The Attack On U.S. Intelligence Operations

It seems to me….

When I was first elected to the Senate, I was fortunate to be appointed to the Intelligence Committee. There, I saw up close the dedication and commitment of the men and women of our intelligence agencies.” ~ Sheldon Whitehouse[1].

Trump’s ongoing politically-motivated tirade against the U.S. intelligence community is damaging to institutions on which the U.S. will rely long after Trump is history. This schism between the President and the intelligence community is resulting in a breakdown in the faith Americans have in those organizations. While he is advancing this distrust to enhance his own power, he is threatening U.S. stability in the process.

There always should be some degree of suspicion and misgiving by the general public regarding clandestine operations. Additionally, mistakes have been made. While my involvement in this area was limited, a number of years ago, and entirely confined to technological issues, everyone with whom I was associated was highly professional, dedicated, and motivated. I have nothing but the utmost respect for those engaged in this area; they are totally undeserving of the criticism being directed against them.

Everyone now accepts that Russia was actively engaged in an active operation to undermine faith in the democratic process during the 2016 Presidential election: that they flooded social media with divisive propaganda and meddled with both state and local election systems. What remains yet to be determined is the extent to which it influenced the results of that election, who, if anyone, knowingly provided foreign agents with assistance, and how it can be prevented in the future.

Trump has repeatedly labeled all investigations into Russian involvement a “hoax”, the “single greatest witch hunt” in U.S. history, “fake news”…. The major question is, if Trump has nothing to fear from an investigation into Russian election interference as he claims, why is he so opposed to it. While there are no current allegations of his involvement, he continues to act as if guilty and has much he wishes to conceal. At a very minimum, his apprehensions concerning the legitimacy of his election could possibly be substantiated if Russia is shown to have been able to determine the election outcome.

Trump constantly states special counsel Robert Mueller has informed him there is no evidence supporting claims of collusion between either him or members of his team when no such assurance has been given. He screams “SPYGATE!” about an FBI informant legally deployed to covertly question low-level members of his team contacted by Russian operatives, a standard practice to determine the scope of any such activity and not as he claimed to infiltrate his campaign. He cheered over the Edward Snowden release of classified information about programs approved by Congressional committees. When investigations into Russian election interference were revealed, he compared U.S. intelligence officials to Nazis. He made a baseless claim that President Obama had his phones at Trump Tower wiretapped. He has repeatedly castigated the FBI for “failing” to investigate Hillary Clinton despite multiple Republican-instigated Congressional hearings and FBI inquiries (all of which found her not to have violated any laws). All of his bogus claims have repeatedly been debunked but they incessantly go on and on.

While he accuses everyone associated with any of the intelligence agencies of political bias, all of that community’s leadership are Republicans and his appointees. It should be assumed that if any bias actually exists, it would be in his favor.

The special counsel team will at some point need to interview Trump under oath prior to issuing a final report to their investigation but his legal staff prudently opposes this given Trump’s well-known inability to state facts and the almost certain resulting probability of perjury, obstruction of justice, and fraud charges. Trump’s lawyers inappropriately want to restrict the scope of the inquiry demanding to know in advance how the interview would be conducted, how long it would last, what topics would be discussed, and even if it would be recorded. They have made the absurd claim that a President is above the law and not subject to a subpoena, cannot be compelled to testify, cannot be indicted for any crime regardless of type, and has the power to pardon himself if convicted. All in direct contradiction to the centuries-old principle of British and U.S. law that no one can be a judge in their own case.

Trump continues to disparage the investigation, the individuals conducting it, and the institutions of our government which are the pillars of protection for our individual rights and security. There even is an active effort through the media to totally discredit the inquiry claiming it to be illegitimate, an effort by partisan bureaucrats to nullify his election, a nefarious endeavor to entrap his team, and an attempt to coverup crimes committed by President Obama and Hillary Clinton. He claims the probe is an unconstitutional distraction, a prolonged waste of money, and an attempt to discredit his many major accomplishments.

Part of the problem is that Trump is Constitutionally illiterate. Though he has been the frequent target of legal action in the past, he appears to have little actual knowledge of investigative procedures or responsibility for criminal prosecution. As a result of the many past charges filed against him, he possibly paranoidally believes everyone is out to get him.

He may be correct, “Just because you’re paranoid doesn’t mean they aren’t after you[2]”. His mafia-associated lawyers have previously always managed to avoid guilty verdicts but that was primarily in New York and New Jersey – it will be interesting to see what the results will eventually be in federal courts.

That’s what I think, what about you?

[1] Sheldon Whitehouse is an American lawyer and Democratic politician serving as the junior U.S. Senator from Rhode Island. He also has served as a U.S. Attorney and as Attorney General of Rhode Island.

[2] Attributed to Joseph Heller in his book Catch-22.

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Overcoming U.S. Stagnation

It seems to me….

There’s no light at the end of the tunnel in the Republican message, no promise of better things to come. There’s only the present stagnation, followed by a slow decline.” ~ John Podhoretz[1].

Resolution of important Congressional issues have been delayed for purely ideological reasons; it is time to get on with the business of government.

There has been too much political dysfunction; there is a need for political compromise ending our cycle of economic malaise that has created a mere mirage of financial recovery. We need to pass fiscal measures necessary to create economic growth: infrastructure investment, meaningful tax reform, education/training availability, environmental protection, immigration improvement…. Congress continues to delay any significant action correcting the myriad critical problems our country faces.

Social institutions are difficult to change; there are too many vested interests fighting to protect the status quo. Powerful economic interests, both corporate and personal, have accumulated vast wealth under the current system resulting in economic inequality. But change is essential as our economy changes from an industrial model based on physical capital to a knowledge model based on human assets necessitating modification of our educational institutions and labor markets.

No amount of specious casuistry can make the wrong right. Rather than accepting that Clinton won the Presidential 2016 election popular vote and only lost in the Electoral College due to a combination of Russian hacking, FBI Director James Comey’s last-minute intervention, and Clinton’s somewhat inept campaign, Republicans apparently viewed the 2016 Presidential election results as a mandate to introduce measures known to be blatantly anathema to the opposition.

They would instead have benefitted by attempting to build a broad coalition of support in those areas where there was wide consensus; e.g., infrastructure updates and modernization; prior to attempting consideration of more controversial issues. Constraint and openness is necessary regardless of personal beliefs; this was not apparent in their attempt to rollback healthcare and environmental issues or pass tax reform. Members of Congress must not forget that though they individually were elected to their office by small regional electoral districts, they actually represent the entire nation.

No individual, political party, or interest group can ever be allowed to pursue their own agenda rather than the basic principles and interests of our nation. While we frequently elect a divided government, we do not want a dysfunctional government which is what we now have. Neither major political party seems overly concerned with the global economic slowdown, massive infrastructure deficits, growing inequality, climate change, and other critical issues facing the U.S. and the world.

Rather than the national government being too large as Conservatives like to claim, it is the very weakness of centralized government and the conceding of power to individual states that has become a major impediment to stability and growth[2]. Far from endorsing a loose post-Revolutionary War confederation, General Washington thought creation of a central power “to regulate and govern the general concerns” of the nation was “indispensable to the happiness of the individual States”. To choose otherwise, “relaxing the powers of the Union”, would risk “annihilating the cement of the Confederation”.  It was true then and remains even more true today.

We are living in an age of revolutions, natural and human, that are buffeting individuals and communities. Government must be more than a passive observer of these trends and forces – it needs to actively shape and manage them.

Politically (philosophically), I consider myself as basically an independent but tend not only toward progressivism but also, though somewhat less strongly, communitarianism in the belief that a person’s social identity and personality are largely molded by community relationships with a smaller degree of development being dependent upon basic individualism. I support the concept of positive rights, which are rights or guarantees to certain things such as state-subsidized education, a safe and clean environment, universal health care, and even the right to a job with the concomitant obligation of the government or individuals to provide one if necessary. The state generally has an obligation to provide social security programs, public works programs, and laws limiting such things as pollution.

That said, I obviously have my own personal political opinions and preferred social and political preferences. While having frequently recommended policies I felt to be beneficial, I rarely have found anyone else making similar recommendations. Probably the closest I have found are those by Thomas L. Friedman in what I believe to be his latest book[3]. While I do not completely agree with him, his recommendations are sufficiently close to mine to feel somewhat vindicated. Though accepting the necessity of short-term compromise to be necessary, my long-term beliefs as to what is necessary to overcome political stagnation have remained relatively consistent. Liberals will not totally agree with me; conservatives will consider some of them abhorrent. But – if anyone is listening – here are some suggestions on where to start.

Distance between locations has lessened since the framing of our Constitution and with a highly-mobile citizenry, power must increasingly be centralized away from multiple different points of control and regulation. Additionally, the Constitution and Bill of Rights were written for the benefit of wealthy white male landowners when our nation was primarily agrarian and located along the Atlantic Coastline. Communications between distant locations, which at the time of our nation’s founding required weeks, is now instantaneous. Legal interpretation of the Constitution must be considered in terms of today’s realities rather than being construed strictly literally.

Most of the supposed tax reforms approved by Congress in 2017 were totally misguided. It is normal conservative ideology to rail against bloated government bureaucracy but their beliefs are misplaced: 9 out of 10 government employees provide direct services. About half are in education; 10 percent are either active duty military or provide police and fire protection. Most of the rest are hospital workers, transportation, parks and recreation…. Tax reform is definitely needed – but this was not it. There are many programs that have been drastically underfunded for many years and now require substantial budget increases to correct the substantial damage that has been permitted to occur. This can only be accomplished through a tax increase. Tax reductions motivated by political pandering are the cause of these problems and our elected officials have to accept that responsibility.

All corporate subsidies and special interest tax breaks should be eliminated and any that are approved should be limited to a maximum of one year necessitating yearly Congressional reapproval. Preferential tax treatment of dividend income and capital gains taxes should be eliminated treating them at the normal rate similarly to income derived from any other source. Constant insistence on tax reductions exemplify a shibboleth of conservative extremism; contrary to claims, they only have resulted in an increased deficit rather than long-term economic improvement.

It is time for single-payer universal healthcare. The U.S. has the most expensive but worst-rated healthcare of any major developed nation. There would be initial associated start-up costs but it is the only proven way to reduce overall healthcare costs across the entire population base. The existing highly successful Medicare Program could be extended to provide general coverage. It could possibly be funded by a progressive value-added consumption tax on all items other than groceries and other necessities. The Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act approved under President Obama (and partly rescinded under Trump) was a step in the right direction but was extremely weak and lacked necessary coverage aspects.

The realities of anthropomorphic-induced climate change must be fully accepted and acknowledged as the greatest threat currently facing our planet; significantly stricter environmental laws are necessary, not less. All Obama-era environmental policies should immediately be reinstated and the U.S. should rejoin the Paris Environmental Agreement (Accord de Paris); greenhouse gas curtailments should exceed those agreed to under COP21. Additionally, a national partial destination-based carbon tax should be approved to strengthen and enforce environmental regulation.

Substantial infrastructure investment is necessary to repair and modernize our nation’s crumbling infrastructure: roads, bridges, tunnels, electrical grid (renewable energy), water and sewer, railways, air transport, waterways, communications, waste disposal…. A full correction has been estimated to cost around $1.5 trillion in today’s dollars and the longer correction is delayed, the more it will degrade and cost to repair. Investment, probably through an exclusive infrastructure bank, of an initial $50 billion minimum, should be immediately approved with additional comparable funding provided annually until all components are compliant with current engineering standards. The U.S. is one of the only developed nations to not have modern mass- and rapid-transit systems. Even development of a demonstration highspeed rail system connecting San Francisco and Los Angeles faces considerable opposition. It also is increasingly critical that investment be done quickly prior to widespread transition to electric vehicles (EVs) when revenue from gas taxes totally disappears. Investment requires concomitant support by individual states which voters need to demand. Unfortunately, only when any integrant not deemed totally compliant with safety codes is closed to public access will elected officials apparently accept responsibility to adequately fund infrastructure maintenance and necessary improvements.

Higher educational attainment is becoming an increasing priority at a time when education financial support is being reduced resulting in prohibitive student costs. Postsecondary education at fully accredited public universities or technical schools should be free (or fully tax deductible) of all cost, especially for those majoring in STEM subject areas or honorably discharged from military service. National standards for competency-based learning assessments and academic reporting demonstrating students have attained the minimum standard knowledge and skills required to progress through their education should be mandatory. Common Core educational standards should be required at all K‑12 schools along with adequate funding for all teachers to receive training on how to teach new curriculums.

Research provides the basis for future employment. While the U.S. has led the rest of the world in basic research since the end of World War II, we are rapidly falling behind in areas in which we once had a considerable lead. Corporate and private research investment credits should be substantially increased for all independently peer-reviewed projects whether done directly or funded at accredited research educational institutions. Research funding for all national labs and institutes of health should also be increased along with adequate funding for NASA to conduct a meaningful manned-space development program leading to a permanent manned base on the Moon. Basic research must initially be done through public funding as corporate or venture capital investment will not be available until any development is demonstrated to be financially viable.

Globalization benefits essentially everyone and free trade agreements need to be fully supported. The Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) cancelled by Trump needs to be reapprove. Education, training/retraining, relocation, and wage insurance should be provided for those workers negatively impacted by free trade.

The disparity between the U.S.’s highest and lowest earners exceeds that of virtually every other developed nation and is continuing to widen. The number of households earning less than $15,000/year increased by 37 percent between 2000 and 2016. Income inequality has increased significantly since the 1970s and the U.S. now globally ranks around the 30th percentile with a Gini Index of 45.0; 70 percent of other countries have a more equal income distribution[4]. This is a level frequently associated with social instability and inequality reduction needs to be a high priority.

Financial regulation needs to be increased to prevent another financial crisis similar to that which occurred in 2008. Corporate monopolization including exclusive dealing, price discrimination, refusing to supply an essential facility, product tying, and predatory pricing should be prohibited. The 2005 bankruptcy reform laws should be rescinded. The Dodd-Frank financial reforms and Sarbanes-Oxley accounting regulations should be reviewed and possibly strengthened. A politically-independent Regulatory Improvement Commission should be created to improve or remove unnecessary or inadequate regulations.

Immigration laws need extensive revision. The number of refugees and immigrants admitted to the U.S. should be increased and those in the U.S. under either the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) or Temporary Protected Status (TPS) programs be allowed to permanently remain. Any non-citizen serving in the U.S. military and honorably discharged should also be provided a direct path to citizenship. While family-reunification migration should be limited to immediate direct relatives, all limits on H-1B and EB-1 visas for foreign highly-skilled knowledge workers should be removed. Any student completing an advanced degree at a fully accredited U.S. university, especially in a STEM-related field, should automatically be offered a Green Card.

Border and port security does need to be strengthened. Customs and Border Protection (CBP) is responsible for the security of 170 ports of entry on the northern and southern U.S. borders but unmanned and unmonitored areas between these ports of entry remain vulnerable to security exploitation. Construction of a border wall would prove ineffectual but additional resources including personnel and electronic monitoring would be beneficial. The U.S. maritime system, consisting of over 300 sea and river ports with more than 3,700 cargo and passenger terminals, is extremely vulnerable to terrorist attack. Radio-frequency identification (RFID) tags, using electromagnetic fields to automatically identify and track tags attached to objects, should be required on all containers and enclosed items to enable automated inspection and content verification.

Common sense weapon regulation must be approved banning military-type weapons and comprehensive extended background checks implemented preventing anyone criminally-charged or deemed mentally ill from purchasing weapons. Concealed weapon permits should be permitted only for law enforcement officials. It is time to cease attempts by the NRA, weapon manufacturers, and gun advocates to deflect the real cause of gun violence from the actual problem – the availability of too many weapons rather than the unsupportable claim that it is solely attributable to mental illness. As a very minimum, legislation reenacting the Brady Bill; with expanded and improved background checks, closure of the gun show loophole, closure of loopholes permitting domestic abusers and stalkers to obtain guns; and renewal of the Federal Assault Weapons Ban (AWB)[5] prohibiting the manufacture for civilian use of certain semi-automatic firearms defined as assault weapons, as well as large capacity ammunition magazines, should be approved.

Accelerated tax incentives should be approved and regulatory barriers preventing rapid deployment of highspeed bandwidth communication networks eliminated. Expanded access to high speed Internet has been shown to generate major economic growth and job creation but the U.S. has fallen behind most other advanced nations in crafting communications policies that effectively facilitate job growth and business advancement. High speed connections accelerate business development by providing new opportunities for innovation, expansion, and e-commerce. Connected communities can increase revenue and opportunity by attracting businesses that want to locate to areas with a strong broadband presence.

The Earned Income Tax Credit (EITC), a refundable tax credit for low- to moderate-income working individuals and couples, particularly those with children, and the Child Tax Credit, a tax credit available to families contingent on the number of dependent children and making less than $110,000 per year, should be extended and expanded for low-income workers under the provision that they either are employed or under medical care as an incentive to work. A Federal program similar to the 1939 Works Progress Administration (WPA) should be established for anyone either unable to find work or is considered as long term unemployed.

National political campaign spending limitations and the maximum duration of national election campaigns need to be established. The 2010 Supreme Court Citizens United decision loosened campaign financing restrictions on political expenditures such that it became sufficiently expensive that only the extremely wealthy can afford to run for national office. The average candidate in 2016 spent about $1.6 million to be elected to the House and about $10.5 million to the Senate forcing candidates to gravitate towards wealthier donors able to donate large amounts. Donations once necessary for a candidate’s voice to be heard have therefore become a corrupting influence on the political process. The Federal Election Commission needs to enforce laws that require public disclosure of campaign finance information; laws that Congress established the commission to implement and the Supreme Court has repeatedly held are a crucial component of our democratic system of government. Political campaigns that now last nearly two-years have increased campaign costs and continue to become longer every year. Not only has this become exhausting for the American public, it has most likely resulted in decreased voter turnout.

Several changes are necessary to the Voting Rights Act including the elimination of gerrymandering. Gerrymandering, the manipulation of voting district boundaries with the intent to establish a political advantage for a particular party or group, must be prohibited so as to provide equal opportunity for candidates from all political parties. There are several ways in which this could be accomplished. The Constitution gives state legislatures the authority to draw political districts so they also have the authority to hand that responsibility to independent commissions stripping state legislatures of their power to redraw districts. There are programs and algorithms able to draw optimally compact contiguous equal-population political districts that respect census block boundaries, the smallest geographic units used by the Census Bureau. Otherwise, there isn’t any way to ensure that everyone’s vote actually counts.

The use of military force represents a failure of diplomacy or of other less bellicose options. Current military spending far exceeds both reasonable and justifiable limits. The threat of force has become the essential aspect of our foreign policy and guarantees that it, rather than diplomacy, will continue to produce insecurity and uncertainty in the future. Major changes in emphasis are essential. Cyberspace has become a normal part of military operations and needs to be considered as such. Both the U.S. Cyber Command and the Peace Corps should be expanded in addition to creation of a separate psychological warfare intelligence services. All should be branches of service comparable to other active military operational domains including land, sea, air, and space. It is as important to avoid military action whenever possible and the Peace Corp plays an important role in that mission by creating good will and alleviating conditions leading to direct confrontation.

National response to recent natural disasters has been substantially less than optimal; not only in Puerto Rico and the Virgin Islands but also in the aftermath of hurricanes, fires, and other adversities here on the mainland. The September 11 attacks resulted in federal emergency management policy changes emphasizing terrorism and significantly degraded the ability to respond to natural disasters. The federal government sought to create a top-down, command and control model of emergency management rather the way local emergency management normally works in practice. Disaster response should instead be structured more closely to the models everyone is taught in the basic ICS 200, 300, and 400 classes. The relief and response model for coping with disaster after it has happened is not appropriate; the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) needs to emphasize hazard mitigation as a primary goal of national policy so communities can plan for disaster resilience rather than just response. In a world of changing climate, it is imperative that the steps necessary to mitigate the effects of a disaster include pre-disaster preparedness.

It is acknowledged that this is only a partial list of those legislative priorities necessary to once again get our nation back on track but it should be adequate to provide an appropriate start. It admittedly will require substantial effort and investment to overcome recent years of legislative inaction which, while necessary, no one will find appealing. Legislators created the problem and now they must accept the consequences. It is not fair or reasonable to exclusively blame either major political party for this stagnation – it is time for all parties to cooperate and compromise where required to compensate for their past refusal to consider what is in our nation’s best interests rather than prioritizing political ideology. Unfortunately, the only way this might be feasible is to replace all current legislators with real progressives. It will be up to the voters to make this a priority. Let’s hope they make a wise decision.

That’s what I think, what about you?

[1] John Mordecai Podhoretz is an American writer who has been editor of Commentary magazine, a columnist for the New York Post, author of several books on politics, and former presidential speechwriter.

[2] Zakaria, Fareed. Stop Being Afraid Of More Government. It’s exactly What We Need, Washington Post Writers Group, https://fareedzakaria.com/2017/09/08/stop-being-afraid-of-more-government-its-exactly-what-we-need/, 7 September 2017.

[3] Friedman, Thomas L. Thank You For Being Late, Allen Lane, 2016, pp328-336. I am not recommending this book as I feel only half of it to be relevant.

[4] The World Factbook, Central Intelligence Agency, https://www.cia.gov/library/publications/the-world-factbook/rankorder/2172rank.html?countryname=United%20States&countrycode=us&regionCode=noa&rank=41#us, 2018

[5] The AWB was officially named the Public Safety and Recreational Firearms Use Protection Act and was a subsection of the Violent Crime Control and Law Enforcement Act of 1994.

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Employment Opportunities

It seems to me….

We need to have a strong economy that can create employment opportunities and that can also produce the revenue that we need to defend our country at home and abroad.” ~ Bob Menendez[1].

Contrary to claims by some prominent politicians, while it is true that roughly 42 percent or about 93 million Americans do not have jobs, most of that population is made up of teenagers, retirees, or stay-at-home caregivers[2]. There is insufficient proof of high unemployed or even underemployed. A current unemployment rate of 3.9 percent[3] constitutes economic full-employment and possibly is lower than desirable.

Seventy-one percent of 16 and 17-year-olds, the Millennials born between about 1980 and 1995, do not have a job as they have yet to start working en masse. The majority are still in college or graduate school, taking care of young children, or otherwise not yet fully engaged in the labor force.

92 percent of people over 75-years old, the Baby Boomer generation – a massive portion of the U.S. labor force, currently are “unemployed”, evidence they are retiring. 20 percent of U.S. households are headed by retirees.

Unemployment for African-Americans 16 to 19 years old is close to 31.8 percent, extremely higher than desired but hardly pushing 60 percent as occasionally claimed.

Since manufacturing employment peaked in 1979 at nearly 20 million, some 8 million of jobs have been lost; initially to cheaper foreign labor markets but more recently to automation. Those losses accelerated after the 2001 recession, when competition from China surged and an estimated 2.0 million to 2.4 million jobs left for China between 1999 and 2011[4].

While manufacturing jobs in the U.S. have declined considerably over the past several decades, manufacturing output – the value of goods and products manufactured in the U.S. – has strongly expanded. While most Americans are aware of the decline in employment, relatively few are aware of the increase in output.

The very nature of work is changing at an unprecedented pace. Even professional services – legal, medical, investment… – no long seem safe from the rapid encroachment of increasingly sophisticated artificial intelligence (AI). The frightening rise of populism and election of Trump as U.S. President has aroused previously complacent white-collar workers to the plight of the large number of workers left behind by automation and other economic changes that have swept over our nation in the last several decades.

One reason Americans may be more familiar with the long-term decline in manufacturing employment than the increase in output is that the job losses have been highly visible, especially in traditionally manufacturing-intensive areas of the Midwest and South. After adjusting for inflation, manufacturing output in the first quarter of 2017 was more than 80 percent above its level 30 years ago according to Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) data. The simultaneous increase in manufacturing output and decline in manufacturing jobs over the long term shows that U.S. manufacturers have become far more productive than they were three decades ago – that is, they can produce more goods, or higher-value goods, with less labor. This reflects several factors, among them businesses investing more in machinery and replacing old machines with more advanced ones; workers becoming more skilled and educated; and firms streamlining and improving their industrial processes.

Manufacturing jobs peaked in 1979 at 19.4 million and had fallen to 17.6 million by 1987 (BLS data). What had been a slow decline in employment accelerated after the turn of the century, especially during the 2009 recession. Manufacturing payrolls bottomed out at fewer than 11.5 million in early 2010 and even though more than 900,000 manufacturing jobs have been added since, overall employment in manufacturing is still at its lowest level since before the U.S. entered World War II.

While many of the jobs offshored to China and elsewhere have now returned to the U.S., they have substantially changed and fewer are available as manufacturing processes have become more productive. While the level of U.S. manufacturing employment has fallen by roughly a third, overall manufacturing output has doubled, thanks to a surge in productivity brought by increased automation, better supply chain management, and other efficiency improvements. Those upgrades aren’t going away. Manufacturers are now able to increase production with fewer workers.

The good news for job seekers is that numerous employment opportunities exist especially for those seeking employment in certain in-demand fields, such as healthcare and education, and while beneficial, not all require 4-year college degrees. Employers are especially eager to find candidates with experience and workplace skills according to ManpowerGroup’s 2015 Talent Shortage survey[5] which also found that 32 percent of American employers say they are having difficulty filling openings. Experience, realistic salary expectations, and a willingness to relocate were deemed very important.

One of the primary reason for job vacancies is the inability for employers to find people with job-ready skills. According to the Manufacturing Institute, 3.4 million manufacturing jobs are expected to become available over the next 10 years, yet 2 million of those jobs may go unfilled if the U.S. stays on its current course.

U.S. employers acknowledge that talent shortages have a medium to high impact on their business though few are putting talent strategies in place to address the problem. Skilled trades vacancies; such as chefs, butchers, bakers, mechanics, and electricians; have been the hardest positions to fill closely followed by openings for drivers, teachers, sales representatives, and a category that includes secretaries, PAs, receptionists, administrative assistants, and office-support staff.

There are very legitimate reasons that many people are legitimately frustrated with the current economy: the slow pace of wage improvement; service jobs are less lucrative than the union-backed factory and mining jobs of a generation ago; and health care, child care, and education are vastly more costly today as a percentage of income than they were three decades ago. Those are all issues of which many working-class Americans are very much aware.

Employment opportunities will rapidly transition in coming years due to technological advancement – computerization, automation, artificial intelligence…. With these changes will come new opportunities but many will require new skills, training, and education. Many threatened to be left behind by these advances will require access to retraining, transitional economic assistance, and improved public education. Failure to prepare for changes will very likely result in social unrest and possible conflict.

Youth must take responsibility for their own future. The frontier where in the past people without education or skills were able to relocate no longer is an option for those who do not complete their education. The young are entitled to educational or vocational training, medical care, and counseling but the rest is up to them. If they are unable to find employment, they should question what they must do to fit into society rather than blaming society. Life is not fair and some people must work harder than others, some schools always will be better than others, some environments more supporting…. The best advice for anyone feeling life is biased against them – get over it. Opportunities always are there for those that truly want them.

That’s what I think, what about you?

[1] Robert Menendez is an American politician serving as the senior U.S. Senator from New Jersey.

[2] Edwards, Haley Sweetland. What Donald Trump Got Wrong About Unemployment, Time, http://time.com/4443598/donald-trump-unemployment-statistics/?xid=newsletter-brief, 8 August 2016.

[3] The Employment Situation – April 2018, Bureau of Labor Statistics, https://www.bls.gov/news.release/pdf/empsit.pdf, 4 May 2018.

[4] Acemoglu, Daron, David Autor, David Dorn, Gordon H. Hanson, and Brendan Price. Import Competition and the Great US Employment Sag of the 2000s, Society of Labor Economists, The University of Chicago Press, http://www.ddorn.net/papers/AADHP-GreatSag.pdf, 2 January 2016.

[5] Prising, Jonas. 2015 Talent Shortage Survey, ManpowerGroup, https://manpower.ca/wps/wcm/connect/manpowergroup/home/talent-shortage-2015.

Posted in African-American, AI, Artificial, Artificial Intelligence, Automation, Automation, Automation, Automation, China, Computerization, Digitization, Economic, Economy, Education, Education, Education, Education, Employment, Employment, employment, Globalization, Income, Inequality, Intelligence, Jobs, Labor, Manufacturing, Manufacturing, Productivity, Retired, Retraining, Technology, Technology, Technology, Training, Unemployment, Wages, Workers | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Climate Change – Its Real!

It seems to me….

We have to face the reality of climate change. It is arguably the biggest threat we are facing today.” ~ William Hague[1].

The major issues of climate science are settled. There no longer can be any question as to whether the cause is anthropomorphic: humans are the major cause of global warming resulting in a wide range of disruptions to the Earth’s ecosystems. Climate change also constitutes the greatest threat to global health in the 21st century threatening to undermine the gains of the last half century – it is climate change, uncontrolled urbanization, and poverty from human activity that create environments suitable for zoonotic pathogen emergence.

While any single weather-event cannot conclusively be considered a harbinger of climate change, our planet is experiencing an increasing cascade of non-normal weather and climate incidents. 16 of the 17 warmest years in the 136 years of recorded weather data have all occurred since 2001 with 1998 being the only exception. Since 1980, ice in the Artic during summers has decreased by 50 percent; year-round sea ice is only 25 percent of what it was at that time. Similarly, many of Antarctica’s oceanfront glaciers, about 10 percent, are retreating considerably more rapidly than predicted. Coral reefs have declined by 40 percent since 1970. The effects of global warming are ubiquitously apparent to anyone who cares to look.

There are partisan differences over a number of concerns but one of the most significant anxieties is the threat from global climate change. Nearly eight-in-ten Democrats (77 percent) view global climate change as a major threat compared with just 26 percent of Republicans.

Liberals believe global warming is caused by increased production of carbon dioxide through the burning of fossil fuels (coal, oil, natural gas…). The U.S. is a major contributor to global warming as it produces 25 percent of the world’s carbon dioxide. They believe laws reducing carbon emissions in the U.S. are urgently needed and should be enacted immediately to save the planet. Most reputable scientists support this theory.

Blue states held by the Democrats are increasingly shifting to clean energy like solar and installing policies that wean the energy system off carbon. In the era of climate change, with the mounting pressure of increased natural disasters, something must give.

Conservative, on the other hand, believe changes in global temperature are natural over long periods of time and that science has not shown that humans can affect permanent change to the earth’s temperature. Proposed laws to reduce carbon emissions will do nothing to help the environment and will cause significant cost increases for all. This theory has very little support within the scientific community.

Red states held by the Republicans are deeply entrenched in carbon-based energy systems like coal and oil. They consequently deny the science of climate change, are trying to resuscitate the dying coal industry, and recently have begun to open coastal waters to oil drilling.

The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), which reflects scientific opinion on the topic, stated in the forward to its 2013 report, “the science now shows with 95 percent certainty that human activity is the dominant cause of observed warming since the mid-20th century[2]”. Additionally, several analyses of scholarly publications verify widespread consensus among climate scientists on this point[3]. Research since release of that report has only served to strengthen certainty in its conclusions.

Members of the American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS) found 93 percent of members with a PhD in Earth sciences (and 87 percent of members overall) say the Earth is warming primarily as a result of human behavior. Those who continue to claim the Earth’s warming stems from natural causes or that there is no evidence of warming obviously have little understanding either of the issue or the pending impact verified by scientific environmental findings.

Research findings on climate are influenced by the best available evidence. There is a need to understand that the Earth is warming due to human activity; that climate scientists have a firm understanding of climate changes and need to be trusted regarding the basic causes of those changes. Information provided by climate scientists regarding the causes of climate change has been full and accurate; they rarely are influenced by considerations such as career interests or political leanings. Climate scientists understand how climate changes must be addressed and should have a major role in climate policy decisions. That said, scientists and engineers must acknowledge part of the responsibility for the failure to sufficiently refute populous-driven acceptance of widely entrenched false narratives within our communities. We remain isolated within our perspective tribes listening only to the echo-chambers of preferred ideological-driven beliefs. Influential scientists and engineers need to be more aware of the psychological, social, and cultural factors that affect how people understand and use information.

Critical changes have been delayed too long to avoid major environmental impact. The more quickly carbon emissions are reduced, the more limited that impact will be. Not only is there is much that can be done, there is much that must be done.

Power plant emissions (34 percent of total carbon emissions) historically constitute the major source of atmospheric carbon. Restrictions can make a significant difference in the quantity of atmospheric carbon dioxide (CO2) released. Reliance on both solar and wind power must be expanded while drastically reducing our dependence on fossil fuel energies such as coal mining, offshore oil and gas drilling, and hydraulic fracturing for oil and natural gas.

International agreements (49 percent of emissions) limiting carbon emissions can make a substantial difference in climate change. One of the most important, The Paris Agreement (Accord de Paris), is an accord within the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) dealing with greenhouse gas emissions mitigation, adaptation, and finance starting in the year 2020. Unfortunately, while one of the original supporters of the agreement, the U.S. under Trump has withdrawn its support. This potentially disastrous decision must be reversed.

CO2 production within the transportation sector last year reached its highest level since the 2008 economic downturn and now accounts for 37 percent of U.S. energy consumption emissions. Tougher fuel efficiency standards for cars and trucks can make a big difference in addressing climate change and the Corporate Average Fuel Economy (CAFE) standards would have important climate benefits, would be achievable, and should have little or no downside for consumers. Federal action is necessary as fuel efficiency, alternative vehicles, and reductions in greenhouse gas emissions are unlikely to progress without federal action. Tougher fuel efficiency standards for cars and trucks could make a substantial difference as would having a higher percentage of hybrid and electric vehicles on the road.

Corporate tax incentives encouraging businesses to reduce their carbon footprint have been demonstrated to encourage businesses to reduce carbon emissions caused by their actions. Penalizing carbon emissions through a carbon fee is one of the most powerful incentives governments have to encourage companies and households to pollute less by investing in cleaner technologies and adopting greener practices. Similarly, the Bipartisan Budget Act of 2018 renewed a number of tax credits, including those that had expired at the end of 2016, for residential energy efficiency. Either cap-and-trade programs or carbon taxes can work well as long as they are designed to provide a strong economic signal encouraging a switch to cleaner energy. A carbon tax has one key advantage: it is easier and quicker for governments to implement. It also can be very easily implemented in just a few months by relying on existing administrative structures for taxing fuels. More time would be required to develop regulations necessary for cap-and-trade which are more susceptible to lobbying and loopholes and require establishment of an emissions trading market.

Even individual efforts to reduce personal “carbon footprints” during daily life activities can have a significant positive effect.

Climate change is detrimental to the environment and very likely will negatively impact animal life (74 percent probability), damage forests and plants life (74 percent), produce more droughts (73 percent), more severe storms (74 percent), and damage to shorelines from rising sea levels (74 percent). These effects are seldom covered by the national media which does not take the threat of climate change sufficiently seriously.

The probability of environmental catastrophes – global warming, deforestation, ocean acidification, biodiversity extinction… – is rapidly increasing. The reality of climate change and sustainability, slowing global warming, and solving climate change is a large problem requiring comprehensive solutions. It involves changing the way the economy works and shifting to fundamentally different clean energy sources including electric vehicle adoption and solar roof installation.

There is much that can be done to mitigate possible catastrophic impact. A range of policy actions exist that can make a “big difference” in addressing the major adverse effects of climate change including: power plant emission limits, international agreements about emissions, tougher vehicles fuel efficiency standards, and corporate tax incentives to encourage businesses to reduce emissions.

The reality of significant negative effects from global warming is no longer subject to debate. The best time to have initiated corrective action is unfortunately now in the past. There isn’t any additional time to waste – it now is time for less talk and more action.

That’s what I think, what about you?

[1] William Jefferson Hague, Baron Hague of Richmond, PC, FRSL, is a British Conservative politician and life peer.

[2] Climate Change 2013: The Physical Science Basis, 2013. Fifth Assessment Report of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, http://www.climatechange2013.org/images/report/WG1AR5_ALL_FINAL.pdf, 2013.

[3] Funk, Cary, and Brian Kennedy. The Politics of Climate, Pew Research Center, http://www.pewinternet.org/2016/10/04/the-politics-of-climate/, 4 October 2016.

Posted in AAAS, Accord de Paris, American Association for the Advancement of Science, Antarctic, anthropogenic, Arctic, Automotive, Bipartisan Budget Act of 2018, CAFE, Cap-and-Trade, Carbon, Carbon Dioxide, Carbon Tax, Carbon-Based, Change, Clean, Climate, Climate Change, Climate Change Conference, CO2, Coal, Coal, Coal Mining, Conservative, COP21, Coral, Coral Reefs, Corporate Average Fuel Economy, Disaster, Disease, Drought, Drought, Drought, Droughts, Ecology, Ecosystem, Electric, Electric Vehicles, Energy, Environment, Environment, EVs, EVs, Fire, Fires, Floods, Floods, Forest, Fossil Fuel, Global Warming, Global Warming, Government, Greenhouse, Greenhouse Gas Emissions, Hurricane, Hurricane, Hybrid Vehicles, Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, IPCC, liberals, Methane, Oil Shale, Paris Agreement, Pathogen, Pathogens, Petroleum, Power, Power, Renewable, Shale, Solar, Solar, Solar, Storms, Transportation, Trump, United Nations, United Nations, Vehicle, Vehicles, Weather, Weather, weather, Wildfires, Wildland, Wind, Wind, Zoonotic | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Flu Prevention

It seems to me….

Vaccination is the single most important step people can take to protect themselves from influenza.” ~ Tom Frieden[1].

Simply because a deadly global pandemic has not occurred in recent history shouldn’t be mistaken for evidence that a deadly pandemic will not occur in the future[2]. An arsenal of new weapons is essential; vaccines, drugs, diagnostics…; so as to be prepared for when it happens. The cost of preventing an epidemic is only about 10 percent of what it would cost to actually cope with one.

A logical place to begin might be with the influenza virus which is globally responsible for as many as half a million deaths per year. Part of the problem is due to the only partial efficacy of each year’s flu shot coupled with long manufacturing times and limited global availability. Every year the rapidly evolving influenza picks up mutations preventing our antibodies to no longer recognize the virus.

Unfortunately, we are not prepared to adequately respond to even a severe cycle such as this year, 2017-2018. Already inadequate U.S. Public Health Emergency preparedness programs have had funding reduced by 60 percent since 2003.

Flu immunization rates are only about 50 percent. Vaccine effectiveness in any given season is normally between 10 and 60 percent depending upon the prevalent strain of flu. It can result just in the U.S. each year of 36 million infections, 200,000 hospitalizations, and 36,000 deaths costing the U.S. economy about $87 billion/year. And this is just in normal years. While there have not been any recent severe pandemics, health officials assure us it is just a matter of time before the next one hits with devastating consequences.

To be effective, vaccination rates must approach 95 percent to establish a so-called “herd immunity” necessary to provide protection to those not able to be vaccinated due to personal medical conditions. Most communities have about this 95 percent inoculation rate among children starting kindergarten but the rate is much lower in some areas of the country – namely Colorado and California. Increasing numbers of parents refuse to allow their children to be vaccinated though inoculations have repeatedly been proven to be safe. Incongruently, these parents are primarily both well-educated and comparatively affluent.

Researchers have long sought a universal flu vaccine that does not need to be re‑administered every year. Efforts to produce one tend to involve injecting noninfectious flu lookalikes in hopes that they will prime the immune system to mount a proper attack on whatever real strain of flu they see next. Despite some progress, researchers have so far only managed to achieve limited progress and are not yet able to coax the immune system to defend against all strains of influenza.

Rather than relying on the immune system to generate an antibody protein capable of shutting down a virus like the flu, computational protein design could enable computer modeling to quickly create custom antiviral proteins programmed to shut down a deadly virus. Unlike a vaccine, this class of drug could be administered to treat an existing infection or be given days prior to exposure to prevent one. Designing an antiviral protein on a computer, building it in the laboratory, and then administering it into the body is effectively digitizing part of the immune system. Initial tests using mice indicate computer-generated proteins might be considerably more effective than current medications.

Less than half of young Americans get a yearly immunization shot and apparently 20 percent continue to ignorantly believe the disproven myth that vaccines can cause autism. Anyone failing to get a yearly immunization not only jeopardizes their own health, they are irresponsibly also doing so for everyone else by preventing establishment of a herd-immunity within the population base.

While progress is being made, it will still be a number of years prior to any new technology is approved for human use. Approval is not initially required for a proof-of-concept detection system that could be transformed into a reliable and affordable on-site diagnostic tool for a variety of viruses by detecting them in saliva or blood. Let’s hope we have that much time.

That’s what I think, what about you?


[1] Thomas R. Frieden is an American infectious disease and public health expert, former director of the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, and acting administrator of the Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry.

[2] Haydon, Ian. Designing Antiviral Proteins Via Computer Could Help Halt the Next Pandemic, Scientific American, https://www.scientificamerican.com/article/designing-antiviral-proteins-via-computer-could-help-halt-the-next-pandemic/?WT.mc_id=SA_TECH_20170613, 13 June 2017.

Posted in Antiviral, Budget, California, Colorado, Computer, Diagnose, Diagnostics, Disease, Epidemic, Flu, Funding, Health, Health, Healthcare, Herd Immunity, Hospitalization, Iinfluenza, Illness, Immune, Immunization, Infection, Medical, medical, Medication, Pandemic, Pathogens, Treatment, Vaccine, Virus | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Infrastructure Critical Care

It seems to me….

Productivity depends on many factors, including our workforce’s knowledge and skills and the quantity and quality of the capital, technology, and infrastructure that they have to work with.” ~ Janet Yellen[1].

The World Bank in 2017 looked at 50 countries and determined that the U.S. would have the largest unmet infrastructure needs over the next two decades. According to the American Road & Transportation Builders Association in 2015, 3.3 percent of the U.S. interstate highway system was considered to be in unsatisfactory condition. 56,000 bridges (about 9.6 percent) were judged to be structurally deficient (about 1,900 of which are on interstate highways) which are crossed 185 million times a day. Another industry report says that in 1977 the federal government provided 63 percent of the country’s total investment in water infrastructure but only 9 percent by 2014. Congestion in the U.S.’s largest rail hub, Chicago, results in freight trains taking longer to pass through the city than it takes to get from there to Los Angeles according to Building America’s Future, a public interest group.

According to the American Society of Civil Engineers’ (ASCE) 2017 Infrastructure Report Card, which is published every four years, the U.S. infrastructure gets a D+ grade – the same grade as in 2013. The ASCE estimates the U.S. needs to spend some $4.5 trillion by 2025 to maintain U.S. roads, bridges, dams, airports, schools, and other essential assets[2].

Investment in public goods is central to economic wellbeing and improvement. The rate of infrastructure investment in the U.S. is lower than it has been at any time since 1947. The kind of economic growth an advanced society needs will not be possible without a substantial increase in such investment.

While Trump has proposed significant infrastructure investment, his proposal is dependent upon private and state funding rather than by the federal government. States do not have sufficient spending capacity to meet Trump’s infrastructure budget proposal, especially since federal funding would make up such a small part of any proposed project. Counting on private financing would ensure projects that are most needed would almost certainly be neglected as they are almost always the least profitable and would encumbered the public with constant tolls and fees on anything that might actually ever be completed.

Additionally, the plan is not sufficiently ambitious to address the scope of the U.S.’s infrastructure problem. As previously stated, the U.S. needs trillions of dollars’ worth of work, not just on roads and bridges, which are most common infrastructure considerations, but on water systems, mass transit, broadband, and school modernization. The proposed $200 billion is insufficient to correct the problem given its current scope.

This increased investment should take a number of forms. Most obviously, there should be a ratcheting up of investment in basic physical infrastructure: highways and bridges, airports, railways, waterways….

While recommending specific amounts or aspects of corrective action, the following (along with grades assigned by the ASCE where available) are some of the U.S.’s most pressing areas needing improvements.

Roads and bridges (D): About 32 percent of urban roads and 14 percent of rural roads are in poor condition. There is an estimated $836 billion backlog of unmet capital needed to fix the highways and bridges in the U.S., according to a report by the U.S. Department of Transportation. Out of the 614,387 bridge, more than 200,000 are more than 50 years old. The report estimates it would cost some $123 billion just to fix the bridges in the U.S.

Aviation (D): Airports and air traffic control systems are in serious need of an update. With some two million people per day passing through U.S. airports, congestion is becoming a major problem. The report estimates that 24 out of the top 30 airports in the U.S. could soon hit “Thanksgiving-peak traffic volume” at least one day each week.

Railways (B): Freight railways are one of the few areas considered to be in relatively good condition. Passenger rail though, especially in the Northeast Corridor, requires upgrades. The average age of Amtrak’s backlogged maintenance and improvement projects just in the Northeast Corridor, which includes bridges, tunnels, and a viaduct, is 111 years.

Public Transit (D-): Public transit ridership is rapidly increasing but remains severely underfunded. The estimated cost to fix the backlog of transit system projects is currently about $90 billion and that cost is estimated to grow to $122 billion by 2032.

Ports (C+): Most overseas trade comes through U.S. ports. While U.S. ports have a higher grade than most other infrastructure categories, improvement is necessary to accommodate anticipated increases in ship sizes. As ships become larger, ports will need to make deeper navigation channels. As port congestion increases, freight networks taking shipments to and from ports must be improved so goods are transferred more efficiently with fewer delays. Security concerns also most be addressed.

Dams (D): There were some 15,500 dams in the U.S. in 2016 considered to be high-hazard. There are 90,580 dams in the country over 56 years old. It is estimated that it will require an investment of nearly $45 billion to repair aging, yet critical, potentially high-hazard dams.

Drinking Water (D): Pipes carrying drinking water are in critical need of attention with many of the one million pipes in the U.S. having been in use for almost 100 years. The aging system makes water breaks more prevalent resulting in about two trillion gallons of treated water lost each year.

Energy (D+): Power interruptions are becoming more common necessitating increased attention be given to the U.S. energy system. Most transmission and distribution lines were built in the mid-20th century with a life expectancy of about 50 years; many are therefore outdated. Between 2016 to 2025 there is an infrastructure investment gap of about $177 billion for power plants and transmission lines.

Hazardous Wastes (D+): The U.S. hazardous waste infrastructure is considered as “generally adequate” however more than half of the U.S. population lives within three miles of a designated hazardous waste site. The National Priorities List (NPL) is the list of hazardous waste sites eligible for long-term remedial action (cleanup) financed under the federal Superfund program. There currently are over 1,200 sites listed on the NPL but since its inception in 1980, only about 343 have been delisted.

Inland Waterways (D): Inland waterways help transport goods to different parts of the country but the infrastructure that supports these waterways, like dams and locks, are getting old and causing delays. About half the vessels using these waterways experience delays.

Levees (D): Levees play a critical role in protecting communities from flood waters but have not received needed attention. $80 billion is needed within the next 10 years to improve these structures.

Parks and Recreation (D+): Local and national parks need upgrades, repair, and improvement. Roads, bridges, parking areas, trails, and campsites are just a few of the things needing repairs. Many park structures have been so neglected that it would be less expensive to demolish them and rebuild. The National Park Service estimated in 2015 that it had $11.9 billion in deferred maintenance costs.

Schools (D+): Schools have not gotten the funding they need to maintain public school buildings. About 24 percent of these buildings are in fair or poor condition.

Solid Waste (C+): While municipal solid waste systems are mostly in fair condition, the ASCE recommends increased promotion of developing better systems for recycling.

Wastewater (D+): There currently are about 15,000 wastewater treatment plants in the U.S. but it is estimated 532 new systems will be needed by 2032 meaning more needs to be invested in wastewater infrastructure. The U.S. needs to invest about $271 billion in the U.S. wastewater infrastructure over the next 25 years.

Communications: Rather than actual investment, accelerated tax incentives should be approved and regulatory barriers preventing rapid deployment of highspeed bandwidth communication networks eliminated. Expanded access to high speed Internet has been shown to generate major economic growth and job creation but the U.S. has fallen behind most other advanced nations in crafting communications policies that effectively facilitate job growth and business advancement. High speed connections accelerate business development by providing new opportunities for innovation, expansion, and e-commerce. Connected communities can increase revenue and opportunity by attracting businesses that want to locate to areas with a strong broadband presence.

Politicians frequently are elected by promising tax reductions and then, once in office, kick the can of necessary expenditures down the road for someone else to deal with at a later date; none are sufficiently honest to risk incurring the wrath of an electorate actually told the truth. This type of public pandering might win elections as voters are unable to see the deteriorating water pipes hidden beneath the streets, the levees that only flood during spring runoffs, the unseen failing bridge supports they drive over every day… but the longer repairs are delayed, the more costly they become.

Establishment of a National Infrastructure Bank able to distribute loans at low interest rates and then recover that investment back over time would enable greater private sector co-investment in infrastructure projects. Such a bank could provide a new funding source to the nation’s essential infrastructure projects allowing cities, states, and even regions to cooperatively build new rail lines or electrical grids. It also would permit the rigorous analysis required to direct support to projects with both the greatest returns to society and the long-run economic benefits able to justify up-front investments. Theoretically, an independently-run institution would finance only meritorious projects and it would do so by leveraging the government’s guaranteed and virtually infinite bonding capabilities.

Not only will necessary infrastructure expenditures only continue to increase the longer they remain unaddressed, the more difficult it will become to fund those expenditures. Fuel taxes expected to fund highway maintenance and construction will continue to decline as fuel efficiency improves and the percentage of electric vehicles increases. Voters might always demand lower taxes but the bill to compensate for years of failing to address these problems has come due and must be paid.

That’s what I think, what about you?

[1] Janet Louise Yellen is an American economist who served as the Chair of the Board of Governors of the Federal Reserve System. She also has been President and Chief Executive Officer of the Federal Reserve Bank of San Francisco; Chair of the White House Council of Economic Advisers; and business professor at the University of California, Berkeley Haas School of Business.

[2] 2017 Infrastructure Report Card, ASCE, https://www.infrastructurereportcard.org/, 2018.

Posted in airports, American Road & Transportation Builders Association, American Society of Civil Engineers, ASCE, Automobiles, Automotive, Aviation, Bridges, Budget, Budget, Chicago, Communications, Communications, Dams, Drinking Water, Economy, Efficiency, Elections, Electric, Electric Vehicles, Energy, Funding, Hazardous Wastes, Highways, highways, Infrastructure, Infrastructure, Infrastructure, Infrastructure, Inland Waterways, Levees, Locks, Los Angeles, National Infrastructure Bank, National Infrastructure Reinvestment Bank, Network, Parks, Ports, Public Transit, Railroads, Railways, Recreation, Roads, Roads, Schools, Seaports, Sewers, Solid Waste, Toll Roads, Train, Trains, Transportation, Travel, Trump, Tunnels, Vehicle, Vehicle, Vehicles, Vehicles, Wastewater, Water, Water Systems, World Bank | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Trump And Associates

It seems to me….

One immutable trait of the gullible is that they are credulous to a fault. Though no-doubt well-meaning, the naïve are Trump’s base.” ~ Pamela Meyer[1].

Legalized casino gambling was approved in my hometown of Atlantic City, NJ, in a 1974 statewide referendum. Though no longer living there at the time, I considered it a major mistake.

Gambling was not something new to Atlantic City; it had long been a major industry. The city was declared to probably be the most crooked city in the U.S. “riddled with rackets including nearly every known type of gambling operation” in an investigation by the U.S. Senate Special Committee to Investigate Organized Crime in Interstate Commerce[2], chaired by Senator Kefauver[3], released in 1951. Not only were most residents aware of this – they approved. Atlantic City was cited at that time in the Guinness Book of Records as the city with the most street intersections with bars on all four corners; many of which were open 24/7 during the summer vacation season.

Atlantic City, prior to Las Vegas, widely acknowledged as “The World’s Playground” and well known due to the Miss America Pageant and street names in the U.S. version of the Monopoly board game, found itself waning economically in the mid-to-late 20th century. The popularity of Las Vegas was in ascendancy, Atlantic City became the tawdry madam purveying aging merchandise.

In a Faustian “gamble”, casino gambling was ratified in hope of restoring luster to a fading heirloom. It proved to be the opposite. When approved, Atlantic City had the only legal casinos outside of Las Vegas and no one could have foreseen the rapid proliferation of casino openings in the surrounding states of Pennsylvania, Delaware, New York, Connecticut, and on Native-American tribal lands. Still, the venturemight have worked but corrupt public officials with substantial assistance from avaricious casino owners helped kill the golden goose.

I have disliked Donald Trump since becoming familiar with him after he opened his first casino in Atlantic City, NJ, around 1990. (His actual initial involvement in property acquisition and construction began around 1984.) It was not only that he declared bankruptcy on his three Atlantic City casinos, two other casino operators did the same thing, it was the way in which it was done. He took his money and bailed cheating contractors of payments and employees of wages and promised benefits after forcing the closure of competing area entertainment and lodging alternatives. I personally knew people affected. I was on the Boardwalk and saw the protestors and striking workers. No one likes to see their hometown destroyed, something at which Trump proved remarkably adept.

Trump is an unscrupulous con-man with admitted underworld connections – a pathological liar unable to distinguish truth from his personal fabrications and illusions. Trump’s trademark truculent imperiousness inevitably casts him as an obnoxious pompous narcissist.

Companies that bear his name have declared bankruptcy four times as he wrangled with massive debt over the past quarter century. Trump’s first visit to bankruptcy court was in 1991, when his Atlantic City casino, the Taj Mahal, was buried under a mountain of debt. The Taj carried a $1 billion price tag and was financed by junk bonds carrying an overwhelming 14 percent interest rate. As construction completed, the economy slumped, as did the Atlantic City gambling scene, soon plunging Trump into $3.4 billion of debt. Most of the debt he incurred was through bonds sold to the public. People who invested with him or based on his name lost money but he himself came out, as he has claimed, “pretty well”.

Trump defaulted on payments for his golf course in Puerto Rico saddling the island’s taxpayers with $32.7 million in debt. (Then after Hurricane Maria pummeled the island, he criticized them for being in debt.)

And it wasn’t only bankruptcy proceedings. Trump University victimized as many as 5,000 people with a classic “bait and switch” scheme that encouraged them to pay as much as $35,000 for largely useless seminars.

Trump’s business dealings with the mob or mob-related characters are widely documented[4].

La Cosa Nostra had a virtual monopoly on concrete in New York in the 1980s and the mafia’s control over building supplies and labor unions meant crime families had a hand in most construction projects in Manhattan. Trump, and other major developers, accepted that or built elsewhere[5]. Contractors and developers bribed mob-controlled union leaders to get relief from more arduous conflicts. Trump apparently wasn’t any different than other builders but ostensibly very satisfied with the relationship, went on to praise them, and has since continued that association.

He was first directly tied to the mafia in the 1980s when a $7.8 million subcontract for Trump Plaza was awarded to S&A Concrete, a company partially owned by Anthony “Fat Tony” Salerno, the boss of the Genovese crime family. Trump himself acknowledged as much in a December 2015 interview with the Wall Street Journal that S&A Concrete was “supposedly associated with the mob”.

TIME and Daily Beast have speculated that Trump Tower was built with mafia influence, though the evidence is not concrete. Trump stated “These guys were excellent contractors. They were phenomenal. They could do three floors a week in concrete. Nobody else in the world could do three floors a week. I mean they were unbelievable. Trump Tower, other buildings”.

When Salerno was indicted in 1986, the charges specifically mentioned Trump Plaza. Salerno’s 1992 obituary mentions both the Trump Tower and 15 other Manhattan buildings.

Trump World Tower, supported by the Quadrozzi Concrete Company, is also tangentially related to La Cosa Nostra. The head of the company, John Quadrozzi Sr., was tied to the Lucchese crime family and indicted for making illegal payoffs to the mob in 1992.

Trump’s alleged mob dealings were not confined to New York. According to reports from the Huffington Post and Philadelphia Inquirer, Trump made a deal in Atlantic City with Kenneth Shapiro, an associate of mob boss Nicky Scarfo, and mob-connected labor boss Daniel Sullivan. Trump seemed aware of this, calling Shapiro “a third-rate, local real estate mafia” and Sullivan “the guy who killed Jimmy Hoffa”.

Nonetheless, in 1981, Trump leased a portion of the land for Trump Plaza and Casino from a company the two men controlled, according to a report by New Jersey gaming regulators. The company refused to cooperate with the authorities and Trump eventually ended the partnership and bought out their shares. Later Trump brought on Sullivan as a labor negotiator with undocumented workers[6] at the Grand Hyatt Hotel and introduced the man to his own banker according to the Los Angeles Times.

Trump bought the property through intermediaries for the casino from the “crown prince” of the Philadelphia mob, Salvatore Testa, for $1.1 million in 1982. Multiple media reports and an unauthorized biography about Trump allege this was more than twice its market value. (Testa purchased the property in 1977 for $195,000.)

According to The Federalist, two construction companies controlled by Nicky Scarfo built the Trump Plaza and Casino. “You had contractors that were supposedly mob-oriented all over Atlantic City”, Trump said when the Wall Street Journal asked him about it, adding that “every single casino company used the same companies, just I hope you will say that”.

A few years later, Trump’s organized crime connections extended overseas. In 1992, a Senate subcommittee named Danny Leung, who was then the vice president for foreign marketing at Trump Taj Mahal, as an associate of the Hong Kong-based organized crime group 14K Triad. Leung has also given complimentary tickets for hotel rooms and Asian shows to numerous members and associates of Asian organized crime. Three additional triad-connected business associates or former employees were members of Trump’s gambling empire.

According to gaming regulators as reported by the New York Daily News in 1995, Leung “flew in 16 Italian organized crime figures from Canada who stole more than $1 million from the casino in a credit scam”. The incident was apparently never reported as Trump never filed charges.

Leung, who had a separate contract to bring gamblers from Toronto to the casino, denied the affiliation to organized crime and his casino and junket licenses were renewed. (The Trump Taj Mahal declared bankruptcy in 1991 and his other Atlantic City properties folded a decade later.)

Felix Sater is a twice-convicted Russian émigré who served prison time and had documented mafia connections. He pleaded guilty to a charge of money laundering in 1998 and was indicted again in 2000 for taking part in a $40 million stock scheme involving four Mafia families according to a New York Times report.

From 2003 to 2007, Sater traveled the country promoting projects for Trump. His company was a partner in the Trump SoHo hotel which Trump claims he never knew. Three years later, Sater returned to the Trump Organization and had business cards that described him as Trump’s “senior advisor”. Trump now claims he is not familiar with Sater.

I always have been told “birds of a feather flock together” and that you can tell someone by the company one keeps. It is an admitted stretch to judge someone by with whom they associate – but it certainly is something everyone should question. I consider Trump to be a mentally unstable egocentric solipsist devoid of ethical principles. Everyone will have to make up their own mind as to his motives and character.

That’s what I think, what about you?

[1] Pamela Meyer is an American author, certified fraud examiner, and entrepreneur.

[2] Kefauver Committee Final Report, August 31, 1951, http://stoppredatorygambling.org/wp-content/uploads/2012/12/Kefauver-Committee-Final-report.pdf, pp52-56.

[3] Carey Estes Kefauver was a politician from Tennessee who served in the U.S. House of Representatives from 1939 to 1949 and in the Senate from 1949 until his death.

[4] Qui, Linda. Yes, Donald Trump Has Been Linked To The Mob, PolitiFact, www.politifact.com/truth-o-meter/statements/2016/mar/02/ted-cruz/yes-donald-trump-has-been-linked-mob/, 2 March 2016.

[5] Testimony given by James B. Jacobs, a mafia expert, who was part of a state task force on organized crime

[6] Calabresi, Massimo. What Donald Trump Knew About Undocumented Workers at His Signature Tower, Time, http://time.com/4465744/donald-trump-undocumented-workers/, 24 August 2016.

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