Monday Wake Up Call – August 24, 2020

The Daily Escape:

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

“Let the people decide” and “Get America Working” sign, Republic, WA – August 2020 photo by Ottho Heldring

(Our problem with comments continues. Several other blogs have reported a similar issue with the most recent WordPress update.)

Happy Monday! 2020 has been one terrible thing after another. Now, we have an asteroid. CNN reports:

“The celestial object…is projected to come close to Earth on November 2, according to the Center for Near Earth Objects Studies at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory…..The agency has determined the asteroid probably…won’t have a deep impact, let alone bring Armageddon.”

Even though NASA estimates that the chance of it hitting earth on the day before the election is just 0.41%, since this is 2020, you can count on it wiping out at least one post office in a swing state.

On Friday, Rep. Carolyn Maloney (D-NY) Chair of the House Committee on Oversight and Reform, released internal Postal Service documents, that warned Postmaster General Louis DeJoy about increasing nationwide delays over the last two months as a result of his operational and organizational changes.

The new documents were part of an internal presentation to DeJoy on August 12, 2020. They provide an assessment of performance trends over the past few months. Here is a chart from the presentation:

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

This shows the significant drop in performance since the beginning of July, specifically in First-Class Mail. DeJoy said at a hearing in the Senate on Friday that:

“We all feel bad about what the dip in the level of service has been.”

Earlier, the top Republican on the Oversight Committee, Rep. James Comer (R-KY) and House Republican leader Kevin McCarthy (R-CA) sent a letter to Maloney and Speaker Nancy Pelosi arguing that nationwide reports of delays are nothing but “conspiracy theories” being “manufactured” by Democrats to “undermine President Trump” and support “an unnecessary bailout plan.”

In other postal news, the Republicans have a legal full court press on to prevent vote-by-mail in swing states. They sued the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania and each of the state’s county election boards to prevent election administrators from providing secure drop boxes for mail-in ballot returns.

Well, The Intercept reports Republicans had an epic fail last week. The Trump campaign had been ordered by a Pennsylvania federal court judge to back up its claims of fraud in the state’s vote-by-mail system. But the campaign submitted a 524-page answer that contained zero cases of fraud involving mail-in ballots.

It did mention a handful of other types of election fraud, but their answer wasn’t responsive to the motion to produce evidence that mail-in ballot fraud was a grave risk to Pennsylvania voters.

It’s clear that voter fraud exists, but it doesn’t exist in large numbers in mail-in voting. What we do know is that fraud is actually far more prevalent at polling locations. But even that form of voter fraud is extremely rare. It has been clear for years that electronic voting machines are easily hacked, and do not offer an auditable trail back to the actual voter. So fraud in those machines is almost impossible to detect.

In Pennsylvania, the Republicans were trying to make it illegal for the state to set up drop boxes for ballots. If there was a real opportunity for rampant fraud in mail-in voting, Trump and the GOP would be all for it.

Finally, NPR has a report about rejected absentee ballots in the 2020 primaries, saying that at least 550,000 ballots nationally were rejected. From NPR:

“That’s far more than the 318,728 ballots rejected in the 2016 general election and has raised alarms about what might happen in November when tens of millions of more voters are expected to cast their ballots by mail, many for the first time.”

Most absentee or mail-in ballots are rejected because required signatures are missing or don’t match the one on record, or because the ballot arrives too late. Occasionally a voter incorrectly chooses too many candidates, or circles a candidate’s name instead of filling in the bubble next to it.

Apparently Black and Hispanic voters were more likely to be voting by mail for the first time, and were twice as likely to have their ballots rejected than white voters who were voting by mail for the first time.

Time to wake up America! Tens of thousands of ballots were rejected in this year’s primaries in key battleground states. For example, in 2016 Trump won in Wisconsin by 23,000 votes. In this year’s April presidential primary, more than 23,000 absentee ballots were rejected, enough to swing the 2016 outcome if they had been counted.

Forty-eight percent of those who intend to vote for Joe Biden say they will use mail-in ballots, compared with just 23% of Trump supporters.

Voting in America is complicated and sometimes, extremely difficult. Stay alert, and help as many first-time voters as you can.

Facebooklinkedinrss

The Coming Eviction Tsunami

The Daily Escape:

Sunset, Northern CO near WY border – 2020 photo by Maxwell_hau5_caffy. Note the beetle kill.

On Monday, the Republicans released their latest coronavirus stimulus package, the so-called HEALS Act. HEALS stands for Health, Economic Assistance, Liability Protection and Schools.

We know that it drastically reduces unemployment assistance, but it also doesn’t include an extension of the federal eviction moratorium. Last Friday, the federal moratorium on evictions in properties with federally backed mortgages and for tenants who receive government-assisted housing expired.

They should have called it the Republican HEELS Act.

Since Republicans want to cut the amount of federal enhanced unemployment insurance from $600/week to $200/week, it’s likely that many fewer Americans will be able to make their rent payments.

Housing advocates had been pushing for at least $100 billion in rental assistance, as well as a uniform, nationwide eviction moratorium. According to the COVID-19 Eviction Defense Project, we may be looking at something like 19 to 23 million, or 1 in 5 people living in renter households could be at risk of eviction by October.

But that may be optimistic. CNBC published this map of potential evictions by state, based on an analysis by global advisory firm Stout Sirius Ross. It shows the percentage of renters in each state that could face eviction:

For example, 59% of renters in West Virginia (highest) are at risk of eviction, compared to 22% in Vermont (lowest).

The average number for the US is about 43% of tenants are at risk of eviction. That equates to 17.6 million households. The study estimates that there will be 11.9 million eviction filings in the next four months. They think that there will be two million evictions filed in both August and September, leaving 8 million for October and November.

Let’s have a thought experiment. The study assumes that there will be two million evictions filed in both August and September, and another four million in each of the following two months.  Let’s stipulate that each household averages 2.5 humans.

August: 2 million evictions equals 5 million homeless

September: 2 million evictions equals 5 million homeless

October: 4 million evictions equals 10 million more homeless

That totals 20 million people who are casting about for shelter as the cold weather hits the US, with another 10 million to come in November, for 30 million total.

This is an apocalypse.

An important consideration is that perhaps as many as 7 million of them may be registered voters who will be disenfranchised in November, since they no longer live at the address where they are registered.

Think about what’s coming from this change to the Republican bill: Millions of people will be realizing that they have absolutely nothing left to lose, people who feel as though there’s no way out. Then they find they are suddenly ineligible to vote.

2020 has forced our eyes open. All generations that are younger than the Boomers already feel as though any opportunity they had for a sound future has been stolen. In the midst of a global pandemic, they’ve seen Washington deny them healthcare, a safety net, and fritter away most of the societal stability they had.

So where are we heading?

If evictions occur on a grand scale, we’ll be in uncharted waters. It’s not just people being thrown out on the street, there’s no one else moving in. Residential landlords with no tenants face a dilemma, the same situation that has already affected commercial landlords: Few tenants and those who remain are looking for lower rents. When residential properties in the cities become vacant because of eviction or other reasons, and nobody is around to move in, what happens?

Squatting is likely. Carving residences into smaller and smaller units was common during the Depression, and that’s likely to happen again. Our biggest problem is that there is no obvious way to get America off the current Road to Ruin. DC is a disaster on all fronts.

Once the pandemic emergency is past, we will understand the extent to which the rich and politically well-connected have been taken care of, while the poor have largely been destroyed.

We’ve learned beyond a shadow of a doubt how political action, including $multi-trillion bailouts can be mobilized quickly for the right class of people, while helping the rest of us can be dismissed out of hand.

Same old story in America.

What can/should Biden do to change this?

Facebooklinkedinrss

Where COVID Goes, the Economy Will Follow

The Daily Escape:

Hetch Hetchy, Yosemite, CA – 2020 photo by sfo2phx. This reservoir was created by damming the Tuolumne River in the Hetch Hetchy valley in 1923. The project remains controversial, since the valley was thought to be as beautiful as Yosemite.

Where is America going? It’s clear that wherever our economy is going mostly depends on where our Covid-19 pandemic goes.

Congress passed the CARES act to provide us with a financial bridge until August, when the Coronavirus was expected to be under control, and life would be able to return to something like normal. But the pandemic is now worse than we imagined in March. From the WaPo:

“Sunday marked the 41st straight day that the seven-day average for new daily coronavirus infections in the United States trended upward. Six months after the novel coronavirus reached America, more than 3.7 million cases have been detected, and at least 137,000 people have died.

Kentucky, Louisiana, Oregon and South Carolina all set new single-day records on Sunday….Idaho, Nebraska, Iowa and five other states have seen their seven-day average for daily new fatalities rise by more than 40% in the past week. More than 100 Florida hospitals have run out of ICU beds for adults.”

We’ve spent $ trillions, but we’re no better off than when the pandemic started. And we’re got a lot to think about as these programs start to end. Bloomberg prepared this timeline of what financial benefits are ending, and the likely impact on America:

These looming cutoff dates come amid signs the labor-market recovery has stalled. While the Senate is willing to send new financial bridging legislation to Trump, Republicans and Democrats disagree on number of issues, and Trump has his own demands. The WaPo reports: (emphasis and brackets by Wrongo)

“Senate Republicans were seeking to allocate $25 billion for states to conduct testing and contact tracing, but certain administration officials want to zero out the testing and tracing money entirely…. [the administration] is also trying to block billions of dollars that GOP senators want to allocate for the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, and billions more for the Pentagon and State Department to address the pandemic at home and abroad…”

Trump wants the states to own the responsibility for testing. The Coronavirus spending bill Congress approved in April included $25 billion to increase testing and also required HHS to release a strategic testing plan. The agency did so in May, but the plan simply asserted the administration’s insistence that states, not the federal government, should take the lead on testing.

Another sticking point is that Trump wants the legislation to include another payroll tax cut. The payroll tax is used to fund Social Security and Medicare, so cutting it is a stealth way to cut Social Security in a time of crisis. Trump is also trying to fund a new FBI building.

In May, the House approved a $3.5 trillion relief bill. Pelosi’s bill funnels $100 billion to help schools to safely reopen and calls for $1 trillion to be sent to cash-strapped states to pay essential workers and prevent layoffs. The impact of shortfalls in sales, income, hotel, and gas taxes are already biting.

The White House has said the final package shouldn’t exceed $1 trillion, showing how far apart the Parties are.

Axios has it right: (brackets by Wrongo)

  • We blew it on testing…America hasn’t built the infrastructure necessary to process [tests] and trace the results….
  • We blew it on schools. Congress allocated $150 billion for state and local governments as part of the CARES Act. [But] there was no money earmarked for schools to buy new safety equipment, or to hire additional teachers for [adding many] smaller classes.
  • We blew public health….Had we all been directed to wear them [face masks] in March — and done so…you might not be reading this post.
  • We blew goodwill. Millions of Americans sheltered in place, pausing their social lives for the common good. But many millions of other Americans didn’t. Some were essential workers….Some just didn’t care, or didn’t believe the threat.
  • All of this was complicated by mixed messages from federal and state leaders. Top of that list was President Trump, who claimed to adopt a wartime footing without clearly asking Americans to make sacrifices necessary to defeat the enemy.

That was the same mistake that GW Bush made with America after 9/11.

Michelle Goldberg in the NYT said this:

“Lawrence O. Gostin, professor of global health law at Georgetown, told me he doesn’t expect American life to feel truly normal before summer 2022. Two years of our lives, stolen by Donald Trump.”

We’ve lost more than two years. We may have lost the enonomy.

Facebooklinkedinrss

Saturday Soother – June 13, 2020

The Daily Escape:

Spring in Grand Teton NP, WY – photo by MaxFoster098

Posting on her Instagram, AOC answered a question that read: “What does an America with defunded police look like to you?” AOC’s answer:

“It looks like a suburb…”

She continued:

“Affluent white communities already live in a world where they choose to fund youth, health, housing etc. more than they fund police. These communities have lower crime rates not because they have more police but b/c they have more resources to support healthy society in a way that reduces crime.

Why don’t we treat Black and Brown people the same way?”

Words to live by.

On to the issue for Saturday. From the WaPo: (brackets by Wrongo)

“Federal officials responsible for spending $660 billion in taxpayer-backed small-business assistance [PPP Loans] said Wednesday that they will not disclose amounts or recipients of subsidized loans, backtracking on an earlier commitment to release individual loan data.”

Since 1991, the Small Business Association (SBA) has previously released detailed loan information for the federal 7(a) program, on which the PPP is based. More from WaPo:

“The SBA initially intended to publish similar information for the new coronavirus-related loans. An SBA spokesman told The Washington Post in an April 16 email that the agency “intend[s] to post individual loan data in accordance with the information presently on the SBA.gov website after the loan process has been completed…”

Treasury Secretary Steve Mnuchin is saying that the Treasury Department won’t disclose the recipients of more than $500 billion in bailout money delivered to 4.5 million businesses through the PPP, because that the information is “proprietary” and “confidential”.

As Charlie Pierce says:

“In one sense, of course, the money is “proprietary information” and we’re the damn proprietors. It’s our damn money.”

According to filings with the SEC, nearly 300 publicly traded companies received $1 billion in stimulus funding. That led to a subsequent ruling from the SBA that public companies with access to credit elsewhere didn’t qualify. Many of those businesses subsequently returned the money, although the SBA has declined to say exactly who, or how many did so.

The reversal on disclosure comes amid a waning belief that the $2.2 trillion pandemic relief package approved by Congress in March will be subject to any oversight. The GAO, which is responsible for preparing a mandated report on the relief spending by the end of June, has requested loan data for both the PPP and a separate program for economic “disaster” loans, but has not been told if or when their request will be honored.

Republicans are not even trying to hide their true intentions any more. The overlap of people who believe in “small government” and people who do not object to Trump’s handing out $500 billion in unmarked bills is total.

But, we’ve had enough body blows for one week. Time to take a few minutes, and escape from all of the world’s chaos. It’s time for our Saturday Soother.

We’re expecting a beautiful weekend in Connecticut, and Wrongo hopes there’s fine weather wherever you are reading this. Start your weekend off by brewing up a cup of Ethiopian Suke Quto coffee ($19/12oz.) from the Greater Goods Roasters of Austin, TX. This is the fourth time they have been featured in the Saturday Soother.

Now, settle back in a physically-distant chair in the shade, and listen to Playing For Change (PFC) perform Marvin Gaye’s “What’s Going On”. The message in his song is as relevant today as it was in 1971:

PFC’s focus is to record musicians performing in their natural environments as part of a series called “Songs Around the World”.

Sample Lyric:

Picket lines and picket signs

Don’t punish me with brutality

Talk to me, so you can see

Oh, what’s going on

What’s going on

Ya, what’s going on

Ah, what’s going on

Those who read the Wrongologist in email can view the video here.

Facebooklinkedinrss

Biden Isn’t FDR, But FDR’s 1932 Strategy Could Work

The Daily Escape:

Sunset, Poudre River trail, Fort Collins, CO – May 2020 photo by Dariusva07. Looks like a painting.

Livia Gershon has an article in JSTOR Daily, “One Parallel for the Coronavirus Crisis? The Great Depression”. She focuses on the question of whether America is already in a depression, or if are we sitting in the equivalent of 1928 or 1929? From Gershon:

“Today’s soaring unemployment, small business failures, and uncertainty about the future are like nothing most of us have seen in our lifetimes. If there’s any useful historical parallel, it might be the Great Depression.”

The cliff that our economy just dove off is different from what America experienced in the Great Depression. From 1920 through 1933, America had Prohibition. The 1920’s were a time of unbridled capitalism, and many working class Americans were hurting financially.

In 2020, COVID-19 has hit us fast and hard. Today’s economic crisis is the result of deliberate choices by governments and individuals to restrict commercial activity. However, the results look about the same: Businesses shuttered, families worried about where their next rent payment is coming from, long lines at food banks. And the 100,000+ deaths.

In 1929, life in America was already awful for a lot of people: Businesses had few regulations to constrain their activities. The rich got much richer. Pro-worker policies had little political traction. That all changed after the Depression. By the 1940s, the country’s unions were stronger than they’d ever been and Congress had passed unprecedented economic policies to support workers.

It didn’t happen quickly or easily. FDR beat Hoover in a landslide in 1932. Hoover had won over 58% of the popular vote in the 1928 presidential election, but in 1932, his share of the popular vote declined to about 40%. Democrats kept control of the House, and gained control of the Senate, bringing 12 years of Republican Congressional leadership to an end.

Erik Loomis, a labor historian at the University of Rhode Island and blogger at Lawyers, Guns & Money, offered Gershon historical perspective:

“A lot of Roosevelt’s campaign in ’32 is ‘I’m not Herbert Hoover’….It’s not policy-driven, not about organizing the masses…..In fact, if FDR had been a left-wing figure, he couldn’t possibly have won the nomination of the 1932 Democratic Party, which, like the Republican Party, was deeply beholden to big corporations.”

And today we see Biden, with his man cave presidential campaign, running as “I’m not Trump”. And while he’s not policy-free, his Democratic party is still beholden to big business, much like FDR’s.

Many Democrats worry about Biden’s ability to stand up to Trump on the campaign trail. FDR, despite his polio disability, deliberately chose to present himself vigorously, including breaking precedent by flying to Chicago during the 1932 convention. His campaign song, “Happy Days Are Here Again” remains one of the most popular in American political history.

Biden may also need to consider breaking a few precedents, possibly by running a throwback front porch type of campaign, one that ignores Donald Trump. James A. Garfield, Benjamin Harrison, and William McKinley all ran successful front porch campaigns.

Returning to FDR’s efforts to turn the country around, Gershon says:

“…the major New Deal programs—including public hiring through the Works Progress Administration, Social Security’s old age and unemployment insurance, the NLRA, and progressive taxes—largely followed ideas that had been brewing on the liberal side of mainstream political conversations for decades. To many policymakers, relief for workers was a way of supporting capitalism. It powered the economy by encouraging consumer spending.”

She further quotes Loomis:

“When those measures are passed in the ‘30s, the left considers them all sell-out measures…FDR is heavily criticized on the left.”

In the 1930s, as today, the left wanted more radical pro-worker, and pro-family policies that were a bridge too far for FDR. Today is similar to the 1930’s. As much as Democrats want to run on policy, the candidate (and who the opponent is) are at least as important as policy.

Biden can run on a message of “I’m not Trump. He’s failing. And I won’t fail“. He and the Party can mostly save the details for after the election. For example: Running on some variant of Medicare for all (M4A) isn’t necessary. All Biden must drive home is that COVID-19 has proven that the current private insurance-powered healthcare system has failed us, and that we need reform.

Then impress on voters that the GOP vehemently supports the failed current health insurance model.

Once elected, Biden could push for M4A, assuming he has the Senate.

2020 isn’t 1932, and Biden certainly isn’t FDR. But there are political lessons to be learned from taking a look back in time.

Facebooklinkedinrss

Monday Wake Up Call – Get Back to Work Edition, May 11, 2020

The Daily Escape:

Pileated Woodpecker chicks – photo by JH Cleary

Americans are starting to peek out of their nests again. Governors have decided, and 30 of them are re-opening their states. Those states are not exclusively Republican; there are a few Democratic states too. The logic behind reopening is that of risk assessment and risk management. Somewhere between prudence and overreaction lies today’s American toxic politics.

We judge risk versus gain for everything, including for other causes of death. We try to model healthy behaviors. Most of us wear seatbelts, most watch our diets, and have stopped smoking years ago.

We also have to judge the risks associated with whether to end, or continue the lockdown. That means deciding which steps to take that will minimize both the spread of the virus, along with minimizing the crushing economic hardship being experienced by many Americans.

Ignore that the government isn’t currently taking care of healthcare and housing if you are unemployed.

The lockdown could go on for much longer if the federal government was willing to underwrite living costs for those who are out of work, until such time as it was safe to go back to work. But they have no intention of doing that.

So, from the Trump perspective, the choice is clear: Businesses need to open and their workers need to go back to work, despite the risks. Their argument is that living with COVID-19 isn’t as risky as it seems. Twenty-two states have had fewer than 100 deaths. So far, only 15 of 50 states have had total deaths for the crisis that are higher than NYC’s current rate of 500 a day

The original goal of lockdowns was to keep the health care system from being overwhelmed, and in the largest cities, that risk seems to be behind us. Whether that will be true in rural America where few hospitals operate, remains to be seen. Derek Thompson said in the Atlantic:

“This crisis represents an existential threat to America’s small businesses. Almost half of all job losses in April occurred in leisure and hospitality, where small businesses are overrepresented in companies like restaurants and stores. The decimation of small business would have long-lasting implications. It would destroy jobs that would be unlikely to return quickly, while creating a crisis of long-term unemployment.”

And all of those restaurants, cafés, theaters, community centers, and specialty shops that are part of the local fabric of our towns and villages could be wiped off Main Street. Losing many of them would be an economic tragedy. More from Thompson: (emphasis by Wrongo)

“The virus is real, the hospitalizations are real, the deaths are real, the need for masks and social distancing is real, the threat to millions of restaurants and shops is real, and the incomparable levels of unemployment are real, too. The White House plan to reverse this cavalcade of horrors is to “reopen” the economy. But 20 million Americans just lost their jobs in the past few weeks, not because the government shut down the economy, but because a pandemic scared millions of Americans into staying at home. There is plenty to be wisely afraid of, but Washington thinking that a pandemic economy is like a garage door that it can reopen by pressing a button might be the scariest thing of all.”

No one knows what will happen between now and Election Day. It’s not just a matter of businesses opening up. For people to go back to work, schools must be open, day care must be open, public transportation must be safe, and customers must show up.

Are you up for all of that?

In the Great Depression, we learned that unemployment at today’s scale required massive government intervention to address: Jobs programs, infrastructure investment, and a robust social safety net.

It required an FDR to galvanize the country. Needless to say, neither Trump nor the Republican Party have the desire to provide that leadership. They will be every bit as uncaring and incompetent at rebuilding our economy as they have been at stopping the pandemic.

Time to wake up America! The economy has been opened, and you need to protect yourself whether you’re back to work, or trying to find a new gig. And you know that Trump isn’t going to help you protect yourself and your family, and he’s certainly not going to help you find a new job.

To help you wake up, listen to Guns ‘n Roses cover Paul McCartney’s “Live and Let Die” which played during Trump’s visit to an N95 mask manufacturing plant in Phoenix:

Remember all of this in November.

Those who read the Wrongologist in email can view the video here.

Facebooklinkedinrss

Stimulus Bill Blocked By Rogue GOP Senators

The Daily Escape:

Late winter, NH – February 2020 photo by Betsy Zimmerli

Just when you think that the two Parties and the White House have found agreement on a massive stimulus bill, a few rogue Republicans decide that there’s too much welfare in it for them. From NBC News:

“A handful of Republican senators on Wednesday threatened to delay the $2 trillion coronavirus spending bill over a proposed increase to unemployment insurance.

Sens. Tim Scott, (R-SC), Lindsey Graham, (R-SC), and Ben Sasse, (R-NE), said that the bill “could provide a strong incentive for employees to be laid off instead of going to work” because some people could theoretically make more by being unemployed. Senator Rick Scott (r-FL) jumped onto the obstructionist bandwagon as well.

More from the Senators’ statement:

“If the federal government accidentally incentivizes layoffs, we risk life-threatening shortages in sectors where doctors, nurses, and pharmacists are trying to care for the sick, and where growers and grocers, truckers and cooks are trying to get food to families’ tables.”

The fight is over an additional $600 per week payment to each recipient on top of their unemployment insurance payment. The proposed benefit also extends to workers who typically would not qualify, such as gig economy workers, furloughed employees, and freelancers.

Imagine! These Senators are so out of touch, they think you can receive unemployment payments if you quit your job.

This is hypocrisy in action: These Republicans obstructionists pretend to be suddenly concerned about either deficit spending, or about government fraud and abuse after they blew a trillion dollar hole in the our last budget to give unneeded money to their wealthy benefactors.

The bill was supposed to be voted on late yesterday, but the Senators who are objecting could hold up the bill by forcing votes on amendments. Sen. Chris Murphy, (D-CT), tweeted:

“Let’s not over-complicate this…several Republican Senators are holding up the bipartisan Coronavirus emergency bill because they think the bill is too good for laid off Americans. “

From Charlie Pierce:

“Right on cue, of course…Bernie Sanders threatened to block the bill unless the stooges dropped their opposition. Which, of course, is exactly what every Republican everywhere would like. The stooges are running a bluff. They don’t want to be the people who block this. They just want to talk about blocking it. If Sanders does them the incredible favor of blocking it himself, thereby pulling Mitch McConnell out of the ditch into which the Democratic minority has rolled him, they’ll all get re-elected.”

So the question is what is Majority Leader McConnell prepared to give up to pass the bill? And are Chuck and Nancy prepared to give up anything in order to move the bill on to the House?

It seems likely that McConnell wants to meet their demands with no real Democratic pushback. Is that likely to happen?

So, a few Republican supporters of our capitalist super heroes want to reduce the crumbs provided to ordinary workers. They have a small point about people not “earning” more from the government than they did on the job. The problem is that each state has its own unique unemployment insurance system, and it would be a nightmare to adjust each payment for each worker just to make Lindsay Graham feel good.

That’s the trouble with grifters. They simply can’t understand that there are people who aren’t always grifting.

Facebooklinkedinrss

It’s the Economy Stupid. Or Is It?

The Daily Escape:

On Tuesday, Trump was in the Rose Garden for a “virtual town hall” on Fox News. The Boston Globe reported that he wants the country “open and raring to go” by Easter, which is less than three weeks away. “I think it’s possible, why not?” he said with a shrug.

Watching Trump do a press conference is like watching the kid who didn’t read the book give his book report.

The top health professionals have called ending social distancing by Easter far too quick. But, Trump compared the potential for Coronavirus fatalities to our annual flu casualties and, to automobile accidents. That led Charlie Pierce to say:

“I can speak with some authority on this. On December 9, I got hit by a car. It has been three months now. Nobody I came into contact with in the aftermath has been hit by a car.”

It’s important to remember that Trump is saying this while we still have no idea how many Americans have, or have had, the virus. It seems safe to say the number is vastly higher than the number of people who have tested positive (nearly 50,000). Here’s a terrifying tweet:

(James Gallagher is the BBC’s Health and science correspondent)

Trump’s “let’s get America back to work” plea comes at a time when we have no idea about the extent of the virus’s impact, or how large the tsunami of cases will be. Trump is sounding a bit like General Buck Turgidson in 1964’s “Dr. Strangelove“:

“I’m not saying we wouldn’t get our hair mussed. But I do say no more than ten to twenty million killed, tops.”

There are operational issues involved in conducting a safe economic restart while the virus remains rampant in the country: It would require testing all who enter the workplace, every time they come to work. Where do those test kits come from when we can’t get enough for America’s hospitals? Who will read the tests and get the data back to the individual and the business? Can social distancing really be practiced at work? In offices?

Obviously there are conflicting opinions about how long to use severe Coronavirus mitigation and suppression measures when the economic consequences of that mitigation could be disastrous. The medical experts can tell us what the consequences of various courses of action are most likely to be in terms of illness and fatalities.

But the willingness to endure the likely costs of a particular course of action is a political, and possibly an ethical question. Last week, Wrongo asked:

“Is restoring our economy, and putting Americans back to work worth a million lives lost? Is it worth 300,000?”

Trump is right both to wrestle with this question, and to be concerned that Coronavirus could end his presidency. Here’s a chart that shows how long prior stock market crashes took to return to the pre-crash level:

This compares three prior crashes and the time it took to recover. Only the 1987 crash was a sharp “V” recovery, and that recovery took nearly two years. Both of the others took four years.

This most likely means Trump can’t run as a peace and prosperity president. He’ll simply be running as another Republican who ran up the debt with the crucial difference that Americans died on the home front on his watch, after trying to go back to work prematurely.

A few words about the attempted bailout. As Wrongo writes this, it’s likely that there may be a “deal” sometime late on Tuesday . The stock market has already closed up more than 2,000 points, or 11% on the hope of a deal.

The bailout deal should absolutely be as big as possible, but Mitch, Trump and the GOP have it wrong. We should be pointing our water hoses where the immediate fire is: Low – moderate income households and small businesses that have a week or two of cash reserves, and little access to credit markets.

While this is an emergency, it’s no excuse for another GOP round of opportunistic, potentially wasteful spending with little oversight. We have more important things to do than setting up a $500 billion Republican slush fund in an election year.

Trump will no doubt make an announcement that “America is again open for business”. But, that’s not really within his power. The economy is not usually like a faucet you can turn off and on.

It also means that Trump’s replacement will have a major job starting in 2021 trying to restore the stock market and the employment level to where they were pre-Coronavirus.

It is the highest duty of the US President to keep the country safe, and protect its people. Trump’s downplaying of what his science and security advisers have told him is doing exactly the opposite.

Facebooklinkedinrss

Monday Wake Up Call – March 23, 2020

The Daily Escape:

Great Wave off Kanagawa – Japanese woodblock print by Hokusai c. 1829. The wave could represent a tsunami of COVID-19 cases, or could it represent the rising of malign intent by Trump towards our democracy?

Are we in the midst of a national emergency or not? Is a tsunami of COVID-19 cases about to inundate America, or not? Let Wrongo answer: It’s a national emergency. When there’s a national emergency, does the federal government let the states take care of the problem? It does not.

Here’s America’s worst excuse for a leader on twitter Sunday afternoon:

He says it’s not the federal government’s job to lead in a national emergency. As Haberman and Baker said in the NYT: (emphasis by Wrongo)

“For years, skeptics expressed concern about how he would handle a genuine crisis threatening the nation, and now they know.”

Any other president, even the weakest, would have acted differently. Despite the fact that his policies are generally pretty standard right-wing Republican, Trump has managed to make a national disaster worse than it had to be.

Now all Americans should know how it feels to be Puerto Rican.

Bloomberg reports that Trump’s directive for governors to buy their own medical supplies to fight the coronavirus ran into a big problem when the federal government outbid them for the products! Earlier that day, Trump said that his administration is not a “shipping clerk” for medical gear that the states require to fight the virus.

Another example from the NYT: (emphasis and brackets by Wrongo)

“…on Saturday {Trump] sought to assure an anxious American public that help was on the way…and that private companies had agreed to provide desperately needed medical supplies to fight the fast-spreading coronavirus.

But Mr. Trump [said] he would not compel companies to make face masks and other gear to protect front-line health workers from the virus….. Mr. Trump said the clothing company Hanes was among those that had been enlisted to start churning out masks, although the company said they would not be the N-95 masks that are most effective in protecting medical workers.”

Trump could simply order companies like Hanes to make them, but instead, Hanes is making masks that don’t actually protect medical personnel. Capitalism @ work!  At a time of national emergency, Trump is letting the market do it, and simply declaring victory.

Another: In the on-going (Sunday) negotiations on the Coronavirus bail-out package, it turns out that Treasury Secretary Mnuchin and the White House are demanding that the relief package include $500 billion to be provided to corporations at the discretion of Treasury Secretary Steve Mnuchin.

The best part is that it permits the Treasury secretary to withhold the names of corporate recipients for up to six months. How is it possible to use taxpayer money for corporate bailouts and demand that taxpayers can’t know who’s received the funds?

Finally, here’s an example where Trump is unhappily, showing leadership. He wants to suspend habeas corpus, the Constitutional right to appear before a judge after arrest, and seek release:

“The Justice Department has quietly asked Congress for the ability to ask chief judges to detain people indefinitely without trial during emergencies — part of a push for new powers that comes as the coronavirus spreads through the US.”

The DOJ is looking for broad authority, including the ability to ask chief judges to detain people and to pause court proceedings during emergencies. It would apply to:

“any statutes or rules of procedure otherwise affecting pre-arrest, post-arrest, pre-trial, trial, and post-trial procedures in criminal and juvenile proceedings and all civil process and proceedings,”

This means you could be arrested and not brought before a judge until they decide that the emergency or the civil disobedience is over. Shouldn’t we be even more careful about granting new powers to the government if we’re in a national emergency?

We can hope that the House will block this nonsense.

We should remember that the US government was founded for the very purpose of solving some rather serious problems that the individual states couldn’t handle. That role of federal leadership has worked for 230+ years, but that doesn’t work for Trump.

You should be asking why.

It seems certain that at some point, Trump will say that the states were unable to solve the virus emergency, so he’s stepping in. He’ll try to use COVID-19 to assume extraordinary emergency powers between now and the election. That’s beyond frightening.

More will die because Trump won’t lead in the fight to contain the Coronavirus. And in the background, he’s busy laying the groundwork for emergency powers.

Wake up Democrats!

It’s time to ask, what are the DC Democrats doing to block all of this?

Facebooklinkedinrss

Call It the Great Virus Crash of 2020

The Daily Escape:

Desert bloom on Siphon Draw Trail, AZ – photo by ericatect

That was the term used on Wednesday by Ed Yardeni, president of Yardeni Research:

“It’s all at once a health crisis, financial crisis and economic crisis. We need to fix the health part of it before we have it solved, but we can take financial and fiscal steps to blunt its effects.”

JPMorgan Chase said it forecasts a 14% decline in gross domestic product in the second quarter. That’s enough to scare anyone. In a partial response, the Trump administration suspended evictions, authorized the Defense Production Act, and is eyeing a stimulus package worth about $1 trillion.

The headline is that Trump wants to give Americans direct cash assistance. He wants to send two $1,000 checks to many Americans. Beginning April 6th, $250 billion would be issued, and another $250 billion would be issued beginning May 18th. Payments would be tiered based on income level and family size.

The Treasury Department is circulating a two-page sheet of priorities that it wants to see in the final deal:

  • Part of it is a $50 billion “airline industry secured lending facility” that would allow it to make direct loans to “U.S. passenger and cargo air carriers”.
  • The Treasury would also earmark $300 billion to help small businesses avoid mass layoffs.
    • Eligible borrowers would be companies with less than 500 employees.
    • Loan amounts would be limited to 100% of 6 weeks of payroll, capped at $1540 per week per employee.
  • The Treasury also wants Congress to allow it to temporarily guarantee money market mutual funds. Some are worried that an investor panic could lead to a run on these funds. This was done before during the Great Recession.
  • Finally, there would be a $150 billion fund to prop up other sectors, including hotels.

And Wednesday was another day when Trump appeared in front of the press, attempting to look as if he’s a war president. The bad news was that they again halted trading on the stock markets during his press conference.

At Wednesday’s close, the Dow was down another 1,338 points. We’ve now lost almost all of the gains accrued during the Trump administration. Nearly every asset class – stocks, bonds, gold, and oil – fell as investors fled to the safety of cash.

Mr. Market has decided that cash is king. The smart money can’t decide whether Trump’s offering too much stimulus. If so, things must be really bad. And if he’s not offering enough, then there’s no leadership.

Here’s one way to look at the Dow’s performance:

  • First 1153 days of Obama’s presidency +67%
  • First 1153 days of Trump’s presidency  +0%

The WH needs to shut him up. Each time he speaks, things get worse for the rest of us.

Inside this crisis is perhaps the biggest political challenge for Democrats: They have to agree to help an incompetent president and his Party avoid killing their constituents.

That’s a bitter pill, particularly in an election year.

It isn’t a stretch to see how Democrats would be painted as obstructionists if they fail to support what Trump wants at a time when millions of people need a cash bridge to help them across economic difficulties.

Wrongo thinks helping people is a good idea, and a total of $2,000 is better than nothing, but what will it really do? The average US mortgage payment is over $1,000, while the median rent for a 1-bedroom apartment is $1,234. So for a couple, in most cases, one month’s housing costs will eat up about 25% of the total cash from the government. The rest will go to car expenses, the cell phone, perhaps student debt payments. Maybe, if people can stretch, it will last two months.

It’s helpful, but far from enough if employers remain closed for two months or more.

And loans to small businesses? Will small businesses willingly take on more debt when they can’t be sure when their income will return, or if the business will survive?

Any loans to large corporations is a huge mistake. The big four US airlines – Delta, United, American, and Southwest – whose stocks are getting crushed because they will run out of cash in a few months, would be the primary recipients of that $50 billion bailout. But together, they incinerated $43.7 billion in cash on share buybacks since 2012. Now they are looking to get that back from the taxpayers. Those buybacks enriched the very shareholders that Trump now wants to bail out.

Perhaps Trump said it best, although it was a while ago: “We’re seeing a stock market like no one has ever seen before.”

Trump spent the first three years of his presidency trying to erase Obama’s legacy.  Now, The Great Virus Crash in Trump’s last year will erase his.

Facebooklinkedinrss