Category Archives: Economy

Infrastructure Funding and Financing: Another Trumpian Disaster in the Making

Let’s start with the ASCE’s report card on Nevada’s infrastructure.  The last report card on our kitchen table gives us an overall average C-.  Nevada’s two lowest grades (both D’s) are in categories for schools and dams. The claims from the current White House administration would imply that Nevada will see marvelous levels of investment in Job Creating Infrastructure Projects.  Not. So. Fast.

There are some questions related to projected infrastructure legislation which Nevada elected officials may want to consider very carefully.

#1. Does the infrastructure legislation address Nevada’s greatest needs?  The answer at present is “maybe not.” The commentary coming from the White House, and from members of Congress imply that most of the infrastructure plans are part of the Transportation budget.  [Hill] Again, roads and bridges are important, so are airports, but the greatest needs in this state are for projects and funding for upgrading schools and dams.

This past February a dam failed in Elko county, flooding farmland, homes, and stopping traffic on the Union Pacific RR. Obviously dams must eventually get their due. First, we should notice that the state of Nevada doesn’t keep a ranking of hazardous dams, most of which fall into the “earthen” category.  Secondly, it should be noted that a high hazard dam refers to the damage possible should the dam fail, not to the actual condition of the dams themselves.  Third, many dams in this state are privately owned.  About one third of our 650+ dams are constructed for flood control, another third for mining operations, and the remaining third fall into the amorphous category “anything else.” The state has been relying on 11 engineers to keep track of the 650+ dams, and Governor Sandoval’s budget proposal calls for three additional engineers in the Water Division for the next fiscal term. [LVRJ]

School facility upgrades and construction generally lie outside the common understanding of ‘infrastructure’ expenditures, being the province of local school districts, and based on the shifting sands of bond issues. Nothing signaled by the administration thus far would suggest expansion of federal interest in this category of infrastructure investment.

#2.  Will the legislation address Nevada’s needs for the construction and maintenance of roads and highways?  Maybe not.   The situation at present:

“The Nevada Department of Transportation maintains 5,300 miles of state highways, which includes many rural roadways within Nevada. Without an increase in the gas tax since 1992, the state funding levels have stagnated and Federal funding has remained at a similar level the past 5 years. Hence, the maintenance of the existing highway system has fallen behind and the state will need approximately $285 million annually for the next decade to catch up on the current backlog of highway maintenance. The current funding levels provide only 60% to 70% of the required funding to maintain the state highways. This has resulted in an increase in the number of lane miles requiring either an overlay or full rehabilitation from 28% two years ago to 38% currently.” [ASCE]

New construction is great, no one should argue against it where it’s needed to improve the flow and traffic and attendant commerce, however, when nearly 40% of the current roadways need overlays or full rehabilitation, the problem is focused on maintaining what we have at present not necessarily on new construction projects.

#3. Does the administration’s plan differentiate between financing and funding?  This is important.  A definition is in order:

“Infrastructure funding and financing are different concerns. Funding specifies how resources will be collected to pay for infrastructure construction, operations and maintenance, and repairs. Financing generally concerns how to raise the large upfront costs needed to build the infrastructure.” [EPI]

So, the administration has spoken of “a trillion dollars in infrastructure investment,” what does this mean?  For the administration is apparently means “leveraging private dollars.” Again, some translation is necessary.  What the administration is talking about is the financing of construction projects. And, we’re back to the difference between funding and financing — if states are facing the same questions posed back in 2015, when Republicans proposed that HTF projects be limited to the revenue accumulated from gasoline and diesel taxation, then many projects, especially of the improvement and maintenance variety will be put on hold. [BondBuyer] Infrastructure funding will be a function of how the administration budget addresses the issue of raising the money necessary to construct, operate, and maintain.  However, if the administration is speaking of “leveraging private funds,” then we should assume that the White House is referring to new construction.  And, now we enter the land of the P3.

A P3 is: “Public-private partnerships (P3s) are contractual agreements formed between a public agency and a private sector entity that allow for greater private sector participation in the delivery and financing of transportation projects.” [DOT]

Let’s put this question of infrastructure investment in purely financial terms:  Who benefits from P3 structuring?  Hint: It isn’t necessarily the state and local governments because bond yields for such things as school construction, road construction, and other large projects have been dropping since their “highs” around 1982 (13+%) to the current rates (3.5+%). [MuniBond]

Bluntly stated, it’s not the financing that’s a problem for state and local governments, they’re paying almost historic low yields (interest) on the bonds they’ve issued for major projects.  The administration is approaching the infrastructure investment issue from the wrong end of the stick — focusing on the financing and not the funding.

#4. Is the use of the P3 structure based on the needs and capacities of the states and municipalities or the desires of private investment?  Some attention is required because:

“In theory, they can(P3)  be effective—but they provide no free lunches. Funding must still be found for the projects—and ordinary households will end up paying the costs through taxes or user fees. In addition, the details of contract construction and oversight are daunting and require a competent, democratically accountable government to manage them. In short, P3s do not allow for simple outsourcing because they do not bypass the need to fund infrastructure or the need for competent public management.” [EPI]

Or, P3s don’t replace the more traditional methods of financing — local and state taxation is still required for paying project costs. There’s nothing ‘simple’ about these arrangements, and they require extensive oversight and management.  Before leaping into a P3 it should be revealed that these generally allow governments and investors to ignore the requirement of Davis-Bacon Act ‘prevailing wages.’ This may ‘create jobs’ but it doesn’t create ‘good paying jobs’ in the construction sector.

#5. Does the administration plan specify financing and funding of infrastructure projects or is it simply a “tax credit” giveaway to investors?  It certainly sounds like it at this point, but the administration, as is becoming more obvious every day, seems to be short on specifics, and the only solid at the moment is the “tax credit” portion of the pronouncements.  If this is a tax credit for projects already in the planning stage, then it’s hard to characterize this as a bright and shiny new proposal.

#6. Location, Location, Location?  Granted that Nevada is an urban state, with most of the population located in two counties, but the roads, bridges, and dams are aligned through predominantly rural areas. Investors, in P3 or other financing schemes, can clearly see the benefits of construction in urban areas (toll roads, toll bridges, etc.) Rural areas, not so much. Nor does the financing strategy address other infrastructure issues in urban areas — how, for example, does Clark County improve its public transportation facilities and components? Washoe County? Or, Douglas, Lyon counties, and Carson City?  How will investment be directed to poorer areas, or areas under served by current transportation systems? Stated more generally:

“The other problem is that Trump’s approach makes it less likely he’ll actually create new jobs. If the customer base can afford it, and they really need the infrastructure, then the project is almost certainly already profitable and private firms are already willing to do it. The tax credit just sweetens the deal on the margins. Where there’s demand, the private market can already create jobs. The less you’re willing to redistribute, the fewer new jobs you can create.” [TheWeek]

This is another point at which the magic hand of the Market fails on one side and succeeds on the other — where there is demand (and the capacity to meet that demand, the tax credits are minimally useful (except to investors) — where there is great need but little capacity to meet the demand, then the tax credits aren’t an inducement to job creation.

We need to take some care to observe whether the “infrastructure” plan is (1) truly about infrastructure needs in Nevada? (2) truly a job creating plan and not merely a way to get tax credit benefits to the investor class, or ignore the Davis Bacon Act requirements for American workers, (3) about getting the infrastructure investments where it is actually needed.

Caveat Emptor.

 

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Filed under Economy, Federal budget, Infrastructure, Nevada highways, Nevada politics, Politics, public transportation

Myths and Legends: The Medicaid Issue in Nevada

There was a Republican politician on my television screen this morning telling me, or trying to tell me, that Medicaid was “meant for mothers, children, and those who couldn’t work…” This is outdated. Then, he tried to convince me that Medicaid was being “abused” by those who work and ‘game the system,’ while spouting platitudes about the Free Market and the Joys of Competition.  Let’s start at the very beginning.

This is the explanation of Medicaid as reported by Nevada’s Division of Health Care Financing and Policy (pdf)

“Medicaid is the nation’s main public health insurance program for people with low incomes and the single largest source of health coverage in the U.S.”

The program is meant to help people with low incomes.

“The PPACA extended coverage to many of the non-elderly uninsured people nationwide. The June 2012 Supreme Court Ruling made Medicaid expansion optional for states, and Nevada elected to join the expansion and maximize federal dollars. Effective January 1, 2014, this move broadened Medicaid eligibility to nearly all adults under age 65 with income at or below 138% of the Federal Poverty Level (FPL). At the end of SFY 2014 that meant that there were an additional 125,989 new enrollees in Nevada Medicaid, and increased expenditures of $154,816,777.00. These new expenditures are 100% federally funded.” [NV med pdf]

Medicaid expansion added those working Americans who were earning 138% of the poverty line and below, (pdf) and more specifically: (1) Those between the ages of 19 and 64 who are earning less than 138% of the FPL. (2) Pregnant women in homes earning less than 165% of the FPL. (3) Children from birth to 19 years of age in homes wherein the earnings are at or below 205% of the FPL, with a small premium required in some cases. Translated into real people with real levels of low income earned, this means a family of four would be eligible for Medicaid in Nevada if the family earnings are less than $2795 per month; for pregnant women if the earnings are at or less than $3341 per month; and families are eligible for the kids’ Check Up program if family earnings are less than $4151 per month.

If we calculate annual earnings, then monthly earnings of $2795 mean an annual income  of $33,540. At $3341 annual earnings of $40,092, and at $4151 annual income of $41,630. Nevada’s median income is $52,431 (2015). To put these numbers in perspective, the average weekly wages of a person working in a private restaurant in this state are $382, or $1528 per month ($18,336 yearly). [DETR] The average rent for a 2 bedroom apartment in Las Vegas, the obvious site for most private restaurants, is $932 per month. [RJ] In short, not only are wages not all that generous in Nevada, the benefits available for Nevada families aren’t all that generous either.

Republicans, however, strenuously oppose benefits for adults capable of working. This would make infinitely more sense IF and ONLY IF they were willing to support a living wage for all employees. One really doesn’t get to have it both ways.  Either you want a reduction in benefits that most working people can afford to purchase on their own because they have the financial resources to do so, or you want lower wages which mean that individuals and families cannot afford those things, like health insurance, and the public benefits are required to make up the difference.  However, at this point we slam into another GOP myth.

Free market competition will make health insurance affordable for everyone, even those who are working in low wage jobs.  Good luck with that. Personally, I have yet to hear anyone explain with any specificity why health insurance corporations will be flocking to Clark, Washoe, or even Esmeralda counties because there is more “free market” applied to the situation. If the insurance companies weren’t wildly excited about selling individual and family health insurance before the enaction of the ACA, why would they do so now? Unless, of course…

They could sell policies that didn’t cover all that much? That cost more for those between the ages of 50 and 64?  That didn’t cover maternity expenses? That didn’t cover preventative care? That didn’t cover drug rehabilitation and mental health services in parity with physical treatments? That only covered the items required in those states with the least consumer protections? And, even then all we have to look to is the situation in Nevada when insurance corporations were free to offer what they were pleased to call comprehensive policies.  Again, if they weren’t interested in selling a plethora of individual and family policies then why believe they would be now?

And that Free Marketeering? It doesn’t work in the health care industry:

“In a free market, goods and services are allocated through transactions based on mutual consent. No one is forced to buy from a particular supplier. No one is forced to engage in any transaction at all. In a free market, no transactions occur if a price cannot be agreed.

The medical industry exists almost entirely to serve people who have been rendered incapable of representing their own interests in an adversarial transaction. When I need health services I often need them in a way that is quite different from my desire for a good quality television or a fine automobile. As I lie unconscious under a bus, I am in no position to shop for the best provider of ambulance services at the most reasonable price. All personal volition is lost. Whatever happens next, it will not be a market transaction.” [Forbes]

The only thing I can say with any certainty is that the Republicans have little idea exactly what constitutes a Free Market, and instead are waving it like a banner crovering their underlying desire to be free from the moral requirements compelling us to be our brother’s keepers.  The range of misanthropic explications are appalling, from “we need not do anything because the poor will always be with us anyway,” to “when Jesus told us to provide for one another he only meant fellow Christians.”

The Repeal and Replace campaign is as void of humanity as it is of understanding of the reality of most family economics, and of the comprehension of what the term ‘free market’ actually means.

 

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Filed under Economy, Health Care, health insurance, Politics

To Our GOP Friends Who Don’t Seem To Have A Clue How Insurance Works

We might go for the Ryan budget bill in regard health insurance directly, but others have already noted that either (a) he doesn’t have a clue how insurance works, or (b) he’s trying to pull a fast one on the American public.  At any  rate, the phase I of the ACA repeal is essentially a gigantic giveaway to health insurance and pharmaceutical corporations, a tax boon to those in the upper 0.1% income bracket, and a dismantling of the Medicaid program. The contents of Phase II have been tipped.  It’s on the Speaker’s website, but requires a bit of unpacking:

“Administration actions, notably by HHS Secretary Price, to stabilize the health insurance market, increase choices, and lower costs…”

Translation: The content of health insurance policies, currently listed as “essential provisions” for all policies, is under a head on assault.

If a corporation is going to offer a comprehensive health insurance policy for sale to customers, it must include “ambulatory care for patients in a hospital or not,” “emergency services,” “hospitalization,” “pregnancy, maternity, and newborn care,” “mental health and substance abuse treatment,” “prescription drugs,” “rehabilitation,” “laboratory services,” “preventive and wellness care,” “pediatric care including vision and oral care,” and “birth control and breastfeeding coverage.”

Now, just guess what parts of this coverage the GOP finds objectionable?  If you guessed anything having to do with WOMEN give yourself the prize of the day.

Why, the guys grouse, do I have to have a policy covering maternity and neo-natal care, birth control prescriptions, and pediatric care?  It’s because of how insurance works.

Aside from the obvious part wherein it requires both men and women to create a ‘maternity situation,’ the whole idea of insurance is encapsulated in the word POOL.

“When you buy insurance, you join many others who pay money to an insurance company.  The insurance company uses the money collected to pay claims that are submitted by those who have purchased insurance.  The money is “pooled” and losses and expenses are shared.  An important aspect is the members of a pool share similar risk characteristics.” [HIW]

In the case of health insurance, the “shared characteristic” of note is that everyone who buys a policy is a human being, who at some point will need health care.  The more people (policies) in the pool the wider the risk can be shared. And, that’s the point of insurance — spreading the risk among as many policy holders as possible.

Creating ‘cafeteria’ policies might be profitable for the insurance corporations, but it doesn’t make health care affordable for most people.  If we carve out special coverage for maternity care and remove this from the larger pool (which includes men) all this serves to do is to increase costs for those remaining in a smaller pool.  Similarly, if prostate cancer screening and treatment is carved out from comprehensive coverage, this serves to increase costs as the overall pool is diminished.

Got it? If not, think of your auto insurance.  10 people buy GenZ Insurance, 9 of them never file a claim, 1 does. The costs related to the one claim are shared among those who bought into the pool and paid premiums to maintain their insurance.  We require all automobile owners in this state to have at least minimal insurance. In Nevada, this means you have to have a policy covering $15,000 for bodily injury or death in an accident for one person, $30,000 for bodily injury or death of two persons in an accident, and $10,000 to cover property damage. Thus, all Nevada drivers must have at least minimal participation in the auto insurance pool. Again, the larger the pool the greater sharing of risk, the entire point of having insurance.

Back to health insurance, if we thought Phase I is a disaster, Phase II should be even worse. Phase III is the ‘portability canard.”  Has it occurred to anyone in the GOP hierarchy that nothing that really prevents insurance corporations from selling their policies across state lines — IF they agree to accept the standards set by state insurance commissions for the protection of their consumers.  More on this later — if necessary.

 

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Filed under Economy, Health Care, health insurance, Insurance, Politics

The Government Regulations They Love To Hate

The Republicans have catch phrases which have been very handy for their purposes for the last forty years, “burdensome regulations,” are among them. Rarely do they want to identify upon whom the burden rests. Often they are fond of calling the regulations “job killing.”  Nearly always the “regulations” are amorphous, and highly generalized.

Let’s get specific.  Senator Rob Portman will be introducing a bill which, in its present form, would limit the ability of federal agencies to promulgate rules until every last lawsuit against them is completely litigated. In other words, NEVER.  So, what nefarious regulations would people like to have eliminated?

How about eliminating the regulations associated with the Clean Water Act?  One regulation has already fallen — the one limiting toxic sludge emptied into freshwater.  Is this going to make drinking water any safer? Will this encourage the development of tourism based activities in coal country to diversify their economy by adding more hunting and fishing opportunities?  Will elimination of these rules make the drinking water in Flint, MI and other American cities safer for children, and adults?  Do we really want to go back to the not-so-good old days when the Cuyahoga River caught fire in Cleveland, OH?

Or perhaps people would like rules associated with the Clean Air Act eliminated?  What’s wrong with breathing a little smog — other than creating public health issues like an increase in the incidence of asthma? Respiratory diseases? Lung cancer? What’s wrong with creating a country of people walking around with face masks as they do in Beijing?

How about eliminating consumer protection regulations?  Gee, what could go wrong, other than a replication of Wells-Fargo’s egregious practice of opening accounts people didn’t know about and then charging fees on those accounts?  Other than predatory lenders charging unimaginable rates for pay day loans to working people, and even members of the US Armed Forces?  Other than mortgage servicers failing to notify customers who held their mortgages and failing to properly record documents with local governments? Other than obviously dangerous products being available for sale to unwitting customers, customers without the ability to check online to see if products for infants, children, and others are safe and free of deadly defects?  Other than allowing financial advisers being able to tell retirees to purchase financial products which benefit the adviser far more than they would benefit the retirees?  Other than making it easier for the Wolves on Wall Street to indulge in Casino play with investment funds?  Were these the “burdensome” rules of which we wish to be relieved?

It’s interesting, that Republicans are only too pleased to speak of those regulatory burdens in highly generalized terms, but when brought down to cases, they tend to sputter that “No, it’s not Those” regulations of which they speak.

Who is in favor of providing federal funds to schools that allow bullying and discriminatory behaviors in their buildings? Who is in favor of making it more difficult to determine if lending institutions are cheating their customers?  Who is in favor of dirty air and filthy streams?  Who is in favor of making it more likely that food sold to the public won’t be properly inspected? Let’s guess it’s NOT the average American member of the public at large.

Someone is in favor of removing these, and other obstacles, to free wheeling unrestrained and unregulated corporate practices, and in this Congress they are finding significant support.

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Filed under Economy, financial regulation, Politics

Imaginary Numbers for Imaginary Growth

I’m sorry but it’s time to type out, yet once more, how we calculate the annual growth rate for the real GDP, and no, there’s no imaginary quarterly or annualized growth rate for the real GDP.  Now that we’ve reviewed, the financial inanity of the current administration is highlighted by policies which are in direct variance with the stated goal of increased economic growth of 3%.

There are two numbers we absolutely need in order to have economic growth: Labor force increases; and, Labor Productivity increases.  The labor force is obvious, how many people of working age are in the workforce. Productivity pertains to how much can be produced by those workers.  For more information see this article from the St. Louis FED.  Suffice it to say that if the labor force growth is 0.5% and the productivity growth rate is o.5% then the economic growth rate will be 1%.

There are a couple of bits of Reality we need to introduce at this point in time: (1) The baby boom is over. (2) We are poised to severely limit our immigration.

As of 2015, the number of baby boomers ranges from 74.9 million to 82.3 million, depending on whether the generation begins with the birth year 1943 or 1946.” [CNN] No matter which year one assumes for the beginning, it was over by 1964-65.  Growth in the labor force has not, and may rationally not, increase at levels seen when the Boomers hit the job market. And, now they are exiting.  Those born in 1965 are now 52, with about 13 years left before retirement; those born during or before 1952 are presumably retired already. So, what is happening now?

“The US fertility rate has been in a steady decline since the post-World War II baby boom. Back at its height in 1957, the fertility rate was 122.9 births per 1,000 women. The latest quarterly CDC data also indicate the larger pattern of women having babies later in life. As birth rates increased among women in their 30s and 40s, the rate among teenagers and women in their 20s dropped.” [CNN]
The current rate is 59.8. There are factors associated with lower birth rates; for example, in developed nations urbanization is a factor — children aren’t a major need for their work in agricultural pursuits.  Another factor is the cost of raising the children, it’s more expensive to raise children in a developed country where those children don’t enter the labor force until they are in their late teens or twenties.  Further, the urbanization trend continues apace in the US. [Census] [Slate] More urbanization, more education, and we can’t reasonable expect a repetition of the Boom in the foreseeable future.
So, if we aren’t increasing our labor force via the old birth-rate route, then the other way is immigration, and this warning from the Los Angeles Times:

“Trump in his first weeks in office has launched the most dramatic effort in decades to reduce the country’s foreign-born population and set in motion what could become a generational shift in the ethnic makeup of the U.S. Trump and top aides have become increasingly public about their underlying pursuit, pointing to Europe as an example of what they believe is a dangerous path that Western nations have taken. Trump believes European governments have foolishly allowed Muslims with extreme views to settle in their countries, sowing seeds for unrest and recruitment by terrorist groups.”

This seems a polite way to say that the Trump administration would like very much to limit immigration to white Western Europeans. If we don’t allow immigration from Mexico and Central American nations, and we severely limit immigration from predominantly Muslim nations, then what’s left?

And, in terms of increasing the labor force, here’s where the policy and the reality clash. If we want an increase in the birth rate in order to increase our labor force, then the women having those babies are more likely to be foreign born immigrants to the US. [Pew]  We don’t get to have it both ways — limiting immigration both limits the number of people available for immediate employment, and the number of little people who will grow up to be a portion of our labor force. Once more with feeling, if we limit immigration we necessarily limit our economic growth.

One of the amazing things about conservative/trumpism ideology is the notion that elements diametrically opposed to one another may somehow be massaged by empty rhetoric into actuality.  Somehow, we are supposed to believe that we can have 3% economic growth while limiting our immigration unrealistically, and while continuing the urbanization of the country. Only in the fever swamp of right wing ethnocentric white supremacist thinking is this going to “happen.” And, the happen part is in quotation marks because this is Neverland.

So, no — we don’t get the deficit reduced by cutting taxes on corporations, millionaires, and billionaires. No, we don’t get a balanced budget by cutting non-defense discretionary spending, and NO we don’t get 3% economic growth by unrealistically impeding immigration.  2 + 2 does not equal 7.

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Filed under Economy, Immigration, Politics, Republicans

Republican Myths and Legends

Good morning, another day another 24 hours of trumpster fires, lit by the tinder of well worn Republican mythology.

The Economy Works In Reverse.  Let’s guess that the whopping increase in defense spending will be covered by an increase in “economic growth.”  I doubt very seriously that my utility company would be much impressed by my assertion that increases in my power bill will be paid for by my getting up an hour and a half earlier every morning.  The argument would go “because I get up earlier I will be more productive, and if I am more productive then my earnings will increase. If my earnings increase then I will have more money to spend, and therefore my bills will ‘pay themselves.'”  Gee, perhaps if I aroused myself two hours earlier I could trade my vehicle in for a Cadillac CTS-V? Somehow, I don’t think my banker will be sufficiently enamored of my presentation to hand over the money.

There’s another facet of the administration’s fantasy economy which we need to discuss, at least two ways in which while waving its firearms it shoots itself in the foot.  Round one into the metatarsal — anti-immigration rhetoric and action.  Before theorizing about economic growth, the GOP might want to look at economic activity in our major urban centers, which depend in no small part on their immigrant communities.

Round two into the navicular bone comes compliments of heavy budget cuts. For the millionth time in this blog, there’s a formula for the gross domestic product.  Once more C+I+G + (Ex-IM) = GDP.  That G stands for government spending, and not just defense spending.  Want to expand the consumer economy? Then remember that every dollar spent on the SNAP program almost doubles in economic activity.

Round three into the phalanges: Seek to limit increases in the minimum wage.  Evidently it has not occurred to GOP economists that people do not spend money they do not have.  They can accumulate debt (which Wall Street is only too happy to securitize) up to a point, but the point is quickly reached. Delinquency happens, leading to defaults, leading to the unraveling of all those beautifully packaged tranches of securities.  We know what happened last time.

Round four into the cuboid, continue the progress of income inequality, the trends of which promote the accumulation of wealth into fewer hands, creating a surplus to be used not for corporate promotion and expansion but for the collection and trading of risk diversion securities or for corporate buy-backs which do NOT generate economic growth in the overall economy but bolster the financial sector.  Have I been railing about Financialism before? Constantly?

Four shots into the foot and we’re not walking, much less running, anywhere towards overall economic prosperity.  It’s the return of the old, stale, Trickle Down Supply Side Hoax nurtured and pampered by right wing think tanks and GOP orthodoxy.

And now, we should return to a discussion of why we need an independent commission to investigate the political and economic ties of the Trump-Bannon regime to the Russian government. We might also want to avoid the trap of calling for a special prosecutor, which would only have the authority to investigate outright crimes, when what we need immediately is an investigation into the possibly profound security risks in the executive branch.  But that’s a discussion for another post.

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Filed under conservatism, Economy, financial regulation, Politics, Republicans

Monday Morning and The Press

There are several things of note this morning, probably the least important of which is the Blunder at the Oscars, although that’s one of the more entertaining.  Added to this is the current administration’s rather bombastic squabble with the press, however, this too is of more interest to the media itself than an actual matter of national interest.  In fact, some of the best political reporting is that which is done outside the confines of news conference spin sessions.   For example, in 1902-03 Ida Tarbell didn’t need to attend press conferences to expose the machinations of John D. Rockefeller and Standard Oil. Nor did Upton Sinclair need a gaggle to write about the meatpacking industry in 1906.  In 1953 reporter Murrey Marder followed the serpentine trail of Senator Joe McCarthy and helped expose the duplicity of the Senator’s charges against the Army. Surely, the administration wasn’t applauding David Halberstam’s coverage of the war in Vietnam. Woodward and Bernstein weren’t following White House press gaggle threads to uncover the Watergate story, nor was Dana Priest relying on press releases about black sites in eastern European countries, or when she revealed conditions at Walter Reed Hospital.

In short, some of the very best reporting has resulted from investigations outside the walls of various and sundry executive offices.  There are stories still unfolding which may have an extraordinary effect on American politics and governance, and the information essential to their explication won’t come from anyone’s gaggle, no matter who is invited.

Suggestions?

#1. The Trump Russian connections.  As the Boston Globe opined:

“The issues raised by Trump’s Russia connection are some of the most serious that this country has ever confronted. We could have a president who is vulnerable to blackmail from Moscow and even worse, one who has committed treasonous offenses. As long as these questions go unanswered there will be a permanent black cloud over the White House — and the country.”

We could have a president subject to blackmail? We could have a president whose financial ties to Russian interests impact his decision making? We could have an administration so entangled with Russian financial and political entities that we have allowed an infringement on our own sovereignty?  Investigative journalism is necessary if we are to avoid that “permanent black cloud.”

#2. The rise of white nationalism/supremacism and the nature of Antisemitic acts and the assaults on Muslims and their mosques. If anything tears at the fabric of American civic life it’s the demonization of ethnic and religious minorities, and the tacit support for the demeaning and desecration of religious institutions.  No, the conservative white Christian establishment is not under “attack.” However, synagogues, mosques, and cemeteries  definitely and physically are.  Does the current administration bear some responsibility for emboldening the hateful people who commit these acts?  What steps must the federal government take to discredit and diminish the organizations which seek to perpetrate them?  We know a great deal about the membership, publications, and activities of these organizations, however we’re missing more essential writing on the impact these groups have in terms of radicalizing white nationalists. What motivated the current administration to shift law enforcement focus away from domestic terrorists and pay almost exclusive attention to foreign sources?  We may think we know the answers, but more reporting would be extremely useful.

#3. The impact of anti-immigrant fervor on American economic growth.  As noted in a previous post, the anti-immigrant plus anti-Muslim posture of the current administration could have significant effects on the tourism, agriculture, housing, and food service sectors. It’s going to take some research and analysis from business reporters to fully understand the impact of this posture on our economy.

#4. The assault on the institutions of democracy by those who promote vote suppression and gerrymandering.  Again, we have had more than enough examples of the blatant attempts to restrict the Right To Vote. The story is NOT about vote fraud, it’s about the fraudulent attempts to prevent people from voting.  The story is about a nationwide attempt, to deliberately freeze out qualified voters, eliminate them from the rolls, and prevent them from voting in convenient polling places, by a national political party and its myrmidons.

I need to immediately acknowledge that my list may not be everyone else’s list, and that I’ve left out topics like women’s reproductive health issues, health care access. and climate change, but there’s always room for MORE investigative journalism and more topics of national and international interest. Indeed, investigative journalists could turn the “tennis ball machine” back on the White House, and give the Oval Office a daily dose of its own distraction.  After all, a good offense is often a good defense.  Every session in which the administration has to justify its ties to Putin, has to explain the rise of white supremacists, has to speak to the economic impact of anti-immigrant policies, has to find ways to excuse vote suppression, is a session in which it has less opportunity to promote the Trickle Down Hoax and its embrace of Wall Street.  For that matter, why not add in more reporting about the administration’s efforts to promote Wall Street interests at the expense of Main Street?

Politics is, indeed, a contact sport and the sooner this administration finds out the truth of that old saw the better.

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Filed under Economy, financial regulation, Immigration, Islam, Nativism, Politics, racism, Republicans, Vote Suppression