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

Looking Down Right Now

“Ryan is looking down right now, and you know that, and he is very happy, because I think he just broke a record.”

“Hopefully George is looking down right now and saying this is a great thing that’s happening for our country,”

Trump’s cynical invoking of George Floyd yesterday has a history that explains what he imagined he was doing. In the first week after his inauguration, Trump approved a Navy Seal raid on suspected positions of al Queda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP) in the village of Yakla in Yemen. His National Security Adviser, General Flynn had portrayed the proposed raid as a “game changer” that would contrast Trump’s toughness with Obama’s supposed indecisiveness.

The raid was a fiasco. AQAP had somehow learned of the impending raid and fortified their positions. Chief Petty Officer William “Ryan” Owens was mortally wounded and at least five other American personnel were also wounded. Dozens of civilians were killed. Owens’s father called the mission “a screw-up from the start that ended badly.”

Characteristically, Trump deflected responsibility for the raid to the generals and the previous administration while incongruously insisting that it had been a tremendous success. A month later, though, came his opportunity to seize the narrative. At his first address to a joint session of Congress, Trump read from the teleprompter a glowing tribute to Officer Owens. He performed the encomium with gusto. When he finished, senators, representatives and guests stood in a sustained ovation while Owens’s tearful widow, a guest of Ivanka Trump, gazed upward.

Trump then ad-libbed his remark about Ryan looking down. The quip was well received with gentle chuckling. It nicely broke the tension of the dramatic spectacle.

Now one might dismiss the episode as a cynical, and sinister, exploitation of a pointless death — not to mention the “collateral damage” — and a widow’s grief. But that isn’t the way CNN panelist and ex-Obama aide Van Jones saw it. Jones lauded the performance as “one of the most extraordinary moments you have ever seen in American politics.” It was, in Jones’s view, the moment Trump “became president of the United States”:

That was one of the most extraordinary moments you have ever seen in American politics, period, and he did something extraordinary. And for people who have been hoping that he would become unifying, hoping that he might find some way to become presidential, they should be happy with that moment. For people who have been hoping that maybe he would remain a divisive cartoon, which he often finds a way to do, they should begin to become a little bit worried tonight, because that thing you just saw him do—if he finds a way to do that over and over again, he’s going to be there for eight years. Now, there was a lot that he said in that speech that was counterfactual, that was not right, that I oppose and will oppose. But he did something tonight that you cannot take away from him. He became president of the United States.

Undoubtedly Trump would have been shown Jones’s effusive commentary and would have basked in its obsequious glow. Yesterday, when he pulled his “looking down right now” stunt for the second time, he probably expected it to resonate as a unifying moment, thinking he was finding “a way to do that over and over again” without quite understanding what “that” had been. George Floyd was not a Navy Seal killed in action. He was an African-American man murdered by cops. The protesters are not sycophantic trained seals like the senators and representatives (of both parties). And, of course, Princess Ivanka had neglected to bring a grieving widow in tow to the “press conference.” There was nothing “presidential” about Trump’s ghoulish sequel of his “most extraordinary moment.”

If the prior performance illuminates the latter one, the opposite is also true. Trump’s tribute to Ryan Owens was no less cynical than his clumsy attempt to enlist George Floyd as a posthumous protagonist of the allegedly “great thing that’s happening for our country.”

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Marine General James Mattis Denounces Trump

No sorry here, I refuse to call Trump President. It is time for this bum to leave.

Breaking his silence  .   .   .

General Mattis denounces the president for dividing the nation, and accused him of ordering the U.S. military to violate the constitutional rights of American citizens.

General Mattis: “I have watched this week’s unfolding events, angry and appalled The words ‘Equal Justice Under Law’ are carved in the pediment of the United States Supreme Court. This is precisely what protesters are rightly demanding. It is a wholesome and unifying demand – one that all of us should be able to get behind. We must not be distracted by a small number of lawbreakers. The protests are defined by tens of thousands of people of conscience who are insisting that we live up to our values – our values as people and our values as a nation.  We must reject and hold accountable those in office who would make a mockery of our Constitution.’”

James Mattis Denounces President Trump, Describes Him as a Threat to the Constitution The Atlantic

Retired Admiral Mike Mullen (Chairman Joint Chief of Staff).

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Asking the Wrong Questions: Reflections on Amazon, the Post Office, and the Greater Good

The Greater Good

“If they can get you asking the wrong questions, they don’t have to worry about answers.” — Thomas Pynchon, Gravity’s Rainbow

 

Originally written in 2018 on the Save The Post Office blog and featured at Angry Bear in 2019, retired North Carolina Post Master Mark Jamison wrote on the issues facing USPS while in competition with Amazon, UPS, and FedX. The same issue has been brought to the forefront again with President Trump refusing to give a subsidy to the USPS, unless the USPS raises prices to deliver packages for Amazon, and also punishes Amazon’s Owner Bezos. The answer remains the same, “no” and Mark explains why.

I have not written or said much about postal issues for the last couple of years. After seven years of writing articles for Save the Post Office and other websites, as well as contributing numerous comments to the Postal Regulatory Commission, what more was there to say?

I spent thirty years of my working life at the Postal Service. I’ve put in countless hours reading USPS reports, OIG reports, GAO reports, and who knows how many pleadings before the PRC. I have written numerous articles about the general idea of the postal network as an essential public infrastructure, the arcane minutiae of postal costing and the actions of the PRC, and the machinations of a Congress that seemed more inclined to bloviate and posture than attempt to solve a serious problem affecting millions of Americans and thousands of communities, large and small, rural and urban.

I never stopped thinking about these issues, but what more was there to say? And why bother, really, when the politicians and managers that could actually make changes seemed inclined to let inertia and the status quo slowly erode the capabilities of the postal network while degrading hundreds of thousands of good middle-class jobs?

And then President Trump had one of those brain farts he periodically shovels out over Twitter.

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The 75th Anniversary Of VE Day: Forgettable Or Boring?

(Dan here…better late than not)

by Barkley Rosser

The 75th Anniversary Of VE Day: Forgettable Or Boring?

My wife, Marina, as many of those reading this know, is from the Soviet Union, and takes extremely seriously the anniversary of the victory of the Soviet Union and its allies over Nazi Germany, which became official at 10:45 PM in Berlin on May 8, 1945, which was 12:15 May 9 Moscow time. So, while all of the rest of the world celebrates VE Day on May 8, now in Russia today is Victory Day, as it is called everywhere outside the US, although I just saw a clip from the day itself in London where Winston Churchill declared that what had happened was “Victory in Europe,” although while UK did play a minor role in subsequent events in the Pacific, aside from the US for the rest of the allies VE Day was simply Victory Day in Europe.

So, yesterday in UK there was a flyover of planes in celebration of this anniversary, somehow according to the radio report I heard putting out red, white, and blue colors in the  sky. Is this for the US helping out with D-Day? I do not know.  The only other public demo on May 8 I am aware of was Donald Trump meeting with some WW II vets, all reportedly over 95 years in age, with neither  him or any of them for the photo op wearing a face mask, despite the fact that the White House has suddenly become a new epicenter for the coronavirus.

The following nations have a public holiday for May 8 related to the victory of the Allies over the Axis powers in Europe: UK, France, French Guiana, French Polynesia, Martinique, Saint Martin, Guadeloupe, Gibralter, New Caledonia, Czech Republic, and Slovakia, which really boils down to three nations at the end of WW II, UK with some associates, France with a lot of associates, and then the former Czechoslovakia, now slit into two.  Non trivially, Ukraine today has May 8 not a public holiday, but it is a Day of Peace and Reconciliaton, which is supposed to be recognized.

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Meanwhile the US Supreme Court is still working

Via Truthout is a reminder the US Supreme Court has rulings to make:

On May 12, the Supreme Court will have an opportunity to rebuke or endorse Trump’s pretensions to monarchical grandeur when it hears oral arguments in three cases that have the potential to redefine the nature and scope of presidential power.

The cases before the court are Trump v. Mazars USA, LLPTrump v. Deutsche Bank AG; and Trump v. Vance. In the first two, the president is trying to block congressional subpoenas seeking access to his personal financial records. In the third, he’s asking the court to block a subpoena issued by a New York City grand jury, and to accord him unprecedented “absolute immunity” from state criminal investigations.

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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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Towards a modern “History of Republics”: a consideration of William Everdell’s “The End of Kings: A History of Republics and Republicans”

Towards a modern “History of Republics”: a consideration of William Everdell’s “The End of Kings: A History of Republics and Republicans”

In view of the horrific damage that the Trump Administration has done to the American Republic, during the past year I have done extensive reading of the histories of a number of the most successful or durable Republics over time. The reason has been to try to answer the question of whether there is an overarching narrative to the history of Republics: how they form and evolve over time, and whether they are ultimately doomed, as was Rome, to collapse into autocracy. As I briefly detail below, the answer to that last query, thankfully, appears to be a qualified and very hedged “no,” although maintaining one over the long term, as Benjamin Franklin quipped, is difficult. What has been missing is an overall “History of Republics.”

Americans generally are probably ignorant of the fact that Republics did not die during the 1800 years between Caesar crossing the Rubicon and the Declaration of Independence.  As I’ve written previously, Roman Emperors maintained many of the forms, if not the substance, of Rome’s republican offices, e.g., tribunes and consuls. After the Western Empire fell, a welter of small northern Italian city-states reconstituted Republics based more or less on the legacy Roman model. Subsequently the Swiss Cantons and the Netherlands also developed into republics, as did Great Britain briefly during its Commonwealth.

William R. Everdell’s “The End of Kings: A History of Republics and Republicans” is a decent introductory level text exploring this issue. Each chapter is devoted to leading figures in historical republics: the prophet Samuel, Solon of Athens, two Brutuses at the beginning and end of the Roman Republic, the mythical William Tell of the Swiss cantons and John Calvin of Geneva, Machiavelli and medieval Florence, John Milton and Cromwell’s English Commonwealth, Robespierre of the revolutionary French first republic, Leon Gambetta and the founding of a parliamentary third French Republic, the Weimar failure, and John Adams, Ben Franklin, Thaddeus Stevens and several Senators over time in the US.

 

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From Social Distance to Social Justice: An Unsolved Riddle

In the last two weeks of March and the first week of April, 2020 16.5 million new claims for unemployment were filed in the U.S. After the novel coronavirus is successfully contained some but not all of those jobs will return. The post-pandemic economy will not be the same as the economy before and to assume a return to business-as-usual economic growth would be folly.

There will need to be immediate share-the-work policies along with basic income guarantees. These must be viewed not as temporary measures to be abandoned as soon as “normality” returns but as transitional steps toward an entirely new regime of work, income and common wealth. Addressing climate change has momentarily taken a back seat to the urgent immediacy of the pandemic. But the irreversible long-term consequences of failing to free ourselves from the fossil-fueled treadmill of growth will make Covid-19 seem like a flash in the pan.

In The Unsolved Riddle of Social Justice, published shortly after the end of World War I (and, incidentally, the flu epidemic of that time), Stephen Leacock observed that the surprising resilience of industry during the recent war had “thrown its lurid light upon the economics of peace.” The coronavirus pandemic has once again “thrown its lurid light upon the economics of peace.” What the lurid light of war revealed to Leacock was the immense superfluity of peacetime employment. “Not more than one adult worker in ten…” Leacock speculated, “is employed on necessary things.”

Leacock’s estimate of superfluous workers may seem high but, to be honest, we don’t really know how much of the work that is done is necessary to sustain a society. If even one-fifth or one-quarter of the work being done was unnecessary, that would be a compelling rationale for suspending the growth imperative. Why not phase out current waste before producing even more waste?

But what if the proportion of superfluous to necessary work is even larger than that? How would we know it isn’t? As commentators from Simon Kuznets and Robert F. Kennedy to Marilyn Waring and Joseph Stiglitz have pointed out, national income accounts do not distinguish between “good” and “bad” commodities. They do not differentiate between necessities, comforts, luxuries and ugly Christmas sweaters that go from the closet to the trash. Furthermore, they do not account at all for the prodigious production of waste by-products. Nobody buys the carbon dioxide emissions from burning fossil fuels – even though somebody, someday, will indeed pay for them – with their lives if not money.

The absence of authoritative metrics serves as a convenient alibi for keeping things as they are or for actively making them worse. Efforts to construct alternative indices to the national income accounts, such as the Genuine Prosperity Index, have provided glimmers of insight but have ended up abandoned orphans that national governments have disdained to adopt.

What I am proposing here as an alternative to these global metrics focusing on the average number of hours that individuals work annually and the hours per capita worked in the economy as a whole. How many of those hours are devoted to wasteful production – built-in obsolescence, excess productive capacity, propaganda, disposable fashion, and other forms of sheer waste? For the answer, we turn to Arthur Dahlberg’s analysis of the effect of long hours on labor’s share of income.

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A thought for Sunday: a brief history of Republics anticipates Trump

A thought for Sunday: a brief history of Republics anticipates Trump

I just finished reading William R. Everdell’s “The End of KIngs: A History of Republics and Republicans,” which was originally published in 1983. It was interesting to read a book that treated Watergate as recent history!

I want to write at more length about this book, but for now, consider the following excerpts and consider how they relate to our current situation.

In his chapter about the Weimar Republic, Everdell writes:

The “Reichsprasident” of Weimar was nothing but a kaiser in reserve…. Not only was his constituency national and democratic, like that of Louis Napoleon in 1848, his term, at seven years, was longer and he could be reelected indefinitely. He had not need to stage an illegal coup like Napoleion’s in 1851, because by the contittution’s famous Article 48 he was empowered, in times of what he determined to be “public disturbance,” to take “necessary measures.” These included the overruling of state laws, the abrogation of all civil liberties, the making of national laws by decreee, the execution of law by the army, and the establishment of exceptional courts and jurisdictions.

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Ban Sidesteps Travel Resorts

On the topic of Coronavirus and the travel ban, Trump’s travel ban sidesteps his own European resorts.

The President’s newly implemented European travel restrictions to the US conveniently side step a ban on nations where three Trump-owned golf resorts are located. No politics there, just plain greed.

Trump has been under fire for visiting his properties in both countries as president and using taxpayer money to fund his trips to and from while at his own firms. Numerous investigations have been launched and lawsuits filed  throughout his term alleging he is and has been violating the Constitution’s emoluments clause by using taxpayer money to is benefit while in office other than his salary to fund his personal trips.

The newly implemented U.S. government proclamation initiating the ban does target 26 European countries that comprise a visa-free travel zone known as the Schengen Area.

The United Kingdom is home to Trump’s Turnberry and Trump International Golf Links while Ireland is home to a Trump-branded hotel and golf course at Doonbeg. Neither Ireland or the United Kingdom participate in the Schengen Area. Additionally, Bulgaria, Croatia and Romania are also not part of the Schengen Area. All three of the resorts are struggling financially.

Nothing would stop a citizen of the Schengen area from traveling to the United Kingdom and hopping on a flight to the US if they had not spent time within the Schengen countries in the last 14 days. United Kingdom has logged 460 cases of the Coronavirus.

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