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The Wrongologist

Geopolitics, Power and Political Economy

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.

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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.

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Sunday Cartoon Blogging – March 22, 2020

We have a ton of cartoons today, so just a brief comment. Neoliberal economics bears a major responsibility for the pathetic pandemic response by our corporations and government. It encourages efficiency over all other aspects of a complex product/service delivery system. We now see that it is fragile, without the resilience necessary to meet surges of demand/need.

Our CEOs and politicians now think only in terms of equilibrium, when equilibrium is the last thing we need in the middle of a runaway exponential disease process like COVID-19.

We’re seeing how difficult it is to source things like gloves, masks and sterile gowns. The delays procuring those items will pale against the delay in sourcing ventilators and ultimately, a vaccine in sufficient doses to truly stem the tide.

One thing to think about is how nations with authoritarian or collectivist societies have responded to the Coronavirus better than those in the west, where we celebrate the individual, occasionally to the detriment of society. Our way works fine when things are good, but not so well when things turn bad.

What would you expect, given an educational system that doesn’t teach people what “exponential” means?

Finally, imagine Trump if he were FDR right after the attack on Pearl Harbor: Standing in front of Congress declaring: “This Japan thing will go away!” On to cartoons.

Whose responsibility is this?

There’s only one real cure for Trump syndrome:

He’ll never have clean hands:

Sadly, it’s not just his hands that don’t measure up:

Sen. Burr and the others can’t explain their actions. They’re guilty:

 

Let all the people keep the checks, but nothing for corporations:

Dem primaries showed us something:

The core problem for Democrats today:

Work from Home withdrawal setting in:

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Saturday Soother – March 21, 2020

The Daily Escape:

David Hockney (a new painting) — here’s a quote from Hockney: “Do remember they can’t cancel the spring 2020”.

Blog reader Fred VK emails:

“How do you know if you could be in a third world country? When you go see the Doctor, she greets you wearing a face mask that says ‘made by Mr. Coffee’”.

It is difficult for people to talk about anything else. COVID-19 is on the march, and America isn’t prepared for what’s coming. Worse, we’re unsure if this is a one-two month problem, or something that will last a year or longer. Most countries think that the virus will grow exponentially, and will kill many of their citizens. This leads nearly all governments to order many businesses to close. No one is traveling, except to their local stores. In Connecticut, no one is able to get a haircut for the duration.

But since Wall Street is still open, anyone who owns stocks has taken a huge haircut this week. Friday’s drop leaves Trump looking at a Dow average that’s 3% below what it was when he took office. He’s presided over the worst week in the stock market since 2008.

This market crash is due to investors trying to understand the extent of the damage to the US economy that’s being done by how we’re fighting COVID-19.

In order to save our society over the longer run, we’re actively putting ourselves into a very deep recession. That may mean that people will be out of work for a short, or a long time. If it’s a long fight, that may lead to a very dark economic time for all Americans.

A fundamental question is:

“What unpleasant decisions would our federal and state governments be willing to take to get us out of a deep recession, if the virus is still around a few months from now, and still killing a lot of people?”

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

Remember that before 9/11, no one thought we would surrender our freedoms for 3,000 deaths, but we did. No one thought we’d fight a nearly 20 year war that killed 6,789 and wounded 52,353 Americans, but we did.

Those wars have cost the American taxpayers $5.9 trillion since they began in 2001. We’ll easily spend $2 trillion between here and September to prop up the economy while fighting the Cornonavirus.

What kind of sacrifices will we be willing to make if the Coronavirus is still killing Americans on Election Day 2020? Which Party will be saying we should put people back to work?

It’s likely to be both Parties.

Dark, right? There are encouraging signs. Small acts of kindness in supermarkets, artists performing for free on the internet, people trying very hard to avoid making the elderly sick. These are all wonderful things, and we need much, much more of them.

Some say that it takes a common enemy like the Coronavirus to unite us. If we become united in the fight, and stay united once we’re victorious, that would be also be a wonderful thing.

So, let’s take a beat, and think hopeful thoughts about the arrival of spring. Here in northwest Connecticut, the peepers began singing a week ago, and the daffodils are blooming. The first dandelions are peeping through the grass, but we’re expecting snow on Monday. So winter isn’t over just yet.

Let’s try to soothe ourselves by listening to two pieces of spring music. First, “Spring Morning” by Frederick Delius, written around 1888. This is always a Wrongo favorite in spring:

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

Second, listen to Vivaldi’s Four Seasons: “Spring” (La Primavera) in a complete version, performed live in February 2020 by Alana Youssefian and the Voices of Music. This isn’t a “Vivaldi as usual” performance. Wrongo had never heard of Youssefian, but listening to her and the Voices of Music’s original instruments is a treat.

Subtitles in the video are words by Antonio Vivaldi!

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

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We’re In Uncharted Territory

The Daily Escape:

Sunset, Factory Butte, UT – photo by goat_chop56

Blog reader David K. emailed:

“Now, what do we common folk do?  Start our “victory gardens” and shelter in place?  Volunteer to help our local farmers raise food? Hoard?  Wish I had a great idea, because I agree that our leaders don’t have a clue how to respond.”

That gave Wrongo pause. What do those of us who aren’t part of the “smart money” crowd supposed to do, particularly if what we’re facing is a worldwide depression? John Pavlovitz frames the existential issues quite clearly:

What happens if the stores run out of essentials for good?
What if you run out of money to stockpile them?
What if your neighbors stop sharing with you?
What if the government won’t help you?
What might you do then?

Politicians say we’re at war, but as Kunstler says: “At least in wartime, the bars stay open. That’s how you know this is a different thing altogether from whatever else you’ve seen in your lifetime.”

We’re attacked by a novel virus that’s created a completely novel social and economic situation. By definition, we aren’t prepared for an abrupt crash of both our social fabric, and our economic well-being.

Our politicians have no answers, despite most of them having been around for the 2007-2008 Great Recession. The Fed hasn’t done us any favors since then, either.

Last Saturday, Wrongo said that we’re crossing a threshold between what we know and an unseen future. Our traditional systems are no longer capable of keeping society and the economy on an even keel. Nobody really knows how deep and how harsh this will get, but the situation presents two questions:

  • How much disorder will we have to endure?
  • What does the world look like when this thing is over?

All this is happening in an election year, when the entire government and the political parties’ power structures are vulnerable, and could change. We are facing a new reality, for which no one has any answers.

Politics being what it is, the White House and the Congress are trying to work together to come up with solutions. On Monday, Trump gave another press conference on COVID-19. During his talk, the stock market dropped nearly 3,000 points. It was the market’s worst day since Black Monday in 1987.

The smart money was behind Trump in order to get its corporate tax cuts, but now, they’ve voted with their money. And Trump’s starting to look a little bit like Herbert Hoover.

Sen. Mitt Romney (R-UT) floated Democrat Andrew Yang’s idea of giving every American $1,000. He was joined in principle by Sen. Tom Cotton (R-AK). We’ll see if this is just more Republican grandstanding, or if they actually back a real plan of support for working people.

With Trump, you can expect to see bailouts for several industries, including banks, airlines, casinos and cruise lines. Imagine: Casinos are asking for help from the guy who only knows how to bankrupt casinos.

Reuters reports that the US airline industry said that it needs $50 billion in grants and loans to survive the dramatic falloff in travel demand from the COVID-19 outbreak. This is just more socialism for America’s corporations.

Two thoughts: First, $50 billion is higher than the book value of all the airlines combined. Why should they have any of our money? Either Republicans are for free market capitalism, or they should just shut up. Most of these airlines have implemented stock buyback programs when they should have been building contingency funds instead.

Second, this $50 billion should be added to whatever Congress spends on small businesses that are forced to close due to quarantine, or on parents forced to stay home to take care of kids who aren’t going to school anymore. They’re the ones who are really hurting.

We’ve lived through a time of unprecedented affluence. We’ve told ourselves we deserved it all, that we were entitled to all that our country has provided.

But that’s most likely over, and it might not return in Wrongo’s lifetime.

We have to think about what must change if we are to have a functioning society and economy in the decades to come.

The list of all the things that we need to change is far too long to enumerate here. At a minimum, we need to reform capitalism, make health insurance universal and strengthen worker’s rights.

We have to do a better job of sharing the wealth. It we don’t do that voluntarily, our children’s children’s generation will come and fight us for what we have.

To protect our families and their future, we need to become even more active politically in order to make these and other changes happen.

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Can the Economy Endure a Two-Month Shutdown?

The Daily Escape:

Cannon Beach, OR – 2020 photo by franks28

The short answer to the question above is no, not without outright financial support for individuals by the government. That support if it comes, is likely to be too little, too late.

But the Fed tried something. On Sunday, it announced that it slashed its federal funds rate by a full percentage point, to a target range between 0% and 0.25%. In addition, they launched a new Quantitative Easing program for another $700 billion.

Investors threw up all over the Fed’s Sunday moves, because we’re looking at a “demand shock”, the state-enforced loss of consumer sales,something that can’t be stimulated away. The S&P futures immediately plunged 5% to hit its downside limit. That made for an interesting Monday, with the Dow ending down nearly 3,000 points, or another 13%. In the past month, the market has lost nearly a third of its value.

All these efforts to provide stability actually showed the market that our leaders have no idea what they’re doing. It’s the exact opposite of inspiring confidence.

Did the Fed panic? Fed Chair Jay Powell lowered rates right after Trump said he had the authority to remove Powell. That makes it seem, true or not, like the Fed is now in Trump’s pocket. No confidence-builder there.

Looking through a wider lens, Mr. Market has decided that the Fed is pushing on a string. Rates were already so low that there was little gain from the interest rate reduction, and little else that the Fed could do. Mostly, the Fed signaled that it is very frightened about the prospect of a global recession.

In addition, the market understood that the stimulus bill working its way through the House and Senate is inadequate to the task ahead. For one thing, Pelosi’s bill promises paid sick leave, but as written it only covers about 20% of all workers.

Again through that wide-angle lens, the growing COVID-19 business lockdown strategy will have an economic impact similar to a natural disaster, like a hurricane, but played out over a longer time frame. FEMA has found that 40% of businesses close in a natural disaster. And of the businesses that reopen, only 29% survive the after the following two years.

Since our economy is 70% services, many industries facing the lockdown, like tourism, casinos, restaurants, and hotels, will soon be in meltdown mode. The Fed has no answer to a massive drop in consumer spending, only the president and Congress can solve that.

We know that 40% of Americans don’t have enough cash on hand or room on a credit card to handle a $400 emergency. Many service industry workers will be hit with either cutbacks in their hours, or outright job losses. Without financial assistance, we’ll quickly see defaults on rent or mortgages, and delinquencies on credit cards and car payments.

So the Fed creates some more money. But just like in 2008, rather than distributing it to every citizen, they’re giving it to the banks. Somehow, all that money is going to people who already have plenty, while those who need it get nada.

Why is the answer always to give more to the supposed “job creators” when we get basically nothing in return? Why not just send a check to the actual people who need it?

Finally, what will this interest rate cut do for the economy?

  • Are restaurants going to start hiring workers that can’t actually come to work just because loans are cheap?
  • Are workers not collecting a paycheck going to go out and buy a new car/TV/house because interest rates dropped a bit?
  • Are banks going to lend cheap money to airlines, restaurants, and cruise lines when we have no idea how long this will last?

Every company on the planet has simultaneously realized that it is in an existential cash-flow crisis due to COVID-19. The big and smart companies already have drawn down their unused loan facilities to ride through the slowdown.

The slower and the smaller firms are staring at an economic nuclear-winter scenario where their revenue plunges for months, and they can’t pay their staff, or make their fixed payments.

The speed and comprehensiveness of the lockdowns, and their drastic impact make what’s going to happen very clear. Our leaders are in a fog of denial. They don’t see that much of what was the traditional mode of operating our system is crumbling.

During the 2008 financial crisis, we learned that events can move too quickly for anyone to intervene and limit the damage. Our business environment’s drive for highly efficient systems, from just-in-time inventory sourcing to reducing the number of hospital beds per capita, have created fragile systems that are now being stress-tested.

We may be learning, to our collective detriment, that all of these systems along with our leaders, have failed us.

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The Health Crisis Now Coincides With a Financial Crisis

The Daily Escape:

Sunrise, St. Augustine Beach, FL – March 2020 photo by Carl Gill

The WaPo reported that a Coronavirus-sparked oil war sent crude prices down on Sunday by 32.3%. That triggered a forced temporary halt of stock trading on Monday, when the S&P 500 index sank 7% shortly after the market’s opening.

This occurred on the 11thanniversary of the current bull market. But, as Greg McBride, chief financial analyst at Bankrate.com, wrote:

“The uncertain economic impact of coronavirus continues to grip markets, with stocks, commodities and interest rates all dropping sharply. Markets hate uncertainty and there is a ton of it currently in play.”

There is no question that there will be more angry Americans now that a health crisis coincides with a financial crisis. Who they focus their anger on remains to be seen. Trump took credit for each rise in the stock market, so will he take ownership now that it’s tanking?

He’s not a broadly popular president, and this will make him less popular, so fewer people will believe him when he tries to lay the blame on others.

The oil price plunge was triggered when Russia announced on Friday that it would no longer stay within the OPEC+ quotas after April 1st. Saudi Arabia then said it would slash prices for its customers in April. In addition, they hinted at increasing production from the current level of 9.7 million barrels per day to 10 million barrels per day.

This is the start of an oil price war between Saudi Arabia and Russia over market share. But the real target for both may just be the US shale oil sector. US banks and other investors have been fueling the shale oil sector’s growth with hundreds of billions of dollars of loans over the years. And the shale oil producers keep ramping up production, despite it being largely unprofitable. They continue to burn through cash.

Brian Sullivan at CNBC warns us: The US oil industry valued its oil reserves, as collateral for its loans, at $60 a barrel. Today’s price is now about $30/barrel.

By sending some of these shale-oil companies into bankruptcy, Saudi Arabia and Russia are hoping that new money will refuse to support the US shale oil sector. Then production in the US will decline and take some oversupply out of the oil market.

Their timing is impeccable. Oil demand is down due in part to the Coronavirus. Chinese manufacturers are producing less and airlines in particular have less need for jet fuel. If OPEC and Russia increase production, and assuming US production still increases while demand globally is in steep decline, then global markets will be awash in oil.

And what does an oil glut do for Iran, already fighting a severe Coronavirus outbreak, and needing higher oil prices for their own economy?

But no worries! We can count on the competent leadership in the White House. And if that doesn’t make you comfortable, you might ask yourself, “Is this 1929 all over again?”

Maybe not, but if it is, who will be our FDR? In the 1930s and 1940s, FDR spent money on America’s democratic infrastructure. That money gave jobs to people. He created a social safety net, and allowed industry to again flourish.

But in the past 30 years, all the money has gone to our industrial infrastructure and to the rich, through tax cuts and subsidies. The easy money party has helped to pump up both stock prices and asset prices, giving us an ever-growing income and wealth gap.

What happens to the health of the people and to the health of economy between now and November is going to be a huge political concern. There’s always a tension between the best health policy, and the best economic policy.

Trump wants economic policy to win out, but the primary beneficiary of that is industry and the rich.

We should remember that when leaders are seen to be incompetent and/or ARE truly incompetent, they try to divert the voters’ attention. What Trump attempts to do in order to divert our attention, is worthy of discussion.

As of today, the fuse is lit. It’s an election year, and we know that Trump won’t go away quietly.

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Monday Wake Up Call – March 2, 2020

The Daily Escape:

St. Augustine, FL – photo by Wrongo

Hot takes:

First to politics: Joe Biden rolled to a big win in South Carolina, and billionaire Tom Steyer and former mayor Pete Buttigieg both folded their tents. Some in the media say that Biden is once again the front runner, but Sanders’s win in Nevada remains significant, and he remains on track to pick up a lot of delegates in California and Texas.

The real news from South Carolina is that Biden has become the Not-Sanders candidate. For Super Tuesday, Bloomberg essentially replaces Steyer as the billionaire in the race. Super Tuesday results are less than 48 hours away, and after that, we’ll have a real idea of who really remains a viable candidate.

Second, peace in Afghanistan: After 18 years of war, we signed an agreement with the Taliban. The deal does not end the civil war, but it has placed the outcome of the conflict in the hands of the Afghan people. Heather Cox Richardson quotes Laurel Miller, the former deputy and then acting Special Representative for Afghanistan and Pakistan from 2013 to 2017 for the State Department: (emphasis by Wrongo)

 “There’s nothing new in the Joint Declaration signed in Kabul today. It reaffirms existing commitments and it re-states some of US-Taliban agreement. Its purpose is evidently political symbolism.”

She explained: It includes the Afghan government and its opposition in future discussions. It draws down US troops to 8600 people—the number who were there when Trump took office, and promises “all” will be gone within 14 months. The 8600 drawdown has long been planned. In exchange, the Taliban will “not allow any of its members, other individuals or groups, including al-Qa’ida, to use the soil of Afghanistan to threaten the security of the United States and its allies.”

Miller’s conclusion:

“The Taliban got a lot. It got its main goal—a clear timeline for US withdrawal—and fast removal of sanctions and prisoner releases. The US got the power to decide whether “vaguely-stated conditions are met, so that in reality can withdraw when it chooses—will be political not military decision.” The Afghan government didn’t get much, but “this deal wasn’t really about the Afghan government.”

Trump, America’s Man of Peace. This looks a lot like what he did in North Korea, a PR moment that resembles a deal, but turns out not to be much of a deal.

Finally, the WaPo features a new report published by the Manhattan Institute, a conservative think tank, that clearly demonstrates the disconnect between the “great” economy described by economists, and the economy experienced by regular people. This chart shows the problem:

 

From the article (emphasis by Wrongo)

“In 1985, the typical male worker could cover a family of four’s major expenditures (housing, health care, transportation, education) on 30 weeks of salary….By 2018 it took 53 weeks. Which is a problem, there being 52 weeks in a year.”

Lead study author Oren Cass (formerly Mitt Romney’s domestic policy director) calls this calculation the Cost-of-Thriving Index. It measures the median male annual salary against four major household expenditures:

  • Housing: the annual rent for a three-bedroom house in the 40th percentile of the local housing market
  • Health care: the annual premium on a typical family health insurance policy
  • Transportation: the average cost of owning and operating a car driven 15,000 miles per year
  • Education: the average cost of tuition, fees, and room and board at a four-year public college

In 1985, the typical male breadwinner could cover those costs, and still have 22 weeks of pay left for other family needs, such as food, clothing, entertainment and savings. Today, the typical salary doesn’t even cover the four basics.

They also looked at female earners. The typical woman needed to work 45 weeks to cover the four big annual expenses in 1985. Today she needs 66 weeks. The most astonishing conclusion is that it was easier for a female breadwinner to provide for her family in 1985 than it is for a lone male earner today.

Remember that the study comes from a conservative-leaning institute. Here’s Cass:

“You can have a rising GDP….but if it’s in the context of collapsing families and people no longer getting married and declining fertility rates and so on and so forth, you haven’t necessarily enhanced well-being.”

Wake up America! The GOP has undone 50 years of economic gains that produced a robust middle class and vastly more economic and social justice than the country had ever known before, or since.

They have chosen candidates whose real agenda was to assist the corporatocracy in fleecing the very people who voted for them. Their candidates ran on issues like the Second Amendment, abortion, gay marriage and immigration. And then, the GOP shifted the tax burden onto the middle class. They deregulated industry and socialized corporate losses, eliminating any downside risk for banks.

We can begin undoing these things by electing Democratic majorities in the  House and Senate in November.

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Monday Cartoon Blogging – Iowa Caucuses Edition, February 2, 2020

We had a very consequential week, followed by a consequential weekend. Sunday was both the Super Bowl and Groundhog Day. It was also a very rare eight-digit palindrome when written as 02/02/2020, the first since 11/11/1111.

We had the “deal of the century” that isn’t, and the Chiefs won the Super Bowl. But the Constitution died.

And so did Kobe Bryant and his daughter, along with seven others. It doesn’t take a basketball fan to feel shocked and saddened when a Dad and his 13-year old daughter are suddenly killed. Of course we know about Kobe Bryant, a basketball genius who, in his retirement, helped young people and championed women’s basketball. His life story was complicated, but if you think that people can work hard and redeem themselves, Kobe Bryant is your prime example:

The movie that’s always on repeat:

Peace? Or pieces?

Brexit happened, the UK is now going it alone:

Failing to call witnesses shows that the GOP’s loyalties have shifted:

Beauty is in the eye of the beholder:

Brown paper bags have replaced the MAGA hats for GOP Senators:

With Iowa voting tomorrow, it’s important to know your enemies:

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Saturday Soother – Brexit Edition, February 1, 2020

The Daily Escape:

Sunrise, Castle Mountain, Banff, Alberta, CN – 2019 photo by anitajwani

(Sunday Cartoons will appear on Monday)

Yesterday, Brexit became official. The UK is no longer part of the European Union.

The decision to stay or go consumed the UK to the exclusion of all else for four years. But listening to the BBC, they now are barely talking about it. For all the arguing about “Leave” or “Remain”, nothing much was really said about what would happen once things got concrete.

It may be hard for Americans to understand, since we are seduced by British accents, but the Tories are dumber than Republicans. One example of what changed on Friday, as the UK Independent observed:

“Brexit day is here, so let us celebrate our biggest victory – the freedom to drink very bad wine.”

So now comes the hard part. Britain has until the end of this year to make a new trade deal with Europe, the US, and with other non-EU countries. The EU is the UK’s largest trading partner. In 2018, UK exports to the EU were £291 billion (45% of all UK exports). UK imports from the EU were £357 billion (53% of all UK imports).

Services accounted for 41% of the UK’s exports to the EU in 2018. Financial services and other business services (including legal, accounting, advertising, research and development, architectural, and engineering) are important categories of services exports to the EU. They made up just over half of UK service exports to the EU in 2018.

Because of the EU’s structure, the parliaments of 27 countries will have to agree to any new deal. Imagine what a “No Deal” would mean starting in 2021: Both Britain and the EU would stand to lose a big chunk of their trade revenue.

It will be fascinating to see which side has the greater negotiating power. For example, the UK only accounts for just 6% of German exports of goods. It accounts for 6.8% of French exports.

The US needs a new trade deal with Britain as well. That deal will have to be approved by the US Congress. The US will want open access to the British markets for its agricultural and healthcare industries. That will conflict with Britain’s own farmers, food regulations and its National Health Service.

Britain will be negotiating these two large, and very complicated deals under severe time pressure. The EU might offer to extend the deadline, but Prime Minister Boris Johnson has said there will be no extensions. Despite Johnson’s promise, comprehensive trade deals take several years to complete, averaging 7-8 years. So there will be little deals announced in steps, with the simplest to agree areas finished first.

There are also the national issues: North Ireland will be integrated economically with Ireland. Having a customs border in the North Sea may prove unwieldy. Scotland preferred to remain with the EU, and voted “Remain”. After Parliament finally voted to Leave, Scotland asked to hold a referendum on leaving the UK, but were turned down by the Tories. They may try again to secede over the Prime Minister’s objections.

These new trade deals may be on less favorable terms than what the Tories told the voters. As an example, one argument for Brexit was that the UK would regain exclusive fishing rights within its economic zone. But some EU countries will likely ask for additional fishing rights in British waters in exchange for something Britain urgently needs.

We won’t know the outcome for five to ten years from now, but it’s likely that Great Britain will be less great than it is today.

What with the impeachment show drawing to a conclusion without calling witnesses, and the impending food fest of Super Bowl Sunday, it’s time for our Saturday Soother.

Our one oasis of calm in a week of crisis.

Let’s start by brewing up a big mug of Ethiopia Shaskiso Natural ($18/12oz.) roasted by Michigan’s own Battlecreek Coffee Roasters. The roaster says it tastes of strawberry and cocoa supported by spice-toned florals.

Now, settle back by the fire and listen to Telemann’s Concerto in D major for Violin, Cello, Trumpet and Strings, played live by the Bremer Barockorchester, in 2015:

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

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