Wednesday, August 15, 2018

Charting the Trump Economy

Center for American Progress summarizes The Trump Economy in One Chart.

Trump’s economic agenda has been relentlessly aimed at helping big corporations, the wealthy, and Trump himself at the expense of the rest of us—and it’s succeeding wildly.

New numbers show that for Americans, real wages are stagnant and even declining because consumer prices (costs for everyday spending) are rising. Americans are losing purchasing power: “A separate report released Friday (Aug. 10) showed average hourly earnings were flat in July, and average weekly earnings fell 0.2%”

At the same time, big corporations are stuffing their pockets thanks to Trump & Co.’s December tax scam, and making sure not one drop trickles down.

Profits vs. wages
Trumponomics in one chart

‘I don’t understand why the Democrats are not pounding on this chart every single day’ is the headline of a Daily Kos piece (authored by “Aldous J Pennyfarthing ”). This piece has more commentary and another revealing chart.

Donald Trump said the Republican tax bill would boost the average family’s disposable income by $4,000.

Donald Trump said wealthy people like him would lose big after the bill was passed.

Donald Trump says a lot of things. Hardly any of them are true.

And here’s the stark proof that, when it comes to the Republican tax scam, Trump’s critics were right, while Trump was just wanking off to an ‘80s pin-up of the Laffer curve … [See first chart.]

… it is quite the chart. It’s so eye-opening, in fact, it prompted equities analyst and Bloomberg Television contributor Barry Ritholtz to state: “I don’t understand why the Democrats are not pounding on this chart every single day from now until the midterm election.”

Productivity vs. wages
More Trumponomics in action

Coincidentally, the [first] chart looks eerily similar to a graph that shows a sharp divergence between wages and productivity since Ronald Reagan made the world safe for greedy assholes again: [Second chart]

Democrats, feel free to use any and all of these. Voters really need to see them over and over and over again until November 6 — and beyond.

Tuesday, August 14, 2018

'A plausible theory of mind-boggling collusion'

Why is Trump alienating our European allies?
Why did Trump support Brexit?
Why did the Republican party remove a plank advocating helping the Ukraine?
Why was a Trump server communicating with the Russian Alfa Bank?
Why has the top leadership of the FBI all (but one) been fired?
Why has Trump failed to execute the congress-approved sanctions on Russia?
Why was, and is, Trump having secret meetings with Putin?
Why has Manafort clammed up? Is he afraid for his life?
Why does Trump charge the free press as “enemy of the people”?
Why did Russia, Putin really, interfere with the 2016 election to help Trump and hurt Clinton?
Why is Trump ignoring his intelligence community’s conclusions about 2016? And 2018?

Is there a coherent explanation that ties these questions together?

Yes. As I blogged back in July, “There are just too many … pieces of verbal evidence, publicly available, that as a whole are consistent with the hypothesis that Putin has something big on Trump.”

Yesterday (Aug. 13th), at Blog for Arizona, Michael Bryan asked What if Trump Really is a Russian Dupe? The motivation for that question is this Daily Intelligencer piece by Jonathan Chait, Will Trump Be Meeting With His Counterpart — Or His Handler? A plausible theory of mind-boggling collusion.

The above list of questions is a small sample of the ground covered by Chait. Below are teasers from the beginning of Chait’s essay.

The media has treated the notion that Russia has personally compromised the president of the United States as something close to a kook theory. A minority of analysts, mostly but not exclusively on the right, have promoted aggressively exculpatory interpretations of the known facts, in which every suspicious piece of evidence turns out to have a surprisingly innocent explanation. And it is possible, though unlikely, that every trail between Trump Tower and the Kremlin extends no farther than its point of current visibility.

What is missing from our imagination is the unlikely but possible outcome on the other end: that this is all much worse than we suspect. After all, treating a small probability as if it were nonexistent is the very error much of the news media made in covering the presidential horse race. And while the body of publicly available information about the Russia scandal is already extensive, the way it has been delivered — scoop after scoop of discrete nuggets of information — has been disorienting and difficult to follow. What would it look like if it were reassembled into a single narrative, one that distinguished between fact and speculation but didn’t myopically focus on the most certain conclusions?

Chait is on the right path. Consider three pieces of evidence, each explained by a unique “surprisingly innocent explanation.”

Evidence A is explained by W
Evidence B is explained by X
Evidence C is explained by Y

Then consider a simpler explanation of A, B, and C:

Evidence A is explained by Z
Evidence B is explained by Z
Evidence C is explained by Z

According to the principles of explanatory coherence, we should prefer the second case because of the explanatory breadth of Theory Z. The British Psychological Society asserts that “The criterion of explanatory breadth is the most important criterion for choosing the best explanation. It captures the idea that a theory is more explanatorily coherent than its rivals if it explains a greater range of facts.”

And that is what Chait aspired to in his essay.

Consider this one required reading. Set aside a half hour or so. Be prepared to be scared.

What's in your wallet? Not so much from the GOP tax cut if you are a wage earner.

Ask not for whom the closing bell tolls. If you are a working wage earner, it does not toll for thee.

The NY Times Editorial Board poses a question about Republican promises and performance: You Know Who the Tax Cuts Helped? Rich People.

When Republicans were pitching a massive tax cut for corporations and wealthy families last year, they promised voters many benefits: increased investment, higher wages and a tax cut that pays for itself. The tax plan, congressional leaders said, would turbocharge the American economy and provide a much-needed helping hand to working-class families.

“Most people, half the people in this country, live paycheck to paycheck, so there’s a lot of economic anxiety,” the House speaker, Paul Ryan, told The Times in November. “And I think just one of the key solutions is faster economic growth, more jobs. And I think the best thing we could do to deliver that is tax reform.”

So, more than six months since President Trump signed the tax cut into law, is it delivering on the promises Mr. Ryan and other leaders made?

Here are snippets providing evidence for an answer to that question. The short answer is NO!

The most notable outcome of the tax law is one that few Republicans talked about: Companies are buying back their own stock — a lot of it. Stock buybacks are expected to reach a record $1 trillion this year. After Congress reduced the top federal corporate tax rate from 35 percent to 21 percent, businesses are flush with cash. Lawmakers also let companies repatriate foreign earnings that they have been amassing at a rate of 15.5 percent for cash and 8 percent for other assets.

By spending a big chunk of their tax windfall on buying back shares, businesses are boosting demand for and, thus, the price of their stock. It is no wonder then that the S&P 500 stock index is trading near its high.

Everyone in Washington knew companies would do the buy-back thing. The last time there was a tax cut, that’s what companies did. Well, maybe everyone except for Republicans knew what to expect.

But those buybacks do nothing for workers’ wages.

The idea that the tax cuts were going to line workers’ pockets was always a mirage. Most people will enjoy only a modest and temporary tax cut — families earning $25,000 or less will save on average just $60 on their federal tax this year, and those making between $48,600 and $86,100 will save $930, according to the Urban-Brookings Tax Policy Center. Families in the top 1 percent, on the other hand, will save an average of $51,140.

The Times presents graphical evidence that spending on buybacks resulted in flat-lined investment and actual decline of real wages.

And we are experiencing a massive increase in national debt to pay for the corporate tax give-aways.

“Not only will this tax plan pay for itself, but it will pay down debt,” Steven Mnuchin, the Treasury secretary, said. This statement was absurd when Mr. Mnuchin made it, but it looks even more ridiculous now. The deficit and the federal debt are growing — and at a stunning pace. In the current fiscal year, the federal government will spend $912 billion more than it collects in revenue, an increase of 39 percent from the 2017 fiscal year, according to the Congressional Budget Office.

Thanks to the tax cut, the government will take in about 1 percent less in the 2018 fiscal year than it did the year before. Corporate tax revenue is plummeting — the C.B.O. predicts a drop of 27 percent this year. At the same time, the federal government will spend nearly 5 percent more, due, in large part, to Mr. Trump’s insistence on more defense spending.

Over the coming decades, the federal debt could nearly triple as a share of the gross domestic product if Congress makes the Trump tax cut and spending increase permanent, according to the Committee for a Responsible Federal Budget. Lawmakers have talked about extending the cuts in last year’s law beyond the next 10 years — something they did with some of the cuts passed during the George W. Bush administration. “I don’t know why we wouldn’t want to do that,” the Senate majority leader, Mitch McConnell, said in April.

The evidence presented here leads me to paraphrase McConnell: I don’t know why you WOULD want to do that.

One thing we now know for certain (although we have known it for some time already) is that the GOP is the party of tax gifts for the rich and deficit spending that will be born on the backs of workers like a cross of orange hair.

Today, many Republicans seem to realize that the tax cut has become a political liability, which is why they aren’t talking about it ahead of the November election. Even they realize that it doesn’t do any of what they promised.

Economic injustice

We should view this tax policy as a major contributor to the rising income and wealth inequalities. Not since just before the Great Depression has the 1% controlled this much wealth—what that means writes Leslie Salzillo at Daily Kos.

Via MarketWatch, a news group considered to be one of the most prominent in today’s financial industry, Karl Paul reports that in the last 20–30 years, the disparity between the rich and more as grown more than it did right before the devastating Great Depression. Paul adds:

“In 2015, ‘the top 1% of Americans made 26.3 times as much income as the bottom 99 percent — an increase from 2013, when they earned 25.3 times as much, according to a recent study released by the Economic Policy Institute, a left-leaning Washington, D.C. think tank.’”

That means to become part of the 1% elite, a family needs to have an average annual income of over $420k with some states having a higher bar. “The top 1% took home more than 22% of al income in 2015—the highest share since the peak of 23.9%—just before the 1928 Great Depression.”

Paul mentions that in early August, Amazon founder Jeff Bezos became the richest person of today when his wealth surpassed $150 billion. To break that down, one would have to make $1 million dollars 150,000 times. Bezos fortune and those of the richest in Silicon Valley and Hollywood affects the country. The 1% grew faster than the bottom 99% in 43 states.

“Meanwhile, the median net worth of Americans currently hovers at $68,828 per household. One in five Americans says savings and less than 40% of Americans say they have enough savings to cover a $1,000 emergency room visit or car repair.”

“The EPI — a liberal nonprofit associated with the labor movement — recommends returning bargaining power to U.S. workers, increasing political participation by all citizens, and boosting public investments in child care, education, housing and health care. ‘Such policies will help prevent the wealthiest few from appropriating more than their fair share of the nation’s expanding economic pie,” Sommeiller said..”

So, where does this lead? Could there be another Great Depression? It seems if things don’t change, a real financial catastrophe for the rich could happen any day affecting the poor even worse. How do we remedy the problem? Perhaps one way would be by getting rid of the current illegitimate so-called president and his complicit and corrupt administration and Republican-led Congress. Not giving billions in tax breaks to the ultra rich and corporations, and having those billions of over at least 10 major taxes benefits, job cuts, and write-offs (via Mother Jones)—be distributed to the poor instead—might help. Imagine how the economy could change for the better if the poor could afford to buy more.

It’s hard to say if change will happen unless any time soon unless, as the EPI says, there is an increase in political participation by all citizens: unless less country’s Resistance grows.

11-year old hacks election website in less than 10 minutes. That and Illustrated Gnus for the week.

From 538’s significant digits email:
11 years old
Last week, at the hacking convention DEFCON, 11-year-old Emmett Brewer hacked into a replica of Florida’s election website, changing its voting results. It took him less than 10 minutes. … [PBS]

Will the Russians offer him a contract?


Here are a few more of the themes in this week’s Mournday Mourning’s Illustrated Gnus from AZBlueMeanie at Blog for Arizona.

  • GOP’s Trumpcare costs nearly nothing, whacks preexisting conditions
  • Melania’s melody: chain migration works … for my family
  • Trump chooses space force as a distraction: no cyber corps, no free press, no collusion, …
  • GOP enters Blue Wave surfing contest. Bookmakers taking bets on a 7% loss in November.
  • Trump blames California for wild fires. Actually, he blamed the trees but, you see, the trees are in California, so …

Monday, August 13, 2018

The real story on David Garcia's book, 'School Choice'

New Book by David Garcia, Arizona Candidate for Governor, is a Blueprint to Dismantle Public Education was posted to Blog for Arizona on August 9th by Larry Bodine. I read that review with a sense of disquiet. For one thing, Bodine’s quotes and comments run 180 degrees opposite to what Garcia has publicly stated in his plan for Arizona education. For another, the overall tone seemed more like a political hit piece rather than a dispassionate review of a scholarly work. As such, Bodine’s post was bound to elicit more emotional reactions than reasoned policy analyses.

Sure enough, “Disturbing book by Garcia against public education” was the title of a quick reaction. And, sure enough, it spawned emotionally charged to-and-fro.

In my estimation, what is disturbing is that title. Therefore I was glad to see that someone who knows about educational policy issues read the book and wrote an informed review of it.

Also from Blog for Arizona, Bob Lord posted David Safier, Former BfAZ blogger: Bodine Depiction of Garcia Book “Wrong”.

If there were a hall of fame for Blog for Arizona writers, David Safier certainly would occupy a premier space. David wrote over 3,000 posts here before moving on to his current gig at Tucson Weekly’s The Range. His posts here covered many topics, but mainly on his passion, education policy. His posts always were thoughtful.

After reading Larry Bodine’s hit piece on David Garcia’s book, “School Choice,” David reviewed the book himself and wrote his own piece at The Range, A Review of David Garcia’s Book, “School Choice”.

Here’s Safier’s take:


In other words, David agreed with Brahm Resnik’s characterization of Bodine’s piece as a “gross distortion.”

Safier went a bit further than Resnik:

Of the people who have had a chance to read the book and comment on it in the media, I probably have the most experience reading education books. I have amassed a significant number of postgraduate units in the field, and I’ve continued reading education works, ranging from blog posts to articles to books, on a daily basis. Though I have expressed my support for Garcia, I also know how to read these kinds of texts for content and possible political leanings without letting my personal opinions interfere.

What Garcia has written is a book on the history of school choice beginning in colonial days and continuing through 2017. It is meant to be an objective overview of the subject, and it succeeds in that regard. If I had never heard of David Garcia and read this book, I wouldn’t know his personal opinions on the subject. Though it is written for general consumption, it would be a valuable book to assign in any college course on the history of education, from Education 101 through graduate school.

Safier also noted that Maria Polletta at The Arizona Republic has reviewed Garcia’s book, and sees Bodine’s hit piece the same way he and Resnik do.

In my previous post regarding the Bodine hit piece, I was wrong about something as well. I suggested there that Blog for Arizona might owe Garcia an apology, and asked readers to comment. Mike Bryan appropriately corrected me in the comment section:

This blog does not owe anyone an apology. The author will do what conscience dictates, but the blog is merely a forum, not a monolith.

Well put, Mike.

But, you see, Mike missed something as well. The author, Larry Bodine, actually already had done what his conscience dictated. Upon seeing my post, Mr. Bodine reposted his hit piece, in order to enhance it’s visibility in relation to my post. That’s called doubling down. It’s something Trump often does after a clear mistake.

But perhaps after reading David Safier’s column Mr. Bodine will have a change of heart.

Here’s hoping.

FYI, here is some of Safier’s review:

… the book focuses mainly on private schools (specifically private school vouchers), charter schools and district schools. Garcia looks at them from a number of angles and includes the major arguments for and against all three types of schools. Anyone who wants to say Garcia is pro-voucher can cherrypick passages where he paraphrases pro-voucher arguments. But someone else can just as easily portray him as anti-voucher by cherrypicking other passages where he paraphrases anti-voucher arguments. He does the same thing with school choice research. He attempts to cover the main conclusions derived from all the serious research on the topic without picking favorites. (FYI, he comes to the conclusion that the differences between the achievement of students in the three types of schools, as measured by standardized tests, is minimal, and varies depending on grade level, subject, and the year the research was done.)

Bodine’s blog post claims that voucher and charter school advocates can use Garcia’s book as a tip sheet on how to set up voucher programs, and how to make pro-voucher arguments. I suppose he’s right. People reading the book for ideas supporting school choice can find arguments in their favor. But it would be a tedious process. Why bother when there are far easier ways to find material in favor of vouchers and charter schools? Just go to the Goldwater Institute, which has written elaborate voucher recipes listing all the ingredients and how to put them together. So have any number of privatization/“education reform” organizations and think tanks whose work is readily available. For legislators looking to enact school privatization legislation, ALEC has already written it. Just add the name of your state to their cookie-cutter bills and present them during the next legislative session. Readers of Garcia’s book with an agenda would have to dig through all kinds of material which would be extraneous to what they were looking for, and read lots of counter arguments to their positions.

Before forming an opinion (or voting), get informed. Read the rest of Safier’s review of Garcia’s book.

Safier says he voted for Garcia. Your Scriber voted for Steve Farley. Regardless, I completely agree with Safier’s conclusion:

Writers and political campaigns go after candidates all the time. That’s the name of the game. But attacks on Garcia based a gross misrepresentation of the contents of his book is dirty politics pure and simple. Democrats should leave that to the Republicans. They’re already sharpening their knives for whoever wins the Democratic gubernatorial primary.

The bad news and good news about cyber threats to our electric grid

Quote of the Day: “We’ll be living with cyber threats to the grid for the rest of our lives.” - Maggie Koerth-Baker, a senior science writer for FiveThirtyEight.

That’s the bad news. The good news is that Hacking The Electric Grid Is Damned Hard and that competes for Quote of the Day #2: “Our electric infrastructure is chock-full of both redundancies and regional variations — two things that impede widespread sabotage.”

Koerth-Baker interviewed two experts on cybersecurity as it pertains to our power grid: Bill Lawrence, “vice president and chief security officer at the North American Electric Reliability Corporation, the regulatory authority that sets and enforces technological standards for utility companies across the continent.” and “Candace Suh-Lee, who leads a cybersecurity research team at the Electric Power Research Institute, a nonprofit research and development lab."

It helps that the North American electric grid is both diverse in its engineering and redundant in its design. For instance, the Ukrainian attacks are often cited as evidence that hundreds of thousands of Americans could suddenly find themselves in the dark because of hackers. But Lawrence considers the Ukrainian grid a lot easier to infiltrate than the North American one. That’s because Ukraine’s infrastructure is more homogeneous, the result of electrification happening under the standardizing eye of the former Soviet Union, he told me. The North American grid, in contrast, began as a patchwork of unconnected electric islands, each designed and built by companies that weren’t coordinating with one another. Even today, he said, the enforceable standards set by NERC don’t tell you exactly what to buy or how to build. “So taking down one utility and going right next door and doing the same thing to that neighboring utility would be an extremely difficult challenge,” he said.

Meanwhile, the electric grid already contains a lot of redundancies that are built in to prevent blackouts caused by common problems like broken tree limbs or heat waves — and those redundancies would also help to prevent a successful cyberattack from affecting a large number of people. Suh-Lee pointed to an August 2003 blackout that turned the lights off on 50 million people on the east coast of the U.S. and Canada. “When we analyzed it, there was about 17 different things lined up that went wrong. Then it happened,” she said. Hackers wouldn’t necessarily have control over all the things that would have to go wrong to create a blackout like that.

In contrast, Suh-Lee said, scenarios that sound like they should lead to major blackouts … haven’t. Take the 2013 Metcalf incident, where snipers physically attacked 17 electric transformers in Silicon Valley. Surrounding neighborhoods temporarily lost power, but despite huge energy demand in the region, “the big users weren’t even aware Metcalf had happened,” she said.

“Difficult isn’t the same as impossible, Suh-Lee” said. “That’s why there’s a lot of effort going into research, monitoring and preparation for cyberattacks.” But that “preparation doesn’t mean we’ll eventually solve this problem, either.”

So, even in spite of the lack of leadership on cybersecurity from the White House, we might be OK. Come to think of it, that judgment might be true of lots of things.

The questions we might want to ask SCOTUS nominee Brett Kavanaugh ...

… will be asked by Sen. Mazie Hirono. Joan McCarter at the Daily Kos reports The Senate’s quietest rock star has some very tough questions for Trump’s Supreme Court nominee.

Quietly and determinedly, Democratic Sen. Mazie Hirono of Hawaii has become one of the fiercest voices among the still too-small cadre of women senators. She’s doing it in the nomination hearings of all five of the committees she sits on, starting with these questions.

“Since you became a legal adult, have you ever made unwanted requests for sexual favors or committed any verbal or physical harassment or assault of a sexual nature?”

“Have you ever faced discipline or entered into a settlement related to this kind of conduct?”

Hirono started asking the questions—which she will also pose to Supreme Court nominee Brett Kavanaugh—seven months ago. She spoke with Huffington Post’s Jennifer Bendery about how the Me Too movement has forced the issue into “a legitimate area of inquiry” for those who would serve in the highest levels of government. It’s particularly true given the man who is nominating them, a serial abuser and assaulter. She’s asked that question of nearly 100 nominees, according to HuffPo’s count, putting the nominees on the spot often in front of their spouses and children.

Awkward for them, perhaps, but for Hirono? “Not anymore,” she told Bendery. “The questions have never been asked before. And why is that? Because it would take a woman to ask questions like that, I would say.” She’s doing it because she knew there was “every potential” for her colleagues in the Senate to entirely ignore the Me Too movement roiling around them.

Those questions will have extra resonance when posed to Kavanaugh, for while he hasn’t been accused of abusing his power by any women, he clerked for and has remained close to former U.S. Circuit Judge Alex Kozinski, who retired last year after 15 women accused him of sexual harassment. Kavanaugh was there, working with Kozinski, during some of the alleged incidents. What did Kavanaugh know while he was there? What did he do in response? Another former clerk, law professor turned romance novelist Courtney Milan, says Kavanaugh had to know because of his close working relationship with the judge. “They worked together on hiring. Kozinski regularly used belittling and demeaning language in hiring with us as his clerks. I cannot attest to whether he used it in Kennedy screening, but it would surprise me if he didn’t.” (The “Kennedy screening” refers to Kozinski’s being basically a feeder of clerks to Supreme Court Justice Anthony Kennedy.)

I think it’s a legitimate area of inquiry,“ Hirono said, answering whether she will ask this again in the Judiciary Committee hearing with Kavanaugh. ”It’s something that will get asked." She’s preparing herself well, with binders full of the documents that Republicans have so far deigned to release and copious notes and questions drawn from them. She also has serious questions for him about his hostility toward women’s reproductive rights, the Affordable Care Act, and environmental rules protecting clean air and water.

Hirono is going to be laser-focused on Kavanaugh, even though it’s highly unlikely Republicans will break ranks because, she says, “some battles […] are worth fighting, regardless of the outcomes. […] I’m hopeful the people in our country will realize these judges who are appointed for life are going to make decisions that affect their life every single day―and that this is the lasting legacy of Trump.” These hard questions will also put Republican Sens. Susan Collins and Lisa Murkowski, who have staked a good part of their careers on standing up for women’s rights, in the position of having to answer for themselves and their constituents.

An article in The New York Review of Books provides a broader list of Ten Questions Brett Kavanaugh Must Answer. ( The author, David Cole is the National Legal Director of the ACLU and the Honorable George J. Mitchell Professor in Law and Public Policy at the Georgetown University Law Center.)

… [because] Trump expressly vowed as a candidate to appoint justices who would overrule Roe v. Wade, it is incumbent upon the Senate to pose probing questions to Kavanaugh—and to require him to provide meaningful answers, not artful dodges. Nominees all too often avoid answering questions about their views by simply describing existing Supreme Court doctrine and then insisting they cannot say how they would vote on any particular matter that might come before them. But in speeches and writings while a judge, Kavanaugh has repeatedly expressed his own views on many matters that might come before him, including whether presidents should be subject to civil and criminal lawsuits; if he could express his views there, he should not be permitted to avoid expressing them on other topics in the Senate confirmation hearing.

Here, then, are ten questions I suggest the senators ask Kavanaugh. These questions avoid asking about any specific case, and seek the nominee’s own views, not a description of Supreme Court law. Senators will have to be insistent about getting responses, however, if the hearings are to have any value.

Scriber’s picks are
(1) “Are you committed to interpreting the Constitution as it was understood at the time it was written, or do you agree that its meaning evolves over time through Supreme Court interpretations?”
(4) “You have defended a robust conception of executive power. Recently, the Supreme Court said that its decision upholding the internment of Japanese Americans on the basis of race and national origin was wrong. Can you name other historical examples where you believe presidents acted unconstitutionally in the name of national security? Should the courts have rejected presidential assertions of national security in those cases, and on what basis?”
and (10) “President Trump has nominated you to the career opportunity of your lifetime. If presented with a case involving his personal interests, what standard will you use in deciding whether to recuse yourself from the case?”

I reason that much or all of disputes over civil rights (including reproductive choice, marriage choice, gender equality, contraception, and abortion) flow from how one regards (1). The other two picks, (4) and (10), address executive powers which will, I predict, be front and center as the Mueller investigation gets closer to Trump, his associates, and his family.

After the break, read the full list of questions and (lightly edited by Scriber) author’s comments.