Tag Archives: Trump

Define “A Great Economy”

Our demented President continues to brag about the economy, claiming sole credit for producing good numbers, and (as usual) fabricating many of them.

That said, according to the metrics used by most economists and pundits, the economy is doing quite well.

Republicans running for the House and Senate are trying hard to emphasize that economic “good news,” and one of the more puzzling aspects of the midterm campaigns has been the lack of traction those efforts have generated. Usually, when the economy is humming along, that’s good news for the incumbents; this time, economic arguments don’t seem to be convincing many voters.

The “chattering classes” attribute this to a variety of factors– Trump’s extreme unpopularity, concerns about the negative effects of Trump’s tariffs and the escalating trade war with China. Those things clearly matter, but I have a different explanation: we are using the wrong metrics to measure economic performance . I’ve misplaced the link, but I copied the following paragraph from an MSN website that makes the same point.

A humming national aggregate economy does not necessarily translate into improved livelihoods for most workers. Since the recession, nominal wage growth has been anemic compared to past business cycle peaks. Health-care and education costs keep rising while job benefits disappear. Most households are still in rather precarious financial straits. And there’s still a large population of “shadow” unemployed the official unemployment rate isn’t catching.

According to official statistics, the net worth of the typical American household is still about 20 percent below where it was when Lehman Brothers’ failure triggered the financial crisis. It is true that the gross domestic product is now substantially higher than it was — but a majority of Americans have not seen their incomes improve. And as the above quote notes, the admittedly very good unemployment rate ignores people who have given up looking for work.

If a “good economy” is measured by stock market performance and corporate profitability, then yes, we currently have a good economy. If, however, it is measured both by aggregate indicators and the degree to which citizens share in the prosperity, our economic performance doesn’t look quite so good.

A recent analysis from the Brookings Institution addresses that disconnect. After conceding the positive indicators, the report notes that the labor market continues to struggle.

 Wage growth is still sluggish, with modest gains offset by inflation. Despite recent increases, the share of prime-age Americans in the labor force is still slightly below the pre-Recession level. Levels of unemployment vary widely across places and the population by key demographic characteristics.

The report was generated as part of Brookings annual update of the employment rate gap (which, as the authors explained, differs from the jobs gap), calculating each indicator  by race/ethnicity and level of education. The employment rate gap is the  difference between the demographically adjusted 2007 employment-to-population ratio and the same ratio at other points in time.

As the report concluded,

The Great Recession inflicted economic pain on many American families, but its burden was not equally distributed. Ultimately, the brunt of the Great Recession was borne by those without the protection of postsecondary education. College raises average lifetime earnings, and it also helps insulate workers from economic downturns, providing economic security in the times they need it most. Finally, racial disparities have been less severe in recovery than in the worst years of the Great Recession, though differences in employment rates persist. For the American labor market to be truly healthy, it needs to work for all people—not just some.

A truly “great” economy distributes its largesse widely. It is that often-referenced rising tide that lifts all boats.

When most of the benefits generated by economic productivity enrich only the top 1%–or even the top 10%–that economy is only “great” for the pigs who have monopolized access to the trough.

 

Crazytown

It’s unlikely that Bob Woodward’s new book will move public opinion. The country is so polarized between people who are appalled by Donald Trump and dispirited by the unwillingness of the Congressional GOP to meaningfully confront him, on the one hand, and his white supremcist “base” on the other, that it is hard to see the added documentation doing much to change the political dynamic.

For me, the most difficult aspect of the last few years has been the need to accept an ugly reality: approximately 35% of my fellow Americans enthusiastically support a racist, and are willing to ignore every other distasteful and disgraceful thing about him, in return for his constant reassurance that– despite all the evidence to the contrary–their pigment makes them superior.

Woodward’s book won’t penetrate that. At best, assuming America survives this descent into tribal hatefulness, it will join the growing mountain of evidence available to future historians and psychiatrists.

As CNN describes the book,

Woodward’s 448-page book, “Fear: Trump in the White House,” provides an unprecedented inside-the-room look through the eyes of the President’s inner circle. From the Oval Office to the Situation Room to the White House residence, Woodward uses confidential background interviews to illustrate how some of the President’s top advisers view him as a danger to national security and have sought to circumvent the commander in chief.

Many of the feuds and daily clashes have been well documented, but the picture painted by Trump’s confidants, senior staff and Cabinet officials reveal that many of them see an even more alarming situation — worse than previously known or understood.

Actually, those of us who have been glued to news sources since November of 2016 do understand how alarming this Presidency is, and how utterly pathetic a man-child Trump is. It really isn’t necessary to get confirmation from anonymous sources–every day, Trump tweets his lack of even the most superficial understanding of the government he heads or the Constitution and laws that constrain it.

Let’s be honest. Trump owes his (very slim) electoral success to Barack Obama. Trump’s votes came largely from the white people (mostly men, but plenty of women) who couldn’t abide the presence of a black family in the White House. For eight years, they seethed, exchanging racist emails and sharing racist posts, looking for anything they could criticize publicly, and inventing things when the pickings were slim.

When Trump proved willing to say publicly the things they’d been thinking and saying privately–when he was willing to re-label civility as “political correctness,” and to “tell it like (they believe) it is,” they were his. Woodward’s book won’t change that; it is doubtful that many of them will read it.

 

I know that many good people, good citizens, good Americans will cringe at what I’ve just written. It’s too close to name-calling, too uncivil, paints with too broad a brush. President Obama himself, in his recent speech, took the higher road.

We won’t win people over by calling them names or dismissing entire chunks of the country as racist or sexist or homophobic. When I say bring people together, I mean all of our people. This whole notion that has sprung up recently about Democrats needing to choose between trying to appeal to white working-class voters or voters of color and women and LGBT Americans, that’s nonsense. I don’t buy that. I got votes from every demographic. We won by reaching out to everybody and competing everywhere and by fighting for every vote.

I understand what he is saying, and I absolutely understand that candidates cannot be as accusatory as I have been. But as Zach Beauchamp wrote after sharing that paragraph  in a perceptive article for  Vox 

There’s a part of this that feels like it’s ignoring reality. Political science research on the 2016 election suggests that Trump won because a huge chunk of voters responded positively to his racism and sexism. Voters who scored high on tests of racial resentment were unusually likely to support Trump, as were voters who scored high on measures of hostile sexism. These voters did not tend to be particularly stressed economically; this wasn’t displaced economic resentment. Rather, they seem to genuinely share the current president’s values, agreeing that the way to “Make America Great Again” is to slow or even roll back social change.

My hopes are pinned on the midterm elections. I do believe that most Americans are better than the base for whom “Crazytown” is just fine so long as they see it vindicating their white privilege. This is one election where every blue vote will count–whether it elects someone or not–because it will be, and will be seen as, a vote against tribalism, racism, sexism and the pervasive corruption of Crazytown.

The Trouble With Tariffs

I try to read a variety of information sources, but I will be the first to admit that–if it weren’t for my architect husband–Engineering News Record would not be among them. It is a print publication that considers itself “the construction resource,” and focuses on matters like the reason for that Italian bridge collapse and the technology of road paving. These are subjects that fascinate my husband, but usually aren’t among my preoccupations.

However, there is a real virtue to reading such publications for a policy person, because they report on the practical implications of what might otherwise be abstract and ideological policy debates. That is exactly what the most recent issue did in its discussion of Trump’s misbegotten tariffs, in an article titled “Equipment Readies for Tariff Fight.”

As the article reported, “the reality of new surcharges on all sorts of imported materials and finished goods has begun to reverberate through the global supply chain for construction equipment.” And that global supply chain is complicated–something a ham-handed and ill-considered policy can disrupt in unexpected ways and with unanticipated consequences.

The (sobering) points made by the article can be summarized by a quote from a vice-president of the Association of Equipment Manufacturers: “Everyone loses in a global trade war. Tariffs are taxes on American consumers and businesses.”

Major manufacturers have already raised their prices in anticipation of the higher up-front costs of steel and other materials. According to Senator Chuck Grassley, tariffs the administration aimed at imports of automobile components have also hit heavy-duty trucks, buses, construction equipment, agricultural equipment and industrial engines. As those prices increase, they’ll be passed along, so prices paid by consumers will rise. (There has already been a 32% rise in the cost of hot-rolled, coiled steel.)

Some 30% of of the construction equipment manufactured in the U.S. is designated for export, and the imposition of tariffs has “upended” the industry, which had been anticipating a period of strong sales. As a consequence, according to industry spokespersons, manufacturers are likely to shift production to “places like China or Brazil.”

These tariffs and retaliatory tariffs will put U.S. manufacturing at a disadvantage, because dozens of OEM’s have facilities around the world. It will tip the balance and they’ll just move out of the U.S. to make the equipment somewhere else.

The decision whether to shift the locus of manufacturing is only one of the consequences that has yet to be felt; as the article quoted one construction industry representative,

The point about tariffs is the effect doesn’t come the day after, it comes the year after. The economic impact, the loss of jobs, the loss of business in the community–that is a very long-term effect.

There is a reason that opposition to tariffs bridges ideological divides. Both conservatives and liberals recognize the negative effects of these sorts of interventions into complex and interrelated markets. Unfortunately, we have a President whose policies (if they can be dignified by the term) do not rest on any theoretical or philosophical framework. Instead, he acts out of bile and petulance, complicated by utter ignorance of the matters he is disrupting.

The Engineering News Record says these tariffs pose a significant threat to the construction equipment industry’s prosperity. But the damage isn’t limited to the construction equipment industry. Tariffs pose a significant threat to job creation, consumption and general American prosperity–a threat that could have been avoided had we elected someone competent, or even someone who had–and heeded– competent advisors.

 

 

 

All The “King’s” Men (And Women)

The Washington Post’s Dana Milbank has been on a roll since the election of Donald Trump. It’s understandable–Trump provides a target for anyone who takes policy seriously, and an even bigger target for people who are tempted to berate pompous ignoramuses and moral cowards.

Milbank detests both categories.

In the linked column, he points to the obvious: the moral rot that Trump has brought with him to the political process has spread throughout the Republican Party. As he notes, what the President is doing is reprehensible; what the GOP leadership is not doing is unforgivable.(“Unforgivable” is actually my “pet name” for Mitch McConnell. At least, it’s the “pet name” I can use in polite company.)

Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (Ky.) stood on the Senate floor Wednesday morning for his first public remarks since the seismic events of the day before: The president’s former personal lawyer pleaded guilty to fraud and breaking campaign finance laws, implicating the president in a crime; the president’s former campaign chairman was convicted on eight counts of financial crimes, making him one of five members of Trump’s team who have been convicted or have admitted guilt; and a Republican congressman was indicted, the second of Trump’s earliest congressional supporters to be charged this month.

It was time for leadership. McConnell ducked.

Instead, he hailed Trump’s campaign rally in West Virginia the night before. He disparaged President Barack Obama’s record. He spoke about low unemployment “under this united Republican government.” He went on about coal, taxes, apprenticeship programs, health research, prisoner rehabilitation and more — and not a peep about the corruption swirling around the president. When reporters pressed McConnell in the hallway for comment, he brushed them off.

Paul Ryan didn’t come off any better. Milbank quoted Ryan saying he “needed more information.”

What more do you need, Mr. Speaker? What more will it take, Republicans? It seems nothing can bring them to state what is manifestly true: The president is unfit to serve, surrounded by hooligans and doing incalculable harm.

Milbank recounted the equally shameful silence of others in the GOP hierarchy, then wrote what most rational Americans–including those who once called the Grand Old Party home– are thinking:

This intolerable silence of the Republicans — through “Access Hollywood,” racist outbursts, diplomatic mayhem and endless scandal — is what allows Trump and his Fox News-viewing supporters to dock their spaceship in a parallel universe where truth isn’t truth. At Tuesday night’s rally in West Virginia, Trump’s irony-challenged audience could be heard chanting “Drain the Swamp!” and “Lock her up!” (Hillary Clinton, that is), just a few hours after Paul Manafort’s conviction and Cohen’s guilty plea.

Milbank dismisses the common wisdom that excuses Republican officeholders because they fear the party’s base.

Republican lawmakers fear that with 87 percent of Republican voters backing Trump, crossing him is political suicide. But this is circular. Support among the Republican base remains high because Republican officeholders validate him.

Milbank quotes the “weasel words” of various Republican Senators–Cornyn, Grassley, Graham and Hatch–and references the criminal charges recently filed against two GOP Representatives (who just happened to be the first two to climb aboard the Trump Train). His recitation makes it impossible to disagree with his conclusion:

If Republicans don’t put some moral distance between themselves and Trump, there will soon be nothing left to salvage.

About That “Witch Hunt”..

Well, well. Tuesday was certainly an interesting day.

Paul Manafort was convicted of tax fraud, and at almost the same time, Michael Cohen–aka Trump’s “fixer”–pled guilty to several counts of tax and bank fraud. Cohen’s plea implicated the President, as it included a confession that Cohen had made the hush money payments “at the direction of a federal candidate.”

The Manafort trial grew out of an investigation conducted by the Special Counsel, but the charges didn’t involve Trump. The conventional wisdom was that a conviction would give Mueller leverage to strike a deal–to get Manafort to flip. That remains to be seen, and of course, Manifort faces another trial, in another jurisdiction, in September.

At the very least, the conviction and guilty plea are evidence that–far from being a politically-motivated enterprise, as Trump has maintained, the investigation has focused on and uncovered significant and troubling illegal activities by the President’s close associates.

The media has been all over both stories, and the punditry is in overdrive. Vox had an explanation of “what it all means” in which it consulted several federal prosecutors and other legal experts; most of them said what anyone with a functioning brain already knew–this is more evidence that the Mueller investigation is anything but a “witch hunt,” these results aren’t good news for Trump, etc.

The one expert who genuinely added to my understanding of the various possibilities was Asha Rangappa, a former FBI agent who is now a senior lecturer at Yale, who raised some fascinating points I’d not previously considered.

A potentially bigger threat to President Trump is what Cohen could provide to the Southern District of New York about potential crimes committed by Trump or members of his family that are unrelated to the Russia probe. Michael Cohen, as Trump’s longtime “fixer” knows where the proverbial bodies are buried when it comes to the Trump Organization and particularly its finances going back many, many years.

If Cohen provided information on potentially criminal activities to the Southern District and it opened an investigation into them, it would place the President in a double bind: First, since it would be an investigation separate and apart from the Mueller probe, he wouldn’t be able to argue that the Special Counsel exceeded his mandate or crossed a “red line” — after all, any U.S. Attorney’s office is legally authorized (and duty-bound) to investigate any violations of federal law it learns about.

More importantly, such an investigation would be completely insulated from any steps Trump might take to fire Mueller, Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein, or even Attorney General Jeff Sessions (especially since his interim pick to head the Southern District who recused himself from overseeing the Cohen investigation, would undoubtedly recuse himself from any other Trump-related investigation as well). So Trump has much more to fear from Cohen than just what he knows about Russia-related matters.

America’s system of federalism has often been an impediment to justice. For a long time, “state’s rights” was a euphemism for “the right of our state to discriminate.” But there is something so satisfying about the prospect of New York State pursuing Donald Trump, charging him with violations of state criminal laws in a process that he is powerless to obstruct–violations his pardon power could not reach if he and/or his family are found guilty of them.

And let’s get real. The odds are high that Trump–who has been accused of numerous nefarious activities and who has surrounded himself with gangsters and thugs throughout his career–is guilty of a variety of criminal activities.

Right now, of course, the action is all at the federal level. A sense of expectation has been triggered by these proceedings–a hint that perhaps, just perhaps, the noose is tightening and the investigation is coming to a conclusion.

I’d say “pass the popcorn” but who knows what our demented President will do as that noose tightens? After all, he still has the nuclear codes…..