Op-Ed | Trump’s Foreign Soulmates

Alexei Bayer and Bill Humphrey for The Globalist: “Look at commodities-export strongmen like Chavez and Putin if you want to understand Trump.”

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Foreigners see Donald Trump as one of those outlandish characters the New World periodically produces and then thrusts upon the international stage.

It is, however, far more than a bewildering one-man show. The rise of Trump underscores that we are witnessing a split of the United States of America into two distinct nations.

It is, perhaps, a return to form for a country that has often split politically (and once militarily) between its economically developed regions and its farm- or mineral-driven regions.

One of those two nations remains closer to the image that America has projected toward the outside world for nearly two centuries – an industrialized, highly innovative nation and a modern society that is open, liberal, tolerant and democratic.

The other America is once again displaying the characteristics of a commodity-exporting nation, as it did for much of U.S. history.

Poor role models worldwide

It is therefore only logical that — in order to understand Trump and above all the folks who cast their votes for him – it is fitting to look at other modern commodity-export-dependent nations, such as oil-rich Russia, Venezuela and so on.

Commodity exporting nations are a mess everywhere – from Algeria and Azerbaijan to Zambia and Zimbabwe.

They live off the distribution of free-flowing revenues which require a strong state. Friends and family of those who control the distribution obviously get a lot more. These nations tend to be ruled by charismatic strongmen who safeguard the interests of their cronies while feeding nationalist rhetoric to the masses.

Naturally, the masses hate immigrants and outsiders, because they represent additional mouths to be fed by crumbs from the strongman’s table. They are full of disdain for neighbors who aren’t fortunate enough to have natural resources in their soil.

Commodity exporters don’t need representative democracy, appointing their leaders by popular acclaim and very often for life. Read more

A 2015 advance: Tribal prosecution of non-native abusers

This story is from March 2015, but it just came across my radar today:

Two years after Congress reauthorized the Violence Against Women Act, Native American tribes can finally take advantage of one of the law’s most significant updates: a provision that allows tribal courts to investigate and prosecute non-Native men who abuse Native women on reservations.

Starting Saturday, tribes can claim jurisdiction over non-Native men who commit crimes of domestic violence, dating violence or who violate a protection order against a victim who lives on tribal land. Until now, that jurisdiction has fallen to federal or state law enforcement, who are often hours away from reservations and lack the resources to respond. The result has effectively allowed non-Native abusers immunity from punishment.

 
During the preceding two years, several tribal governments worked through a pilot program with the Federal government to develop the rules and guidelines necessary to handle the complexity of sovereign arrest and prosecution of U.S. citizens by non-U.S. tribal governments and non-U.S. tribal law enforcement.

This new power will be critical to halting rampant non-native abuse and assaults of native women.

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What if the threat of debt is political, not fiscal?

Arsenal Bolt: Quick updates on the news stories we’re following.

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“The Effort to Divert Class War Into Generational War: Lessons On Economics You Won’t Get from Jeff Bezos” – Center for Economic and Policy Research, Dean Baker on Friday:

Lesson Three: Our Children Will Only be Hurt by the Debt Because the Washington Post and Other Elite Types Will Use it As An Excuse to Cut Necessary Spending

Okay twenty somethings, how do you know about our massive debt? Yeah, it’s more than $18 trillion, can you feel it?

You surely can’t feel it from its economic impact. Interest rates in the economy are at their lowest level in more than half a century. Thirty year mortgage rates are hovering near four percent. They were generally in the six percent range back at the end of the 1990s when we were running budget surpluses and making plans to pay off the debt. Interest rates on car loans, student loan debt, and credit card debt are correspondingly lower today.

How about the raging inflation caused by the debt? Well, the Federal Reserve Board has been working hard to raise the inflation rate back towards its 2.0 percent target.

What about the enormous amount of money that has to be diverted from other spending to meet the interest burden? Current interest costs, net of payments from the Federal Reserve Board, come to less than one percent of GDP. By comparison, the interest burden was more than three percent of GDP in the early 1990s. (That’s what lower interest rates will do.) If a twenty something claims that they can feel the economic impact of the debt, it is time for some serious drug testing.

Now there is clearly a political impact. The Washington Post, and other Very Serious People, has hyped the debt endlessly. They have raised fears over the debt to prevent spending that would both help boost the economy back to full employment and meet our needs in areas like education, infrastructure, research and development, and addressing global warming. The damage done by the Very Serious People’s scare stories about the deficit is in fact a very big deal. But it is a bit over the top to blame this one on the older generation as an age group, even if most of the Very Serious People gang is older.

 

120.8 million American adults

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“The Middle Class Is No Longer America’s Economic Majority” – HuffPost Business:

There are now more low-income and high-income Americans combined than there are people in the middle class, a study released Wednesday found.

According to a Pew Research Center report, there were 120.8 million adults living in middle-income households and 121.3 million in lower- and upper-income households combined in early 2015, marking the first time in the center’s four decades of tracking this data that the size of the latter groups has transcended that of the first.

The study defines middle income as adults earning two-thirds to double the national median, which translates today to somewhere between $42,000 and $126,000 a year for a three-person household.

 
One caveat to the narrative is that while the low-income grew 4 points since 1971, the high income share grew by 7. So off the 11 points lost from the middle class, a majority actually exited the top (oddly enough), rather than sinking below:

Since 1971, the percentage of adults living in the low income bracket has increased from 25 percent to 29 percent, and the percentage of adults living in the highest income bracket has shot up from 14 percent to 21 percent. The middle class, meanwhile, has shrunk from 61 percent to about 50.

 
Of course, mostly the story is that the existing rich just got way richer, very fast.

Who grows the most Thanksgiving foods these days?

Turkey, pumpkins, sweet potatoes, cranberries, apples, potatoes, green beans, and corn: Where did they originate and which countries grow ’em now? Gobble, gobble.

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The United States is the world’s largest producer and exporter of turkey. Turkeys are an indigenous animal to North America (specifically forested regions of Mexico and the United States). These U.S. states are the top five producers within the country today:

  1. Minnesota
  2. North Carolina
  3. Arkansas
  4. Missouri
  5. Virginia

Pumpkins, squash, and gourds are a collective category covering a wide range of cultivated items. Gourds tend to be Old World in origin — even the pre-Columbian American varieties either migrated across the Bering Strait land bridge from Asian origins or floated across the Atlantic from Africa. “Pumpkins” (the British colonial-era name for a bright orange type of squash) and squash in general are all indigenous to North America. Pumpkins have been found in Mexico for millennia. Today, however, most of the world gets their pumpkins, squash, and gourds from major emerging market producers of the Old World. Notably, though, no African country cracks the top 5 list, despite the inclusion of gourds, but gourds are also very common across Asia:

  1. China
  2. India
  3. Russia
  4. Iran
  5. United States

Sweet potatoes (or yams) are sometimes substituted for pumpkin/squash at the Thanksgiving table or are sometimes included alongside them. Like ordinary potatoes, sweet potatoes were domesticated in South America. Remarkably, however, sweet potatoes made the jump to Polynesian islands in the Pacific well before the Western arrival in the New World, indicating strongly that Polynesian explorers landed in pre-Columbian South America and returned home with the crop. This early start in Polynesia helped sweet potato later become a major crop in nearby southeast Asia, including Indonesia. While China again tops the present-day producer list, this category is Africa’s moment to shine, as several African countries have incorporated yams firmly into their cuisine.

  1. China
  2. Tanzania
  3. Nigeria
  4. Uganda
  5. Indonesia

Cranberries remain strongly associated, in terms of production, with their natural homes in the United States and Canada. The early United States saw the conversion of the wild marsh crop (previously gathered by Native Americans and First Nations peoples) into a farmable wetland production, which began exporting cranberries all over the world, where they caught on. The Russian Empire, in particular, tried its own hand at cranberry production and that legacy can still be seen in the runners-up.

  1. United States
  2. Canada
  3. Belarus
  4. Azerbaijan
  5. Latvia

Apples are one of the few food items commonly associated with modern Thanksgiving that did not originate in the Americas at all, with the exception of crabapples (which are generally not consumed). Wild apples come from Central Asia (including what is now western China) and a wide number of wild species have been domesticated and bred down into various edible selections. China is far and away the largest producer of apples in the world. Distant second-place United States — “as American as apple pie” — has had edible, domesticated apples for less than four hundred years, unlike most of the rest of the modern Thanksgiving selection foods. In fact, apples were not grown in New England until several years after the first Thanksgiving.

  1. China
  2. United States
  3. Turkey
  4. Poland
  5. Italy

Potatoes have become a global staple over the past several hundred years, but they originated in South America. Today, wild species can be found from Chile to the United States, but they all came from a single strain in Peru or Bolivia, which is also where they were domesticated many thousands of years ago.

  1. China
  2. India
  3. Russia
  4. Ukraine
  5. United States

Green beans (known elsewhere as string beans or snap beans) are from Central and South America (domesticated in two separate locations) and were introduced to the rest of the world by Christopher Columbus on his second trip back from the Americas. Today the top producers are:

  1. United States
  2. France
  3. Morocco
  4. Philippines
  5. Mexico

The United States is also, unsurprisingly, the world’s largest producer and exporter of corn (maize), but 97% of U.S. corn production is not for direct human consumption. There are various animal or industrial uses for all that U.S. corn production not going to people. Mexico is a big producer of White Corn, particularly for use in tortillas and other Mexican cuisine. Maize was domesticated over several centuries of careful breeding in Mexico many thousands of years ago, with several varieties from a single strain, and became important to regional trade between indigenous groups. It remains North America’s largest grain crop, and human genetic modification is still a major influence to present day.

Statistical Data Sources: FAOSTAT (2013 top 5 producers data for each crop), AgMRC (Turkey and Corn)

Should blue cities in red states adopt mandatory voting?

A clever, low-cost, politically self-executing idea to promote rapid adoption of compulsory voting across the United States (if you think that’s a good idea, along the lines of jury duty), explained in The Atlantic by Nicholas Stephanopoulos of UChicago Law School:

To start, a blue city in a purple state — such as Miami, Florida; Columbus, Ohio; or Philadelphia, Pennsylvania — would have to adopt compulsory voting for its own elections. Its elections would also have to be held on the first Tuesday in November [in an even year], allowing voters to cast ballots in municipal, state, and federal elections at the same time.
[…]
At this point, redder jurisdictions would face enormous pressure to follow the blue city’s lead. Not doing so would award the Democrats an electoral bonanza: a surge in turnout in their urban stronghold unmatched by greater participation in suburbs and exurbs.
[…]
Importantly, it’s easier for a single city to adopt compulsory voting than for myriad suburbs and exurbs to follow suit. This collective action problem is why compulsory voting probably wouldn’t stay at the local level for long. Red states, in particular, would find it in their interest to impose statewide voting mandates.

 
I cut out some of the details or proposed scenarios in this excerpt, just to get the gist down, so I recommend you check out the full piece.

I also think any mandatory voting system should, however, only be implemented alongside a None-of-The-Above option on all ballots. That way people can either pay a small fine for not voting or they can vote against everyone running. Either action would still be a positive expression of democratic will: support for/indifference toward the status quo or unhappiness with all options presented.

I’m sure a lot of people will have objections (in both ideological camps) to increasing turnout dramatically, especially at the local level. But fundamentally, if you’re unwilling to campaign toward everyone in democratic elections, that’s your problem and you need to get over that or lose. If you’re afraid of voters, it’s either because you’re wrong or because your side hasn’t put in the work necessary to persuade them to agree with your view.

And if mandatory voting strengthens party machines at the expense of individual campaigns, maybe individuals will actually take the time to sway the party or get in line with an easy to understand political agenda. What might that mean? We’ll stop having thousands of candidate-driven campaigns where voters pick someone they like over someone who will fight for them and their issues in office. Instead there would be candidates aligned with each platform, so you would know for sure what you would be getting when you vote.

Australia has had enforced compulsory voting (i.e. vote or pay a fine) since 1924, and they haven’t collapsed. Instead, they had decade after decade of turnout greater than 90%. Our democracy is only limping along by comparison.

Regressive income pressure in the tax code of U.S. states

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“Robin Hood in Reverse:” “State and local taxes in the United States take the most from those who have the least, undermining efforts to redress inequality.”The Atlantic:

Those who earn the least pay the most in nearly every state across America. Or rather, the poorest citizens pay the highest proportion of their incomes to local and state governments—twice as much in fact, as the top one percent.

According to The Institute on Taxation and Economic Policy, as cited by The Atlantic:

…in every single state “at least some low- or middle-income groups pay more of their income in state and local taxes than wealthy families.”

On the other hand:

Some of the most regressive aspects of the tax code are designed to advance broadly popular goals. The gas tax, for example, falls hardest on middle-class families, but it may promote environmentally friendly modes of transportation [and infrastructure?]. Tobacco taxes discourage tobacco consumption.


But:

Yet combining America’s regressive state and local taxes with the progressive federal code reveals a system that barely asks more of its most comfortable citizens than of the middle-class.