Saturday, July 14, 2018

Editorial: Negotiating with Tariffists

Donald Trump has been throwing his weight around on global trade matters with little apparent long-term planning. He threatened tariffs on steel and aluminum imports. Then, when America’s trade partners retaliated with tariffs on American products, he upped the ante. When he proposed tariffs on $34 billion worth of Chinese imports, Beijing retaliated with tariffs on an equal value of US goods, including beef, pork, soybeans, cars and computer chips. So Trump has threatened to escalate the battle with tariffs on more than $200 billion worth of goods from China.

Trump got a lot of mileage in his 2016 campaign with his co-opting of the populist belief that “free trade” deals have contributed to the misery and inequality afflicting working-class communities in America. That may have made the difference in his razor-thin victories in Wisconsin, Michigan and Pennsylvania.

But when, as president, he started the saber rattling, Trump showed little sense of the trouble he was unleashing. “Trade wars are good and easy to win,” he tweeted in March. He had imposed tariffs on solar panels, newsprint and washing machines before he started the war on foreign steel and aluminum. But after he announced tariffs on steel and aluminum from Canada, Mexico and the European Union on “national security” grounds, EU officials announced they would apply tariffs on a series of American goods, including Harley-Davidson motorcycles. When Harley-Davidson announced it would move some production overseas to avoid the tariffs, which would increase the cost of motorcycles by an average of $2,200, Trump urged the company to “be patient.”

Trump, a practiced grifter, advises American businesses and farmers to “be patient” in the same way itinerant driveway pavers collect a down payment, and advise the homeowner to “be patient” when they promise to be back in a week or so to do the work.

Tariffs on Mexico, Canada and the European Union are questionable, as they are traditional allies and do not engage in the sort of predatory trade practices China uses. Trump could use some allies in his attempt to rein in China, but the alienation of US trading partners comes at a time when Trump suggests he is also considering reducing the US commitment to the North Atlantic Treaty Organization.

The Mexican and Canadian tariffs also could wreak havoc on economies that are closely integrated with neighboring US states after 24 years under NAFTA. Goods and services trade with Canada totaled $673.9 billion in 2017, with a net trade surplus of $8.4 billion for the US, owing to its $25.9 billion surplus in services, according to the Office of US Trade Representative.

According to the Department of Commerce, US exports to Canada supported 1.6 million jobs in 2015 (the latest data available). The tariffs are supposed to protect 140,000 US steelworker jobs.

Goods and services trade with Mexico totaled $616.6 billion in 2017. Exports were $276.2 billion; imports were $340.3 billion with a US deficit of $64.1 billion in 2017. However, the US had a services trade surplus of $7.8 billion, and trade with Mexico supported 1.2 million US jobs in 2015.

US goods and services trade with the EU totaled nearly $1.1 trillion in 2016, making it the largest trading partner with the US, and a net trade deficit for the US of $92 billion, or less than 1%.

The US had a $147 billion deficit on goods trade with the EU out of a total of $686 billion in 2016. But the US had a $55 billion surplus in services with the EU out of a total of $407 billion, and US exports to the EU supported 2.6 million US jobs in 2015.

The largest trade deficit is with China, which did $648.5 billion in trade with the US, and recorded a $385 billion goods and services surplus in 2016. US exports to China supported 911,000 jobs in 2015, with 601,000 supported by goods exports and 309,000 supported by services exports.

Now that Trump has targeted a wide range of Chinese products, the conflict is likely to cause collateral damage among American companies that rely on those products in the global supply chains. The White House also is placing restrictions on investment and on visas for Chinese nationals as leverage to force Beijing to make changes, including opening its markets to American companies and ending its practice of requiring firms operating in China to hand over valuable technology.

The New York Times reported July 5 that companies like Husco International, a Wisconsin-based manufacturer of parts for companies like Ford, General Motors, Caterpillar and John Deere, now face a 25% increase on a variety of parts imported from China. Austin Ramirez, Husco International’s chief executive, said that increase would immediately put him and other American manufacturers at a disadvantage to competitors abroad.

“The people it helps most of all are my competitors in Germany and Japan, who also have large parts of their supply chain in Asia but don’t have these tariffs,” he said.

Farmers also have been hit by Chinese retaliatory tariffs on pork and soybeans — a serious blow, as China has been a market for mor than half of American soybean exports, and fears of the tariffs have pushed down the price of soybeans by roughly 15% in recent months, wiping out potential profits for that crop. American farmers also risk losing key markets in the long term, as farmers in Brazil are boosting soybean production to scoop up the Chinese market.

Progressive Democrats should support the need to renegotiate NAFTA, the World Trade Organization and other trade deals to preserve the authority of governments to regulate business and industry and abolish investor-state dispute settlement panels that can overrule national courts. Progressives should promote a trade policy that protects labor and environmental standards.

But remember that Trump has no principles guiding his trade or immigration campaigns. As a developer, he used undocumented Polish workers in 1980 to demolish a department store to make way for Trump Tower; then he forced them to go to court to get paid. Trump's resort, Mar-a-Lago, in June asked the Department of Labor for 61 H2-B visas for foreign servers and cooks. He used cheap Chinese steel and aluminum in Trump hotels in Las Vegas and Chicago and he has used Chinese factories to make his merchandise. His campaign gets flags from a Chinese factory whose owner said he has already started to make flags for Trump’s 2020 campaign. And White House adviser Ivanka Trump’s foreign-made products on her fashion line won’t be touched by tariffs.

And on May 13, two days after state-owned Metallurgical Corporation of China offered to lend $500 million to Indonesian developers to finance a Trump-branded resort in Indonesia, Trump pledged to help ZTE, a Chinese telecom equipment manufacturer with ties to the Chinese government, recover from a $1.19 billion fine and a ban on dealing with US companies, after ZTE sold technology products in North Korea and Iran, in violation of sanctions, then lied about it to US officials. US intelligence officials also warned of security risks in allowing ZTE phones to be used by government employees. But Trump tweeted: “President Xi of China, and I, are working together to give massive Chinese phone company, ZTE, a way to get back into business, fast. Too many jobs in China lost. Commerce Department has been instructed to get it done!”

When asked about the business deal in Indonesia, White House deputy press secretary Raj Shah referred questions to the Trump Organization, saying, “You’re asking about a private organization’s dealings.”

So don’t count on Tariffist Trump to do the right thing. — JMC

From The Progressive Populist, August 1, 2018

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Selections from the August 1, 2018 issue

COVER/Kent Paterson
López Obrador’s victory in Mexico raises hopes in Latin America


EDITORIAL
Negotiating with tarrifists


LETTERS TO THE EDITOR

DON ROLLINS
Young democratic socialists bringing the heat


RURAL ROUTES/Margot McMillen
Yes, the planet is at risk


DISPATCHES
Trump freezes Obamacare payments, further undermining affordable care;
Louisiana Medicaid expansion may have saved thousands of lives;
Brett Kavanaugh picked to kill the ‘administrative state’;
Trump administration comes out against breastfeeding;
Pruitt’s successor at EPA may be more dangerous;
Heat waves could rise another 12°F;
Surely Trump will strip citizenship carefully;
Rural groups urge Congess invest in rural business ...


ART CULLEN
Dems must address rural voters


JILL RICHARDSON
Knowing when to turn off the news


JOHN YOUNG
Inside the GOP rationalization chamber


RICHARD ESKOW
How to cover a revolution


MARK ANDERSON
Homeowner seeks court action against fraudulent foreclosures


BOB BURNETT
Telling the truth about immigration


JIM VAN DER POL
There’s more to immigration than people piling up at the border


WENONAH HAUTER
What fossil fuels and factory farms have in common


HEALTH CARE/Joan Retsinas
Barreling toward dystopia


SAM URETSKY
What they think they know makes Trump supporters dangerous


SETH SANDRONSKY  
Labor rules expand skimpy ‘association health plans’

WAYNE O’LEARY
The wages of Trump


JOHN BUELL
Paramilitary politics and the world’s children


N. GUNASEKARAN
Asia’s environment becoming ‘full-blown crisis’


CLAUDIA ZEQUEIRA
What zero tolerance means for refugee families


ROB PATTERSON
Interest in Hitler heats up


SATIRE/Rosie Sorenson
Gut check


MOVIE REVIEW/Ed Rampell
When 1 million Americans voted socialist


BOOK REVIEW/Heather Seggel
Too big to fail to catch the irony

Wednesday, July 11, 2018

The Trump Administration is never afraid to hurt children in its never-ending quest to create markets for its cronies



By Marc Jampole

There always have been a limited number of ways for companies to sell more goods or services. The most obvious are to develop new products or to sell in new territories or to new markets, the latter being the point of global trade. Just as significant is to the creation of new needs for an existing product or service—new reasons to buy the same product from the company or industry, as when a pharmaceutical company finds a new use for an existing prescription drug. Sometimes, the economy or society itself creates the new need. A few old examples should suffice: In the 19th century, once states required many professionals to pass rigorous examinations that tested knowledge of standardized but highly specialized information, there was a new need to educate lawyers, physicians and other professionals which led to the rapid expansion of universities. During the same century, the consolidation of regional companies into national corporations created a new need for advertising. The rise of the fast food industry in the 20th expanded the market for throwaway plates, bowls and utensils enormously.  



Most lobbying of legislatures and the administrative offices of the executive branch of state and federal governments is intended to make sure government either helps to create a new market or doesn’t do anything to shrink an existing market. An example of the former is to enter into an agreement with foreign countries that lowers tariffs on the products a company sells. An example of the later is to ban the use of a certain material, say lead in paint or gasoline. These governmental decisions result in companies and industries gaining or losing business. Almost since the founding of the United States, companies, especially larger ones, have made sure that elected officials understand that.



Unfortunately, all too often, our elected officials listen and respond with laws, regulations and policies that reward a few, typically contributors, at the expense of the many. 



And all too often in the Trump Administration, the actions that create a new market for their cronies and contributors involve directly hurting children.  We can see this most obviously in the recent policy to break up families that are seeking refugee status in the United States from countries south of the border, sending parents to one center and children to another. It is now well-documented that U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) has depended heavily on private organizations to process, house and feed the tens of thousands of refugee men, women and children nabbed at border crossings. Estimates of how much it costs to house each child range from $600-$900 a day, most of which goes into the hands of private companies that have courted Trump and Pence for years. Considering the accommodations, the profit margins must be phenomenal.



This week’s brouhaha over the United Nation’s World Health Assembly statement on breastfeeding is a virtual repeat of the decision to imprison everyone who tries to enter the country and take their children from them. Trump attempted to bully the UN and the rest of the world to help companies selling infant formula. But that policy hurts children. Virtually every expert agrees that breastfeeding an infant produces healthier and smarter babies who have fewer health problems later on and tend to live longer. But of course every baby who is breastfed is one less family buying infant formula, which, while a good substitute when breast-feeding is impossible or harmful to the mother, should for most mothers be a distant second choice to breastfeeding. We may not see the horrible photos of traumatized children and parents, but policies and advertising that steer mothers away from breastfeeding are nonetheless harmful to large numbers of children.



When the UN wanted to issue a strong statement recommending that mothers breastfeed, Trump officials went bat-shit crazy, pushing their weight around and threatening trade sanctions and withdrawal of military aid if any nation dare support a resolution at the United Nations. America officials wanted to water down the resolution by removing language that called on governments to “protect, promote and support breast-feeding.”  The administration’s threats made Ecuador back down from introducing the resolution.



To quote the New York Times,Health advocates scrambled to find another sponsor for the resolution, but at least a dozen countries, most of them poor nations in Africa and Latin America, backed off, citing fears of retaliation, according to officials from Uruguay, Mexico and the United States.” The reason the administration didn’t like full-hearted support for breast feeding was obvious to everyone from the beginning. The Trump Administration wanted to avoid narrowing the market opportunities for Abbot, Nestles and other makers of infant formula.



Unlike the fiasco at the border, the latest attempt to ignore science and put the interests of business first even though it directly hurts thousands of children, has a somewhat happy ending. One nation proved fearless enough to agree to introduce the resolution in its strongest version. For some reason, this nation didn’t fear retaliation from Trump. For some reason, Trump feared pissing off this nation and refused to threaten it in any way.



That country was Russia.



Yes, Russia became the hero of the moment, defending both science and the right of families all over the world to get accurate information and the best nutrition for their children.



Meanwhile, America continues to lose the respect of the rest of the world.



Especially appalling—and depressing—is that direct harm to children is the end result of so many efforts by the Trump Administration to create business opportunities for its cronies. Trump doesn’t seem to care if he creates a generation of PTSD sufferers by ripping children from their families. He doesn’t seem to care if millions of babies around the world could get inferior nutrition, which will shorten their lives. Trump and his Education Secretary Betsy DeVos don’t care that all the studies show that well-funded public schools produce better educated students than do private schools or charter schools. In all three cases, the Trump Administration believes the best interests of industry far outweigh the health or educational needs of children.

Thursday, July 5, 2018

We celebrated the Declaration of Independence on July 4th, but we live every day by a Constitution that the Supreme Court says favors property over people


By Marc Jampole
Whether grilling hamburgers, attending a parade, watching fireworks, playing softball or zoning out to the Dirty Hairy binge-a-thon on Sundance TV, our celebration of July 4th commemorated an obsolete document.
All the fuss about Independence Day celebrates the signing of the Declaration of Independence, easily recognized by its key passage, “We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.”
The idea that animates the Declaration of Independence is equality of rights and opportunity for all men (which at the time meant white males but has since been expanded to include people of color and women). This ideal, however, was superseded by the Constitution, which as interpreted by the Supreme Court almost from its first case onward, holds as government’s primary function the protection of private property. “We the People of the United States, in Order to form a more perfect Union, establish Justice, insure domestic Tranquility, provide for the common defence, promote the general Welfare, and secure the Blessings of Liberty to ourselves and our Posterity, do ordain and establish this Constitution for the United States of America” is how the Constitution begins. Sounds like a contract between large corporations, which, as it turns out it was, and is.
I have been reminded of the predominance of property over people in U.S. law reading We the Corporations: How American Corporations Won Their Civil Rights, Adam Winkler’s breezy history of Supreme Court decisions that have gradually recognized and expanded the rights of corporations. As Winkler notes, one strand of legal thinking shared by many of the rich white merchants and slave owners who wrote the Constitutions “understood the Constitution largely in terms of protecting private property and private economic relations from majority rule.” This theory predominates the thinking of the Reagan Era right wing. It is a guiding principle of the Heritage Foundation, Cato Institute, Mercatus Center and other 21st century right-wing propaganda mills. It animates the political contributions of the Koch brothers. (see Nancy MacLean’s Democracy in Chains.)
One ramification of the industrial and financial revolutions after the Civil War was that vast amounts of property (wealth) were transferred from the hands of individuals to corporate control. Even though individuals controlled corporations and other individuals owned them, a corporation was something different from the sum of those individuals. In essence, a corporation comprises its tangible and intangible assets and its debts (which are negative forms of property) and thus is nothing more or less than a piece of property, no less than land, furniture, equipment or the right to use an image.
Early on, the managers and owners of corporations wanted to assert corporate rights, while governments and reformers wanted to restrict them. It was up to the Supreme Court to interpret the Constitution and decide what rights corporations—compositions of property and property rights—had. According to Winkler, the “corporate rights” movement developed alongside the Civil Rights movement, and was more successful earlier on.
From the turn of the 20th century to just before World War II in what is known as the “Lochner Era,” named after a 1905 case, the Supreme Court distinguished between property rights and liberty rights. The court gave property rights to corporations, but not liberty rights, such as the right to free speech. In fact, it was in this era that the first laws were passed limiting the ability of corporations to give money to support candidates. But the Court in the Lochner Era also invalidated state and federal legislation that constrained corporations, such as minimum wage laws, federal child labor laws, and regulations of the banking, insurance and transportation industries.
After World War II, the Supreme Court under Chief Justice Earl Warren focused much more on protecting the rights of individuals, but to the degree that these included property rights, Court decisions also helped corporations.
Since Nixon replaced four Supreme Court justices with pro-business conservatives in the late 1960s and early 1970s, the Court has gradually recognized that corporations—again, collections of property owned collectively by individuals—have liberty rights, too, in decisions such as First National Bank of Boston v. Bellotti, in which the Court ruled that corporations had a First Amendment right to speak and spend freely on ballot referenda. The coup-de-grace for corporate liberty rights was, of course, Citizens United, which has enabled corporations to give unlimited amounts of “dark money” to support candidates.
By giving corporations that same rights as individuals, the Supreme Court has enthroned property as more important than “Life, Liberty and the Pursuit of Happiness.” It has also created a number of asymmetries which give large corporations overwhelming advantages over smaller businesses and individuals. While corporations can’t cast votes, they have greater influence over elections than individuals because they have more money to spend. Once de facto limits are removed from campaign contributions, as Citizens United did, those with more money have more votes. Likewise in employment: the corporate entity has the power not to hire someone who doesn’t accept an arbitration agreement.
Most Americans like to think that the great arc of history—and in particular American history—bends towards freedom and justice for all, as Martin Luther King once said. The freeing of the slaves, the gaining of the right to vote, minimum wage, child labor and overtime laws, the end of legal segregation, gay marriage—these are all milestones in the American pursuit of liberty and equal opportunity. But Winkler’s conclusion in We the Corporations is that over the course of time, corporations have won more constitutional rights than have individuals. And every win for corporations is a win for property over people. Remember, we live by the Constitution, not the Declaration. Our right to pursue happiness—enshrined by the Declaration of Independence—exists, but it’s not as strong or as meaningful as the rights of a corporation to pursue profit for the rich folk who own it.

Sunday, July 1, 2018

Despite the many recent setbacks & the fear that Roe V. Wade could be overturned, progressives have some cause for optimism


By Marc Jampole

Just about everyone with whom I’ve spoken these past few days is stunned and depressed because of the accelerating accumulation of Trump Administration actions that are against the best interests of most Americans, morally offensive, signs of a growing autocratic state or some combination of the three.
At the risk of driving half my readership to drink, dope or anti-depressants, let me review the terrible stuff to happen just this week:
  • We began to recognize the full extent of the incompetence and cruelty with which the administration is prosecuting its zero tolerance policy against refugee families.
  • The Supreme Court issued several horrible 5-4 decisions, including Janus v. AFSCME, which could gut public sector unions, and Trump v. Hawaii, which upheld the right of Donald Trump to impose a travel band even if his public comments demonstrate the ban is meant to discriminate against one religious group.
  • Trump announced a July summit with Vladimir Putin, where he is sure to give away whatever of the store is left after his capitulations to North Korea.
  • The trade war with allies intensified and we began to see analyses that show that the net effect of Trump’s tariffs even before the imminent trade war will be to create a few jobs in shrinking industries like steel manufacturing while destroying jobs in growth industries such as renewable resources.
  • Another mass murder—this one of journalists—with no federal gun control law anywhere close to being passed.
  • The kicker of course was the announcement that Anthony Kennedy was retiring from the Supreme Court allowing Trump to replace a right-wing, pro-business ideologue who was okay with gay marriage and abortion with a right-wing, pro-business ideologue who is against gay marriage and abortion. Most liberals expect and fear that Roe V. Wadewill soon be overturned and from 18-26 states will ban abortion outright.
Every week it seems we get hit by more and more of these abominations. No wonder most of us on the left are feeling a little punch-drunk right now, as if we can’t take any more of these constant hits to our body politic. Over the past two weeks I have heard more pessimistic sentiments from liberal acquaintances than over the previous two years. Friends and acquaintances are now sure that Trump will avoid impeachment and win again in 2020, with the help of voter suppression and Donald’s best bud in Moscow. Others rightfully despair that we will likely get the most politically activist right-wing Supreme Court in American history. Others seem to be suffering contact post-traumatic stress disease (PTSD), as they see the bleak images of children crying in cages and learn more about the biggest federal government botch job since the Bush II’s Iraq and Katrina debacles. We feel powerless to help ease the pain of these children, and we know the horrible truth that the psychological part of it will persist for decades after the proximate cause is removed. I can still conjure the images and emotions of several childhood traumas I suffered, but even worse are my imagined sufferings that my son never went through, but could have. I know I’m among tens of millions of parents who have transferred empathy for their own children to the innocent children Trump’s ICE took away from their parents. It’s a miserable feeling of helplessness.
(Aside: A lack of competence seems to characterize all ideological regimes, in the United States as elsewhere. Just think of the similarities between the Trump regime and the Soviet Union under the communists.  People get positions because of their ideological purity or emotional proximity to the great leader, not competence. Competent people who disagree with the party line lose their jobs. Decisions are made based on the a priori beliefs of the great leader or the ruling elite, even if those decisions ignore scientific evidence or empirical experience. The results are half-baked policies which are then implemented incompetently.)
The current emotional depression (as opposed to the economic one likely to come in a few years) deepens into despair for those who consider that the rationale for most of the policies that Trump has implemented are pure lies: Environmental protections do not hurt the economy or diminish jobs. We do not have a problem with too many immigrants, and in fact could use some more to fill the many open positions our economy now has. Immigrants commit less crime than native-born Americans and increase the jobs and income of non-immigrants. Our allies were not taking advantage of us in treaties. Iran was not ignoring the terms of the nuclear agreement. Cutting taxes for the wealthy and corporations does not lead to greater investment in new jobs. Socialized healthcare keeps populations healthier and costs less per person. Then there are the filthy lies, like the one that an overwhelming majority of government aid recipient are minorities or that minorities receive preferential treatment by schools, employees and government. Not one part of the Trumpite program starts with a factual basis.
Like patients of talk therapy, let’s pick at the open wound and dig deeper into the dismal morass of the current political situation by remembering that Trump is not a solitary figure who upset everyone’s apple cart, but only the extreme version of Reagan Republicanism. Other than tariffs, consider how similar Trump’s actions have been in office to what the rest of the field save Kasich was advocating. Just about all Republicans since Reagan have retreated to a large degree from the fact-based universe when it did not jibe with the ideology they wanted to impose on reality. Just about all have been more interested in power than fairness in government. All have supported privatization of basic services as a way to reward their contributors and business allies. All have worked almost exclusively for the interests of the wealthy and extremely wealthy, while stringing along the religious right by supporting anti-woman and anti-LGBTQ positions. All have worked to restrict voting rights. Just about all have played the race card with frequency, usually in a subtle code language.
If the Republican Party has seemed quick to embrace Trump despite his ignorance, autocratic predilections, uncivility and overt racism and sexism, it is merely because it has been moving in those directions since Reagan fanaticized about welfare queens driving Cadillacs and Americans workers vampirized of every incentive to work by cheap, free healthcare. What that means is that Republicans are happy to see us slip into fascism, as long as a white majority elects the autocrats running and ruining the country for the benefit of the ultra-wealthy.
A pretty grim situation, and yet I have hope.
My hope comes from the fact that even with restrictive voting laws, if all the constituencies of the Democratic Party come out to vote, the Democrats can still control the House and Senate and win the Electoral College. It will take a massive effort to register voters and then get them out to the polls, but it can be done.
My hope comes from knowing that groups that tend to vote Democratic are growing—college educated white women, millennials, minorities, whereas groups that have now tend to vote Republican are shrinking—whites without education, evangelicals.
I’m hopeful because millennials and minorities are pushing the Democrats left, so that when they do take power again, the Dems will more likely be emboldened to make real change—Medicare for all, a trillion-dollar infrastructure program, steep tax increases on the wealthy, legislating all the environmental regulations the Trump administration has been rolling back, responding to all the crap that’s going to come out of the Roberts’ Court with overriding legislation.
We are in the final stages of a coup d’état by a theocratic autocracy, but all is not lost, as long as we have the right to vote. But for once, we have to exercise it and do so with some common sense. Whoever the candidate for whatever the office, we have to vote for the Democrat, and not the independent, the “good Republican,” the Green Party candidate or none of the above. At the same time, we have to vote and support the most left-leaning candidate in every Democratic primary.
So in the gloom of the summer of our discontent, fellow lefties, let’s dream of November and think not just about voting but helping others to register and get to the polls.

Monday, June 25, 2018

New anti-Trump trend on TV: Say you’re sorry when you do something wrong


By Marc Jampole

When one advertiser does something completely new and different, like when Budweiser put a dog named ”Spuds MacKenzie” in TV ads in 1987, you may not notice. But when every third ad has a dog in it, as what happened in the first decade of this century, you see a pattern.
So without further ado, let’s have a light drumroll and OpEdge announces the latest trend in television advertising that may have broader social implications…
Big corporations using TV commercials to apologize for past bad behavior. Currently in frequent rotation on multiple channels and cable systems are “mea culpa” ads from Facebook, Uber and Wells Fargo Bank.
What’s most fascinating about these potlatches of apologies is that there are many similarities between the ads these three titans of the 21st century American economy have created to seek the forgiveness of their customers and the general public. The first and most obvious similarity is that all three companies used advanced digital technology to do some very nefarious stuff. Facebook allowed fake ads from foreign governments to interfere in our election and let its vendors raid the personal information of Facebook users. Wells Fargo opened fake accounts, changed customer documents without permission and guided clients with retirement accounts into the wrong investments to get higher fees, all by manipulating customer databases. Uber’s laundry list of bad behavior would take dozens of pages to list but includes violating laws in 20 states, data breeches, illegal disruption of competitors’ operations and at least one old-fashioned crime that doesn’t always require a computer—sexual harassment.
But using computer technology to break the law or, in the case of Facebook, betray a lot of people, isn’t the only thing that these companies and their “We’re sorry” commercials have in common!
All three have produced and are broadcasting ads which completely sanitize the pain their corporate misbehavior caused. All three companies issue very clear apologies but we never learn for what. Even Facebook’s cute-as-a-Smurf rendition of what happened talks about the bad guys who got onto Facebook and not about how Facebook facilitated and made tons of money off their manipulations of data and people. Wells Fargo never tells us explicitly what its managers did without the permission of customers. Uber doesn’t even reference the badness of the past in its intense focus on how wonderful things are now.
While ignoring the past, the companies all brightly tell us how they are fixing the problem and making things better. Wells Fargo talks about changing manager incentives. Uber touts its new leader and a new corporate-wide attitude that puts good treatment of drivers and riders first. All Facebook says is that the bad guys can’t get in any more so we’re free to build our beautiful global networks of friends again. We never learn why these large companies made the changes they did, and all three companies suggest in subtle, sub-textual ways that it wasn’t their fault. The changes and the reason for them are never placed in a context, but float weightlessly is some weird corporate ether.
The styles of the spots are so similar that you might guess it’s the same ad agency that created all of them, but you’d be wrong; the fact that three different agencies came up with similarly squeamish approaches suggests an industry-wide trend. All have bright, happy music. The visuals in all depend almost exclusively on extreme close-ups, in Facebook’s case of computer screens, many of hand-held computers that also make phone calls and take photos. Oh, yeah, smart phones. The visuals in all cases communicate the same message: The company improves your quality of life. In the case of Wells Fargo and Uber, the effect creates a hyped-up, go-go feeling; the Facebook ad feels dreamier, like a bedtime story. But all three ads reside in a corporate fantasy land in which mistakes are no longer made. (And note how I used the corporate passive “mistakes are no longer made” which never tells us who made them instead of the more upright and direct “they no longer make mistakes.”)
Wells Fargo, the oldest and most traditional of these companies, has also laid out a ton of moolah on a print advertising campaign that creates a two-page spread of what is supposed to look like real news. I saw the spread in the middle of the first section of the Sunday New York Times. The seven stories detail the support the bank gives charities and how its loans help improve lives and society. Wells Fargo hits all the hot buttons: climate change, affordable housing, help to veterans, Native Americans.
The apologies seem strange and somewhat refreshing in the take-no-prisoners, never-back-down zeitgeist created by the Trump Administration. In the Age of Trump, the level of public discourse has sunk so low, so many media outlets endorse so many lies by Trump and others, and the tensions between conflicting sides has been stoked so intensely that we may have collectively forgotten how powerful a sincere, or sincere-sounding, apology is in winning over the hearts and minds of those angry at you. For Trump and Trumpites like Sarah Huckabee Sanders and the Washington State University head football coach Mike Leach, who tweeted out lies about President Obama last week, there’s never a need to apologize, no matter how outrageous the lie or how horrendous the action. Of course, if the current administration and its supporters publicly atoned every time they lied or did something that harmed our country, we would need not one but two or three 24/7 government news services that did nothing but pump out apologies!
Could the sanitized corporate “Mea culpa” ad blitz spread to other companies that have stepped in it, a kind of backside-first reassertion of basic civility by a corporate America fed up with current political rhetoric? We didn’t see the same type of formal apology issued on television when we were having all those data beaches a few years back, nor when all those airlines got caught keeping people in motionless airplanes on runways for hours about five years ago. Yes, the offending corporations apologized and promised they had made things right. But they just didn’t buy expensive national ad campaigns to repeatedly say they’re sorry in front of large national audiences—again and again and again for weeks!
Perhaps corporate America feels so bad about the current direction of public discourse under Trump that corporations want to appear to go out of their way to do the right thing.
That is, after they have been caught doing the wrong thing for years!

Tuesday, June 19, 2018

Reaction to breaking up families—so similar to Nazi actions against Jews—may be turning point in what Americans will stomach to protect themselves from their own unrealistic fears


By Marc Jampole

Virtually all Democrats and independents and significant numbers of Republicans have joined the mainstream media and much of the right-wing media in condemning the new U.S. policy of separating children from their families at the border no matter what the circumstances. Even evangelical celebrities like Franklin Graham (Billy’s boy) who have made excuses for the past immoralities of Trump have come out against breaking up families. Interestingly enough, condemnation by religious leaders and Republicans intensified after Attorney General Jeff Sessions and White House Press Secretary Sarah Sanders declared that scriptures demanded harsh treatment of children whose parents are fleeing their countries.
Yet if Facebook and Twitter are any indication, a significant number of people are buying into the argument that those seeking asylum from natural or man-made disasters are breaking the law, and that’s what happens to criminals: they lose their families. This anti-immigration faction buys into the brand new policy that no one should enter the United States as a refugee. One heartless Facebooker even reasoned that we don’t let incarcerated prisoners stay with their children and this situation was the same thing, equating convicted felons with victims of forces beyond their control.
In her widely condemned news conference, Secretary of Homeland Security Kirstjen Nielsen played into the fears and hatreds of those voters who want to shut our borders tight and punish those who try to enter as harshly as possible. Her statement that many drug cartel members rent children to make a better case for entry is absurd. Ever since the Clinton Administration started extreme vetting of refugees and other immigrants, vetting that was quite thorough then and enhanced by Bush II and Obama, U.S. immigration officials can usually pretty quickly ferret out the small numbers of fake families. The proof of that fact is that for decades, study after study shows that crime rates among immigrants—legal and illegal—are much lower than for the native-born population, for both violent and non-violent offenses.
Thus Nielsen builds on the network of lies about immigration that Trump and his supporters have spewed for the past few years. Despite what they say, we do not have an epidemic of violence by immigrant gangs. Hordes of criminals and low lifes are not banging down the gates to get in. But Trump, Sessions, Nielsen and others keep repeating these lies and using them as the excuse for unnecessarily cruel actions such as ending DACA and ripping children from their families at the border.
On both DACA and refuge families, Trump has told the same set of lies repeatedly: 1) A law Democrats passed forced him to do it; 2) He hates it and wants to see it end; 3) But it will take the cooperation of the Democrats and they won’t give it. What a mess of lies we have here! It was Trump alone, perhaps with the urging of racist Sessions and self-loathing Jewish Nazi Stephen Miller, who decided to end DACA. Trump alone who approved the brand-new policy to separate children and parents at the border, even in the case of refugees. Finally, with Republicans controlling every branch of government, no Democrat is needed to pass a law prohibiting separating families at U.S. borders or giving the Dreamers a path to citizenship. What they present as facts are lies. Their logic is a lie.
But the supporters ignore these mendacious arguments, because they believe the main lie: that those entering are primarily bad people who will take our jobs away and that the United States should no longer welcome people fleeing state or gang violence and natural disasters.
The breaking up of families—so similar to Nazi actions against Jews in concentration camps—may symbolize a turning point in what Americans will stomach to protect themselves from their own unrealistic fears. Remember that, when the horrifying news of the Bush II torture gulag made the news, survey after survey showed that more than 50% of all Americans were okay with torture for matters of national security. Their fears and their blood-thirst for revenge after 9/11 spoke so loudly that they didn’t hear the quiet fact that torture doesn’t work. Maybe we should be proud that only 27% of people (but 55% of Republicans) agree with the Trump policy of breaking up families, while 66% are against it. Likewise, 67% of Americans want to give Dreamers citizenship and another 8% want them to stay without becoming citizens. We may approve of torture, but not of ripping families apart.
At this tragic moment, that is small solace for a nation ashamed of itself and aching with the pain of bystanders who feel helpless to relieve the suffering of others.

Saturday, June 16, 2018

Editorial: Skunk Punks G7 Allies

Donald Trump played the role of the skunk at the Group of 7 garden party in Quebec June 8-9, as he showed up late, berated the six other national leaders for retaliating against his tariffs on steel and aluminum, and left early, refusing to sign off on the customary communique papering over their differences.

Trump had grumbled about having to go to the G7 meeting at all, and he raised a stink before he made it to the summit, with Twitter attacks on Canada’s trade policies and suggesting that Russia be invited to rejoin the alliance of economic powers, after it was expelled following the 2014 forcible annexation of Crimea.

Once at the summit, Trump engaged in what a French official described to Reuters as a “rant” full of “recriminations” against US trading partners, followed by his public denial of any contention with leaders at the summit, as he said their relationship was a “10.” a

The next morning, Trump showed up conspicuously late to a breakfast meeting on women’s empowerment, missing Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau’s opening statement and creating a distraction with his entry while Isabelle Hudson, Canada’s ambassador to France and co-chair of the gender equality council, was speaking.

Trump left before the ending of the summit, to travel to Singapore, where he was to meet his new best friend, North Korean dictator Kim Jong Un. The remaining six national leaders discussed climate change and environmental crises and reaffirmed their commitment to implement the Parish Agreement on climate change, from which Trump is withdrawing the US. Trump representatives offered a paragraph promoting cleaner fossil fuels.

On Air Force One, Trump heard that Prime Minister Trudeau had spoken at a press conference about retaliatory measures that Canada would take in response to Trump’s decision to slap tariffs on steel and aluminum imports from Canada, Mexico and the European Union. “Canadians, we’re polite, we’re reasonable but we also will not be pushed around,” Trudeau told reporters.

Angry Trump said he ordered his representatives to back out of the joint communique that attempted to minimize the trade dispute, leaving the leaders of Canada, Britain, France, Italy, Germany and Japan to agree on the need for “free, fair, and mutually beneficial trade” and the importance of fighting protectionism.

Trump tweeted: “PM Justin Trudeau of Canada acted so meek and mild during our @G7 meetings only to give a news conference after I left saying that, ‘US Tariffs were kind of insulting’ and he ‘will not be pushed around.’ Very dishonest & weak. Our Tariffs are in response to his of 270% on dairy!”

Trump added he might escalate the trade war by putting tariffs on imported cars and car parts, which would devastate the Canadian auto industry, which is highly integrated with the US.

Trump told reporters it would be “very easy” to make the case for tariffs on auto imports, using the rationale that they threaten national security. “It’s economic. It’s the balance sheet. To have a great military, you need a great balance sheet,” he said.

Trump also repeated his desire to have a “sunset clause” in an updated NAFTA deal, requiring it to be renegotiated every five years, which Trudeau has rejected.

The United Steelworkers union has supported the tariffs on steel and aluminum, but expressed disappointment that the Trump Administration applied the tariffs to Canadian mills, based on supposed national security concerns, under Section 232 of the Trade Expansion Act of 1962.

“The decision not to exempt Canada ignores the fact that Canada’s steel and aluminum exports to the United States are fairly traded and that Canada has shown its willingness to strengthen its laws as well as its cooperation with the United States to fight unfair trade,” USW stated May 31.

Early results showed the tariffs were having the intended impact, USW said, as thousands of jobs were created or saved as trading partners finally began to take action against the root of all the problems: China. Mills in Europe and Japan are more closely matched with US producers.

The same goes for proposed tariffs on auto parts. United Auto Workers President Dennis Wilson welcomed the Trump administration’s investigation of the impact of imported cars on national security. “The United States became a dumping ground for a lot of countries at a very low cost,” he said May 24.

But the trade group that represents General Motors, Ford Motor Co. and Fiat Chrysler Automobiles’ interests in Washington is dubious that the probe will give Trump cover to implement tariffs or limit imports.

“We are confident that vehicle imports do not pose a national security risk to the US,” the Alliance of Automobile Manufacturers said, according to Bloomberg News. In addition to the Big Three US brands, the Alliance also includes BMW, Mazda, Mercedes-Benz USA, Mitsubishi, Toyota, Volkswagen and Volvo, all of which build vehicles in the US.

US goods and services trade with Canada totaled $673.9 billion in 2017, with a net trade surplus of $8.4 billion for the US, according to the Office of US Trade Representative. However, Canada had a $17.5 billion surplus in goods in 2017 while the US had a $25.9 billion surplus in services.

US goods and services trade with China totaled $648.5 billion in 2016 and the US goods trade deficit with China was $347 billion. That is the gap the Trump Administration needs to address.

Talking with Kim is Better than Tweeting

We hope the vague agreement between Trump and Kim Jong Un in Singapore survives the flight back home, though we suspect that, in the North Korean dictator, Trump may have met his match in the grifting game. Other US presidents have tried to sound out North Korea leaders on the possibility of reducing tensions along the 38th Parallel, which separates North and South Korea. Trump critics objected to his giving Kim the legitimacy of a summit meeting, but 65 years after an armistice replaced the shooting with a standoff at the Demilitarized Zone, North Korea remains technically at war with South Korea and the US, and we think respectful talk between Trump and Kim is better than exchanges of insulting tweets.

Trump was unprepared to negotiate the details of a peace treaty or “denuclearization” with Kim, but if he gets peace talks going, with the support of South Korea President Moon Jae-In, who has led the peace efforts, we can mark it as a good thing.

North Korea’s longtime allies, Russia and China, probably would welcome an end to North Korea’s bellicose rhetoric, even if Kim is unwilling to give up his nuclear weapons — particularly after John Bolton, said in March, after he became Trump’s national security adviser, that the administration should insist on a “Libyan Solution” for North Korea — requiring Kim to give up his nuclear weapons before any agreements could be reached. Bolton referred to George W. Bush’s demand that Libyan dictator Muammar Gaddafi give up his nuclear program in 2003 in exchange for security guarantees from the US. Of course, Gaddafi was overthrown in 2011 with British, French and US military assistance. Saddam Hussein met a similar fate in Iraq in 2003 after giving up his nuclear ambitions, and Trump has shown he doesn’t respect the agreement made by his predecessor, Barack Obama, to limit Iran’s nuclear program. Kim won’t be giving up his nukes anytime soon in exchange for the assurances of Trump — a notorious liar and reneger. — JMC

From The Progressive Populist, July 1-15, 2018

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Copyright © 2018 The Progressive PopulistPO Box 819, Manchaca TX 78652

Selections from the July 1-15, 2018 issue

COVER/Hal Crowther
Time for the midnight ride


EDITORIAL
Skunk punks G7 allies; Talking with Kim better than tweeting


LETTERS TO THE EDITOR

DON ROLLINS
The road to hopelessness


RURAL ROUTES/Margot McMillen
Greitens’ big guns misfire


DISPATCHES
Medicare, Social Security stressed but expendable;
Pelosi’s PAYGO pledge frustrates progressive goals;
Trump tops 3,251 lies in 500 days;
Mulvaney fires advisory board whose members criticized him;
Is Obamacare here to stay?
Supreme Court clears way for diseinfranchisement of voters;
US dairy trade policy is simple: basically no imports at all;
Feinstein bill would prohibit family separations at border;
Net neutrality is officially dead ...


ART CULLEN
Our dirty secret


JILL RICHARDSON
‘Pro-family’ homophobia rips families apart


JOHN YOUNG
Serious case of parasitism in executive branch


PETER CERTO
Never mind the wall — they’re building warehouses


BOB BURNETT
All the president’s men: Mike Pompeo


GENE NICHOL
RFK fifty years on


SALLY HERRIN
‘Red pill’: Lessons for the left


JASON SIBERT
A nation’s word should mean something


BOOK REVIEW/Seth Sandronsky 
A fraught century


JOEL D. JOSEPH
Harley-Davidson is moving jobs offshore despite tax cut and subsidies


HEALTH CARE/Joan Retsinas 
Work makes you insured


SAM URETSKY
Time for labor to fight back


GRASSROOTS/Hank Kalet
Time to think big


WAYNE O’LEARY
New wind sweeps Mexico


JOHN BUELL
War as our way of life?


KENT PATERSON 
Migrants in US struggle to participate in 2018 Mexican elections


SATIRE/Rosie Sorenson
Nolo Contendere


ROB PATTERSON
How about those Beatles


ED RAMPELL
Rigging Rigoletto’s fate: Send in the clowns

Thursday, June 14, 2018

Atlantic runs ridiculous article that proposes to replace NY subways with driverless hoverboards rented at market price from private companies


By Marc Jampole

Atlantic’s editors must have all taken stupid pills on the same day or forgot that editors are also supposed to check the math. Or maybe they thought it was a science fiction fairy tale when they agreed to run “The New York City Subway Is Beyond Repair” by software expert Peter Weyner?
Weyner proposes to replace the New York subway system with underground paved roads on which a variety of private fleets of driverless vehicles would transport New Yorkers directly to their destinations, all guided by one central scheduling system. Prices would vary depending on the time of day and type of vehicle employed, as Weyner imagines a market for both basic transportation and luxury cars outfitted with a desk and chair. He believes it will be cheaper to convert the subway system and buy fleets of driverless vehicles than the $19 billion that Metropolitan Transit Authority (MTA) chief Andy Byford says it will take the fix the subways. Weyner, whose expertise in the matter seems to be that he has self-published a few books about driverless cars, prophesizes that it will take less energy to run the tens of thousands driverless vehicles than it does to run the current fleet of subways.
Weyner’s exposition has a sieve-like number of logical holes in it. First off, he never demonstrates why a $19 billion price tag means that, of necessity, we should replace the railed mass transit concept. It’s called a “pons asinorum” in Latin, or “bridge of asses”: A being true does not lead to B being true, and wouldn’t even if both were true, which in this case, they are not.
The article’s basic premise connects two ideas—privatization and replacement of trains by driverless vehicles for individual users—that don’t have to exist together. We could privatize subways or we could have the government finance, build and run the system Weyner proposes. Of course, Weyner believes that privatization will lead to a greater choice of vehicles, amenities and other features without explaining how that could be a benefit to those wanting to get to the office or the jazz club on time and cheaply. Weyner undercuts his own argument without even knowing it when he notes that the subway lines were originally privately run. Yes, they were. But he does not complete his history: Private ownership of subways didn’t work out too well, so within a few decades government took over with a pledge to provide inexpensive and reliable public transportation to 1.75 billion rides a year.
Weyner’s math never really adds up. At best, he does hasty analysis that does not take every factor into consideration; at worst, he’s purposely trying to do some math magic tricks, similar to politicians who propose that lowering taxes on the wealthy and corporations leads to greater job creation.
Let’s start with basic size, which in the case of vehicles matters a lot. The average 10-car subway train holds 1,832 people according to the manufacturer, but Weyner says 2,000 and I saw someone estimate it at 2,200. At rush hour, trains typically hold 103% of capacity, or 1887 if we use the manufacturer’s recommendation. At 1,832 per train at peak capacity, that’s 2.41 square feet per person; at 2,000, it’s 2.21 square feet. The current generation of Segways, the hoverboard I checked, measures from 5.41 square feet to 9.16 square feet, or from 2.25 to 3.8 times larger than the footprint of a subway rider. Thus, excluding the room that will have to exist between each vehicle as it rolls along the underground road, it will take from 2.25 to 3.8 times the total length of driverless vehicles to replace your average subway train at rush hour.
But wait. It’s going to be much more additional space than that. Remember that rich folk will be able to get customized luxury cars. And what about people traveling in groups, those carrying a lot of packages, or people with disabilities? Those traveling with strollers, bicycles or dogs in containers? Those who need to eat while they ride? Some people absolutely have to sit down for health reasons. A lot of the vehicles will end up being bigger than the current 5.41-9.16 square feet of a hoverboard. The bigger the vehicle, the more space needed between vehicles. That’s simple physics. Certainly the space between vehicles will be much more than the inches that separate New Yorkers on rush hour trains. Even with the efficiency of driverless vehicles under a central scheduling authority using sophisticated software, it’s hard to see how individual vehicles will be able to move the New York rush hour crowds as efficiently as an upgraded subway system with new switching systems could do.
That’s where peak pricing comes in, Weyner says. Peak pricing will influence people to select alternative times of day to travel. Let’s forget the obvious logical flaw—that a public authority can also do peak pricing for rail transit. Lots of people do not have flexible hours, and many (if not most) New York employers already stagger start and end times to accommodate the New York rush hour craziness their employees go through. The least flexible in travel times will virtually always be those who earn the least, so moving to any kind of peak pricing for mass transit will inevitably have a disparately negative impact on the poor, and thus go against the basic mission of the subway system for more than a century.
Weyner’s numbers for energy savings are just plain sloppy. He estimates that running the hoverboards will take only 20% of the electrical energy that running the subways does, but conveniently forgets to mention that he’s comparing apples to a basket of mixed fruit. He only estimates the electrical costs for running the hoverboards, whereas the MTA annual use of 1.8 billion kilowatt hours includes the electricity to power the lighting along the tracks, in the stations and outside entrances, the signal system, the toll booths and the elevators; FYI, Weyner’s plan calls for adding more lights to the roadways. Weyner also conveniently forgets to calculate how much electricity the non-hoverboard vehicles will use. Missing, too is an estimate of the total number of vehicles included in his estimate for energy use.
Let’s not forget that after a $19 billion investment, there will be fewer delays and breakdowns, meaning the subway system will use less electrical power.
The article never considers maintenance costs for concrete roads versus rails or the lifespan of hoverboards versus railcars, but he does make a big show of trying to prove it will take much less than $19 billion to convert to his vision. But when it comes to estimating how much it would cost to clean up the subways, pull up the tracks and pave them, add lights, install the appropriate software systems and buy the vehicles, Weyner is pulling numbers out of the air, with no basis. Again, he estimates the costs of hoverboards, but not of the hundreds if not thousands of bigger vehicles that will be needed for those with disabilities, groups, people with packages, those who need to sit and luxury travelers. He never tells us how he derived the figure of $8 million a mile to clean up and he never places a number on the additional lighting that will be required. His budget lacks so many crucial items that it’s essentially worthless in making a comparison to the cost of fixing what ails the subway system.
The paragraph on the great new money-making opportunity that an underground road with driverless vehicles will create makes me wonder if Weyner has ever ridden a New York subway. He sees untapped wealth in placing advertising billboards along these underground roads. He never answers the question why companies are going to want to pay more for ads along the underground roadways than they now pay for ads in the subway cars; nor does he estimate how much more ad space will be available on these underground billboards than already exists inside current subway cars. The only way not to chide him for these omissions is to assume he has never seen subway car advertising, which means he has never ridden in the New York subway.
Another sign that Weyner has never actually ridden the subway extensively is that he never addresses what to do with the 40% of the subway system which is at ground level, or more frequently, dozens of feet above the ground. Does he propose to enclose the elevated lines or place safety rails on their sides, and how much is that going to cost? I can tell you one thing: it will take a ton more money to dig new tunnels to replace the els than it will to complete the MTA’s $19 billion laundry list of current needs.
Subway systems in general are a product of 19th century thinking, just as Weyner accuses them of being. But big deal! That does not mean subways are obsolete, as Weyner declares at the beginning of the article. The idea that dedicated mass transit systems are the ideal way to transport large numbers of people in urban areas is a lot younger than the idea that we should do unto others as we would have others do unto us, or that wheels encounters less friction than blocks in moving a weight over a surface. There are lots of old ideas and technologies that are still valid, many of which have undergone improvement over time; stereo amplifiers than play MP3s, electric screwdrivers, refrigerators that make ice, cars with electronic systems and batteries, and computers that take photos and make phone calls that you can carry with you in your pocket all immediately come to mind. Nothing in this mess of an article should convince us to abandon subways or the $19 billion improvement plan the MTA has developed.
And therein lies the real harm of this article and the real disservice that Weyner and Atlantic have done to New York and the entire country. Right-wingers everywhere will wave the article in the air and declare piously that it’s a waste of money for the state or the federal government to help fund the MTA’s ambitious but necessary improvements. And that has the potential to devastate the New York economy, and therefore the national economy, which is intimately tied to the economic well-being of its largest city. With all due respect to Los Angeles, Chicago, San Francisco-San Jose, Houston and Atlanta, New York has been the heartbeat of American commerce and finance for almost 200 years now. The New York subway system—like the tunnels taking rail traffic from New Jersey to Manhattan and like the Washington subway system and like our system of roads and bridges and sewer systems everywhere—are living on borrowed time. We have spent the past 30 years cutting infrastructure spending to line the pockets of the wealthy through deep and steady tax cuts. It’s time to invest in our country’s public infrastructure again, not spin pie-in-the-sky free market science fiction fantasies.