Monday Wake Up Call – August 22, 2022

The Daily Escape:

A new day at Jockey’s Ridge SP, Nags Head, NC – August 2022, photo by Crystal Calla Photography.

There’s trouble in the Republican Party. They’ve believed the pundits who said that the GOP had a lock on the November mid-terms, but with terrible Senate candidates, along with the Dobbs decision and Biden’s legislative comeback, things are getting very tight. From the WaPo: (brackets by Wrongo)

“Republican Senate hopefuls are getting crushed on airwaves across the country while their national campaign fund is pulling ads and running low on cash….In a highly unusual move, the National Republican Senatorial Committee [NRSC] this week canceled bookings worth about $10 million, including in the critical states of Pennsylvania, Wisconsin and Arizona.”

Sounds serious. The NRSC has had a record fundraising year, bringing in $173 million so far this election cycle. But they’ve burned through much of it. The NRSC’s cash on hand was just $28.4 million at the end of June.

Republican spending has been augmented by Mitch McConnell’s super PAC, which announced a $28 million rescue effort in Ohio, where Republican candidate JD Vance has raised only $1 million in the second quarter and has spent less than $400,000 on ads.

McConnell’s super PAC also moved up by three weeks its spending in Pennsylvania, adding another $9.5 million, for a total of $34 million. The Democratic Senate candidate John Fetterman, is building a lead over the Republican candidate, Mehmet Oz.

Many of this year’s Republican Senate candidates haven’t run for office before and have had to deal with nasty and expensive primaries that crushed their favorability ratings. A string of recent polls show Republican candidates in many battleground states trailing, or in toss-up races with well-funded Democratic opponents. From Charlie Pierce: (parenthesis by Wrongo)

“There’s a pretty good chunk of evidence that the Republican Party is currently very nervous about its chances in this year’s elections for the US Senate. When a party’s C47 flies over your state and dumps a massive payload of cash-like ordnance…(you know you’re in trouble).”

The Republicans suddenly have to start using money they’d earmarked for propping up people like Vance, as life support for the campaign of North Carolina’s Senate candidate Ted Budd, who’s in a dead-heat election with Cheri Beasley. Budd’s public statements on a violent insurrection are likely to cause any thinking Republican voter to stay home.

Republicans have climbed back into a familiar box. In 2010, the Republicans blew a chance to take the Senate because they couldn’t resist nominating terrible candidates. For example, Sharron Angle in Nevada suggested that a teenage victim of rape shouldn’t get an abortion but make a “lemon situation into lemonade.” Christine O’Donnell in Delaware finally had to say she wasn’t a witch.

Besides Vance, Republicans this year couldn’t stop themselves from nominating Herschel Walker in Georgia. They also are defending the indefensible incumbent Ron Johnson in Wisconsin, who in a Marquette University Law School poll, is seven points behind the Democrat Mandela Barnes.

While the odds of Democrats holding the Senate are improving, it is still more than possible that some or all of these Republican candidates could be sitting in the Senate next January. It’s certainly possible that big money Republicans will ride to the rescue of their terrible candidates.

And that’s the point. For the GOP, the worse the candidate, the more the Party’s true believers embrace them. That’s how they prove they’re true believers. Eventually, (hopefully already?) this will reach the point of diminishing returns.

Are we there yet? Can we get there before our democracy crashes and burns is the real question.

Time to wake up America! It’s our job to deliver more than 50 seats in the Senate to the Democrats! There are 35 US Senate seats up for election in 2022, of which 14 are held by Democrats and 21 by Republicans. Democrats need to hold serve, and win two-four more!

We have an opening with the GOP choosing shitty candidates and spending their ad money frivolously. But it means Democrats must turn out in large numbers in all of these elections, from Warnock in Georgia to Fetterman in PA, to Barnes in Wisconsin. And don’t forget Mark Kelly in AZ, and Catherine Cortez Masto in NV.

To help you wake up, watch, and listen to “Lily Was Here” performed by saxophonist Candy Dulfer and the Eurythmics’ Dave Stewart. Written by Stewart, it was the title track to a 1989 Dutch film called “De Kassière, (The Cashier).” Here it is performed live by Stewart and Dulfer in 1989:

Dulfer was born in the Netherlands. She’s the daughter of saxophonist Hans Dulfer and started to play the soprano saxophone at age six. She’s very very good.

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Sunday Cartoon Blogging – August 21, 2022

The GOP’s reflexive instinct to defend Trump was expected. But it’s vilification of the FBI is sickening. And this is coming from Wrongo, a 1960s radical who has always distrusted them. Garrett Graff, writing in the NYT said this about the FBI:

“Historically…the FBI has been arguably the most culturally conservative and traditionally white Christian institution in the entire US government. It’s an institution so culturally conservative, even by the standards of law enforcement, that Democratic presidents have never felt comfortable — or politically emboldened — enough to nominate a Democrat to head the bureau.”

Maybe that should change. Wrongo is old enough to remember that the FBI twice torpedoed Hillary Clinton’s campaign in 2016. He’s read excerpts of the FBI dossiers on James Baldwin (it’s 1,884 pages), and about its targeting of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.

So, maybe Wrongo is the um, well, wrong person to defend the FBI. But that doesn’t mean their execution of a search warrant approved by a federal judge is prima facie evidence that the FBI has suddenly become a tool of the Democrats. On to cartoons.

You don’t have to be a detective to see the difference:

More hypocrisy from the GOP:

Polls are beginning to show that the GOP has some political weakness:

Teflon Don wins again:

Lindsay Graham and Rudy have to testify about the GOP’s Georgia voting mess:

Teachers leave the job in droves:

Unintended consequences of certain policies:

If Liz Cheney has political ambitions, she needs to become a citizen of a more compatible state:

 

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Saturday Soother – August 20, 2022

The Daily Escape:

Stormy view from House Mountain, Sedona, AZ – August 2022 photo by Ed Mitchell

Tens of thousands of teacher openings are unfilled as students head back to American classrooms. That’s prompting states and school districts to try everything they can to address the teacher shortage.

Except increase their pay. The Economic Policy Institute (EPI) has tracked teacher compensation for 18 years. Here’s the headline:

“…teachers are paid less (in weekly wages and total compensation) than their nonteacher college-educated counterparts, and the situation has worsened considerably over time.”

EPI tracks what they call the relative teacher wage penalty, the relative wages and total compensation of teachers compared to other college graduates. Here are the EPI’s findings:

  • Inflation-adjusted average weekly wages of teachers have been relatively flat since 1996. The average weekly wages of public school teachers (adjusted for inflation) increased just $29 from 1996 to 2021, while inflation-adjusted weekly wages of other college graduates rose from $1,564 to $2,009 —a $445 increase.
  • The relative teacher wage penalty reached a record high in 2021. It was 23.5% in 2021, up from 6.1% in 1996. The penalty was worse for men than for women. The penalty for men rose from 18.6% to 35.2%.
  • The great portfolio of teachers’ benefits used to be a selling point, but it hasn’t been enough to offset the growing wage penalty. The teacher total compensation penalty was 14.2% in 2021 (a 23.5% wage penalty offset by a 9.3% benefits advantage).
  • The relative teacher wage penalty exceeds 20% in 28 states. Teacher weekly wage penalties estimated for each state range from 3.4% in Rhode Island to 35.9% in Colorado. In 28 states, teachers are paid less than 80 cents on the dollar earned by similar college-educated workers.

The EPI has a chart showing the relative erosion of teacher wages vs. other college graduates since 1980:

The EPI focuses on “weekly wages” to avoid the comparisons of length of the work year (i.e., the “summers off” issue for teachers).

Add to this the general decline in working conditions for teachers, and many who are eligible for retirement are leaving. Republicans in particular are politicizing education. Some are pushing the idea of “parental rights.” That is happening in Florida, Texas and in other states. It’s clear that in some school districts parents want the right to censor what’s being taught. Some Conservatives are pushing for a camera in every classroom across America. Tucker Carlson called for cameras in classrooms to “oversee the people teaching your children, forming their minds.”

This comes under the guise of “transparency in the classroom”, parents keeping an eye on teachers, so they won’t teach the dreaded Critical Race Theory (or groom kids to become trans, or gay). Teachers naturally bristle at the idea of video auditing.

Forcing teacher compliance with imposed politicized curricula won’t make these jobs any more desirable.

Some states are relaxing licensing requirements to make it easier for people to fill some of those unfilled jobs. Florida, which has about 8,000 open teaching positions, is allowing military veterans without a bachelor’s degree and no prior teaching experience to apply for a temporary five-year teaching certificate while they finish their bachelor’s degrees.

The biggest issues to solve are better public school funding, which can help end the teacher wage penalty. That requires towns to raise taxes. Second, the politicization of education is changing the amount of parental control in the day-to-day operations in some school districts. That’s making teaching an even lower-status job than it is now.

According to the BLS, there are currently 300,000 fewer teachers nationwide compared to before the pandemic. Part of this is job satisfaction. A survey from the American Federation of Teachers found that 74% of teachers were dissatisfied with their job, up from 41% two years ago.

If teachers and staff are underpaid, under-resourced and are now being second-guessed in the classroom, they’re not going to stay. So replacing them will become an even bigger problem.

Enough of this week’s problems, it’s time for our Saturday Soother! Let’s put Trump’s secrets and Liz Cheney’s political prospects on pause. We’re facing moderate drought conditions here in CT, so lawn mowing has ceased, and our grass is brown and crunchy.

But, it’s time to empty our minds, so that we can begin filling them up again on Monday. Start by grabbing a cold glass of lemonade and a seat in the shade.

Now, watch and listen to Antonin Dvorak’s “4 miniatures”, for 2 Violins and Viola, played here by the Musicians of Lenox Hill at Temple Israel of the City of New York in  April 2019:

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VA Post Office Closed Because of Segregation Exhibit

The Daily Escape:

Drone view of Cape Kiwanda SP near Pacific City, OR – August 2022 photo by headstandphotography

This story is another example of what’s wrong in our nation. It describes the increasing politicization inside our federal bureaucracy. The US Postal Service (USPS) has closed a post office located in the Montpelier VA Railroad Depot because of an exhibit the USPS called “unacceptable”.

The exhibit was about racial segregation.

The post office opened there in 1912; the exhibit has been there since 2010. According to the Roanoke Times, USPS spokesman Philip Bogenberger emailed on Aug. 9, saying:

“While we attempted to address the issue with the property owner, that effort was unsuccessful, and it was decided that the proper course of action was to suspend the facility and provide service to our customers from nearby postal retail units,”

The property owner is the Montpelier Foundation. The display is on a panel on one exterior wall of the depot and on panels inside the 1912 station. The post office has its own entrance, separate from the rooms in which the display is shown. Among other things, the exhibit depicts the depot’s waiting room during Virginia’s racially segregated era.

Here’s a photo of the now closed Post Office:

And here’s a (blurry) photo of the offensive exhibit:

The train station was built in 1910 by the industrialist William duPont. He had moved there in 1900 to live with his family in Madison’s’ historic mansion. Because the US was racially segregated, duPont built the station with separate waiting rooms for Blacks and Whites. The post office opened in the building in 1912 and it has been a post office ever since.

In 2010, the Montpelier Foundation created the exhibit. It tells of African American life in Virginia’s Orange County and the nation during segregation, as well as the train station’s history with the duPonts.

Adding to the current controversy, Elizabeth Chew, Montpelier’s interim president and CEO, said that despite what the USPS spokesperson said:

“The US Postal Service did not contact the current CEO or chief of staff, nor did it contact the previous CEO or chief of staff.”

In order to close a post office, the USPS is required to make a determination in writing, and then make it available to the customers served by that post office. It may not close it until at least 60 days afterward.

The overall question of why close this particular post office after more than 100 years, and without proper procedures, has gotten Rep. Abigail Spanberger, (D-VA) involved. She wrote Gerald Roane, the USPS’s Virginia district manager, inquiring about the abrupt discontinuation of service for Orange County residents:

“…I am concerned by this abrupt discontinuation of mail service that has prevented those we serve from receiving the important items they rely on…I am also extremely frustrated by the lack of transparency, forewarning regarding the closure, and information following the closure that my constituents and local officials have received.”

Spanberger is right to ask: “who decided this, and why”? This was an historical exhibit, not a political statement. It’s important to be reminded of that repressive time so that it is never repeated. It seems that this is cancel culture of a bureaucratic kind that doesn’t want our little ones to feel guilt or shame for the racist and segregationist actions of their parents, grandparents, and ancestors.

In our federal bureaucracy, new policies are first vetted by subject matter experts, usually lower level staffers with deep knowledge of the area. Ideas that pass muster are then elevated to managers who are familiar with the proposed policy’s broader implications. Finally, proposals go to that thin layer of political appointees who are there to assure that any policy meets the goals of the administration.

Ultimately, agency heads or cabinet secretaries make the final call. So in this case, who are the ones trying to hide racism and segregation from the rest of us? Were they waiting for today’s atmosphere of outrage and victimhood to right a grievous wrong of exposing this chapter of local history?

How deeply in our federal bureaucracy have these Republican termites buried themselves?

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Tuesday Wake Up Call, Voter Fraud Edition – August 16, 2022

The Daily Escape:

Monsoon season, Sonoran Desert, Tucson, AZ –  August 2022 photo by Rene Martinez

The November mid-term election is 12 weeks away. Some Republicans who do not accept our country’s democratic tenets are focusing on getting elected in the battleground states in an effort to energize a future coup. From the WaPo:

“…in the six critical battlegrounds that ultimately decided the 2020 presidential contest, where Trump most fiercely contested the results…..Arizona, Georgia, Michigan, Nevada, Pennsylvania and Wisconsin, at least 54 winners out of 87 contests — more than 62% of nominees — have embraced the former president’s false claims.”

As an aside, reporters must stop using the term “election deniers”. It doesn’t convey what these Republicans believe. They know Trump lost, but they tried to steal the 2020 election anyway.

And they’re promising to steal the next one. These people call the government their “enemy”. Now, they’re calling for violence against the FBI. They say our elections can’t possibly be fair, yet they’re doing all they can to make them less fair.

There are many tools in the GOP tool kit to help a state create election-related chaos. They could decertify voting machines or block the electronic counting of ballots. They could empower their legislatures to determine how many of a presidential candidate’s votes are actually counted.

The GOP says that our local electoral processes and voting machines are highly suspect. In 2020 we saw Republican efforts to find voter fraud in several states, all of which failed. Still, in 2022, the GOP persists in saying there are voting machines that flipped votes in 2020 from Trump to Biden.

The gold standard for voting in America is hand-marked paper ballots. They leave a paper trail that is hard to challenge. Today states (including Connecticut where Wrongo votes) use digital scanners to read those hand-marked ballots. The machine tabulators can be checked before voting for accuracy and ballots can be re-scanned in random precincts afterwards to verify totals, along with hand counts.

Verified Voting a non-partisan firm that promotes the responsible use of technology in elections, rates the integrity of voting machines at the county level throughout the US. They have an interactive US map that allows anyone to check the quality of the voting machines in their county. Here’s a screenshot image of that interactive map:

You should go to the interactive map for greater detail. The green portion of the map represents the 69.2% of US registered voters that use highly reliable hand-marked paper ballots. The yellow portion of the map represents the 23.4% of our registered voters that use mostly reliable Ballot Marking Devices (BMD), with marked pre-printed ballots; some print summaries of voter selections, often with those selections encoded in barcodes or QR codes. Together, these account for 92.6% of America’s registered voters.

The red portion of the map represents the 7.4% of American voters who use a less-reliable direct recording electronic (DRE) voting system. DREs allow voters to record their selections directly into computer memory.

Despite what Republicans think, most of America can vote with total confidence that their voting machines are accurate, and that their votes will be counted accurately. So relax Republicans, election fraud just isn’t very possible in the US.

But there are plenty of other shenanigans that can be pulled at the local and state level. And that’s a concern given what the GOP is focusing on for the November mid-terms. They could take away voting rights by canceling voter registrations. They can close polling places or gerrymander more districts. The WaPo has a chart showing how close the GOP is to controlling the voting process in the six battleground states:

By weakening trust in our election system, Republicans are paving the way for America to become a one-party state led by an authoritarian strongman. They intend to take away the single and best power the people have, our vote. These Republicans aren’t election deniers, they’re anti-democracy. If they are elected, they will end democracy as we know it.

Time to wake up America! We can’t leave the vote-counting to people who won’t count all of our votes! America has a long tradition of subverting the voting process and denying millions of people the right to vote, and these Republicans want to take us right back to those days in our past. To stop that, they must be beaten in November’s mid-terms.

To help you wake up, watch, and listen to “Queen Bee” played by Taj Mahal and friends in this Playing For Change video, that features Ben Harper, Rosanne Cash, and many others from around the world.

The tune is from Taj Mahal’s 1997 album, “Señor Blues”, which won a Grammy. It’s an album that Wrongo highly recommends:

 

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Sunday Cartoon Blogging – August 14, 2022

(Tomorrow’s Monday Wake Up Call will appear on Tuesday)

Let’s talk about the religions that are implicated in two news items this week.

First, the attempted assassination of Salman Rushdie in upstate New York on Saturday. He was hospitalized after suffering serious injuries in a stabbing attack. We don’t know for certain that this was someone carrying out the death threat that Iran’s then-leader Grand Ayatollah Khomeini put on Rushdie in 1989. But it seems to be the most likely explanation.

Police detained a suspect named Hadi Matar, 24, who is California-born, but moved to Fairview, New Jersey in 2014. NBC NY News reported that a review of Matar’s social media accounts showed he is sympathetic to Shia extremism and Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps causes. One of Matar’s former high school classmates told The Daily Beast that Matar “was a very devout Muslim” who participated in debate and had several friends.

If religion is behind this, the attempted revenge has occurred two generations later.

Second, Polio was found in wastewater samples from New York City. Polio has been eradicated in the US since 1988. Finding it in NYC water samples follows a confirmed case of Polio in Rockland County, NY, just 35 miles north of the City. The County announced that an analysis of more wastewater samples revealed that the polio viruses have been circulating in the area since May.

Worse, the 20 positive samples detected in the two counties are genetically linked to the virus that paralyzed the unidentified man in Rockland County.

The broader context of both stories is that religions played a part in each. The Polio case in Rockland was found in a resident of one of the orthodox religious towns where a predominantly Hasidic Jewish community lives. Rockland County currently has a polio vaccination rate of 60.5% among 2-year-olds, compared to the statewide average of 79.1%.  This same group had a measles outbreak (312 cases) in 2019, and low COVID vaccination rates.

There is a strong anti-vaxx mentality in this community, and that helps create fertile conditions for a formerly eradicated disease to be revitalized. Polio is entirely preventable, and yet, many parents remain hostile to vaccination.

In the Rushdie attack, we’re speculating about the influence of religion. Saying the attacker is sympathetic to Shia Islam isn’t sufficient to make it a religious attack. But Wrongo would be surprised if it turned out to be solely either personally or politically motivated.

On to cartoons. Despite the above, most of the news this week was about the FBI search.

The truth is revealed:

Trump explains:

 

Beach reading is different this year:

Reactions to IRS have changed:

GOP policy wonks are thinking they may need to change:

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Saturday Soother – August 13, 2022

The Daily Escape:

Arches NP, Moab, UT after rainstorm- August 2022 photo by Ian Coulter

A few words today about cars. Oil Price has an article about car quality:

“J.D. Power published its latest report this past weekend. The 2022 U.S. Initial Quality Study (IQS) took the time to highlight the issues currently afflicting the industry. However, they also called out “premium” car companies for their extensive quality issues.”

According to Forbes, Kia, Buick and Hyundai topped this year’s dependability rankings. Volvo, Ram, and Land Rover ranked at the bottom. J.D. Power’s research showed that many European brands struggled with technology at the 90-day mark of a new vehicle’s ownership.

Apparently, J.D. Power saw the highest number of vehicle problems reported in their 36-year history, with an 11% increase in problems per 100 vehicles, compared with 2021. The report also stated that while vehicle quality has declined across the board since the pandemic, pricier models had more quality issues than more affordable cars.

Oil Price says that the increase in problems is caused by cars having more “bells and whistles” than in the past. And, these high-end features require increasingly rare components. As an example, Wrongo didn’t know that BMW now offers its heated seat function on a subscription basis.

Another thing that can go wrong when your ass is cold.

Oil Price quotes J.D. Power’s Director of Global Automotive, David Amodeo:

“…automakers continue to launch vehicles that are more and more technologically complex in an era in which there have been many shortages of critical components to support them.”

Big picture, the question is whether there is a market for simpler, more reliable cars. The success of Dacia in Europe seems to indicate that the answer is yes. Dacia is owned by Renault; their cars are a mix of well proven hand-me-down components mated to modern compact gas engines. Their simplicity and toughness is appreciated in France and their residual value stays high.

But this is an unlikely market in the US.

Without being a Luddite, is anyone capable of backing up a car using only the rear view mirror? Did the high-definition backup camera become necessary because American drivers became incompetent?

And what about: Automatic headlights? Power windows? Power locks? Remote (vs. mechanical) keys? LCD touch screen dashboards? Automatic climate control? Cell phone integration? All of these improvements mean that your new car contains about 1,400 microchips.

Some microprocessors have been added to meet US regulations, like engine control to reduce emissions. Then there are things that make assembling the cars easier. For example, electric windows are now controlled by a circuit board, so that the manufacturer doesn’t have to run 10+ wires to the driver side door.

Still, Wrongo thinks that most car electronics are a true value-add. Think air bags, or blind-spot mirror warning, and radar-assisted cruise control. These things add to the cost of the car and as we’re discovering, add to the risk of parts shortages.

The chip shortage isn’t going away. The auto manufacturers have contracted for their chips and sub-components on a long-term basis. They aren’t interested in taking a financial hit by changing their engineering designs for cars that are currently being sold. Their Asian suppliers are under long-term contracts, a cancellation could poison those relationships, and the suppliers would be very difficult to replace.

OTOH, some suppliers are pushing the auto manufacturers to move to more modern chips. But the current chip shortage is mainly of more basic units used in power windows and seat heaters, not the high-end microprocessors used in the most expensive cars.

So let your inner Luddite fly. Get an old, analog, manual transmission car. If you can find one.

But now it’s time for our Saturday Soother, where we unplug from the latest Trumpfest (or is it Trumpest?). Let’s shed our anxiety about too many IRS agents and too many anti-Trump FBI agents. Here on the Fields of Wrong, the heat wave has broken. We’re able to be outside again doing yardwork.

But before starting the yardwork, grab a cold brew coffee and a seat in the shade.

Now, take a few minutes to watch and listen to the Stanisław Moniuszko School of Music Orchestra play Vivaldi’s “Summer” from his “The Four Seasons”.

It’s performed here in 2016 at the Polish National Opera House in Warsaw, with violin soloist Agnieszka Uścińska, who now makes her home in Cleveland:

It appears to Wrongo that the entire orchestra is female.

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Companies Are Making Inflation Worse

The Daily Escape:

Grand Park, Mt. Rainier, WA – August 2022 photo by Edwin Buske Photography

As discussed yesterday, polls are showing that voters are still concerned about inflation. The good news over the past two days is that producer prices (prices at the wholesale level) and consumer prices both fell from June to July.

But these inflation concerns won’t be going away, and the Republicans hope to make the November midterms a  “gas and groceries” election, saying Biden is the cause of rising prices. In July’s Consumer Price Index, the price of groceries was a particular pain point, rising 1.3% for the month. Wolfstreet reports that the year-over-year rise in the “food at home” part of the CPI (food bought in stores and at markets) is now at 13.1%, the worst spike since 1979.

Food is a category where inflation hits consumers right in the face on a daily basis. And it hits people on the lower end of the income spectrum much harder because they spend a relatively larger portion of their income on food.

But the fall in gasoline prices over the last couple of months is also meaningful. After peaking in June at $5.03 per gallon, the average national price of gas fell below $4 this week, according to GasBuddy.

The Hill reports that Biden will go on offense against the Republicans’ drumbeat about inflation by traveling the country to tout job creation and the Inflation Reduction Act, once it is passed by the House on Friday. Biden plans to make the point that Congressional Republicans sided with the special interests every step of the way on delivering lower costs for working people.

That won’t hurt Dems chances in November, but will it be enough to offset what’s happening with retail prices? Here’s another striking set of facts from Bloomberg:

“The first sign that this wasn’t going to be a typical corporate earnings season came early on the morning of July 12, when PepsiCo Inc. unveiled an odd set of results. Growth in unit sales, it said, was essentially zero in North America. Revenue rose though, driven by the double-digit price increases Pepsi slapped on its snacks.”

They weren’t the only consumer product company to raise prices as sales fell: The purple dots show how unit sales fell (as much as 10% for Clorox) while prices (green dots) rose in most cases, more than 10%. And revenue (yellow dots) rose for all firms:

This is bad for the economy on many levels: Price-driven sales growth isn’t healthy; and it isn’t good for consumers who have lost purchasing power (and are angry about it). It isn’t good for our overall economy, or for the Federal Reserve that’s trying to bring down inflation.

Many CEOs are willing to raise prices because it’s no longer the taboo it has been for the past two decades, when annual inflation averaged a little more than 2%. Their thinking is that if volumes slip a little as a result of the price hikes, their share prices won’t take a beating. So no worries, just raise prices.

The bet that these consumer products CEOs are making is that once things settle down in the economy, people will come back. Bloomberg quotes  Neil Saunders, an analyst at GlobalData Plc, a consulting company:

“If they keep losing share next year, they’ll take more notice. It’s very hard at the moment to tell what’s temporary and what’s permanent.”

Starbucks, Coca-Cola, Kimberly-Clark, and Church & Dwight, the maker of Arm & Hammer baking soda and OxiClean, all reported quarterly numbers that fall into the weak-volumes-and-big-price-hikes category. More from Bloomberg: (emphasis by Wrongo)

“One of the best examples is Conagra Brands Inc., the…Chicago-based food conglomerate, which reported results on July 14. A core measure of its revenue jumped 6.8%, in the three months that ended on May 29, thanks to an increase of 13% in the average price it charged….The amount of goods it sold, though, fell 6.4%.”

We know that inflation is very high, among the highest rates in the past 40 years. It now seems clear that consumer products companies are a prime contributor to these price increases.

We know that unemployment is as low as it’s been in 50 years. The labor market is strong. We know that the growth rate of GDP was really high in 2021, and that it’s slowing in 2022.

What we don’t know is how voters are going to act in November.

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Partisanship is Dragging Down Consumer Sentiment

The Daily Escape:

Sunrise, Smugglers Beach, Yarmouth, MA – July 2022 photo by Sue Frageau

We all hear the negative news, and fewer of us hear what’s positive. Bloomberg’s Matt Winkler says that the measures that track confidence in the economy are being skewed downward by politically disgruntled Americans, mostly people on the Right. Here’s a chart:

There’s plenty of evidence that the Democrats are terrible at political messaging. But, even though inflation is at 40-year highs, we need to ask why consumer sentiment seems so low when the economy is doing pretty well.

Winkler’s point is this level of negativity makes little sense economically but as the chart above shows, it’s consistent with partisanship. And he makes a compelling case that the current sentiment levels are disconnected from the overall state of the economy relative to historic levels. More from Winkler:

“Never mind that the deaths related to Covid-19 plunged 78% from the first to the second quarters, that 10 million new jobs have been created, that unemployment at 3.5% represents a 53-year-low, that corporate earnings rose to a record and that the confidence of chief executive officers remains above its long-term average. Not to mention that total household net worth soared by $18.1 trillion in 2021, the most under any president…”

Here’s a different chart from Barry Ritholtz showing the University of Michigan Sentiment Index going back to 1978, annotated to show previous economic turndowns:

The chart shows that the current sentiment readings are worse than:

  1. 1980-82 Double Dip Recession
  2. 1987 Crash
  3. 1990 Recession
  4. 9/11 Terrorist Attacks
  5. 2000-2003 Dotcom implosion
  6. 2007-09 Great Financial Crisis
  7. 2020 Pandemic Panic

Does it make any sense that today’s consumer sentiment would be worse than it was for all of those previous economic crises? It does not.

It seems that Republicans are indifferent to the positive developments. The University of Michigan’s national Consumer Sentiment Index has plummeted 50% under Biden to an all-time low, primarily due to Republicans’ disapproval of an economy led by a Democratic President.

Bloomberg found that Democrats also aren’t as approving when their Party isn’t occupying the White House. But in contrast to Republicans, Democrats’ confidence correlates closely with rising and falling gross domestic product and unemployment trends.

To be sure, the highest inflation level in 40 years, as measured by the Consumer Price Index at 9.1%, for June (although July measured a lower 8.5%) is punitive to the least affluent voters, the traditional base of Democrats.

Republican are amplified by FOX News in their views that the economy is in terrible shape. When the Commerce Department said on July 28 that the economy contracted for a second consecutive quarter, the Fox Business channel declared, “We are officially in recession.”  But, as Wrongo and many others have said, there is no “official” recession until the nonpartisan economists of the National Bureau of Economic Research declare it.

It’s a perplexing time for economists. Overall activity as measured by GDP has contracted, but it doesn’t feel like a recession. The economy has added 2.74 million jobs this year through June. This earnings season has shown that members of the S&P 500 Index are on track to post record profits for the second quarter.

But none of this is apparent in the Michigan Sentiment Index, perhaps because Republicans running for office across the country in 2022 are saying the economy is terrible. They are the same people who are still denying the results of the 2020 election.

Paul Krugman asks why Biden isn’t getting any credit for the 10 million new jobs created in his first two years in office:

Some polling suggests that the public may not be aware that we’ve been creating jobs at all, let alone at a record pace. And we’re in a partisan environment where politicians…can make obviously false assertions and have their supporters believe them. The other day Trump told a crowd that gas in California costs $8.25 a gallon, and nobody laughed. (It was actually $5.43 at the time.)”

Meanwhile, Biden is doing exactly what he promised when he got elected. And he’s succeeding against the odds with only occasional bipartisan support. His success shows that what’s hurting the consumer sentiment polling is partisanship and disinformation.

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The FBI Search

The Daily Escape:

Wildflowers above 11,000’ at Paradise Divide, Carbondale, CO – July 2022 photo by Mountain West Photography

What to make of the FBI executing a search warrant at Trump’s Mar-a-Lago (MAL)? Despite what most of the immediately outraged Republican Party is saying, the bar for getting a search warrant on a former President is understandably and correctly, set high.

Trump claimed that the search was “prosecutorial misconduct” and reflected “the weaponization of the Justice System.” But prosecutors can’t conduct searches of people’s homes on their own. The Fourth Amendment requires that “no Warrants shall issue, but upon probable cause, supported by Oath or affirmation, and particularly describing the place to be searched, and the persons or things to be seized.”

For the FBI to conduct this search, it needed a warrant, which means everyone from frontline prosecutors and FBI lawyers to Attorney General Merrick Garland had to sign off on the warrant application, and then a federal judge had to examine the affidavit setting forth their evidence and concur. This is the system working as the Constitution intended.

Garland and the federal judge who authorized the warrant knew that it would set off a shitstorm of reaction by Right-wing politicians and by Trump loyalists, but they went ahead anyway. Oh, to see that affidavit!

It was predictable that the MAGAverse would erupt in fury, but the reaction by the so-called Republican “establishment” is both ridiculous and frightening. Elected Republicans, who always remind us that they are the party of law and order, could have: Either adopted a posture of strategic silence, or given the FBI the benefit of the doubt while they conduct a court-sanctioned investigation.

Instead, except for Mitch McConnell who has stayed silent, they mostly went crazy, including House Minority Leader McCarthy’s threats of retaliation against Garland if Republicans take the House in the fall. Sen. Marco Rubio (R-FL) tweeted:

Although Lil’ Marco said this in 2016:

This is the worst kind of lie by a member of the US Senate. Rubio knows that this was the lawful execution of a search warrant that was presented with probable cause, and issued by a Federal judge. These aren’t done lightly or carelessly.

Trump has spent years sowing distrust of federal law enforcement and the “deep state.” And the response by senior Republicans shows how deeply his campaign of subversion has penetrated their hive mind.

Republicans are claiming that the FBI’s search of MAL is abusive. But law enforcement leaves a copy of the search warrant, which itemizes what they are looking for, and what laws may have been violated. If Trump and the MAGA Republicans really think this search is abusive, Trump would have made the warrant public. Trump needs to show it or shut up about it.

We really need to stand back and appreciate the clarity with which the GOP is expressing that the role of law enforcement is only to police the powerless. Here’s the #3 GOP Representative in the House:

This is sick. Law enforcement does exactly this to average citizens all the time, all over America. So, expect that this fall, the Party of “LOCK HER UP” will become the Party of “How Dare the FBI Investigate Republican Politicians.”

People are getting a lesson in civics: If society has a rule, it must be enforced for everyone in the same situation. Trump is saying that the DOJ has been weaponized. But consider this list from Marshall Cohen:

Despite all the hope by Democrats and the fury of Republicans, no one has a handle on how this will progress, or whether it has an impact on Trump’s attempt to run again for president. Wrongo listened to a Republican political strategist on the BBC say that the fact of the search itself will hand the presidency to Trump in 2024.

That seems like GOP hopium to Wrongo.

The next few weeks will be filled with speculation and most likely, conflicting information as details emerge about the MAL search and what was behind it. One thing that’s sure is that the immediate and escalating talk of violence among Trump’s supporters is troubling. Some have been calling for “war” or “civil war,” referring to FBI “tyranny.”

In the not too distant past, we’d dismiss this kind of talk as braggadocio. But that disappeared on Jan. 6, when we realized these militants are more than willing to act on their warped beliefs.

So take a step back and place this story in a broader context: As a Constitutional matter, DOJ’s action is a message to future presidents that even though recently, other guardrails of presidential accountability have failed us, the criminal justice system still works, so long as someone of integrity—like Garland—is at the helm.

Does America need further convincing that this fall, aside from running on their accomplishments, Democrats up and down the ballot, need to amplify the opposing party’s lack of regard for the rule of law or, for truth itself?

How do we insure that they don’t use the powers of their office(s) to morph this country towards authoritarianism?

By voting them out of power.

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