Tag Archives: Trump

Cases, Clues, and the Misinterpretation of Justice: Trumpian Edition

In 1989 five youngsters from Harlem were arrested as suspects in a Central Park rape case.  They were convicted based on coerced confessions.  They were later exonerated after the collection and analysis of DNA evidence, which demonstrated the identity of the actual criminal.  [NYT] There are several reasons to remember the Central Park Five Case, including the interrogation tactics of the time, the proclivity of the public to assign potential guilt based on race and ethnicity.  However,  there’s another reaction we should remember because it keeps inserting itself into conversations about our politics and our judicial system.

The reaction came from one Donald J. Trump, who famously took out a full page ad in the New York Times calling for the boys’ execution.   Trump defended his ads later during an interview with Larry King:

“I don’t see anything inciteful, I am strongly in favor of the death penalty,” Trump told King. “I am also in favor bringing back police forces that can do something instead of turning their back because every quality lawyer that represents people that are trouble, the first thing they do is start shouting police brutality, etc.” [CNN]

In light of Trump’s continual public comments about locking people up — Sec. Hillary Clinton should be locked up; former FBI Director James Comey should be locked up — as Lawrence O’Donnell’s program reminds us this evening,  perhaps if we reflect on the Central Park Five instance we can discern a pattern that’s been there all along.

Trump’s first line in the King interview is revealing.  He had then, and may not now, have any idea that what he did in placing his advertising in New York City newspapers was a racist reaction to the charging of Black and Hispanic boys in the rape of a white woman.  It’s hard not to miss the lynch mentality in Trump’s call to bring back the death penalty.  He said he saw nothing “inciteful” in his behavior, asserting by implication if he doesn’t see it as “inciteful” then it must not be.  So, not only do we have the lynch mentality at play, it is exacerbated by an incapacity for self reflection and analysis.

Perhaps it’s a crowd pleaser on the hustings to get the “lock her up” chant going, or to point out members of the press for mob vilification; but, since Trump himself doesn’t see it as “inciteful” it can’t be perceived that way by other observers.

He is a ” retributivist,” as defined as: “A retributivist is somebody who believes in retribution. That is, as the principal purpose or justification for punishment. Very simply, [convicted criminals] deserve it. [They are] punished for the sake of justice.” [ARPubMedia] “I am strongly in favor of the death penalty,” he told King.   Trump’s consideration of the Central Park Five Case obviously extends no further than there were some young minority males who allegedly raped a white woman, and thus their crime demands retribution at the most serious level.  By extension, if Trump believes someone has done an injustice (especially to him?) then there must be retribution — lock’em up.

Since Trump’s predilection for word salad encompasses several decades let’s take the next sentence in pieces. “I am also in favor bringing back police forces that can do something…”  This portion of the statement might be interpreted as the complaint of a person trapped in a Film Noir world of rubber hose interrogations and the extra-judicial antics of hero-private eyes.  Phillip Chandler would be proud?  Except in many of the film noir classics the police are stumbling bumbling characters, who are relatively inept in comparison to the private detectives.  There’s another model, which at first glance appears more attuned to the Trumpian world view — the G Men.  Trump seems to like the “tough cop” imagery descending from this era?

This is Your FBI” was a self-congratulatory radio series broadcast from 1945 to 1953.  The G-Men always got their man; the villains were nearly always male. “I Was A Communist for the FBI” ran during 1952 and 1953.   The spirit of McCarthyism got a boost from the stories of Matt Cvetic.  Then, of course, there was Dragnet, and the launch of more police procedurals. These pre-date Trump’s formative years in which he’d have been directly aware of the narratives, but a combination of “pro-police” attitudes and the subsequent challenges to police (read: white, male) domination during the late 1960’s could certainly have formed an authoritarian perspective.  Perhaps Trump absorbed the vestiges of the old narratives and the delusion that “toughness” is a matter of physicality.

Thence we move to: “…instead of turning their back …”  this remark seems to indicate the police weren’t actually policing.  It’s difficult to contend the police were the heroes, always getting their “man,” with the notion that the police could “get their men” if … they weren’t restrained in some artificial manner.

“…because every quality lawyer that represents people that are trouble, the first thing they do is start shouting police brutality, etc.”   Here we have the artificial barrier Trump sees preventing effective policing.

There is no evidence to indicate that initial defense strategies involve challenging the nature of the arrest.  Actually, more common defenses are that (1) the wrong person has been detained; (2) the person acted in self defense; (3) evidence was illegally seized; (4) arrests were made based on unreliable witnesses or informants; and (5) the state cannot prove the case beyond a reasonable doubt. [CDcom] However, Trump isn’t exactly known for his reliance on observable evidence. He’s assuming that because he disagrees with the opposition to heavy-handed police tactics this must be a serious problem, and if he believes it then it must be true.  At this point the “etc” may be important.

Since we know that “police brutality” isn’t the first resort of criminal defense attorneys,  the “etc” could be a clue.  “Et cetera” can be very useful for truncating long lists, or it can be extremely sloppy, standing in place of any clarification of a series of contentions.  In this instance we’re probably justified in believing the latter.

Why, then, are we surprised when Trump inveighs against his political opponents in terms which repeat his declarations against the Central Park Five?  No evidence is necessary — membership in a minority group will do; opposition to authority (especially his own?) is automatically suspect; a mythologized version of policing is embraced; and it sounds ‘tough’ to call for someone to be locked up even if there is no legal justification.

And, so we need to be watchful should we become inured to the outrageous nature of calls for extra-judicial punishment for political opponents.  This is serious stuff, on display since at least the Central Park Five advertising, and should be taken seriously.

 

 


 

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The Good Old Days? White House Fights the Free Market

The current occupant of the Oval Office would have me believe he’s The Champion of Small Business In The Face Of The Evil Empire of….Amazon.  Spare me.  (And, NO, the USPS isn’t going broke because of the shipping contract the company has with Amazon. It has much more to do with the Republican supported and enacted restrictions on its pension plan, which require inordinate prepayments into the plan. [IG Report]) So, returning to the topic at hand, let’s start with the proposition that nostalgia isn’t conducive to successful retail marketing.

A Little History 

Extrapolated into the realm of the ridiculous, there was a time before Macy’s and Bloomingdales (1858, 1861) when shoppers roamed among small retailers along commercial corridors.  Add the installations of elevators and escalators and the retailers could further “departmentalize” their offerings.  Surely there were objections from smaller retailers at the time, and there were probably others who decried the Memphis Piggly-Wiggly grocery store’s 1916 decision to let customers get their own items from the shelves rather than have a clerk do the accumulation.  However, it’s unimaginable to give any credence to the notion that innovations in retailing are necessarily nefarious.

The department stores faced competition beginning in 1872 from Aaron Montgomery Ward whose catalog advertised shipping via Express rail services, and from Richard Sears. Their catalog sales were boosted by the decision in 1913 to have the Post Office deliver domestic packages. [AtlasObs]  Again,  to assert that companies like Amazon, which depend on Internet ordering systems are somehow essentially different from the innovations adopted by Ward and Sears is risible.  What we might be hearing from the White House is the lament for brick and mortar retailers who rent property?

Another Change in Retail Habits

We’ve moved from shopping along Main Street, to shopping from catalogs, to shopping from online catalogs.  And, yes, Amazon is now a big presence in the retail system:

“The simplest explanation for the demise of brick-and-mortar shops is that Amazon is eating retail. Between 2010 and last year, Amazon’s sales in North America quintupled from $16 billion to $80 billion. Sears’ revenue last year was about $22 billion, so you could say Amazon has grown by three Sears in six years. Even more remarkable, according to several reports, half of all U.S. households are now Amazon Prime subscribers.” [Atlantic]

However, this is an over-simplification which goes nowhere toward explaining how a chain store founded in 1962 in Arkansas has grown into a 2,000,000+ employer, or why Target seems to be holding its own in the Big Box Store category.  Notably, both Walmart and Target have an Internet operation.

We can lament the demise of the brick and mortar retailers, but as the Atlantic article points out, part of the hard, sad, truth is that we simply built too many of them.

“The number of malls in the U.S. grew more than twice as fast as the population between 1970 and 2015, according to Cowen and Company’s research analysts. By one measure of consumerist plentitude—shopping center “gross leasable area”—the U.S. has 40 percent more shopping space per capita than Canada, five times more the the U.K., and 10 times more than Germany. So it’s no surprise that the Great Recession provided such a devastating blow: Mall visits declined 50 percent between 2010 and 2013, according to the real-estate research firm Cushman and Wakefield, and they’ve kept falling every year since.” [Atlantic]

Toss in a measure of stagnating wages and decreased levels of discretionary spending and it’s little wonder the mall traffic is declining.

“After adjusting for inflation, wages are only 10 percent higher in 2017 than they were in 1973, with annual real wage growth just below 0.2 percent.[1] The U.S. economy has experienced long-term real wage stagnation and a persistent lack of economic progress for many workers.” [Brookings]

Those “many workers” are deciding the Big Box, and online bargain offers, are preferable to mall browsing.   We overbuilt malls, organized them around “anchors” which are looking at declining sales from Big Box, discounters, and online shopping, and thus shouldn’t be surprised when the free market works.

That the current president is upset with the reportage of the Washington Post, owned by the same man who founded Amazon, is no surprise either.  However, that doesn’t fully explain his antagonism which may also be a function of being a real estate developer, and a real estate developer who seems to be freighted with altogether too much nostalgia for those “Good Old Days” when we’d take the transit or pile into the family wagon to shop on site.   There have been major innovations in retailing since the first butcher opened his first shop and accepted payment in cowrie shells.

The Nevada Situation

Obviously, the largest factor in the Nevada is “Accommodations and Food Service,” read: Casinos and restaurants; but the second largest employment category is good old fashioned retailing.  As of the SBA’s 2017 report, there are 140,879 people employed by retailers; of this figure 39,947  are employed by small businesses, or about 28%. [SBA pdf]

There’s reason for cautious optimism in southern Nevada with regard to wages and spending, but …

“The Las Vegas MSA’s 12MMA of average weekly earnings (not inflation-adjusted) went up by another $3 in November. This was the 4th month in a row nominal average weekly earnings rose by $3, continuing a steady streak of growth started just over 3 years ago in September 2014. On a YOY basis, the 12MMA was up $37 (5.0%) from November 2016.

When considered on an inflation-adjusted, YOY basis, earnings rose by 2.8% in November 2017 compared to November 2016, reaching $669 (in 2007 dollars). This was an increase of $1 from October. Las Vegas’ average weekly real wage is now $82 (10.9%) below the most recent inflation-adjusted peak of $751 that occurred over 10 years ago in August 2007. The trough occurred in February 2012 at just over $616, so Las Vegas remains much closer to the trough than the peak.” [StatPak]

If we’re looking for significantly increased demand to boost the southern Nevada retail sector further, something is going to have to happen to those average weekly wages.  The picture for northern Nevada is slightly more optimistic:

“While Washoe County’s economy continues to benefit from rising taxable retail sales, the YOY growth rate has fallen considerably from a year ago. In November 2017, the rate of growth was 6.2% YOY, or 3.2 points lower than the year period ending in November 2016. However, when compared to the month prior, it is down 0.2 points. Taxable retail sales reached $686.8 million in November, having already surpassed, in March 2016, the previous peak on a nominal basis (not inflation-adjusted). As the chart shows, Washoe’s taxable sales growth is very near the state average at just 0.4 points below.

Success in business attraction and retention is driving the region’s economy and is the primary cause of growth in taxable retail sales, though increasing visitation has also contributed.”  [Statpak]

One other factor to be considered before pronouncing Amazon as the harbinger of demise for retail malls is good old fashioned demographics. Neighborhoods change, people move, and the “centrality” of a mall constructed in the late 1960’s or 1970’s may not reflect the residential and traffic patterns 40-50 years later.

And yes, I remember shopping for vinyl records in Park Lane Mall ages ago… when I was still playing vinyl records… before I shifted to CDs … before I downloaded … anyone who expects (or wants) retail endeavors to remain constant in the tides of time will have about as much success as King Canute attempting to command the liquid form of tides.

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So Long Facebook

I’d mused about shutting down the Facebook feed (page) before now, but this item from Financial Times sealed the deal:

“Facebook has had time to prepare, after all. It first learnt of the allegation that Cambridge Analytica had broken its rules on using data from the network in 2015. However, Cambridge Analytica has denied using Facebook data in its model. Facebook has more recently been assailed by waves of criticism — amply described in a recent investigation by Wired magazine — about its role in the crisis of fake news and election influencing.”

Why would I be upset about this?  Here’s more from the New York Times on Cambridge Analytica:

“The firm had secured a $15 million investment from Robert Mercer, the wealthy Republican donor, and wooed his political adviser, Stephen K. Bannon, with the promise of tools that could identify the personalities of American voters and influence their behavior. But it did not have the data to make its new products work.

So the firm harvested private information from the Facebook profiles of more than 50 million users without their permission, according to former Cambridge employees, associates and documents, making it one of the largest data leaks in the social network’s history. The breach allowed the company to exploit the private social media activity of a huge swath of the American electorate, developing techniques that underpinned its work on President Trump’s campaign in 2016.”

There’s more from the Times here.  And more from the New York Daily News.  And from Wired.  And, what took Facebook so long to deal with this issue? The answers from the Atlantic.

Techdirt explains why this time is “different:”

Of course, there is one major difference between the Obama one and the Cambridge Analytica one — which involves the level of transparency. With the Obama campaign, people knew they were giving their data (and friend data) to the cause of re-electing Obama. Cambridge Analytica got its data by having a Cambridge academic (who the new Guardian story revealed for the first time is also appointed to a position at St. Petersburg University) set up an app that was used to collect much of this data, and misled Facebook by telling them it was purely for academic purposes, when the reality is that it was setup and directly paid for by Cambridge Analytica with the intent of sucking up that data for Cambridge Analytica’s database. Is that enough to damn the whole thing? Perhaps.

So, this will be the past post that automatically goes to the DB Facebook page.  I do apologize if this presents an inconvenience for some, but I really don’t feel I can use, support, or continue to participate in a platform from which data can be mined without proper notice and with the common courtesy to inform users of the collection activities.

Thanks for reading.

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No Toleration for Intolerance, and other matters

No, I don’t feel one tiny little bit of need to be one tiny little bit magnanimous or even a tiny little bit of need to be tolerant of the Oaf in the Oval Office — or the politicians who enable him.

I feel no need to be tolerant of those who rally the uglies.  The uglies are those who think calling out African American congressional representatives (see: Frederica Wilson and Maxine Waters)  and addressing them with epithets is appropriate from an Oval Office occupant.  And, what’s with calling out Jemele Hill of ESPN?  What do these three have in common?  Oh, yeah, I get it.  It’s obvious.  The Oaf’s performance in Pennsylvania was enough to curdle any and all positive feelings toward a once proud office and a once proud political party.  It’s OK to be outraged, in fact if a person isn’t outraged then it’s time for a reality check.

I feel no need to be tolerant of a government which cannot seem to find voice when our closest ally on this planet is told that a nerve agent attack in Salisbury “looks” like the Russians did it, but “we” will wait for a conversation with Prime Minister May before making a statement.  WE have already heard from the Prime Minister. She was all over the TV landscape yesterday with strong words in their Parliament. She was concise. She was forceful. She was measured but emphatic.  WE can take her word for it. She doesn’t need to reveal sources and methods in order for US to believe her.  In fact, I used up my blogging time yesterday watching BBC News, and following their news and analysis.  There wasn’t anything nebulous about the coverage.  However, WE have an Oval Office Occupant who can’t bring himself to say anything negative about one of the most egregious thugs on this planet.   Why it is even necessary to ask: Now, will we implement the sanctions against Russian passed almost unanimously by Congress last year?

I feel no need to take his sycophants like Rep. Devin Nunes (R-Moscow Oblast) seriously.  Rep. Nunes is perfectly free to make a complete fool of himself with his issuance of a report clearly intended to exonerate the Oval Office Oaf.  Except it won’t.  Representative Nunes evidently believes it is more important to protect the OOO than to determine to what extent the current mis-administration was aligned with Russian efforts to interfere in our electoral processes and institutions.  Rep. Nunes is marching alongside those who find it impossible to conduct serious inquiries and thereby suggest serious legislation to resolve problems which led to the Russian interference.

I feel no need to support an administration the prime characteristic of which is the cacophony of a one man band playing off key and out of rhythm.   The Oval Office Oaf doesn’t even have the courage to fire people face to face.  He sends a body-guard to fire the former Director of the FBI, he sends a tweet to fire a Secretary of State, he is a coward.  He may want “conflict” but he can’t handle confrontation.

Item:  He conducted a skit about DACA at the White House.  He was all for a compromise, he would take the political heat, he would sign a bi-partisan bill. Until — he got a bi-partisan bill delivered to him for his approval and suddenly he didn’t want to take the political heat, and he caved to the racist opponents of immigration reform.

Item: He conducted a skit concerning gun reform at the White House.  He was all for several proposals which might reduce the lethality of mass shootings. Until — he met with the leadership of the NRA, and suddenly he was carrying their water in oversize pails.  There’s precious little reason for anyone to visit the White House to present proposals on most important subjects because the Oval Office Oaf will make comments and express concern only to reverse himself faster than a used car lot inflatable air dancer in a hurricane.

I feel no need to be tolerant of an administration beset with moral and ethical issues. Granted there have been embarrassments in all administrations.  However, this one is beyond the range of our previous imagination.  One year into an administration and key members can’t get a security clearance?  At least one person who was under investigation for “serious financial crimes,” was fired from the White House only to find immediate employment with the re-election campaign this week.  Who hires people who are under investigation for “serious financial crimes?” Four Cabinet officials have been ‘reprimanded’ for their questionable travel and expenditures. Four, and it’s only 400+ days into an administration.

Presidents need not be saints, and Heaven knows a few of ours haven’t been, but pay offs to a porn star?  That’s a new one.  Yes, supporters of James Blaine in the 1884 election would chant “Ma Ma Where’s My Pa?”  The rejoinder from advocates of Grover Cleveland’s candidacy was “Gone to the White House, Ha Ha Ha.”  However, none of our former Presidents faced allegations of sexual misconduct from 19 women.

And then there’s the money.

“…an investigation by The New York Times into the financial maze of Mr. Trump’s real estate holdings in the United States reveals that companies he owns have at least $650 million in debt — twice the amount than can be gleaned from public filings he has made as part of his bid for the White House. The Times’s inquiry also found that Mr. Trump’s fortunes depend deeply on a wide array of financial backers, including one he has cited in attacks during his campaign.” [NYT]

His claim that he’s had “nothing to do with Russia” is pure nonsense.   For all the salacious interest in the Oval Office Oaf’s sexual misconduct — the more fruitful segments of current investigations are likely encapsulated in the Nixon era maxim “follow the money.”

In the mean time, I do not intend to “follow the President,” and I do not wish him well as he undercuts environmental protections, consumer protections, financial consumer protections; our standing among nations, our relationships with our allies, and our prestige in the world.  Nor do I intend to grant him any accolades for continuing his divisive, irrational, and racist rhetoric.  One campaign filled with that was sufficient.

I do take some comfort knowing that 65,853,516 people in this country may agree with me.

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Dear Mr. President: You Flunk (Sophomore General Business)

One can only imagine Mrs. Barnberner, imaginary teacher of high school sophomore level General Business grading the Oval Office Occupant’s essay — all 280 characters of it — on international trade.  “F.”

What’s worse is that he thinks he’s on to some great thing … a trade war… a war to rectify the “advantages” taken by foreign countries in our trading relations.  Dear Mr. President, you obviously don’t have a clue about what a trade deficit means, and that it can mean different things in different contexts.  Let me make this simple for you:

Example, after purchasing a small mending plate with screws from my local hardware store I have a $3.49 trade deficit with the enterprise.  I bought the little package, paid for it, and did not sell a single thing to them.  Therefore, I have a 100% trade deficit with them.  This is NOT a bad thing.  I do not wish to manufacture my own metal mending plates.  I do not wish to manufacture my own screws.  I wish to buy these from a reliable, legitimate, source.  I will pay them in coin of the realm and go home to my “wreck it and run” project.

Therefore, one cannot assert, with any level of economic competency, that trade deficits are a negative in all contexts.   That said, there are other reasons you, POTUS*, have flunked this exam.

When discussing sales it’s important to remember that we measure both Goods and Services.

“Trump said we have an $800 billion deficit. It sounds like he was actually alluding to how we bought “$810 billion more in foreign goods than other countries bought from the U.S.” as the AP cites from the Census Bureau. That leaves out our $244 billion trade surplus in services.” [jal]

Please recall, sir, commercial enterprises encompass both goods and services.  Goods are those things which are mined or harvested (primary industries) or things that are made from raw materials (secondary industries), AND there are tertiary (wait strike that, to keep it easy for you Mr. POTUS* let’s call them ‘thirdish’) industries and sectors –> financial, legal, transport, consultancy…etc.

Your automobile example is fraught with inconsistencies:

“TRUMP: “If the E.U. wants to further increase their already massive tariffs and barriers on U.S. companies doing business there, we will simply apply a Tax on their Cars which freely pour into the U.S. They make it impossible for our cars (and more) to sell there. Big trade imbalance!” — tweet Saturday.”

Where to begin?   Let’s start with the fact that Americans bought about 17.2 million motor vehicles last year.  The top selling item (15% of all sales) was the Ford F-series pickup truck line.  Europeans are not as enamored of gas guzzling V-8 engine, half and three-quarter ton pickups.   The price for a gallon of gas in Paris, France right now is about $5.54 per gallon.  [Money.cnn] A person can buy gasoline for $2.21 per gallon at the EZ Mart in Paris, Texas at last report. [Gasbuddy]  Getting the picture yet Sir?

For someone who makes much noise about being an international business tycoon, you Sire, are demonstrating an alarming lack of cognizance of  the structure of retail markets.  Europeans are beginning to purchase items in the Ford Ranger series [MFool] because the smaller, lighter, vehicles are more practical in their home markets. Lesson?  If we are not manufacturing products people want to buy in their home countries, it doesn’t have to be about taxes and tariffs — it could just as easily be a function of retail market interests.  You cannot make a Chevy Silverado or Ford F-150 as popular in down town Paris, France as it is in Paris, TX, just because the tariffs are lower — because you cannot make some “rues” wider in Paris and the price of petrol cheaper.

Not only is the automobile argument risible, but the general idea that trade wars are fun things to play with is equally ludicrous.

The president’s argument, in essence, is that high tariffs will force other countries to relent quickly on what he sees as unfair trading practices, and that will wipe out the trade gap and create factory jobs. But the record shows that tariffs, while they may help certain domestic manufacturers, can come at a broad cost. They can raise prices for consumers and businesses because companies pass on at least some of the higher costs of imports and imported materials to their customers. A trade war is also bound to mean that other countries will erect higher barriers of their own against U.S. goods and services, thereby punishing American exporters. [YahFin]

Since the POTUS* is talking about manufacturing, let’s stay there for a moment.  The US exports approximately $533 billion in capital goods annually.  These include aircraft (think Boeing), $57 billion in industrial machinery, $48 billion in semi-conductors, $43 billion in electrical apparatus (think GE), and $38 billion in telecommunication equipment. [Bal]  Now, since by their very definition, trade “wars” involve retaliation, imagine the retaliation impact on GE and Boeing?

A far better, but obviously more complex, response would be for the US to develop a MANUFACTURING POLICY.  What a concept!

And, back to my soybeans again, not all American exports are manufacturing.  There’s no rule in a trade war that tit has to be for tat.  Or, that tariffs on cars and trucks are matched with tariffs on our cars and trucks; the reaction could just as easily be on major American agricultural exports. Download and take a gander at the USDA yoy and monthly export spreadsheet located here.  There are some major amounts which should be noted. Look at grains and feeds, soybeans, red meats and products, and animal feeds.  There’s NO rule that says an increased tariff on steel and aluminum can’t be matched by increased tariffs on sorghum, soybeans, and animal feeds. This is not a difficult concept. It is, however, a segment in the overall lesson that no, trade wars are not easy to win. There really are no winners.

And we haven’t even explored some of the more complex elements in international trade policy — just the basics. The basics someone who actually stayed awake for 50% of the time in sophomore General Business class should understand.

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Not One More Word About the GOP Is Good For Business

No, I don’t want to hear one more word about how Republicans are “good for business.”  Not after this week.  First, we got that Tax Scam, the benefits of which went to corporations and the top 1% of income earners.  That is only superficially good for business — it did precious little for consumers, the ones who actually make the US economy run.  Corporations (we learned in high school General Business classes) make a profit when people buy their products or use their services.  The Tax Scam benefited the Investors, not necessarily the “business” in totality.   A system in which we continually cut corporate taxes in order to protect corporate revenue/profits and put the burden on consumers is a recipe for disaster.

Then the occupant of the Oval Office throws a tantrum and announced he is about to put 25% tariffs on imported steel and 10% on aluminum.  If this is about a trade war with China, he’s got it exactly backwards — we get more aluminum from China than we do steel.  And, now he’s finding out his steely blast will hurt Canada, “The top supplier to the U.S. in 2017 was Canada, followed by Brazil, South Korea, Mexico and Russia. Other notables include Turkey, Japan and Taiwan.” [MrktWtch]   The reaction to the announcement is/was predictable:

“Trump has declared that the U.S. will impose steep tariffs on steel and aluminum imports, escalating tensions with China and other trading partners and raising the prospect of higher prices for American consumers and companies. With tensions rising over international trade, stocks closed sharply lower on Wall Street. China on Friday expressed “grave concern.” [WAPT]

While the tariffs may have an effect on aluminum importation, the damage will be downstream:

“But industries that use aluminum say there’s an ugly trade-off: Manufacturing jobs in the auto and aerospace industries might go away if the cost of aluminum rises too much. The aluminum smelting jobs that Trump wants to save account for 3 percent of the total aluminum industry jobs in the United States, according to the Aluminum Association. The other 97 percent of jobs (about 156,000) are in downstream industries that take the raw metal and make something new with it.” [WaPo]

When former President George W. Bush slapped tariffs on foreign steel (2002) we lost approximately 200,000 jobs.

“A study funded by steel producers that supported the tariffs found that the tariffs brought back 16,000 steel jobs. A study funded by steel-consuming companies that opposed the tariff found that rising prices caused 200,000 job losses, concentrated in the metal manufacturing, machinery and transportation equipment sectors, though it noted that it was not clear how much of the price increases were caused by he tariffs.” [Star.com]

The job loss numbers are disputed, ranging from about 43,000 to 200,000, but no one appears to be arguing there won’t be some downstream (and midstream) damage from the imposition of tariffs.  Nor are major economic voices saying the Bush tariffs did all that much good.  The Bush tariffs were removed after 21 months.  And then there’s that “it’ll be easy” part.

Trade wars aren’t good for anyone.  One pithy summary asserts prices will go up, American businesses will lose sales, and American trading partners are also among our biggest lenders [CNN] and thus may be less willing to purchase our bonds — remember that budget busting tax scam passed by the GOP controlled Congress and signed by an enthusiastic executive?  Lovely, now that we’re racking up a mountain of indebtedness as a result of the Tax Scam, we’re ticking off our biggest lenders?  In what world does this make any sense?

So, we have a Tax Scam that benefits a small investor class and backhands 99% of American income earners, a tariff plan that could easily cost more jobs than it saves.  It’ll be jeans, bourbon, and motorcycles … more a signal to Congressional and Republican leadership I’d think… but I’ll cling to my opinion that the real damage will be to American agriculture.

“The tariffs announced by the administration will put the interests of other domestic industries over farmers,” American Soybean Association President John Heisdorffer, an Iowa soy grower, said in a news release.  “Prior to today’s (March 1) announcement, China has indicated that it may retaliate against U.S. soybean imports, which would be devastating to U.S. soy growers. Our competitors in Brazil and Argentina are all too happy to pick up supplying the Chinese market.” [Fence Post]

But wait, we’re not finished.  There’s S. 2155 coming up in the US Senate — a bill to roll back some of the reforms included in the Dodd Frank Act, enacted in the wake of the Housing Bubble Debacle.  That’s right — the current mis-administration wants to reopen the Wall Street Casino and let the “investors” play the banking games which caused the last economic collapse.

Considering these three examples of incompetency and ineptitude, please — oh please — spare me any more renditions of “Republicans are Good for Business.”

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Filed under Economy, Politics

The Great Safety Distraction

In December 2015 the Nevada Legislative Counsel Bureau issued an update on “Nevada Crime and Corrections.” (pdf)  What we discover from this brief table of statistics is that between 2009 and 2013 the percentage change in the number of crimes committed dropped by 4%.  We had a relatively high rate of violent crimes per 100,000 persons (4th nationally) but the violent crime rate in Nevada between 2009 and 2013 declined by 16.2%, while the national violent crime rate declined by 14.8%.  Somehow these numbers make the drumbeat of references to violent criminal immigrants ring a bit hollow.  Street  gangs are a problem, but the problem may not be as dramatic as proponents of immigration restriction infer.

The Las Vegas Sun published an article in June 2015 with the dramatic headline that there were approximately 20,000 street gang members in the Las Vegas metropolitan area.  The population total for the Las Vegas area in 2015 was estimated at 2,111,000.  [data]  The Las Vegas economic agencies inform us that 45% of the Clark County population is white, 10.3% is African-American, and 30.9% are Hispanic/Latino, and another 9.3% are of Asian descent.  However, as the Sun article suggests it’s hard to equate gang membership to immigration or ethnic status in any definitive way, because each demographic group has its own gangs.

The street gangs identified in Las Vegas tend to be associated with the old standard Crips and Bloods — the Crips having developed in Los Angeles between the mid 1960’s and 1971.  The Bloods developing in response to the increasing influence of the Crips.  White gangs are more difficult to track in terms of membership because they dislike calling themselves a gang, although it’s hard to differentiate their violence and drug trafficking from that of their African American cohorts.  The Hispanic street gangs show a similar connection to California as those of the African American gangs.

The major group appears to be the Surenos (Southerners, as in Southern California) opposed by the Nortenos (Northerners, also from California), and their associated;  added to by a Las Vegas oriented group the Barrio Naked City gang. [Sun]  Notice that MS-13, the group often cited by the current President is not among these major gangs in the Las Vegas area.  One reason may well be that law enforcement has depleted their  leadership. [LVnow]  They’ve been a target of Department of Homeland Security and Department of Justice for the past two years.  The most recent estimate indicates that there are about 150 MS 13 gang members in the Las Vegas area.  We now enter the realm of conflation.

It is extremely difficult to definitively state that US immigration policy has a direct correlation to gang activity, especially in terms of minors and young people entering the country.  DHS has been asked for statistics/data on unaccompanied minors who are found to be gang members, but did not respond (Politifact).  A person who has been charged with a crime in a foreign country is not eligible for asylum in the U.S. Another issue is that the officials aren’t breaking down what is meant by “gang members or suspected gang members.” Some instances of the gang label have not been substantiated by immigration enforcement.  [See the Savaria v. Sessions case.  Also: ACLU, and ACLU petition pdf]  If we conflated “confirmed” and “suspected” memberships then the problems associated with gangs are automatically exaggerated. [Politifact] Yet another problem with the conflation is that no one appears certain that minors who came to the US came as gang members or were recruited after they arrived.   [Politifact]  The Politifact article summarizes the conflation problem:

“DHS, Sessions, and Trump are trying to shift the focus of immigration enforcement to MS-13 in order to repeatedly drill in the message that immigrants are dangerous criminals,” Ahmed said.

But many gang members were born in the United States, and gangs form in conditions of marginality, which also exist in other countries, said Wolf, the researcher with CIDE in Mexico.

“There is no doubt that MS-13 has engaged in serious and heinous forms of violence, devastating families and communities. But the emphasis on immigrants as the source of the gang problem in the United States is misguided,” said David C. Pyrooz, an assistant professor of sociology at the University of Colorado Boulder, whose research includes gangs and criminal networks.  [Politifact]

Of course one of the other dangers in the continual ‘calling out” of a particular (and particularly violent) gang is that public attention is diverted from gangs with larger memberships and which are homegrown.

MEANWHILE!  We have a President who categorically refuses to acknowledge the dangers presented to this country by Russian interference in our political institutions and processes. Who will not acknowledge the warnings given by our CIA, FBI, and national security experts. Who will not enforce the sanctions enacted by the 115th Congress. Who would prefer we focus our attention on the 150 MS 13 gang members in Las Vegas than the KARYN Network pushing the social media “news” on behalf of Russian interests.

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Filed under Crime Rates, Immigration, Nevada politics, Politics