Wednesday, December 7, 2016

Why Are Voters Mad?


Because the pre-tax incomes of the bottom 50 percent stagnated while average national income per adult grew, the share of national income earned by the bottom 50 percent collapsed from 20 percent in 1980 to 12.5 percent in 2014. Over the same period, the share of incomes going to the top 1 percent surged from 10.7 percent in 1980 to 20.2 percent in 2014.7 As shown in Figure 2, these two income groups basically switched their income shares, with about 8 points of national income transferred from the bottom 50 percent to the top 1 percent. The gains made by the 1 percent would be large enough to fully compensate for the loss of the bottom 50 percent, a group 50 times larger.
To understand how unequal the United States is today, consider the following fact. In 1980, adults in the top 1 percent earned on average 27 times more than bottom 50 percent of adults. Today they earn 81 times more. This ratio of 1 to 81 is similar to the gap between the average income in the United States and the average income in the world’s poorest countries, among them the war-torn Democratic Republic of Congo, Central African Republic, and Burundi. Another alarming trend evident in this data is that the increase in income concentration at the top in the United States over the past 15 years is due to a boom in capital income. It looks like the working rich who drove the upsurge in income concentration in the 1980s and 1990s are either retiring to live off their capital income or passing their fortunes onto heirs.
Trump's policies are just going to worsen these trends.  He can jawbone companies into keeping some decent paying jobs in the States, but overall, there is downward pressure on the middle class, and messing with Medicare and cutting taxes for rich people aren't going to change that.  Even decent paying public sector jobs are getting squeezed out, and the Republicans elected with Trump are all for strangling them further:
Back in 2009, Rick Erickson was happy with his job as a teacher in one of the state’s northernmost school districts on the shores of Lake Superior. He made $35,770 a year teaching chemistry and physics, which wasn’t a lot of money, but then again, he received stellar healthcare and pension benefits, and could talk honestly with administrators about what he needed as a teacher every two years when his union sat down with the school district in collective bargaining sessions.
Then, five years ago, Wisconsin passed Act 10, also known as the Wisconsin Budget Repair Bill, which dramatically limited the ability of teachers and other public employees to bargain with employers on wages, benefits, and working conditions. After Act 10, Erickson saw his take-home pay drop dramatically: He now makes $30,650. His wife is a teacher, too, and together they make 11 percent less than they did before Act 10. The local union he once led no longer exists, and so he can’t bargain with the school district for things like prep time and sick days. He pays more for health care and his pension, and he says both he and his wife may now not be able to retire until they are much older than they had planned....Data suggests that Erickson is by no means unique. Total teacher compensation in Wisconsin has dropped 8 percent, or $6,500 since Act 10, according to an extensive study by Andrew Litten, a Ph.D. candidate at the University of Michigan who used state data showing compensation of all teachers in the state of Wisconsin. What’s more, he found that the most experienced and highest-paid teachers experienced the biggest reduction in benefits.
This will continue, and voters will continue to be mad.  Trump won't solve anything.

The Big Cloth

The Big Cloth from Dog Leap on Vimeo.

Tuesday, December 6, 2016

U.S. Megaregions

National Geographic:

To try to solve this geographical problem, Garrett Nelson of Dartmouth College and Alasdair Rae of the University of Sheffield used census data on more than four million commuter paths and applied two different analyses, one based on a visual interpretation and the other rooted in an algorithm developed at MIT. Their results and maps appear today in the open-access journal PLOS ONE....But where should planners draw the edges of a megaregion encompassing this activity? Which connections are statistically significant? Which are important for regional transit planning? Should they focus on the cities surrounding the bay, or is Sacramento just as important to the Bay Area economy?
 For answers to these questions, Nelson and Rae turned to an algorithm-based tool designed by MIT’s Senseable City Lab to mathematically recognize communities. The algorithm only considers the strength of connections between nodes (more than 70,000 census tracts in this case), ignoring physical locations. This made for a nice test of Waldo Tobler’s “first law of geography”: that things that are near each other are more related than those that are farther apart.... 
One of the decisions the researchers made was to limit the algorithm to 50 megaregions, which can be seen in the map above, where every node is colored according to the region it belongs to. This made the map more plausible visually. While 50 may sound like an arbitrary number, it makes sense mathematically because a very high percentage of commutes lie entirely within a megaregion relative to paths that cross boundaries between regions.
I would guess selecting the number 50 explains the region I live in, which covers Cincinnati, Dayton, Lima, Columbus and areas down to southern West Virginia.  Regardless, that is a pretty cool map.  If one were to make a map of my drives, it would be dominated by a small triangle between my house, my job and the farm where my cows are, with a few small detours for feed, food and beer.  It would dominate a small portion of my county.  I honestly can't imagine a daily commute to Columbus.  I thought 20 miles to the next county's seat was pretty long.

Saturday, December 3, 2016

The Rural/Urban Divide Illustrated

The Economist, via Ritholtz:

As our map (above) of America’s voting patterns on a county-by-county basis going back to 1952 makes clear, Mr Trump’s gains were concentrated in rural areas across the northern United States. Republicans have long held the edge in America’s wide-open spaces, but never has the gap been this profound: a whopping 80% of voters who have over one square mile (2.6 square km) of land to enjoy to themselves backed Mr Trump. As the scatter plot below demonstrates, as counties become increasingly densely populated, fewer and fewer vote Republican. American politics appear to be realigning along a cleavage between inward-looking countryfolk and urban globalists. Mr Trump hails from the latter group, but his message resounded with the former. A uniquely divisive candidate, he is both perhaps the least likely politician in the country to build bridges across that gap and also the only one who has the capacity to do so.
I don't see Trump uniting the nation.  I honestly think that the appreciation of civil government increases with the number of people one is surrounded by.  Alternatively, based on farmers and business people I know, maybe the more government money you receive, the more you hate government. 

Tuesday, November 29, 2016

The Last Steps - A Really Great Big Story

The Last Steps | A Really Great Big Story from Great Big Story on Vimeo.

End of November Mini-Links

It's been a while, but I'll try to link to a few of the good stories I've seen recently:

Trump's Infrastructure Plan Could Be A Giant Sports Welfare Giveaway - VICE Sports.  Or pipeline giveaway, or outdoor mall giveaway.  I doubt we'll see many century-old water mains replaced.

Choke Point of a Nation: The High Cost of an Aging River Lock - New York Times.  More on the Olmstead Lock and Dam project here and here and here.

A Blade Strikes Steel, and the Blast Shocks a Nation's Energy System - Bloomberg

The Road Ahead - American Scientist

The Desert Rock That Feeds The World - The Atlantic 

Farmers Are Courting Trump, But They Don't Speak For All Of Rural America - The Salt.  Shorter farmers: where's my Obamaphone free shit.

How Drug-Resistant Bacteria Travel From the Farm to Your Table - Scientific American

Trump's Economic Plan: This Isn't Going To Work - Counterpunch

Behind "Make America Great," the Koch Agenda Returns with a Vengeance - Talking Points Memo.  Government of the billionaires, by the billionaires and for the billionaires, as Trump's cabinet attests.

Democrats Don't Have an Easy Answer for the Rust Belt - The Atlantic

Carrier Reaches Deal With Trump to Keep About 1,000 U.S. Jobs - Bloomberg.  I can't wait to hear the details about how much this will cost.  What's to keep lots of other companies from threatening to move jobs to Mexico to get their free money, too?  How about Rexnord?

In Short Strike, Jim Beam Workers Crush Two-Tier and Beat Grueling Hours - Labor Notes

Disgorge the Cash - The New Inquiry.  "Maximizing shareholder return" has done more damage to American workers than anything else.

A philosopher’s 350-year-old trick to get people to change their minds is now backed up by psychologists - Quartz

The 2016 election pitted booming cities against stagnant rural areas - Vox

Saturday, November 26, 2016

It's That Time Again

Time for Bob Wojnowski's Michigan-Ohio State column.  There are a couple of good OSU jokes in there.  Hopefully it is a good game, and hopefully, the team that doesn't go to the Big Ten championship game doesn't go to the college football playoff.

Thursday, November 24, 2016

Chattanooga Bus Crash and Privatization

When I heard about the bus crash in Chattanooga, my first thought was to wonder if school busing there had been privatized, like they have in several school districts in this area.  All I had heard about the accident had mainly been racist or borderline racist comments from neighbors about the bus driver and how it was rumored he had asked the kids if they were ready to die.  I finally did read a story, though, and lo and behold:
The Hamilton County Board of Education confirmed in a statement Wednesday that it had received complaints recently about Walker "and the way he operated his bus."
It said the complaints were forwarded to Durham School Services, the private company that is contracted to provide bus services for the school system, for whom Walker worked.
Hart, of the NTSB, said Durham was operating under a "conditional" federal safety rating, meaning some unspecified problems had been uncovered in the past, but that they had been resolved satisfactorily, in August 2015.
He said investigators were going back over Durham's oversight and crash history.
While politicians and citizens love to complain about overpaid government workers and their lavish benefit packages, it should be patently obvious that the only way privatization can allow the private company to make a profit and save the government entity money is by paying the employees as little as possible.  This leads to high turnover, lack of commitment by employees, high error rates and other problems, many of which are seen in other low wage areas of employment.  Privatization also creates another layer of interference between the public and the oversight of the operating company and troublesome employees.  As the article says, the Board of Education forwarded the complaints to the private company, but mentions nothing about any actions taken by the company.

President-elect Trump announced his choice for Secretary of Education, and she is Betsy DeVos:
DeVos has been a vocal supporter of school choice, which is something Trump backed on the campaign trail. DeVos, who heads up the pro-charter and pro-school-voucher nonprofit American Federation for Children, has said parents should have the ability to choose the best schools for their children, whether they are traditional public schools, charters, or private schools. Trump has proposed creating a $20 billion federal voucher program for families to use to send their kids to the school of their choice.....According to Chalkbeat, DeVos’s family poured $1.45 million into an effort to prevent Michigan from adding oversight for charter schools. That effort ultimately failed. DeVos and her husband have been supporters of charter schools for decades and longtime opponents of regulation. And according to Chalkbeat, around 80 percent of the state’s charter schools are run by private companies. The lack of oversight has prompted concern from the Obama administration that some bad charters were being allowed to operate without improving or being forced to close.... DeVos, 58, is married to Dick DeVos, who ran unsuccessfully as a Republican for the governorship in Michigan. He is the former president of Amway, which his father co-founded, and of the Orlando Magic NBA team. Her brother, Erik Prince, founded Blackwater, the controversial security firm.
I expect Trump and Republicans will rush to privatize as many government services as they can.  This will be bad for the general public, but good for wealthy investors, who will be allowed to loot the treasury and provide poor services for traditionally public-run operations, such as schools, prisons and infrastructure.  Trump has already made private investment the keystone of his much-anticipated infrastructure plan.  They may even expand into new areas, such as regulatory oversight and law enforcement.  Notice that DeVos's brother founded Blackwater, the malignant contractor providing mercenary services to the federal government in Iraq. As the need for reform of police services becomes more acute, expect some to push for privatization.

When turning over public money to private companies to provide public services, the services become profit centers, quality and oversight go down, and good jobs disappear as the positions are turned into unattractive, low-wage jobs.  Back in my day, bus drivers worked seemingly forever, with very little turnover.  These jobs were often filled by farmers and the wives of farmers, who got much-needed steady income and health insurance for part-time jobs.  Unfortunately, as health insurance costs have skyrocketed (not just because of Obamacare, you right-wing jackasses out there) and resistance to taxes has increased, such jobs have started to be privatized.  With privatization, employees no longer stick around for years, and never get to know the families they are serving.  The supposed savings from privatization never really materialize.  However, workers have crappier jobs for crappier pay, wealthy investors get even more wealthy.  We need to push back against privatization and the crapification of employment and government services at this time when more and more pressure will be coming to contract the services out.

Tuesday, November 22, 2016

Net Migration of College Graduates

Interesting map:

Actually, this would be even more interesting if broken down to the county level like those Red vs. Blue maps we see every election.  I would bet a large number of the red counties in Texas on those maps would be red here, too.  And New York state would also be interesting.  Honestly, population density explains hell of a lot, politically, and I would guess is also self-reinforcing in this map.

Headline of the Day

Suriname Will Tow a Giant Bag of Water to Fight the Caribbean's Drought

To be honest, when I first saw it, I thought it said "Giant Bag of Dicks." Yes, I am a terrible person.