If you read through this and have any sense of history, you can’t wonder why we are even bothering with the whole quid-pro-quo debacle. At this point, if the President knew anything of this, he has to go.
Why Giuliani Singled Out 2 Ukrainian Oligarchs to Help Dig Up Dirt
And there are those who swear they’ve seen King Donald (who? who?)
King Donald (Yeah!)
Beneath that cesspool-Rudigate. Applause
Four more years,
Four more years,
Four more years,
Four more years of THAT
right now China is making massive investments in South America, Africa, and large parts of Asia, they are making loans for infrastructure and various ports, and if the loans don’t get repaid, the Chinese end up owning that shipping port or that railroad station.
Long term, twenty, forty years, that will put American businesses, and the jobs of our children and grandchildren at risk
This is a big part of the story, except, China has doing this that I’ve known about since 1995. Add to this their investments in futures contracts and rare minerals and you have the perfect storm. I posted a response to twitter on this back in September(below). The NY Times had a good write-up on the Chinese Belt and Road initiative. It shows the scale and scope of the Chinese project around the world, all industries. Meanwhile, the US President refuses to work with the Democrats on infrastructure.
Futures contracts developing roads and equipment for 12-15 years while the US was busy fighting two unwinnable wars and wasting its money on them. The president, respectfully, is a clueless shill just trying to breakup big businesses he doesn’t understand.
While we might be able to build an iPhone for around $3,000 given US prices, we might even be able to manufacture the components, like cameras, GPS, accelerometers. We won’t be able to do any of that without the raw materials that goes into the components in phones, tablets, motherboards, computer, alexa smartspeakers, and pretty much everything else that drives(2) modern lives, including cars, scooters, trains and planes.
The shoe is off the foot, it’s just a question of when it drops. This was, frankly, bloody obvious. Because the Chinese Government doesn’t have to participate in the media circus western democracy has become, they don’t have to make promises they either don’t want to, or won’t keep, they’ve been able to focus on the long game(1).
I don’t know who will be next US President, but he or she has a big job on their hands, and it’s not a short term one.
More generally, any strategy with a long-term goal of gaining the upper-hand. Often used to describe politicians trying to outwit opponents.
One of the participants in the discussion is, Dr John Waits, who with his colleagues and staff at Centreville Clinic Staff, are doing their best to help their community afford their healthcare.
Dr Waits struggles valiantly in the discussion to avoid using the terms profit and subsidy. This is a mistake in my opinion, while you can talk about healthcare efficiencies, people need to hear that large hospital groups are for profit, yes even the not-for-profit ones. People need to understand that rural hospitals are not affordable without subsidy. Equally, urban communities need to understand that without rural communities, we have an entirely different set of problems.
Subsidy isn’t a bad word, nor is tax that ultimately is used to pay for it. You can either levy tax at a state level or at the federal level, preferably on big hospital groups and medical providers revenue(not profit). You can then use that tax money to subsidise rural healthcare. Or you can use general federal taxation, and use the additional money to fund a medicaid hospitals in rural community cities.
Struggling along with no real honesty, and without confronting the elephant in the room, will just mean more rural hospitals closing, leading the to further decline of rural communities and the increased pressure on cities.
This is a big deal, companies that buyback their stock, are reducing the number of shares available on the market. That generally means the share price goes up. Share prices are often one of the main ways executives are measured, their bonuses are usually dependant on the share price. Also, because the price of each share goes up, it makes it harder for lower and middle class people to get in on the action.
buying your own shares is like eating your own young, a glorified share manipulation gamble
The other reason share buybacks are import to watch, is they effectively use the companies cash to “eat themselves”. That cash is then no longer available for Capital investment, new building, equipment and other necessary expansion expenditure. Citigroup reports that companies buying back their own stock, spent more money doing that, than at any time since 2008.
Home Depot announced a $15-billion buyback in February, as a way to artificially hedge their share price, after they announced they’d miss expectation on revenue. Cynical share price manipulation. I have no idea if they used repatriated tax money, but if they miss earnings again this year, the share price will drop. Of course the executives and board will be ok, they’ll have sold their shares at the newly inflated share price, which is down on it’s 2018 high(212.39), but not nearly as low as it would have been if they’d not bought their own shares.
Next time a big business closes an office near you, and jobs are lost, don’t take their reason at face value. When did they last do a stock buyback, and how much cash was repatriated under the Trump/GOP tax break for 2018?
Tonight the President will address the nation in his second state of the nation. It’s unclear if he’ll say anything about Afghanistan, he’d be wise not to. Equally, given the President is prone to tackling sacred cows, maybe he should.
President Trump sent more troops and in his words America would stay until the “war is won”. While not as notorious as Vietnam, Afghanistan is Americas longest war, all Presidents from Roosevelt are complicit. America had been involved in/with Afghanistan from 1946 until the late 1970’s, as the Americans left, the Soviets arrived.
Afghanistan is a country that is at the center of the world, almost exactly 10,000 miles from either coast of America. Long before the War on Terror, long before the Russians invaded Afghanistan, the Americans were there. Buoyed by their success in WWII and in an effort to counter the Soviet Union threats of expansion, in 1946 American Engineers, their wives and families started to arrive in Helmand province in unprecedented numbers, they lived in a campus that became known as “Little America“.
They worked for the worlds biggest construction company at the time, Morrison Knutson. The King of Afghanistan had bought them in to replicate what had been done in Nevada, roads, dams, canals and even a new model city. The Kings plan had been to harness the power of the giant Helmand River and turn Afghanistan into a modern society like the west. Thats when everything started to go wrong.
In an era that is long forgotten and projects that were ultimately doomed to fail, it was the first, and possibly the best example of “too big to fail”. It did, we are still paying that price today, even before the Russians invaded, America had sunk $80-million into Afghanistan.
It’s the forever war, will President Trump actually succeed, no.
The New York Times “The Daily” covered Afghanistan yesterday(Feb 4th), disappointingly they never included anything about the whole “Little America” project. It is still one of the best summaries of what happened since the Russians invaded.
BBC NEWS has a great infographic style documentary on Helmands Golden Age from 2014 by Monica Whitlock. It is a good read and contains many pictures from Morrison Knutson engineer Glenn Fosters films. It also includes many clips of his color films, sadly they are geo-locked and not available in the US. You can though find much of the same material on Youtube. As an accompanying piece, Monica Whitlock also recorded an episode of the BBC World Service “The Documentary Podcast“, also from 2014. In an episode called “Damming Afghanistan: Lost Stories from Helmand” you can download and hear it here.
The US Agency for International Development, bureaus for Program and Policy Coordination, Bureau for the Near East, have a great detail report on Afghanistan, it can be read here, in its original 1983 form.
Time to take a step back from the precipice or increase the pressure?
In this BBC Radio 4 audio program, Alan Rusbridger, former Editor of The Guardian, talks to journalists and news consumers across America in dispatches from President Trump’s ‘running war’ with the US media Alan asks why the media has been cast as Trump’s ‘opposition party’, how they are responding to the dilemmas and opportunities the new administration brings and whether the President is right to claim that the ‘mainstream media’ has lost the trust of the American people.
Even before the Trump administration, America has taken pitifully few refugees and asylum seekers from the crisis it started in the post 9/11 era. This is especially true when you look at it’s geographical size, and financial strength.
At 20x the size of Sweden, and over 18x the GDP, America has taken just 10% of the refugees Sweden.
By now anyone paying attention will have heard about the debacle of Trumps speech where he attempted to justify his Executive Order on Immigration by pointing to “what happened in Sweden last night”. If you have not, you can read the whole thing here.
I’ve been to Sweden a number of times, mostly to Stockholm, and Gotenburg but also had a fabulous speaking engagement in Malmo. It’s an amazing place. It’s worth though putting the refugee issue in some context though, irrespective of what may or may not have happened.
There have certainly been crimes by the refugees, and there have been a number of claims/articles on the scope and impact of crime, especially this, now infamous one. The 2016 Swedish Crime Survey showed a small uptick in crime in 2015, with 13.3% of nearly 12,000 respondents reporting they had been exposed to one or more offenses, including assault, threats, sexual offenses, robbery, fraud, or harassment. But although the number is up from 11.3% in 2014, the survey says the numbers are around the same level as they were in 2005, well before Sweden’s refugee influx began.(*2)
There is no doubt that the number of refugees and asylum seekers will be having an impact in Sweden. Assimilation is hard in any new country, and Sweden is about as different from the middle east or North Africa as it gets. There is of course high unemployment among these immigrants, the Economist says three times higher than native born Swedes. Still, as a country Sweden has done a massive amount, and accept had a mass refugee intake.
While the Syrian crisis isn’t a direct result of the Bush Administration lead invasion and overthrow of Iraq and Afghanistan, and the humanitarian crisis that followed; there is a link to the Arab Spring that followed the influx of migrants all across north Africa. More than 11-million people in Syria have lost their homes, and more than 250,000 have been killed.
Yet, America, through it’s already extensive and tough vetting(apparently not extreme enough for President Trump), has taken the following refugees.
Refugees (country of origin): 16,370 (Democratic Republic of the Congo); the US admitted 84,995 refugees during FY2016 including: 12,587 (Syria); 12,347 (Burma); 9,880 (Iraq); 9,020 (Somalia); 5,817 (Bhutan); 3,750 (Iran)
Despite what President Trump claims, there is no empirical evidence that immigration increases crime in the United States. In fact, a majority of studies in the U.S. have found lower crime rates among immigrants than among non-immigrants.
Even if you believe the reports from the right wing, and nationalists about crime, that’s no reason to further stop immigration by desperate people, who’ve mostly lost everything, including members of their families. America has it’s own problems, but they are nothing like those of the refugees from Syria, Iraq, and Afghanistan, we can and must do more and at least as much as Sweden.
[Updated: This post was updated at 11pm Central to include the link to Matt Macowiacks tweet as a great example.]It’s easy to fallback on the current debacle in the US administration as a massive conspiracy. Conspiracies work for people who are afraid, and lack experience, conspiracy theory assumes someone is in charge.
Organization chaos theory was a big thing at the end of the 1980’s, Tom Peters book “Thriving on Chaos: Handbook for a Management Revolution” blazed a path of revolution for the newly minted management consultants through the mid-1990’s. I’ve no idea what they teach in business schools these days, but it’s fallen out of favor. It would again be easy to ascribe the current administrations chaos to a few people with out of date ideas based on Peters chaos theory, especially since Peters ascribed a lot of the justification for chaos theory on a changing global economy and technology.
I’ve experienced organizational chaos. I worked on 12 corporate acquisition projects. Many went ahead, some didn’t make financial sense, and others just were not a good business fit. They included small and large, including a $2.4 billion dollar company with some 4,000 staff, to another with just 60 employees.
In many, especially startups, either before or during acquisition if it proceeded, the management and organization went into chaos meltdown. This could often be sensed by the lack of clarity from the top, either in CEO or in Management. They couldn’t quantify how they were going to achieve the goals and objectives they’d claimed, or the product or technology didn’t do what they claimed.
In the acquisition due diligence you could spot tell tale signs. They were spending too much time in meetings and staff briefings on handling things that had already happened. Insufficient resources were applied to actual problems, it seemed cheaper to deploy marketing to attempt to distract from the cause of the problem that admit the problem and put plans in place to fix it.
Constantly making false or inaccurate claims, using false data, or more importantly watching something on cable news and then twisting it to fit your own agenda is a dangerous game.
What it appears is that rather than being a massive conspiracy in action, the administration is exhibiting all the classic symptoms of an organization in chaos. Not good chaos as described by Peters
An organization should go back to the core of their existence, review their vision and mission and work and adopt a more customer-responsive approach.
By being curious in doing business and dealing with problems creatively, they can survive in the chaos theory.
Instead in a purely chaotic way.
The President has fired or lost many key staff for the smooth running of any administration, let alone a new one. It’s not just the headline staff, it’s some of the key underlying staff, like Cory Louie, the White House’s now former chief cybersecurity officer.
Louie “was forced to resign,” according to an editor at The Atlantic, who was the first to report his exit, despite initially saying that he was a member of the Secret Service. The story was apparently corroborated by ZDNet, who spoke to unnamed sources on the matter. There are many other examples.
Losing key staff, combined to having a number of alpha male types in charge of entirely new departments, with ideas and a catalog of actions against the very departments they now head; combined with a leader who can articulate nothing more complex than grand but simple ideas, results in exactly what we see, chaos.
You can hope that Steve Bannon is really in charge on the conspiracy, but in reality, that probably isn’t happening. He is likely just another pillar of a collapsing system, wanting to do big things quickly and competing with other alpha males to get the attention they so desperately crave and causing chaos in their wake.
This tweet is a prime example. Mistakes were made, the amount of time spent covering up, debating, and otherwise obfuscating the mistake would be out of proportion to the initial mistake, it also sews distrust, and bolsters the conspiracy theorists.
Whatever you think of the current administration’s politics, policies and programs, so far they’ve done very little except sign a bunch of pandering political executive orders. The “muslim ban” was ineffective in implementation, and probably illegal. The worst thing about it was that it just picked on “easy” countries, least likely to fight back. The Wall, Healthcare reform and almost everything else is just hot air. None backed by actual legislation. By this time in the Obama and Bush administrations, they’d got both solid, published plans, or written, and in the case of Obama, actual approved legislation.
Let’s see what form the legislation takes and who it benefits before coming back to conspiracy theories.
The 3Minutementor, founded and run by former colleague and personal friend, Nigel Dessau, has a useful guide to why strategy fails. It’s a useful checklist to compare the administration’s actions.
We hear a lot about the “takers” in America, a classification for, usually inner-city people who survive on benefits, unemployment, housing, medical, food stamps and more. Mostly the venom about takers also contains a racial element, it’s directed at black and minority groups who many assume benefit from Government programs without paying in.
What we don’t hear much about is the affordability of rural towns, and even many of the suburbs. One of America’s greatest strengths, it’s size, is also one of it’s biggest problems, small town sustainability. I’m no expert on the economy and sustainability, but if you drive long distance in America away from the Interstates, you can see the problem everywhere. Decaying towns, decaying infrastructure, slowing or declining population growth. I own and subsidize a rental home in one such town in Texas.
Back in 2014, I made my only drive from Austin TX to Boulder CO with my Mum, on what was to be her last grand tour. What struck me at the time were the endless poor quality roads, and the nearly, seemingly deserted small towns.
We covered 2,500 miles, mostly north west Texas, also New Mexico, and Colorado. On the way back we went via Taos, Santa Fe, and Roswell and then back through west Texas.
They had almost no choice in terms of food, restaurants and shops. I wrote this blog post “Decaying Texas”. It has a couple of slideshows of pictures taken along the way home.
The question of affordability will be right in the headlights in the coming years of the Trump administration. Almost every major program that the administration seems to want to change or cut will have a major impact on these rural societies. Downsizing the Federal government, a project of the Cato Institute, says:
Even if rural subsidy programs were administered efficiently, they represent an unfair redistribution of wealth. In many ways, rural Americans are better off than urban and suburban Americans. They enjoy cheaper housing, cleaner air, less congestion, and other advantages. So people who live in rural areas should not be a privileged class receiving special subsidies.
The Cato Institute couches the benefits in the usual political-speak weasel words as “Scholars at Cato believe that cutting the federal budget would enhance personal freedom, increase prosperity, and leave a positive fiscal legacy to the next generation.”
Rural communities for the most part exist to allow the exploitation of the land and resources. Hence the reason why America’s size is a strength, there is plenty to exploit. From farming for cattle, corn, wheat, to mineral extraction, to oil and gas fracking, America has it in abundance.
However, most of the infrastructure to support the communities is decades or more old and needs investment to sustain. Building roads, laying pipelines for water, sewage, telephone and internet service are expensive per capita. Roads particularly require a massive subsidy given the distances involved and the low number of people they service.
What is clear is that the new administration wants to cut regulations, budgets, and “Make America Great Again” #MAGA. I fear though for these communities, as they are likely to become unintended consequences of poorly thought through, and rushed changes in policy.
School choice has been a great boon for suburban America. It has also been a positive benefit for the re-segregation of schools. Rich, often white people move from urban centers to suburban centers where they not only have choice, but can have their choice subsidized through vouchers, funded at the expense of public schools whose budgets are impacted by funding vouchers. Forget the furor about DeVos and if she is even qualified as U.S. secretary of Education. What is clear is that if she chooses to drive her professed support for school choice through vouchers as a policy, rural education will be screwed. Rural areas, without huge subsidy, will not have choice. Private businesses are not going to rush into towns and build new alternative charter schools, they can never make money from them.
If the alternative is distance learning, it has a double impact. 1. Distance or e-learning has typically less than optimal results, 2, by opting for choice through voucher, the local public schools are further devalued by lower attendance and either great subsidy, or lower budgets. This is a major issue, as schools in rural areas don’t just teach children, they are major social hubs for community interaction. Destroying public schools in rural areas, will further destroy their communities. The Atlantic has a great article covering DeVos and the potential impact on rural schools and communities.
Health care (ACA and replacement)
This blog post was kicked off while driving to swimming this morning. I heard this Colorado Public Radio (CPR) piece on the rural hospitals fears for post “Obamacare”. Like schools, access to medical facilities in rural America is crucial to their survival(literally). Asides from concerns of access to healthcare and the affordability of it, the thing that struck me about the CPR interview was that San Luis Valley Health in Alamosa provides 670 jobs and is the region’s largest employer. This is consistent with what I’ve observed elsewhere in Colorado and Texas, both large and small towns with massive health care employment.
In the UK, where the National Health Service (NHS) employees around 1.6-million people, making it the world’s 5th largest employer. The NHS is notionally is single organization, the NHS employs just under 2.5% of the UK population. Using the US Bureuau of Labor Statistics data for 2009, health care employment in private-sector health care industry employees just shy of 11-million people, add to that 100,000 of the 350,000 at the Veterans Administration, and then all the small town public health care clinics that deal with vaccinations etc. and it’s safe to say some 12-million work in health care in the USA. So, nearly 3.75% of the American population work in healthcare.
Health care in the US is much more expensive than the UK and most other developed countries in the world. This is in part due to the massive over provision and duplication of healthcare facilities. The simplest way to reduce the cost of Government programs, would be to drastically cut the provisions that support poor, rural communities. Make them travel further, pay hospitals less for the procedures, make fewer people qualify for the programs. That is exactly what these rural and small regional hospitals are concerned about, as discussed in the earlier referenced CPR piece.
While the President talks up his infrastructure goals, and decries the state of the roads, bridges and airports, outside of the wall, it’s not clear the Administration understands how much we currently spend and how poorly we budget and account for infrastructure. It’s already clear that Drivers are not paying their fair share, and that we are swimming in debt for road expansion and funding. It is hard to imagine that fiscal conservatives, the GOP and the TEA party are going to swallow more debt on a massive scale to fund this. In many rural areas, pot holed roads are being downgraded already to gravel roads also known as “unpaving“. States, cities and municipalities account for infrastructure in entirely the wrong way. They assume infrastructure itself has no value in their financial statements. They depreciate the assets over the course of its useful life until it has a no value. The problem is at that point, you can’t simply walk away.
As Strong Towns pointed out “Current accounting practices do not bear any relation to the future cash flow or the actual financial health of the city. When cities take on obligations, they should be properly accounted for as liabilities, not assets.” Given Rural towns tax base, population and business are declining, they are hit even more substantially by the errors in accounting from the past.
There is significant investment by way of investment and development grants in rural areas, as well through crop subsidies. The top subsidized commodities are Feed grains, mostly corn, cotton, wheat, rice, soybeans, and dairy. Many of these would be uneconomical if the mega-corporations and farming cooperatives went unsubsidized. America currently pays around $20 billion per year to farmers in direct subsidies as “farm income stabilization” via farm bills. These bills pre-date the economic turmoil of the Great Depression with the 1922 Grain Futures Act, the 1929 Agricultural Marketing Act, and the 1933 Agricultural Adjustment Act creating a tradition of government support.(Source: Wikipedia).
USDA goes way beyond that, it runs three other major programs through these agencies: Rural Housing Service, the Rural Utilities Service, and the Rural Business-Cooperative Service. They spent $6.5 billion in 2016 alone. USDA has about 100,000 employees, and is represented in most counties, in every state in America. It’s responsibilities include USDA oversees school lunches, meat inspection, food stamps, the Forest Service, rural electrification and much more. It’s total budget is some $140 billion in programs. The late pick of Georgia Governor Sunny Perdue concerned many in the rural community, some of his actions as Governor raise more questions, especially on his brand of rural endorsement. As governor, Perdue was caught in a more than a few scandals involving his businesses and personal property deals. He is also the first from a southern state, where rural and agriculture challenges are very different from the mid-west.
For many people HUD stands for the “U” in Housing and Urban Development, they mostly focus on urbans areas, nothing could be further from the truth. HUD operates many rural programs, in many cases funds pass through state agencies or other entities to rural communities. As well as development and assistance grants, HUD invests around $6.2 billion per year to provide affordable housing to low-income residents. Much of this through guaranteed low interest mortgages. How these programs will fare under Ben Carson is unknown. But without clear differentiation between urban and rural communities, many in the GOP and Administration will be going after cutting back HUD in general. HUD is also a major contributor to disaster assistance and provides many grants, relocation programmes and more.
In an era when the GOP have spent forever convincing everyone that TAX=BAD, and portraying city folk as moochers and takers, can we really afford rural communities anymore? It’s very likely that these rural communities will experience the bulk of the pain from the Administration policy changes. Not through a single policy change, or executive order, but but through death by a thousand cuts.
If that happens, there will be no one but the current Administration and the Republican party to blame.