Thursday, August 25, 2016

TPP, the Democratic Party, and Obama's Presidential Library

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by Gaius Publius

[W]e were told by a high up staffer who works for Joe Biden that Obama did it [endorsed Patrick Murphy] to get contributions to his uber-expensive presidential library, ostensibly from Murphy's rich, crooked father, from the super-wealthy Saudi family that sponsors Murphy (the notorious Al-Rashids) and from Schumer's Wall Street patrons. (source)

There's always a question about who politicians are primarily working for. Are they working mainly for the country and its people, for their political party and its access to power, or for their own personal fortunes? In the case of Obama and his headlong rush to pass the billioinaire-written TPP, I think we have a perfect petri dish for isolating the answer, at least in this one case.

Again, the questions are:
  • Does Obama want to pass TPP so badly because Americans need it?
  • Does he want to pass TPP because his party needs it?
  • Or because he needs it personally?
Obviously, the answer could be Yes to any, or to all three. In the case of the TPP, however, we're going to find two No answers, leaving just one candidate. I'm going to keep this as brief as I can. It's really not a hard question to answer.

Does the Country Need TPP?

No. It's been documented here and a great many other places that the country not only doesn't need TPP to pass, it desperately needs it not to pass. It really will be a NAFTA-style job killer, as well as a killer of national sovereignty (see also here). If you doubt me, check the links, or read anything from Public Citizens' Eyes on Trade pages.

Does the Democratic Party Need TPP?

Again, no. In fact, the Democratic Party also needs TPP not to pass. As Mark Weisbrot, co-director of the Center for Economic and Policy Research in Washington, wrote recently in The Hill (my emphasis):
Obama's TPP campaign could drag down Democrats

How much is President Obama willing to harm the Democratic Party in order to win approval for the deeply unpopular Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) "trade" agreement? We may soon find out.

On Tuesday, Politico broke the story that the White House will be "making an all-out push to win passage of the deal in the lame duck session of Congress, organizing 30 events over the congressional recess." The effort will be designed to put pressure not only on Democratic members of Congress, but also on swing Republican votes, by lobbying important business interests in their districts.

Trump is far behind Clinton in the polls, and it seems unlikely that Obama would have launched a public campaign of this magnitude for the TPP in the heat of an election season if the race were looking like a serious contest. But there is more at stake: millions of potential Republican voters will stay home in November if Trump is losing by a wide margin. Many others will stay home simply because they don't like him.
And yet...
[M]any of these disaffected voters could be rallied to the polls if they think that Clinton, and her party, are going to bring them another failed "trade" agreement. (On the other side, some potential Democratic voters could abstain or switch sides for the same reasons). All this could make the difference between the Democrats taking the Senate, and in a big enough landslide, even the House of Representatives.
After looking at how close the Fast Track vote was, Weisbrot makes a striking point — to pass TPP, Obama will need the help of politicians in both parties who lost their jobs in the 2016 election, not those who won — politicians who can, in effect, trash their political futures and that of their party for lucrative personal next-jobs as lobbyists:
So [TPP] is looking like a very close vote. (For procedural and political reasons, Obama will not bring it to a vote unless he is sure he has the necessary votes). Now let's look at one special group of Representatives who can swing this vote: the actual lame-ducks, i.e., those who will be in office only until Jan. 3. It depends partly on how many lose their election on Nov. 8, but the average number of representatives who left after the last three elections was about 80.

Most of these people will be looking for a job, preferably one that can pay them more than $1 million a year. From the data provided by OpenSecrets.org, we can estimate that about a quarter of these people will become lobbyists. (An additional number will work for firms that are clients of lobbyists).

So there you have it: It is all about corruption, and this is about as unadulterated as corruption gets in our hallowed democracy, other than literal cash under a literal table. These are the people whom Obama needs to pass this agreement, and the window between Nov. 9 and Jan. 3 is the only time that they are available to sell their votes to future employers without any personal political consequences whatsoever. The only time that the electorate can be rendered so completely irrelevant, if Obama can pull this off.
But note, it's not just the electorate that will be "rendered completely irrelevant" — the fortunes of both political parties will be damaged as well. Including Obama's Democratic Party. Were Donald Trump to develop a surprisingly competent campaign, the push for TPP could lose the White House for Democrats, and with it, the Senate.

Obama is asking the Democratic Party to take a huge risk. Even if they win the White House in 2016, 2018 could shape up as brutal for them. Pushing for, and passing, TPP will spark another Sanders-like backlash, in both parties.

So Why Does Obama Need TPP?

For the final question, Weisbrot hints at the answer:
Why is Obama willing to risk so much to get the TPP passed this year? Many press reports insist that it is because he wants it for his legacy. It is strange to think that he would want such an unpopular agreement for his legacy. There are less flattering reasons that seem much more plausible.
I'll do a little more than hint. The Obama Library (and any future foundation he may launch with other people's money) is his ticket to the next phase of his life. Not his party's life; just his own and his family's. As Howie Klein wrote in the quote at the top of this piece:
[W]e were told by a high up staffer who works for Joe Biden that Obama did it [endorsed Patrick Murphy] to get contributions to his uber-expensive presidential library, ostensibly from Murphy's rich, crooked father, from the super-wealthy Saudi family that sponsors Murphy (the notorious Al-Rashids) and from Schumer's Wall Street patrons
TPP offers a much larger payday than endorsing Patrick Murphy, a mere senator. TPP is wanted by nearly every American industry with money, from Pharma to Wall Street to Silicon Valley to Hollywood and every stop in between. As Weisbrot said above about the Congress people Obama is targeting:
It is all about corruption, and this is about as unadulterated as corruption gets in our hallowed democracy, other than literal cash under a literal table.
As Weisbrot hints (and I'm willing to say), that statement is also true about Obama. The money that wants Congress to pass TPP wants Obama to make it pass and is willing to pay, even if he sacrifices his own party's future to do it. Clearly, Obama's on board with that choice; his recent actions scream so.

Money doesn't talk, it swears. Though maybe its song is sweeter when Democrats listen.

GP
 

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Why Do We Pay The Highest Prices For Drugs In The World?

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And why is Bernie blocking Obama's nominee for FDA head? Obama's done a lot of good things as president and there's a tendency for progressives to be favorable towards him. But it behooves us to remember he's a politician-- from Chicago-- and that he's done a lot of bad things as well and to be wary of what he's up to now. Bernie's 100% right to block Obama's FDA nominee-- and 100% is more than 99%.

This morning in a letter to his supporters, southwest Michigan congressional candidate Paul Clements, a progressive who supported Bernie in the primary, asked "What does a 10% cost increase mean to you? For many seniors a 10% increase in the cost of medication can mean the difference between this medicine or that one, between taking the whole pill, or half. Or it can mean the difference between food and medicine. Right now our laws put corporate profit above seniors' needs. A new independent analysis published yesterday says the cost of hundreds of medications in the Medicare Part D program rose by 10% since 2014. Even more, the cost of simply enrolling in Part D rose 13% over last year alone. We need to let the government negotiate drug prices. In Congress I will be a leading proponent for it, and Congressman Upton has led efforts banning such negotiations. That's why I'm running, because simple, practical changes to our laws can make life changing differences to millions of Americans." (You can support Clements' bid to defeat anti-health care reactionary Fred Upton here. His opponent, Fred Upton, is among the biggest bribe takers from Mylan and Big Pharma in general, and makes sure their agenda sails through his committee and through Congress.)




A few days ago, Lee Rogers broke the story about how Joe Manchin's greed-driven, avaricious daughter-- who, like her father, has a clear record of being a cheat and a lowlife-- right here at DWT. Yesterday Lee reminded me that aside from the Manchin daughter giving herself a 671% pay increase to celebrate all the people who would die when she raised the price of EpiPen-- from $2,453,456 nine years ago to $18,931,068 today-- she also illegally used inside information to trade over 100,000 shares in early August, anticipating her company's stock collapsing when news broke about Mylan's plan to murder their customers. The average price she got was around $50/share, bringing the greedy little monster $5,010,000.00, leaving her with another 828,318 shares valued at $41,415,900.00. The share price has been crashing ever since Rogers wrote his piece about how she raised the price of EpiPen to $635. (from $57).




And this is how the stock was performing as I was writing this post:




Were the Manchin daughter to sell her 100,200 shares at $43 instead of the $50 she sold it at when only she knew what was about to happen, she would have netted $4,308,600, nearly a million dollars less than she was able to bank. I have a vague recollection from my days working inside corporate America that insider trading is highly illegal and that all senior level executives are warned about the dangers, but from what I've been able to discern, she hasn't been fired or arrested yet-- or even questioned.

The Manchin daughter is a former lobbyist for the company and when she took over as CEO, the amount Mylan spent on lobbying soared astronomically. She contributes to political campaigns-- a legalistic term for bribery-- through the Generic Pharmaceutical Association, which spent $175,448 bribing members of Congress last cycle. The crooked Members who took the biggest bribes in 2014 were notoriously corrupt Republicans Mitch McConnell (KY), Joe Pitts (PA), Fred Upton (MI) and Lamar Alexander (TN) and so far this cycle Manchin's daughter has made sure the crooked members who got greased we're Chuck Schumer (D-NY), Tim Scott (R-SC), hometown boy David McKinley (R-WV), Keith Rothfus (R-PA), Fred Upton (MI) again... and she made sure Pelosi's corrupt DCCC chairman Ben Ray Lujan got a taste as well. And what did she want for her bribes? Mylan successfully pushed through legislation to encourage use of the EpiPen in schools nationwide, as well as about $4 million in lobbying for the School Access to Emergency Epinephrine Act.


Michael Hiltzik pointed out for L.A. Times readers that little Heather, Manchin's horrid daughter, has condoned a tax-dodging scheme for her company as well, as had Rogers when he first broke the story on Monday. "[T]here’s another reason," wrote Hiltzik, "to detest this remarkably amoral corporation: It’s also a tax dodger. Mylan is one of the leading exploiters of the technique known as inversion, in which a U.S. company cuts its tax bill by acquiring a foreign firm and moving its tax domicile to the acquired company’s homeland." Heather's not making America great again.
Mylan’s 2014 deal involved its buying a generics manufacturer from Abbott Laboratories and reincorporating in the Netherlands, the subsidiary’s home. As in all inversions, nothing else changed: Mylan’s operational headquarters remained in Pennsylvania, and its main workforce didn’t relocate. At one point, Mylan even appealed to U.S. antitrust officials to help it block a takeover bid from an Israeli company. But the deal did allow the firm to cut its U.S. tax bill.

President Obama has labeled inversions “unpatriotic” and “one of the most insidious loopholes out there.” The Treasury Department has tightened tax rules several times to discourage them, and public disapproval has spiked a deal here and there.

Mylan’s inversion helped give this variety of loophole its noxious reputation, in part because defense of its deal was so transparently self-serving. Its CEO, Heather Bresch, daughter of U.S. Sen. Joe Manchin (D-W.Va.), wrung her hands over the anguish she suffered in deciding to skip out on the company’s obligations as a U.S. corporation. She told the New York Times, “You can’t maintain competitiveness by staying at a competitive disadvantage. I mean you just can’t.” Credulously, the Times regurgitated that she made the decision “reluctantly, and she genuinely seems to mean it.”

Should Mylan be believed? Let’s judge it by its marketing of the EpiPen. The spring-loaded syringe-like device is designed to deliver a measured dose of epinephrine, which instantly reverses the swelling, breathing problems and other manifestations of severe reactions to peanuts, bee stings and other allergens. The pens come in two-packs in order to provide a second dose if needed. Families with allergy-prone kids have to lay in a supply of several packs, say for home and school, and replace them once a year when they expire.

Since acquiring rights to the product in 2007 when a two-pack sold for about $100, Mylan has relentlessly raised its price, to more than $600 now. That can place the product out of reach of families whose insurance doesn’t fully cover the cost, forcing them to use expired pens or resort to hand-injections, which can be dangerous.

The price increase isn’t driven by Mylan’s costs. The manufacturing cost is essentially pennies per device, and the active ingredient, epinephrine, is a generic drug that has been in use for decades, so the company isn’t working down any research and development costs. Instead, it’s simply profiteering from market dynamics: Its main competitor, a product made by Sanofi, was taken off the market last year because of manufacturing defects. Another potential rival, from the generics company Teva, hasn’t yet won approval from the Food and Drug Administration.


Mylan’s price-gouging has enraged patients and doctors and created whitecaps on Capitol Hill. On Monday, Sen. Amy Klobuchar (D-Minn.), ranking member of the Senate antitrust subcommittee, asked the Federal Trade Commission to look into the matter. Sen. Chuck Grassley (R-Iowa), chairman of the Judiciary Committee, also has questioned the increases.

“There does not appear to be any justification for the continual price increases of EpiPen,” Klobuchar wrote the FTC. “Manufacturing costs for the product have been stable and Mylan does not need to recover the product’s research and development costs... Not only is this alarming price increase unjustified, it puts life-saving treatment out of reach to the consumers who need it most.”

Mylan rationalizes the EpiPen’s price as the fair cost of “a life-saving drug,” as Bresch told Wall Street analysts this month. Under the circumstances, she said, “I think that you can see it falls as not an expensive product.” She did acknowledge, however, that “as employers shift more cost to employees and make that everything has got to come out of pocket before you hit your deductible... you’re seeing a lot of noise around EpiPen.”

A lot of profit too. Mylan recorded $847 million in net income last year on sales of $9.4 billion. The EpiPen was a significant contributor, with sales of $1 billion.


The company has tried to have it both ways in relation to its inversion deal. Let’s examine Bresch’s assertion that the company found it just impossible to “maintain competitiveness” under U.S. tax rules. At a 2015 forum sponsored by Fortune Magazine, she griped that “there is an unlevel playing field in our country. We really penalize U.S.-based companies.”

Is that so? As we pointed out at the time of its inversion, over the previous two years, its sales had increased 12.7% and profits 16%; among its big competitors paying putatively lower taxes, British-based GlaxoSmithKline had gained only 3.14% in sales and 11.23% in profits. Israel-based Teva’s sales had risen 11%, and its profits declined 54%. Israel’s top corporate tax rate is 26.5%, the equivalent top U.S. federal rate is 35%.

But Mylan didn’t pay that top rate, of course. Almost no U.S. corporation does; CEOs use the statutory rate as a political boogeyman. Mylan’s effective tax rate had been only 16.2% in 2013, 20% in 2012 and 17.7% in 2011.

Bresch’s contention that Mylan was a “reluctant” inverter doesn’t hold much water. At that Fortune event, she reiterated the claim that Mylan hadn’t been seeking an inversion partner but had been willing to look into a deal “if the opportunity presented itself.” But she also seemed to say that its search for a partner was rather more proactive than that. “When we were inverting, we … looked at a lot of countries because we had the opportunity to really domicile where we wanted to, and the Netherlands was a... natural.”


Corporate mouthpieces and other defenders of inversions say there’s nothing wrong-- even something admirable-- in a company’s trying to do the best for its shareholders by cutting their tax bites. The argument is: “You don’t like it? Change the tax law.”

The problem with this position is that U.S. corporations have lots of advantages over foreign competitors that have to be paid for by taxes; inversions just amount to sticking the cost to someone else. Mylan itself proved this point last year, when it tried to fend off a takeover attempt by Teva by asking the U.S. government to declare it a U.S. company. That would have given U.S. antitrust officials the opportunity to block the takeover by a foreign company. Teva’s takeover attempt eventually broke down anyway.



Dena Grayson is running for an open congressional seat in central Florida. Her statement on Mylan is exactly the kind of strong position voters are looking from for leaders. Please wrap your head around what she's saying and then, if you agree, consider contributing to her campaign here.

"As a doctor and medical researcher, I know first-hand how much innovative new treatments can relieve suffering and save lives. And I know that it takes many years and extraordinary effort to discover and develop effective treatments for deadly diseases. But this isn’t scientific innovation by Manchin’s daughter at Mylan. It’s good ol' fashioned greed, plain and simple. Even worse, it's at the cost of the most vulnerable members of our society: sick kids. While Manchin’s avaricious daughter relaxes in her mansion, parents are forced to make a choice that no parent should ever have to make: whether to protect their child from dying from a fatal allergic attack, versus paying the rent. Yes, Mylan produces a tried and true medicine that saves lives, but it’s not innovative. It’s as though Mylan stumbled upon an cheap, old print of a Monet painting in their grandmother’s attic, and are now trying to pass it off as an original masterpiece. If Mylan is unable or unwilling to control their greed, then we will have to do it for them. Plain and simple."


Blue America has billboards up all over Polk County right now



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Wednesday, August 24, 2016

Why Can't The DCCC Win-- Even When Districts Are Handed To Them On Silver Platters?

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Losers, dragging the House Dems down with them

Polling results showing Hillary leading Mr. Trumpanzee in the Philly suburbs are stunning. Those suburbs are considered among the most swingy districts in the country but she's ahead of him by 40 points! So you'd like even the DCCC-- as lame and incompetent as it is-- could win the 3 districts that make up those 'burbs, right? Of course not; haven't you been paying attention for the last 10 years or so?

The Republican state legislature has gerrymandered 2 of the 3 congressional districts into misshapen Frankenstein-monstrosites, PA-06 and PA-07, which should be stuck down by a court based solely on the way they look on a map-- and the men who drew them should be thrown into prison. The 6th, which is represented by Republican Ryan Costello, includes parts of Chester, Montgomery, Berks and Lebanon counties. The 7th, which is represented by Republican Pat Meehan, includes most of Delaware County and parts of Chester, Montgomery, Berks and (a tiny bit of) Lancaster counties. Here's how those 6 counties voted in the 2012 Senate elections between Democrat Bob Casey (D) and Tom Smith (R):
Berks- Casey- 51%, Smith- 48%
Chester- Casey- 50%, Smith-48%
Delaware- Casey- 62%, Smith-37%
Lancaster- Smith- 58%, Casey- 40%
Lebanon- Smith- 60%, Casey- 38%
Montgomery- Casey- 58%, Smith-41%
But the 3 districts have Republican incumbents because Pelosi has managed to craft the most astonishing incompetent DCCC in the history of mankind-- with Rahm Emanuel, Chris Van Hollen, Steve Israel and now some clueless lummox name Ben Ray Lujan doing all he can to emulate the worst of all Pelosi's chairmen, Steve Israel. They lost the districts and managed-- because of their relentless war against progressives-- to keep the districts lost, applying the DCCC's faulty operating theory, namely that Democratic voters want nominees just like Steve Israel (i.e., grotesquely corrupt and venal conservatives with breathtakingly low IQs). But they don't. Which is why the Democrats keep losing more and more seats in Congress, including overwhelmingly blue districts.


Off on a tangent but let's look at 3 examples of blue seats that Israel screwed up. Obama won NV-04 both times, 56-41% against McCain and 54%-44% against Romney. But the Democratic congressman, Steven Horsford, was an African-American and when he went to Steve Israel for aide, Israel-- a repulsive racist who doesn't think blacks should represent white majority districts, refused and the seat was lost to a far right Bible thumper, Cresent Hardy, who is a huge Trumpanzee enthusiast. Next, let's look at NY-24, basically Syracuse, NY, an even bluer district, where Obama beat McCain 56-42% and beat Romney 57-41%. How do the Democrats lose a seat like that. Steve Israel, take another bow and say bow-wow-wow. Dan Maffei, a faceless conservative New Dem had already been booted out by Democrats who had refused to vote for him, angered by a record that leaned way too far to the right (like the way Steve Israel prefers). So Israel recruited him to run again and he voted with the GOP again and Democratic voters refused to go to the polls to reelect him again. This is where Steve Israel's incredibly low IQ comes in. He can't understand this simple concept and keeps repeating the pattern. He's re-recruited a whole bunch of equally horrible corrupt conservatives this cycle in blue districts with GOP incumbents and then may get swept into Congress by the anti-Trump tsunami, whereupon they will vote like Republicans and lose in 2018 again. And the third district, the bluest of the three, was Iowa's first district, where Obama beat McCain 58-40% and then beat Romney 56-42%. Israel preferred a conservative "ex"-Republican who lost the primary. So he sandbagged the progressive. It was a wipe-out in Iowa that year because of the worst gubernatorial and Senate candidates anyone can remember and the sandbagged liberal lost but did better than anyone else in Iowa who got dragged down by the top of the ticket. This year, Israel sabotaged his primary and got the "ex"-Republican nominated. It goes on and one and on.

No one ever reports these stories in the media. But yesterday Guccifer 2.0 leaked some embarrassing info about the Philly suburban districts to The Hill, another tale of willful DCCC incompetence, with starring roles by corrupt right-wing Democrats Steny Hoyer (MD), Cheri Bustos (Blue Dog-IL) and Denny Heck (New Dem-WA). We've been writing a lot how the DCCC is sabotaging Mary Ellen Balchunis' campaign in PA-07 even after she beat their preposterous Wall Street recruit, Bill Golderer, 74-26%. They would rather throw the perfectly winnable district away, where Hillary is going to win by a gigantic landslide than see a progressive like Mary Ellen win. This is what Guccifer leaked to The Hill:
[In] district seven, memos show a concerted effort by the DCCC to recruit Pastor Bill Golderer as a candidate. Golderer was eventually defeated in the primary by La Salle University Professor Mary Ellen Balchunis.

As late as May, the DCCC believed that incumbent GOP Rep. Pat Meehan was vulnerable, noting that historically a Democrat held a slight edge.

The DCCC began to solicit Golderer in the summer of 2015. Memos to Reps. Elizabeth Esty (D-Conn.), Bustos and Heck giving strategy tips for the trio to encourage Golderer to run emphasized two key points.

The DCCC thought his story would make for a compelling foil to Meehan-- Golderer founded the Broad Street Ministry, an alternative church emphasizing inclusiveness and civic outreach. It also felt that Golderer could mount successful fundraising efforts through “an extensive rolodex from his public ventures and past political work and can mount a credible challenge.”

But after Golderer declared and the primary race went on into 2016, the focus of the memos switched to pleading with the candidate to stay in contention.

“A troubled campaign since the New Year,” the DCCC wrote in the memos, after key advisors left the campaign and the DCCC needed to step in to shore up necessary signatures for the primary. Golderer “has tried to exit the race several times.”

“Please ask him to stop telling supporters or members about his plans to exit the race without a plan in place,” asks one memo of Lujan.
Today Mary Ellen is still being sabotaged by Steve Israel, Cheri Bustos and Denny Heck, who urge institutional contributors not to "waste" their money on her race. Blue America has endorsed her and we're asking progressives to contribute to her on a page dedicated to progressives who won their primaries and who are being undermined by Steve Israel and his team of odious conservative monsters. Just click the thermometer:
Goal Thermometer

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Can The Democrats Win Back The House? Not With Pelosi's DCCC

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When the DNC and DCCC ask you for a contribution with a promise that they're going to take back the House, they're being as dishonest as... well, as dishonest as Trump is with his myriad manipulative statements. The corrupt and incompetent DCCC hasn't put the work in that would be needed to take back the House and they don't have the candidates to do it. It's a good theory-- and if the DCCC was even vaguely competent it could be done with alacrity this cycle-- but Pelosi has put together a dysfunctional losing-machine that will never win until she and Hoyer and gone and their DCCC is gone with them.

Unfortunately, the media has generally either been too lazy or too stupid to do anything but give credence to their silly claims about "taking back the House." Nate Cohn, though, writing for yesterday's NY Times reported that even with an anti-Trump tsunami "a House takeover by Democrats is no small task. They would need to pick up 30 seats, and, as of today, it’s hard to identify 30 seats where Republicans are in serious danger." Even a wave election, he wrote, "might not be enough for Democrats to retake the House." He's being generous.

He speculates that a Hillary landslide might result in a big shift in the House than in the past. "That’s because the relationship between presidential and down-ballot vote choice has tightened."
On the other hand, the tight relationship between the presidential and House ballots might be ready to break this year. After all, this isn’t an ordinary election about Democrats versus Republicans: This is about Mr. Trump, a very unusual candidate and one of the best-known people in the world.

So far, it doesn’t seem as if he has done enough damage to the rest of the party to put the House into question. The Cook Political Report estimates that just 36 Republican-held seats are either “tossups” or “leaning” Republican. Many of the well-educated white G.O.P. voters with reservations about Mr. Trump appear to be sticking by Republicans, at least for now.

The last live-interview survey to ask about the national House race was by McClatchy/Marist, which showed Democrats ahead by eight points, but that was far less than Mrs. Clinton’s 15-point lead in the same poll. Tellingly, House Republicans still had the edge among well-educated white voters, a group that supported Mrs. Clinton by 12 points in the poll.

Another indication that Mrs. Clinton’s lead hasn’t yet translated to a Democratic wave comes from the Washington State “top-two” primary. In that race, all of the candidates, regardless of party, appear on the same ballot-- and the top two candidates advance to the general. The result ends up looking a lot like the general election, although it generally tilts a bit to the Republicans. The primary results of 2006, 2008, 2010 and 2014 all gave clear indications of the playing field in November.

In the primary this month, Democrats did not appear especially competitive in the two Republican-held districts in Washington that were close in the 2012 presidential election (one that Mitt Romney won by two points, the other that Barack Obama won by two points). The Republican candidates led the sum of the Democrats by 18 and 14 points, respectively. Over all, Democrats did run well ahead of where they were in 2014 primaries. But these are the kinds of seats where the Democrats would hope to be a bit closer.

Right now, it’s hard to go seat by seat and identify the contests through which Democrats would pick up a majority. But that could change. The number of House seats that were deemed “tossups” or “leaning” by the Cook Political Report basically doubled over the final three months of the 2006, 2008 and 2010 elections.

The problem for Democrats, though, is that they might not retake the House even if they managed to perform as well as the Democrats of 2006 or 2008, or the Republicans of 2010.
Worse yet, he writes, that even with a big Hillary win and then a midterm and reelection campaign, "given the tendency for the president’s party to struggle down-ballot [i]f Democrats are going to retake the House anytime soon, November would probably be their best shot, and as of now it’s not happening." So how could it happen? Now we're in fantasy world because, like I said, it can't happen as long as Pelosi and Hoyer are running the show. Incompetence and a losing mentality is baked into the DCCC cake and the cake has to be rebuilt from scratch for it to start winning again. But let's imagine an alternative universe where the DCCC is vaguely competent. How do they win? Their willful recruiting of corrupt conservative candidates has ruined even that picture. But let's even overlook that. What could they do now? Start by gently getting rid of this delusion and dishonest person:



Then they should stop supporting corrupt conservatives who-- even if they win in November-- will never be able to hold a seat in a midterm and redirecting their resources to strong and inspiring grassroots progressive Democrats like Mary Ellen Balchunis, Paul Clements, Dena Grayson, DuWayne Gregory, Mary Hoeft, Pramila Jayapal, Alina Valdes, Thomas Wakely, who, along with Jamie Raskin and Zephyr Teachout, who the DCCC is already supporting on some level, are the kinds of men and women the Democratic Party desperately needs moving into the future. Another thing the DCCC could do right now to show they are not the corrupt and venal institution so many Demiocrats see them (correctly) as, would be to endorse Tim Canova against their own foul and odious colleague, Debbie Wasserman Schultz, breaking with tradition and causing a political earthquake in Washington that would inspire Democrats from Maine to San Diego, Honolulu and Alaska. But they won't... and they'll lose again in November and lose worse in 2018. What can progressives do? Tap the thermometer and ask yourself that.

Goal Thermometer

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Do native Americans speak with an accent? Yes, but most of us don't know what they are, including our own

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Stephen Colbert challenges Michelle Dockery, Hugh Bonneville, and Allen Leech to read a Downton Abbey scene in American accents. Stephen's own idea about American accents could use some touching up, it seems.

"Nationally, most Americans don’t really know that much about the people who live in [Colorado, Wyoming, or Nebraska], which means we also haven’t constructed elaborate and unreliable legends about the ways people in those states speak. And because the way we see people is the primary factor in the way we hear them speak, if we don’t know much about a population? We don’t hear much of an accent, either."
-- Dan Nosowitz, in "Is There a Place in America Where
People Speak Without Accents?
," for Atlas Obscura

by Ken

Though Howie and I go back together to the ninth grade at the James Maddison High School annex, we go back together only that far, because I'm not a native New Yorker. When we moved here in 1961, many of the Brooklynites I now lived among were puzzled by my accent, which had been concocted through seven years in my native Baltimore and five years in the Midwest bastion of Milwaukee, where the kids I went to school with made fun of my "Southern accent." In Brooklyn especially, having what might be called "Midwestern speech" was interesting, because as I came to learn, Midwestern speech is the basis for what had come to be known as "General American" speech -- the sort of thing favored by the people who hired newscasters and other on-air personalities they hoped would sound "un-accented."

Only now it turns out that "General American" speech was itself mythologicall Oh, it might have described a cauldron of speech patterns, among which the "General American" speakers may well have tended to employ a few. But it doesn't seem likely that there was ever anywhere where the locals generally spoke "General American," and even in the areas where it was thought to be spoken, it isn't anymore -- there have been major shifts in the speech patterns of the whole presumed-"General American" belt since John Kenyon "laid out some linguistic and geographical guidelines for General American," which he claimed was spoken by 90 million Americans, in his 1930 book, American Pronunciation, as Dan Nosowitz reports for Atlas Obscura in a piece called, "Is There a Place in America Where People Speak Without Accents?"

Dan draws inspiration and courage in debunking the whole concept of General American from Oklahoma State University dialectologist and sociolinguist Dennis Preston, who says, "General American doesn't exist. He was demoted to private or sergeant a long, long time ago."
But the concept persists: we believe that, for example, newscasters, maybe some actors, and certainly some people, somewhere, speak an unaccented variety of American English. For instance, when Stephen Colbert explained his vocal patterns to 60 Minutes, he said:
"At a very young age, I decided I was not gonna have a Southern accent. Because people, when I was a kid watching TV, if you wanted to use a shorthand that someone was stupid, you gave the character a Southern accent. And that's not true. Southern people are not stupid. But I didn't wanna seem stupid. I wanted to seem smart. And so I thought, 'Well, you can't tell where newsmen are from.’"
The name of this accentless accent varies; sometimes it’s called Standard American, or Broadcast English, or Network English, or, as it was created by two independent linguists in the 1920s and 1930s, General American. It is a neutral accent, one without distinguishing features.

But where does General American come from? Is there a place where people, young and old, speak like newscasters?
I expect it won't surprise you to learn that, while Dan has an answer of sorts for the first question, his answer to the second is a resounding "no." It turns out that John Kenyon's General American was based on the speech he tended to hear from the speakers he was most familiar with growing up in Northeastern Ohio. It seems most unlikely that even then it was the "standard" speech of the area, and as noted above, since Kenyon's time, "The entire vowel system of the parts of the country along the Great Lakes, stretching from New York cities like Rochester and Buffalo straight through to Chicago and Detroit, began to dramatically change," in what came to be known to linguists as the "Northern Cities Vowel Shift."

You can check out for yourself some of the specifics, but the key point is that, "within the linguistic community, the idea that General American had any relation to any actual geographical place was quickly destroyed."
The field of American linguistics advanced very quickly in the mid-20th century, and by 1950 numerous studies were released that found that even within Northeastern Ohio, there were multiple distinctive accents and dialects, and that certainly Kenyon’s rules for General American did not apply to the vast part of the country he claimed. The Northern Cities Vowel Shift work further combusted any idea that General American described the way people talk in the Midwest.
In this more sophisticated understanding of American "accents," researchers like Dennis Preston have concluded that Americans (a) mostly think they themselves don't have an accent, except for some specific regions like the South, in part because (b) Americans are pretty terrible at recognizing accents, their own or anybody else's. Ironically, for example, "Midwesterners tend to not actually hear the very things that distinguish them to the rest of the country." Again, go to the source for some description of the kinds of things Dan is talking about, including some video clips of broadcasters speaking anything like a standardized "accentless" American.

One thing broadcasters frequently do do, though, is to enunciate with great care, which apparently is easily mistaken as "accentless" speech by hearers who aren't good to begin with at recognizing most American accents, which Dan assures us do exist, in every locality in the country. In the end, he says,
the search for an accent-less accent is more about our own perception and lack of understanding of linguistics than any objective, observable pattern. In other words, we are hearing what we want to hear, not what people are actually saying.
Hmm. "We are hearing what we want to hear, not what people are actually saying." Nothing surprising about that, is there?
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Are Our Brains Already Pre-Wired To Determine The 2016 Election?-- A Guest Post By Daniel Levitin

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Our guest blogger today is Dr. Daniel J. Levitin, a neuroscientist who has written for us a few times over the years. Dan and I have been close friends for over 3 decades. He is perhaps best known as the author of the mega bestsellers This Is Your Brain On Music (which is required reading at Harvard for all incoming freshman) and The Organized Mind. His new book is timed for the start of this election season and is a primer on critical thinking for everyone. It’s called A Field Guide to Lies and I urge you to buy his book-- I read it in galleys and it will change the way you read the news, I guarantee it. You can pre-order it here. Dan gave me two signed advance copies of the book and I'll send them out as a thank you from Blue America today to the two most generous contributors to either Grayson on this page.

Recently he told me that "in 1996, five Mt. Everest hikers lost their lives because they did not allow new and relevant information to alter their views about the safety of proceeding. The 2007 global financial crisis has been traced to belief perseverance, when financial experts stuck with the status quo in spite of new evidence of weakening financial instruments." We talked about how the brain works in this regard in impacting politics and he added that there's a "need to nudge ourselves to think about how things might turn out if they don't go the way we think they will-- to imagine extreme, but still realistic scenarios. Use pre-mortems-- think ahead to all the things that could go wrong, and what might be the effects of these failures. Part of practicing the pre-mortem is recognizing that we are fallible and will make mistakes, succumbing to biases. What if a short-tempered candidate said the wrong thing to the wrong people at the wrong time? What if a candidate who wants to expand social support systems is confronted instead with a dire financial crisis? Which of these scenarios would yield the worst outcome? Third, identify what you would need to know in order to endorse or reject a candidate-- what are the real deal-breakers and deal-makers for you. Then take a dispassionate look at what the candidates really-and-truly stand for, not just what you've assumed they do."




Why It's So Hard To Learn Anything New About The Candidates
-by Daniel Levitin


Many Americans decided months ago which of the two presumptive Presidential nominees we would support, Donald Trump or Hillary Clinton. The contrast between them is pronounced, and it has been said to be the most stark in the 52 years since the LBJ/Goldwater contest in 1964.

As new information comes in from journalists about the candidates' trustworthiness, rationality, attitudes about race, and views on the responsibilities and functions of a free press, most of us will tend to ignore it. This is because of confirmation bias and belief perseverance, cognitive short-cuts that cause us to discard information that contradicts things we think we already know. Our brains can be lazy, and don't want to have to keep revisiting old decisions. This can save previous neural resources but can lead to devastatingly bad decisions.

Every time the press reports something negative about Donald Trump, his supporters will tend to dismiss it as biased or irrelevant. After all, their candidate is "an outsider" who "bucks the establishment," while "the media want to keep the status quo and are against someone who tells it like it is." Every time the press reports something negative about Hillary Clinton, her supporters will tend to dismiss it, believing that their candidate is the victim of a "Clinton-bashing media" who have had it in for her and her husband for more than three decades.

Those initial decisions are often based on emotion and intuition, and we then cherry-pick evidence that allows us to maintain our view. When a candidate is shown to have committed some unsavory act, we find ourselves saying, "Yeah, but (s)he's still the best person for the job." Drew Westen at Emory University found that people making decisions this mode during the 2004 presidential elections failed to use the parts of their brains associated with deliberate, logical thinking (in the prefrontal cortex), and instead they engaged brain regions associated with sympathy. This in turn causes voters to give the benefit of the doubt to their preferred candidate but not to the opponent.

What kind of evidence would it take to unseat these biases? How strong an argument would have to be presented to make us change our minds? More than you'd think, and more than would seem rational or adaptive.

In a classic study, students at Stanford University were shown photos of people while hearing what they thought was a playback of their own heartbeat-- the heartbeat would speed up at points randomly determined by the experimenter. The students were thus led to believe that they felt more strongly about some individuals than others. After all, physiology doesn't lie.

At the end of the experiment, the researchers explained that the heartbeat had been computer manipulated and didn't correspond to their true judgments at all. Asked to rate whom they felt the strongest about, the students were overwhelmingly biased toward the photo that had been accompanied by the accelerated heart rate.

Think about this: The only evidence the students had for which person they felt strongest about had just been removed, yet they tenaciously clung to their initial belief. Social scientist Emily Thorson of George Washington University calls these "belief echoes," and in her research confirms that exposure to political information persists in shaping attitudes long after that information is discredited.

Trial attorneys know this well-- they will often make a defamatory remark about a witness or defendant that they know will lead to an objection, which the judge will sustain; but if that remark caused the jury (and possibly the judge) to form a negative impression, it can take hold and govern the outcome of the trial, even if it has been shown to be false.


Politics, like high school, is partly (maybe largely) tribal, ideological and emotional. But it doesn't have to be. In this increasingly inter-connected, global economy, each of us has a stake in how our leaders interact on our behalf with us, our neighbors, our trade partners, and even our enemies. Emotions are most useful when they motivate us to act, but such actions should be based on reason.

You wouldn't step in an airplane that was designed by someone using emotion as their sole blueprint-- you shouldn't want a country governed by someone whom voters have not properly vetted. Political parties and candidates are not like a hometown sports team that you stick with through thick and thin-- political issues are complex, and many of us find that we agree with some of the things being said by candidates in both parties.

Overcoming these biases is necessary to being informed, and being informed is fundamental to any democracy. Thomas Jefferson himself believed that democracy (or a democratic republic) "rests on the foundation of an educated electorate." Jefferson also said that "Democracy is nothing more than mob rule, where fifty-one percent of the people may take away the rights of the other forty-nine percent." The whole point of democracy is to prevent the more powerful from dominating the less powerful. Our best defense against that-- to prevent us from devolving into a mob-- is to apply educated reason, arrived at through an analysis of facts.

Sure, a good candidate should stir emotion, patriotism, and should inspire. But to what end? Overcoming our biases requires three steps. We first need to be aware of them. In a study by McKinsey, investors who were made aware of cognitive biases were able to overcome them and increase their profits by 7%. Next, we need to make an extra effort to slow down and try to evaluate information from multiple sides objectively, and be ready to change our views. Psychologists Philip Tetlock and Jennifer Lerner call this making a break from using confirmatory thought to using exploratory thought. Finally, as my colleague Daniel Kahneman notes, there's a better chance of overcoming biases when a discussion of them is widespread. Therefore, discuss your views with others, and not necessarily others with whom you agree. You don't learn anything by only talking to people who agree with you. The press is helping us to wade through all of the conflicting claims, fact-checking, and contextualizing. Listening to them with an open mind is up to us.



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I Know The Trump Family From Avenue Z-- They Were The Neighborhood Con Artists

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The simplest way to see the Trump campaign is to never lose sight of that fact that he has always been and will always be a scam artist or, as most of his opponents in the Republican primary called him, a con man. The new flap over his immigration policy is just another example of that. After all the pain and anguish and turmoil he cause with his hateful rhetoric, he is now tap-dancing away from his round-up and deportation squads that so animated the racists and xenophobes on the GOP's fringes-- and beyond-- to try to reposition his deportation plan as one that will simply distinguish "bad" undocumented immigrants from others; in other words, Obama's system. On Fox with O'Reilly he pretty much admitted that the U.S. doesn't have open borders and that Obama is enforcing the law-- exploding the biggest premise of his own candidacy and putting the lie to the ad his campaign is running now. Yes, the guy is a two-bit hustler who's hustling two groups of Americans: racists and the intellectually handicapped. Are you a Trumpist? Which group do you fall into?


Some of the unfinished office space in Trumpanzee Tower that the Trumpanzee campaign had been paying $35,000 a month for until May. The campaign paid nearly $170,000 for its Trumpanzee Tower space in July


The newest scam uncovered by the media shows Señor Trumpanzee using campaign contributions to pay himself premium $120/square foot office space at Trumpanzee Tower when he hasn't been able to find a tenant to rent the same space for $90/square foot. If he is eager to soak and cheat his supporters, what do you think he has in mind for the a country stupid enough-- in his mind-- to elect him president? S.V. Date broke the story at HuffPo: Trumpanzee Jacked Up His Campaign’s Trumpanzee Tower Rent Once Somebody Else Was Paying It. The rent he charged his campaign "soared in July after Trump’s campaign began accepting donor contributions."
After bragging for a year about how cheaply he was running his campaign, Donald Trump is spending more freely now that other people are contributing-- particularly when the beneficiary is himself.

Trump nearly quintupled the monthly rent his presidential campaign pays for its headquarters at Trump Tower to $169,758 in July, when he was raising funds from donors, compared with March, when he was self-funding his campaign, according to a Huffington Post review of Federal Election Commission filings. The rent jumped even though he was paying fewer staff in July than he did in March.

The Trump campaign paid Trump Tower Commercial LLC $35,458 in March-- the same amount it had been paying since last summer-- and had 197 paid employees and consultants. In July, it paid 172 employees and consultants.


“If I was a donor, I’d want answers,” said a prominent Republican National Committee member who supports Trump, asking for anonymity to speak freely. “If they don’t have any more staff, and they’re paying five times more? That’s the kind of stuff I’d read and try to make an (attack) ad out of it.”

...The FEC filings show that Trump began increasing the rent at Trump Tower starting with the May 31 payment of $72,800. The Trump campaign paid $110,684 in rent on June 9, and $169,758 on July 10... Trump’s money makes up a tiny percentage of his campaign’s spending. The bulk now comes from outside donors, both small-dollar givers and those writing maximum-limit checks of $2,700.

“Nobody cares when you’re spending your own money, but when you’re spending the donor’s $27, that could cause problems,” the RNC member said, adding that small donors especially may not be sympathetic to Trump’s extravagance. “Most campaigns run on a much tighter budget.”

For many months, Trump’s campaign prided itself on its low-rent operation. It invited reporters in to tour its headquarters on the fifth floor of Trump Tower that had once been used as production offices for “The Apprentice” TV show, which starred Trump. Photos and video from those tours show work space with unfinished ceilings, makeshift drywall partitions, and only a few campaign workers.

Commercial real estate is available in the midtown Manhattan neighborhood in the range of $70 per square foot annually, although Trump has charged more than that. Trump Tower rented 9,000 feet of office space in December at $120 per square foot, but has been unable to rent a 15,000 square-foot office that includes six terraces overlooking Fifth Avenue, even at a discounted rent of $90 per square foot.

Democrat Hillary Clinton has been leasing two entire floors in a Brooklyn office building totaling 80,000 square feet since the start of her campaign. The rent for that space has been about $212,000 per month.


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Tuesday, August 23, 2016

Right-Of-Center Labour Party Careerists In The U.K. Are Every Bit As Sleazy As Wasserman Schultz And Steve Israel Here

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Jeremy Corbyn rushed to hospital with multiple stab wounds in back

We've been writing for some time now about how the Democratic Party establishment sees "party unity" as a one way street. When someone from the corrupt-conservative wing of the party wins a primary-- or steals a win-- progressives must jump on board and back her (or him). But when progressives win primaries-- as, for example, Mary Ellen Balchunis (PA-07), Tom Wakely (TX-21), Mary Hoeft (WI-07) all did-- the establishment abandons them or even works to crush them and aid the Republicans.

Goal Thermometer In fact, Blue America just started a new ActBlue page (on the right), dedicated to progressive candidates in winnable districts who the DCCC has refused to help against the GOP. Many grassroots Democrats can't cope with the very concept that Pelosi and her henchmen, while begging for money to "help take back Congress," are sabotaging that very effort by trying to stamp out legitimate progressive candidates in tough races. (Yes, Pelosi used to be a progressive herself, but that was many years ago and has virtually nothing to do with the crass partisan hack she has willfully morphed into in recent years.) It should come as no surprise that these tactics employed by the Democratic Establishment here, are also being employed by the Labour Party establishment in Britain, where the Conservative wing of the Labour Party is attempting to annihilate progressives in general and Jeremy Corbyn in particular. Writing over the weekend for The Telegraph, Kate McCann exposed their shenanigans.

So called "centrists" are moving to expel thousands of Corbyn supporters in the run-up to a party leadership election in late September, smearing them as "anti-Semites" and conspiring with the Conservative Party to annihilate Labour in an early election.
Almost 6,000 people have been reported to the party’s National Executive Committee as part of a new initiative introduced in mid-July to curb threats and poor behaviour.

It came as Tory MP Andrew Bridgen revealed he had been approached by Labour MPs as part of an attempt to secure an early general election to “get rid of Jeremy Corbyn” as the party’s leadership contest continues.

Mr Bridgen said he has been approached by three Labour MPs in Westminster who have asked for him to continue his bid for a nationwide vote in order to oust Mr Corbyn.

The MP claims that the Labour members warned the only way to rid the party of Mr Corbyn would be for Labour to be “wiped out” at a general election and prove his unpopularity with the public.

One senior Labour source told The Telegraph: “The sad truth is the Labour Party is no longer a safe space for women and Jews. Party members who receive a daily barrage of disgusting abuse deserve better than for Jeremy Corbyn to attempt to downplay it or tell them to simply ignore it.”

It follows an appeal by Labour supporters who were banned from voting in the party’s leadership election, which was later overturned by the High Court. The decision means that 130,000 people will be barred from voting in a decision thought likely to hit Mr Corbyn hardest, as many of his ­supporters are not party members but activists.
Come on, you didn't think for one minute that self-serving careerist slime like Debbie Wasserman Schultz, Steve Israel, Ben Ray Lujan, Steny Hoyer and Rahm Emanuel only exist in America, did you? This kind of back-stabbing was, after all, invented in the United Kingdom, right?


Slimy Democratic Party bosses Hoyer and Wasserman Schultz



Bonus For Americans Who Don't Want To Read About The Foreigners: A Moral Test

Are you as moral as you think you are?

This test only has one question, but it's a very important one.

By giving an honest answer, you will discover where you stand morally.

The test features an unlikely, completely fictional situation in which you will have to make a decision.

Only you will know the results, so remember that your answer needs to be honest.

THE SITUATION:

You are in Florida, Miami to be specific.

There is chaos all around you caused by a hurricane with severe flooding.

This is a flood of biblical proportions.

You are a photojournalist working for a major newspaper, and you're caught in the middle of this epic disaster. The situation is nearly hopeless.

You're trying to shoot career-making photos.

There are houses and people swirling around you, some disappearing under the water.

THE TEST:

Suddenly you see a man in the water.

He is fighting for his life, trying not to be taken down with the debris.

You move closer.

Somehow the man looks familiar.

You suddenly realize who it is.

It's Donald Trump!

At the same time you notice that the raging waters are about to take him under forever.

YOU HAVE TWO OPTIONS:

You can save the life of Donald Trump or you can shoot a dramatic Pulitzer Prize winning photo, documenting the death of one of the world's most powerful Republican men hell bent on the destruction of America.

THE QUESTION:

Here's the question, and please give an honest answer.

"Would you select high contrast color film, or would you go with the classic simplicity of black and white?"

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America's Infrastructure Is A Shambles-- And It Will Get Much Worse As Long As Conservatives Worship The Concept Of Low Taxes For The Ultra-Wealthy

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This morning, I was speaking with one of the congressional candidates Blue America is most enthusiastic about this cycle, Paul Clements from southwest Michigan. He's running for the seat held by Energy Committee chairman Fred Upton (MI-06) and he told me that "the biggest holes in investment in America, if we were going to promote broad-based economic growth, are in infrastructure and education. Pot-holed roads, a failing electric grid, and collapsing bridges are just some of the more visible results from our long-term failure to keep up with infrastructure needs.  But Congressman Upton has been part of the Republican bulwark against eliminating tax loopholes so the super-rich would have to do their part and we would have the money for these critical investments. We are still living with the fallout from Upton’s failure on the 2011 Supercommittee to deliver a federal budget, and Upton has been a staunch supporter of Paul Ryan’s proposals to cut taxes on the wealthy even further, so bare bones budgets would have to continue well into the future. Failing infrastructure raises costs for everyone-- business and consumers alike-- and fixing it would bring millions of good paying jobs. In Congress I will work to pass Hillary Clinton’s plan to double federal infrastructure spending." Upton has made it perfectly clear that stopping Mrs. Clinton's infrastructure plan is where he stands.

Earlier today, we saw what an unnamed top GOP congressional aide had to say about a Washington Post report over the weekend that President Hillary, Senate Majority Leader Schumer and Speaker Ryan would work on a massive American infrastructure plan. Short version: "Hillary is delusional." He goes into a typical Republican song and dance about how investing in the infrastructure would cost too much (for the wealthy campaign contributors to stomach) so it can't happen. Well, that inspired me to pull out the most recent American Society of Civil Engineers scorecard on infrastructure I could find. The overall grade wasn't an F; it was a D+. I grew up believing nothing less than an A was good enough and that a D or a D+ was the same as an F.

They need something like $3 trillion dollars to fix this mess. Something's got to give-- and I hope it isn't a crowded bridge. I want to give you a little more depth than the graphic above that shows how miserable every piece of the country's infrastructure has become, rotting away while taxes on the rich got lower and lower and lower-- nonexistent in cases of people like the Trumpanzee family.
Every family, every community and every business needs infrastructure to thrive. Infrastructure encompasses your local water main and the Hoover Dam; the power lines connected to your house and the electrical grid spanning the U.S.; and the street in front of your home and the national highway system.

Once every four years, America’s civil engineers provide a comprehensive assessment of the nation’s major infrastructure categories in ASCE’s Report Card for America’s Infrastructure (Report Card). Using a simple A to F school report card format, the Report Card provides a comprehensive assessment of current infrastructure conditions and needs, both assigning grades and making recommendations for how to raise the grades. An Advisory Council of ASCE members assigns the grades according to the following eight criteria: capacity, condition, funding, future need, operation and maintenance, public safety, resilience, and innovation. Since 1998, the grades have been near failing, averaging only Ds, due to delayed maintenance and underinvestment across most categories.

Now the 2013 Report Card grades are in, and America’s cumulative GPA for infrastructure rose slightly to a D+. The grades in 2013 ranged from a high of B- for solid waste to a low of D- for inland waterways and levees. Solid waste, drinking water, wastewater, roads, and bridges all saw incremental improvements, and rail jumped from a C- to a C+. No categories saw a decline in grade this year.

The 2013 Report Card demonstrates that we can improve the current condition of our nation’s infrastructure-- when investments are made and projects move forward, the grades rise. For example, greater private investment for efficiency and connectivity brought improvements in the rail category; renewed efforts in cities and states helped address some of the nation’s most vulnerable bridges; and, several categories benefited from short-term boosts in federal funding.

We know that investing in infrastructure is essential to support healthy, vibrant communities. Infrastructure is also critical for long-term economic growth, increasing GDP, employment, household income, and exports. The reverse is also true-- without prioritizing our nation’s infrastructure needs, deteriorating conditions can become a drag on the economy.

While the modest progress is encouraging, it is clear that we have a significant backlog of overdue maintenance across our infrastructure systems, a pressing need for modernization, and an immense opportunity to create reliable, long-term funding sources to avoid wiping out our recent gains. Overall, most grades fell below a C, and our cumulative GPA inched up just slightly to a D+ from a D four years ago.

We invite you to take a deeper look at the nation’s infrastructure conditions in the 2013 Report Card-- from the state infrastructure facts, to the interactive charts, to our three key solutions.

A brief summary of the findings for each category is below. Click on any heading to get more detailed information on the category and explore the interactive content.


Water and Environment

Dams: Dams again earned a grade of D. The average age of the 84,000 dams in the country is 52 years old. The nation’s dams are aging and the number of high-hazard dams is on the rise. Many of these dams were built as low-hazard dams protecting undeveloped agricultural land. However, with an increasing population and greater development below dams, the overall number of high-hazard dams continues to increase, to nearly 14,000 in 2012. The number of deficient dams is currently more than 4,000. The Association of State Dam Safety Officials estimates that it will require an investment of $21 billion to repair these aging, yet critical, high-hazard dams.

Drinking Water: The grade for drinking water improved slightly to a D. At the dawn of the 21st century, much of our drinking water infrastructure is nearing the end of its useful life. There are an estimated 240,000 water main breaks per year in the United States. Assuming every pipe would need to be replaced, the cost over the coming decades could reach more than $1 trillion, according to the American Water Works Association (AWWA). The quality of drinking water in the United States remains universally high, however. Even though pipes and mains are frequently more than 100 years old and in need of replacement, outbreaks of disease attributable to drinking water are rare.



Hazardous Waste: There has been undeniable success in the cleanup of the nation’s hazardous waste and brownfields sites. However, annual funding for Superfund site cleanup is estimated to be as much as $500 million short of what is needed, and 1,280 sites remain on the National Priorities List with an unknown number of potential sites yet to be identified. More than 400,000 brownfields sites await cleanup and redevelopment. The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) estimates that one in four Americans lives within three miles of a hazardous waste site. The grade for hazardous waste remained unchanged at a D.

Levees: Levees again earned a near failing grade of D- in 2013. The nation’s estimated 100,000 miles of levees can be found in all 50 states and the District of Columbia. Many of these levees were originally used to protect farmland, and now are increasingly protecting developed communities. The reliability of these levees is unknown in many cases, and the country has yet to establish a National Levee Safety Program. Public safety remains at risk from these aging structures, and the cost to repair or rehabilitate these levees is roughly estimated to be $100 billion by the National Committee on Levee Safety. However, the return on investment is clear-- as levees helped in the prevention of more than $141 billion in flood damages in 2011.

Solid Waste: In 2010, Americans generated 250 million tons of trash. Of that, 85 million tons were recycled or composted. This represents a 34% recycling rate, more than double the 14.5% in 1980. Per capita generation rates of waste have been steady over the past 20 years and have even begun to show signs of decline in the past several years. The grade for solid waste improved in 2013, and it earned the highest grade of B-.

Wastewater: The grade for wastewater improved slightly to a D. Capital investment needs for the nation’s wastewater and stormwater systems are estimated to total $298 billion over the next 20 years. Pipes represent the largest capital need, comprising three quarters of total needs. Fixing and expanding the pipes will address sanitary sewer overflows, combined sewer overflows, and other pipe-related issues. In recent years, capital needs for the treatment plants comprise about 15%-20% of total needs, but will likely increase due to new regulatory requirements. Stormwater needs, while growing, are still small compared with sanitary pipes and treatment plants. Since 2007, the federal government has required cities to invest more than $15 billion in new pipes, plants, and equipment to eliminate combined sewer overflows.



Public Facilities

Public Parks and Recreation: The popularity of parks and outdoor recreation areas in the United States continues to grow, with over 140 million Americans making use of these facilities a part of their daily lives. These activities contribute $646 billion to the nation’s economy, supporting 6.1 million jobs. Yet states and localities struggle to provide these benefits for parks amid flat and declining budgets, reporting an estimated $18.5 billion in unmet needs in 2011. The federal government is also facing a serious challenge as well since the National Park Service estimates its maintenance backlog at approximately $11 billion. The grade for parks remained unchanged at a C-.

Schools: Almost half of America’s public school buildings were built to educate the baby boomers – a generation that is now retiring from the workforce. Public school enrollment is projected to gradually increase through 2019, yet state and local school construction funding continues to decline. National spending on school construction has diminished to approximately $10 billion in 2012, about half the level spent prior to the recession, while the condition of school facilities continues to be a significant concern for communities. Experts now estimate the investment needed to modernize and maintain our nation’s school facilities is at least $270 billion or more. However, due to the absence of national data on school facilities for more than a decade, a complete picture of the condition of our nation’s schools remains mostly unknown. Schools received a D again this year.




Transportation

Aviation: Despite the effects of the recent recession, commercial flights were about 33 million higher in number in 2011 than in 2000, stretching the system’s ability to meet the needs of the nation’s economy. The Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) estimates that the national cost of airport congestion and delays was almost $22 billion in 2012. If current federal funding levels are maintained, the FAA anticipates that the cost of congestion and delays to the economy will rise from $34 billion in 2020 to $63 billion by 2040. Aviation again earned a D.

Bridges: Over two hundred million trips are taken daily across deficient bridges in the nation’s 102 largest metropolitan regions. In total, one in nine of the nation’s bridges are rated as structurally deficient, while the average age of the nation’s 607,380 bridges is currently 42 years. The Federal Highway Administration (FHWA) estimates that to eliminate the nation’s bridge backlog by 2028, we would need to invest $20.5 billion annually, while only $12.8 billion is being spent currently. The challenge for federal, state, and local governments is to increase bridge investments by $8 billion annually to address the identified $76 billion in needs for deficient bridges across the United States. However, with the overall number of structurally deficient bridges continuing to trend downward, the grade improved to C+.

Inland Waterways: Our nation’s inland waterways and rivers are the hidden backbone of our freight network-- they carry the equivalent of about 51 million truck trips each year. In many cases, the inland waterways system has not been updated since the 1950s, and more than half of the locks are over 50 years old. Barges are stopped for hours each day with unscheduled delays, preventing goods from getting to market and driving up costs. There is an average of 52 service interruptions a day throughout the system. Projects to repair and replace aging locks and dredge channels take decades to approve and complete, exacerbating the problem further. Inland waterways received a D- grade once again as conditions remain poor and investment levels remain stagnant.

Ports: This new category for 2013 debuted with a grade of C. The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers estimates that more than 95% (by volume) of overseas trade produced or consumed by the United States moves through our ports. To sustain and serve a growing economy and compete internationally, our nation’s ports need to be maintained, modernized, and expanded. While port authorities and their private sector partners have planned over $46 billion in capital improvements from now until 2016, federal funding has declined for navigable waterways and landside freight connections needed to move goods to and from the ports.

Rail: Railroads are experiencing a competitive resurgence as both an energy-efficient freight transportation option and a viable city-to-city passenger service. In 2012, Amtrak recorded its highest year of ridership with 31.2 million passengers, almost doubling ridership since 2000, with growth anticipated to continue. Both freight and passenger rail have been investing heavily in their tracks, bridges, and tunnels as well as adding new capacity for freight and passengers. In 2010 alone, freight railroads renewed the rails on more than 3,100 miles of railroad track, equivalent to going coast to coast. Since 2009, capital investment from both freight and passenger railroads has exceeded $75 billion, actually increasing investment during the recession when materials prices were lower and trains ran less frequently. With high ridership and greater investment in the system, the grade for rail saw the largest improvement, moving up to a C+ in 2013.

Roads: Targeted efforts to improve conditions and significant reductions in highway fatalities resulted in a slight improvement in the roads grade to a D this year. However, forty-two percent of America’s major urban highways remain congested, costing the economy an estimated $101 billion in wasted time and fuel annually. While the conditions have improved in the near term, and federal, state, and local capital investments increased to $91 billion annually, that level of investment is insufficient and still projected to result in a decline in conditions and performance in the long term. Currently, the Federal Highway Administration estimates that $170 billion in capital investment would be needed on an annual basis to significantly improve conditions and performance.

Transit: The grade for transit remained at a D as transit agencies struggled to balance increasing ridership with declining funding. America’s public transit infrastructure plays a vital role in our economy, connecting millions of people with jobs, medical facilities, schools, shopping, and recreation, and it is critical to the one-third of Americans who do not drive cars. Unlike many U.S. infrastructure systems, the transit system is not comprehensive, as 45% of American households lack any access to transit, and millions more have inadequate service levels. Americans who do have access have increased their ridership 9.1% in the past decade, and that trend is expected to continue. Although investment in transit has also increased, deficient and deteriorating transit systems cost the U.S. economy $90 billion in 2010, as many transit agencies are struggling to maintain aging and obsolete fleets and facilities amid an economic downturn that has reduced their funding, forcing service cuts and fare increases.



Energy

Energy: America relies on an aging electrical grid and pipeline distribution systems, some of which originated in the 1880s. Investment in power transmission has increased since 2005, but ongoing permitting issues, weather events, and limited maintenance have contributed to an increasing number of failures and power interruptions. While demand for electricity has remained level, the availability of energy in the form of electricity, natural gas, and oil will become a greater challenge after 2020 as the population increases. Although about 17,000 miles of additional high-voltage transmission lines and significant oil and gas pipelines are planned over the next five years, permitting and siting issues threaten their completion. Thus, the grade for energy remained a D+.

Conclusion

Infrastructure is the foundation that connects the nation’s businesses, communities, and people, driving our economy and improving our quality of life. For the U.S. economy to be the most competitive in the world, we need a first class infrastructure system-- transport systems that move people and goods efficiently and at reasonable cost by land, water, and air; transmission systems that deliver reliable, low-cost power from a wide range of energy sources; and water systems that drive industrial processes as well as the daily functions in our homes. Yet today, our infrastructure systems are failing to keep pace with the current and expanding needs, and investment in infrastructure is faltering.


The Society recommends in the strongest possible terms that we, as a society, immediately commit to make their vision of the future a reality-- an American infrastructure system that is the source of our prosperity. We asked our most recently endorsed candidate for Congress, Mary Hoeft what's holding this up, since her Wisconsin district, is very much in need of attention for infrastructure maintenance and upgrades. 21% of Wisconsin's 13,539 miles of major roads are in poor condition and driving on roads in need of repair costs Wisconsin motorists $2 billion a year in extra vehicle repairs and operating costs-- $502.10 per motorist. "Congressman Sean Duffy," she reminded us, "has been on the Donald Trump Campaign Trail, flying from event to event. That's because my opponent isn't willing to ruin his car driving on Wisconsin roads that have the distinct honor of ranking third among our nation's worst roads. Our potholes cost drivers two times the national average in repairs. Does Duffy care? Apparently not. Does he care that potholes are killing our residents?  Apparently not. Duffy has introduced ZERO legislation to address our crumbling infrastructure. And why should he when it is so much more glamorous to introduce legislation intended to cripple the Consumer Federal Protection Bureau. We know what Sean Duffy values and it isn't the welfare of the people he represents in Wisconsin. His focus is on Wall Street."

Tom Wakely, the progressive Democrat running in the Austin-San Antonio corridor of Texas, is also concerned with the need for infrastructure improvement in Texas. "It's unconscionable," he told us, "that our nation's drinking water infrastructure is graded as a D. This should be one of the most protected aspects of a country that considers itself to be part of the first world. We encourage fracking practices which allow for the vacuuming of our most precious resource in drought-stricken areas and have the potential to pollute whatever is left. We allow foreign nations to buy massive tracts of land on our soil to help grow their crops with little federal oversight as to how they use local water. We ignore companies like Nestlé who wish to privatize the resource and view it strictly as a commodity. We practically forget the composition of our local infrastructure and wind up poisoning an entire community in Flint.

"We can do so much better. There must be better federal oversight of this necessary, life-giving resource. We have to consolidate the jurisdictions and declare that clean drinking water is a human right. We cannot in good faith employ fracking practices when renewable energy is just around the corner. Clean drinking water cannot be viewed as a traded commodity. There must be a new federal database that maintains an inventory of our municipal water infrastructures so that we can avoid disaster should we need to switch sources. It is essential to human survival, and we must view it as such."

Goal Thermometer

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