Relevant and even prescient commentary on news, politics and the economy.

“cannot remember a single International Crisis in which the United States had no global presence at all”

A good Anne Appelbaum read here at The Atlantic to which I subscribe to in print and via computer. The print-version makes for a brief case stuffer when I am flying somewhere far away.

The Youtube depicts China as a Lego terra-cotta warrior with a low masculine voice and the United States as a Lego Statue of Liberty with a high, squeaky voice. “The rest of the World is Laughing at Donald Trump” The official Chinese news agency “Xinhua,” is poking at Trump and the US in a comical manner or lets just say they are laughing at our president and us as we idlily standby watching this buffoon represent us. 1.6 million viewers have seen this Youtube.
The lead-in title comes from a statement made by a former (1990s) Swedish Prime Minister, Carl Bildt who was also a United Nations envoy during the Bosnian wars and a foreign minister for many years afterwards. In a comment to Anne Appelbaum, he remarked he could never remember a time over his 30 years of service to his country when the United States did not have or did not display a global presence at all during an international crisis.

“’Normally, when something happens’—a war, an earthquake—’everybody waits to see what the Americans are doing, for better or for worse, and then they calibrate their own response based on that.’”

Now they are looking to China.

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Risk Corridor Funds Awarded to Healthcare Insurance Companies and Coops

SCOTUS decided 8-1 in favor of health insurance companies and coops in MAINE COMMUNITY HEALTH OPTIONS v. UNITED STATES decision, April 27, 2020 to be paid.

I have been following this issue since 2015 and SCOTUS finally ruled on Republican’s (Sessions, Upton, Kingston) blockage of the Risk Corridor Program funding. A bit of history to explain how we got to this point.

Letter to the editor at Modern Healthcare Alert (2019):

“If you are going to report on this particular incident within the Cromnibus Act which passed December 11, 2014, why not give the complete history of how the Risk Corridor Program was stymied?

Initially, then Budget Committee Republican Ranking Member Senator Sessions sent a letter to the GAO asking whether the Risk Corridor payments were being appropriated correctly. In a letter back to Sessions the GAO said Agencies can only appropriate funds at the “discretion of Congress.” Funding had not been properly secured for the Risk Corridor Program. This effectively stopped any new funding from being used for the Risk Corridor Program; however, funding could be transferred from other healthcare programs according to the GAO.

With the aid of House Energy and Commerce Chair Fred Upton and House Appropriations Chair Jack Kingston, Section 227 was inserted into the Cromnibus Act.

“Page 892, Section 227: None of the funds made available by this Act from the Federal Hospital Insurance Trust Fund or the Federal Supplemental Medical Insurance Trust Fund, or transferred from other accounts funded by this Act to the ‘‘Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services—Program Management’’ account, may be used for payments under section 1342(b)(1) of Public Law 111–148 (relating  to risk corridors).”

End of comment.

Comment on Health Affairs Blog (2020)

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Will Labor and Capitalism Survive the Current Republican Party?

On April 20th Georgia Governor Kemp called for “reopening more of the state’s economy to minimize the ‘terrible impact of Covid-19 on public health and the pocketbook.’” It would apply to certain non-essential businesses. Kemp, who was later told by Trump it was too early to reopen Georgia’s economy, was following Trump’s lead to begin to open state economies.

Many states like Georgia do not have the funds available (by choice) to pay for long periods of unemployment benefits and the magnitude of them from the shutdown. Indeed and in the past, Georgia cut unemployment benefits to 14 weeks. Georgia’s constitution also restricts the government from raising taxes and prevents the state governor from borrowing money.

From March to April 2020, Georgia paid out $220 million in unemployment benefits and just shy of what was paid out all of 2019 ($297 million). Forty percent of the unemployment benefit paid went to non-essential businesses employees who worked in health clubs, hair salons, tattoo parlors, bowling alleys, and also eat-in restaurant employees. Most are low-wage jobs concentrated in the cities of Atlanta, Brunswick, Savannah and Statesboro. The make up of this segment of the labor force is mostly black citizens or citizens of color. In Georgia, 19% of African-American workers are employed in the service industry (2018 BLS Statistics). Governor Kemp calling back to work this segment of the labor force puts them at a greater risk to contract COVID 19. Many of them lack reliable access to healthcare (Georgia did not expand Medicaid). By allowing them to go back to work, the amount of unemployment being paid monthly decreases.

In a normal economy, an employee who’s been released or laidoff (automotive language) can not keep receiving unemployment benefits if they are offered their job back, a similar job, and they do not take it. Even with the threat of the COVID to their health and safety, Georgia can define a return to their old jobs as suitable work.

After the leap, Texas and Iowa  .  .  .

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First Pass of Small Business Loans to States

This was the first pass (Ernie Tedeschi of Evercore prepared the data) and it is arranged by the percentage of loans completed in each state. As you can see Nebraska received ~81% of the loans applied for by the small businesses in Nebraska. One million, 35 thousand and 86 SBA PPP Loans (1,035, 086) were approved by April 13 totally $247, 543, 397, 521 by 4,664 lenders. Seventy percent of the funds were already allocated by April 13.

Some Applicant Complaints:

  • Applied at Bank 0f America on April 3. Got 3 calls on Friday Saturday and Tuesday asking if I uploaded my documents. They were already there!! Instead of approving my loan BOA is delaying and stalling to run out the clock.
  • In Michigan, one small company dealing with Comerica was told repeatedly Comerica had not received the code to apply for the loans yet. The small ten person  applied when the program first started.

Some detail from Bob Clough at “CloughNotes” which looks at the numbers in a different manner after the leap.

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Lansing, Michigan Protestor

James Smith protesting the protestors who are practicing unsafe methods of protest. They congregate in close proximity to others, failed to wear facemasks, threatened those people who were involved in the protest, and by their actions purposely prevented people and healthcare workers from having access to Sparrrow hospital in Lansing, Michigan. Their right to protest shall not impede upon the rights of others to safety.

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Does It Ever Cease . . .

the total nonsense coming out of Washington D.C.?

When I wake up in the morning, I retreat down stairs to the kitchen, turn the coffee pot on, and grab an oat, oat bran, and grd flax seed muffin loaded with fiber. I make these for myself (although my wife of 49 years grabs one on occasion) to combat cholesterol and add fiber to my daily diet for other purposes. In combination with extended  walks outside or on a treadmill, I maintain.

Bears eat a lot of food before they hibernate and come out in Spring lean. For humans and when we go into Winter, we are much leaner than when we reappear outside in Spring. Hopes it warms up some more so I can get outside and enjoy.

At my computer this morning, as I normally am, and reading the news  like I normally do. It is a ritual,  along with the  cup of grd chicory root and grd coffee brew, and the healthy muffin . It tastes pretty good to me as opposed to straight coffee. It is a ritual which I engage in besides letting the dog out for his daily ritual.

I am reading such topics as:

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CDC Early Release – Syndrome Coronavirus 2

High Contagiousness and Rapid Spread of Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome Coronavirus 2,” CDC, Emerging Infectious Diseases

Doing my usual morning reading, I ran across a comment concerning an early release article by the CDC which as the CDC points out is not considered to be a final versions. I believe what is important about the preliminary information is the increase of R-naught from 2.3 to 5.7. By now I believe you know what R-naught means; but, I will repeat it anyways. R-naught reflects the potential number of people who are infected by one contagious person. The abstract also emphasizes continued active surveillance, contact tracing, quarantine, and early ‘strong’ social distancing efforts are needed to stop transmission of the virus.

Meanwhile our president wants to open up the country come May as some states have just started to initiate “stay at home” policies, and other states have yet to implement stay at home policies. Our leaders Washington D.C. are also pushing “herd immunity” which I believe is influencing our president’s desire to open up for business come May. A post by Yves Smith at Naked Capitalism  develops the theory of “herd immunity” as briefly explained by one of the NC readers;

“The herd is allowed to be infected and then observed the course of the disease. Those left are either immune to the disease or robust enough to fight off the infection. This immunity of course applies only to the given pathogen and can’t be easily generalized. This is not usually a strategy adopted for human beings.

The term is usually used in the context of the introduction of a vaccine where you are creating, to the extent you can, herd immunity. You then observe how well the vaccine works. If the vaccine works, you have created herd immunity for a certain period of time, a period associated with the pathogen and the immune system’s response to it. It will be different for each pathogen. For standard flu, it appears to be about a year. For covid-19, no one seems to know.”

Dominic Cummings, the promoter of herd immunity in England has come down with Coronavirus and has of yet has not returned to Downing Street after quarantining himself a week ago. That is as it should be, if a countries leader is to promote herd immunity to open an economy or keep an economy open as he did, they should lead the way and set the example for the rest of the herd. Dominic Cummings is a Boris Johnson advisor. It is doubtful we shall see many of our leaders lighting the way for us as examples.

In any case read the abstract (after the leap) and view the chart I posted. There is more information and charts in the article itself which will shed more light on the Coronavirus.

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Canceling Student Loan Debt Petition

Alan Collinge of the Student Loan Justice Org. has a petition promoting the cancellation of Student Loan Debt. When Angry Bear ran (April 1) his commentary on Student Loan Debt asking for signatures, there were 161,000 signatures on the petition. A couple of days later, the number of signatures was approaching 200,000 Today, I was advised, they now have 211,000 signatures.

If the Fed will be supporting the asset-backed markets, the primary corporate bond markets, the secondary corporate bond markets. The Fed will also purchase of Treasuries, mortgage backed securities in vast amounts. Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac also made some announcements. There were also rumors of a special carve-out just for Boeing and GE even though Boeing refusing to give an ownership  stake to the Fed. At the least, the Fed could discount the price paid and sell back at market.

The issue for Alan, the Student Loan Justice Org, and its members is; why not bail out people with excessive student loan debt much of which is the result of interest from forbearance, penalties, etc.?

The student loan is needs your help by your signing the President Trump: Cancel Student Loans NOW petition. Please join student loan and the 211,000 (up from 161,000) signers of the petition calling for President Trump to prioritize canceling student loan debt. Doing such would cause many citizens burdened with debt to be more productive promoting economic growth.

Angry Bear has posted Alan’s words over the years on Student Loans and the resulting Student Loan debt to which there is no bankruptcy relief; the same relief our president has enjoyed multiple times, also abused by corporations who gambled on Wall Street, and used in every day by businesses, unions, and ordinary citizens caught up in bad economies. There is a large economic potential benefit to freeing them from the loan debt so as to be more productive.

Read the petition and if you can spare a signature, please add your name.

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Wisconsin Votes Today Regardless of COVID 19

Curbside Voting Information – Wisconsin

– Election Day, Tuesday, April 7 –

All Absentee Ballots must be postmarked TODAY or dropped off in-person.

In this order, a  decision came hours after the Wisconsin Supreme Court overturned Gov. Tony Evers’s (D) executive order to postpone Tuesday’s vote, sowing confusion in a critical election featuring a Democratic presidential primary and a pivotal state Supreme Court seat. A Monday night SCOTUS decision ruled Wisconsin can not accept absentee ballots postmarked after election day April 7th.

Along the same old ideological lines, the “conservative-5″ justices sided with Republican state lawmakers and halted a lower federal court order to extend absentee voting to April 13 to avoid in -person voting amid the coronavirus pandemic.

The wording? “’Extending the date by which ballots may be cast by voters — not just received by the municipal clerks but cast by voters — for an additional six days after the scheduled election day fundamentally alters the nature of the election,’ the majority opinion states, noting that the lower district court erred by providing such relief.”

In another decision: Purposely altering the congressional district boundaries from which ballots may be cast by voters — not just received by the municipal clerks but cast by voters – alters the ‘nature of the election,’ the majority opinion states, noting that the states can not redraw boundaries to back one political party over another.

Sorry my mistake on the later, SCOTUS said they will not become involved in political issues concerning elections except for when it means Repubs will win. How quick they can move their butts when it involves Republican politics.

The Supreme Court made accommodations for itself—but not for Wisconsin voters who must risk their lives to vote.

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