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The Wrongologist

Geopolitics, Power and Political Economy

Can America Avoid Becoming a Failed State?

The Daily Escape:

Fall sunset, Shenandoah NP, VA – photo by juliend73

Sorry, but this column is going to be a downer.

We’ve been talking for the past few days about how hard it is to get politicians to focus on fixing what’s wrong in America. Wrongo originally started down this path in 2009. His plan was to lay out the problems, and to suggest ways in which America might fix them.

But 11 years later, little of what has been suggested here has occurred. Explaining what’s wrong has made very little difference.

Our really big problems now seem to be locked in: Climate change will happen. We can’t (or won’t) deal with the burgeoning disinformation platforms that threaten civil society. It’s difficult to see what will change our growing income inequality. As always, politicians are itching for a fight with some country. Today, the villain is China. Globalization has won, our supply chains now hold us hostage, and our economic future is increasingly controlled by Asia.

America is fast becoming a failed state: Our president tells people to drink bleach. There are more than 100,000 dead in the pandemic, and a significant percentage of them probably were needless deaths.

We have the ability to deal with the crises,but we’re choosing not to. Trump and McConnell, along with Biden, Pelosi and Schumer, all have access to the same, or more likely better information than we do.

They are choosing to ignore that the country is going to hell. Instead, they use each individual crisis for their own political benefit, and for their patrons’ financial benefit. They choose to ignore the near-certainty of a second wave of infections in the fall of 2020, bringing with it the possibility of a second economic collapse, along with more deaths.

We no longer provide the basics for our citizens. We live in a nation where income, savings, happiness, trust in government, and social cohesion are all in free-fall.

This is a recipe for social collapse.

In America most infrastructure is decrepit, from airports, to schools, to roads, because there hasn’t been much public investment. That’s because Americans don’t want to pay higher taxes like the Europeans do. Politicians on both sides still believe the evidence-free ideology of neoliberalism: We’ll all be rich if we invest in nothing, and wait for Mr. Market to correctly allocate resources.

No one cares about anyone else. Nobody will support any group’s pursuit of any goal unless it is also their goal. American life is becoming purely individualistic, adversarial, and acquisitive.

We haven’t invested in the systems that provide healthcare, education, retirement, and childcare. As a result, the average American family now goes without many of these things, since they’re priced out unless they have high paying jobs.

We pay absurd prices for health care. Having a child? That’ll be $50K. An operation? It will cost about what you would pay for a starter home. If she didn’t have health insurance, Wrongo’s daughter’s medication would cost $10,250/month. These basics of life are affordable in the rest of the rich world, but in America, they cost more than the average person can pay.

The average American now dies with $62k in debt. Life has become a sequence of unrepayable loans. Student debt becomes credit card debt and a mortgage, which leads to medical debt. These forms of debt define life in America. The average American is now a poor person, in the sense that they barely make enough to pay for the basics of life. Today, 80% of Americans live paycheck to paycheck, struggle to pay their basic bills, and 63% can’t raise $500 for an emergency.

These are the statistics of a nation that is descending into poverty.

Can it be fixed? Sure, but who’s going to pay for it? If taxes can’t be raised, if deficits can’t grow, what will happen? Nothing.

Except that we will move closer to a collapse. Our leaders say it’s because there isn’t an alternative. They say that we don’t have the money to pay for the changes we want. 70% of Americans say they want decent healthcare, retirement, and education, but they never vote for it.

Not even when it is offered during the primaries.

And it’s never offered in the general election, because nobody will vote for higher taxes to fund a functioning society. The idea simply isn’t acceptable to either of our political parties.

Wrongo’s decade of writing about what’s wrong hasn’t changed anything. Change requires a commitment to taking political risks, and massive voter turnout.

Otherwise, same old, same old is the path to our society’s destruction.

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Monday Wake Up Call – May 18, 2020

The Daily Escape:

Colorado River, from South Kaibab trail, Grand Canyon NP, AZ  – photo by DJ Memering. The bridge is called the Black Suspension Bridge. It is 5,260 ft below the canyon rim.

The CARES Act was sold as emergency funding for individuals and small businesses. In all, Congress has authorized $3.3 trillion in coronavirus relief in four separate acts over the last two months. The stated intent of those bills was to protect the American economy from long-term harm caused by the overall impact of the virus.

Alas, Congress also took care of their true constituents, Big Oil and other fossil fuel companies. Those companies got CARES Act tax breaks. The subsidies were supposed to help bail out small businesses pounded by the pandemic, but at least $1.9 billion of it was sent to fossil fuel companies and their executives.

Bloomberg News reports:

“$1.9 billion in CARES Act tax benefits are being claimed by at least 37 oil companies, service firms, and contractors”

Bloomberg used the example of Diamond Offshore Drilling Inc. who manipulated the bailout: (emphasis by Wrongo)

“As it headed toward bankruptcy, Diamond Offshore Drilling Inc. took advantage of a little-noticed provision in the stimulus bill Congress passed in March to get a $9.7 million tax refund. Then, it asked a bankruptcy judge to authorize the same amount as bonuses to nine executives.”

But, Diamond’s refund wasn’t all. Some went to their larger competitors. More from Bloomberg:

“…$55 million for Denver-based Antero Midstream Corp., $41.2 million for supplier Oil States International Inc. and $96 million for Oklahoma-based producer Devon Energy Corp.”

In addition, Kevin Crowley reports that Marathon Oil got $411m, Occidental $195m, and Valero $110m.

Hats off to all of our Senators, Congresscritters and the Trump administration! They all continue pursuing a pro-fossil fuel agenda, even as the economic disaster of the pandemic unfolds. Bernie Sanders tweeted:

“Good thing President Trump is looking out for the real victims of the coronavirus: fossil fuel executives,”

But, Bernie apparently voted for the bill, which passed the Senate in a unanimous vote. Hypocrisy much, Bernie?

These loopholes in the Act were deliberately written in so that corporations could feed at the trough along with small businesses, and we the people. Moreover, the initial bill was written in the House, although presumably in consultation with Trump and the Republicans. So, you can view this as either the cost of doing business for Democrats, or as just another day at the office listening to the lobbyists. Subsidy legislation has been a bipartisan objective.

Its always been this way. Here’s a cartoon from 1920 that could be drawn today:

Let’s remember that a big issue was the requirement for oversight, particularly after Trump said he wasn’t interested in having any. A compromise was struck so that an oversight commission could be empaneled to keep track of how the money was spent.

Today, it remains without a leader. Four of the five members of the Congressional Oversight Commission have been appointed, but Speaker Nancy Pelosi, (D-CA) and Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, (R-KY) have not agreed on a chair.

While the current members of the panel can perform some oversight, without a leader, it can’t hire staff or set up office space. In addition, the four members have not met as a group since the economic rescue law was passed. The PBS NewsHour quotes John Coates, a professor of law and economics at Harvard Law School:

“If the commission is not functioning — which it is not — then there is no oversight on a huge part of the economic rescue law…”

We seem to be able to bail out the rich every few decades, and we always seem to do it on the backs of the poor. It will probably happen again in another 10 years or so. Between these bailouts, politicians and pundits appear on all of the news shows, and write very serious articles proclaiming the need to resist socialism and to preserve “the free market” for the sake of “wealth creation and innovation”.

Time to wake up America! This great con has been going on for all of Wrongo’s lifetime and by looking at the cartoon above, for a few lifetimes before. Yet voters seem to be oblivious to this insidious form of corruption each and every time they go to the polls.

To help America wake up, let’s listen to Drive by Truckers, and their tune “Armageddon’s Back in Town” from their 2020 album, “The Unraveling

Sample Lyric:

There’ll be no healing
From the art of double-dealing
Armageddon’s back in town again

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

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Tax Revenue Has Never Been More Important

The Daily Escape:

Harris & Ewing “Less taxes, more jobs”, US Chamber of Commerce campaign in 1939. Photo via Shorpy. Maybe the sign should have said “lower taxes”. It was the first of 25,000 such signs put up all over the nation as part of a drive for a reduction in corporate taxes. And it worked. An alliance between the Chamber, Henry Morgenthau, Treasury Secretary, and Sen. Pat Harrison, (D-MS) conservative chair of the Senate Finance Committee, prevailed over the New Dealers. He blocked further tax hikes, and helped to create new corporate tax loopholes. Roosevelt went along, expecting that business would support him. The following year, the Chamber simply demanded more tax breaks, while backing Wendell Willkie. It’s all so familiar. Trickle down is an old idea, and everything old is new again!

 Here’s an interesting chart from End Coronavirus.org showing the progress of states toward beating the current COVID-19 pandemic. The numbers are through May 5. Those in green are winning the fight, those in yellow are nearly there, and the red ones still need more action:

There are four states in the green: Alaska, Hawaii, Montana and Vermont. Ten are nearly there, including Maine, Louisiana, New York and South Dakota. The remaining 37 still need work, some more than others. And many of the “needs more work” states are exiting their lockdowns this week.

So it goes in America. States and cities are going broke, primarily because of the sharp drop in tax revenues since the shutdown. They all face increased costs, from unemployment claims to spending on additional hospital capacity, and overspending on new purchases of PPE because of federal government inaction.

New York City says it will need $7.4 billion in federal aid, while NY state faces a $13 billion shortfall; Alaska’s budget gap might top $1 billion; Colorado’s at $3 billion. California? Its shortfall may be $54 billion. Red ink will be true for nearly every state, county, city, town and village in the country. States can’t deficit spend. They and their local governments must balance their budgets somehow, with some combination of federal aid, budget cuts, or tax increases.

In addition, the WSJ reports that some manufacturers that furloughed employees during lockdowns say their plants definitely won’t reopen.  Manufacturing output last year finally surpassed the 2007 previous peak, but factory employment has not returned to levels reached before the great financial crisis. It appears that in 2020, it will again fall below 2007 levels. And the more that job losses turn from temporary to permanent, the bigger the hit to unemployment insurance, to consumer spending, and to every company that relies on it—including manufacturers.

Wrongo spoke by phone with the mayor of his little town this morning. We are still not sure how we will balance the town’s 2020-2021 budget. In most years, the budget has been approved by the voters in May, but that will not happen this spring. The consequence is that, regardless of how the budget gets balanced, the town’s recovery will likely take several years.

So, states and cities think they have little choice but to reopen. They need the tax revenue, while they face even higher costs if they start an aggressive test and trace program. And they can’t expect the federal government to fund that new testing and tracing.

So most states are moving toward opening, regardless of whether they are red, or blue.

But, states may not all be EQUALLY reckless in what they choose to open, some are planning a phased reopen, followed by a re-evaluation before moving forward to the next step. Some are opening up just about as fast as they closed businesses six – eight weeks ago.

We are living in a federal system with a broken central government. The federal government has handled the pandemic badly, and shows no interest in trying to do better now. Even a robust federalism will fail if there is no federal financial help for the states.

It is a hell of thing to be shown clearly and in no uncertain terms that your federal government doesn’t give a shit if your citizens live or die.

Or if your state suffers a debilitating blow to its finances and future.

Wrongo can’t be sure, but this is probably how black people have felt forever. Now it applies to the rest of us.

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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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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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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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More About The Virtue of Exciting Candidates

The Daily Escape:

Mt. Assiniboine, Provincial Park, BC, CN – 2019 photo by Talhanazeer. Assiniboine is the pyramid-shaped mountain on the left.

When Wrongo thinks about the Democratic primary candidates, he feels a bit like when he was a breeder of Havanese dogs: “Don’t get too attached to any one of them–we’re only keeping one.”

At the end of the day, we’ll only have one candidate. The question is which is the keeper?

Yesterday we asked: which candidate excited you? Judging by crowd sizes in Iowa, Sanders, Warren and Buttigieg have generated excitement, while Biden has not:

“Mr. Biden has a lot to prove here. I’ve attended some of his town halls and rallies, and they’ve been lackluster, his speeches dull and meandering, and his crowds comparatively small. I’ve been to memorial services that are more exciting. I certainly hope mine is.”

That quote is from Robert Leonard, the news director for the Iowa radio stations KNIA and KRLS. More from Leonard:

“Who is going to get an enthusiastic turnout caucus night? Bernie Sanders will. His support is strong. We’ll see if he can increase it….

Elizabeth Warren has fallen in the polls, but she will have a big turnout caucus night. Her on-the-ground organizing is terrific and her supporters unwavering…..

Pete Buttigieg will also have a big turnout. Watching his several-blocks-long parade of supporters file into the Liberty and Justice Dinner last fall in Des Moines gave me goose bumps…..”

Leonard finishes with this:

“On caucus night, given the soft support I see, if the weather is bad Mr. Biden’s supporters might not come out. It might also depend on what’s on TV….For the other candidates, if their supporters walked outside, slipped on the ice and broke a leg, they still would crawl through snow and ice to caucus.”

He’s alluding to the x-factor, the charisma, the excitement that a candidate creates in voters, and claims that in Iowa at least, Sanders, Warren, and Mayor Pete are showing some of that.

The first thing that most of us want is relief from the Trump assault. In the general election, that starts with telling people the damage assessment, and a plan of repair. The nominee has to say that our government and democracy are in tatters and need to be stitched back together. Constitutional checks and balances have been nearly destroyed by the Republicans.

Maybe we need Medicare for all, free college tuition, and the rest of the progressive agenda, but first, we need to triage our democracy.

To win the presidency, we need to take back Pennsylvania, Michigan and Wisconsin. Are the voters in those three critical swing states ready to sign on to rebuild our social safety net, reform health insurance, and raise taxes on the rich and corporations? Hell yes.

Trump’s 2020 plan is to pump up the Dow while keeping unemployment at historic lows. He’s done that with a $1.5 trillion tax cut without any plan to pay for it. He’ll tout his new “trade deal” with China. He’ll mock and belittle the Democrats and their nominee. Meanwhile, Trump has no health plan at all!

Mitch McConnell’s plan is to make sure Trump is acquitted at all costs, to continue packing the courts, and blocking any meaningful legislation coming out of the House.

What’s the Democratic Party’s 2020 plan? The proposals by the progressive Democratic candidates have merit. Their goals are the right ones for the country and the planet. But, those plans will take several administrations to fully implement. Few voters fully understand the details of how to pay for Medicare for all. Moreover, they absolutely are worried about having their private health insurance taken away. That’s what most Americans have, so that has to be a big concern for Democrats in 2020.

Which of the current flock of Democratic candidates have what it takes to unite and lead the Party to a 2020 victory? Which nominee will have coattails to swing the Senate, hold the House and add to the Party’s roster of statehouses?

The 2020 election will turn on whether individual voters see the Democratic Party’s nominee as a heroic savior of the country, or less of a leader than the execrable Trump.

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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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Trump Gives More Tax Breaks to Corporations

The Daily Escape:

Sunrise at Delicate Arch, UT – 2019 photo by going_postal

While we were all celebrating New Year’s, the NYT published a story about how Trump’s Treasury Department quietly weakened elements of the 2017 Trump tax law, making it even friendlier to wealthy individuals and corporations.

As a result, the tax bills of many big companies are even smaller than what was anticipated when the bill was signed. This means that the federal government may collect hundreds of billions of dollars less over the coming decade than previously projected. The budget deficit has jumped more than 50% since Trump took office. It is expected to top $1 trillion in 2020, partly as a result of the tax law.

Lobbyists targeted two provisions in the original 2017 law designed to bring in hundreds of billions of dollars in revenue from companies that had been dodging US taxes by stashing profits overseas. From the NYT:

“Starting in early 2018, senior officials in President Trump’s Treasury Department were swarmed by lobbyists seeking to insulate companies from the few parts of the tax law that would have required them to pay more. The crush of meetings was so intense that some top Treasury officials had little time to do their jobs…”

Because of the way the bill was rushed through Congress, the Treasury Department was given extra latitude to interpret the law. Add the fact that the law was sloppily written, helped to make the corporate lobbying campaign a resounding success.

Treasury has issued a series of obscure regulations that carved out exceptions allowing many leading American and foreign companies to pay little or nothing in new taxes on offshore profits. The NYT says companies were effectively let off the hook for tens if not hundreds of $billions in taxes that they would otherwise have been required to pay under the 2017 law.

You may remember that the idea behind the Trump Tax Cut was that companies would get the tax cuts that they had spent years lobbying for, but the law would also fight corporate tax avoidance and the shipment of jobs overseas.

A few facts about the Trump tax cut: Republicans used a Congressional process known as budget reconciliation, which blocked Democrats from filibustering and allowed Republicans to pass the bill with a simple majority.

To qualify for that parliamentary green light, the net cost of the bill, after accounting for different tax cuts and tax increases, had to be less than $1.5 trillion over 10 years. But the bill’s cuts totaled $5.5 trillion. To close the gap between the $5.5 trillion in cuts and the maximum allowable price tag of $1.5 trillion, the package sought to raise new revenue by eliminating deductions and introducing new taxes.

The two key provisions are known by the acronyms BEAT (base erosion and anti-abuse tax) and GILTI (global intangible low-taxed income). Shortly after Trump signed the tax bill, lobbyists from major American companies like Bank of America and General Electric as well as foreign banks, swarmed the White House in an effort to gut the BEAT and GILTI taxes.

Trump’s Treasury Department largely granted the lobbyists’ wishes, turning what was already a massive corporate handout into an even more generous gift to big companies and banks.

In the last 2 quarters of 2019, we saw massive corporate share buybacks. The richest families and corporations pocketed most of that money, with minimal re-investment into company assets, increased employee pay, or benefits.

The folks who didn’t get what they needed were the bottom 90% of Americans. Welcome to the plutocracy where billionaires whine about getting picked on, and the bottom 80% own just 7% of the nation’s wealth.

The mission of the Trump presidency is nearly complete. He’s packed the Supreme Court with reliable conservatives. He’s delivered the Randian wet dream of low corporate taxes while leaving most corporate tax loopholes in place.

Trump’s version of the Republican Party is in their end game: Bankrupting the government, privatizing government’s remaining services, and stealing the silverware on their way out the door.

We have entered the smash-and-grab portion of the GOP’s program. They care, but only marginally, if Trump is re-elected in 2020. Their work is done.

The narrative that our economy is the best ever, was enabled by a record federal deficit. When it’s time to protect Social Security, or provide better access to healthcare, the GOP will cry about the budget deficit that’s likely to be more than $1 trillion/year, from here to forever.

Normalized insanity is in full swing. Welcome to the asylum!

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The Future: Will It Be Just More of The Past?

The Daily Escape:

Wrongo said he wouldn’t look back, but has reconsidered. It’s time to declare war on those who refuse to use facts or science. Think about what these true believers in either faith or ideology have brought us:

Will we continue on this road, or will we make a turn for the better? Will 2020 usher in a better decade than the one we just closed? Doubtful, unless each of us stand up and do what we can to make a difference.

Those who think Trumpism is so new and novel should remember that Norman Lear made a hit TV show about it in the early 1970s. Since then, many American white people have taken a dark turn: They would rather have Trump’s government enforce a whites only voting policy than put in the work required to make our system benefit everyone equally, while decreasing the cut taken by the corporate class.

Building this better society requires hard cognitive work. So far, Americans aren’t up to thinking about solutions beyond “Build that wall!”

Another example: 50% of white people are actively against government bureaucrats making their health care decisions. They insist that something that important should only be decided by employer HR departments and multinational insurance companies.

They’re perfectly fine casting their fates with insurance bureaucrats. Even if those corporate bureaucrats deny their care most of the time. Worse, they’re told by the media that they shouldn’t pay any more damn TAXES for health care when they could be paying twice as much in premiums to insurance corporations.

Remember the song In the year 2525? “If man is still alive…”

That’s 505 years from now. What do you think the odds are that we’re still here?

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