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



Republicans are showing what they are made of. After claiming that the Corona Virus was not serious, or was well contained, or was Democrat fake news; they are now admitting it is serious and calling it a Chinese virus.

Fox News explained to a reporter they don’t expect “turning the ship around” to cause any problem with their viewers. They did not say that is because their viewers will believe anything they tell them to believe. Nor did they tell the reason for their turnaround of their seeing how to make money out of the pandemic. Even more so, they have seen how to use it to destroy Social Security.

These guys are akin to inviting your boss to dinner and noticing he couldn’t take his eyes off of your teenage daughter. Well, you think, at least he has kept his hands off her. Then your daughter comes over and says, ”Dad, Mr Peterson has been telling me about his house on the beach. It sounds so cool. And guess what, he said I could come and spend the weekend there if I want to. Can I? Can I? Please.”

So Trump has said he will spend some money fighting the epidemic, but he wants to get the money from Social Security. He wants a “payroll tax holiday.” The government won’t collect the payroll tax, and people can keep the money and spend it to help stimulate the economy.

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In the quaint, pre-coronavirus world of February, the economy was already very weak

In the quaint, pre-coronavirus world of February, the economy was already very weak

I have a post up at Seeking Alpha, taking a look at this morning’s retail sales and industrial production reports for February, and briefly considering their implications for employment in the coming months, even before the impact of coronavirus.

Here’s a graph that didn’t make it into that post, showing the past 25+ years of real retail sales (red), jobs (blue), and real aggregate payrolls (green):

For the past 11 months, real retail sales in February were only up +0.9%. We’ll never know for sure, but it is entirely possible that, even without coronavirus, real retail sales might have turned negative YoY this month, suggesting that job growth might screech to a halt in the next few months.

Also, in the more current weekly data, we got two important reads on chain store sales this morning. Both Redbook and the Retail Economist recorded surges in chain store sales last week, as consumer rushed to stockpile supplies.

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SCOTUS and the Federal Courts

This is a copy and paste of Dahlia and Mark’s excellent critique of what is happening at SCOTUS and the Federal Court System under Justice Chief Justice John Roberts’ tutelage, McConnell loading the courts with patronage, and Trump’s whatever. I have seen some condemn the verbiage of Senator Schumer calling out Justices Kavanaugh and Gorsuch as threatening and yet at the same time ignoring the courts’ partisan behavior which will have an impact for years to come. The very same people will be decrying the court’s political decisions going forward.

No doubt, McConnell led Republicans are packing the courts with partisans who are more interested in politics rather than administering the law while Chief Justice John Roberts looks the other way. McConnell has been talking with older federal judges in an effort to get them to retire so they can be replaced with Republicans this year and before the election. This is a pretty good read by Dahlia and an eye-opener.

“Nowhere is the problem of asymmetrical rhetorical warfare more apparent than in the federal judiciary. For the past several years, federal judges, notably those appointed by Donald J. Trump, have felt unmoored from any standard judicial conventions of circumspection and restraint, penning screeds about the evils of “big government.” and rants against Planned Parenthood. Most of the judicial branch, though, has declined to engage in this kind of rhetoric. There are norms, after all, and conventions, standards, and protocols. There seems to also be an agreement the rightwing-judges demonstrate deeply felt passion when they delve into such issues, while everyone else just demonstrates “bias” if they decide to weigh in. So when Justice Clarence Thomas just last year used a dissent to attack the integrity of a sitting federal judge in the census case, it was mere clever wordsmithing. But when Justice Sonia Sotomayor suggests, as she did recently, that the right-wing of the high court seems to be privileging the Trump administration’s emergency petitions, she is labeled—by the president himself—unfit to judge. It’s such a long-standing trick, and it’s so well supported by the right-wing outrage machine, that it’s easy to believe that critiques of fellow judges by conservative judges are legitimate, while such critiques from liberal judges are an affront to the legitimacy of the entire federal judiciary.”

In case you are wondering what decisions have been made in the SCOTUS by the cabal of 5, I am going to let Senator Sheldon Whitehouse (RI) enumerate them for you.

Back to Dahlia Lithwick:

“This dynamic is why it’s so astonishing to see progressive judges really go for broke in criticizing conservative bias in the judiciary, as U.S. District Court Judge Lynn Adelman does in criticizing the five conservative justices on the Roberts Supreme Court in an upcoming Harvard Law & Policy review article.* The article begins, brutally:

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Reporting from Germany: “Welt am Sonntag”

Welt am Sonntag is reporting our honorable President is attempting to bribe lure a German company CureVac to develop a vaccine  to be used only in the US.

Germany’s Health Ministry confirmed a report in the newspaper “Welt am Sonntag”, which said President Donald Trump had offered bribes funds to lure the German company CureVac to the United States, and the German government was making counter-offers to tempt it to stay.

Welt am Sonntag quoted an unidentified German government source as saying Trump was trying to secure the scientists’ work exclusively, and would do anything to get a vaccine for the United States, “but only for the United States.”

CureVac’s chief production officer and co-founder Florian von der Muelbe told Reuters the company had started with multitude coronavirus vaccine candidates and was now selecting the best two to send into clinical trials.

The privately-held company based in Tübingen, Germany hopes to have an experimental vaccine ready by June or July to then seek the go-ahead from regulators for testing on humans.

Earlier this month CureVac CEO Daniel Menichella met Trump, Pence, members of the White House Coronavirus Task Force, and senior representatives of pharmaceutical and biotech companies to discuss a vaccine.

Professor of Health Economics and Epidemiology Karl Lauterbach, a senior lawmaker with the Social Democrats and a junior partner in Chancellor Angela Merkel’s coalition stated:

“The exclusive sale of a possible vaccine to the USA must be prevented by all means. Capitalism has limits.”

Germany tries to stop US from luring away firm seeking coronavirus vaccine, CNBC, March 15, 2020

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Trump Administration Continues to Attack the Environmental Projections First Put Into Place by the Nixon Administration

Trump Administration Continues to Attack the Environmental Projections First Put Into Place by the Nixon Administration

If you, the reader, are uncertain whether to support Trump or whoever the Democratic candidate turns out to be, I urge you to consider the devastating reduction in protections for clean air, clean water, and clean land (thus also clean air/water and food) under the Trump administration’s ‘hate anything Obama’ approach that has put industry blowhards in charge of the Environmental Protection Administration, an agency created on December 2, 1970 to ensure federal research, monitoring, standard-setting and enforcement of environmental protection.

GP: Donald Trump digs coal lUS-POLITICS-TRUMP 1

(Image of Trump at West Virginia campaign rally in August 2017, from CNBC article on Trump rollbacks of regulation, cited below)

Under Trump, we have instead a complete disregard for the environment, a view that harks back to the times when rich owners of factories, mines, or corporate farms exploited and polluted land, waters, and people in their greed for profits. For example, in July 15, 2019, the New York Times reported that the Government Accountability Office found that the administration “did not consistently ensure” that its appointees to EPA panels satisfied federal requirements.  This was during 2017, when the Trump administration dismissed academic scientists from EPA advisory boards in order to replace them with industry-connected appointees.  Panels that had in the past included a very high percentage (more than 80%) of academic scientists were reduced precipitously under Scott Pruitt, Trump’s first EPA head.  Pruitt, of course, resigned in scandal (as so many in the Trump adminsitration have done) in 2018 after loading EPA advisory panels with industry hacks .  See, e.g.,  E.P.A. Broke Rules in Shake-Up of Science Panels, Federal Watchdog Says, NY Times, July 15, 2019; Removing Academic Scientists from Science Advisory Panels, Harvard Environmental & Energy Law Program, Feb. 26, 2018 (noting replacement of scientists with industry insiders and consultants, including a climate change skeptic, following Scott Pruitt’s October 31, 2017 directive).  Scientists removed from the panels refused often to be silent.  For example, some formed their own air pollution panel after Andrew Wheeler, Trump’s next EPA administrator, disbanded the Particulate Matter Review Panel in October 2018.  It had “some of the nation’s top scientists, who were tasked with reviewing how soot and other microscopic air pollutants impact human health.”  Rebecca Beitsch, Scientists booted from EPA panel form their own group, The Hill (Sept 26, 2019).

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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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This is what exponential growth looks like

This is what exponential growth looks like

I’ve placed an added emphasis on high frequency indicators, as they will be the first to show the impact of coronavirus on the economy.

This morning chain store sales for last week were reported. They were:

– Redbook +6.0% YoY
– Retail Economist unchanged w/w, +0.9% YoY

Needless to say, there was no impact at all on the Redbook number. While the Retail Economist number was definitely weak, there have been other, similar weak weeks earlier this year, so that number is equivocal. I suspect that this situation will change in no more than two weeks.

Meanwhile, here is a graph of the number of coronavirus cases in a number of countries including the US, compared with Italy, the epicenter of the outbreak in Europe (via Mark Handley, a Professor of Networked Systems in the UK):

Notice that the graph is in log scale, where exponential growth is shown as a straight line. South Korea and Japan, both of which have taken very aggressive testing and quarantine measures, show a slow spread, and in South Korea the number of *new* cases has actually declined in the past few days, leading to the total number shown above to level out. The US, by contrast, is on track to have the same number of cases Italy has now in about a week and a half.

This is what exponential growth looks like. The spread of the disease looks manageable, until all of a sudden it very much is not. This is why, even if the disease abates with warmer weather, exactly *how* warm the weather has to be makes an important idfference between a contained and a calamitous  outbreak<.

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A Political Judiciary – Sunday Edition

When I was commenting at Slate’s  Moneybox and Best of the Fray sites at least a decade or so ago, Dahlia Lithwick had taken over Jurisprudence. She always gave a sound and fair analysis of court decisions, the impacts of those decisions, and the resulting politics coming out of them. Fast forward   .  .  .  I was reading Schumer’s “reap the whirlwind” comments wondering why he would make such and then wondering why Chief Justice Roberts had not winced sooner on remarks being made about judges and justices while occupying his pulpit chair looking down at the rest of us. Schumer’s remarks are a replay akin to what Justice Brett angrily said to the Senate Judiciary Committee. It has not gone unnoticed that Republicans white wash their ilk, Democrats eat their own, and those who comment fail in their commentary to treat this for what it is.

Roberts Denounces Schumer for Talking About Kavanaugh the Way Kavanaugh Talked About the Senate,” Slate’s Jurisprudence, Dahlia Lithwick

“On Wednesday, Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer had a message for Donald Trump’s two nominees to the Supreme Court as the court heard oral arguments in a landmark abortion case that threatens one of the underpinnings of Roe v. Wade. “I want to tell you, Gorsuch. I want to tell you, Kavanaugh. You have released the whirlwind and you will pay the price!” Schumer warned of the pair’s jurisprudence since arriving on the bench. “You won’t know what hit you if you go forward with these awful decisions.”

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Book Review; Dying of Whiteness

Hey, I am stealing one (or at least a partial) from another blog. It is on target as I would say and it will provoke comments or at least some thinking about the issue.

Dying of Whiteness, How the Politics of Racial Resentment is Killing America’s Heartland

Lawyers, Guns, & Money, Erik Loomis (Blog writer and Reviewer)

I have not read this book; but it appears to be interesting enough to read. A couple of paragraphs in the review caught my attention and are worth repeating. The commentary (below) is right on the money

Erik Loom: “Donald Trump is absolutely incapable of managing any crisis. We all know this. But a lot of people are wondering whether this will finally be the disaster undermining his support among the base. Reading Jonathan Metzl’s Dying of Whiteness is a good way to cure yourself of this delusion. Metzl, a doctor at Vanderbilt, has received a lot of publicity for his book and for good reason. It is a straightforward exploration into the heart of Trump’s America, where people know that guns kill, where they know that they have terrible medical care, and where it simply doesn’t matter to them because at least the Mexicans and welfare queens are not getting any benefits either.

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Biden or Sanders?

I want to weigh in briefly on the Biden/Sanders debate that’s been going on here over the past few days. No links, this is a quickie.

There are two issues for Democratic primary voters to consider: 1) who will be a better president and 2) who is more electable in a race against Trump. Both questions are hard to answer.

It is very difficult to say who would be a better president, even for people on the left of the Democratic party. Presidents have very little influence over legislation. If Congress decides to pass a much less aggressive health care bill than Sanders and his supporters want, what is Sanders going to do about it? Yell at some Congress people? The fact is that the legislative agenda of Congress will be shaped by the need to secure the votes of moderates in the Democratic party, and maybe a few Republican centrists. Biden may be more effective at working with Congress because (my sense is) a fair number of Congress people don’t like Sanders. Of course, Biden’s deal making and horse trading will not be enough to implement the Sanders’ agenda, but Sanders’ won’t be able to implement his agenda either, so it doesn’t matter.

Presidents do have a fair amount of influence over policy through their control of executive branch appointments, and indirectly over the agency rule making process. I am not sure which candidate is stronger in this regard (neither will be as strong as Warren would have been), and with the judiciary newly stacked with conservative judges and justices getting things done through administrative agencies will be difficult in any event.

The simple fact is that it is going to be a long and painful 4 years no matter which Dem wins. But it will be far worse if neither wins.

Next up electability

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