The Dumpster Fire Flames Anew

One needn’t be a credentialed medical professional,  an experienced political consultant, or the recipient of an advanced degree to figure out why the White House in its current iteration is a rolling dumpster fire.  Sit in your local pub with a pint or two, watch the characters, and notice that they are all there.

There’s the fellow at the end of the bar who hasn’t been a hero (ever) but his imagination flies toward the ceiling should anyone make the most minimal social opening.  He’s garrulous,  sociable up to a point.  You know the type: The point is quickly reached.  He’s the guy full of could haves — He could have been a better quarterback than Brady, but… He could have been a better salesman than Reagan, but… He could have been a starter on his high school basketball team, but…  The foam’s barely off the brew before this gets old.

However, the performance isn’t quite over — There are the woulds to go with the coulds. He would have taken the job his father-in-law offered but it didn’t pay enough for a man of his skills.  He would have gone to work for (fill in the desired multi-national corporation) but… He would have stayed with his wife, but…  And, he would do (whatever) because of course he has the expertise, and of course he has the experience, he just isn’t interested right now.  Not only is the foam gone by the time this element is developing, the mug’s probably down to  the dregs in record time.

He’ll offer to pay for the beers.  That said, there will be a pause after the offer just long enough for you to say, “No, this one’s on me.”  The pause will be repeated with each successive patron in proximity.  He will describe himself as a charitable human being, all the while cadging drinks from anyone who’ll actually part with coin of the realm on his behalf.

It’s not that he doesn’t have friends, he does.  However, they aren’t the ones you’d want to acquire.  It’s more likely they will be hangers-on who are impressed with the Patron’s banter, easy manners, bluff style.  The hangers-on aren’t a discerning group.  They are generally weak people who misinterpret the Patron as a strong person; or the unintelligent ones who think the Patron is smart.  They might be the insecure ones who find the Patron’s bravado redolent of self assurance.  Pity they can’t tell the difference between self assurance and self-reference.  This doesn’t matter to our Patron at the end of the bar, he prefers these people — indeed, he can compare himself to them and always come out ahead.

Meanwhile, the rest of  the saloon patrons are keeping their distance.  The people who want something enter the Patron’s orbit; the self sufficient ones are sharing stories, complaints, and commiseration among themselves.  Most of the regulars don’t care for the Patron’s “humor” which consists of what comedians call “punching down,” and is rarely very funny.   They’ve likely heard his repertoire of ethnic jokes in its entirety. His “blonde” jokes don’t go down well with the other patrons who have blond wives and daughters.  Should a patron excuse himself by saying it was time to head home to keep the wife happy, the inevitable rejoinder is “he’d never stop a good conversation just to go home and listen to the nag.”    Couples don’t gravitate to him.

When our Patron makes his exit, he will misinterpret the smiles and waves — of those who are happy to see him go.

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DIY Economic News for 2018: Some Suggestions and Sources

The gripe noting the emphasis (or narrow focus) on stock market “news” is a recurring one on this blog, but perhaps it’s high time to suggest some sources which will provide a more comprehensive picture than merely stock market numbers and unemployment figures.  Here are a few for your viewing pleasure:

Labor Information:  What we get on television broadcasts and from most print media are national numbers, however this obfuscates the point that not all parts of the country are experiencing employment (and unemployment) in the same way.   To find out more about state and local employment there’s information available from the Bureau of Labor Statistics at this page. Nevada, for example, is in the western region in the BLS categorization of various statistics, and more specifically as the national unemployment rate is 3.9% nationally (October 2017) the Clark County rate is 5.1%.(pdf)  Although employment in the construction sector is up in Clark County, NV, the rate is altogether to close to that of Cleveland, OH  which was 5.2% (pdf)  Unlike Clark County, which saw a decrease in unemployment, Cleveland actually ticked up from 2016’s 5.1% to 5.2%.   Using the handy interactive from the BLS link give will allow a person to see differences within a state, such as the 5.1% unemployment rate in Las Vegas and the 3.9% unemployment rate in the Reno area. (pdf)

A summary of state unemployment rates is available from the Bureau of Labor Statistics. As of November 2017 the lowest unemployment rate in the country is in Hawaii (2.0%) and the highest unemployment rate belongs to Alaska which has a rate of 7.2%.

The BLS also provides employment projections (for the next 10 years) complete with a graphic illustrating the fastest growing occupations.  Presidential climate change denial notwithstanding, we should observe that the two fastest growing occupations are solar photovoltaic  installers (105.3% increase) and wind turbine technicians (96.1% increase).

A few recommended bookmarks:  AFL-CIO website;  UAW website; SEIU website;  Nevadans will want to keep up with Culinary Worker’s news;  the Communications Workers of America is also highly informative.   Labor Notes is also recommended.

Income Information:  For those who don’t have FRED bookmarked — please do, you’ll be pleased with yourself for doing so.  One of the many topics covered and charted is median household income.   A person can also find information about the Income GINI Ratio for Households (by race), and Real Mean Personal Income.   It would be difficult to imagine what information Isn’t available from FRED.

Once in a blue moon the media reports on the release of the Beige Book from the Board of Governors of the Federal Reserve.  It is a compilation of anecdotal reports from each of the Federal Reserve districts, and is useful for those wanting to drill down into regional economic conditions.  It’s published eight times per year, with the next release due out on January 17, 2018.

The St. Louis Fed provides FRED, and the New York Federal Reserve is the go-to place for information about debt, from student to household.  See their Center for Microeconomic Data.  The NY Fed has its own blog, also informative on a variety of topics.   Readers might like to start with the NY Fed’s report on political polarization and consumer expectations.

There’s FRED, the Beige Book, and the NY Fed, and then there’s the Census Bureau, which tracks income inequality.

There are thousands of more sources and links which will prove helpful to those interested in economic trends, and this is by NO means a comprehensive list.  However, I do hope these links will indicate to any reader that there is a wide variety of sources describing our economy going well beyond the narrow focus on stock market numbers and unemployment statistics!

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A Wish List For 2018

There are several things I would like to see in the coming year.  The following, a not so modest list of them:

  1. I’d like to see the commercial media, print and broadcast, dismantle its long nurtured cottage industry employed in Clinton Bashing.  This has been an on-going activity for the last two and a half decades at least, and I’m finding it tiresome.  I am sure the chattering classes find it amusing to resurrect and inject their old talking points; and there’s a certain comfort in returning to old themes, much like one’s favorite blanket on the bed or pillow on the couch.  However, the plethora of Clinton columns a year past the last election, only indicates to me that Secretary Clinton is living rent free in several editorial heads.  Perhaps, it seems as though they couldn’t live with her, and now they can’t live without her.
  2. It would be pleasing to wake up some fine morning to discover a news broadcast in which the various travel and singular expenditures of the present administration are explored in some detail.  I recall an old bit of wisdom from the sheriff’s department about people who get caught criminal littering: One could be an accident, Two is an indication of trouble, and Three times and it’s deliberate.  Thus we’ve had a Health and Human Services secretary resign, which should have been a message to others — but, we now know the Secretary of the Treasury indulged in excessively expensive travel, followed by a Secretary of the Interior doing likewise. Were this not enough, we have a director of the EPA indulging in what gives every appearance of being truly excessive “security” expenditures.  What does he have to hide?
  3. A little patience is required for my third item: A thorough and accurate report from the Special Counsel.  Perhaps Trump’s opponents are hoping for too much, and his followers are hoping for an exoneration which is not to be.  Whether the President* himself was entangled in a web of deception and conspiracy is relevant but not, I think, the core of the matter.  The important point is that a hostile government, the Russians, sought to interfere, did interfere, and continues to interfere in our democratic institutions and practices.  The more important point is what we, as a nation, intend to do about it. This leads to my 4th wish.
  4. I wish for personal, professional, and tangential issues to be separated from the essential process of addressing Russian interference.  This will take more than beseeching private Internet corporations to “do their duty.”  Further, it will take more than a narrow focus on whether or not that interference had an appreciable effect on the 2016 election.  We need to know what the Russians did, how they did it, and what we can do to prevent “it” in future election cycles.  We need state and local election officials who are aware of the nature of Russian (and other) attempts at interference, who have the resources both in terms of funding and expertise to prevent meddling.  We need federal officials who will take this threat seriously and who will engage with state and local officials to be of assistance in these efforts. What we don’t need is a sham commission rehashing old conspiracy theories about “illegals” voting and fraudulent voting myths. What we do need is a task force with components from the Department of Justice, Homeland Security, and the Intelligence Community to take foreign interjections seriously, investigate them thoroughly, and to make thoughtful, rational, suggestions for protecting our most basic freedom — the right to vote.
  5. We need the improvement and enaction of the Voting Rights Act.  Nothing is so central to our Republic, nothing so necessary to the health of our Democracy.
  6. We need a rational statement of what constitutes citizenship, and it’s not the legal fiction including a corporation.  The decision in Citizens United is a major problem for our system of government.  No, my friends, corporations are not people.  They may have property rights, and rights pertaining to their organization and operations, but they are not people — as in We The People.
  7. Wouldn’t it be fine to end 2018 with a new attitude toward rules and regulations. Corporate propaganda has generalized anything commercial interests don’t like into “burdensome regulations.”  However, there are some burdens we should bear with a sense of civic pride.  No, we do not wish our rivers to be polluted and our forests unnecessarily despoiled for profit. Nor do we want our elders placed in care to be ignored, mocked, and mistreated.  Nor do we want to eat contaminated food, or drink contaminated liquids. Nor do we want employers to allow, perhaps even encourage, unsafe working conditions.  Too often the generalizations have been presented to us as ‘fact,’ without a challenge from public quarters asserting the rationale for the rules in the first place.  Those challenges deserve more publicity than they are currently receiving.
  8. Although it’s an election year, wouldn’t it be beneficial if we were to receive more information about POLICY than POLITICS?  The failure to emphasize what a candidate is offering and to focus instead on poll numbers and other electoral data means that politicians are allowed to speak in broad, and often meaningless, generalities.  In this circumstance a politician becomes little more than a human megaphone, his or her popularity based on the cheaper expedient of polling than on a serious consideration of what is on offer.   Granted there have always been demagogues among us — but we really don’t have to encourage them.

And so ends this little list.  We can only hope.

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Filed under media, Politics, Voting

Thank You: A List for 2017

thank you cardAs youngsters we were admonished to acknowledge gifts during the holiday season, and not to delay thanking Auntie for bestowing such “creative and unique” items.  That said, this isn’t an obligatory thank you — it’s a Thanks! with a capital letter to those who’ve been an inspiration this year.

 

Thanks to the ladies of the Women’s March!  Prior to that event I’d contacted my Senators and Representatives, but never with any regularity, and certainly never with multiple phone calls in any given month.  The idea of sending post cards hadn’t occurred to me.  I listened to the speakers advise more contact, more persistent contact, more urgent contact — and I bought some postcards.  I also bought a small pocket notebook.  I recorded my calls and post cards in the notebook — at first just to keep track of the topics, and then it became a habit.  The little notebook is half filled now, and I even had to add a piece of ribbon tied on as a bookmark to keep track of my place.  Perhaps I’m gaining a reputation as a pain with a couple of members of the 115th Congress. I don’t care.  They won’t be able to say they’ve not heard from anyone about protecting DACA, or the ACA, or the Consumer Finance Protection Bureau, or the EPA, or women’s reproductive rights, or the rights of workers to organize.   My new year’s prediction is that the little notebook will be filled by this time next year — at least I sincerely hope so.

Thanks to the people who attended town hall meetings!  Those who are dependent on the individual health insurance market to secure health plans need our assistance.  Those on employer  group plans need to know that the provisions of the ACA will require  they have real insurance, as opposed to junk policies with outrageous co-pays, high deductibles and limited benefits.  Those who buy policies need to know mental health treatment is on par with physical health needs, and immunizations are essential services.  And, since as they say “it takes two to tango,” everyone is in the pool — men and women, meaning maternity care is also essential.  To those people who put real faces on real problems — Thank You.  To those people who supported the people testifying to those very real issues — Thank You.

Thanks to the organizers of Indivisible!  Should I run out of ideas on a given day concerning what to say and to  whom to say it, there’s Indivisible online to assist me.  I appreciate the tweets and notices from Nevada Indivisible groups, Indivisible Lake Tahoe, Indivisible Reno, and Indivisible Las Vegas.  You are doing good work, and it’s appreciated.

Thanks to the professionals working on the Special Counsel’s investigation!  I understand those investigators aren’t the total solution to the problem of foreign interference in our elections.  However, they are a key facet of the issue and they’ve endured enough flack from partisan hacks for a lifetime already.  They can’t tell us how to protect our election systems in the future, nor can they tell us what actions our state and local officials can take to prevent future assaults — but they can, and I’m sure will, give us an accurate picture of anything prosecutable.  Their efforts are appreciated.

Thanks to the independent members of the press and media!  There are reporters and broadcasters who are not allowing lies and mischaracterizations from the current administration to go unchallenged.   Not all editors are spiking stories about corruption, maladministration, and mismanagement.  Not all reporters are playing the role of stenographer for government issued blather.  Now, more than ever before in my lifetime, we need FACTS.  Good old fashioned FACTS, and good old fashioned news — the kind wherein we learn not only who is supporting a particular policy, but what the implications of the policy proposals are in real life.

Thus, the little notebook continues to sit beside the phone, the post cards are at the ready, and there’s no shortage of topics upon which to comment.  For this, I say THANKS.

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Merry Christmas 2017: DB’s little homily for the season

Christmas 2017Merry Christmas and a Very Happy New Year to one and all.  This year’s image is of Pope Francis kissing the image of the Christ child, and it seems fitting for this particular season.  He could be any grown man, in any place (not necessarily beside a manger scene) welcoming into this world a small boy whose parents had to flee the land of his birth because of persecution.

“And after they were departed, behold an angel of the Lord appeared in sleep to Joseph, saying: Arise, and take the child and his mother, and fly into Egypt: and be there until I shall tell thee. For it will come to pass that Herod will seek the child to destroy him.” Matthew 2:13

And what do we have in common with this Palestinian Jewish family, mother, father, and very young son?

Chronicles 29:15 tells us:

“For we are sojourners before thee, and strangers, as were all our fathers. Our days upon earth are as a shadow, and there is no stay.”

That would be “WE,” all of us. No matter our language, our culture, our ethnicity, or our race. We are all traveling in this shadow land — we don’t get to be here forever.  We don’t get to choose our fellow sojourners.   Our relationship with our fellow travelers?  Mark 12:31 is explicit: “Thou shalt love thy neighbour as thyself.”

Not more than oneself, and certainly not less than oneself, but just as oneself.  Too many people have strangled the term “pro-life” until it means little more than “forced birth,” forgetting the larger meaning — yes, children are adorable — but so are the parents who come to this country seeking safety for those little ones, ones who dream of better lives and more prosperous times.  How can we be diminished by our fellow sojourners if we are all on this shadowland road together?

How do we love our neighbors and fellow strangers unless we wish for them good health, for opportunities to prosper, for education and training for their children?  Rabbi Judah reminded us that “Whoever does not teach his son a trade or profession teaches him to be a thief.” (Babylonian Talmud, Kiddushin 29a) They are all our sons and daughters.

Newborns don’t see race, ethnicity, wealth or poverty.  They are learning.  As the Holy Father expresses his love for the image of the child in the stable, how do we express our love for all the children born in all the world to all the mothers and fathers?  What will we teach them?

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The Incredible Tax Bill

For once the President* found the precise word.  The recently enacted tax bill is incredible, and so is the President*.

There are some elements of the tax plan which, indeed, are genuinely incredible.  Here are a few —

 The tax plan is predicated on what amounts to economic mythology/ideology, and it is NOT grounded in empirical evidence.  Trickle Down economics is and has always been a theory in search of some evidence, and not a result of the collection and analysis of actual economic data.  The following summation is as good a point at any to discuss the reality of this manufactured ideology:

“The harsh reality is that while this story has been told for – sometimes very eloquently for 30 years, now – we can look back to President Reagan’s tax cuts in 1981. There’s never been a documented case in which it actually worked. The problem is that every time we’ve enacted tax cuts in the last 30 years that have been based on this premise, we’ve had to backpedal as a nation. We’ve had to undo them. Sometimes, as in the case of the Bush tax cuts of 2001, it’s taken a decade of pitched battle for Congress to realize in a bipartisan way that they really had just dug the hole too deep.”

The tax plan benefits approximately 83% of the nation’s income earners, and does little to help the remainder.

“By 2027, more than half of all Americans — 53 percent — would pay more in taxes under the tax bill agreed to by House and Senate Republicans, a new analysis by the Tax Policy Center finds. That year, 82.8 percent of the bill’s benefit would go to the top 1 percent, up from 62.1 under the Senate bill.”

And even in the first years of the bill’s implementation, when it’s an across-the-board tax cut, the benefits of the law would be heavily concentrated among the upper-middle and upper-class Americans, with nearly two-thirds of the benefit going to the richest fifth of Americans in 2018.”

Let’s get realistic about this point.  Nevada has a total population of 2,998,039; with a median home owner value of $191,600.  The median household income is $53,094.  The per capita income is $27,253.   We’ve covered Nevada tax filers previously, with the following result:

1,350,730 Nevadans filed income tax returns in 2015.   27.21% of the Nevada filers reported adjusted gross income between $25,000 and $50,000.  13.5% of filers reported AGI between $50,000 and $75,000. 8.15% reported AGI between $75,000 and $100,000.  Another 10.22% reported an AGI between $100,000 and $200,000.  From this point on the percentage of filers by category drops, those reporting AGI between $200,000 and $500,000 were 2.48% of the filers; those reporting AGI between $500,000 and $1 million were 0.43%, and those reporting over $1 million AGI made up 0.26%.

It doesn’t take any form of complicated arithmetic to discover that giving tax breaks to the top tier income tax filers doesn’t apply to all that many people in the state of  Nevada (or anywhere else for that matter.)  While the definition of  “middle class” seems to vary, the most commonly accepted definition by income asserts  it is  those households  earning between $46,960 and $140,900 annually.  Nevada’s median income ($53,094) fits within that range.   The majority of the benefits included in the current tax scheme do NOT accrue to the majority of Nevada’s income tax filers.

And then there’s the CBO analysis:

“According to the CBO’s calculations, individuals in every tax bracket below $75,000 will experience a year in which they record a net loss — meaning they’ll pay more in taxes, experience diminished services, or both — by 2027.  The lowest income groups will face significant overall losses, and those making between $10,000 and $20,000 a year will face the biggest losses. The CBO estimates that in 2027, taxpayers from this bracket will see an overall loss equivalent to $788.10.”

If ever there was an example of Reverse Robin Hood, this tax scheme would serve nicely.  This is a middle class tax cut only if the middle class is defined in extremely illogical ways — as if $250,000 AGI was anywhere in the “middle.”

The tax plan make corporate tax cuts permanent and individual/family tax cuts temporary.  This is a recipe for disaster in 2027 when someone is asked to pony up the difference between realistic spending and unrealistic assumptions about economic growth.

The tax plan is underpinned by the assumption corporate tax cuts will yield increased wages and increased employment.   A common Republican argument of the moment is that our recovery from the last recession was sluggish, and tax cuts would have made it better.  Another argument could as easily be made:  The recovery was not as robust as it could have been because Republicans refused to enact the kinds of stimulus spending that would have both improved our national infrastructure and boosted consumer expenditures.  Republicans screamed “deficit spending” and “national debt” to the heavens, a tune they now seem to have forgotten as they vote in favor of a $1.4 trillion deficit.

The tax scheme also ignore the obvious.  How many times in this modest little blog have we said: There is ONE and ONLY  ONE reason for any firm to hire anyone at any time — a business only hires personnel when the staffing levels are insufficient to meet the demand for goods or services with an acceptable level of customer/client satisfaction. Regular readers should be able to recite this from memory by now.

We’ve also mused about other ways corporations spend their windfalls — mergers and acquisitions, increased dividends, stock buy-backs, increased investment in financial revenue streams, etc.  It’s not like wage increases and plant expansion are the only options.  In fact, for corporations, especially those for whom  ‘shareholder value” is the driving focus, increasing wages and capital expenditures is the last likely option.  Shareholders are focused on getting a maximum return on their investments and this is not enhanced by increasing labor costs.

The tax plan is riddled with benefits for the wealthy that defy common sense.  For example: Carried interest, increasing the estate tax exemption (Fun Fact: Of the 5,460 estates slated to pay the estate tax this year only 80 of them are small businesses or farms.)  More examples?  There’s the alternative minimum tax which was enacted  to address a concern which may be resurrected by this tax bill:

“Congress enacted the AMT in 1969 amid widespread outrage that many wealthy people paid little or nothing to Washington thanks to clever use of loopholes. But because income thresholds for being subject to the tax weren’t indexed to inflation (until 2012, which didn’t make up for the decades of lost ground), many middle-class people got sucked into paying it. ”

The tax plan is only part of an overall plan to Kill The Beast.  Or, make government so small it could be drowned in a bathtub?  Those who aren’t convinced by now that the next move by this Norquistian Congress is to go after Social Security, Medicare, and Medicaid haven’t been listening to GOP leadership.   Expect the drumbeat of commentary on “entitlements” to increase by leaps and bounds — We have a Huge Deficit! (Which they created) and now We have to cut government spending.  Remember: They are called entitlements because you are entitled to the benefits you’ve been paying for with your payroll taxes all along.

Pro Tip:  This assessment of voters was made in 2006, and not all that much has changed since –

“Regular voters also are older than those who are not registered. More than four-in-ten of those ages 50 and older (42%) are regular voters, about double the proportion of 18-29 year-olds (22%). Among those between the ages of 30 and 49, more than a third (35%) reliably go to the polls ­ a fact that is consistent with previous research that found voting is a habit acquired with age.”

Now, who is most likely to be quite concerned with saving Social Security and Medicare? There’s a reason  Social Security and Medicare form the third rail of American politics.

A final point.  The Republicans have given away their cards.  When Democrats called for increased spending on health programs, Republicans pointed to the deficit. When Democrats called for increased infrastructure spending, Republicans pointed to the deficit.  Now, the deficit (all $1.4 trillion of it) is the responsibility of the Republicans.  They’ve given away the revenue.  Now the Democrats have the Tax the Corporations card in hand.  And who among the GOP wants to run on a platform of saving those cash-hoarding multi-national corporations?  Good luck with that.

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Filed under Economy, Nevada economy, Politics, Taxation

The Amazing Invisible Infrastructure Plan

On December 7, 2017  the White House said it was going to release its infrastructure plan in January 2018.   As usual from this administration it’s vague:

“The president aims to release a detailed document of principles, rather than a drafted bill, for upgrading roads, bridges, airports and other public works before the Jan. 30 State of the Union address, said the administration official, who spoke on condition of anonymity because the details aren’t public. Naysayers should wait until they see the details and how the legislative process unfolds, the official said.”

And, there’s a kicker:

The guiding principle of the plan is to shift responsibility for funding from the federal government to states and localities — which own or control most assets — by providing incentives for them to generate their own sustainable funding sources and work with the private sector.

Now, how do we translate “generate their own sustainable funding sources?”   The easiest way is to say “privatization.”   As in work with private corporations for the construction of toll roads, toll bridges, increased airport fees, and other forms of “sustainable funding sources?”

This notion is buttressed by the President’s budget.   In the aftermath of the Washington Train Wreck the President was probably ill-advised to tout his infrastructure “plan,”

“For that matter, if Trump wants to talk about his interest in this issue, perhaps we can start with his White House budget plan, which called for slashing federal aid to U.S. rail systems, including a dramatic cut in grants for Amtrak routes.

“As for the president calling on policymakers to “quickly” approve the White House infrastructure plan, now seems like a good time to point out that it does not currently exist.  In early April, Trump boasted, “[W]e’re going to have a very big infrastructure plan. And bill. And it’s going to come soon. And I think we’ll have support from Democrats and Republicans.” That was eight months ago. There’s still no plan.”

So, this week we have a middle class tax cut that doesn’t help the middle class nearly as much as it assists corporations and wealthy Americans.   And, now we have an infrastructure “plan” which doesn’t fund infrastructure.  Oh well, what we seem to have is an administration remarkably unwilling to govern and a Congress equally uninterested in representing their constituents.

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