expenses and $5 million for concertina wire and other border barrier materials.
“The total cost of the operation has yet to be determined and will depend on the total size, duration and scope,” the report said.
It said that as of Nov. 14, about $14 million in actual payments for expenses such as travel, supplies and transportation had been reported by the units involved.
The National Guard’s border mission, which is being conducted by troops for numerous states, has cost an estimated $138 million as of Tuesday, the Pentagon report said. That mission, involving about 2,100 troops, began in April.

btn_donateCC_LG

Please Donate


btn_donateCC_LG

Please Donate

Bob Gorrell Comic Strip for November 21, 2018


A little story from an Old Friend.MA

Thanksgiving Musings—bits of purloined levity

There is always something to be thankful for.
• I became a true Michigander and went hunting recently. Shot my first turkey. Scared the crap out of everyone in the frozen food section. It was awesome though.
• It takes me three weeks to stuff the turkey. To be prim and proper, I shove it in through the beak.
• Some people serve red wine with their Thanksgiving dinner. Some people serve white. My preference is lots of.
• I tell the guests that they can tell when they have eaten too much—they will have to let out their bathrobes.
• Thanksgiving dinner is going to be special this year. Mom says that I don’t have to sit at the card table.
• The next day is Black Friday. In America, people trample on each other for sales one day after being thankful for what they have.
• Life is full of give and take. Give thanks and take Nothing for granted.
• We make a living by what we get. We make life by what we give.
• We must find time to stop and thank the people who made a difference in our lives.
• There is always something to be thankful for.
Happy Thanksgiving to all our friends and relatives. Eat and drink in moderation, but give thanks abundantly.
Shamelessly prepared by Abel Oldsworth (aka eme) 11/13/2018

btn_donateCC_LG

Please Donate

%d bloggers like this: