Posts tagged ‘Infrastructure’

Flim Flam Man

I believe it was Abraham Lincoln who said, “You can fool some of the people all of the time, and all of the people some of the time, but you can’t fool all of the people all of the time.” Enter President DFF. That 32% base is some of the people all of the time. Back in 2016 he was approaching that all of the people some of the time, but his all was still not a majority of voters. But now I think reality, who like Mother Nature, is a bitch, is going to demonstrate to the flim-flam man and his party that you can’t fool all of the people all of the time.

Remember on Monday when President DFF went to somewhere where like in the State of the Union took credit for the high stock market (while stock prices were plunging), the amazing jobless rate, rising wages from the tax cut, and his new infrastructure plan? Wow, what a man, except it is all flim-flam. Let’s start with rising wages. He trotted out some anecdote who had got a raise and all is wonderful. Okay, I am about facts and data and here is a fact check from the Washington Post:

Egged on by the White House, corporate America has spent the past few weeks touting how it is sharing its big Trump tax cut with employees in the form of bonuses and pay increases — an apparent validation of the trickle-down approach to economics espoused by the president and his Republican allies.

But when we look at the numbers, we see the opposite: The nation’s workers are getting woefully little, at least relatively speaking. Peeking beyond the PR, our analysis finds that major corporations are planning to spend more than 30 times what they are putting in the wallets of employees on buying back their own stock — a practice solely meant to lift the fortunes of shareholders.

To get a sense of how the pie is being divided, we collaborated with Emre Gomec of the Academic-Industry Research Network to tally the sums of commitments from the 44 companies in the S&P 500 stock index that, according to Americans for Tax Reform, are giving their employees a bonus or a raise because of the new law. When you add it all up, you get about $5.2 billion — $3.7 billion in one-time bonuses and an estimated $1.5 billion in annual wage increases.

But that total pales in comparison with the $157.6 billion in stock buybacks announced by 34 S&P 500 companies since early December, when the tax bill passed the Senate. Companies typically purchase their own shares in a bid to bump up the price — a move that tends to please Wall Street and swells the compensation of chief executives, who are paid largely in stock.

Oh and let us not disregard what has not been tallied yet on the expenditures from the tax savings in automation. But it gets better. President DFF said the following in his speech last Monday: “Something that I’ve been talking about for two years — campaigning, and everyone said, ‘You’ll never do it’ — after years of wage stagnation, wages — so what happened two days ago and a month ago — wages are now, for the first time in many years, rising. In fact, more companies are pursuing pay increases right now than at any time in the last long period of time — they actually say, ’in the 21st century.’ Can you imagine that? It’s amazing what people with some good ideas can do. It’s amazing what we’ve all done together.”

Except again it is a big lie. Again from the Washington Post:

According to The Fact Checker’s database of Trumpian claims, the president in his first year eight times falsely suggested that wages were finally rising because of his policies. He also made a similar claim in the State of the Union address.

But there is little dispute among economists that wage growth — after being essentially being flat for years — started to pick up again in 2014, after reaching a post-Great Recession low. In other words, Trump is simply blowing smoke when he claims that when he was campaigning that people thought it was impossible for wages to rise again. Wages were already increasing, though the increases were lower than what would be expected in a mature recovery and the impact was uneven, as shown by this chart from the Hamilton Project at the Brookings Institution.

For the purposes of this fact check, real wage growth for most workers in 2017, Trump’s first year as president, actually lagged the last four years of Barack Obama’s term. “Real wage growth in 2017 for production nonsupervisory workers in 2017 was 0.2 percent, the lowest since 2012,” Shambaugh said. “For the bulk of workers, purchasing power did not rise very much in 2017.”

Okay, let’s move on to the wonderful infrastructure bill that I have told you before is a sham. First he gave away all the money we needed to infrastructure improvements in the Great Tax Gut. Now here is the plan as it now looks, again from the Washington Post:

Despite calling for a $1.5 trillion boost in infrastructure spending, Trump is proposing just $200 billion in federal funding. The remaining $1.3 trillion is expected to come from a combination of state and local governments and the private sector. Yet in most places with the greatest need for new infrastructure, cash-strapped governments won’t be able to pay for it without raising taxes. Meanwhile, the private equity firms and foreign sovereign wealth funds that are likely fill the void will undoubtedly demand guaranteed returns in the form of, say, new tolls. The reliance on private investment also creates, as Paul Krugman writes, the potential for “an orgy of crony capitalism.”

You know, toll roads everywhere and instead of taxes to pay for it, you will just get bills for flushing your toilet. And we won’t own any of it. The ultimate flim-flam man can full some of the people some of the time and all of the people some of the time, but he can’t fool all the people all of the time and when they finally feel all this in their pocket book, well then things will change. Reality, facts, and data are a bitch.

AMTRAK Crash is Our Infrastructure

When you see a picture of the crash, the first thing you notice on the new high speed route is the graffiti on what is for sure an aging bridge where the train came off. According to news reports this morning, the speed limit was supposed to be 30 mph on the bridge and the train was going 80. Or was it? I noted that the area where the train came off the tracks looks like it is straight before the turn. Again all speculation from an amateur.

First thing that comes to mind as an old crew member flying dangerous missions, what was the pre-brief like? First trip with passengers so wouldn’t you discuss the route and any dangerous spots? Wouldn’t you discuss any speed limits and places and times where you have procedures for slowing down? Without safety automation installed on the tracks to either tell you to slow down, or actually slow down the train, could you have planned the mission, oh, sorry, the trip, based upon actions at certain times? Maybe they did and there was no warning about the bridge. Maybe they just assumed the old rules did not apply on the new route, or maybe the speed had nothing to do with it.

What is truly sad is we are now running trains designed for higher speeds maybe 20 years ago, on tracks and infrastructure put in 30 or 40 years ago and hoping it will all work with some minor upgrades. Infrastructure on the cheap. Maybe it is time to really invest in high speed rail in corridors where it makes sense with above grade (or below) train tracks to avoid vehicles, straightened for the speeds, and welded tracks to provide smooth rides. I am sure the Japanese or Europeans could give us a few tips if we would listen. Oh wait, I forgot, we just spent that money on making the wealth wealthier.

President DFF said he was watching this closely (so am I so what does that mean?). He also indicated that people need to get on board with his infrastructure plan. What infrastructure plan? Is that where we privatized everything and only the rich can afford the toll roads and high speed rails? Show me the money! Did it occur to him that after this giant giveaway to the wealthy called a Tax Cut, there is no money left to do anything. Did it dawn on him that as the deficit goes out of sight because of all the magic plans for growth don’t work, that the Republicans will (are already talking it up) start cutting everything.

Trump’s Banana Republic is becoming a reality with corrupt leaders (See Corker and Collins for the latest, and don’t let John McCain off the hook after whining about normal order) and morons for supporters on a witch hunt to purify America of everything that once did make us great. If you were to make this up, it could not be more representative of what we have today. Anybody connecting the dots yet?

Democrats Keep on Losing

There have been a couple things on the news I think we need to think about.  MSNBC just interviewed a Democratic representative from Pennsylvania, and I now know why Democrats lost.  First he gave us the standard narrative that the reason Democrats lost is that Trump focused on jobs and while Democrats also focus on jobs, they did not talk about it enough.  Second he told us how if Trump follows through on his promise to spend trillions on infrastructure and this could be something he could support. So let’s take this apart.

First, what does it mean to focus on jobs?  Trump promised to bring back their manufacturing jobs.  That is a lie.  Note that just recently the CEO of Carrier that saved, no it is not 1100 jobs, but now down to 750, indicated in an interview that they were going to take the money they got from the state ($7 M) and invest it in more mechanization.  Goodbye 750.  The real question is how to help people who have swallowed the snake oil of the Donald believing their jobs are coming back.  Maybe it is time to recognize reality, tell them the truth and reinvent the future so they will have jobs?  Nope, we will just take a page from the Trump snake oil recipe and push it harder.

Okay, what about the infrastructure bill?  I see Democrats as deer in the headlights.  They are making all this noise about finding things they can work with the Donald on and he is going to drive a stake into their heart. They have set themselves up to support an infrastructure bill that I guarantee you will not be one you thought it would be.  Instead of spending government dollars on our country, what we will do, much more inefficiently, is give tax breaks to corporations to build infrastructure as profit centers that charges tolls for their use.  Only the rich need apply.  It will be a bait and switch where the rich get richer and the poor have less income to pay the tolls.

Remember how the press fell all over Trump’s daughter plan for childcare?  Except it was a tax credit meaning only the rich need apply.  That is why the Democratic party is back on its ass and may just stay there.

Another Day in Trump World

Jeff Sessions Attorney General?  A Benghazi nut to lead the CIA?  Good morning America.  It is down hill from here.  Anybody who is painting a more pretty picture out of all of this is gone far beyond denial (“Don’t worry, he is practical”).  Trashing of America.  But what can you do?  Well two things actually.  The first, and at my age I thought I had done my share of giving, you can support groups who will fight injustice.  The ACLU is my favorite and I will be writing a check today.  As Republicans try to restore white America there are many groups that are already out there to deal with all the injustices we had before the election.  Planned Parenthood is certainly on the chopping block so there is a suggestion.

The second is to add your voice to new young Democrats.  One of my favorite thinkers out there, James Kwak wrote this that kind of nails both ideas, fighting back through supporting groups who do, and an new Democratic Party going forward:

So if you want to “do something” about President Trump, the first thing you can do is donate money to some of the organizations that actively protect people’s civil and human rights. If you’re inspired to give money to the Southern Center, I can assure you that it won’t be wasted; we have some of the best lawyers anywhere, working as hard as they can for remarkably little money. (Today, November 17 is Georgia Gives Day, too, if you prefer to give that way.) But there are many other worthwhile groups out there: the NAACP Legal Defense Fund, the ACLU (perhaps particularly important given Trump’s attempts to intimidate the media), Planned Parenthood, or your local food bank, soup kitchen, or homeless shelter, among many others. At the end of the day, ordinary people will be the victims of the Trump administration, and they will need your help.

…The Republicans are dominant not just because of Trump, but because of the decades of work that preceded him: promoting the ideology, cultivating the funders, motivating the base, building the media empire, stocking the judiciary, weakening unions, undermining campaign finance rules, buying state elections, redrawing districts, and suppressing the vote. Yes, Trump was an unlikely leader to take them over the top. (And yes, he is popular among white supremacists.) But even if he hadn’t, the GOP would still be just one election away from a sweep of the White House and Congress.

There is a raging debate right now over the identity of the Democratic Party. I don’t want to argue the specifics of that debate right now. But if we want to compete, we need more than a new, focus-grouped brand that can win 51% of the popular vote in a general election. We need an ideology that can mobilize millions of new voters and motivate thousands of people to run in races for school board, town council, state assembly, and state senate, all over the country. We need a long-term political movement, not a quadrennial scramble to demonize the other guy just enough so voters pick our guy.

So the next time you hear someone whine about Hillary and if just Bernie, remember that we haven’t done the work yet to make a Bernie effective, much less a Hillary.  We have not made the argument yet about why Republican ideas are so wrong, including the economic ones.  Just yesterday I heard again that really stupid argument about how we are now saved because we have a “business man” in the White House.  Trump Tower actually.  So there is a lot of work to do and the Republicans have just given us the push and an opportunity to do just that.  Anybody who thinks the next four years won’t open up a giant opportunity for Democrats is in La La Land.

The Republicans in the Senate are starting down that road with the empowering of Elizabeth Warren and Bernie Sanders.  House Democrats are starting to challenge Nancy Pelosi.  I love Nancy and in reality she has fought the good fight every step of the way.  But re-electing her sends the wrong message.  She has, like Hillary too much baggage in the past.  Both are capable leaders, but the party needs a new face, otherwise it just looks like rebranding.  The fact that Nancy does not get this may say more than I can about why we need the change.

Oh and one last thing on a Friday morning.  The press are morons. Well we knew that, see President-Elect Donald Trump. Once again they are not looking at the details, and the devil is in the details.  Everyone is all excited about an infrastructure bill, except of course Republicans in Congress, but it is being advertised as one thing the Democrats could agree with Trump on.  But when we finally get a bill we had better take a long look at it.  His plan presently looks like this:

What Trump has right now is an idiosyncratic proposal for Congress to offer some $137 billion in tax breaks to private investors who want to finance toll roads, toll bridges, or other projects that generate their own revenue streams. But this private financing scheme, experts across the political spectrum say, wouldn’t address many of America’s most pressing infrastructure needs — like repairing existing roads or replacing leaky water mains in poorer communities like Flint.

Toll roads for the wealthy!  The poor can take those pothole filled alternate routes.  Let them eat cake! So it is really a plan to transfer wealth to the wealthy and build some stuff that increases their revenue streams.  Read the flow of money out of your pocket into theirs subsidized by the federal government. Oh and check out the attack on Social Security and Medicare that Trump, the businessman, promised to protect.  Krugman, in this op-ed points out how the press has failed us and as they are busy covering people going in and out of Trump tower are missing the forest for the trees.  “When will they ever learn? When will they eeeever learn?” What ever happened to “public” roads?  Just a heads up.  Most of America does not look at the details and it is up to Democrats to do just that and fight every step of the way.  Have a nice weekend.

Let’s Not Get Lost in the Technology Argument – Amtrak

The focus of the press right now, because blame is the game, is why has not Amtrak already installed Postive Train Control (PTC) systems on the tracks.  These systems would automatically control the speed, and for instance not allow the train to be speeding through a curve*.  But think about this for a minute.  Our track infrastructure is so bad that we have to slow down because of poor alignment and condition of tracks.  Do you know it takes longer to travel the Northeast corridor by train today that it did in the 1960’s?

But John Bohmer tells us Amtrak has  plenty of money.  And Republicans tell us it has to be self-sufficient.  Just how much of our tax dollars go to subsidizing automobiles in terms of roads, bridges, traffic controls, and highway safety?  How much of our tax dollars go to subsidizing airports, flight safety, and air traffic control?  Name me a passenger train service in the world that is self-sufficient.  There aren’t any.  It is part of the common infrastructure that connects us as a people and increases our economic activity, provides upward mobility, and enhances our competitiveness.  Just look at the number of people who commute on the Northeast corridor.

Now if you followed my numbers from the other day our investment in rail is pitiful.  Our $1.4 billion against China’s $128 billion or if you want to look at it in terms of every thousand dollars of GDP (earnings) we invest 80¢    for China’s $12.  If you don’t want to use China then consider that we invest less than half of what the next modern country in line does.  It is the classic sign that we are losing ground on all nations of the world in almost everything.  Forget we are talking about railroads, this is indicative of our total failure to invest in infrastructure for tomorrow.

We have this tragic failing infrastructure and what is the Republican plan?  Cut more taxes for the wealthy?  Cut more government spending to pay for it?  That should be the driving question of 2016.  “The American Society for Civil Engineers (ASCE), in its annual Infrastructure Report Card, gave the U.S. a D+, saying we need to invest some $3.6 trillion by 2020 to upgrade our infrastucture.”  So the question for 2016 is what is your plan to meet that goal?  Show me the numbers of how you are going to expend $3.6 trillion.  If you haven’t got a plan, or supply side economics will solve this, data to follow, then the candidate should be ridden out of town on a rail.  Tar and feather would be a nice addition.

We must do this.  It will require funding it through maybe some increased taxes, and for sure rewriting the tax code to get rid of all the subsidies for wealthy and corporations.  And this is where Americans have to wake up.  We have to do this, and the present crop of conservatives won’t.  So can you draw a conclulsion here?  Apparently not after 2014.  I am hoping people wake up in 2016.  Oh and think of how many great jobs this would create in a stagnant economy.  

*While the trains use a system of transponders along the tracks to do this, here is a thought.  Every notice that your car GPS indicates your speed and turns red (most of the time) when you are exceeding the speed limit.  Could not train map software be created so that the GPS tells you when you are approaching a curve or degraded track and then have the train respond to it?

Why Republicans will Never Fund Amtrak

It operates at a deficit.  There it is.  If it can’t stand on its own legs, it should die is what their little minds conjure.  The fact that there is not a passenger train system in the world that is not subsidized is irrelevant to them.  They seem to be oblivious to how we subsidize the car by building all those roads and bridges.  They seem to be oblivious to how we subsidize the plane through the FAA and all the support operations that make air travel possible.  They are oblivious to the argument that it is the best way to connect the nation and help our economy in the future.  

But let’s say that they were in a wild drunken state and decided to fund it.  Here comes the next big conservative hurrdle.  The sequester and refusing to raise taxes.  They would say that there has to be offsets.  Oh, and it won’t be military spending.  Hey why don’t you cut Medicare, Medicaid, or Social Security.  But wait you say, why not cut tax subsidies to fossil fuel corporations, or raise the gas tax, or maybe make the tax code a little fairer, Oh, I know, tax financial transactions.  The conservatives start laughing hysterically.

That is why Amtrak or infrastructure in general will never get funded.  We think small and we get smaller.  The only way to change that is not to call for compromise and good people working together, it is to get these bumble heads out of office.  Yet American restored control of the Senate to them in 2014.  I am not hopeful.

In the Genre of We don’t Need No Stink’in Gov’ment

I always like to look who is saying that.  It is one of the most stupid things people utter.  Almost everything they consider their “independence” was provided by our government.  Let’s just say you live in a gated community, are in the top 5%, and see government interferring in your money making endeavors and you see no point in it.  Ask your self, how did I get here?  I won’t even attempt to list all of the ways government made your wealth and life style possible.  On the other hand you live in the woods and support yourself by growing Marijuana and selling drugs.  If government did not make all that stuff illegal, you would never get a good price for it.

Okay, a little tongue in cheek, but the point is that government is the creature that if used properly, is the grease for our economic engine, through investment in people and infrastructure.  Oh, and let’s not forget the systems it puts in place that allow for commerce and justice.  All could be improved, but they are critical to our economic and social well being.  Well here comes another from the NYT:

In a large, continuing study of upward mobility based at Harvard, commuting time has emerged as the single strongest factor in the odds of escaping poverty. The longer an average commute in a given county, the worse the chances of low-income families there moving up the ladder.

The impact of transportation on social mobility is stronger than several other factors, like crime, elementary-school test scores or the percentage of two-parent families in a community, said Nathaniel Hendren, a Harvard economist and one of the researchers on the study. It notes the connection in places with notoriously long commutes and poverty including Atlanta, Boston, Dallas, Denver, Los Angeles, New York, Orlando, Fla., and Birmingham, Ala.

So the best way we can help the poor is to provide them efficient transportation to where the jobs are.  This kind of flies in the face of conservative mythology about the lazy poor and that is why they are poor.  They can’t get out of poverty because government is not investing in transportation infrastructure that would help all of us get to our jobs and be more productive.  Oh yes, we need stink’in government and we need it bad.  What is a poor conservative to do in the light of these findings?  Oh, I know, slash funding for these kinds of studies so we do not confuse our ideology with reality.

Defense Spending Is the Answer!

Apparently war is breaking out in the starve the government Republican Party about our next budget.  From the NYT:

 The congressional push this week to secure the first Republican budget plan in nearly a decade is revealing a chasm between fiscal hawks determined to maintain strict spending caps and defense hawks who are threatening to derail any budget that does not ensure an increase for the military.

They really don’t want to spend on anything we might need except continuing to give our Treasury away to the wealthy through subsidies like tax breaks on capital gains and oil drilling.  Our infrastructure will fix itself.  But when it comes to military spending, well at least some boys and girls in the party will line up for that.

So I got to thinking.  Maybe we could put our highways and byways under military control.  Then we could fully fund the military and they could fix all our highways, airports, rail systems, water treatment facilities, communications infrastructure,  bridges, you know all the stuff that is half a century old and falling apart.  Then we could all be for increasing the military budget.  Hoorah!

Why I Hate Political Reporting

Most reporting these days is political reporting. It doesn’t educate you on issues, it tells you who is up or down. It feeds the partisan separation in our country because it dumbs down reporting to team sports and rooting for your partisan team, not a look at the pros and cons of each side and the policies they propose.

What are the most popular blog sites today?  Political insider blogs:  Buzzfeed, Politico, Brietbart, 538.  What do they discuss? Who is up, who is down, the strategy of winning, gaming the system, what the polls say, and who will be the best candidates for 2014 and 2016.  So where is the discussion of real issues and what should be the candidates stand on these issues if we are going to solve these problems?  Well there is Ezra Klein’s new venture  At least there you can find out more about the issues and their proposed solutions.

Classic example was a report I witnessed Saturday morning on contested Congressional seats and who was up and who was down. It feeds your angst if your candidate or party is down, and justifies your sense of superiority if your candidate is up, but doesn’t question your basic assumptions about what your candidate stands for and whether what they propose will help or hurt us and our future.

It also dumbs down reporting.  If you don’t need to do any homework about issues, then the reporting about politics is fairly straight forward.  He said/she said, what the politics are in the House, the vote in the Senate, and there you have it.  No discussion of how the vote will hurt the country or delay what we need to do.  It requires no in-depth look at policies to ask insightful questions about the policies each side stands for (and when they do, it is based upon talking points of either side instead of real research and truth finding).

Perusing the paper this morning was a tralvelogue of where we have not gone in our obstructionist Republican controled government (Filibuster in the Senate and majority in the House).  Here is a list:

  • Climate Change – A New report this morning showing that the window is closing to act.  This is not new and we have had it before us for many years now and we do nothing.  We can’t move because Repbulicans deny its existence.  Why aren’t we making fun of them at this point about this reality instead of tolerating “an alternate point of view” based on no facts and the denial of science?
  • Infrastructure –  Apparently our transportation funds (federal highway trust fund) are running out because we have not raised the gasoline tax since 1991.  So once again, we know that we have degrading infrastructure and we do nothing.  No long-term plan is possible with the obstructionist Republicans.  Oh, and if you say we can’t afford it, it is like saying you can’t afford to fix the leak in your roof.  If you don’t, the whole house will eventually collapse. Can you connect the dots?
  • Equality for Women’s Pay – This one went down to a Republican filibuster in the Senate and had it got to the House, Republicans would have voted it down.  So women shouldn’t worry their pretty little heads about equal pay if you are a Republican, or women deserve equal pay for equal work if you are a Democrat.  How is this hard?  The reality is the business community doesn’t want equal pay because it would cut into their profit margins.  This is the same argument against a minimum wage hike and the choice is clear.
  • Recovery – Or as the NYT opined, recovery for whom?  Economic inequality just increases while our young languish.  So how could we fix this? Maybe spending on climate change investments and infrastructure to start creating good jobs, establishing equality for women’s pay, and raising the minimum wage to pump more money into the economy to create demand..  That would be what progressives want.  Republicans have proposed lower taxes for “the job creators”.  This is the choice and yet we rarely hear it discussed.

Meanwhile we have an article this morning , North Carolina Shows Strains Within G.O.P., which tells us:

There is a Tea Party candidate who talks about the Constitution and has the backing of Senator Rand Paul. There is a Baptist pastor, endorsed by Mike Huckabee, who wears a “Jesus First” lapel pin and has led the fight against same-sex marriage. And there is a Republican state lawmaker — supported by the U.S. Chamber of Commerce and $1 million from Karl Rove’s American Crossroads group — standing up for the party establishment.

A great discussion of infighting within the Republican disfunction called a party, yet we have no discussion of how these candidates are all against all of the really important fixes I have listed above.  So as some have noted, Americans talk more about politics that almost any other country, yet our voting participation is dismal.  Maybe it is because we spend all of our time on the politics of an issue instead of the issue itself and thus have no consensus about what we need to do.  People just throw up their hands and walk away.  We can’t go on like this.


4th of July and the Experiment is Over: Its Failing

Government is not dysfunctional, it is failing. The evidence is kind of overwhelming yet we are fully in denial. It is failing because reason failed and greed won. We have a government controlled not by reason, but by ideology, and pay for play. They overrule rational decision making. Let’s just look at some of our issues and our failure to solve them when solutions are fairly mundane and easy to arrive at:

  • Obamacare – The real problem is providing affordable healthcare for everyone. But then we continue to hang on to employer based healthcare, a remnant of WWII, when they are tons of other models in the world that show us the error of our ways. Medicare for everyone would have worked fine and instead we have this cobbled together program that the right is doing everything possible to make it fail instead of working rationally to fix it and make it work. This one is about ideology, government is bad, and greed, hanging on to the existing cash cows in medical insurance and fee for service. Oh, and lets not forget unquestioned faith in the market place
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