Infrastructure, roads, bridges, airports — all suck, all need repair


Michigan fixes road the way they fix water supplies

❝ The U.S. Department of Transportation estimates that the nation’s highways and bridges face an $808.2 billion backlog of investment spending, including $479.1 billion in critically needed repairs. More than two-thirds of the nation’s roads and nearly 143,000 bridges are classified in “dire need” of repair or upgrades. U.S. ports are clogged and need dredging to improve the flow of goods; railroad tracks need modernizing; airport communications technology needs updating and expansion; and urban mass transit is old and inadequate. As president, Trump wants to rebuild America’s core…

If you think the whole of these needs or a significant portion will produce a campfire singalong between elite Democrats, Progressive Democrats, Opportunist Democrats, Teapublicans, Trumpublicans, Hoover Republicans, elite Republicans — I might offer you a deal on one of those bridges. In Brooklyn.

Golden showers? Russia knows nothing about America’s sex habits

❝ Dear Vlad,

You don’t mind if I call you, Vlad, do you? I wanted to write you about your close relationship with our president-elect, Donald J. Trump.

❝ I read recently that your intelligence agents had collected some “compromising and salacious personal information” on The Donald. A memo about this was said to be generated by a former agent of MI-6, one of Britain’s premier spook agencies, so our US news media has taken this allegation seriously.

But, really, golden showers? You say the “perverted sexual acts” worthy of blackmailing a US president consisted of renting a hotel room in Moscow where Trump hired some prostitutes to “perform a golden showers (urination) show in front of him” on the bed that president and Mrs. Obama supposedly slept in?

❝ Vlad, by your own admission in an interview with Bloomberg News, you clearly have no understanding of American culture or domestic political life…

❝ This is a country that endorses gay marriage. It celebrates the freedom of choosing your own gender. One of our most decorated male athletes at the age of 66 decided he was in fact she and ended up on the cover of Vanity Fair in a corset. We are having so much oral sex that throat cancer rates among men have shot up. Our young people publicly declare themselves to be polyamorous (Vlad, that means they sleep with lots of different people, with consent). Way back in the 1990s one of our most popular female vocalists released a coffee-table book called Sex that showed bondage, full nudity, scenes with a dog, and scenes from a New York sex club…

If the best dirt you’ve got on a our highest elected official is he hired a bunch of girls to pee on a bed, we’ve got nothing to worry about. You don’t understand freedom and democracy enough to upset it.

❝ Sincerely,

Joe Q. Public

Vlad mistakenly accepts the hypocrisy so beloved of our priests, pundits and politicians as somehow representative of what private life may decide is participatory sport in bedrooms ranging from home grown to Trumpkins. Tain’t so.

Huge study refutes the federal government’s crap marijuana laws

❝ In the federal drug classification scheme, marijuana is classed at the very top. It is considered to be a Schedule I substance — a category reserved for drugs with a high potential for abuse and no accepted medical use.

For years, however, scientists have done study after study showing that this classification is misguided. On Thursday, the National Academy of Sciences put one more nail in the coffin with one of the most thorough reviews of the research to date: a massive, 396-page report on 10,000 research studies on marijuana, assessing therapeutic benefits and risk factors.

❝ The review, conducted by a panel of experts led by Harvard public health researcher Marie McCormack, is broken out into 100 different conclusions — many of which are just assessments of the current state of the research…

It is particularly significant, however, that the review states quite clearly that there is “conclusive or substantial evidence” that marijuana is effective for the treatment of chronic pain, as a tonic for nausea and vomiting in cancer patients undergoing chemotherapy, and in treating spasticity in multiple sclerosis patients…

❝ Marijuana has also been floated as a potential treatment for a whole host of other disorders — such as easing insomnia relating to painful syndromes, increasing appetite in people with HIV/AIDS, decreasing severe anxiety, and combating the effects of PTSD. Although there’s moderate to limited evidence supporting marijuana’s effectiveness, the report found, the research here isn’t yet conclusive.

The review also looked at the health risks associated with marijuana use, dispelling some popular arguments against it. For example, according to the review of the research, smoking marijuana is not associated with the same cancer risks as tobacco — there was no evidence that marijuana use was associated with lung, head, and neck cancers. Tobacco, unlike marijuana, is recreationally legal nationwide.

❝ That doesn’t mean, however, that marijuana is completely absolved of health risks…“It just reinforces what our policy makers should already know,” said Taylor West. “This is a product with significantly lower risk factors than other things that we regulate and consume, like alcohol.”

Congress has the power to change these absurd and outdated laws. The White House could help progress along. Obama didn’t do much about that. I expect even less from Trump.

The big “but” lies with the grassroots organizing every Democrat from here to the Halls of Congress is talking about. If push is going to come to shove, if science is to return to stable, reasoned responsibility in the development of political platforms, then Democrats and Independents seeking my vote – and many, many others – had better get up-to-date on results from legal, recreational sales of marijuana, taxed for the general benefit of the voting public.

This ain’t the biggest deal in real reform needed in this ethically-backwards nation; but, it counts as one with liberty, justice and fiscal responsibility as recommendations.

That big white church on the Hill

❝ The share of U.S. adults who describe themselves as Christians has been declining for decades, but the U.S. Congress is about as Christian today as it was in the early 1960s, according to a new analysis by Pew Research Center. Indeed, among members of the new, 115th Congress, 91% describe themselves as Christians. This is nearly the same percentage as in the 87th Congress (1961 to 1962, the earliest years for which comparable data are available), when 95% of members were Christian.

❝ Among the 293 Republicans elected to serve in the new, 115th Congress, all but two identify as Christians; there are two Jewish Republicans – Lee Zeldin of New York and David Kustoff of Tennessee – who both serve in the House. Democrats in Congress also are overwhelmingly Christian (80%), but there is more religious diversity on this side of the aisle. The 242 Democrats in Congress include 28 Jews, three Buddhists, three Hindus, two Muslims and one Unitarian Universalist – as well as the only member of Congress to describe herself as religiously unaffiliated, Rep. Kyrsten Sinema, D-Ariz. In addition, all 10 members of Congress who decline to state their religious affiliation are Democrats…

❝ The group that is most notably underrepresented is the religiously unaffiliated. This group – also known as religious “nones” – now accounts for 23% of the general public but just 0.2% of Congress…

❝ As with Republicans in the general public, Republican members of Congress are overwhelmingly Christian (99%). Among U.S. adults who identify with or lean toward the Republican Party, 82% are Christian…

There are fewer Christian Democrats than Republicans, both among U.S. adults overall (63% of those who identify with or lean toward the Democratic Party are Christian) and in Congress, where eight-in-ten Democrats identify as Christians…

❝ Within Christianity, however, Congress has seen a major shift as the share of Protestants has declined, a trend mirrored in the overall decline of the U.S. Protestant population. Protestants made up fully three-quarters of the 87th Congress, compared with 56% of the current Congress. Meanwhile, Catholics, who made up 19% of the 87th Congress, now make up 31% of the body.

Like the people who voted for them, I imagine most members of Congress are probably driving today’s version of their father’s Oldsmobile, as well. Cultural lag really is a significant feature of American electoral politics.

Even more unfortunate, I can’t help but feel that our Congress-critters think of Americans as all belonging to “their” church.

Mexico drafts legislation to respond to Trumpublican xenophobia


Reuters

❝ Miriam Grunstein is an attorney and former advisor to the Mexican Senate on energy and international law. Legislation has been proposed at the Mexican Senate that bans the use of public funds on any project that is “against the country’s interest.” That’s widely taken to mean the wall.

“Just because of, you know, tantrums, we could really waste a golden opportunity of uniting,” Grunstein said.

❝ The proposed Mexican legislation would lead to a review of some of the most fundamental treaties between the two countries, among them the 1848 Treaty of Guadalupe. The treaty ceded Texas and California, as well as parts of Arizona, Colorado, New Mexico, Nevada, Utah and Wyoming to the U.S.

❝ The bill also states, “in cases where the assets of our fellow citizens or companies are affected by a foreign government, as Donald Trump has threatened, the Mexican government should proportionally expropriate assets and properties of foreigners from that country on our territory.”

Translated that means that should Trump follow through on threats to expand the wall, withdraw U.S. participation in NAFTA or stop remittances, Mexico could target U.S. assets in Mexico. Assets estimated by the Office of the U.S. Trade Representative at over $100 billion.

Trump’s blather seems to have drawn a film of ignorance over the brains of many papier-mache journalists. Favorite example? Financial analysts who wonder why housing construction “suddenly” lacks sufficient skilled and/or experienced labor to meet demand.

Reason 1: Greedy contractors who put Mexican immigrant labor to work for cheaper than trained native workers. Driving the latter from that jobs market a couple of decades ago.

Reason 2: The Great Bush Recession killed many of those jobs. Folks went back to Mexico. Harder to return, now – especially since many of those who returned to Mexico now have jobs back home. Why come here to get their chops busted all over again?

Are Trump’s tariff threats constitutional? Of course not.

❝ Among the first steps being floated by the incoming Trump administration is a 5 to 10 percent tariff on imports, implemented through an executive order. It’s the sort of shoot-first, ask-questions-later action that President-elect Donald J. Trump promised during the campaign. It’s also unconstitutional.

That’s because the path to imposing tariffs — along with taxes and other revenue-generating measures — clearly begins with Congress, and in particular the House, through the Origination Clause. When presidents have raised (or lowered) tariffs in the past, they have tended to do so using explicit, if sometimes wide-ranging, authority from Congress.

❝ The founders thought about this issue a lot: After all, taxes, as every grade schooler knows, fueled the colonies’ push for independence. So they wrote the Constitution, and its Origination Clause, to give the taxing power to the part of government that is closest to the people, thereby protecting against arbitrary and onerous taxation…

❝ True, tariffs are no longer used to raise money, but to protect domestic industries, and to punish foreign ones. But they unquestionably still produce revenue. And while tariffs on imports are aimed at foreigners, they affect domestic industries that use or compete with imports; they can also have an enormous impact on the overall economy by raising consumer prices. Allowing the executive to circumvent the House to enact otherwise unfavorable tax policies that affect Americans is what the clause is designed to avoid — that those furthest removed from the people have the ability to tax them…

❝ Of course, Mr. Trump doesn’t have to act unilaterally; he has Republican majorities in both chambers that are eager to work with him. One option would be to push for a border adjustment tax, a proposal already being floated in the House as part of comprehensive tax reform, which would forbid tax deductions for imports and exempt exports from taxes.

A border adjustment tax is a far better option than tariffs. It would eliminate incentives in the current tax system to manufacture abroad, and to shift income abroad. Unlike a tariff, it aims to be trade neutral, with any changes in consumer pricing of imports and exports being offset by a rise in the dollar. And with strong support in the House, it could be enacted in full compliance with the Origination Clause, lending it legitimacy that a unilateral tariff would lack.

It won’t be difficult to find a few Representatives or Senators to oppose a move hampering any significant portion of the US economy. Waving the Free Trade flag won’t be needed. Just a phone call from any of the sectors of American business with profit centers both inside and outside our national boundaries. A phone call to a segment of the all-encompassing clot of politicians housed in Congress. The global economy was a done deal decades ago.

And that doesn’t begin to include those corporations directly filing lawsuits. Like, um, any major retailer.

Life expectancy in the US diminished for the first time in decades

❝ Last year, we learned about a troubling trend in the US population. Death rates were creeping up for middle-age white people, particularly women. The researchers who identified the problem in a blockbuster study attributed the change to economic struggles and accidental poisonings — mainly caused by prescription painkiller and heroin use.

But a new report from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has a more disturbing finding: It’s not just middle-age white folks who are dying sooner — it’s everyone.

Between 2014 and 2015, death rates crept up for the entire population, and the causes are more complex than the oft-cited rise in opioid use…

1) Mortality is increasing for the entire population

❝ …The change is small, but it represents a trend not seen in decades, said Jiaquan Xu, an epidemiologist with the National Center for Health Statistics at the CDC.

“In 1999, the [age-adjusted death rate] increased, but the last time life expectancy decreased for the total population was in 1993,” Xu said. “After that, it sometimes decreased for specific age groups, but not the total population.”…

2) Eight of the 10 leading causes of death increased in 2015

❝ In 2015, the rates of eight of the top 10 leading causes of death in America increased — including heart disease, chronic lower respiratory diseases, unintentional injuries, stroke, Alzheimer’s disease, diabetes, kidney disease, and suicide. (The trends for flu and pneumonia didn’t change.) According to Xu, it’s unusual to see a negative trend for so many health measures.

“Mortality is rising across a wide variety of illnesses,” wrote Dartmouth health economist Jonathan Skinner…”so it’s not just the opioid epidemic. And as a consequence, it’s not entirely easy to figure out what to do about it.”

The only outlier on the top-10 list was cancer, which has seen its death rate drop by 1.7 percent in the last year. That was no surprise: The cancer death rate has actually been declining since the early 1990s. These changes are mainly attributed gains in early detection and treatment advances, as well as declines in the smoking rate.

3) Whites are suffering — but there’s still a big black-white health gap

❝ According to the latest data, both black men and white men saw their death rates increase by about the same amount. (White females saw a bigger increase in mortality than black females: The death rate increased by 1.6 percent for white women while it stayed the same for black women.)

This is part of a larger trend. The gap between black and white mortality has narrowed in recent years. But in absolute terms, African Americans have worse health outcomes and a shorter life expectancy than white Americans…

“That life expectancy hasn’t risen for any of the groups — black, white, Hispanic, male, female — is concerning,” Skinner said.

❝ What’s more, we’re entering a time where funding and political will is focused on medicine to cure people and not on public health to prevent illness before people get sick. In particular, the Senate passed the 21st Century Cures Act — the biggest health reform bill since Obamacare. The legislation promises to bring medical cures to patients faster. But nearly half of the funds for the legislation are going to be paid for cutting $3.5 billion from public health efforts like immunizations and obesity and tobacco prevention.

Congress cares about cure, of course. Last time I checked, the biggest contributor to national political campaigns in the United States was Big Pharma. They’re pretty much always part of the top vote buyers. And Congress members already have socialized medicine.

Boeing-Iran Deal for $16.6 Billion — unless Trump and his Republican flunkies screw it up

❝ The agreement Iran’s national carrier reached with Boeing to buy 80 aircraft valued at $16.6 billion is the first deal of its kind since 1979 — and one that will force Congress and President-elect Donald Trump to balance their diplomatic priorities with U.S. job growth…

❝ The pact reopens a market where Boeing hasn’t delivered a plane since 1977 — two years before a revolution roiled Iran and set off four decades of tension with the U.S. Those feelings still reverberate, with Trump critical of a nuclear accord that opened a path to the plane deal and the U.S. Congress considering legislation that could scuttle the transaction.

❝ Boeing noted that the deal was reached under the conditions of a U.S. government license issued in September and that the agreement with Iran Air will support almost 100,000 jobs in the U.S. aerospace industry. Iran is a critical market for Boeing in its competition with Airbus Group SE, said Loren Thompson, a defense analyst…

“Boeing can’t compete with Airbus if it can’t sell to places like Iran and China,” Thompson said. “Selling to Iran is a business imperative for Boeing.”

Iran – like the rest of the industrial world – realizes that Trump’s Amerika First policies in the hands of Congressional neo-cons and TeaPublicans are quite ready to cut off the noses, etc., of American workers to spite furriners’ business dealings with the United States. Fortunately, for Iran and other nations who might buy long-haul aircraft from Boeing there remains an alternative in Europe. A Europe unlikely to jump when ordered by Daddy Warbucks.

Who knows. Before Trump returns to counting money in his realty business, China might even have something to offer.