Sunday, January 12, 2020

How American socioeconomic policies create 'deaths of despair'

At the NY Times Nicholas Kristof and Sheryl WuDunn ask Who Killed the Knapp Family? It’s an important piece of research on how Across America, working-class people — including many of our friends — are dying of despair. And we’re still blaming the wrong people. (With thanks to Roving Reporter Sherry.)

So who are the right people to carry the blame? Not the Knapps. Poverty triggered by job loss is a more accurate answer. As is the failure - complete, abject, crappy failure - of our social and economic policies.

Here is just a small part of the case they make.

We Americans are locked in political combat and focused on President Trump, but there is a cancer gnawing at the nation that predates Trump and is larger than him. Suicides are at their highest rate since World War II; one child in seven is living with a parent suffering from substance abuse; a baby is born every 15 minutes after prenatal exposure to opioids; America is slipping as a great power.

We have deep structural problems that have been a half century in the making, under both political parties, and that are often transmitted from generation to generation. Only in America has life expectancy now fallen three years in a row, for the first time in a century, because of “deaths of despair.”

The meaningfulness of the working-class life seems to have evaporated,” Angus Deaton, the Nobel Prize-winning economist, told us. “The economy just seems to have stopped delivering for these people.” Deaton and the economist Anne Case, who is also his wife, coined the term “deaths of despair” to describe the surge of mortality from alcohol, drugs and suicide.

The kids on the No. 6 bus rode into a cataclysm as working-class communities disintegrated across America because of lost jobs, broken families, gloom — and failed policies. The suffering was invisible to affluent Americans, but the consequences are now evident to all: The survivors mostly voted for Trump, some in hopes that he would rescue them, but under him the number of children without health insurance has risen by more than 400,000.

The stock market is near record highs, but working-class Americans (often defined as those without college degrees) continue to struggle. If you’re only a high school graduate, or worse, a dropout, work no longer pays. If the federal minimum wage in 1968 had kept up with inflation and productivity, it would now be $22 an hour. Instead, it’s $7.25.

It would be easy but too simplistic to blame just automation and lost jobs: The problems are also rooted in disastrous policy choices over 50 years. The United States wrested power from labor and gave it to business, and it suppressed wages and cut taxes rather than invest in human capital, as our peer countries did. As other countries embraced universal health care, we did not; several counties in the United States have life expectancies shorter than those in Cambodia or Bangladesh.

Americans also bought into a misconceived “personal responsibility” narrative that blamed people for being poor. It’s true, of course, that personal responsibility matters: People we spoke to often acknowledged engaging in self-destructive behaviors. But when you can predict wretched outcomes based on the ZIP code where a child is born, the problem is not bad choices the infant is making. If we’re going to obsess about personal responsibility, let’s also have a conversation about social responsibility.

Why did deaths of despair claim Farlan, Zealan, Nathan, Rogena and so many others? We see three important factors.

First, well-paying jobs disappeared, partly because of technology and globalization but also because of political pressure on unions and a general redistribution of power toward the wealthy and corporations.

Second, there was an explosion of drugs — oxycodone, meth, heroin, crack cocaine and fentanyl — aggravated by the reckless marketing of prescription painkillers by pharmaceutical companies.

Third, the war on drugs sent fathers and mothers to jail, shattering families.

But there are solutions revealed by Kristof and WuDunn.

Yet it’s not hopeless. America is polarized with ferocious arguments about social issues, but we should be able to agree on what doesn’t work: neglect and underinvestment in children. Here’s what does work.

Job training and retraining give people dignity as well as an economic lifeline. Such jobs programs are common in other countries.

For instance, autoworkers were laid off during the 2008–9 economic crisis both in Detroit and across the Canadian border in nearby Windsor, Ontario. As the scholar Victor Tan Chen has showed, the two countries responded differently. The United States focused on money, providing extended unemployment benefits. Canada emphasized job retraining, rapidly steering workers into new jobs in fields like health care, and Canadian workers also did not have to worry about losing health insurance.

Canada’s approach succeeded. The focus on job placement meant that Canadian workers were ushered more quickly back into workaday society and thus today seem less entangled in drugs and family breakdown.

So do check out the Times essay for more on what we as a society might do to make sure that we don’t kill more Knapp families.

Rick Wilson on how to dump Trump.

Scriber is on vacation for the next couple of weeks so posts will be erratic - more so than usual ;)

I’ll leave you with some things to ponder about how to dump Trump.

The Guardian has an interesting story on How to dump Trump: Rick Wilson on Running Against the Devil. He was a Republican ad man but now he’s a bestselling author out to bring down a president. He says Democrats must listen. Wilson should know. He’s been there and done that.

You might not like what Wilson opines about the Dems in the election, but you should think about it anyway. Keep in mind that Wilson thinks there are scumbags and they are GOPlins running with the devil. Here’s a sample.

It’s true you don’t get much policy detail at a Biden rally, but you do see plenty of slightly hokey appeals to the better angels of America’s nature.

“There’s nothing in Joe Biden that scans as evil or dark or weird or out of touch,” Wilson says. “He can be a little goofy but that’s not bad, not the worst thing in the world right now.

“I think neither Warren nor Sanders and certainly not Pete Buttigieg have ever had a breakthrough with African American voters sufficient to eliminate Biden’s advantage. And also, Biden’s got the secret weapon.

“If Barack Obama is free to get out there and do the campaigning that only he can do in American political life, I think that would be a meaningful lift for the Democrats.”

Saturday, January 11, 2020

Iran admits unintentionally shooting down the Ukraine plane

The NY Times reported that Iran Says It Unintentionally Shot Down Ukrainian Airliner. “The Islamic Republic of Iran deeply regrets this disastrous mistake,” President Hassan Rouhani said, as Iran reversed its claims that mechanical failure was to blame.

Here are essential excerpts.

Iran’s military announced early Saturday that it had accidentally shot down a Ukrainian passenger jet, blaming human error because of what it called the plane’s sharp, unexpected turn toward a sensitive military base.

International pressure had been building on Iran to take responsibility. American and allied intelligence assessments had already concluded that Iranian missiles brought down the plane, Ukraine International Airlines Flight 752, most likely by accident, amid the heightened tensions between the United States and Iran.

In Iran, a debate over how much blame the government bears threatened to destroy the national solidarity that followed the country’s conflict with the United States. Many Iranians said that their anger over the lack of accountability at the highest levels of government had quickly returned.

On social media, Iranians began expressing anger toward the military soon after the announcement, many of them using the term “harshest revenge,” which officials had repeatedly promised in the wake of the American drone strike that killed Maj. Gen. Qassim Suleimani, a powerful Revolutionary Guards commander, last week.

“They were supposed to take their harsh revenge against America, not the people,” wrote Mojtaba Fathi, a journalist.

The military said it would undertake “major reform in operations of all armed forces” to make sure that such an error never happened again. It said Revolutionary Guards officials had been ordered to appear on state media and give the public a full explanation.

The Iranians asked the National Transportation Safety Board to help with the investigation, and the State Department granted waivers to allow the American agency to help. …

Boeing's 737 Max - an airplane 'designed by clowns'

Here’s a real gem from the NY Times Friday night (email) briefing - with a couple of comments. My subtitle: Boeing led by well-paid monkeys.

Dennis Muilenberg, who ran Boeing during two deadly crashes, will leave the company with $62.2 million in stock and pension awards.

Another way of looking at it is that Muilenberg got paid $179,768.79 for each of the 346 lives lost when Boeing let the 737 Max keep flying.

Mr. Muilenburg will not receive any additional severance or separation payments in connection with his departure, and Boeing said he had forfeited stock units worth some $14.6 million.

Well - ain’t that a kick in the head.

Boeing’s new chief, David Calhoun, will receive a $7 million bonus if he is able to get the 737 Max safely flying again.

The company’s announcement comes a day after hundreds of pages of internal documents showed how Boeing employees mocked the Federal Aviation Administration and bragged about getting it to approve the 737 Max with little new training for pilots.

Here’s more from the Times report on who knew what about the doomed 737 Max.

The company expressed regret at the embarrassing communications it sent to investigators on Thursday, which included a comment that “this airplane is designed by clowns, who are in turn supervised by monkeys.”

The employees appear to discuss instances in which the company concealed such problems from the F.A.A. during the regulator’s certification of the simulators, which were used in the development of the Max, as well as in training for pilots who had not previously flown a 737.

“Would you put your family on a Max simulator trained aircraft? I wouldn’t,” one employee said to a colleague in another exchange from 2018, before the first crash. “No,” the colleague responded.

I trust you see my reasoning when I say that Boeing is in a Catch–22. To attract air travelers it needs to establish a safety record. But the only way it can do that, credibly at least, is to have those travelers already flying the 737 Max without any more accidents. Given the problems and culture at Boeing, how are they going to break out of that catch?

Friday, January 10, 2020

Latest on Ukraine plan crash - likely Iranian missile hit, 'a horrible, horrible mistake'

That’s how Chris Hayes characterized it on All in last night. I begin with a thought experiment.

Imagine being in control of an anti-aircraft battery on the very night that your country loosed a barrage of missiles at the “great Satan.” You have every reason to expect retaliation in the form of a bombing campaign. And here is a suspect blip on your radar screen …

Today: That’s one theory bruited about in the media. Another is in the form of denial by the Iranians. Iran: Trust Us, We Didn’t Shoot Down Ukrainian Passenger Jet reports the Daily Beast.

But complicating this sad affair is the lack of security at the crash site. Also reported by The Daily Beast, Scavengers Are Taking Evidence From the Iran Plane Crash Site, CBS Reports.

Yesterday: The story is not yet ended but here is more of what is emerging from the investigation.

Iranian Missile Blew Passenger Jet Out of the Sky, U.S. Suspects reported by Spencer Ackerman, Adam Rawnsley, Erin Banco, and Betsy Swan at The Daily Beast. The Ukrainian airliner that crashed in Iran the night of the missile attacks on bases in Iraq appears to have been shot by the Iranians with a Russian-made anti-aircraft system.

In the hours since the PS752 crash, a number of videos purporting to show the flight in its final moments have surfaced on social media. Two videos, verified as likely authentic by The New York Times visual investigations team appear to show the impact of the aircraft on the ground in a suburb of Tehran.

On Thursday, a new video surfaced on Twitter and Telegram purporting to show a flying object streak through the night sky and hitting an aircraft shortly before a loud explosion can be heard. It’s unclear yet whether the footage depicts the final moments of PS752 but investigators at Bellingcat have determined that the footage was filmed in Western Parand, near where the flight crashed, and shows the known trajectory of the flight before it crashed.

Video Shows Ukrainian Plane Being Hit Over Iran (reported by By Christiaan Triebert, Malachy Browne, Sarah Kerr and Ainara Tiefenthäler. The New York Times has obtained video of the moment a Ukrainian airliner was hit minutes after takeoff from Tehran.

Video verified by The New York Times appears to show an Iranian missile hitting a plane above Parand, near Tehran’s airport, the area where a Ukrainian airliner stopped transmitting its signal before it crashed on Wednesday.

A small explosion occurred when a missile hit the plane, but the plane did not explode, the video showed. The jet continued flying for several minutes and turned back toward the airport, The Times has determined. The plane flew toward the airport ablaze before it exploded and crashed quickly, other videos verified by The Times showed.

Bestowing unlimited war-making powers, Senate Republicans anoint Donald Trump as King

Functionally that is exactly what is going on. Consider this quote from Lindsey Graham.

Sen. Lindsey O. Graham (R-S.C.) is now dismissing concerns about the need for Congress to reassert its warmaking authority as “emboldening the enemy.”

Apparently there is nothing too bizarre for the Trump loyalists (aka royalists). Consider what happened in a congressional briefing Wednesday by Team Trump.

GOP senator who erupted over Iran briefing shares awful new details about the Trump administration’s willingness to wage war without Congressional consent. So reports Greg Sargent in the Washington Post.

If President Trump made the decision to assassinate the supreme leader of Iran, would he need to come to Congress to get authorization for it?

The Trump administration won’t say.

That remarkable claim is now being made by a Republican senator — Mike Lee of Utah. He offered it in a new interview with NPR, in which he shared fresh details about why he erupted in anger on Wednesday over the briefing Congress received from the administration on Iran.

As you know, Lee’s comments went viral Wednesday after he ripped into the briefing given to lawmakers about Trump’s decision to assassinate Maj. Gen. Qasem Soleimani.

Lee, echoing the complaints of many Democrats, blasted the briefing on the intelligence behind the assassination as the “worst” he’d ever seen. He also fumed that officials refused to acknowledge any “hypothetical” situations in which they would come to Congress for authorization for future military hostilities against Iran.

Now, in the interview with NPR’s Rachel Martin, Lee has gone into more alarming detail. Lee reiterated that officials “were unable or unwilling to identify any point” at which they’d come to Congress for authorization for the use of military force. Then this exchange happened:

MARTIN: What kind of hypotheticals were you putting to them in hopes of understanding when the administration sees a need for Congressional authority?

LEE: As I recall, one of my colleagues asked a hypothetical involving the Supreme Leader of Iran: If at that point, the United States government decided that it wanted to undertake a strike against him personally, recognizing that he would be a threat to the United States, would that require authorization for the use of military force?

The fact that there was nothing but a refusal to answer that question was perhaps the most deeply upsetting thing to me in that meeting.

Obviously, this was an extreme hypothetical. But the point of it was to discern the contours of the administration’s sense of its own obligation to come to Congress for approval of future hostilities. And it succeeded in doing just that, demonstrating that they recognize no such obligation.


In the NPR interview, Lee also disclosed that at one point in the briefing, an official “discouraged us from even having a debate on the Senate floor” about whether Congress should pass new measures constraining Trump’s authority to launch future military actions without authorization.

“That might somehow embolden the Iranian regime in future attacks against the United States,” Lee said, characterizing the argument the official made.


Our system is now functionally that one person makes these extraordinarily consequential decisions. Plainly, the person in question is not fit to do so.

Indeed, in this case, you’d think the starkness of the situation would get Congress — or, more precisely, congressional Republicans, since virtually all Democrats will do the right thing this time — to reassert its authority.

Trump has threatened war crimes, has boasted about the size of his missiles and just ordered an assassination of a senior military leader in a sovereign country without alerting Congress or seeking its approval, based on intelligence that is dubious at best and on rationales that have fallen apart.

But Trump’s tweet calling on “all House Republicans” to vote against the new war powers measure now means that being loyal to Trump is synonymous with giving him unconstrained warmaking authority, despite all the madness we’ve seen. And so it shall be.

BTW: On my understanding, “unconstrained warmaking authority” is a characteristic of a dictatorial monarchy. All hail the King.

Thursday, January 9, 2020

Who's afraid of the Big Bad Bolton - that would be Moscow Mitch.

Why Is Mitch McConnell So Afraid of John Bolton? asks Neal K. Katyal and George T. Conway III. They assert that The Senate must hear his testimony in an impeachment trial. Here are essential excerpts.

The importance of John Bolton’s offer to testify if subpoenaed in the impeachment proceedings against President Trump cannot be overstated. In a single stroke, Mr. Bolton, the former national security adviser, elevated truth and transparency over political gamesmanship.

The Senate must take him up on his offer, …

But is it likely given McConnell’s antipathy?

The core principle behind the rule of law is that justice is blind and partisan identity should not influence a trial’s outcome. But anyone watching Mr. McConnell twist himself into knots in trying to block witnesses and documents has to wonder whether this notion ever took root in his mind. He has gone so far as to say that “there will be no difference between the president’s position and our position as to how to handle this to the extent that we can.” He also said, “There’s no chance the president is going to be removed from office.”

How can Mr. McConnell make such a claim without having heard from Mr. Bolton? …

And how can Mr. McConnell make such a claim without having heard from the most important witness of all, Mr. Trump? …

There is only one possible explanation for this behavior: He is afraid of the truth. …

The two of us are lawyers and became friends and writing partners out of our shared reverence for the rule of law. We have very different politics, but we believe our commitment to this principle far eclipses the rest. The Constitution imposes upon the Senate a duty to “try all impeachments,” and so a real trial — with all relevant testimony and evidence — is what is required.

This week, Mr. Bolton, himself a lawyer, and recognizing the nature of the Senate’s crucial constitutional obligation, has taken a critical step in the right direction. It’s our hope that Americans will recognize that our commitment to the rule of law is what holds us together.

The truth may not set the president free, but the Constitution is meant to keep the country free, and a fair and impartial trial is what must take place here.

Mr. Katyal, the author of “Impeach: The Case Against Donald Trump,” and Mr. Conway, an adviser to the Lincoln Project, are lawyers.