How Trump happened

By Nobel Laureate Joseph Stiglitz

❝ As I have traveled around the world in recent weeks, I am repeatedly asked two questions: Is it conceivable that Donald Trump could win the US presidency? And how did his candidacy get this far in the first place?

❝ As for the first question, though political forecasting is even more difficult than economic forecasting, the odds are strongly in favor of Hillary Clinton. Still, the closeness of the race (at least until very recently) has been a mystery: Clinton is one of the most qualified and well prepared presidential candidates that the United States has had, while Trump is one of the least qualified and worst prepared. Moreover, Trump’s campaign has survived behavior by him that would have ended a candidate’s chances in the past…

So why would Americans be playing Russian roulette (for that is what even a one-in-six chance of a Trump victory means)? Those outside the US want to know the answer, because the outcome affects them, too, though they have no influence over it.

❝ And that brings us to the second question: why did the US Republican Party nominate a candidate that even its leaders rejected?…

❝ …For starters, many Americans are economically worse off than they were a quarter-century ago. The median income of full-time male employees is lower than it was 42 years ago, and it is increasingly difficult for those with limited education to get a full-time job that pays decent wages.

Indeed, real (inflation-adjusted) wages at the bottom of the income distribution are roughly where they were 60 years ago. So it is no surprise that Trump finds a large, receptive audience when he says the state of the economy is rotten. But Trump is wrong both about the diagnosis and the prescription. The US economy as a whole has done well for the last six decades: GDP has increased nearly six-fold. But the fruits of that growth have gone to a relatively few at the top – people like Trump, owing partly to massive tax cuts that he would extend and deepen.

❝ At the same time, reforms that political leaders promised would ensure prosperity for all – such as trade and financial liberalization – have not delivered. Far from it. And those whose standard of living has stagnated or declined have reached a simple conclusion: America’s political leaders either didn’t know what they were talking about or were lying (or both).

There are two messages US political elites should be hearing. The simplistic neo-liberal market-fundamentalist theories that have shaped so much economic policy during the last four decades are badly misleading, with GDP growth coming at the price of soaring inequality. Trickle-down economics hasn’t and won’t work. Markets don’t exist in a vacuum. The Thatcher-Reagan “revolution,” which rewrote the rules and restructured markets for the benefit of those at the top, succeeded all too well in increasing inequality, but utterly failed in its mission to increase growth.

❝ This leads to the second message: we need to rewrite the rules of the economy once again, this time to ensure that ordinary citizens benefit. Politicians in the US and elsewhere who ignore this lesson will be held accountable. Change entails risk. But the Trump phenomenon – and more than a few similar political developments in Europe – has revealed the far greater risks entailed by failing to heed this message: societies divided, democracies undermined, and economies weakened.

Joe Stiglitz is solid as ever. RTFA for many details I omitted.

One of those times when I wish he wasn’t so inspiring. In recent years, I have pointed my “deepest” economic and political commentary to China, to others interested in, focussed on the dynamism we’re witnessing in Asia. Joe is right, of course. And we’re not going to contribute much from the United States to getting this planet’s culture and environment on track without sorting out the criminal mess that has grown to rule this nation.

Understanding the world’s oceans more essential than ever

SOS ocean-acidification
Click to enlarge

The report is the culmination of a collaborative project…looking at the future for: commercial shipping — without which world trade would cease; for navies — so vital for security; and the health of the oceans — addressing the challenges of pollution, climate change and exploitation of resources…

Leading the ‘Ocean Space’ section…experts from the University’s Southampton Marine and Maritime Institute report that since the start of the Industrial Revolution, there has been a 30 per cent increase in ocean acidity and that 25 per cent of atmospheric CO2 is absorbed by the oceans. In addition, some 16 per cent of global protein intake comes from fish with an increasing amount of the world’s medicines, materials and energy also derived from the oceans.

By the year 2030, the experts forecast that twice as many offshore structures will exist including 100 times more wind turbines than at present, and that 50 per cent of the world’s oil will be produced offshore. They also predict that within the next 15 years, 50 per cent of the global population will live in coastal regions.

To mitigate against these effects and to develop opportunities for the future, they’ve identified a number of key transformational Ocean Space technologies that will make the biggest impact now and in the future. These include:

Advanced materials — rise in the use of ultra-strong materials for ocean structures using embedded sensors to enable remote sensing and support the ability of materials and structure systems to self-repair when damage occurs;

Big data analytics — extracting and using complex data from activities such as resource extraction, exploration and environmental protection to influence the way humankind perceives and interacts with the oceans;

Sustainable energy generation — offshore energy-generation platforms and algae stations will reduce the consumption of fossil fuels, mitigate pollution and have a minimal carbon footprint, so their impact on the environment will be relatively small. The combined use of these technologies, say experts from the SMMI, will help the world address the effects of climate change, the higher expected frequency and severity of extreme weather, the further reduction of land-based resources and the increasing coastal populations.

We need grownups in charge of our government, our economy, to respond to world-class analyses of questions facing our future on Earth. Traditional national leaders are in scarce supply. Governments formed of the same conservatives who promulgated the context leading to the Great Recession are hardly likely to have any answers. Any answers, that is, beyond platitudes – and lies.

They can rely to some extent, of course, in the ignorant folk who put them in office. If you’re not bright enough, well-enough informed to choose between the evil of two lessers – much less build or participate in a grassroots movement for qualitative change – you waste a constitutional right.

I don’t mind folks getting what they deserve. When they ask for stupid – they usually get stupid. But, condemning the rest of the world to what follows naturally upon their ignorance is barbarous and backwards.

Ignore conservative whiners – Medicare improves your health

In a 15-year study of older Medicare patients, Yale School of Medicine researchers saw an estimated 20% drop in mortality, about 30% fewer hospitalizations, and 40% reduction in deaths after hospitalization…

Published in the July 28 JAMA theme issue on Medicare and Medicaid at 50, the study took a comprehensive look at national trends in mortality, hospitalizations, outcomes, and expenditures from all causes from 1999 to 2013. The team, from the Center for Outcomes Research and Evaluation at Yale-New Haven Hospital, analyzed data on 68,374,904 Medicare recipients 65 years of age or older from key demographic groups and geographic areas.

“We are in the midst of a remarkable era of improvements in health and health care in America,” said lead author Harlan M. Krumholz, M.D….co-director of the Clinical Scholars Program. “This decline represents millions of hospitalizations averted and hundreds of thousands of deaths delayed.”

“The news should give us reassurance about our current efforts, but not make us complacent. We should seek to continue our advances in technology, health behaviors and policies, and quality of care — and seek to continue this remarkable trend,” Krumholz added.

Krumholz and his team also found that the total number of hospitalizations for major surgery decreased over the course of the study. The average length of time spent in the hospital declined from 5 to 4 days, and the average inpatient costs per Medicare fee-for-service recipient declined from $3,290 to $2,801. The findings were consistent across geographic and demographic groups.

Now, imagine how much better this good news might be – if we kicked whiners and ideologues out of Congress and concentrated on solid science, best administrative practices and took as the single goal improving health and healthcare for all Americans.

That would really be good news.

Texas continues fight for nutball view of history

Tempers are flaring in Texas over controversial proposed changes to the US state’s public school curriculum. The changes, put forward by the Board of Education’s conservative members, include referring to the slave trade as the “Atlantic triangular trade”…

The changes eliciting the most concern include diminishing the role Thomas Jefferson – principal author of the Declaration of Independence – in history courses because of his belief in the separation of church and state, and dropping references to a landmark court case that barred schools from segregating Mexican American students…

The new curriculum would emphasise the role of religion in America’s founding, as well as promoting the superiority of the capitalist system.

The Board insists, though, that capitalism will only be referred to as “free enterprise system”, largely because of the negative connotations of the word capitalism.

Criticism of 1950s McCarthyism, where suspected communists were aggressively questioned before government inquisitors, would also be toned down.

Rod Paige, who served as Secretary of Education under President George W Bush, urged the Board to delay its vote…

“What students are taught should not be the handmaiden of political ideology.”

The ideologues whose agenda is premised upon revising history via the Texas Board of Education aren’t especially different from those who preceded them in history – in Kansas, in Tennessee. They would turn back the clock of ignorance to keep students from evolution, constitutional separation of state and church, a modern understanding of science and society.

They prefer to alter the role of government from one of management to indoctrination. All the crap they prate about liberal government, they practice themselves. To suit the politics dedicated to the bigotry and backwardness of the Confederacy.

Republican officials call for secession, assassination

I’ve had enough of Rick Perry.

At least the Perry who stood on the steps of the Texas Capitol today bashing our federal government and talking openly about Texas seceding from the United States…

Perry’s always been a conservative, but that isn’t the issue. He’s a demagogue now, and every single newspaper in Texas with a decent editorial page should denounce these remarks and call for him to retract them publicly or resign…

Partisanship and political philosophy aside, I can think of few things more irresponsible in this economy than the governor of Texas speaking freely about secession. What business is going to relocate to Texas with him talking like that? Who wants to come to a state to do research at its large land grant universities with a governor who sounds like George Wallace or Lester Maddox naming the regents.

Do you think Perry is serious? Or is he just another right-wing nutball pandering to what remains of the Republican base?

And then there is…

Republican Congressman Mark Kirk, who says he will decide by the end of the month whether to run for either the U.S. Senate occupied by Roland Burris or Illinois governor, vented his anger over Gov. Pat Quinn’s tax hike proposal to the Chicago’s Tribune’s Rick Pearson:

“I think that the decision to raise taxes by 50 percent in Illinois is political suicide,” Kirk said of Quinn’s proposal to raise the tax rate to 4.5 percent from 3 percent, coupled with an increase in the personal deduction. “I think the people of Illinois are ready to shoot anyone who is going to raise taxes by that degree.”

Is this just political rhetoric? Or is the Republican Party becoming the party of insurrection?

Of course, closer to reality, the governor working hardest at taxing Internet users is Haley Barbour the Republican governor of Mississippi.

Climate change scepticism for fun and profit

Don’t fret. You still have plenty of time left to secure your place at the second annual International Conference on Climate Change – which is not, of course, about climate change.

For any of you who are not yet familiar with this venerable event, this conference is the largest coming together of climate change sceptics anywhere outside of, well, the internet. Organised and sponsored by the Heartland Institute which says its mission is to “discover, develop, and promote free-market solutions to social and economic problems” and which Milton Friedman once called “a highly effective libertarian institute”, the conference will be asking whether global warming “was ever really a crisis”.

Followed by, “Do poor people really matter?” – “Is it time time to drop the experiment with democracy?” – and the ever-popular favorite, “Why consider anyone else as your equal?”

Sounds fun, doesn’t it? There’s nothing quite like putting tizzying politicians right. But best of all, the generous souls at the Heartland Institute are offering a special 20% discount on the $720 registration fee. All you have to do to qualify is put your name to the Oregon Institute of Science and Medicine’s Global Warming Petition, which to date has been signed by 31,072 American scientists, “including 9,021 with PhDs”. Pretty impressive, huh? The signatories all say they agree with the following statement:

“There is no convincing scientific evidence that human release of carbon dioxide, methane, or other greenhouse gasses is causing or will, in the foreseeable future, cause catastrophic heating of the Earth’s atmosphere and disruption of the Earth’s climate. Moreover, there is substantial scientific evidence that increases in atmospheric carbon dioxide produce many beneficial effects upon the natural plant and animal environments of the Earth.”

Join other famous signatories like Perry Mason and even one or more of the Spice Girls. I signed up as Mickey M. Mouse.