If Congress decides to spend $1 trillion on infrastructure, keep tabs on who gets it

The grades are in. The nation’s infrastructure is close to failing.

aging-infrastructureThe 2017 report card of the American Society of Civil Engineers, posted today, gives the infrastructure on which America depends for commerce, defense, recreation, flight, food, water, waste — almost everything — an overall grade of D+.

From the ASCE report:

The 2017 grades range from a B for Rail to a D- for Transit, illustrating the clear impact of investment – or lack thereof – on the grades. Three categories – Parks, Solid Waste, and Transit – received a decline in grade this year, while seven – Hazardous Waste, Inland Waterways, Levees, Ports, Rail, Schools, and Wastewater – saw slight improvements. Six categories’ grades remain unchanged from 2013 – Aviation, Bridges, Dams, Drinking Water, Energy, and Roads.

The areas of infrastructure that improved benefited from vocal leadership, thoughtful policymaking, and investments that garnered results.

Scholars & Rogues has long considered addressing the nation’s infrastructure needs essential for the nation’s economic, cultural, resource, and domestic security (see here, here, here, and here). Continue reading

The ‘enemy of the American People’ doesn’t work at your local newspaper

It engenders anger to know the president of the United States says that what I did for a living for 20 years — and what I’ve spent 25 years teaching — represents the acts of “an enemy of the American People.”

CATEGORY: JournalismPresident Donald, titularly “the most powerful man in the world,” will eventually learn not to pick fights with people who buy ink in 55-gallon drums — and have plenty of digital and video ink to spare.

He’s awakened a slumbering watchdog. Recall journalism’s reactions to President Nixon’s overt and covert deceits. The nation’s best newspapers rose to challenge the president — and Nixon lost. Trust in the executive branch withered. Remember, too, the swell of entrants to the nation’s journalism programs (well, after “All the President’s Men” hit the big screen). Will that happen again in President Donald’s first term?

President Donald’s fortunate in the timing of his presidency. The last 20 years have left journalism in a weakened, altered state. Reasons are many — management reacting too late to the challenge of the internet, a decline in interest in the field among the young, and massive losses of revenue prompting executives to pare the workforce of daily print journalists by 20,000 positions, about 39 percent.

Continue reading

Few rules, fewer regulators — President Donald’s shrink-the-government plan

In the absence of rules and sheriffs, bandits will multiply.

CATEGORY: PoliticsLawGovernment3The end game of the heavily mediated engine driving American political strife boils down to these questions:

  • What is the appropriate size of the federal government?
  • Who should decide that?
  • Who should run the “right-sized” government based on what values determined by whom?

Big, big money was wagered in the 2016 election cycle on the outcome of this game as gazillionaires of the right and left poured donations (wonder how many are legal?) into competing PACs, SuperPACS, and 501C’s.

The Democrats shouted: We need social equality. Continue reading

Dear Liberals: you don’t vote in your economic best interests, either

trump-votersBottom line: almost ALL Americans vote against their best interests.

For years progressives have been hammering conservatives – specifically social conservatives – who “vote against their own interests.” As in, poor working people who vote for the wealthy GOP interests that are the reason they’re poor, and whose policies insure they will remain that way. I have certainly been among this crowd – I remember wondering back in the 1992 election what the fuck could be wrong with Arkansas Bush I voters, for instance. They concluded that Dubya’s Daddy was the sort of guy “they’d like to have a beer with.” Somehow a Northeastern blueblood Skull & Boneser who’d been born with a silver spoon up his ass was more “one of them” than, you know, the guy who was actually born in the trailer park down the road.

It was irrational, it was self-defeating, and it was stupid beyond all imagining. Continue reading

President Donald’s already shrunken government

The Trump transition team has yet to name all its executive branch officials, moving to fill only about 4 percent of positions needing Senate approval.

trumpPresident Donald has yet to flesh out the rest of the executive branch despite Vice President Mike Pence’s claim that “We’re wrapping up this transition on schedule and under budget,” according to Politico’s Influence newsletter.

The heat of media scrutiny has fallen on top-level Cabinet posts, and deservedly so. But President Donald as of yesterday, when he was still president-elect, has moved to fill only 4 percent of the 690 executive branch appointments requiring Senate confirmation.

From an analysis by Bloomberg’s Jonathan Bernstein:

Look at the big four departments. There’s no Trump appointee for any of the top State Department jobs below secretary nominee Rex Tillerson. No Trump appointee for any of the top Department of Defense jobs below retired general James Mattis. Treasury? Same story. Justice? Continue reading

Politics: Democrats vs Republicans

Obama, Holder to lead fight against gerrymandering

Competition is good. Free markets are good. Give everyone a shot at the brass ring. Get rid of regulations that stifle competition and opportunity.

Thus spake many a Republican (and often a Democratic) politician, saying they only want to hand business interests in America a clear road to economic growth and apparent prosperity for all.

So why do those same politicians, at federal and state levels, balk at attempts to introduce competitiveness in elections?

What, you say? American state and federal elections are not competitive? Continue reading

Narcissism, promises, and job approval: They might not mix well for President Donald

An inability to focus on consequences that do not center on him. Check. An absence of empathy for others. Check. A lack of impulse control coupled to a need to lash out at perceived offenses (and offenders). Check. A vainglorious view of himself. Check. An ever-present, almost childlike, need for praise. Check.

Build the Wall TrumpPresident-Elect Donald is a narcissist. That’s the conclusion of Alan J. Lipman, a clinical psychologist, chronicled in a commentary on CNN. But we already know that, don’t we? We’ve seen it repeatedly at his rallies and in his Twitter rants. But so far, he’s insulated himself from the consequences of his narcissism. Even past Republican critics, such as the speaker of the House, and big-money donors who did not support his candidacy are falling in line, creating an imaginary unity.

President-Elect Donald’s egregious behaviors have become acceptable because so many legislators and donors have too much at stake (power, influence, government contracts, etc.) to suggest the emperor-elect is naked.

But there’s one judge of presidential behavior, character, and leadership President-Elect Donald has yet to face — George Gallup’s question:

Do you approve or disapprove of the way ____ is handling his job as president?

Continue reading

Capitalism

The despicable inequality and cruel egalitarianism of wealth (Part 2): the innovation and wonder of Capitalism

Design is local but manufacturing and distribution are international

Part 2 of a series.

CapitalismLet’s recognise that Capitalism has brought a billion people out of absolute poverty over the past decade, that it is an astonishing way to allocate talent and enthusiasm to its best use, and that it’s not going anywhere soon.

In 2008, I wrote a research paper looking at the impact of globalisation on South Africa’s recently opened (post-Apartheid) economy, as well as the likely trends for the future.

The textiles industry, which had been a massive employer for South Africa, had been crippled. In 2008, from my report:

“Over the past ten years, labour unions started to take hold of the environment which led to a lot of fragmentation in the industry,” says Noel Paulson, Edcon’s Group Quality Executive. “A lot of the factories found that dealing with labour issues for the manufacturing process was very time-consuming and costly. Continue reading

Trump voters and the need to feel superior

Faulkner was wrong. Mankind will not prevail.

trump-voters

Part 2 of a series

After weeks of pondering, I think I finally understand the election.

Full disclosure. I am an older white male. I grew up in the projects in the South, which was several social rungs below a trailer park because it meant living side by side with negroes. We were impoverished, living from paycheck to emergency loan to charity to government assistance to paycheck. I grew up in a family of virulent racists, proud that our ancestors had fought for the Confederacy and ridden with the Klan. My mother never finished high school and no one in my direct family line had ever completed college. I’ve been married 38 years to the same woman, have children and grandchildren and live in rural Indiana.

Trump’s tax plan will save me about $12,000 a year and will save my kids over a million dollars in inheritance taxes. I should’ve been a Trump supporter. Continue reading

Do Trump voters really think they’ve won?

There’s good news and bad news for poor white Trump supporters.

Trump votersPart 1 of a series

I’ve now gone through my seven stages of grieving over the election. But I’m not at peace. Instead I’m left with a nasty black residue like the stuff on beaches after an oil spill. It’s best summed up by an old joke.

Two guys show up at the gates of Heaven. St. Peter meets them and says, “I’ve got some bad news. Heaven’s a little full right now. We’re sending you back. We’ll come get you when we finish the new addition.”

He turns to one. “Now you’ve been a great person. You’ve been kind and generous. You’ve never done anything bad to anyone. You weren’t rich or famous, but you worked hard and maintained your dignity. I’m going to give you a $25 million dollar head start.” Continue reading

Despite campaign promises, Donald can’t revive the American coal industry

President Donald wants to revive America’s coal industry. He says regulations, most notably from the Environmental Protection Agency, have forced coal plants to close. So he wants to do away with those damn unfriendly regulations (such as the mercury and air toxics standards, the proposed cross-state pollution standard and the proposed limitations of carbon dioxide emissions). After that, Appalachian coal will again be riven from the earth, reviving the industry.

Nope. Won’t happen. Coal lost. Natural gas, thanks to fracking, won. Continue reading

Next time, ask the Reagan question before you vote

On January 1, 2019, as President Trump approaches his third state of the union address, people in America should pop the Reagan question: Are you better off than you were four years ago?

Those in the United States should ask, for example:

“Is my health insurance costing me more out of pocket than under Obama? Am I getting better, more affordable benefits?”

“Can I still get health insurance?”

“Have work restrictions been placed on my Medicare benefits? Has my state limited Medicare benefits?”

“Has my property tax bill gone up or down?”

“Has the rusty bridge carrying my daughter’s school bus been fixed?”

“I live in a city. Has my child developed asthma in the past year?”

“What’s the interest rate on a new car now?”

“Do I have to pay more for my prescription medications?”
Continue reading

After Donald, of squandered talent, wasted time, and a lost future

Trump will reign over dust and desolation…

On 1 September 1859, telegraph operators across Europe and North America watched in horror as their equipment began to spark and behave erratically. Some disconnected their equipment from their power supplies and discovered they could still transmit.

Cables arced. Sparks flew. Operators fled as their offices caught fire.

What became known as the Carrington Event was the result of a solar eruption as a magnetic field containing a plasma mass equivalent to Mount Everest was flung out from the sun towards Earth. Continue reading

The war over words

Politicians have always sought the power to control the meaning of language. But now this open warfare has raced past reprehensible to dangerous for democracy.

language-has-powerIn the vicious descent to American unexceptionalism that politicians and their rich supporters are hellbent on winning (common folk and consequences be damned), the election has become a continuing chase for the authority to control language.

That’s what modern power has become: the ability to define a word, and to prevent others from doing so. Politicians rarely make coherent arguments any more; they instead try to co-opt the meanings of words. That’s why debates have been nonsensical: Candidates may utter the same words, but the meanings they assign to those words are vastly different.

Consider just one particular word. Continue reading

Brexit Britain Bigotry Bake-off

Turning every unemployed person into a doctor is neither possible nor desirable. But if you do the math, that seems to be where England is heading.

170px-bundesarchiv_bild_183-r999932c_jude_mit_stern_in_berlin

We’ve been here before…

It’s a few months since I wrote about my despair following the Brexit referendum and, as I feared, the walls are coming up. It’s not like Europe has much experience with forcing foreigners and minorities to be physically labelled and publicly humiliated.

So post-Brexit Britain’s new idea of forcing companies to label their foreign employees and humiliate them for not hiring locals is a depressing return to the dark ages.

A further idea is to replace all foreign employees with locals. They’re starting with the NHS — the country’s ubiquitous universal health service — which currently employs about 1.2 million people, of whom 55,000 are EU citizens (30,000 of whom are doctors). Continue reading

Never forget…what, exactly?

Yesterday, Big Think posted an interesting collection of Gallup Poll results, along with some commentary: Obama Actually Made America Great Again. Here’s the Data. To hear the rabidly irrational Obama opposition on today, of all days, I can only say that these are funny numbers to describe how Obama has ruined America in eight years.

What’s truly deplorable is that, of all the ways Bush (with a boost from Dems) ruined America Continue reading

In just a decade, ‘content’ trumped ‘news’ (and those who reported it)

 Ten years has seen the evisceration of newsrooms; the alteration of form, function, and distribution of information; and the emergence of a distorted public discourse. Oh, joy.

Since 2007, I’ve written about the stark reductions in numbers of reporters and editors in America’s daily print newsrooms. During that time, I’ve witnessed more than 20,000 newsroom jobs vanish. Now, it seems, only about 30,000 men and women toil in those newsrooms.

MediaI chose toil deliberately. First, those who remain have had to meet the continued and unchanged corporate demand for product or content once produced by twice their number. Second, the job has changed: In addition to the still-present demand for print content, those 20,000 face the imposition of onerous digital deadlines and unbelievable expectations of quantity. Post so many stories a day, or an hour, they’re told. That, of course, has impacts on the quality of those stories.

For many, those who remain even have different titles — they are no longer reporters or editors. They have become “community content editors,” “content coaches,” “presentation team members,” “engagement editors,” “headline optimizers,” “story scientists,” or “curators in chief.”

Yes, the operations of those places once known as “newsrooms” are rapidly and radically changing. But that obvious observation obscures a few emerging realities about how information (once known as “news”) is crafted and distributed.

Continue reading

Clinton, Trump proposals to rebuild nation’s infrastructure do too little

Hillary Clinton, the Democratic nominee for president, says she wants to spend $275 billion over five years to rebuild American roads and bridges. As noted here last year, that’s nowhere near enough money. Donald “I am your voice” Trump, the GOP nominee, says he’ll spend twice as much.

Neither candidate is overly specific on the details of how to fund those repairs.

But the amounts suggested are piddling. Take Clinton’s $275 billion, for example. What will that buy?

aging-infrastructureAccording to the American Road and Transportation Builders Association, the United States has “4.12 million miles of road in the United States, according to the Federal Highway Administration, including Alaska and Hawaii. The core of the nation’s highway system is the 47,575 miles of Interstate Highways, which comprise just over 1 percent of highway mileage but carry one-quarter of all highway traffic.” [emphasis added]

The association provides a variety of estimates for road construction and reconstruction, varying by number of lanes, urban vs. rural, rebuilding vs. milling and repaving, and so on.

Using a middle-of-the-road (an appropriate cliché here, I suppose) figure of $5 million per mile, Clinton’s proposed spending would buy reconstruction of about 45,000 miles of highways — only 1 percent of America’s traffic-bearing byways.

Continue reading

An American president under age 35? Oh, my …

Captain Morgan’s real campaign premise here is just to increase its share of the rum market.

Tcm_logo_image-e1427478632990rump (age 70) vs. Clinton (age 68)? This is the best choice the vaunted two-party system can provide for Americans?

If they’d like better, they ought to begin drinking rum. Especially Captain Morgan, a brand owned by Diageo, which bills itself as “the world’s leading premium drinks business.”

Captain Morgan will campaign for a constitutional change — allowing American residents under 35 years old to serve as president.  A petition is already parked at the White House, hopeful of attracting at least 100,000 signees.

According to AdAge, “The effort will get significant paid support, including a print ad running in Tuesday’s New York Times.” Continue reading