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

Summing Up the Last Decade

To steal from Sandwichman’s excellent commentary on 2020 Hindsight and use a quotation from it which does give the magnitude of the last 10 years in financial terms;

“A fourth wave of debt began in 2010 and debt has reached $55 trillion in 2018, making it the largest, broadest and fastest growing of the four” (since 1970). There is a cost to this and one which can be seen in the US as this debt formation is not going to “meet urgent development needs such as basic infrastructure, as much of the current debt wave is taking riskier forms”

akin to what we began to see in 2000 and culminating in 2007/8 with a disastrous economic collapse.

The Atlantic’s Anne Lowry also writes about the last decade. Perhaps, she is the wrong author to pick upon and use to summarize the impact of the economy on the nation’s population. And again others may disagree with my choice; however in this case, I appreciate her summation on what she notes in passing; The Decade in Which Everything Was Great But Felt Terrible.

Picking the best story encapsulating the economy of the last decade she chose CamperForce: depicting elderly nomads living in vans and RVs and spending their twilight years temping at Amazon fulfillment centers, other places, setting up temp businesses, etc. after losing savings, homes, and belongings in the 2008 crash.

If there was a positive spin to this recital it would be of people wanting the structure and community work can provide well into retirement age, the freedom and mobility associated with a RV life, the flexibility of temp gigs, or not being nailed down to place, job, etc. The story is not of a newly realized freedom in retirement; CamperForce consisted of grandparents who had been evicted from their homes during the housing collapse and were struggling to stay out of poverty. It’s a modern-day, AARP twist on The Grapes of Wrath.

To use Anne’s words; perhaps the most representative story is that of the former graduate student who ended up as a warehouse janitor or the thousands of people who have gone online to beg for money to help them stay afloat through a life-threatening illness.

In finality these stories cast a reality in the names and faces depicting today’s economic impact; the real, urgent, and indelible marks of this past decade’s failings. The ten years without a single month of serious recession with the United States growing to its wealthiest point ever and still longevity fell, and it became clear that a whole generation was losing its place in the hierarchy.

The central economic message given to us from the 2010s? No matter how well the market was doing, how long the expansion lasted, and how much the economy grew; families still struggled and lost ground in the economic hierarchy. Because the decade did so little for so many, it strained America’s idea of what economic growth could and should do.

The rest of Anne Lowry’s story can be found here; “The Decade in Which Everything Was Great But Felt Terrible,” The Atlantic, December 31, 2019.

It is a good read.

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The criminalization of homelessness

Poverty is the worst form of violence.  Mahatma Gandhi

This particular Baltimore Sun commentary goes hand in hand with Paul Krugman’s commentary on making life more difficult for the <less than 138% FPL  using Medicaid. The motive of the Trumpians. Trump, and Republicans is to punish people for things impacting them through no fault of their own. Trumps plays to a crowd who believe others less fortunate are getting something for nothing. It is an old ploy to establish a class lower than the next level so they believe they have a her level of existence.

Imagine if sleeping were to get you thrown in jail. Or sitting and lying down in public. Or camping. Or snoozing in your car.

In cities across the country, that is exactly what is happening to homeless people who engage in these activities. In an effort to clean up their cities and make residents and visitors more comfortable, lawmakers have taken an inhumane approach to homelessness and made all these actions illegal.

Civil liberties advocates have challenged these laws arguing, arguing they violate the 8th Amendment against cruel and unusual punishment. This month, they were handed a victory from the Supreme Court, which declined to review a lower court ruling that allowed people to sleep in public when shelters are full. The justices made their decision with no comment or dissent in the case, which stemmed from a lawsuit filed by homeless people in Boise, Idaho, who were ticketed for sleeping outside.

We hope the high court’s decision will make other cities think twice about adopting such laws, which punishes people for their predicament. A study released last week by the National Law Center on Homelessness & Poverty found the number of cities with such regulations is growing rapidly. In 2019, 83% of 187 cities had at least one law that restricted begging in public. Fifty-five percent of these cities have one or more laws prohibiting sitting or lying down in public and 51% had at least one law restricting sleeping in public. Currently, 72% of the cities have at least one law restricting camping in public. There are even laws that prohibit people from sleeping in their cars.

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Paul Krugman: The cruelty of a Trump Christmas Medicaid, Work Reqmts, and Food Stamps Edition

This sets the tone in Michigan as the richest Republican controlled County of Livingston continues its attack on women along with the State of Michigan House and Senate using a petition to pass a veto-proof law limiting abortion without putting it forward on a ballot initiative. A tyranny of a minority imposing its will upon others.

“By Trump-era standards, Ebenezer Scrooge was a nice guy.

It’s common, especially around this time of year, to describe conservative politicians who cut off aid to the poor as Scrooges; I’ve done it myself. But if you think about it, this is deeply unfair to Scrooge.

For while Dickens portrays Scrooge as a miser, he’s notably lacking in malice. True, he’s heartless until visited by various ghosts. But his heartlessness consists merely of unwillingness to help those in need. He’s never shown taking pleasure in others’ suffering, or spending money to make the lives of the poor worse.

These are things you can’t say about the modern American right. In fact, many conservative politicians only pretend to be Scrooges, when they’re actually much worse–not mere misers, but actively cruel. This was true long before Donald Trump moved into the White House. What’s new about the Trump era is that the cruelty is more open, not just on Trump’s part, but throughout his party.

The conventional wisdom about today’s Republicans is that they are Scrooge-like. The story is that they want to serve the interests of the rich (which is true), and that the reason they want to slash aid to the poor is to free up money for plutocrat-friendly tax cuts.

But is that really why the right is so determined to cut programs like food stamps and unemployment benefits?

(more by Krugman)

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How to Privatize the Post Office: Piece by piece, step by step

Steve Hutkins, a literature professor who teaches “place studies” at the Gallatin School of New York University. A few days ago, the Trump administration announced that one of its goals is to privatize the Postal Service. A private postal system, says the White House proposal, would deliver mail fewer days per week, shift to cluster boxes instead of door and curb delivery, adjust prices and negotiate wages and benefits without government interference, and “shrink its physical and personnel footprints,” i.e., close post offices, consolidate processing facilities, sell buildings, and shed jobs. According to Trump’s proposal, before privatization can happen, the Postal Service must show that it can be profitable, so it needs to cut costs on delivery, wages, benefits, and footprint sooner rather than later. That process is actually well underway, and it has been for decades. The following post was originally published in July 2011, but it seems as relevant as ever, so it’s reprinted here with a few minor edits to update some numbers.

Marketization is “the process that enables state-owned enterprises to act like market-oriented firms.” It is achieved by reducing government subsidies, deregulation, organizational restructuring, The post office thus came to be viewed in terms of a business model. Like a private corporation, it was expected to adopt the methods and values of the marketplace — cut costs, streamline operations, fight unions, don’t run in the red — rather than operating as a public service “to bind the nation together”and decentralization. It often paves the way for complete privatization.

It was the Postal Reorganization Act of 1970 that began the marketization of the postal system. It transformed the U.S. Post Office Department – a government agency and part of the Cabinet — into the independent U.S. Postal Service – a government-owned corporation that is self-supporting and receives no tax dollars.

The post office thus came to be viewed in terms of a business model. Like a private corporation, it was expected to adopt the methods and values of the marketplace — cut costs, streamline operations, fight unions, don’t run in the red — rather than operating as a public service “to bind the nation together.”

That’s why you keep hearing politicians and USPS leaders say “the Postal Service is a business,” and it needs to “optimize its infrastructure facilities” and “shed under-utilized assets.” And that’s why a few weeks ago Dennis Ross’s committee on postal infrastructure brought in a couple of corporate execs to explain how they run their businesses.

The Reorganization Act, it’s worth noting, was the product of a presidential commission in 1967-68, chaired by retired AT&T Chairman Frederick R. Kappel, who, in testimony before Congress, said, “If I could, I’d make it a private enterprise and I would create a private corporation to run the postal service and the country would be better off financially. But I can’t get from here to there.” It would be left to others to “get from here to there.”


Steps two, three and four after the leap

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The Unreasonableness Of The Policy Defense Of Trump

The Unreasonableness Of The Policy Defense Of Trump

In today’s (12/27/19) Washington Post, regular Trump defender, Mark A. Thiessen published a column, “The 10 best things Trump did in 2019”  This turns out to be mostly things either not worth defending or Thiessen, who simply never criticizes Trump, misrepresenting situations.  Here they are.

10. “He continued to deliver for the forgotten Americans.”  This amounts to unemployment continuing to decline, wages beginning to rise, and supposedly 57 percent of Americans saying they are better off since he became president.  Yes, this by and large happened, but amounts to Trump managing to having avoided derailing the expansion he inherited from Obama.  The problem is that he enacted many policies that have hurt the poor and redistributed money to the rich.  They would have been even better off without his policies.

9. “He implemented tighter work requirements for food stamps.”  Yikes, more of his helping “forgotten Americans.”  This was the amazingly Scroogeish policy of dumping people from getting food stamps just as the holiday season arrived, probably part of the “War on Christmas.”  This supposedly to help the “dignity and pride” of the poor.  Sure, Scrooge himself could not put it better.

8. “He has gotten NATO allies to cough up more money for our collective security.”  I guess the outcome here is not a bad thing, per se, although the amounts of  money involved are not all that big.  But this has been the only thing he has done regarding NATO, managing to alienate most of the leading nations in NATO, with him raising serious doubts regarding whether he would actually defend a nation that might be attacked by Russia.  Their attitude is best seen by the bunch of leaders mocking him on tape at the last NATO meeting.  They hate his guts and disrespect him.

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A roadmap to a Democratic Senate supermajority

A roadmap to a Democratic Senate supermajority

A worthy criticism made by many observers on the Democratic side is that most of the plans being painstakingly described by the Presidential candidates will come to nothing, because the filibuster in the Senate will kill them all. The GOP will then run on the “do nothing” socialist democrats in 2022 and 2024 to retake the Congress and Presidency. As things now stand, that is a reasonable position.

Bear in mind the Mitch McConnell and the GOP are perfectly happy with a Senate that still employs a filibuster for legislation: they don’t want to pass any! Seriously, when was the last time you heard a GOPer tout any sort of legislation at all? Now that the GOP has packed the courts (full of judges who will overrule any progressive legislation put in place since, oh, 1866), they have no incentive to allow any movement of legislation at all. The only change is that they will instantaneously revert to deficit scolds who bemoan that Social Security and Medicare are killing us fiscally, at roughly 12:01 pm on January 20, 2021.

So, are we helpless in the face of a rural-State packed filibuster-proof GOP Senate? It’s a definite uphill climb, but I don’t think so.

Here’s the interesting thing. If you want to flip a Senate seat, the most efficient use of resources is in a *small* State, since flipping just 100,000 or 200,000 votes there makes all the difference, and the media markets – and their expenses – are a lot cheaper. With that in mind, I took a look at the 2018 Congressional results to see if I could identify 30 States where the Democrats might, admittedly with lots and lots of effort, elect Senators. I came up with 32.

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Anand Giridharadas in a Dutch interview: Their Parliament’s Finance Committee called him

I found this interesting.  Mr. Giridharadas was invited to discuss his perspective regarding his themes of his book Winners take all.  He was invited by the Dutch Parliament’s Finance Committee to discuss his book.  All 6 parties showed up.  All had been given the book prior and several had read it.   This is a link to the entire 1.5 hour presentation via Youtube.

One of his points that I found most interesting was at 7:13 of the discussion, during his introduction he points out the role the Dutch system has played as a tax shelter inhibiting nation’s like the US to adequately tax.  He notes, that the Dutch have a history of being very egalitarian with their governing approach, but their status as a tax haven is “exporting oligarchy to other countries”.   His assement of the experience of presenting to the committee was that it was a group that was actually interested in learning.   The above link to his twitter documents his thoughts on the experience.

What I am posting here is a link to an interview he did prior to the meeting with the Netherland’s VPRO TV.   A public broadcaster.  Mr Giridharadas position if that we need to stop buying into the economic elite’s position that they are the ones who can solve our problems.  This is especially poignant when they are the ones who captured the economy via government, remaking it in their image thus creating the problems they now profess only they can fix.  Enjoy.

(I tried embedding the video but it just kept disappearing, thus the link.) (Dan here…video after the fold)


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Live-blogging the Fifteenth Amendment: December 15, 1868

run75441: Catching up something we missed. NDD pointed out AB had missed a post on the 15th Amendment which happened two days before the last posted (17th) “Live Blogging  the 15th. “

Live-blogging the Fifteenth Amendment: December 15, 1868

Sen Orrin S. Ferry (R-Conn), in the course of offering a joint resolution to lift the disabilities mandated by the 3rd Section of the Fourteenth Amendment against those who participated in the rebellion:

[I]t does seem to me as if the experience of the last fifty years ought to enlighten us as to the chimerical character of the dangers which have been apprehended from the extension of suffrage and to eligibility to office at one time and another.

It has been thought once, even in this land, that poverty disqualified a man from voting, and no man, unless he was the owner of property, was permitted to exercise the suffrage. Time went on; the property qualification disappeared; and nowhere are the law and order more respected, are person and property more secure than in those communities where suffrage is most universal and government rests upon the broadest foundation.

It has been thought that dangers might assail us in the influx of the enormous immigration from the Old World, and a great party was once organized upon that very apprehension. The fear has passed away, for time and experience have demonstrated that the evils accompanying that immigration are but temporary, and will pass away in a single generation.

The time has been when the negro was a beast of burden, and nothing else. The time is now when good men too often apprehend the danger of the extension of the suffrage unto him be reason of the ignorance which is the result of centuries of slavery; but it is beginning to be seen by the practical operation of the laws extending suffrage [mandated by the Congress in the constitutions of reconstructed States], that all these fears are chimerical, and that the black man as well as the white is an element of strength and prosperity in civil society.

In support of the resolution, Sen. Willard Warner, a union general, who moved from Ohio to Alabama after the war, and was elected to the Senate from Alabama in 1868, argued that a Republican-controlled legislature in Alabama had removed the disabilities to those who had engaged in rebellion, but that even after that, Republican candidates had triumphed in the next election.

To which, Garrett Davis, a unionist KY Democrat, replied:

[S]uppose there was no military force moving from this center, this capital, and from States and places outside of Alabama, what would become of the honorable Senator’s negro government and of his representation of it in this body? I am inclined to think they would be fugitives from it.

…. I will never consent that the Congress of the United States shall vote to force negro suffrage upon the State of Alabama or the State of Kentucky or any other State; and I assert that Congress has not a vestige of power to enforce such a constituency upon the people of any State.

The honorable Senator [Warner] … seems to be very much enamored with the idea of negro suffrage, and he seems to think that I and my political party are responsible for the non-existence of that political power in the other States. Who voted down negro suffrage in Kansas? Who voted down negro suffrage in Ohio? Who voted down negro suffrage in Michigan, but the honorable Senator’s political friends…. Now, when Ohio by more than forty thousand, Kansas by eight or ten thousand, Michigan by twenty or thirty thousand, all the northern States, where there are no negroes to vote, voted down the principle of negro suffrage by such immense majorities, with what grace can they or their southern auxiliary, the Senator from Alabama, vote to force negro suffrage upon the ten southern States, under the principle of the Constitution of the United States that the people of a State have the sole and exclusive power of framing their own governments.

[ Source, Congressional Globe, 40th Congress, Third Session, pp. 79, 86 ]

As Davis pointed out, when it came to their own States, northern States had refused to grant to African-Americans the right to vote. That a majority of their own constituents did not actually believe in racial equality, but that the effects of the Fifteenth Amendment would overwhelmingly be felt in the South, has to be taken into account when considering why the Amendment wound up being more narrowly crafted.

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Does Menzie Chinn Or Tyler Cowen Replace Mark Thoma?

Does Menzie Chinn Or Tyler Cowen Replace Mark Thoma?

The retirement of Mark Thoma, whose Economist’s View has been praised on his retirement with having transformed the econoblogosphere back in the mid- noughties by linking regularly, daily in his heyday, to other blogs, including this one. Thanks to him when the big crash happened, there was a wide open debate across levels and schools of thought in economics about what was going down.

But for some time now, Mark has been reducing his activity on his blog, with it stopping being the reliable every day link to other blogs some time ago.  I fear that this combined with his retirement may be a signal of the decline, if not the outright death yet, of the econoblogosphere, at least as an important intellectual and policy force.

The obvious new competitor has been Twitter, which I confess I still resist.  It is ubiquitous, but also seriously shallow for serious issues.  I recognize its usefulness for covering immediate events such as disasters or revolutoins or strikes, etc.  But it is vacuous for any serious discussions.  But its appeal and attraction have simply grown, with the rise of use by Trump, with his 68 million followers and doing over 100 per day has substantially led to this shift.  We here are in a declining market.

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Political leanings through time for birth cohorts

Political leanings through time for birth cohorts

A chart on “political preferences by generation” from Pew Research has been making the rounds in the past few days. Here it is:

Figure 1

This chart tells the simplistic story that older generations are more conservative than young ones. It’s considerably misleading.

After all, how did the democrats ever win if older generations, who vote in higher percentages, are always more conservative than younger ones? The answer is, it’s not true.

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