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“Executive Order” Versus “Executive Action” Such As A Memorandum

“Executive Order” Versus “Executive Action” Such As A Memorandum

 Most of the news media has reported that President Donald J. Trump has signed four “executive orders” involving extending unemployment benefits at a $400 rate, deferring (or ending?) payroll taxes for Social Security (opposed by both parties in Congress), extending a ban on evicting renters, and extending student loan deferments.  An important detail not mentioned in most reports that of these three of them are not actual orders but rather memoranda, which can count as “actions,” that essentially implore others to do something that requires Congressional action in order to be done, basically the first two of these, or is already happening (deferment of student loans, although this is complicated).  Only one of them is an actual order that must be followed, the one regarding evicting renters, although all this order does is to make HUD “consider” extending the ban on evicting renters.  The order itself does not actually do it.  In short, these orders amount to a campaign list of wannabe actions, no actual real actions.

This is all obviously the brainchild of the incompetent and brainless Chief of Staff, Mark Meadows, who is apparently incapable of making any deals and totally focused on the reelection campaign.  So he “blew up” the two-week negotiations with Congressional leaders by most accounts by making rigid demands.  I am not going into details, but there were obvious compromises available, just to pick one on the total size of the relief package.  The Dems were proposing $3 trillion based on what the House passed months ago while the White House and some GOPs held to $1 trillion. Reportedly the Dems offered the obvious compromise of $2 trillion, but that was blocked by Meadows who simply made demands and warned if they were not accepted, Trump would issue “executive orders” to do what he wants.  But, as careful analysis shows, only one of these is ab actual order and even the one that is an order that only orders a department to consider doing something.

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Interpol Supports Murder Charge Against MbS

Interpol Supports Murder Charge Against MbS

 In today’s Washington Post David Ignatius reports that Interpol refused a request from Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman (MbS) to extradite Saad Aljabri to Saudi Arabia from Canada in 2017. MbS had been trying to entice Aljabri to return and had arrested his children, who remain arrested despite complaints from the US government and basically the entire rest of the world. Aljabri was the top aide of MbS’s rival, the former Crown Prince, Mohammed bin Nayef (MbN), who was overthrown by MbS in a coup. Aljabri and MbN were highly regarded by officials in the US of several administrations, as well as other governments, and apparently was personally responsible for blocking a serious possible terrorist attack in the US.

After Interpol refused to extradite Aljabri from Toronto, MbS sent a crew to kill him. This was two months after MbS sent such a crew to Istanbul to kill and dismember Kamal Khashoggi, a columnist for the Washington Post.  Aljabri warned the Canadian government they were coming and the team was detained at the Toronto airport, where they were found to have exactly the same implements that were used to dismember Khashoggi.

Aljabri is now suing MbS in US courts for trying to kill him.  MbS has claimed that Aljabri stole funds, but Aljabri says this is a false claim.  Ignatius notes that MbS will have to produce his claims, and the big deal here is that up until now the Interpol report was not public.  They refused MbS’s extradition request on this claim, and their report makes it clear that much lies behind their decision, including massive violations of human rights in Saudi Arabia by the murderer, MbS.

Barkley Rosser

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How To Measure Quarterly Changes In GDP Can Make A Big Difference

How To Measure Quarterly Changes In GDP Can Make A Big Difference

We have had dramatic headlines and commentary in recent days since the BEA issued its initial estimate of quarterly changes in GDP, which they do not officially measure on an shorter time period. This is a measure of the average GDP in one quarter compared to the average GDP in the next quarter.  Looking at Q1 of this year and Q2 of this year, they reported the largest quarterly decline ever recorded, -32.9% on an annualized rate, about -9.5% on a quarterly rate. This is a sharper decline than seen either for any pair of quarters in the Great Depression or the immediate post-WW II demobilization, much less such later events as the Great Recession of 2007-09.  Of course this generated big headlines and much breathless commentary, including quite a few commentators who did not get it that the -32.9% number was the annualized rate rather than the quarterly rate, so we had quite a few of them foolishly talking about how the economy had “fallen by a third.”  Yikes.

As I have noted in previous posts here, the economy has been doing a lot better than a lot of reporting and forecasts have let on, even as it is certainly slowing down now.  But if rather than looking at quarterly averages, which are heavily influenced by the fact that the economy did not “fall off a cliff” until mid-March, about 5/6 of the way through Q1 so that most of Q1 was at the high pre-fall level, one looks at where the economy was at the end of Q1 and compare it to where it was at the end of Q2, one gets a dramatically different story.  Over on Econbrowser Menzie Chinn has produced a figure from IHS Markit that estimates these shorter period changes. According to them the US GDP at the end of March (end of Q1) was at about $17.6 trillion annual amount while at the end of June it was at about $18.0 trillion, about 2.2% higher on a quarterly rate, which is about 9% higher on an annualized rate.  Needless to say, there is a dramatic contrast between -32.9% and +9.0%, but I have seen zero media commentary on this.

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The Disaster That Lebanon Has Become

The Disaster That Lebanon Has Become

 

It is now on the front pages with a massive explosion of over 2000 tons of ammonium nitrate in a warehouse near Beirut’s port, with over 100 dead and thousands injured and possibly more than 300,000 displaced from their homes. Juan Cole reports that this had been dangerously sitting there since 2013, when it was moved off the Moldavan Rhosus, where it was apparently unsafely loaded after having been on its way to make fertilizer in Mozambique. But thanks to entrenched corruption and dysfunction in the Lebanese government nothing was done with it while the freighter has sat in the harbor. Now it has exploded.

Just to add to the trouble, President Trump claimed that some people at the Pentagon had told him that this was a bomb and that Lebanon was under attack by somebody. Juan Cole reports that many in Beirut took this seriously and think that attacker is Israel, where PM Netanyahu is facing a corruption trial and would love a foreign policy distraction to boost his popularity. The Saudis have encouraged some reporters in Riyadh and Dubai to claim that it was Hezbollah that did it, the Iranian-backed group that is powerful in what is left of the Lebanese government and that was charged by Netanyahu recently of engaging in a border incident, although Hezbollah has denied this latter charge.

However, Beirut-based CNN reporters communicated with people at the Pentagon who apparently all deny that anybody at the Pentagon told Trump that it might have been a bomb or attack. Now SecDef Epper has apparently publicly piled on with this, denying that it was an attack or a bomb, although ammonium nitrate certainly has been used as a bomb, from Sterling Hall in Madison, Wisconsin a half century ago to the Murrah building in Oklahoma City about half as much time as that ago. It is pretty clear now that Trump has baselessly hyped an unfortunate accident into a possible casus belli.

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Goodbye To The Last True Georgist Economist: Mason Gaffney

Goodbye To The Last True Georgist Economist: Mason Gaffney

Mason (“Mase”) Gaffney died on July 26 in Redlands, CA of Covid-19 at age 96.  He was both a great guy as well as arguably what the title to this says: “the last true Georgist economist,” with such economists being followers of Henry George, whose 1878 book, Progress and Poverty, was the best-selling book on economics in the US during the 19th century.  George was a journalist who ran unsuccessfully for Mayor of New York.  His book, drawing on influences from Quesnay and Ricardo, advocated that there be a single (“site”) tax on land, replacing other taxes.  Advocates of this view, such as Mase, argued that it brought about an economy that was both equitable and efficient.

Gaffney became a follower of Henry George in 1940 in his senior year of high school, when he read Progress and Poverty while convalescing from an accident.  He started at Harvard in econ in 1941, but dropped out from majoring in econ due to his disgust with the non-Georgist approach in the department there, joining the US military to fight in WW II.  He would later say that a virtue of an overseas military deployment was that it made one appreciate life as one felt they were living on “borrowed time.”  In any case, he ended up having quite a lot of it.

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Managing A Zoom Conference

Managing A Zoom Conference

As of the end of this week, I completed chairing the 30th annual international conference of the Society for Chaos Theory in Psychology and Life Sciences, with 54 participants from around the world.  It basically went well, and it was kind of cool to make introductory remarks at 8 AM during EDT, with somebody on at 6 AM their time in Montana and someone else on at 10 PM their time in Sydney, Australia.  It can be done, and even with parallel sessions happening.

Of course there were the usual snafus of people getting bad internet connections and disappearing or becoming mute while presenting, which does not happen in live sessions.  There were also some people who failed to present due to not being able to properly load or manage their slides or videos, although I have seen problems with this sort of thing even in live conferences.

Something I throw out there for anybody managing one of these involves how we managed the parallel sessions.  So we had both a co-host/moderator, who managed entry to a session, as well as a session chair who managed timing by speakers, with on this following the old incentive-compatible strategy of usually having that be the final speaker in the session, giving them incentive to keep the earlier presenter in line on timing.  Indeed, in our wrapup session someone noted, accurately near as I could tell, that there may have been better adherence by speakers to time limits in this format than is often the case in live sessions.

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RIP Tonu Puu

RIP Tonu Puu

Seems like more people I know are dying.  In this case it is a good friend of mine and occasional co-author, the Swedish economist, Tonu Puu, who was born in Estonia of an Estonian father and a mother of German ancestry.  As it was, he ended up speaking a very large number of languages, as well as being very cosmopolitan in many other ways. He was 83 years old and had cancer for some time, which is what I presume he did of, although the announcement did not specify a cause, but it happened this past Saturday in Umea in northern Sweden, where he was at the university there for most of his career.

Before talking about his work in economics, I want to note that probably more important for him was music.  He made baroque instruments such as viols and harpsichords and was so good at it that professional musicians had him make such instruments for them.  For many years he ran an annual Baroque music festival that attracted fine musicians from all over the world to Umea. I shall note here that an important characteristic of Tonu, which some of you may not like, was that he was deeply conservative in many ways. A sign of this in music is that he considered Beethoven to be the “worst thing that ever happened to music,” at least I heard him say that.  He saw Beethoven as being ultimately responsible for there being rock concerts in Venice that knocked off parts of the roof of the opera house.  I happen to disagree with that, seeing that as a pretty shaky link, but this was the sort of long-run perspective that he took to many things, full of his own integrity that ignored popular and transient trends, even if those were centuries long.

 

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Truth Is The Daughter Of Time

Truth Is The Daughter Of Time

This is a frontispiece to a 1951 mystery novel by Josephine Tey (real name: Elizabeth Makintosh) named _The Daughter of Time_It is about the question of whether or not King Richard III ordered the murder of the “Little Princes in the Tower,” his nephews Edward and Richard, as has  long been alleged, and for a long time was simply accepted as historical fact.  This bestselling and very well and wittily written novel makes the case that Richard was framed by his successor, Henry (Tudor) VII, who usurped him after defeating and killing him in the Battle of Bosworth Field in 1485.  Tey manages to build up through the novel a very convincing case for this view, which I shall not get into the details of, although I highly recommend the novel, which I just finished reading. In any case, if she is right, or even partly right (because  have been many other accusations against Richard made as well), then this is one of those cases where “the victor gets to write the history.”

I note a few points.  The usual argument, still put accepted by many, is that Richard did the little princes in because they were threats to his having succeeded their father, his brother, Edward IV.  But in fact it is now accepted (documents surfaced centuries later on this apparently suppressed by Henry VII) that showed that they were illegitimate and thus not possible heirs to the throne. Richard had no reason to kill them.  He was invited to assume the throne by both houses of parliament and was thus completely legal and legitimate. And after his death, Henry had a Bill of Attainder brought against him in parliament listing all sorts of terrible things he supposedly did that justified the completely illegitimate Henry usurping Richard’s throne.  But murdering the princes was somehow not included in this Bill, which would obviously have been the top charge against Richard if it were true.  Furthermore, given Henry’s lack of any legitimacy, there was a large group of individuals, including the little princes if they were still alive, who had more claim to the throne than Henry.  He  was the British monarch who initially instituted Star Chambers that brought charges against each of these in turn allowing them to be “judicially murdered.” The grounds for these in some cases were as vague as “for certain reasons” (unnamed).  OTOH, a major reform Richard introduced was the right to bail.  There is much more, but this gives some idea of what Tey puts forth, most of which I have verified from other sources.

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More Likely Bad Economic Forecasting: This Time From OECD And CBO

More Likely Bad Economic Forecasting: This Time From OECD And CBO

That would be the quintessential establishment and boringly conventional Organization of Economic Cooperation and Development, the Paris-based “rich nations'” entity that grew out of the Marshall Plan and has a reputation for excellent data, and also the Congressional Budget Office, generally regarded as bipartisan and highly professional.

So I saw their forecasts of US economic performance in terms of GDP and unemployment rates for the end of this year, and I find both to be highly unlikely, probably way too pessimistic.  I get these from a column in today’s Washington Post by the often execrable Robert J. Samuelson, but here he is playing it straight and just reporting.  Indeed, the main thrust of his column is to note an apparent disjuncture between the hot stock market and the not-so-obviously hot economy, suggesting either the stock market is overvalued or the economy is being under forecast.  I suspect actually that both are true, although I am not going to attempt to forecast the stock market.

Anyway, RJS reports two forecasts coming out of the OECD, one “pessimistic” and one “more pessimistic” for the US.  The first is sort of a baseline one that assumes the coronavirus is gotten to be more or less under control. The second one assumes a second wave of the virus this fall.  The first forecast sees a GDP decline for 2020 of -7.3%  with an unemployment rate at the end of the year of 11.3%.  The second more pessimistic one has GDP declining -8.5% with a resulting end-of-year unemployment rate of 12.5%.

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Being Targeted

Being Targeted

Arguably this is paranoia, but the mayor and police chief of my city do not think so and have officially reacted with a formal response.  What a sign that I am an old whatever, praising local law enforcement, but, well….

So the issue is that late last evening a truck full of masked white men, and no, we are not talking health masks but ones that cover ID, with flags waving including the Confederate battle flag, were going up and down our block taking photos of certain houses, including ours.  What did these objects of this photographic effort find consistent?  We all had posters on our property declaring “Black Live Matters.” Many on our block became upset over this, including my wife, and now the City of Harrisonburg, VA  police are especially watching our block. I note that both the mayor and police chief of our city happen to be Black, for which at this time I am grateful.

Background here is that I have been living where I am for 32 years with my wife, Marina, in a block in Old Town of Harrisonburg, VA, where most of the houses are somewhat over a century old, and we are five minutes from the central square, as well as being 20 minutes from offices at James Madison University.  Where we are is given by the 2004 prez election.  There are 5 precincts in Harrisonburg, but ours, closest to JMU, was the only precinct in the entire Shenandoah Valley that went for Kerry over Bush. Yes, we are an island of “liberalism,” with Harrisonburg later in 16 going strongly for Bernie.

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