Monday, January 15, 2018

COTW: Not So Much

A few corporations, notably Wall-Mart, Inc., have given their employees bonuses and raised minimum wages in response to the the 'yuge' tax gift from Trumpy.  Their 'generosity' reminds US Person, an ungrateful cur, of a Dickens novel. The chart above puts their much-touted largess into actual perspective.  At the same time the Waltons were demonstrating concern for their wage-slave labor force, they suddenly announced the closure of 63 Sam's Club outlets across the US, putting 9400 employees out of work.  This action is symptomatic of the way finance capitalist elites (plutocrats) do business. Historian David Harvey argues* that ownership (share holders) and management (CEOs) of capitalist enterprises have fused together, as upper management is increasingly paid with stock options. Raising the price of their stock becomes the objective of corporate operations. Productive corporations compete by generating rapid increases in the price of the corporation’s stock, immediately through gimmicks and trickery, but more basically through firing workers, moving production, and raiding pension funds. Workers, (labor commodity), receive little consideration in their profit calculus, other than to improve their bottom line.  It's all about the market, baby, just ask Trumpy!

*David Harvey, A Brief History of Neoliberalism (Oxford: University Press, 2005), 31–3. Only 27 percent of U.S. families own stocks. While 78 percent of the richest 20% families own stocks and mutual funds, 3 percent of the poorest 20% families do so.  It is no wonder that Trump constantly touts the ageing bull market as evidence of his "making America great again". As Professor Richard Peet points out in his Monthly Review article, "Contradictions of Finance Capitalism", "...industrial capitalism primarily exploits productive workers through the wage system, finance capitalism adds the exploitation of consumptive individuals via indebtedness. The idea is to have everything bought not with dollar bills or pound notes, but with maxed-out credit cards, so that purchases yield several years of interest at far-higher rates than banks pay on deposits (20 percent as compared with 2 percent)".  These profitable income streams from indebted workers are then further leveraged by trading in debt-backed securities (credit default swaps prominent among them). The prices of commodities, such as oil and housing, are also inflated by commodities futures trading which benefits the rich but imposes higher prices on consumers.  One commentator revealingly calls modern neoliberal economies, "Ponzi capitalism".  Under this regime, manufacturing declined markedly in importance to be replaced by finance or what is sometimes called the "FIRE" economy (finance, insurance, real estate) .  With this development an organized industrial workforce, the traditional base of the Democratic Party, also declined.  The "genius' of Bill Clinton was to recognize this deindustrialization, and switch allegiance to Wall Street where it has been ever since, Bernie Sanders not withstanding.   Where has manufacturing gone?  Just look at the source label of the next item you purchase at Wal-Mart.  Chances are better than even it says, "made in China".  Trump's catch phrase is so much snake-oil, a deceitful banner of the distracting, media-driven circus that is American national politics.

Sunday, January 14, 2018

Hawaii's Early Warning System Cries Wolf

credit: Washington Post
It is an old adage that if you cry wolf enough times people will start to believe you.  Something akin to that is what happened in Hawaii yesterday morning when an emergency management agency employee made the wrong menu selection at a change of shift.  Instead of selecting a test mode for the state's early warning system, he pushed the actual alert button.  Was this a legitimate mistake, or a deliberate attempt to further provoke obviously distraught 'Mericans pushed to the edge of panic by an emotionally unstable President?  US Person wants to know.  Fortunately, the nuclear regime of Kim Jong Un was too busy talking to its southern neighbor about the upcoming Winter Olympics to exploit the erroneous threat of a ballistic missile attack aimed at the islands.

courtesy: USAF
Nor did the United State's military respond to the alarm because it has immediate access to surveillance that can verify a missile launch anywhere in the world; but this information is not available to Hawaii's emergency management agency.  The unacceptable mistake made by Hawaiian officials on Saturday morning is a classic example of how nuclear brinkmanship can go catastrophically wrong.  It took 38 minutes for the state to issue false alarm statements to the public.[photo, above] Meanwhile Hawaiians were saying their last good byes to loved ones probably as images of Pearl Harbor flashed through their minds!  An alert cancellation option has since been installed to avoid another instance of national insecurity.  This miscreant has been reassigned, and an investigation is underway to correct the flaws in an emergency system that could mean the difference between life or death for people living at the edge of the homeland. An early conclusion by the FCC is that Hawaii did not have “reasonable safeguards or process controls in place” in its emergency notification process. No joke.

Friday, January 12, 2018

'Toontime: Trumpworld

credit: M Streeter, Savannah Morning News
Amidst all the breathless blather floating over the airwaves about the investigation of Trumpy's alleged 'collusion' with Russians to steal the election from hapless Hillary, the major high crime of the President is his flagrant use of public office to enrich himself. This constitutional crisis can be summed up under the term, "emoluments". That is the constitutional term for favors or money not permitted to be received by a sitting president. The reason for the rule in Articles I and II should be obvious: the President should not accept bribes, either domestic (Art. II) or foreign (Art. I), in return for political favors. Look at the list complied by Washington Monthly of Trump's profiting off the presidency.

Trump is an unprecedented occupant of the White House. No other president has entered office with a fortune as immense as his.  Estimated at $3.1 billion, it spans 500 companies in twenty-five countries.  Former presidents like Jimmy Carter placed their business interests in a blind trust before taking office.  Trump did too, but his "trust" is significantly different.  His trustees are close family members who give the pater familias regular reports on their business interests, and the trust terms allow him to withdraw assets or profits at any time.  This means, of course, that Trump has a direct interest in any government policies affecting the Trump companies. Trump is being sued by two hundred Democrats in Congress, a ethics watch-dog group, and several private hotel competitors for his questionable merging of public business and private interests.

CREW, a non-profit ethics committee says in its suit, that Trump’s business interests are “creating countless conflicts of interest, as well as unprecedented influence by foreign governments, and have resulted and will further result in numerous violations of the Constitution.” As an example it points to the numerous foreign diplomats encouraged to stay at the Trump hotel in Washington while lobbying the federal government. Saudi Arabia has spent more than a quarter of a million dollars—$190,000 on lodging, $78,000 on catering, and $1,600 on parking at 'Trumpworld'. In US Person's opinion, profiting Trump business interests, while occupying the highest-profile political office in the world, was a major reason Trumpy ran for public office.  Considering security costs alone, Trump funnels significant amounts of public funds toward his resort businesses when he frequents them while traveling on public affairs.  He also leases property from the federal landowner, GSA, at the Old Post Office Building for his Trump International Hotel. Business there is booming. Since the GSA is headed by a Trump appointee, he is effectively both landlord and tenant.  Sweet deal if you can get it!

Granted the emolument clauses only apply to governments giving favors, not to private concerns. And Trump could avoid the emoluments ban altogether by disclosing his questionable dealings to Congress which could then approve them. Undoubtedly he is loath to do so since he doe not want more public scrutiny of his business affairs or personal finances (the Trump organization makes liberal use of shell companies to conceal the source and identity of funds).  Trump has been getting away with his self-dealing since he took office because most of his activity is simply sleazy from an ethics standpoint, not criminal. But a thorough federal investigation of the growing meld between Trumpworld and the Office of President would probably reveal dealings that cross the line into the "high crimes and misdemeanors" zone.

credit: Nate Beeler, Columbus Dispatch
BC Idonwanna sez: Me rather stay in teepee!

Thursday, January 11, 2018

Head Up Your Phone?

credit: K. Johnson
California, the bellwether state, has issued a health warning for radiation emitted by cell phones. Not surprising to US Person, as most millennials he sees around him go through life with their heads bowed before tiny, brightly lit screens. [photo] Cell phones emit radio frequency energy (RF) to receive and send signals to cell towers. Although the scientific community has not reached a consensus on the risks of cell phone use, research suggests long-term, frequent use may impact human health. The World Health Organization has classified RF fields as possibly carcinogenic to humans. Specifically a type of malignant brain cancer, glioma is associated with wireless telephony. Besides cancer, RF has been shown to reduce sperm count and motility, too. About 95% of 'Mericans own a cell phone. The average age for acquiring their first one is ten years.

The California Department of Health suggests you keep your phone in your backpack when not using it, or better yet turn it off since the device tries to stay connected; send text instead of voice so you do not have to hold your phone next to your ear; keep it away from your head when accessing the Internet or loading files; use airplane mode when viewing downloaded videos; and lastly do not sleep with your fascinating electronic placebo!

Warming Seas Killing Coral Worldwide

More: The most disturbing effect of anthropomorphic climate change on the world's oceans is the loss of oxygen, an absolutely necessary element for life. About half the Earth's oxygen comes from the oceans. But the combined effects of nutrient loading from discharges and climate change are greatly increasing the number and size of so-called dead zones. [map] Areas such as the Gulf of Mexico and Chesapeake Bay, oxygen levels are so low that fish suffocate and die. Of course they have learned to avoid these areas, which reduces their habitat and makes them more vulnerable to predation. Some organizes can survive in these conditions, but overall biodiversity declines. In a word, the oceans are slowing dying. The death spiral can be arrested, if man pays attention to the problem. Discharges of nitrogen from sewage and intense agriculture can be stopped. Vulnerable sea life can be protected from unsustainable exploitation. Increased accurate monitoring of low-oxygen zones to detect increases in area and changes in oxygen content. Chesapeake Bay is good example of what can be done on a global basis. The Bay is recovering with nitrogen levels dropping 24% thanks to better sewage treatment, agricultural practice and legal protections like the Clean Air and Clean Water Acts. Once, the central Bay contained zero oxygen. That area has almost completely disappeared.

{09.01.18} PNG is following the story of global ocean warming  and its impacts on coral habitats. {e.g. 30.09.13} Australia's Great Barrier Reef is suffering widespread bleaching, a phenomenon of warm seas causing corals to eject their life-sustaining symbiotic algae. Up to two-thirds of the reef has been bleached white in two consecutive years, the first recorded consecutive event, preventing corals from recovering.  A unique study published in Science found that the time between bleaching events at each tropical reef location around the world diminished five-fold in the past three to four decades, from once every 25-30 years in the early 1980s to an average of just once every six years since 2010.  Mass bleaching such as that now occurring on the Great Barrier did not happen before the 1980's; it has bleached four time since 1998.  Despite this alarming development, the Australia government continues to support fossil fuel use; Australia has large coal deposits and exports large amounts  coal to China, among other destinations.

Research funded by the Great Barrier Reef Foundation has successfully grown corals in the lab from eggs and sperm collected in the wild.  The aim is to repopulate damage reefs around the world.  Now, 100 larvae have been returned to the reef and are growing successfully.  It is a small start, but offers hope to repairing the damaged caused to the marine environment by anthropomorphic climate change.

Ocean warming is also causing more Green turtles to become female. Already endangered, the population imbalance could drive the species to extinction. The sex of green turtles is determined by temperature of the incubating eggs. Warmer sand produces female turtles from eggs buried on the beach. ; But warm sea water also causes green turtles to change their sex. Research performed on a population of 200,000 in the northern Great Barrier Reef found that almost all had transformed into females. Scientists are looking at ways to cool incubating beaches to produce more male turtles, such as erecting tents to shield nursery beaches from the intense tropical sunlight. Once again, Nature teaches us that it takes two genders to survive.

olive ridley sea turtle, courtesy SC Aquarium
Sea turtles in the Gulf of Mexico are suffering from a different form of climate induced problem.  Recent record cold weather has caused more than 850 sea turtles to suffer "cold shock" in which they become immobilized and vulnerable to predation.  The event is the second largest on record in the Florida panhandle; in 2010 about 1800 turtles were rehabilitated. The turtles were brought to the Gulf World Marine Institute mostly from St. Joe Bay, Panama City for rehabilitation. About 5-10% will be lost in the ordeal; a few are suffering from secondary illnesses such as pneumonia for which they are being treated. The three species being cared for are the Kemp’s ridley, green and loggerhead turtles. Recovered turtle will be released back into the wild.

Monday, January 08, 2018

COTW: Infrastructure, Not So Much

Trumpy promised his rabid 'base' to make 'Merica Great Again, but he has done precious little in his first year of office except lurch from one personality crisis to another, and pick a nuclear fight with a Cold War leftover. The self-proclaimed "genius" should take a look at this chart:

To be fair most spending on infrastructure is done by local governments, not the federal government.   But there have been no efforts to share tax revenue with municipalities and counties to help these cash-strapped jurisdictions deal with the problems of crumbling infrastructure.  Their indebtedness has risen markedly in recent years due to funding retiring workers generous pension benefits. [chart below]

The federal government provides about 30% of the money used for transportation.  One glaring result of the lack of federal spending on transportation is the Amtrak system.  'Merica does not have a high-speed rail network for this very reason.  The use of rails not designed for high-speed passenger rail transport directly contributed to the fatal derailment of Amtrak's premier west-coast train service on an I-5 overpass in Washington state recently.  The train was traveling at a modest 78mph when it approached the curve posted for 30mph.  France's TGV and Japan's bullet trains travel at speeds nearing 200mph, but the rails they use are specially designed, dedicated, high-grade steel, not hand-me-down freight rails.  The French TGV (Très Grande Vitesse) holds the world's train speed record of 357.2mph! Tell that to stranded airline passengers in the northeast.

The American Society of Engineers gives 'Merica's infrastructure a grade of D+, and said that the cost of upgrading the nation's facilities would cost a whopping $4.6 trillion.  Of course that figure is much higher than the government's estimates, since the association's members stand to benefit from a construction boom.  Trump asked for $1 trillion in additional spending in his bugdet proposals to Congress, but he has already signed a massive tax gift to corporations and the wealthy, and a record-breaking Pentagon budget.  Infrastructure? Not so much.

"I'm a stable Genius!", declares Trumpy
BC Idonwanna sez:  Only 30% agree, kimosabe!