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The Wrongologist

Geopolitics, Power and Political Economy

Stimulus Money is Going to Churches

The Daily Escape:

View of Mt. Rainer from Reflection Lake WA – 2018 photo by NathanielMerz

Here is the 7-day look at the national numbers for COVID-19:

The rate of growth in deaths as a percentage of cases continues to rise, while the rate of increase in cases picked up slightly on 4/6, although overall, it is slowing vs. 7 days ago. Testing is still growing, although the rate of growth in tests is now about equal to the growth in cases.

A little-noticed part of the $2 trillion stimulus package allows the federal government to provide money directly to US churches to help them pay pastor salaries and utility bills. From NPR: (emphasis by Wrongo)

“…the $2 trillion economic relief legislation…includes about $350 billion for the Small Business Administration (SBA) to extend loans to small businesses facing financial difficulties as a result of the coronavirus shutdown orders. Churches and other faith-based organizations are among the businesses that qualify for aid under the program, even if they have an exclusively religious orientation.

So, we’re not simply speaking of not-for-profit subsidiaries of churches such as charities. The Trump administration is saying churches themselves will qualify for direct loans. Apparently, the program is based on the average monthly payroll of a church school or the parish, which is extrapolated to eight weeks. The cost of maintaining staff for that period becomes the loan amount.

From the SBA’s statement:

“Faith-based organizations are eligible to receive SBA loans regardless of whether they provide secular social services….No otherwise eligible organization will be disqualified from receiving a loan because of the religious nature, religious identity, or religious speech of the organization.”…

The SBA’s regulations currently exclude some religious entities. Because those regulations bar the participation of a class of potential recipients based solely on their religious status, SBA said it will decline to enforce those subsections and will propose amendments to conform those regulations to the Constitution.

The SBA is quoting a 2017 Supreme Court decision, Trinity Lutheran v. Comer, which was the first time the Court said the government is required to provide public funding directly to a religious organization. Chief Justice Roberts wrote for the majority in the 7-2 decision. The key argument was that Trinity Lutheran faced discrimination solely because of its identity as a church. That, the Court decided, was discrimination. From the opinion:

“There is no question that Trinity Lutheran was denied a grant simply because of what it is….A church.”

The grant was for refurbishing the church’s playground.

But in this case, the SBA is offering direct funding of religious entities with money provided by tax dollars from the rest of us. We’re likely to see this in the courts soon.

This isn’t the first time that the Trump administration provided funds directly to churches, synagogues, mosques and other religious organizations. In 2018, the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) changed its rules to make houses of worship eligible for disaster aid.

First Amendment watchers have reacted. Alison Gill, legal and policy vice president of American Atheists said:

“The government cannot directly fund inherently religious activities….It can’t spend government tax dollars on prayer, on promoting religion [or] proselytization. That directly contradicts the Establishment Clause of the First Amendment.”

If they want Federal funds, shouldn’t they pay Federal taxes?

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Monday Wake Up Call – April 6, 2020

The Daily Escape:

Texas bluebonnets, Round Rock, TX – 2018 photo by dried_fruit

Here are the latest national numbers (which will be out of date by the time you read them). From The COVID Tracking Project: (as of 4/4)

  • Number of daily cases: 305,755, up 33,767 or +12.4% vs. April 3
  • Rate of case increase: 12.4% vs. 13.75% on 4/3 and 15% average for the past week
  • Number of deaths: Total 8,314, up 1,352 vs. April 3
  • Rate of deaths increase 4/4 vs 4/3: 19.4% % vs. 20.4% on 4/3
  • Daily number of tests 4/4 vs. 4/3: 1,623,807, up 226,945 over 4/3
  • Rate of increase in tests: +16.2% vs. previous day

The rates of growth in cases and deaths have begun to slow. In the past week, they are in a decelerating trend, declining by about 1%/day. Testing is growing, which is a very good thing.

Just when you think you can’t get any more cynical about America’s response to the pandemic, we tumble to the fact that about a third of hospital emergency rooms are now staffed by doctors on the payrolls of two physician staffing companies, TeamHealth and Envision Health. They are owned by two Wall Street private equity firms. Envision Healthcare employs 69,000 healthcare workers nationwide while TeamHealth employs 20,000. Private equity firm Blackstone Group owns TeamHealth; Kravis Kohlberg Roberts (KKR) owns Envision. Private equity is the term for a large unregulated pool of money run by financiers who use that money to invest in, lend to, and/or buy companies and restructure them.

Wrongo began hearing that despite the urgent pleas from hospitals on the front lines of the COVOID-19 outbreak, nurses and doctors were being taken off schedules in nearby places once “elective” procedures were suspended, as they are at many hospitals and clinics. That means the associated revenues were lost, or at the very least, postponed.

Here’s a report from Yahoo Finance:

“KKR & Co.-backed Envision, which carries over $7 billion of debt amassed through one of the biggest leveraged buyouts in recent years, reported steep drops at its care facilities. In just two weeks, it suffered declines of 65% to 75% in business at its 168 open ambulatory surgical centers, compared to the same period last year, the company said in a private report to investors. About 90 centers are closed.”

Private equity has taken over more and more of hospital staffing, including emergency departments. The legal fig leaf that allows private equity firms like Blackstone and KKR to play doctor is that their deals are structured so that an individual MD or group of MDs is the nominal owner of the specialty practice, even though the business is stripped of its assets. The practices’ operating contracts are widely believed to strip the MDs of any say in management.

Care of the sick is not the mission of these companies; their mission is to make profits for the private equity firms and its investors. In 2018, Paladin Healthcare, an entity owned by private equity baron Joel Freedman, bought Philadelphia’s Hahnemann University Hospital. This hospital served the poor, and Freedman closed it down so he could use the land to build luxury apartments.

When the city recently asked to use the empty hospital as part of its solution for the Coronavirus pandemic, Freedman demanded $1M/month in rent. Overcharging patients and insurance companies for providing urgent and desperately needed emergency medical care is bad enough. But holding a city hostage?

In another example, STAT reports on another private equity firm: (emphasis by Wrongo)

“Alteon Health, which employs about 1,700 emergency medicine doctors and other physicians who staff hospital emergency rooms across the country, announced it would suspend paid time off, matching contributions to employees’ 401(K) retirement accounts, and discretionary bonuses in response to the pandemic…The company also said it would reduce some clinicians’ hours to the minimum required to maintain health insurance coverage, and that it would convert some salaried employees to hourly status for “maximum staffing flexibility.”

NY’s Governor Cuomo and others are pleading to have doctors come out of retirement, and here we have skilled doctors who have the training and are being asked to work fewer hours? All of the Republican talk about “choice” and “markets” in healthcare is just self-serving BS that benefits their buddies.

Time to wake up America!

Why do private equity firms continue to benefit from the “carried interest” tax loophole? Shouldn’t they shoulder their part of the financial grief the pandemic is causing to our country?

To help you wake up, here is John Lennon’s 1970 song, “Isolation”. It appeared on John Lennon/Plastic Ono Band. It has a whole new meaning in today’s context:

Sample Lyric:

We’re afraid of everyone,

Afraid of the sun.

Isolation

The sun will never disappear,

But the world may not have many years.

Isolation.

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

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Saturday Soother – Even More Pandemic Edition, April 4, 2020

The Daily Escape:

Spring in Town – Grant Wood, 1941

Welcome to Saturday, fellow disease vectors! Here’s a quote often mis-attributed to Winston Churchill: “If you’re going through Hell, just keep going”. Those are words to live by in pandemic America.

You remember Joe Biden, right?

His campaign was premised on Trump’s complete unsuitability for the presidency, and on Biden’s particular experience and fitness for it. Biden wasn’t running on the issues, he was hammering on Trump. Before the pandemic, according to Joe Biden, Trump was:

“A threat to this nation unlike any I had ever seen in my lifetime.”

But lately, Biden could be a picture on a milk carton. He’s disappeared. Rather than holding a news conference in public every day, demanding to know why the administration isn’t providing enough tests and PPE to the states, Biden’s trying to organize a phone call with Trump. To share lessons learned from Obama-era pandemic responses. That will certainly change everything.

Does Biden have a strategy to win in November? The ABC/WaPo poll found that only 24% of Biden’s supporters were ‘very enthusiastic‘ about him, compared with 53% of Trump’s. While ABC News reminded us that in 2016, “Hillary Clinton’s ‘very enthusiastic’ score was 32% in September.”

These numbers are from the poll that has Biden beating Trump by only 2% points. Now, this poll could be an outlier, since the Real Clear Politics Polling Average has Biden at 50.6% to Trump at 44%.

Regardless, Biden needs to get off his ass, get out in public, and act like the leader of the opposition.

And speaking of leadership (again), Raúl Ilargi Meijer has a great column about leadership in the pandemic era. He differentiates between the visionary giants like Gandhi and Martin Luther King, Jr.  and our current crop who he calls “Little Managers”:

“They all failed to a horrific extent at their #1 task when it comes to Disasters, Pandemics, whatever their respective governments file these events under: Prevention. But now we’re in a whole new world. Now these failed leaders move into a situation they actually MAY be able to handle. That is, the -crisis- management that inevitably follows AFTER the failure at their #1 task of Prevention.”

Ilargi says that they might be able to succeed at crisis management because they were trained to be little managers. He describes them: (emphasis by Wrongo)

“Core characteristic: these people don’t act, they re-act. Prevention is a job they’re absolutely not qualified for… Trump, Macron, BoJo, Merkel, Rutte, Xi, Abe, Conte, you name them, they’re all little managers…they have no ideas or visions, at least not original ones. People with original ideas don’t become politicians…”

Worse, politics isn’t policy. More:

“For now, the only thing to do is hope the little managers are better at step 2, Crisis Management, than they were at step 1, Prevention. Because there are no ready alternatives. When they say stay home, that’s the best thing to do right now.”

And finally:

“Can we blame our own respective…little managers? To an extent, sure. They didn’t do what they promised to when they swore their respective oaths. But maybe just maybe we should blame ourselves more, for picking little managers to lead our countries in the first place. We should have known that they were never going to be more than 2nd rate “leaders” who were never going to deliver more than 2nd rate societies.“

Hard to improve on that.

We’re all going through hell with no choice but to keep going. So, let’s take a breath, and try to spend our self-isolating time concentrating on something other than COVID-19. Here are “Two English Idylls” by the little-known George Butterworth, who was part of the English pastoral idiom.

These are Butterworth’s earliest surviving orchestral pieces, with No. 1 dating from 1910-1911, while No. 2 is from 1911. Butterworth and Ralph Vaughan Williams were close friends, and you may hear similarities in their music. Butterworth was killed in 1916 in WWI during the Battle of the Somme, he was 31.

Here it’s performed by the Academy of St. Martin-in-the-Fields, under Sir Neville Marriner, in 1975. The accompanying photography of the English countryside is transporting and wonderful, so Wrongo urges you to take a few minutes to watch:

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

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Monday Wake Up Call – Leadership Edition, March 30, 2020

The Daily Escape:

Last light, Tombstone Territory Park, Yukon, AK – fall 2019 photo by tmsvdw

A few days ago, Wrongo heard someone say that we should be careful what we wished for from Trump. He was talking about Trump’s lack of leadership regarding the pandemic. His thought was that the last thing people should want was Trump in full command, and attempting a vigorous response. We’re already failing, and that wouldn’t make it better.

OTOH, it’s been terrible to learn how ill-prepared we are, and how passive-aggressive the administration has been about doing more. It’s past time to accept the excuse that these people are well-intended but awful managers. Take this bit of news from the WaPo:

“On Feb. 5, with fewer than a dozen confirmed novel coronavirus cases in the United States but tens of thousands around the globe, a shouting match broke out in the White House Situation Room between Health and Human Services Secretary Alex Azar and an Office of Management and Budget official….Azar had asked OMB that morning for $2 billion to buy respirator masks and other supplies for a depleted federal stockpile of emergency medical equipment…”

Several weeks later, the request was cut to $500 million. Now, there’s $16 billion in the stimulus bill for the strategic stockpile, but that’s at least six weeks too late. The government has been overwhelmed by urgent requests for masks, respirators, gloves and gowns since the first US case of Covid-19 was confirmed. But on February 7th, Secretary of State Pompeo announced that we were sending:

“…nearly 17.8 tons of donated medical supplies to the Chinese people, including masks, gowns, gauze, respirators, and other vital materials.”

Yes, this was after there were already 12 confirmed cases in the US, and after the HHS request for $2 billion to buy the same things was denied.

Then there’s Trump’s strategy, “better be nice to me if you want any medical gear”. More from the WaPo:

“Anecdotally, there are wide differences….Democratic-leaning Massachusetts, which has had a serious outbreak in Boston, has received 17% of the protective gear it requested….Maine requested a half-million N95 specialized protective masks and received 25,558 — about 5% of what it sought. The shipment delivered to Colorado — 49,000 N95 masks, 115,000 surgical masks and other supplies — would be “enough for only one full day of statewide operations…”

But, when Trump’s guy is in charge, as in Florida, it’s a different story: (emphasis by Wrongo)

“Florida has been an exception in its dealings with the stockpile: The state submitted a request on March 11 for 430,000 surgical masks, 180,000 N95 respirators, 82,000 face shields and 238,000 gloves, among other supplies — and received a shipment with everything three days later…It received an identical shipment on March 23, according to the division, and is awaiting a third.”

So, three times what they asked for, while California, with Trump nemesis Democratic Governor Newsom in charge, actually got worse than nothing. KRON-TV in San Diego reports that Los Angeles received 170 broken ventilators from the national stockpile. Surely, a simple clerical error.

California also asked for 20 million N95 respirators, and has received 358,381.

Trump is actually doing what he’s been saying: “I am sending aid to states that like me, and withholding aid from states that don’t like me.” That’s Trump’s re-election strategy: Support the states he needs to win for an Electoral College victory.

Reward your friends, punish your enemies. Is that the kind of leadership America needs?

You know leadership when you see it. Sadly, even the UK’s Prime Minister Bozo Boris Johnson shows more leadership than America’s Bozo. After Johnson’s terrible start fighting the Coronavirus, one that rivaled Trump’s, things have turned around. There is consistent messaging: The government has adopted the slogan “Save lives”, “Protect the NHS” [the national health system], and “Stay home”. Simple and clear, something the entire country can rally around.

In the US? No message is simple, or clear. Most messages are conflicting or simply unworkable, like Trump’s suggestion of issuing an executive order quarantining the states of NY, NJ and CT, an unconstitutional and unenforceable idea. How about THAT for leadership.

Trump’s plan for re-election is: “If you aren’t dead, I saved you. Show some appreciation. I take no responsibility for those whose governors failed to save you“. Favoring those states he may need in 2020 is outrageous and criminal.

Two audio-visual aids today for your Monday Wake Up. First, a staggering animated chart showing the growth in Coronavirus cases world-wide during March, with a particular focus on the US:

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

Second, a hilarious YouTube video done to Queen’s “Bohemian Rhapsody”. Naturally, it’s called “Coronavirus Rhapsody“:

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

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Sacrificing Resiliency For Efficiency

The Daily Escape:

Convict Lake, Eastern Sierras, CA – photo by wild_NDN. It got its name after a group of escaped convicts ambushed the posse at the lake in 1871.

There will be a few winners in the race to source products for the Coronavirus fight. One winner is Puritan Medical Products Co. of Guilford, ME. If you’ve been tested for Covid-19, it’s quite likely that the swab used to collect a sample from inside your nose was made by Puritan.

Puritan is one of two companies that produce the world’s supply of the swabs used for coronavirus testing. (The other, Copan Diagnostics Inc., is in Italy). From Bloomberg:

“If swabs are necessary for testing, and if testing is crucial to slowing the virus’s spread, then it wouldn’t be an overstatement to say that the world’s future depends, at least in part, on Puritan.”

Unless the method for conducting the COVID-19 tests changes, Puritan’s ability to make more swabs will remain the long pole in the tent for figuring out which Americans have the virus. Puritan sells 65 different kinds of swabs. It has more than $45 million yearly in sales revenue.

On March 12, Puritan started getting calls from the US government. Bloomberg quotes Timothy Templet, executive vice president:

“We are ramping up to produce and wrap a million swabs a week that we need to put into the supply chain across the US…”

Please think about that. The Trump administration first contacted the swabs guy on March 12th, two and a half months after we should have known we needed as many as we could get, assuming America was interested in testing for the Coronavirus.

Early tests used two swabs—one for the nose, and another for the back of the throat, but the swab shortage forced changes to CDC guidelines, and now, only one is required. Puritan has two swabs patented for this purpose, and they’re making and shipping both, but scaling up production isn’t simple. Workers are in short supply, with more aging out of the workforce than entering in rural Maine. More from Templet:

“The whole labor shortage has created difficulties to have enough machines and build equipment…I could use 60 people tomorrow.”

Second, let’s talk the shortage of hospital safety gear, including disposable face masks, eye protection, gloves and gowns. Farhad Manjoo had an Op-Ed in Thursday’s NYT, “How the World’s Richest Country Ran Out of a 75-Cent Face Mask”, that details another sourcing problem:

“The answer to why we’re running out of protective gear involves a very American set of capitalist pathologies — the rise and inevitable lure of low-cost overseas manufacturing, and a strategic failure, at the national level and in the health care industry, to consider seriously the cascading vulnerabilities that flowed from the incentives to reduce costs.”

Twenty years ago, most hospital protective gear was made domestically. But like the apparel and consumer products business, face mask manufacturing has since shifted largely overseas. Today, China produces 80 % of masks worldwide. More from Manjoo:

“In January, the brittle supply chain began to crack under pressure. To deal with its own outbreak, China began to restrict exports of protective equipment. Then other countries did as well — Taiwan, Germany, France and India took steps to stop exports of medical equipment. That left American hospitals to seek more and more masks from fewer and fewer producers.”

In 2006, Congress funded adding hospital protective gear to a national strategic stockpile. At one point, it contained 52 million surgical face masks and 104 million N95 respirator masks. But in 2009, about 100 million masks in the stockpile were deployed to fight the H1N1 flu pandemic, and the government never bothered to replace them. Today, we have about 40 million masks in the stockpile — around 1% of the projected need for the Coronavirus fight.

Fighting the coronavirus is forecasted to require 3.5 billion face masks, according to DHHS. Mask producers say it will take at least few months to significantly expand production. Here’s a chart of the shortfall:

3M says that they are ramping up towards 100 million masks/month.

But, until that happens, the forecast is that we’re going to be short 170 million masks per month. Most of that must be sourced from China at a time when there is huge global demand, and Trump is fighting with the Chinese.

The real issue is that our system is built to optimize efficiency, not resiliency. But we’ve just learned the hard way that without resiliency, we could lose many more Americans.

This is where our priorities are misplaced. We have plenty of redundancy built into our military hardware, and our bloated defense budget assures it will stay that way. But pandemics are also a significant (and growing) threat to our national security.

How about rebuilding the “strategic reserve” of protective gear with some defense dollars? To add 300 million masks at $0.75 each would cost $225 million.

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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?

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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.

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Sunday Cartoon Blogging – March 15, 2020

This news should hit America like a hammer:

We started seeing Coronavirus on the same day, but we diverged almost immediately. One country effectively managed the crisis, the other not so much. The South China Morning Post reports:

“With about 8,000 confirmed cases and more than 65 deaths, it was until recently the country with the most confirmed cases outside China – but South Korea has since emerged as a source of inspiration and hope for authorities around the world as they scramble to fight the pandemic…..

By carrying out up to 15,000 tests per day, health officials have been able to screen some 250,000 people – about one in every 200 South Koreans – since January.”

In South Korea, they text the results to you on the next day, and it’s free. We may never see either of those things become a reality.

America has tested a total of about 4,900 people (we think), since authorities are unable (unwilling?) to confirm the exact number of tests that have been carried out.

Seoul’s handling of the outbreak emphasizes transparency, and relies heavily on public cooperation in place of hardline measures such as lockdowns. But America is exceptional, right? Trump said this a few days ago:

“So much progress has already been made, especially when you compare it with other places.”

Rather than follow the lead of our ally, South Korea, Trump seems to have picked the North Korean approach of downplaying and cover ups. What a genius. On to cartoons.

The world we’re living in:

A strategy that isn’t working for us:

The supposed best system is failing us:

Lyin King will close in November:

Empty suit equals empty shelves:

Our new world:

Harvey’s heading to his new pen:

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2020 Census Brings Scams, Confusion

The Daily Escape:

Florida Beach in February – 2015 photo by Wrongo

(Posting will be light and variable until March 8th, as Wrongo and Ms. Right spend a few days warming up in Florida)

The 2020 census is about to start. That’s the way we estimate the number of people living in each location in our country. The census is more than just a headcount; it shapes the distribution of political power and government funding for the next 10 years. It will inform the redistricting process at every political level across the country. So Congressional seats and Electoral College votes hang in the balance.

The Census Bureau is running more than 1,000 census ads in the US through July 2020 to encourage all households to participate. The Census Bureau confirmed that all advertisements will include a disclaimer underscoring that participants’ information will not be shared with any other parties, presumably, like ICE.

It’s expected that scams will be everywhere. According to AARP:

– 70% of respondents were incorrect or unsure about whether the Census Bureau would use email to contact them. Actually, all correspondence is sent via US mail

– 35% expect or are unsure whether the Census questionnaire will ask for their Social Security number, bank account information or passwords, or that it will require payment of a fee

It’s clear that the AARP crowd skews older, so you might expect that there would be some level of confusion that could make them susceptible to scams.

In addition to scams, Republicans are taking the opportunity of the census to collect information and raise funds with a form letter labeled “Census”. Here’s a sample:

The document asks questions, some of which are leading and biased, such as:

“Do you approve or disapprove of the Democrats’ agenda to raise taxes, provide free health care and college tuition for all, open our borders to all immigrants, enact dangerous abortion policies, pack the Supreme Court, allow inmates to vote and abolish the Electoral College?”

There is also continuing confusion about whether the census is asking a citizenship question, despite the fact that the US Census Bureau was directed by the Supreme Court not to include it.

A Pew Research Center survey just found that most Americans believe, incorrectly, that the 2020 census will ask about whether each individual in the household is a citizen:

“A 56% majority of the public thinks the census will include a question about citizenship, according to the Pew survey. Another 25% are not sure. Only 17% know that a citizenship question will not be on the census. By demographic segment, here’s who knows there will be no citizenship question on the census:

14% of women, and 20% of men

20% of Democrats and 14% of Republicans

15 to 16% of adults under age 65 and 21% of those aged 65 or older

18% percent of Hispanics and non-Hispanic Whites, but only 9% of blacks

21% of foreign-born Hispanics versus 16% of native-born Hispanics

26% of those with a bachelor’s degree and 13% of those with less education”

Whether this mistaken belief will suppress participation in the census, which is just a few weeks away, remains to be seen. Also, Pew says that certain groups are more hesitant to participate, including black and Hispanic adults. The Census Bureau says it is targeting black and Hispanic populations, as well as some groups of young adults, for additional outreach because they have been hard to count in the past.

The 2020 Census will be the first to be completed largely online, assuming that the Census Bureau’s plan goes off without complications. And Pew says that 60% are interested in doing so. But, the possibility of scamming will be ever-present.

People do have the option to request a paper form. One way to verify that the document received in the mail is an official Census Bureau form is to see if the enclosed envelope to mail it back is addressed to Jeffersonville, IN, or Phoenix, AZ, locations of the Census Bureau’s processing centers.

Like in the 2020 national elections, turning out for, and completing the census is very important to the future of the country.

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Which Democrat Nominee Excites You?

The Daily Escape:

Keyhole Arch, Pfeiffer Beach, Big Sur, CA – 2020 photo by jtmess. For a few weeks every winter, starting with the Winter Solstice, sunset lines up with the hole in Keyhole Arch.

Someone told Adlai Stevenson when he was running for president in 1952 (or ‘56): “Every thinking person in America will be voting for you.” Stevenson replied, “I’m afraid that won’t do—I need a majority.” (Via)

It’s time that Americans recognize that the most important global event in 2020 will be the US presidential election. The reason is blindingly obvious. It’s questionable if the world can be brought back from four more years of Donald Trump. That’s doubly true for the US. That means historic voter turn-out is required.

And if that’s the case, it’s important that the best person challenge Trump in November. Last night’s debate didn’t move us any closer to knowing who that should be. This, from Deborah Long is a useful take:

Three Democratic candidates for president walk into a bar.

The first one says, “I’m going to beat Donald Trump by re-starting the Bolshevik Revolution”.

The second one says, “I’m going to beat Donald Trump by breaking up the big banks and sticking it to the man.”

The third one says, “I’ll be in my trailer. Call me on the horn when they’re ready for my cameo in ‘The Way We Were’.

Her underlying point is that the current Democratic candidates show no unifying message. That partly explains why the top four are polling at close to the same numbers. Democrats need to answer the question: Who can deliver a knockout punch to Donald Trump, and repudiate what the Republican Party currently stands for?

Wrongo posted about Economic Dignity last spring. It’s from an article by Gene Sperling, Obama’s Director of the National Economic Council. His take is that the Fed and Congress should implement a full employment monetary and fiscal policy that enables tight labor markets.

Sperling says that implementing the idea of economic dignity would lead to higher wages, and give employers greater incentive to provide advanced training to their employees. And, high demand for labor would give more workers more of the “take this job and shove it” leverage that’s lacking today.

We’ll need more: America needs a return to what Paul Collier calls the “cornerstones of belonging”— family, workplace, and nation, all of which are threatened by today’s market-driven capitalism.

That’s a unifying message for Dems. Hidden behind that message is the idea that America has to return to the ethics of the New Deal. Joseph Stiglitz, Nobel laureate in economics, says: (parenthesis and emphasis by Wrongo)

“Over the past half-century, Chicago School economists, (including Milton Friedman) acting on the assumption that markets are generally competitive, narrowed the focus of competition policy solely to economic efficiency, rather than broader concerns about power and inequality. The irony is that this assumption became dominant in policymaking circles just when economists were beginning to reveal its flaws.”

Stiglitz says we’ll need new policies to better manage capitalism. That means:

  • Dealing with the inequities in health care
  • Paying workers more
  • Rebuilding public assets like roads
  • Passing higher taxes on corporate profits and the incomes of the wealthy

The unifying message is that Democrats will provide Americans with a legal and political framework that allows people to provide better opportunity for their families.

Better opportunity is something all of America wants to believe in.

So, if the Democrats want to win big enough to silence the GOP, the 2020 Democratic Party nominee for president must excite Americans by showing them a path to a better future for their families. Emphasis on the “excite”.

We’re not going to get there by marching with pitchforks. We’re not going to get there with Biden’s nostalgia. We’re going to get there by speaking directly to the needs of America’s families, workplaces and nation.

Not by continuing the tiresome, wonkish recitation of “my policy is slightly better than yours”.

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