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Hullabaloo


Saturday, July 28, 2018

 

That money has to be somewhere

by Tom Sullivan

"Those weapons of mass destruction have got to be somewhere," laughed President George W. Bush. His presentation to the 2004 Radio and Television News Correspondents Association dinner included slides of him looking under furniture in the Oval Office. “Nope, no weapons over there ... maybe under here?” he laughed. Thousands of Americans died in his trumped-up invasion of Iraq, and hundreds of thousands of Iraqis. The tasteless joke evoked a brief firestorm of criticism. Halliburton, the firm once run by Bush vice-president Dick Cheney made at least $39.5 billion on the war. Americans and Iraqis paid. Contractors made.

The Bush administration story comes to mind again as Americans endure our sitting president's bragging about about economic growth and low unemployment. Where are their pay raises?

Will Bunch wondered this week. Workers have been duped again:

By and large, American workers haven’t been getting the kind of pay raises that history predicts for an economy with such a low unemployment rate. That’s even more astounding when you remember 2017’s $1.5 trillion tax cut that was heavily weighted toward large corporations, with the promise that — this time, we swear — a lot of those dollars would trickle down to the rank-and-file worker.

Now, the post-tax-cut numbers are coming in, and you’ll be shocked, shocked to learn that America didn’t get that pay raise after all. In a widely read column last week for Bloomberg, Noah Smith pointed to statistics from PayScale showing that so-called real wages — your paycheck, but adjusted for inflation — actually fell in the just-ended second quarter of 2018, by 1.8 percent. That’s adding insult to injury for America’s middle class. Real wages for the average worker have dropped since 2006, with an overall decline of 9.3 percent, including these ugly new numbers. The GOP/Trump tax cuts were supposed to fix that problem, not make it worse.
But like finding WMDs, it was a ruse. Workers' pay raises were never the point. Where did the money disappear to? Bunch asks. The money went to where it always goes: into the paychecks of Wall Street CEOs and into stock buybacks to boost investors' portfolios. It went where it did under Bush's deceptively named American Jobs Creation Act of 2004. The bill allowed corporations to repatriate offshore monies — at a steep tax discount — under the promise of creating jobs for struggling Americans. Instead, observed Allan Sloan, corporations bought stocks, pocketed the extra profit and cut more jobs:
American Enterprise Institute fellow Phillip L. Swagel, formerly chief of staff of Bush's Council of Economic Advisers, told my Post colleague Jonathan Weisman last August that "you might as well have taken a helicopter over 90210 [a Beverly Hills Zip code] and pushed the money out the door." That's a memorable quote -- and a dead-accurate observation.
The Trump-GOP tax cut plan just ran the same repatriation scam again.

This time, we swear.

"It’s not that corporations don’t have more money — it’s that they have no particular reason to give that money to workers," reads a subhead from Vox. Meanwhile, America continues to decay around them.

Bridges across Mississippi are closed and crumbling, creating detours and raising production costs for small businesses and commuting costs for residents who cannot afford any more stretch in their budgets. "Across the state, residents now have to circumvent nearly 500 closed bridges that have been declared unsafe," reports NBC. Many were built during the Eisenhower administration:
“We ain’t got no money for these bridges. We ain’t got nothing but prayers here in Washington County,” Redmond said, cocking his head back and laughing in the county courthouse in Greenville. “That’s why we got a preacher on the board.”

According to Redmond and that preacher, county supervisor Jesse Amos, the county has used up almost all of its multi-million dollar road budget addressing the bridge closures. It now has just $37,000 for the rest of 2018.
In Nebraska, twenty bridges are closed in rural Lancaster County:
The Lincoln Journal Star reports that the engineer recently closed four bridges after storms dumped about 7 inches of rain in parts of Lancaster County in late June.

Several of the problem bridges were built in the 1950s and early 1960s, using timber for some parts. That was a popular bridge construction method at the time, but there is a tendency for water to get behind the timber, which rots and creates maintenance problems, Dingman said.

Other closed bridges were built in the 1920s and 1930s, Works Progress Administration-era bridges, with washed-out footings no longer on solid ground.

"Their little feet aren't in the dirt anymore," Dingman says.

These older bridges generally cannot be repaired and need to be replaced. Their life expectancy was 50 years and they are nearing 100 years old.
Aging infrastructure is an issue in the northeast. An aging steam pipe exploded last week in Manhattan. The system is 150 years old. Boston too has its issues.

From a union household, Marty Walsh in some ways fits the profile of the white working-class man that helped elect Donald Trump. But the college dropout and recovering alcoholic is also mayor of deep-blue Boston. "An intense defender of Obamacare, immigrants and unions and a vocal supporter of full equality for LGBTQ Americans," Walsh reminds Politico his city is twenty-eight percent foreign-born and forty-eight percent first-generation. "We’ve had 85,000 new people move in the last four years," he says of one of the safest cities in America. But he's worried the country has lost its way and wonders what the 2020 election will bring:
“This election has to be covered in the sense of not ‘Trump versus person X.’ It has to be covered in ‘where America is today,’” Walsh said. “We need more stories about where is our water system in America? I don’t think the people understand how fragile our water system is in America. I don’t think people understand how bad our infrastructure, roads and rails are in this country. I think they think they have a good road system—we really don’t. It’s crumbling. I think people need to understand what’s happening in the environment in our country that, in Boston, if we don’t really focus on building protections on the harbor, what could happen if a Superstorm Sandy comes, and then what’s happening in the Midwest with forest fires.”

“What’s at stake in this country is not necessarily undocumented immigrants; what’s at stake in this country isn’t some of the things that they’re talking about,” he said. “It’s exactly our own backyard, what’s happening.”
Incomes are flat. Standards of living have been stagnant for years. Promises of better times keep coming and go unfulfilled. It's not that there is no money. It's that it's not going where it's needed or to people who struggle the hardest to earn it. But the investor class is doing just fine.

Someone set Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos's $40 million yacht adrift this week on Lake Huron. The 164-foot Cayman Islands-registered yacht is one of ten in the family's fleet.

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For The Win 2018 is ready for download. Request a copy of my county-level election mechanics primer at tom.bluecentury at gmail.