NYT Editorial Board Misunderstands Economic Concept

The Daily Escape

Santa Catalina Mountains, Saguaro NP, Tucson AZ – December 2021 photo by Paul J Van Helden

Last Saturday, the NYT had an editorial called “President Biden’s Economy Is Failing the Big Mac Test”. The Times said that when the average worker’s paycheck doesn’t buy as many hamburgers from McDonald’s as it did last year, Biden’s in trouble.

Unfortunately for the NYT, that isn’t what the “Big Mac test” is about. They properly credit the idea to The Economist magazine, which originated it in 1986. It was intended as a semi-humorous illustration of Purchasing Power Parity (PPP). PPP basically tells economists what the comparative strengths and weaknesses are of each country’s currency by looking at the cost of the same “basket of goods” across geography.

The thesis is that in a free market, foreign exchange rates should adjust to equalize the price of goods and services across different nations.

According to The Economist, the Big Mac PPP denotes the exchange rate at which the Big Mac would cost the same in the US as it would in other countries. There are all sorts of comparison problems with the Big Mac index. Russia has one of the cheapest Big Macs, despite the fact that Moscow is among the most expensive cities in the world.

But the Times didn’t want to talk about exchange rates at all. It wanted to make a point about US prices in the time of Covid, and Biden’s so-called failure to control them. It says:

“The dollar figures on workers’ paychecks rose handsomely over the past 12 months. But for most workers, that wasn’t enough to keep pace with the highest inflation in several decades, which eroded the value of each of those dollars….The purchasing power of the average worker’s weekly pay declined by 2.3% from December 2020 to December 2021.”

True, and that sounds bad, but maybe we should add some context. First, Investopedia says that US sales of Big Macs have been falling since the 1980s. Second, the NYT itself says a few paragraphs later: (emphasis by Wrongo)

“Lower-wage workers have seen particularly strong wage growth. For workers in the bottom third of the wage distribution, Arindrajit Dube, an economist at the University of Massachusetts, Amherst, estimates that average wage gains have exceeded inflation.”

Just guessing, but Wrongo thinks that lower-wage workers are likely to be the primary market for Big Macs. And if workers in the bottom third of wage distribution are experiencing the strongest wage gains, maybe that’s what the Times should refer to as a Biden BFD!

And apparently, the Times doesn’t read its own business section, which on Monday said that US fast-food menu prices rose by 8% in 2021. For you non-economists, that means McDonald’s prices rose at a rate faster than US inflation, but instead, the NYT editorial board says Biden blew it.

The NYT tries to take what is a useful way to teach something about comparative exchange rates and forces it to say something critical about Biden. The title of the editorial says that Biden is failing, but in the fourth paragraph, they say:

“Mr. Biden inherited an economic crisis precipitated by the coronavirus pandemic, and his administration deserves credit for orchestrating a fiscal response on a scale commensurate with the nation’s need. The outstanding achievement of Mr. Biden’s first year in office was the passage of an economic aid package in March that shielded Americans from the economic effects of the pandemic and helped to deliver a faster recovery than in other developed nations.”

They seem confused. Later, they say:

“The challenge now is to bring inflation back under control without undermining the economic recovery. The work will mostly be done by the Federal Reserve, not by Mr. Biden or his administration. The role of presidents in shaping the nation’s economic fortunes is generally overstated.”

So presidents really don’t have a big role in improving the economy, except that Biden caused bad inflation, which he can’t fix, because that’s the job of the Federal Reserve.

Does any of this make the NYT sound smart to you?

As someone who was a working adult in the 1970’s and 1980’s, Wrongo remembers truly high inflation. He remembers having a 14% home mortgage. Today’s inflation doesn’t compare to that, something that the editorial board of the NYT must know.

There is so much media laziness in America today. The NYT missed a chance to educate the public about why the prices of various products are increasing. Instead, they settled for an easy criticism of Biden.

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Monday Wake Up Call – NATO edition, January 24, 2022

The Daily Escape:

Landscape Arch, Arches NP, UT – January 2022 photo by Peter Ferenz

Let’s talk about the elephant in the room in the standoff between Russia and Ukraine: NATO. Back in the early 1990s, Clinton wanted to have it both ways with his Russian counterpart, Boris Yeltsin. He wanted to expand NATO while at the same time, partnering with Russia.

Yeltsin wasn’t having any of that. He accused Clinton at a summit of the Conference on Security and Cooperation in Europe, (CSCE) that the US was “trying to split [the] continent again” through NATO expansion. Putin believes that today.

NATO’s expansion, either in the form of full members (or in increased military activities), has now been the policy of five US presidents: Clinton, GW Bush, Obama, Trump, and now, Biden. So, a couple of questions:

  • Did NATO’s expansion to the east of a reunified Germany increase the security in Europe and reduce the risk of a major war in Europe?
  • Did NATO’s expansion in membership increase the safety and security of the American people?

The answer to both is a no. NATO expansion post 1990 hasn’t helped the original European allies and has done nothing to improve the security of the US. Arguably, we’re worse off today than in 1990.

Today there are true splits within NATO. Germany, its most important country, isn’t on the same page about Russia. From Der Spiegel:

“The US wants to impose harsh sanctions on Russia if it invades Ukraine. But the German government is putting on the brakes out of fears over the economic consequences and what punitive measures could mean for energy supplies for a country that gets much of its gas from Moscow.”

Germany’s conflicted about Ukraine. Der Spiegel reports that last week, the US CIA director William Burns held a meeting in Bonn with German Chancellor Olaf Scholz. Burns told him that if Russia attacks Ukraine, Berlin must take a clear stand.

Biden also wanted to meet with Scholz in Washington. It would have been an opportunity for them to closely coordinate steps in dealing with Russia, but Scholz refused to go and meet him. We have a problem when Russia is building up to the biggest European military threat since the end of the Cold War, and the German Chancellor is unable to clear his schedule to meet with the American president.

Having declined the Washington visit, Biden dispatched Secretary of State Blinken to Berlin, and like the CIA director, his message was – Germany must participate in tough financial and economic sanctions if Putin strikes.

Despite the European ambivalence, Russia’s move to surround Ukraine with troops may be a strategic error. Europe has wanted to become a kind of giant economic Switzerland, independent but neutral. Today, it’s trying to come to grips with the fact that Russia wants to push NATO as far back as it can by recovering former Soviet territory.

Russia making NATO into a target seems to have revivified NATO a bit. It was more or less in slumber before Putin’s move against Ukraine and his demands of NATO and the US. Europe, the US, and NATO are walking a tightrope now, since there’s a fine line between diplomacy and “appeasement”.

The US and NATO countries all have entrenched maximalist military hawks who will attack any politician that surrenders an inch to Russia in the current situation. That’s an understandable position. In the last decade, Russia broke up Georgia, it ended the revolution against Assad in Syria, while securing its naval base there. It annexed Crimea albeit with local popular support, sent troops to Libya and Africa, supported Armenia against Azerbaijan, and recently “preserved” the non-elected government of Kazakhstan.

Can/should this be allowed go on forever? Is this the right time to push back hard?

There is no military solution that will keep Russia out of Ukraine. When Wrongo was a member of the NATO forces, the accepted strategy was that US and European troops on the ground were a “tripwire”. It was clear that the Soviet Union had vastly superior military assets amassed on Europe’s border. And Europe’s border was at that time, East Germany. Berlin was just 300 miles from Bonn, a day’s trip.

The counter to the Soviet’s military superiority was NATO’s potential use of tactical nuclear weapons. We could stop their ground forces reasonably effectively before they could get to Germany’s capital. The basic NATO position was to fight long enough with conventional forces to make the possibility of nuclear escalation plausible.

Today the situation is similar. Russia has vastly superior military assets amassed on Europe’s border, but the distances are greater: From Smolensk on Russia’s western border to Warsaw in Poland is about 500 miles, and it’s 1,075 miles from Smolensk to Bonn, Germany.

That breathing room explains Clinton’s flawed reasoning for NATO expansion. But, since the West has said that it will no longer use tactical nuclear weapons, it has limited options if it faces a limited invasion of say, Ukraine, a non-NATO member.

This leaves the US with trying to find a diplomatic solution, one which doesn’t look like appeasement, one that the many NATO members will also find acceptable. Having to compromise will mean finally admitting that we are part of a multipolar world.

Is Washington ready to go there yet? Very doubtful. Our path is fraught with danger as we careen from crisis to crisis. Something has to change or we’ll misplay a hand and be back where we were in 1939.

It’s time for NATO, Europe, and the US to wake up! It’s hard to see a sensible compromise that doesn’t look like appeasement, but it’s their job to find it for the rest of us.

To help them wake up, listen to John Mellencamp and Bruce Springsteen perform “Wasted Days”, from Mellencamp’s “Strictly a One-Eyed Jack” album, released this week, it’s one of the three songs featuring Springsteen:

Sample lyric:

How much sorrow is there left to climb
How many promises are worth a dime
Who on earth is worth our time?

Think about that NATO!

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Sunday Cartoon Blogging – January 23, 2022

The Dems need to build Biden back better before the mid-terms if they expect an outcome that’s different than what the polls are currently showing.

The question is how to do it. One thing that won’t be happening is support from the mainstream media for the makeover. There’s been a blizzard of over-the-top headlines such as the NYT’s, “Biden Can Still Rescue His Presidency,” or Time’s How the Biden Administration Lost Its Way” and Axios’sBiden’s Epic Failures.”

These headlines could say: “Biden Fails to Fix All of the World’s Problems in a year.”

What’s driving much of this “presidency in peril” coverage is Biden’s approval ratings. Some results are truly discouraging, while CNN’s poll of polls, released Thursday, found that 41% of Americans approve of the way Joe Biden is handling his job while 54% disapprove.

Still, Biden and the Dems need a mid-course correction. On to cartoons.

Can diplomacy solve the crisis in Ukraine?

The Senate failed to pass voting rights. Republicans wouldn’t help:

Republicans don’t want to look back one year, but they certainly don’t mind looking back at the 1950s:

The administration is sending rapid tests via the post office. Have they heard about Amazon?

Plenty of news this week about Trump and January 6. The dogs are gathering:

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Saturday Soother – Biden’s First Year, January 22, 2022

The Daily Escape:

Winter sunrise, Monument Valley, Four Corners – January 2022 photo by Lothar Gold

Wrongo is rooting for Biden and for the Democrats to grab victory from the jaws of defeat in the November 2022 mid-terms. He also has a few thoughts about Biden’s first year as president. Dickens said it best in The Tale of Two Cities in 1859:

“It was the best of times, it was the worst of times, it was the age of wisdom, it was the age of foolishness, it was the epoch of belief, it was the epoch of incredulity, it was the season of Light, it was the season of Darkness…”

This seems to apply today. The best is how the economy is performing. GDP is up while unemployment is down dramatically. Six million new jobs have been created. Wrongo repeats what he said earlier this week:

“A year ago, forecasters expected unemployment to be nearly 6% in the fourth quarter of 2020. Instead, it fell to 3.9% in December….Wages are high, new businesses are forming at record rates, and poverty has fallen below its prepandemic levels. Since March 2020, Americans have saved at least $2 trillion more than expected…the median household’s checking account balance was 50% higher in July 2021 than before the pandemic.”

On Biden’s watch, we’ve given 532 million doses of Covid vaccine to Americans.

The worst of times includes too little progress in four areas: First, our inability to put the Coronavirus pandemic behind us. Second, our inability to do anything about the looming threats to our elections that partisan vote-counting in many Republican-controlled states implies. Third, the continuing fracturing of our social cohesion, and fourth, our inability to face up to the climate crisis.

These are not solely Biden’s failures. These failures are shared by Republicans, along with the rest of the Democratic Party leadership who seem to have forgotten what the job of being a politician is. If you doubt that, consider what Paul Begala said on MSNBC:

“…the problem for the Democrats…is not that they have bad leaders. They have bad followers”,

Begala is Dem royalty from an earlier time, even if he’s no longer powerful today. Doesn’t this show that the rot is throughout their leadership? Matt Taibbi wrote: (emphasis by Wrongo)

“Democrats are now in their second straight year of losing significant ground with all minority groups. There are major defections among Asian and Hispanic voters, and even Trump’s six-point gain among black men last year is beginning to look like a thing (Biden’s approval rating with black voters has dropped from 78% to 57%).”

So, does all that add up to the age of foolishness or the season of darkness? Opinions differ. More from Taibbi, who says given America’s demographics, Dems had a glidepath to a permanent majority:

“If Democrats had just figured a way to deliver a few things for ordinary people over the years, they would never have lost again….if that were its real goal, the formula was obvious. Single-payer health care, bulk negotiation of drug prices, antitrust action against Too Big To Fail banks or Silicon Valley’s surveillance monopolists — really anything that demonstrates a willingness to prioritize voters over the takeover artists and CEOs who fund the party would have given them enduring credibility.”

With nine months until the 2022 mid-terms, what can ol’ Joe and the even older Democratic Party leadership do to turn things around? The truth is that they’re most likely incapable of turning the tanker that is the Democratic Party onto a new, true course that will return them to majorities in the House and Senate.

Wrongo has covered what they should do. He has little optimism that they are up to the task.

Time to pivot to our Saturday Soother, where we let go of questions like “Will Russia invade Ukraine?” or “Will Ivanka testify?” and focus on a weekend of professional football playoffs or the Australian Tennis Open. Here, we’re gonna watch the TV return of “Billions”. We’re also taking down the last of our Christmas decorations and hoping for the return to normalcy that Biden promised us a year ago.

Time to grab a seat by the window and listen to Gregorio Allegri’s “Miserere mei, Deus” (Have mercy on me, O God), performed in 2018 by the Tenebrae Choir conducted by Nigel Short at St. Bartholomew the Great Church, London. We all need a little mercy now, and this is beautiful:

This was composed in the 1630s for use on Holy Wednesday and Good Friday of Holy Week. Pope Urban VIII loved the piece and forbade its performance anywhere outside of the Sistine Chapel.

For over 100 years, ‘Miserere mei, Deus” was performed exclusively there. In 1770, Mozart who was 14, heard it, and transcribed it from memory. The following year, Mozart gave the sheet music to historian and biographer, Dr. Charles Burney. Burney published it in London, which resulted in the papacy lifting the ban.

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War With Russia? Over What?

The Daily Escape:

Bailey’s Island, ME – January 7, 2022 photo by Eric Storm Photo

Russia has decided the time is right to challenge the balance of power in Europe. The talks between Moscow and the US, and between the EU, NATO and Russia were motivated by two reasons. First, Russia’s long time concerns about NATO encroaching on their Western border. Second, the view in the West that Russia, after massing troops on the Ukraine border, is going to invade Ukraine and absorb it.

Putin told Biden in early December that he was looking for European security guarantees. They were later presented by Moscow in the form of two draft treaties, one a Russian-US security treaty, the other a security agreement between Russia and NATO. That led to the recent talks that seemingly went nowhere.

The pawn in this diplomatic game is Ukraine. The basic options for Ukraine are the same as were discussed in 2014: Alignment with Russia, alignment with the EU/NATO or balancing between the two.

But to Moscow, Ukraine isn’t the problem. Putin thinks it’s Washington.

We should remember that Putin laid out his position to not accept any further eastward expansion of NATO in his speech to the Munich Security Conference in February, 2007. He hasn’t changed his thinking.

Both sides know that Ukraine is an impoverished, de-industrialized, divided, and corrupt mess. Ukraine ranks 117 out of 180 countries on Transparency International’s corruption index. Why would either side want to take over responsibility for Ukraine?

Also, Russia understands that the NATO expansion hadn’t been on the table for years until Putin brought it up. Suddenly, he has the West debating an issue that wasn’t an issue for a long time. Ukraine hardly qualifies as a potential NATO member – it doesn’t have the resources to defend itself. There’s no way it could really contribute to defending other countries in Europe, even though they did send a few troops to Iraq and Afghanistan.

So why would Russia attack Ukraine? Moscow is fully aware that while its troops would be welcomed in Eastern parts of Ukraine they wouldn’t be in others. Yet, we learned yesterday that Russia withdrew its diplomats and their families from Kyiv:

“According to one senior Ukrainian security official, 18 people — mostly the children and wives of Russian diplomats boarded buses from Kyiv back to Moscow. About 30 more Russians left within the ensuing days, from the Kyiv embassy and a Russian consulate in Lviv. The Ukrainian security official said Diplomats at two other Russian consulates have been told to prepare to leave Ukraine.”

Anatol Lieven, writing in Responsible Statecraft, wonders what the US, NATO and the Europeans are thinking. They’ve rejected Russia’s conditions for an agreement since they were not willing to rule out expansion to Ukraine, Georgia, and other former Soviet republics: (emphasis by Wrongo)

“…NATO has no real intention of admitting Ukraine, nor of fighting Russia in Ukraine. Both Washington and Brussels have openly ruled this out. Indeed, NATO could not do so even if it wanted to. US forces in Europe are wholly inadequate to the purpose, as are what is left of the British and French armies.”

It’s possible that Russia is attempting to split Germany from the rest of Europe. Germany is reliant on Russia’s natural gas to a greater extent than other European countries. Assuming that Lieven is correct about NATO military weakness, it’s also possible that Russia is trying to intimidate NATO. According to Adam Tooze, Russia accounts for about 40% of Europe’s gas imports. And a rupture of relations will result in the complete embargoing of Russian gas and oil to European customers.

While the US, NATO, and the EU have all promised “unprecedented sanctions,” against Russia if they invade Ukraine, sanctions only matter if the other side cares. If Russia decides to rupture relations with the West, it will have calculated that it would survive more economic sanctions. The primary Western threat is to block Russia from using the SWIFT electronic payments system. But it’s possible that Russia could survive being blocked from SWIFT for longer than Europe can survive without Russian energy.

Despite that threat, Western allies are sending dangerously contradictory messages about their willingness to impose anything on Russia beyond a financial slap on the wrist. One variable that sums up Russia’s commanding position in a sanctions environment is Russia’s foreign exchange reserves:

With north of $600 billion in reserves, Russia is just behind China, Japan, and Switzerland. This gives Putin the capacity to withstand sanctions on the rest of the Russian economy.

Putin has a timeline. In 2024 he faces a choice as to whether to continue in power or to begin to prepare for his final exit. At that point, he will be 72. We have to assume that by then, he would like to have drawn a line on Western expansion.

Also, 2024 overlaps with the end of Biden’s first (only?) term as president. So, setting the terms of Russia-US relations on the expansion issue must be a priority for the Kremlin. Biden has clearly signaled that his priority is China and that he is willing to pay a political price for retrenching its strategic position (Afghanistan). Perhaps that opens the door for a Russian deal in Europe.

Lost in this discussion is the possibility that directly confronting Russia could drive them to sign a joint defense treaty with China. That would be a world-changing diplomatic move, assuming it included a mutual defense provision.

It would be a balance of power earthquake, a real-life demonstration Mackinder’s Heartland theory, which states that:

  • Who rules Eastern Europe commands the Heartland
  • Who rules the Heartland commands the World Island
  • Who rules the World Island commands the world

Mackinder thought of the heartland as the core of Eurasia, and he considered all of Europe and Asia as the World Island.  Think of such an alliance controlling much of the world’s natural resources, having global leadership in manufacturing, and the best of STEM education. Imagine their combined military and naval might joined in a military pact.

There is still a chance that US flexibility in two areas may avert a diplomatic meltdown with Russia. The first would be a NATO commitment to deploy no new forces in NATO countries close to Russia’s borders, in return for Russian limits on new deployments and the stand-down of the troops now deployed on Ukraine’s borders.

The second would be genuine US support for the failed Minsk II agreement which focused on autonomy for a demilitarized Donbas region within Ukraine. Donbas autonomy within Ukraine would be a serious barrier both to Ukraine seeking NATO membership and would therefore indirectly meet Russia’s key concerns.

NATO, the US, and the EU need to come to a more modest view of themselves and their role in the world. We should abandon the empty and hypocritical false promise of further NATO expansion and seek a reasonably cooperative relationship with Russia.

Otherwise, we can go on living in our world of make-believe, a world that may easily be shattered by harsh realities.

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Democrats Must Go on Offense

The Daily Escape:

Oregon City Bridge, OR with Willamette Falls in background – January 2022 photo by Sanman Photography

Gallup says that the Dems are losing the battle for hearts and minds. Their most recent poll shows a dramatic shift over the course of 2021, from a nine-percentage-point Democratic advantage in the first quarter to a five-point Republican edge in the fourth quarter. Here’s a chart showing the bad news:

More from Gallup:

“Both the nine-point Democratic advantage in the [2021] first quarter and the five-point Republican edge in the fourth quarter are among the largest Gallup has measured for each party in any quarter since it began regularly measuring party identification and leaning in 1991.”

Gallup points out that the GOP has held a five-point advantage in a total of only four quarters since 1991. The fourth quarter of 2021 was the first time Republicans held a five-point advantage since 1995, when they took control of the House of Representatives for the first time since the 1950s.

Republicans have only held a larger advantage one time, in the first quarter of 1991, after the U.S. victory in the Persian Gulf War led by then President George H.W. Bush.

We’ve known that the Democrats aren’t at the top of their political game for months. The current issue of The Economist reports that while Biden looked great in 2020 as an alternative to Trump, in 2021, with Trump virtually invisible, Biden managed to look less compelling:

“Americans find themselves being led through tumultuous times by their least charismatic and politically able president since George H.W. Bush.”

The Economist listened in on a focus group of 2020 Biden voters conducted by Conservative pollster, Sarah Longwell. There were eight panelists, all under 30, from Georgia, Ohio, and Pennsylvania:

“Asked to grade the president, the group…gave him four Cs, three D’s and an F. And it was not a hostile crowd. All the group’s members were Biden voters, and none regretted their vote. Indeed, if asked to support the president again in 2024, all said…they probably would…”

While a few things have been accomplished, much of the progressive agenda hasn’t. So half of the Democrats are mad at Biden for not accomplishing more. The focus group was young, and just one of them watched cable news; the rest got their facts from social media, where the president’s two recent good speeches barely register.

Ezra Klein points out that Biden learned from the weak Obama effort at stimulus after the Great Recession. He met the pandemic crisis with an overwhelming fiscal stimulus, supporting the passing of the $2.2 trillion CARES Act (passed during the Trump administration) and then adding the $1.9 trillion American Rescue Plan. Biden made it clear that he preferred the risks of a hot economy to mass joblessness.

From Klein: (emphasis by Wrongo)

That they have largely succeeded feels like the best-kept secret in Washington. A year ago, forecasters expected unemployment to be nearly 6% in the fourth quarter of 2020. Instead, it fell to 3.9% in December….Wages are high, new businesses are forming at record rates, and poverty has fallen below its prepandemic levels.”

Since March 2020, Americans have saved at least $2 trillion more than expected. A JPMorgan Chase analysis found the median household’s checking account balance was 50% higher in July 2021 than before the pandemic.

But we now have inflation, supply chain issues and most importantly, we still have Covid. This may not be the presidency Biden wanted, but it’s the one he’s got. Biden has problems with the media. Crises sell, after all. But the reason Biden’s approval numbers are so underwater is that neither side thinks he is fighting for them.

Biden’s a career politician who survived by steering toward the middle of his own Party. That’s fine when you’re an incumbent Senator in the liberal Northeast, but not when you’re fighting a war of attrition against a Republican opposition that wants to destroy you and your Party.

Remember Biden’s talking point in his 2020 campaign was that this was a fight for the soul of America. He was right, but both Biden and the Party have drifted away from that and from designing programs that would rescue America’s soul.

If the Dems are to win in the 2022 mid-terms and the 2024 presidential election, they must start acting like they’re fighting for us. There’s no grey area in American politics. The entire Party must unite behind fighting the Republicans and Trump.

Democrats need to be on the offense – all day, every day.

How about taking a few minutes for a musical palate cleanser? Since we need Biden to find his way home to the Democratic Party, Let’s watch Rachael Price, lately of Lake Street Dive, along with the Live from Here Band with Chris Thile, performing in 2018 a cover of Blind Faith’s 1969 “Can’t Find My Way Home“:

Blind Faith was a Supergroup comprised of Eric Clapton, Steve Winwood, Ginger Baker, and Ric Grech. They released just one album. Winwood wrote this and sang lead, despite Clapton’s reputation.

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Monday Wake Up Call – Remembering MLK, Jr.

The Daily Escape:

After an ice storm, Taos NM – January 2022 photo by Bob Benson

“Freedom without consequences is a myth. Our actions always have consequences. The question is: who will bear them?”Seth Godin

The year 1968 was pivotal. In addition to the assassination of Martin Luther King, Jr., it brought the Tet Offensive, student protests across the country, the assassination of Robert F. Kennedy, the student and police riots at the Chicago Democratic Convention, Black Power salutes at the Olympics, and the triumph of Richard Nixon’s Southern strategy.

MLK, along with others in our churches and a few courageous politicians, came together to support the Big Idea that Separate was not Equal. MLK gave a voice to that Big Idea. His presence, power and persuasiveness drove our political process to an outcome in the Civil Rights Act of 1964 that was completely unthinkable in 1954 when Brown vs. Board of Education was decided by the Supreme Court.

Wrongo participated in the Civil Rights movement from 1958 to 1962. He left active participation in the movement believing good ideas and a morally sound position would change our politics. He was wrong.

Legislation has recently passed in eight states that will restrict what students can be taught about our past. This is an effort to segregate certain subjects from our common history. These Republican states want to diminish or exclude the stories that speak to slavery, to Jim Crow, and to other moments in which America’s deepest shortcomings around the subject of race in America are told.

Wrongo wishes that this represented a minority of the Republican Party. But when Biden spoke in Atlanta, he said:

“I ask every elected official in America: How do you want to be remembered? Do you want to be on the side of Dr. King or George Wallace? Do you want to be on the side of John Lewis or Bull Connor? Do you want to be on the side of Abraham Lincoln or Jefferson Davis?”

Dr. King had said that stripping the right to vote from Black southerners laid the groundwork for laws that further disadvantaged poor people, even across racial lines. Then as now, Southern legislatures justified limiting the franchise to vote with specious claims about electoral shenanigans.

Biden’s words set Republican teeth on edge. Sen. Mitch McConnell (R-KY) said that Biden:

“…called millions of Americans his domestic enemies…and that if you disagree with him, you’re George Wallace….If you don’t pass the laws he wants, you’re Bull Connor, and if you oppose giving Democrats untrammeled, one-party control of the country, well you’re Jefferson Davis.”

Fox News contributor Ari Fleischer tweeted:

“Now he says disagreeing w/him on voting laws means you’re a segregationist, like George Wallace or Bull Connor. How low can he go?”

The linkage between trying not to teach America’s true history with the censorious outrage shown by Republicans over Biden’s comments is clear. Biden said America needed to be on the side of voting rights.

That was Dr. King’s great struggle, and his great success.

But Republicans want to whitewash that history. They also condemn Biden’s efforts to tie today back to our undemocratic past. As Jelani Cobb says this week in the New Yorker:

“This holiday honoring Martin Luther King, Jr., sees a nation embroiled in conflicts that would have looked numbingly familiar to him. As school curricula and online discourse threaten to narrow our understanding of both past and future, it’s more important than ever to take stock of our history and its consequences….

Time to wake up America! We are docile sheep heading back to the barn, the place where we will be shorn of our democracy, just as surely as wool is shorn from the sheep. The smoking guns are all around us, and yet, we seem hopelessly divided about what we should do to change course.

To help you wake up, let’s listen to Wrongo’s favorite MLK song, “Southern” by OMD from their 1986 album “The Pacific Age“. On April 3, 1968, in Memphis, King delivered his last speech, which we remember as his “I’ve been to the mountaintop” speech. He was assassinated the next day. OMD samples some of the content of that speech in “Southern”:

Although everyone knows the “I’ve been to the mountaintop” part of the speech, Wrongo thinks our focus should be on the following:

I want young men and young women, who are not alive today
But who will come into this world, with new privileges
And new opportunities
I want them to know and see that these new privileges and opportunities
Did not come without somebody suffering and sacrificing
For freedom is never given to anybody

Why focus on that part of the speech? One day down the road, and it will not be long, young people will have forgotten what MLK meant to America, or how whatever remains of their civil rights, came to be.

Or, how the 13th Amendment ending slavery came about, and why, 100 years later in 1965, the Voting Rights Act was passed, or how 48 years later, in June, 2013, the Roberts Court eviscerated it.

So, take the time to teach a child about why MLK is so important.

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Sunday Cartoon Blogging – January 16, 2022

A new Quinnipiac University Poll, conducted between January 7 – 10 of a nationwide sample of 1,313 adults shows that Americans are confused about which Party is protecting voting rights:

(hat tip: Jobsanger)

This is another example of poor messaging by Democrats. Republicans have been trying to suppress voting in many states, and the Republicans in Congress have prevented Democrats from passing legislation to protect the right to vote for all citizens. But only 45% say Democrats are protecting the right to vote and 43% say it’s the Republicans. That’s within the poll’s margin of error of 2.7%, meaning it’s a virtual tie.

There are only three cohorts with more than 50% saying that one Party is better. Women (52%) and Blacks (86%) say it’s the Democrats, while Whites (51%) say it’s the Republicans. It’s also interesting that 12% apparently have no opinion about which Party is better for voting rights. Whatever the reason why this poll is so close, it isn’t good for the country. On to cartoons.

Let’s vote our way out:

More GOP inflation:

Sen. Sinema is just not that into him

Are Sen. Manchin’s priorities misplaced?

Supremes reject federal government’s right to set rules for public safety:

(The mandate would have covered about 84.2 million Americans. OSHA estimated (before Omicron) that the rule would save 6,500 lives and prevent 250,000 hospitalizations over a six-month period.)

Supremes can’t rule on Djokovic:

 

 

 

 

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Saturday Soother – January 15, 2022

The Daily Escape:

Mount Pierce, with Mt. Washington in background, NH – photo by Eric Duma

On Tuesday, Democrat Sheila Cherfilus-McCormick won an election to fill the seat in Florida’s vacant 20th Congressional District. She will replace the late Rep. Alcee L. Hastings (D) who died last April after losing his fight with pancreatic cancer.

Cherfilus-McCormick, a 42-year old health-care company CEO, easily defeated Republican nominee Jason Mariner. The WaPo reports that Mariner had talked openly during the campaign about his past convictions for theft and cocaine possession and his time in jail. Bless his heart!

It wasn’t expected to be a competitive contest since Democrats heavily outnumber Republicans in the district. Biden won Florida’s 20th in 2020 with 77% of the vote, while Cherfilus-McCormick won the special election with 79%.

The CBS affiliate in Miami reports that Mariner is now refusing to concede his 60-point loss and is demanding an investigation into “election fraud”:

“Now they called the race, I did not win, so they say, but that does not mean…that we lost,”

He had filed a lawsuit before the polls even closed alleging there were problems with the ballots in Palm Beach and Broward Counties.

While we know that winning candidates can take office even without a concession, Republicans are turning into the Party of sore losers. When the 2022 mid-terms roll around, it is abundantly clear that few Republicans will concede in their races.

This makes a lie of what some Democrats (and a few Republicans) have said about the looming problems with vote counting; that if the winning margins are big enough, elections can’t be stolen. Margins are rarely as large as Cherfilus-McCormick’s, and her opponent isn’t conceding.

The entire point of the GOP’s continuing election lies is to undermine the legitimacy of wins by Democratic candidates. We’ll soon see whether contested mid-term elections won by Democrats will be judged as fraudulent in the many Republican-controlled states.

The broader Republican Party understands that there’s no such thing as a bad Conservative. Until they aren’t. At which point they call them liberals. As Rick Perlstein famously observed, in Conservative circles, “Conservatism never fails. It is only failed.

When Congresswoman Cherfilus-McCormick takes office, Democrats will again hold 10 more House seats than Republicans. There is currently one vacancy in the House, the empty California seat formerly held by Congressman Devin Nunes (R).

Let’s move on from this week’s sad news that we will not see Democrats break the filibuster to pass either the For the People Act or the somewhat more modest Freedom to Vote Act. it’s time for our Saturday Soother!

Here in the Northeast, we’re expecting snow on Martin Luther King Jr. day, although we still have a respectable amount of snow on the Fields of Wrong. Today we’re hosting another gathering of family who were unable to visit when Wrongo inconveniently got Covid on Christmas Eve.

So the time is right to have a Saturday Soother before the house fills up. Let’s start by brewing up a vente cup of Panama Washed Process Gesha ($50/6 oz. That tells you inflation is really out of control!) from Jersey City, NJ’s own Modcup roasters.

Now grab a seat by the fireplace and remember Ronnie Spector, who died this week. Spector and the Ronettes were (along with the Shirelles) the essential 1960s girl groups. In 1963, the Ronettes joined forces with Wall of Sound producer, the odious Phil Spector, by cold-calling him.

The Ronettes went on to have nine top-ten hits working with Spector. Ronnie and Phil married in 1968. During the marriage, Spector was violent and abusive, subjecting her to physical and emotional threats, and locking her up in their home. She finally managed to escape, barefoot and with just the clothes on her back.

Now, listen to a 1987 cover of the Ronette’s original “Be My Baby” this time featuring Ronnie Spector alongside The E Street Band’s Clarence Clemons, with backing vocals by Belinda Carlisle, originally of the Go-Go’s, and Grace Slick from the Jefferson Airplane. The song was written by Ellie Greenwich, and was a genuine teen anthem in 1963, it was recorded live at The Latin Quarter, NYC, in February, 1987:

RIP Ronnie!

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How Bad Is Inflation?

The Daily Escape:

Chaco Canyon’s Chetro Ketl Great House – January 2022 photo by James C. Wilson

Every media outlet is talking about the latest inflation numbers. The NYT reported that the Consumer Price Index climbed to 7% for the year through December, and 5.5% after volatile prices such as food and fuel were stripped out. Sounds terrible, right?

Nobody likes higher prices. But remember that 12 month inflation rates (called year over year rates) are a look backward in time. And consumer prices increased 0.5% in December, lower than in the past several months. Month-to-month measures are more reflective of current conditions, although they bounce around more than year/year numbers. A half of one percent rise in December annualizes to a 6% inflation rate, less than the headline rate, if it remains at that level going forward.

Also, wholesale prices rose just 0.2% in December, the smallest increase in 13 months. So maybe inflation is starting to level off.

So, maybe this is a case of beware the headlines. Eric Boehlert says that US media can’t (or won’t) give people context for the current inflationary trend:

“Convinced that rising prices are the defining economic issue of the day — not huge job gains, record-setting GDP predictions, or boosted wages — the press continues to portray inflation as a uniquely American problem that’s hounding Democrats.”

Boehlert says that what’s missing from our inflation coverage is information that inflation is a global phenomenon, fueled by the pandemic. He cites the following articles:

Republicans claim that Biden’s agenda is responsible for inflation. The average person can be forgiven if they believe that Biden’s policies are the cause, but Biden didn’t cause inflation to jump in all of these other countries.

The Economist reports that since the pandemic, there has been a total of $10.8 trillion in worldwide fiscal stimulus, equivalent to 10% of global GDP. The result was that developed countries finally moved the needle on inflation, after they added money to their economies for nearly 15 years since the Great Recession.

So, while each item of the Consumer Price Index — cars, homes, energy and so on — has unique factors driving its prices, there’s an overall reality: The economy is recovering far more quickly than it normally does following a severe recession. But that recovery is uneven, showing up in some sectors as high prices. From The Grid’s Matthew Zeitlin:

“What really worries economists is not just inflation per se, but a situation, as in the 1970s, where prices are rising and the economy is otherwise stagnant, with little job growth or overall growth. This condition is called, naturally enough, ‘stagflation’.”

Zeitlin goes on to say:

“There’s clear evidence that stagflation is not the direction in which the economy is headed. The unemployment rate is down to 3.9%, and overall output is easily above its pre-Covid level…..it’s simply not the situation that the labor market is trending in the wrong direction.”

And the Conference Board is forecasting that 2022 GDP growth will be 3.5% and it will be 2.9% in 2023, so no worries about stagflation in our future.

Zeitlin points out that the supply chain is also a culprit. Over the course of the pandemic, Americans shifted their consumption from services to goods, especially durable goods like furniture and cars. While services still amount for the bulk of US consumer spending, shifting the balance between goods and services can have large effects:

These changes in consumer spending have caused major stress at ports, and throughout the logistics system that moves goods around. This has raised the costs of everything that needs to be shipped.

China’s Zero Covid policy is creating severe lockdowns to keep the variant from spreading ahead of the Beijing Olympics next month. This raises the prospect of more disruptions for supply chains that are based there. China remains the largest supplier of goods to the US.

The Zero Covid policy has economic consequences: Delivery times for ocean shipments from China to the US stretched to a record 80 days in December, up 85% from 2019. This also impacts the cost of shipping a 40-foot container from Asia to the US West coast: It currently costs $14,572 this week, down from a peak of more than $20,000 in September. But that’s about a tenfold increase from two years ago.

The major question facing the Federal Reserve, as well as Biden, businesses and everyday consumers who have to make decisions, is how likely is increased inflation to persist? If the inflation problem is largely being driven by how consumers and businesses have had to adjust to Covid, then while it’s severe, it may be temporary.

Nobody likes or wants higher prices. Pent-up demand and abundant cash savings are part of what’s causing inflation. The other part of the problem is labor shortages, which are resulting in large wage increases for certain occupations.

The only way to stop prices from rising is for the Fed to reduce the money supply, raising rates until demand comes down far enough to match supply. The balancing act for the Fed is to tamp down price increases, while not causing a recession.

Whether the Fed can do that remains to be seen.

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