Sunday, November 10, 2019

Last Call For It's A Dam Shame

Two related stories to send off your Sunday, first a new Bloomberg News report finds America's wealth inequality is reaching record levels...

The U.S.’s historic economic expansion has so enriched one-percenters they now hold almost as much wealth as the middle- and upper-middle classes combined.

The top 1% of American households have enjoyed huge returns in the stock market in the past decade, to the point that they now control more than half of the equity in U.S. public and private companies, according to data from the Federal Reserve. Those fat portfolios have America’s elite gobbling up an ever-bigger piece of the pie.

The very richest had assets of about $35.4 trillion in the second quarter, or just shy of the $36.9 trillion held by the tens of millions of people who make up the 50th percentile to the 90th percentile of Americans -- much of the middle and upper-middle classes

Americans Now Need at Least $500,000 a Year to Enter Top 1%

Chalk up at least part of their good fortune to interest rates, said Stephen Colavito, chief market strategist at Lakeview Capital Partners, an Atlanta-based investment firm for high-net-worth investors. People can’t get much of a return on certificates of deposits and other passive investments, so they’ve pumped money into stocks and propped up the market overall, he said.

In turn, those investments make the wealthy eligible to put money into exclusive hedge funds and private equity funds. Many such funds require $5 million of investments to qualify.

“The wealthier that the wealthy get, the more opportunity they have,” Colavito said.

It may not be long before one-percenters actually surpass the middle and upper-middle classes. Household wealth in the upper-most bracket grew by $650 billion in the second quarter of 2019, while Americans in the 50th to 90th percentiles saw a $210 billion gain.

And it won't be long until the top 1% outclass the bottom 90% in wealth too.  We're at that point.  Meanwhile by making billionaires richer,  we're still in danger of infrastructure collapse, even "fair" dams.

A more than two-year investigation by The Associated Press has found scores of dams nationwide in even worse condition, and in equally dangerous locations. They loom over homes, businesses, highways or entire communities that could face life-threatening floods if the dams don’t hold.

A review of federal data and reports obtained under state open records laws identified 1,688 high-hazard dams rated in poor or unsatisfactory condition as of last year in 44 states and Puerto Rico. The actual number is almost certainly higher: Some states declined to provide condition ratings for their dams, claiming exemptions to public record requests. Others simply haven’t rated all their dams due to lack of funding, staffing or authority to do so.
Deaths from dam failures have declined since a series of catastrophic collapses in the 1970s prompted the federal and state governments to step up their safety efforts. Yet about 1,000 dams have failed over the past four decades, killing 34 people, according to Stanford University’s National Performance of Dams Program.

Built for flood control, irrigation, water supply, hydropower, recreation or industrial waste storage, the nation’s dams are over a half-century old on average. Some are no longer adequate to handle the intense rainfall and floods of a changing climate. Yet they are being relied upon to protect more and more people as housing developments spring up nearby.

“There are thousands of people in this country that are living downstream from dams that are probably considered deficient given current safety standards,” said Mark Ogden, a former Ohio dam safety official who is now a technical specialist with the Association of State Dam Safety Officials.

The association estimates it would take more than $70 billion to repair and modernize the nation’s more than 90,000 dams. But unlike much other infrastructure, most U.S. dams are privately owned. That makes it difficult for regulators to require improvements from operators who are unable or unwilling to pay the steep costs.

So $70 billion to fix the dams in the country, and instead we gave ten times that to billionaires for more pocket change.

As I said, related stories.

The Reach To Impeach, Con't

Democratic Rep. Jackie Speier gives the correct answer today on the GOP defense of Trump being that Trump's Ukraine scandal doesn't rise to the level of impeachable: "This is a very strong case of bribery", an offense written directly into the Constitution as impeachable.

A Democrat on the House Intelligence Committee defended the Democrats' strategy in the impeachment inquiry and responded on Sunday to the Republican witness requests in an interview on ABC's "This Week."

"This is a very simple, straightforward act. The president broke the law," said Rep. Jackie Speier of California. "He went on a telephone call with the President of Ukraine and said 'I have a favor though' and then proceeded to ask for an investigation of his rival. This is a very strong case of bribery."

The constitution is very clear, treason, bribery or acts of omission," she added. "And in this case it’s clearly one of those

Republicans are now falling back on "It's all one-sided so it's illegitimate!"

Ranking member of the House Armed Services Committee, Rep. Mac Thornberry, R-Texas, criticized the inquiry for being partisan, in response to Speier during a separate interview on "This Week."

"I think whatever happens now, there will be a taint to this one-sided partisan approach to impeachment, that is different that has been used before, and so I think there will be intense skepticism about whatever they come up with," he said.

When "This Week" co-anchor Martha Raddatz pressed Thornberry on the substance of the allegations at the center of the impeachment inquiry versus the process, Thornberry said, "I believe that it is inappropriate for a president to ask a foreign leader to investigate a political rival."

He added, however, "I do not believe it was impeachable.

This is where the country will be headed into hearings later this week.  Everyone agrees he did it, but is it impeachable?

If the answer is no, if bribery isn't impeachable, then we're done as a nation.

Sunday Long Read: The Lee In Washington And Lee

Yes, the Lee in Washington and Lee University is Robert E. Lee, not the most popular guy in American history right now, given the whole "traitor to the country for slavery's sake" turn of events. Our Sunday Long Read this week has Author Abigail Covington details the university's reaction to the Trump era, Charlottesville, and being in charge of the place where Lee is interred.

The president of Washington and Lee University, Will Dudley, understood the depth of his problem the moment he turned on the television and saw hoards of white men in collared shirts and khakis carrying tiki torches as they marched through Charlottesville, Virginia, protesting the removal of a statue of Robert E. Lee.

For nearly 150 years, the school over which he presided managed to avoid any controversies related to its namesake and former president. But with the August 2017 white supremicist rallies and riots in Charlottesville, Virginia and the reaction of President Donald Trump — “You also had some very fine people on both sides” — had come new and, in some quarters, unwelcome scrutiny over the enduring presence in the south of memorials to the Lost Cause. And nowhere was that presence more deeply ingrained than in Lexington, Virginia on the campus of Washington and Lee, at whose spiritual core sat the memorial chapel in which lay in eternal repose the remains of one Robert E. Lee. Unlike any of his predecessors, Dudley understood that this time he’d have to deal with the school’s Robert E. Lee problem. He believed he had a path toward a solution, and that it began with Ted DeLaney.

“No one has a more penetrating sense of W&L’s history and character than Professor DeLaney,” wrote the school’s provost Marc Conner in W&L’s official magazine The Columns. Now 75 years old and semi-retired, DeLaney grew up in the black neighborhood of a then heavily-segregated Lexington and has a relationship to W&L unlike any other. He started as a custodian in the early 1960s and spent twenty years as a lab technician in the school’s biology department. He then enrolled as an undergraduate, graduating cum laude in 1985 at the age of 40; he later returned as a professor in the history department where he taught courses on such subjects as Comparative Slavery in the Western Hemisphere, African American history, Civil Rights and Gay and Lesbian history.

President Dudley’s post-Charlottesville plan was to form a commission whose unenviable task would necessitate separating the myths of Robert E. Lee from the facts of his life. It would gather opinions on Lee and his legacy from the W&L community, whose constituents often contradicted each other. “W&L is a fortress of white privilege,” one alumnus would seethe during an open conference call for the school’s graduates hosted by the commission. Another would lay out the stakes in clear and troubling terms: “If the president and the board don’t heed the final recommendations of the Commission, the university will attract tourists like Dylan Roof.”

The commission would have twelve members, drawn from W&L professors, faculty, current students, and alumni. More than examining the connection between Lee and the school, Dudley wanted recommendations on ways of restructuring the Lee narrative in the wake of the nation’s renewed attention to race, history and justice. He asked Ted DeLaney to join it, and DeLaney quickly agreed.

In many ways, DeLaney’s life had been preparing him for this moment. For over thirty years, he’d wandered in the shadows cast by Confederate monuments and statues in his hometown. He’d attended convocations and welcome addresses at Lee Chapel and sat in pews built atop Robert E. Lee’s family crypt. His tolerance had been tested and fortified by each indignity he’d silently suffered and every display of hagiographic admiration he’d witnessed his friends, colleagues and students display toward Robert E. Lee. He was both fired up and exhausted; reluctant and motivated to finally take on the legacy of a Confederate god who’d haunted him all his life.

In a way, W&L was Lee's legacy, the way to ensure his name would be enshrined and that for better or for worse, he would be remembered.

Maybe he shouldn't be, and I'm glad the university that bears his name and frankly its shame is coming to terms with it 150 years later.
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