Friday, October 21, 2016

Ugly American Second Gilded Age: Spreading gold flakes over the iLies

One of the key reasons why this election was a tough battle for Hillary Clinton is the Democratic Party's failure to protect the people described in this Washington Post story Want to know why Trump’s winning Ohio? Drink a beer with ‘the deplorables’ in Boehner’s old district.

It isn't Hillary's fault, of course. What happened to those white men without a degree is represented by this set of facts about our government:

Simply, as reflected in federal social policy the balance of power in our federal government during the time that Baby Boomers started voting shifted from progressive to conservative in 1995..

What you notice is that the Democratic Party lost the House of Representatives in the 1994 election.

Also in 1994 the first "smartphone" marketed to consumers was introduced by BellSouth as the Simon Personal Communicator.

Of course the advent and evolution of the smartphone in no way relates to or reflects the social policy changes that began with the 104th Congress. Or does it? Maybe the changes since 1994 all reflect who we have become as a people.

And perhaps nothing reflects the "Ugly American Second Gilded Age" more than the smartphone, particularly the iPhone, as shown in these pictures of bright shiny objects, who profits from them, who pays for them to have fun with them, and who the money harms:

Click on slide show to see a larger version!

In fact, in order to use an iPhone (and most other portable devices), the Ugly American living in our Second Gilded Age pays to injure, sicken, and kill adults and children in the Congo.

And unlike how easily many smartphone owners instantly spot a dangerous lie from Donald Trump, because it benefits them, they choose to see no similarity between Trump and Apple even though when challenged on this:
Apple, in response to questions from The Post, acknowledged that this cobalt has made its way into its batteries. The Cupertino, Calif.-based tech giant said that an estimated 20 percent of the cobalt it uses comes from Huayou Cobalt. Paula Pyers, a senior director at Apple in charge of supply-chain social responsibility, said the company plans to increase scrutiny of how all its cobalt is obtained. Pyers also said Apple is committed to working with Huayou Cobalt to clean up the supply chain and to addressing the underlying issues, such as extreme poverty, that result in harsh work conditions and child labor.
She then went to brunch. To learn more about this click on the picture below...

...or grab your existing phone and find a cute cat video.

But the problem doesn't stop with harming others to get your new smartphone, as indicated in the slide show it continues with the ultimate "environmentally safe" disposal of your old phone (or the phone you gave your kid the last time).

Discarded electronics of all kinds are dangerous as explained in Toxins Found in E-Waste. Again most of the Ugly Americans living in our Second Gilded Age in Donald Trump style choose not to deal with the truth. To learn more about this click on the picture below...

...or maybe that cute cat video would be more interesting because if you enjoy it enough maybe these nice folks won't have died for you in vain.

In fairness to Apple, the company does have a major program to collect its old phones as reflected in How Apple recovers millions in gold from recycling old iPhones and iPads. But, of course, you have to participate in the Apple program.

Which brings me to what historians refer to as "The Gilded Age"in the United States which began after the Civil War and ended shortly after the beginning of the 20th Century when Progressive President Teddy Roosevelt started breaking up corporations.

The term came from one of Mark Twain's novels, The Gilded Age: A Tale of Today (1873) (available as a 99¢ Kindle Book). The book (co-written with Charles Dudley Warner) satirized the promised "golden age" as an era of serious social problems masked by a thin gold gilding of economic expansion. It is a pejorative term used to describe a time of materialistic excesses of Robber Barons combined with extreme poverty.

 The "Robber Barons" characterized in the image as sitting on the backs of workers were the 1% of the time.

Beginning in the early 2000's writers have started talking about a "Second Gilded Age." Consider the discussion from The Second Gilded Age: Has America Become an Oligarchy?:
The Occupy Wall Street movement is just one example of the sudden outbreak of tension between America's super-rich and the "other 99 percent." Experts now say the US has entered a second Gilded Age, but one in which hedge fund managers have replaced oil barons -- and are killing the American dream.

In a book published in 2010, American political scientists Jacob Hacker and Paul Pierson discuss how this "hyperconcentration of economic gains at the top" also existed in the United States in the early 20th century, when industrial magnates -- such as John D. Rockefeller, Andrew Carnegie and J. P. Morgan -- dominated the upper stratum of society and held the country firmly in their grip for years.
However, this analogy breaks down some when you consider the fact that the American economy became a "consumer economy" after WWI (meaning that over half of the GDP is in consumer spending, as opposed non-consumer spending such as industrial equipment, retail store shelving, farm tractors, etc.). That shift is significant.

And "hedge fund managers" have not replaced oil barons. Hedge fund managers are part of a group called "bankers" who are all just like 19th Century banker/financier J.P. Morgan.

Comparability in corporate impact 100 years later would have Andrew Carnegie's Carnegie Steel Company and John D. Rockefeller's Standard Oil Company analogous with Apple, Mark Zuckerberg's Facebook, and Larry Pages's Google. But steel and oil in the 19th Century were not mass market consumer targeted products. No one got up in the morning and instantly grabbed a piece of steel purchased from Carnegie to access a Standard Oil pipeline like a 21st Century iPhone owner might check their Facebook Page and Google News.

The problem with comparing the two eras is the change in the nature of the economy. Outside the banking industry, we members of the general public with our individual decisions control who gets to be a "21st Century Robber Baron." Yes, many of us are manipulated by the gilding on an otherwise mundane product we choose to purchase such as the gilding of iPhones. But at no other time in history has the average serf consumer had the control over who gets to move into the 1% to this degree.

It appears we have reached the point that our spending choices, which we knew were enriching the 1%, are now an international worry.

The International Monetary Fund (IMF), which has its own set of controversies (see Wikipedia) and provides the basic support for world trade in total conflict to Donald Trump's isolationist proposals, in June released a "working paper" on Income Polarization in the United States which offers an analysis on the increased polarization of the American economy leading to a conclusion that polarization has reduced American consumer spending by more than 3 percent or about $400 billion annually. The following extracted from the paper explains the core of what they learned

Click on image to see a larger version!
The paper uses a combination of micro-level datasets to document the rise of income polarization—what some have referred to as the “hollowing out” of the income distribution—in the United States, since the 1970s. While in the initial decades more middle-income households moved up, rather than down, the income ladder, since the turn of the current century, most of polarization has been towards lower incomes. This result is striking and in contrast with findings of other recent contributions....

This paper also examines the macroeconomic consequences of increased polarization, notably on aggregate consumption. We first estimate the marginal propensity to consume out of permanent income changes (MPCP) for the low-, middle-, and high-income brackets and show that these have somewhat decreased in recent years, signaling less responsiveness of consumption to permanent income shocks. Then we apply these MPCPs to income brackets, keeping income growth the same (at the aggregate level) for all brackets. This aggregate consumption then is compared to the counterfactual of consumption with constant MPCPs and bracket sizes at the initial year’s levels. The cumulative difference of these two estimates of consumption, would be the lost consumption, which is partly due to changes in consumer behavior and partly due to higher polarization.

The results are shown in Figure 17. We have shown the effect of the first force on consumption in the blue bars and the net effect of the second and third forces in green bars. The total impact has been a lower level of aggregate consumption by around 3½ percent at the end of the sample (Figure 17). This effect is split equally between lower MPCPs and lower median income levels. The size of the lost consumption is relatively large. It is equivalent of more than one year of consumption, based on historical averages, in 15 years.

...Our main conclusions, which are robust to different definitions of the middle-income and different household characteristics, are as follows:

  • Income polarization has risen substantially in the past four decades—much the same, if not even faster than inequality. While in the initial decades more middle-income households moved up, rather than down the income ladder, since the turn of the current century, most of polarization has been towards lower incomes.
  • The hollowing out of the middle-income class and lower MPCPs have lowered consumption. The total effect has been a lower level of aggregate consumption by around 3½ percent (relative to the counterfactual where polarization had remained at 1998 levels) at the end of the sample. This is equivalent to more than one year of consumption.
The point is that the "Second Gilded Age" in the United States is now resulting in less consumer spending because of increased income polarization which is depressing the economy and in doing so actually reduces the "gilding." What the authors of the IMF study didn't do is project how long this can continue before the post-WWI "consumer economy" collapses.

But they suggest some future studies noting: "The answers to these questions would have strong implications for fiscal policies, and in particular tax/transfer multipliers." That is one way of saying they think that income redistribution through a more progressive income tax system might in the long term avoid the collapse of the consumer economy.

What's startling about this is that the IMF appears to be worrying about "1st World" economic trends as epitomized by the situation in the United States, as reflected in these graphs:
Click on images to see a larger version!

These graphs don't tell us much that we didn't know, or shouldn't have already known. These statements aren't startling:
While during 1970-2000, more of the middle-income households moved into high- rather than low-income ranks, since 2000, only a quarter of one percent of households have moved up to high income ranks, compared to an astonishing 3¼ percent of households who have moved down the income ladder (from middle to low income ranks.)

Figure 5 shows that income shares of the middle- and high-income classes were broadly similar at levels slightly shy of 50 percent of total until late 1970s. Since then, however, these shares have been diverging. Currently, the high-income class holds about 60 percent of total income, while the middle-income class holds only about 35 percent. The income share of the low-income class has been stable at about 5 percent of total for the entire sample of 1970-2014.
And by the way, replacing your cell phone every year or two has resulted in a toxic environmental mess harming children in third world countries. That kind of behavior in the First Gilded Age was pretty much limited to the Robber Barons. It makes one pause a moment to wonder who is sitting on the backs of whom in this Second Golden Age.

Perhaps it could be that we are symbolically spreading gold flakes over the e-waste to avoid confronting the fact that America depends upon the international economy to provide us with extremely low paid workers to produce not only our shiny electronic toys but necessities such as food and clothing. If we are honest, we would acknowledge that we have moved from this... this... we save on clothing to buy these... we can enjoy our lives as Ugly Americans in a Second Gilded Age.

Friday, October 14, 2016

About that Star-Spangled Banner....

As with most of the things that make up the U.S. system of nationalistic indoctrination, The Star-Spangled Banner is something we should know about but don't because it is deliberately hidden from us.

For instance, how many of the four official verses can you sing? In fact, how many have you ever heard?

But let's back up a minute to give context to when the poem was written, a minimal knowledge of the facts should give a moment's pause to any person who would rather not honor slavery.

In summary, it was 1814, during the War of 1812, when the British attacked these United States, including the slave state of Maryland, where the verses of the song were written by Francis Scott Key, 50 years before the end of the Civil War.

Let's consider the following history from a Smithsonian article:
In 1814, Key was a slaveholding lawyer from an old Maryland plantation family, who thanks to a system of human bondage had grown rich and powerful.

When he wrote the poem that would, in 1931, become the national anthem and proclaim our nation “the land of the free,” like Jefferson, Key not only profited from slaves, he harbored racist conceptions of American citizenship and human potential. Africans in America, he said, were: “a distinct and inferior race of people, which all experience proves to be the greatest evil that afflicts a community.”
What you probably also don't know is the British attackers had many ex-slaves in their ranks, who had been promised liberty and demanded to be placed in the battle line "where they might expect to meet their former masters."

After the U.S. and the British signed a peace treaty at the end of 1814, the Americans - trying to make America great again- demanded the return of American “property,” which by that point numbered about 6,000 people. The British refused. Being the corrupt human beings they were compared to the Americans, the Brits helped the former slaves settle in Canada, with some going to Trinidad.

So now let's look at the final two verses you don't know and consider carefully the words I've highlighted in the context:
And where is that band who so vauntingly swore
That the havoc of war and the battle's confusion,
A home and a country, should leave us no more?
Their blood has washed out their foul footsteps' pollution.
No refuge could save the hireling and slave
From the terror of flight, or the gloom of the grave
And the star-spangled banner in triumph doth wave,
O'er the land of the free and the home of the brave.

O thus be it ever, when freemen shall stand
Between their loved homes and the war's desolation.
Blest with vict'ry and peace, may the Heav'n rescued land
Praise the Power that hath made and preserved us a nation!
Then conquer we must, when our cause it is just,
And this be our motto: 'In God is our trust.'
And the star-spangled banner in triumph shall wave
O'er the land of the free and the home of the brave!
You see, the words "the hireling and slave" allude to the fact that American slaves had joined the British. Now reconsider the first and last two lines of the last verse:
O thus be it ever, when freemen shall stand
And the star-spangled banner in triumph shall wave
O'er the land of the free and the home of the brave!
You see those "freemen" were not escapees from Nazi Germany or the Soviet Union or black people in Maryland after the Civil War, they were citizens of the slavery state of Maryland, you know ... part of the "land of the free" where "free" applies to the humans who were not "property."

Keep that in mind when you want to criticize black Americans and their supporters who don't quite see worshiping that waving star-spangled banner to that song as having the same meaning for them.

Maybe it won't even quite feel the same for you the next time you're standing, belting out the words of the first verse in which you sing "land of the free", staring at the waving symbol just as slaveholder Key did when he wrote the words to honor white "freemen" in contrast to blacks, that "inferior race of people" which he believed to be "the greatest evil that afflicts a community."

Bet they didn't teach you any of this in school.

Oh, and by the way, in keeping with what it means to be a fully indoctrinated, true patriotic American, you're singing a song not only about the defense of slavery, it is a song about war.

Ironically, in 1930 the biggest controversy in Congress over making this song the national anthem was whether the music range was too hard to sing.

Wednesday, October 12, 2016

From the State of Deseret stunning poll results, a LDS newspaper story favoring the Clinton Campaign - what you really need to know

Today when I saw the above poll graphic in a Deseret News story headlined Poll: Trump falls into tie with Clinton among Utah voters I knew there was significant news unfolding in the State of Deseret.

But as you will see at the end of this post, I discovered another story on the Deseret News website that went beyond anything I anticipated.

About the Deseret News it's both simple and complicated. If you know the history of "Deseret" you likely understand the full impact of today's news. If you don't and you are a Clinton supporter, you need to know that history and a bit more about Mormon history including some trivia.

In 1849 settlers from The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (you probably know them as Mormons) who had trekked across the American West to Salt Lake City proposed a provisional state of the United States, the State of Deseret:

The provisional state existed for slightly over two years but was never recognized by the United States government.

The name derives from the word for "honeybee" in the language of the Jaredites, a group believed by Mormons to have been led to the Americas during the time of the construction of the Tower of Babel (see Ether 2:3, Book of Mormon). LDS scholars have suggested an etymology by associating the word "Deseret" with the ancient Egyptian dsrt, a term referring to the "bee crown" of the Lower Kingdom.

What's important here is the  news story about the poll came from the Deseret News, Utah's oldest continuously published daily newspaper, owned by Deseret News Publishing Company, a subsidiary of Deseret Management Corporation, a holding company owned by The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. It has the largest Sunday circulation in the state (and the second largest daily circulation behind The Salt Lake Tribune).

Per Wikipedia:
The Deseret News also publishes a weekly compact-sized insert, the Church News, and the Mormon Times insert, both of which are included in the newspaper (in the Saturday and Thursday editions, respectively); the two inserts are also distributed as a separate publication outside of Utah. The Church News includes news of the LDS Church and has been published since 1931, while the Mormon Times is about "the people, faith and culture associated with the church". Since 1974 the Deseret News has also published the Church Almanac, an annual edition carrying LDS Church facts and statistics edited by Church News staff.

The editorial tone of the Deseret News is usually described as moderate to conservative, and is often assumed to reflect the values of its owner, the LDS Church. For example, the newspaper does not accept advertising that violates church standards.
The story in the Deseret News explains:
...Independent candidate and BYU graduate Evan McMullin surged into a statistical tie with the two major party presidential nominees, according to survey conducted Monday and Tuesday by Salt Lake City-based Y2 Analytics.

"A third-party candidate could win Utah as Utahns settle on one," said Quin Monson, Y2 Analytics founding partner.

McMullin may well have caught lightning in a bottle.

...A majority of voters statewide and specifically Mormons, as well as a near majority of Republicans, say Trump should drop out of the race, according to the poll.

The poll shows that 94 percent of Utahns have watched or heard about the video in which Trump had an extremely lewd conversation about women caught on a hot microphone in 2005. Y2 Analytics managing partner Scott Riding called that high percentage "astounding" for political news.

A cascade of rank-and-file Republicans and GOP leaders in Utah abandoned their support for Trump soon after the video became public. A BYU political science professor described the reaction in Utah as a "full-scale revolt" against Trump.

Gov. Gary Herbert and Utah Reps. Jason Chaffetz and Chris Stewart were among those announcing they would no longer vote for their party's nominee. The Deseret News called for Trump to resign his candidacy.

Boyd Matheson, president of the conservative Sutherland Institute, said there's a distinction in Utah that's becoming more apparent nationally that voters aren't going to settle for political rhetoric on either side of the aisle.

Monson said the "implosion" of the Trump campaign has led to the GOP nominee's share of the vote falling and support migrating to Johnson and more so McMullin. Clinton's numbers have stayed about the same.

Born in Utah, McMullin, a former CIA agent and policy director for U.S. House Republicans, entered the race in August as a conservative alternative to the majority party candidates.

McMullin soundly beats Trump among those in the poll who identified themselves members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.

Matheson said McMullin has a unique window over the next five days to come out with an agenda and invite Utahns to be part of something. If so, he could scoop up the Johnson "placeholder" votes, as well as take some from Trump and Clinton.

"There's a plausible path that Evan McMullin could win Utah," Matheson said.
In other words, the journalism voice of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints announced that there is a strong possibility that Trump would be denied Utah's four Electoral College votes! And that would be ok. Of course, four days ago they published this editorial In our opinion: Donald Trump should resign his candidacy.

But this has far more meaning than just Utah take a look at this map:

The Mormon vote in most of these states is significant when a Presidential race is close.

In my opinion, back in June there were only two states on this map that the Clinton Campaign could rely on - Washington and Hawaii.

Today Clinton comfortably can  rely not only on Washington and Hawaii, but on Oregon, Nevada, Colorado, and New Mexico at least partially because most Mormon voters will choose to not vote for Trump.

Most likely won't vote for Clinton, but she will win those states because Trump cannot get a plurality of votes.

Arizona should be firmly in the Trump column along with Idaho, Montana, Wyoming, and Alaska. But because a large number of traditional Republican voters, particularly Mormons, will not vote for Trump and because Arizona has a very large Hispanic population, Clinton might get a plurality in Arizona.

It's all still iffy since we have four weeks until the election. But the Deseret News also had this story on its website this morning  'Mormons for Hillary' video released by Clinton campaign offering this additional information for those of us who don't recognize the people in the video:
The LDS Church as an institution is politically neutral. Members are encouraged to be active in the political process.

The video includes former Utah Republican State Rep. Sheryl Allen; former Utah GOP State Rep. General David Irvine; Democratic candidate for Utah State Senate and mother of two Celina Milner; and members of the group Utah Mormons for Hillary.

Yes, today you will read on "Progressive" websites stories like Mormons are embarrassing the rest of the Religious Right by abandoning Trump or in the New York Times two days ago Utah’s Top Mormons in ‘All-Out Revolt’ Against Donald Trump, but it doesn't "feel" real until you see what appear to be routine stories backing up that revolt in the Deseret News.

Friday, October 7, 2016

Who will represent the trees?

When he was Chief Justice of the U.S. Supreme Court, Earl Warren became an idealistic advocate for equality.

So when in 1964 he wrote the majority opinion in Reynolds v. Sims there was no doubt in his mind that "one man, one vote" was the only way a democratic society could fairly function.

Concerned about the impact of the decision - which in many states eliminated state senate representation based upon counties - U.S. Senator Everett Dirksen of Illinois warned that:
"...The forces of our national life are not brought to bear on public questions solely in proportion to the weight of numbers. If they were, the 6 million citizens of the Chicago area would hold sway in the Illinois Legislature without consideration of the problems of their 4 million fellows who are scattered in 100 other counties. Under the Court's new decree, California could be dominated by Los Angeles and San Francisco; Michigan by Detroit.."
In fact, in states like California, Warren's home state, there was gross under-representation of urban voters in the State Senate. Los Angeles County had about 6.5 million people or about 40% of the population. Alpine County  had less than 600 people or 0.009% of the population of Los Angeles County. As one study noted:
The most striking case is California. From 1930 to 1968, seats in the California state senate were apportioned on the basis of counties rather than persons. With 40 seats, 58 counties, and a restriction that no county could have more than one seat, the senate apportionment was approximately "one-county-one-vote." The California senate was by many measures the most malapportioned legislative body in the U.S. - the largest senate district contained more then 400 times as many people as the smallest district.

More troubling still, the people of California chose this scheme of geographic representation. In each of six elections over a forty-year span, solid majorities of voters soundly defeated ballot measures to implement one-person-one-vote and resoundingly affirmed ballot measures to create or implement one-county-one-vote. This was not a situation in which one group within the state legislature grabbed power from others. Rather, the legislature had become hopelessly deadlocked over apportionment in the 1920s and decided to let the people decide. Nor was the outcome a fluke of low turnout or of one generation binding another. The elections spanned five decades and each election returned nearly the same division of the electorate against one-person-one-vote. Intervention by the courts ended malapportionment of the senate in 1966.
In other words, the voters in California had repeatedly rejected a one man, one vote approach to the State Senate.  The California voters agreed with Senator Dirksen, not with their former Governor and Chief Justice of the U.S. Supreme Court Warren. The voters weren't as troubled by the undemocratic nature of their State Senate. They literally did not agree with him when he said:
Legislators represent people, not trees or acres. Legislators are elected by voters, not farms or cities or economic interests.
There is a gnawing concern as represented by this slide show:

Click on image to see a larger version!

No one argues that seeking democracy is a bad idea - as long as you set some rules to protect minority interests.

The question is just how will this person and 600 more urban voters...

...relate to and understand how to protect the fundamental interests of this person...

...and how can you reassure both that the system protects either and both of them when our congressional district maps look this divided?

Which leaves us with the question - who will represent the trees???

Because no one in the one man, one vote California Legislature or U.S. House of Representatives effectively represented them from 1980-2000 when steps to reduce  the impact of climate change and counter the Bark Beetles could have been taken.

No one.

And most certainly not the elected representatives of the vast majority of people in the United States located as represented by this graphic:

And that is a problem for American political science nerds and ethics philosophers to address over the next 200 years, if  they can.

The U.S. and state governments own about 33% of the land in the U.S. Approximately 90% of the U.S. population is concentrated on less than 20% of the privately owned land in the U.S. located in Metropolitan Statistical Areas. About 10% of the U.S. population is scattered around 80% of the privately owned land.

Assuring proper representation of the interests of that 10% in legislative bodies is a struggle in a constitutional republic when you believe "one-man-one-vote" - what we idealize in democracy - is the only acceptable method of adopting public policy.

We have failed to assure that representation, which is why asking "Who will represent the trees?" symbolically focuses on the most significant issue in political theory.

Maybe we need to revisit the original U.S. Constitution asking why our "Founding Fathers" provided that the only directly elected officials were members of the House of Representatives while Senators and the President were to be indirectly chosen without what we know as having to run for office.

In doing so maybe we can figure out how to provide the trees with effective representation