Monthly Archives: March 2020

Median Household Income in January 2020

Political Calculations' estimate of median household income dipped slightly in January 2020, decreasing from December 2019's initial estimate of $66,394 to $66,370.

The following chart shows the nominal (red) and inflation-adjusted (blue) trends for median household income in the United States from January 2000 through January 2020. The inflation-adjusted figures are presented in terms of constant January 2020 U.S. dollars.

Median Household Income in the 21st Century: Nominal and Real Modeled Estimates, January 2000 to January 2020

For February 2020, the U.S. Bureau of Economic Analysis revised aggregate personal income extending back to July 2019, reducing its previous monthly estimates by anywhere from 0.3% (July 2019) to 0.7% (December 2020). Political Calculations' revised estimate of median household income for December 2019 is $66,187.

Analyst's Notes

Sentier Research has suspended reporting its monthly Current Population Survey-based estimates of median household income. We'll miss their monthly updates, while we continue to provide the estimates from our alternate methodology.

Statistically, over 240 months from January 2000 through December 2019, our estimates have fallen within 0.9% of Sentier Research's estimates in 70% of observations, within 1.8% in 95.8% of observations and within 2.7% in 99.6% of observations. The greatest deviations between our results and Sentier Research's estimates occurred in October 2000, where our estimate was 3.2% higher than Sentier Research's figure, and in February 2010, where our estimate was 3.1% lower than Sentier Research's figure.


Sentier Research. Household Income Trends: January 2000 through December 2019. [Excel Spreadsheet with Nominal Median Household Incomes for January 2000 through January 2013 courtesy of Doug Short]. [PDF Document]. Accessed 6 February 2020. [Note: We've converted all data to be in terms of current (nominal) U.S. dollars.]

U.S. Department of Labor Bureau of Labor Statistics. Consumer Price Index, All Urban Consumers - (CPI-U), U.S. City Average, All Items, 1982-84=100. [Online Database (via Federal Reserve Economic Data)]. Last Updated: 13 February 2020. Accessed: 13 February 2020.

U.S. Bureau of Economic Analysis. Table 2.6. Personal Income and Its Disposition, Monthly, Personal Income and Outlays, Not Seasonally Adjusted, Monthly, Middle of Month. Population. [Online Database (via Federal Reserve Economic Data)]. Last Updated: 28 February 2020. Accessed: 28 February 2020.

U.S. Bureau of Economic Analysis. Table 2.6. Personal Income and Its Disposition, Monthly, Personal Income and Outlays, Not Seasonally Adjusted, Monthly, Middle of Month. Compensation of Employees, Received: Wage and Salary Disbursements. [Online Database (via Federal Reserve Economic Data)]. Last Updated: 28 February 2020. Accessed: 28 February 2020.

2/3/20: BRIC Manufacturing PMI: February 2020

A quick post: Manufacturing PMIs are out for the BRIC economies and, unsurprisingly, things are tanking in China and remain seriously under pressure in Russia:

This is the first snapshot of the effects of Coronavirus #COVID19 #CoronaOutbreak on Chinese top-level economic activity figures. The data plotted above is quarter-based averages of the monthly indicator published by Markit. The BRIC quarterly index is computed by me using relative economy size weights for each BRIC economy. In the preceding 3 quarters, BRICs led global manufacturing activity. In 1Q 2020 so far, the BRIC economies as a group have been a drag on global growth.

S&P 500 Crashes As Second Lévy Flight Event of 2020 Nears Completion

Through the close of trading on Friday, 28 February 2020, the S&P 500 (Index: SPX) has experienced the fastest stock market correction on record, falling by more than 10 percent from its record high peak of 3,386.15 on 19 February 2020 to 2,954.22 on Friday, 28 February 2020.

We've captured most of that decline in our alternative futures spaghetti forecast chart for the S&P 500, which we've animated to show the decline in the period from Friday, 21 February 2020 through Friday, 24 February 2020. This portion of the market's decline captures most of the second Lévy flight event of 2020, which got underway on Tuesday, 25 February 2020.

Since then, investors have nearly completed refocusing their forward-looking attention away from the distant future quarter of 2020-Q4 toward the nearer term future quarter of 2020-Q2, which has been accompanied by the rapid collapse of stock prices, just as we predicted [1] would occur in response to China's coronavirus epidemic going global a month ago, in accordance with a dividend futures-based model that describes how stock prices behave. If you're accessing this article on a site that republishes our RSS news feed, please click through to our site to see the animation in action.

Animation: Alternative Futures - S&P 500 - 2020Q1 - Standard Model - Snapshots from 21 Feb 2020 through 28 Feb 2020

The driving factor behind the decline in stock prices during the past week is a conflict that has erupted between investors and central banks, where the credibility of central bankers over expectations of the future for their monetary policies has come into question. ZeroHedge describes how that battle escalated during the latter part of the week, as investors considered the coronavirus epidemic's impact on global supply chains and the economy and reacted to what they increasingly saw as fecklessness on the part of monetary policymakers - in this case, at the European Central Bank.

With Christine Lagarde blowing up the market's hopes for an emergency coordinated central bank rate cut, traders have decided to switch to the "stick" approach, and instead of asking nicely for another bailout from the Fed, they have decided to force one through.

That apparent fecklessness wasn't limited to European central bankers, which you can see in the fourth week of February 2020's market moving headlines below:

Monday, 24 February 2020
Tuesday, 25 February 2020
Wednesday, 26 February 2020
Thursday, 27 February 2020
Friday, 28 February 2020

Stock prices may have begun to stabilize on Friday, 28 February 2020 with Fed Chair Jerome Powell's comments indicating the Fed may soon move off its "no change is needed" mindset. We'll see how stable the developing new equilibrium might be in week ahead.

Meanwhile, as a result of this conflict, investor expectations for multiple rate cuts in 2020 have taken off, with the CME Group's FedWatch tool now projecting a half point rate cut before the end of March 2020, followed by quarter point rate cuts in 2020-Q2 and again in 2020-Q3.

CME Group FedWatch Tool Probabilities of Federal Funds Rate Changing at Future FOMC Meeting Dates, Snapshot on 28 February 2020

These expectations represent a rapidly evolving situation for future expectations for how the Federal Reserve will set short term interest rates in the U.S., where we think investors are focusing on 2020-Q2 in setting stock prices because that's when firms will most likely begin reporting how the economic impact of the COVID-19 epidemic will affect their business outlooks and dividend policies for the remainder of the year.

Elsewhere, Barry Ritholtz presents the big picture positives and negatives he found in the past week's economics and market-related news. As if there weren't enough interesting things happening already!


[1] When we made this prediction, the level of the S&P 500 was 3,225, where the potential drop "on the order of 300 points" we described would occur if the S&P 500 entered into a Lévy flight event at that time as investors would shift their focus from 2020-Q4 to 2020-Q2 would put the level of the S&P 500 at 2,925. In reading what we wrote a month ago, you'll find we weren't convinced that stock prices had entered into Lévy flight at the time, where the dip in stock prices that occurred proved to be something of a false start as actions by China's central bank and also by the Fed to boost liquidity in the markets in the following week prompted investors to refocus their attention back on 2020-Q4.

Those liquidity injections and shift in the time horizon of investors resulted in boosting the S&P 500 by more than 160 points during the next two weeks, but did so without changing the level to which stock prices might fall if the flow of news were to ever refocus investor attention on 2020-Q2. Through the market's plunge on Friday, 28 February 2020, we're within 25 points of the basic level we had originally anticipated stock prices would go if a Lévy flight occurred as a result of the coronavirus epidemic's impact on markets. In the absence of new information that would affect investor expectations for dividends in 2020-Q2 or a large scale intervention that succeeds in focusing investors' attention on a different point of time in the future, we're now within several percent of where stock prices will stabilize in the near term, where the latest update to the model indicates stock prices are still on the high side of where that will be.

What do we mean when we say "near term"? Technically, the near term for markets extends through the third Friday of March 2020, when dividend futures contracts for 2020-Q2 will expire. More practically however, we think the near term may extend until companies begin reporting their first quarter earnings in 2020-Q2, which is when many of the firms most impacted by the consequences of China's coronavirus epidemic will be most likely to begin announcing changes for their business outlooks and dividend policies to reset investor expectations for the future.

Update 7:05 PM: "A large scale intervention" it is! Here are the big four stories on that count today:

And here's the biggest market moving headline for the day:

The speculation is that it could lead to a 2.0 version of the 2016 Shanghai Accord for the current global economic crisis.

And here's how investors reacted to that speculative anticipation: they shifted their focus from 2020-Q2 back toward the more distant future quarter of 2020-Q4:

Alternative Futures - S&P 500 - 2020Q1 - Standard Model - Snapshot on 2 Mar 2020

You can see that shift in the latest snapshot of the CME Group's FedWatch tool, which we snapped at the close of trading on Monday, 2 March 2020:

CME Group FedWatch Tool Probabilities of Federal Funds Rate Changing at Future FOMC Meeting Dates, Snapshot on 2 March 2020

Investors are giving 100% odds of a half point rate cut in March 2020. They are also strongly anticipating a quarter point rate cut in 2020-Q2, and then another quarter point rate cut as early as September 2020, but with stronger odds in 2020-Q4, the uncertainty around the timing of which we believe is drawing the focus of investors.

The market continues to be interesting!

Update 3 March 2020: And so it was again. Several major central banks announced big rate cuts, with the Fed slashing interest rates by a half point. But look at how that affected investor expectations for the timing of future rate cuts, as indicated by the CME Group's FedWatch tool:

CME Group FedWatch Tool Probabilities of Federal Funds Rate Changing at Future FOMC Meeting Dates, Snapshot on 3 March 2020

The certainty that investors had for a quarter point rate cut in 2020-Q2 has diminished since yesterday, but is still above 50%, and the odds of another quarter point rate cut in 2020-Q4 has also diminished, dropping below 50%.

We would interpret these changes as indicating that investors are now splitting their forward-looking attention between 2020-Q2 and 2020-Q4 in setting stock prices, as uncertainty around the likelihood of future Fed rate cuts in both quarters has increased since the market closed yesterday, though the higher probability for a rate cut in 2020-Q2 suggests they are more strongly focused on that future period.

That interpretation is backed up by the latest update to the alternative futures forecasting chart for the S&P 500:

Alternative Futures - S&P 500 - 2020Q1 - Standard Model - Snapshot on 3 Mar 2020

The level of the S&P 500 has moved to be slightly closer to the trajectory associated with investors focusing on 2020-Q2 than it is to the alternative trajectory associated with 2020-Q4. If we put a weighting on it based on the spread between these two alternative trajectories and the relative position of the actual level of the S&P 500, 2020-Q2 is attracting 54% of the attention of investors compared to 46% for 2020-Q4.

That brings us to the most interesting headline of the day:

As we've just demonstrated, it wasn't the Fed's rate cut that spooked investors. It was the change in expectations for the timing of future rate cuts after the Fed's half point cut, where the increase in uncertainty that prompted investors to focus more closely on 2020-Q2 sent stock prices lower for the day. There was nothing either emotional or irrational about what happened, nor any objective evidence to suggest investors were either soothed or spooked during the day. If anything, we would describe investors as hyper-rational, with stock prices responding to changes in their future expectations as they evolved during the day.

Will investors now maintain a split focus on these two future quarters? Or will they come to focus much more strongly on one over the other? We'll see what tomorrow brings!

Update 4 March 2020: Let's start by seeing how investor expectations for future interest rate changes by the Federal Reserve changed from yesterday:

CME Group FedWatch Tool Probabilities of Federal Funds Rate Changing at Future FOMC Meeting Dates, Snapshot on 4 March 2020

We find that the probability of a half point rate cut in 2020-Q2 has become much more certain, with the odds rising to 84% by the FOMC's June meeting date. Meanwhile, the less certain but still rising probability of another quarter-to-half point rate cut by the end of 2020-Q4 has put that distant future quarter more strongly into the forward-looking focus of investors. As might be expected for that scenario, stock prices rose on the day, falling within the range we would expect them to be if investors were more strongly focusing on 2020-Q4 in making their current day investment decisions in the alternative futures forecast chart:

Alternative Futures - S&P 500 - 2020Q1 - Standard Model - Snapshot on 4 Mar 2020

Expectations for the future continue to rapidly evolve for the S&P 500.

Update 5 March 2020: How rapidly do investor expectations for the future evolve? Looking just at what investors expect the Fed will do with interest rates, investors are now locked in on 2020-Q2 as the most likely timing for a three quarter point cut in the Federal Funds Rate, or possibly, the timing for just a half-point rate cut should the Fed cut interest rates by another quarter point later this month:

CME Group FedWatch Tool Probabilities of Federal Funds Rate Changing at Future FOMC Meeting Dates, Snapshot on 5 March 2020

If you look forward to the end of 2020-Q4, we see the probability of a quarter point rate cut, lowering the Federal Funds Rate down to a target range of 0-0.25%, has declined to 31.3%. That indicates investors are still splitting their focus between 2020-Q2 and 2020-Q4, although with the flow of news today, they're focusing more on 2020-Q2 and less on 2020-Q4. In that situation, the dividend futures-based model predicts stock prices would fall, and indeed, that's what happened.

Alternative Futures - S&P 500 - 2020Q1 - Standard Model - Snapshot on 5 Mar 2020

The day-to-day volatility in the level of the S&P is cranked up right now because the difference in the change in the year-over-year growth rate of dividends expected in 2020-Q2 and 2020-Q4 is large (unlike the scenario that played out earlier this year between 2020-Q1 and 2020-Q4 when that Lévy flight event occurred).

Want to read something funny? The headline for ZeroHedge's version of Bloomberg's story says it all, but the article is very much worth reading:

A lot of traders haven't caught on to the quantum random walk aspect of how stock prices work. And to be sure, they're not alone. Even a Nobel prize winning economist might describe how stock prices are behaving lately as the result of extreme irrationality and fear on the part of investors, when the truth is anything but.

That doesn't mean we know what stock prices are going to do next. That's determined by the onset of new information, which is what puts the random into the walk that stock prices take. What we can do however is describe what would happen to stock prices if investors shift their time horizon from one point of time in the future to another, which can look like a prediction come true if and when it happens. We just happen to be in a market environment where the dynamical system we've modeled is proving the hypothesis on which the model was built on nearly a daily basis.

Week-end Wrap – Political Economy – March 1, 2020

Week-end Wrap – Political Economy – March 1, 2020
by Tony Wikrent
Economics Action Group, North Carolina Democratic Party Progressive Caucus

Strategic Political Economy

Chile's Struggle to Democratize the State
[NACLA, via Naked Capitalism 2-25-20]
A useful overview of the neoliberal policies enacted by the Pinochet regime three decades ago -- protesters chant, “It’s not 30 pesos, it’s 30 years!” referring to the transit fare hike that sparked the social uprising in October 2019 and the 30 years of enforced neoliberal economic devolution. Neoliberal policies were written in Pinochet's constitution, which is why Chileans are demanding a new constitution. 
General Augusto Pinochet’s 1980 Constitution both symbolizes and imposes the authoritarian model at the root of the ongoing mobilization. The Constitution institutionalized the economic and political domination of the dictatorship and enshrined a neoliberal framework that erased the role of the state in social and economic areas. It restricted political participation, gave the Right disproportionate power, and installed a tutelary role for the armed forces.... 
Pinochet’s radical neoliberal transformation privatized the pension system and promoted the development of a private sector in the health and education fields. These privatizations have perpetuated inequality and reinforced extreme social divisions. Moreover, Chile is the only country in the world with almost completely privatized water—Chapter III, Clause 24 of the 1980 Constitution establishes the “right” to private ownership of water. 
....A 2019 study by The Lancet showed that a woman in a poor district of Santiago lives some 18 years less than a woman in a rich neighborhood in the same city.
.... popular symbols have changed. In large demonstrations in the past, people carried the banners of their political parties or social organizations. Such banners are gone in the protests today, reflecting the spontaneous nature of the social explosion and its distance from the political parties.
[I can see these types of protests erupting in USA, as people give up hope that either the Republican Party - taken over by grifter Trump who lied about his intention to implement populist policies - and the Democratic Party, which is fighting desperately to prevent populist policies from being carried into office by Sanders or Warren.]
Some 70 to 80 percent are in favor of a new Constitution—forged under democracy—to guarantee social rights. Chileans now look forward to the national plebiscite called for April 26 to vote for a path toward a Constitution that will protect the rights to education, health, and decent pensions, among others.
View of the protest of an estimated 1.2 million people in Santiago, October 25, 2019. (Hugo Morales/Wikimedia)

The Carnage of Establishment Neoliberal Economics

Poverty Is All About Personal Stress, Not Laziness
[Bloomberg, via The Big Picture 2-25-20]
Economists are starting to accumulate evidence that instead of being indolent layabouts, poor people are harried and frantic. To deal with a world of precarity, where any misstep or piece of bad luck can lead to disastrous consequences, requires a massive amount of cognitive effort. And it’s the stress of that constant effort, rather than bad morals or welfare-inspired laziness, that drives many poor people to make subpar decisions....

Economist Sendhil Mullainathan of Harvard University has been at the forefront of the effort to better understand the challenges of poverty. In 2013, along with co-authors Anandi Mani, Eldar Shafir, and Jiaying Zhao, he published a groundbreaking paper entitled “Poverty Impedes Cognitive Function.” They found that when low-income shoppers in New Jersey thought about their finances, their cognitive performance went down. But that didn’t happen for higher-income subjects. This suggests that stress taxes the mind more than finances. In a second experiment on Indian farmers, they found that cognitive performance is worse before a harvest, when finances are tight.

Mullainathan expanded this result into a general theory of poverty. Scarcity, he believes, begets stress, which leads to bad decisions, which creates even more scarcity. Thus, poor people get trapped in an exhausting but inescapable cycle of precarity.

Flux: Wealth in the United States 
Barry Ritholtz, February 26, 2020 [The Big Picture]
Middle Class Now Holds Less Wealth than Top 1 Percent

Source: Survey of Consumer Finances and Brookings
[Boston Review, via Naked Capitalism 2-28-20]
The Debt Collective’s first debtors’ union, organized in 2014, brings together people holding debts from for-profit colleges. This collective has won not only more than $1.5 billion in debt cancellation to date but also the attention of policy makers. Indeed, in June 2019, when Representatives Ilhan Omar, Pramila Jayapal, Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, along with Sanders, introduced their College for All legislation that would abolish student debt and make public college free, it was Pamela Hunt—Debt Collective member and student debt striker—who they invited to take the microphone. “I have $212,000 dollars of student debt, $51,000 of which is interest alone,” Pam began. “I stand before you as a person who pursued a higher degree and was worse off because of it.”
China Has More Billionaires Than U.S. And India Combined: Hurun Report 
[Caixin Global, via Naked Capitalism 2-27-20]

Predatory Finance

How Blackstone became the world’s biggest corporate landlord 
[Fortune, via The Big Picture 2-24-20]
Printing’s Not Dead: The $35 Billion Fight Over Ink Cartridges
[Businessweek, via The Big Picture 2-28-20]
The Dangerous Deeds of Carl Icahn: A Top Defender of Trump’s Economic Agenda is a Major Destroyer of American Jobs

Restoring balance to the economy

[BBC, via Naked Capitalism 2-28-20]. 
“In 2015, the boss of a card payments company in Seattle introduced a $70,000 minimum salary for all of his 120 staff – and personally took a pay cut of $1m....
Since then, Gravity has transformed. The headcount has doubled and the value of payments that the company processes has gone from $3.8bn a year to $10.2bn.
But there are other metrics that Price is more proud of. "Before the $70,000 minimum wage, we were having between zero and two babies born per year amongst the team," he says. "And since the announcement - and it's been only about four-and-a-half years - we've had more than 40 babies."
....Senior staff have found their workload reduced. They're under less pressure and can do things like take all of the holiday leave to which they are entitled. Price tells the story about one staff member who works in Gravity's call centre.
"He was commuting over an hour and a half a day," he says. "He was worried that during his commute he was going to blow out a tyre and not have enough money to fix that tyre. He was stressing about it every day."
When his salary was raised to $70,000 this man moved closer to the office, now he spends more money on his health, he exercises every day and eats more healthily.
"We had another gentleman on a similar team and he literally lost more than 50lb (22kg)," he says. Others report spending more time with their families or helping their parents pay off debt. "We saw, every day, the effects of giving somebody freedom," Price says. He thinks it is why Gravity is making more money than ever.
Raising salaries didn't change people's motivation - he says staff were already motivated to work hard - but it increased what he calls their capability. "You're not thinking I have to go to work because I have to make money," Rosita Barlow agrees. "Now it's become focused on 'How do I do good work?'"
These are exactly the results expected under the forgotten Doctrine of High Wages, which was one of the key tenets of American School political economy in the 1800s, when USA industrialized and emerged as a world power. 

5 Arrested as Dozens of Airline Catering Workers Protest at CLT
[AFL-CIO North Carolina 2-19-20]
Five people were arrested and dozens of workers protested at Charlotte Douglas International Airport as part of national day of action on Valentine’s Day calling on airlines like American, Delta, and United to take action to end poverty and unaffordable health care in the airline catering industry.”

Health Care Crisis

"Medicare For All Would Save $450 Billion Annually While Preventing 68,000 Deaths, New Study Shows
[Newsweek, via Avedon's Sideshow 2-28-20]
The Medicare For All plan proposed by Democratic presidential candidates Bernie Sanders and Elizabeth Warren would save taxpayers hundreds of billions of dollars each year and would prevent tens of thousands of unnecessary deaths, a new study shows. The analysis, conducted by researchers at Yale University, the University of Florida and the University of Maryland, found that transitioning the U.S. to a single-payer health care system would actually save an estimated $450 billion each year, with the average American family seeing about $2,400 in annual savings. The research, which was published Saturday in the medical journal The Lancet, also found that Medicare for all would prevent about 68,000 unnecessary deaths per year. 'Our study is actually conservative because it doesn't factor in the lives saved among underinsured Americans—which includes anyone who nominally has insurance but has postponed or foregone care because they couldn't afford the copays and deductibles,' Alison Galvani, an author of the study and researcher at the Center for Infectious Disease Modeling and Analysis at the Yale School of Public Health, told Newsweek."

[Twitter, via Naked Capitalism 2-27-20]
Theres an am*zon warehouse in my city. 4000 + workers. Many of my friends work there and had a stomach bug after thanksgiving. Sups didnt care and just put trash cans on the sorting line for them. Its gonna be a problem

“Trump Has Sabotaged America’s Coronavirus Response” 
[Foreign Policy, via Naked Capitalism 2-25-20] 
“In 2018, the Trump administration fired the government’s entire pandemic response chain of command, including the White House management infrastructure. In numerous phone calls and emails with key agencies across the U.S. government, the only consistent response I encountered was distressed confusion. If the United States still has a clear chain of command for pandemic response, the White House urgently needs to clarify what it isIf the United States still has a clear chain of command for pandemic response, the White House urgently needs to clarify what it is—not just for the public but for the government itself, which largely finds itself in the dark…. 
In the absence of a formal structure, the government has resorted to improvisation. In practical terms, the U.S. government’s public health effort is led by Daniel Jernigan, the incident commander for the Wuhan coronavirus response at the CDC. Jernigan is responsible for convening meetings of the nation’s state health commissioners and briefing CDC Director Robert Redfield and his boss, Azar. Meanwhile, state-level health leaders told me that they have been sharing information with one another and deciding how best to prepare their medical and public health workers without waiting for instructions from federal leadership. The most important federal program for local medical worker and hospital epidemic training, however, will run out of money in May, as Congress has failed to vote on its funding.” 
“White House fears coronavirus could shape Trump’s 2020 fortunes”
[Politico, via Naked Capitalism 2-25-20]
A Naked Capitalism reader commented on another story two days later:
“The 20th century model of [pandemic] containment was protecting lives. The 21st century model is protecting markets.”

Naked Capitalism Water Cooler 2-24-20
Suppose you had #COVID-19 symptoms but co-pays and an enormous deductible. Would you seek help immediately? Would you put the visit off as long as possible? Or would you to gut it out, at home? Would you self-quarantine? Suppose you had only $400 for emergencies, like most Americans. What if you were a retail worker? Or a server? Could you self-quarantine? 
“A Miami man who flew to China worried he might have coronavirus. He may owe thousands.” [Miami Herald, via Naked Capitalism 2-25-20]
“After returning to Miami last month from a work trip in China, Osmel Martinez Azcue found himself in a frightening position: he was developing flu-like symptoms, just as coronavirus was ravaging the country he had visited. Under normal circumstances, Azcue said he would have gone to CVS for over-the-counter medicine and fought the flu on his own, but this time was different. As health officials stressed preparedness and vigilance for the respiratory illness, Azcue felt it was his responsibility to his family and his community to get tested for novel coronavirus, known as COVID-19. He went to Jackson Memorial Hospital, where he said he was placed in a closed-off room. Nurses in protective white suits sprayed some kind of disinfectant smoke under the door before entering, Azcue said. Then hospital staff members told him he’d need a CT scan to screen for coronavirus, but Azcue said he asked for a flu test first. ‘This will be out of my pocket,’ Azcue, who has a very limited insurance plan, recalled saying. ‘Let’s start with the blood test, and if I test positive, just discharge me.’ Fortunately, that’s exactly what happened. He had the flu… But two weeks later, Azcue got unwelcome news in the form of a notice from his insurance company about a claim for $3,270.”

Here is an example of public virtue, the key to successful republican self-government
[Twitter, via Naked Capitalism 2-25-20]
My wife and I shared a moment today over how touched we were reading about the Culinary Union workers stating frankly that the risks they'd face with were worth it because they knew so many people without healthcare who needed it. We face a similar risk. 1/

Climate and environmental crises

Researchers find new reason Arctic is warming so fast 
[PhysOrg, via Naked Capitalism 2-26-20]

Fossil-Fuel Subsidies Must End 
[Scientific American, via Naked Capitalism 2-26-20]  

Commandant of Marine Corps orders immediate removal of Confederate symbols from all its bases
Walter Einenkel, Daily Kos Staff [Daily Kos 2-27-20]

Information Age Dystopia

This Assange “Trial” Is A Self-Contradictory Kafkaesque Nightmare
[Caitlin Johnstone, via Naked Capitalism 2-29-20]
“This is so fucked up. He is in a glass booth and cannot hear what is going on. The judge says that he can only talk through his lawyers. But then the judge says that he is forbidden to talk to his lawyers, even with notes. But also that he cannot sit with his lawyers as he is so dangerous he might kill someone.”
Google’s Black Box Algorithm Controls Which Political Emails Land in Your Main Inbox 
[Common Dreams, via Naked Capitalism 2-24-20]
MSNBC's Nicole Wallace admitted as much Saturday evening, lamenting that she has "no idea what voters think about anything anymore" following Sanders' overwhelming caucus victory, powered by the mobilization of a diverse coalition of voters across Nevada. UCLA's Latino Policy and Politics Initiative estimated Sunday morning, with around 60% of precincts officially reporting, that Sanders won over 70% of the Latino vote in the Nevada caucus. 
"You have someone talking about, in a way we have not heard, genuine deeper democracy, popular movements, human equality in a meaningful way, and a politics of love in the tradition of Dr. King—and winning elections," Giridharadas said of Sanders. "I think this is a wake-up moment for the American power establishment, from Michael Bloomberg to those of us in the media to the Democratic Party to donors to CEOs."

David Sirota tweets videos showing Sanders speaking against GOP cuts to Social Security in January 1995, followed by Biden bragging how fiscally responsible he is by supporting the GOP cuts
[via Naked Capitalism 2-28-20]

"Culinary Workers Bucked Their Leadership by Backing Bernie Sanders in Nevada. Here's What They Knew."
[The Intercept 2-23-20, via Avedon's Sideshow 2-28-20]

Democratic- Party leadership insists on suicide

Democratic Leaders Willing to Risk Party Damage to Stop Bernie Sanders
[New York Times 2-27-20]

The Superdelegates Are Nervous, And many of them tell us they’re willing to use a brokered convention to stop Bernie Sanders.
[New York Times 2-27-20]
One prominent Democrat put the “freakout level” at a 12 — on a scale of one to 10. In private conversations, members of Congress used words like “disaster” and said Mr. Sanders had “hijacked the party.” One lawmaker described the mind-set as “depression mode.” (Many of these people threw in some expletives, too.)

[FiveThirtyEight, via Naked Capitalism 2-29-20]

"Tom Perez Should Resign, Preferably Today:
David Dayen [via Avedon's Sideshow 2-28-20]
Tom Perez should never have been DNC chair. He was used as part of a proxy war between Barack Obama's faction of the establishment and the rest of the party, which was fully ready to move on after the 2016 mess. Both Harry Reid and Chuck Schumer had embraced Keith Ellison, one of Bernie Sanders's top surrogates in 2016, for the position, a show of unity that might have helped rebuild broken bonds within the party. Just as Howard Dean's elevation to DNC chair in 2005 brought insurgents within a broader circle of power, Ellison's victory would have at least attempted a rough union between the Sanders and Clinton forces, and given the party's left wing more of a shot at creating a strong and legitimate message to counter Donald Trump. Obama couldn't handle it. He pressured Perez, who was musing about running for governor in Maryland, into the race, and bore down on the establishment to break with the Ellison unity shtick and accept his preferred candidate. This eventually succeeded, with the help of a party coup in Puerto Rico that delivered Perez all of that delegation's votes. 
Obama, now a movie studio boss and occasional public speaker, had no personal reason to force Perez on the party. The most logical reading of his rationale would be that he did it for the blob, the network of consultants, strategists, pollsters, lobbyists, policy mandarins, and media figures for whom politics is their business. They didn't want the spigot to close on the hundreds of millions of dollars that flow through campaigns, and they needed to eliminate the threat of a gatekeeper like Ellison, who might have different ideas. So Perez was installed. The disastrous past week of Democratic politics is the result, deeply damaging the perceived competence of a party that is attempting to ask the American people to put them back in power to engage in activist government. The Iowa results weren't just one snafu but part of a pattern of self-dealing and stupidity within a party elite that's more concerned with staying in power than taking power."

“Bloomberg catches himself from saying he “bought” House races in 2018″
[CNN, via Naked Capitalism 2-26-20]
Bloomberg's Freudian slip: “All of the new Democrats that came in, put Nancy Pelosi in charge, and gave the Congress the ability to control this President, I boug… I got them.”
Stop Bloomberg. He's showing billionaires how to buy the presidency and it's dangerous
USA Today, via Avedon's Sideshow 2-28-20]
"How far would you go to get rid of President Donald Trump? Would you give up any pretense that we live in a democracy of the people, by the people, for the people? That seems to be the bet Mike Bloomberg is making. [...] While it might feel comforting to have our self-made real billionaire beat the spray tan off the fake mismanager of his daddy's wealth, here's the spoiler: You don't have any billionaires; they have you. And once they figure out it's easier and cheaper to buy the presidency than an NFL franchise, the excesses of Trump — or even King George III — will seem trivial in comparison."
End the GOP: In order to save our democracy, we must not merely defeat the Republican Party.
[The New Republic, February 13, 2020]
Every single aspect of [Trump's] administration has been foreshadowed not only by fringe figures within the GOP and voices in the conservative media, but also by the last Republican president—a man now embraced, sometimes literally, by liberal and moderate conservative figures decrying Trump’s conduct. Trump’s own rhetoric of division and exclusion was preceded by the 2004 reelection campaign for George W. Bush, which took advantage of homophobia to boost turnout from social conservatives. Before thousands of Puerto Ricans devastated by Hurricane Maria were forced by the Trump administration’s shoddy recovery effort to ask themselves whether they were really Americans after all, thousands of African Americans failed by the Bush administration’s relief efforts after Hurricane Katrina posed the same question to themselves. Trump’s intimations that the federal executive is above the law may well have been bolstered by the Bush administration’s warrantless surveillance of the American people. Even Trump’s efforts to integrate his companies within the processes of the state were preceded by the Bush administration’s curious keenness for contracts with Halliburton, the company Vice President Dick Cheney ran before Bush took office.
The propaganda and misinformation campaigns that characterize what some have called a new post-truth era under Trump should, in fact, be quite familiar to those who remember the denialism that characterized defenses of the Iraq War and the hundreds of thousands of casualties it produced. The two Republicans who have occupied the White House in the first two decades of the new millennium have shared not only an address, but an enthusiasm for torture and war crimes, a zeal for using fear and the threat of terrorism to quash political dissent, and near-total support from the Republican political establishment.
In the years since the end of the Bush era, we have seen figures within the Republican Party denigrate African Americans, Hispanics, Muslims, and gender and sexual minorities. We have seen the Republican Party repeatedly back cuts to critical social programs under the pretense of fiscal discipline only to pass giveaways to major corporations, the wealthy, and an already gluttonous military. The character of the GOP is not an open question. Even those who suggest otherwise know it—the American political establishment meets each fresh stain the GOP leaves on the American conscience not with genuine surprise, but with performances of disbelief. Impotent in the face of a party that defied all political convention and wisdom with its victory in the last election, and unwilling to reshape a political order that offers them sinecures, political elites have only indignation and repetition as recourse....
It’s left to the rest of us to face the truth squarely: Donald Trump is not a departure from the values defining the Republican Party, but the culmination of its efforts to secure power in this country. The question before us is not how much more the Republican Party might be willing to tolerate from the president but how much more we are willing to tolerate from the Republican Party....
Bipartisanship has become a both particularly sacred and particularly destructive part of the American civil religion, a hollow and superficial virtue promoted by political elites responsible for the domestic and foreign policy failures the two parties have crafted together over the past 30 years—from the Iraq War and support for oppressive regimes abroad to the expansion of extreme poverty and the carceral state at home. But bipartisanship, as Biden knows, also remains appealing to the majority of the American electorate, including the majority of Democrats. The daunting task ahead for progressive activists is convincing ordinary voters that a major political party—prejudiced, venal, and unmoored from reason—can lose the right to govern. Because without a pressure campaign making it clear that Republican power is unsustainable for the country and the planet—that a party in thrall to a racist demagogue and aligned against the Voting Rights Act is not only disagreeable but dangerous—Democrats will never build the support necessary to structurally reform and rebalance the American political system.
Biden and the centrists of the contemporary political establishment are not the first generation of optimists to hope that the Republican Party might return from a period of shame to moderation and political respectability. Barry Goldwater’s catastrophic campaign in 1964 sparked widespread speculation among liberals that right-wing politics could never take root in America. But it was followed by a Nixon campaign in ’68 that set the template for the deployment of white grievance politics as an electoral strategy. The skullduggery of Watergate was followed by Reagan and the mythology of the welfare queen. And it was the 1988 campaign of George H.W. Bush, another establishment figure and policy moderate, that attempted to terrify white voters with the Willie Horton ad and dog whistles about race and crime. His son, having ridden into the White House on the promise of a “compassionate conservatism,” made opposition to gay marriage a centerpiece of his second campaign.
[The Nation, via Naked Capitalism 2-28-20]
....some kind of reform must happen under the next Democratic administration, whenever that is. Republicans have changed the rules when it comes to Supreme Court appointments. We can’t just go back to the way things were before Kavanaugh, before Gorsuch, and before McConnell.

The Republicans didn’t win the Supreme Court in one day or in one election. They spent a generation figuring out how to take control of it. They poured money and political resources into promoting their vision, and they built an entire infrastructure to help them pull off a full-scale heist of the Supreme Court in broad daylight.
Not just the Supreme Court, but the entire judiciary is going to be a major problem -- it's infested with (Anti)Federalist Society ideologues who will have to be removed someway, somehow to restore the principle of equality before the law. 

Australian Politics 2020-03-01 15:37:00


Keyboard warriors walking a fine line online

The comment below is in response to a court judgment vindicating a principal -- Tracey Brose -- of a small country school who had been abused online. The accusations against her implied that she was: evil, nasty and horrible; had brought pain and stress on a woman’s family; had mistreated lower-performing children; and brought stress on students who did not achieve A grades.

What lies behind the controversy is that Ms Brose is a "no nonsense" principal who pushes students for good results.  And she gets them, making her very popular with most of the parents

Some parents of slower students, however, thought she was too hard on their offspring and made online comments abusing Ms Brose.  And they were aggressive comments, not polite disagreement. The attacks were what one might expect from people with dim offspring

Ms Brose was distressed by the comments but could not get a retraction so turned to the law of defamation to put a kink in her critics. Had the accused apologized at any point, no further action would have been needed.  But rather than apologize, the small minority of critics doubled down.

The judgement against them  has not diminished their rage but it may be a lesson to others.

CHARACTER assassination on social media needs to be kept in check by courts while still allowing "breathing space for expression", the judge who presided over the Tamborine Mountain case says. District Court Judge Catherine Muir noted in her 140-page decision that people had a right to use defamation laws to sue if they believed their reputation was hurt by untruths but that should not trample on freedom of speech.

Judge Muir said courts could only use "existing defamation" law to assess comments made online in a "growing" number of Facebook and other social media defamation lawsuits.

She noted that "considerable legislative focus and solution" was needed to look at complex defamation law issues in online forums.

Speaking after yesterday's decision, Derek Wilding of the Centre for Media Transition at the University of Technology Sydney said a joint effort by the Federal Government and the states and territories was exploring proposals to update defamation law. "But even if the law does change, people will still need to ask themselves whether their online comments might harm someone's reputation," he said.

Mr Wilding said internet users needed to be cautious about what they posted online. "If it's not Facebook that's being sued for defamation in Australia — it's the people who post comments and the people or organisations who own the pages," he said.

"Part of the problem is that we don't assume we're a 'publisher' when we post a comment, but the law sees it differently."

Law academic Michael Douglas said defamation law reform was likely to appear this year, but cases like this would still be in the courts and reforms may not help regular mums and dads sued for defamation. "Keyboard warriors should take a breath and go for a walk before writing something spicy on social media," he said.

From the Brisbane "Courier Mail" of 29/2/20

Celebrities have forgotten their place

A new lifeform has emerged on the global stage. Actually, it’s more of a mutation than a new species. This organism can only survive in the rarefied atmosphere of the public spotlight, and it has been part of everyday life, first in movies and then in television, for the better part of a century. It can now be found in sport, music, politics, fashion, royalty – and social media, where it goes by the name “influencer”.

I am talking about the celebrity. In the old days – prior to the 1980s, say – celebrities knew their place; their job was to look pretty, to exude wit and/or charm, to dress glamorously and to attract fans. But today’s celebrities have extended this brief to include the opportunistic promotion of a popular cause. And with the awards industry flourishing, there are any number of platforms that enable today’s celebrities to pout, preen and pose on a red carpet just as they have always done, but with the added opportunity of offering “spontaneous” advice to the non-celebrity world about their pet subject. Climate change is a favourite.

Never mind that the celebrity lifestyle involves private jets, multiple homes and a range of egregious consumption sins committed against the environment. The unstated logic among this new breed of Celebrity Moralisers is that, while they do indeed live these apparently wasteful lifestyles, the payback is that they command vast audiences so “an earnest word about carbon emissions” delivered at precisely the right moment can have the effect of modifying the behaviour of millions. Millions!

Plus, moralising even momentarily from a public pulpit effectively rebrands the celebrity as not just a pretty face but as someone who’s a bit of a thinker, an ethicist; someone who is deeply concerned about the great moral challenges of the day. I mean, a celebrity isn’t going to shout “remember to floss” from the stage (vital though that is to dental hygiene); they’re going to promote a cause that is prominent, that contributes to their brand, and that can never be measured. It’s a win-win.

So it’s OK for Celebrity Moralisers to fly about, but not for you and me, and that’s because their carbon emissions are offset by the impact they can have in “bravely speaking out” and reining in the errant behaviour of the masses. In fact, moralising to millions is a lot like buying carbon offsets. It legitimises the celebrity lifestyle, it promotes their brand and, best of all, the impact of their courageous words can’t be quantified. How many people were persuaded to reduce carbon emissions as a consequence of moral posturing? Or does the value that celebrities bring lie with their ability to change the vibe?

In many ways, the cult of the celebrity is like a modern aristocracy in which the resources of the many are marshalled to support the lifestyle of the few. And when celebrities stuck to their core business of promoting their work, we accepted their position of privilege. But less so today.

In today’s world business leaders, politicians and others are very much held to account for espousing one standard while living another. The modern world abhors hypocrisy, or so we would like to believe.

And yet I somehow think that next year’s awards season will be littered with more causes, more symbols of solidarity, more brave words of support, because despite the callouts, the spoofs and the protest, we’ll move on and allow the Celebrity Moraliser to re-emerge stronger and poutier than ever. Hmmm… perhaps we’re more tolerant of hypocrisy than we would like to believe.


Our leaders open to ridicule in setting silly climate targets

We might like talking about polit­ical promises but let’s be frank: they have the half-life of a prawn salad. Our politicians have broken so many pledges they’ve made cynicism more contagious than the coronavirus.

Ruling out new taxes, heralding surpluses and guaranteeing stability — breaking these undertakings is the only thing that has united our major parties over the past decade. Crossing voters is an across-the-aisle conviction.

When core promises can last less than a year, try to imagine the voter buy-in for a pledge spanning 30 budgets and at least 10 elect­ions. Anthony Albanese says Labor will deliver a zero net carbon dioxide emissions target by 2050, without saying how it will be done or what it will cost.

If it happens, it will be achieved by a prime minister who is most likely not yet in the parliament and some of the people who will get to pass judgment on the outcome­ at the ballot box won’t be born for more than a decade. When we evaluate our 2050 performance, Albanese will be 86, Greta Thunberg will be 47 and Keith Richards will most likely still be confounding medics and turning 106.

If we cast our minds back an equivalent period, it was the delivery date for an infamous promise from former prime minister Bob Hawke. “By 1990, no child will be living in poverty,” he said in 1987. Despite manifestly failing on this, Hawke was re-elected for a fourth term in March 1990. Although the Silver Bodgie is no longer with us, children living in poverty are — as we were reminded­ this week with references to the Newstart Allowance and poverty on the NSW central coast.

If you can’t remember 1990, let me remind you: it was the year that Germany officially reunited, a year after the Berlin Wall came down, and Poland became the first Eastern bloc nation to begin to embrace capitalism; Tim Berners-Lee began work on creating the world wide web; the first digital camera was sold; and mobile phones were chunky things in fancy cars. Iraq invaded Kuwait and troops, including Australian sailors, blockaded Iraq in the lead-up to the first Gulf War; while the Rio Earth summit, which first drew global attention to global warming, was still two years away.

Supporters of zero net by 2050 argue that it is pointless discussing the cost because we have no idea about technological, industrial and economic settings that far in the future. Which is exactly the point: why promote the target when there is no way of knowing where we will be placed on clim­ate knowledge, technological ­advances, emissions reduction and economic settings even two years from now?

This target is virtue-signalling, pure and simple, which is why state governments and large corpor­ates sign up; they are eager to access subsidies and projects but are not responsible for delivering. In federal politics, where the rubber will hit the road, any party adopting the target surely is obliged to provide plans and costings for achieving it.

Labor wipes its hands but a study by the New Zealand Instit­ute of Economic Research costed scenarios and found zero net would cut GDP growth by 0.2 per cent. It said the higher the target, the higher the cost to households. Former resources minister Matt Canavan wrote in The Australian this week that the same formula would mean annual economic costs of $200bn to $400bn in Australia, with between 200,000 and 400,000 fewer jobs.

That estimates the pain, yet until we know what the rest of the world does, we cannot guess at any gain. If global emissions continue to rise — as they are forecast to do for at least a decade — all our costs will be for no discernible benefit. None of our politicians want to talk about cost/benefit analysis on climate action.

The evangelical enthusiasm for this target from green/left politicians­, activists and journalists is irrational, more emotion and gesture than reason and fact.

They boast of 80 nations already­ signed up to zero net but they seldom list those countries. Here are a few: Antigua and Barbuda­, Burkina Faso, Botswana, Cape Verde, Chad, Colombia, Cook Islands, Dominican ­Republic, Ethiopia, Ghana, ­Guyana, Lebanon, Mali, Nauru, Nicaragua, Pakistan, Panama, Rwanda, Samoa, Suriname, Uganda and Zambia.

One of the few signatories with a prospective economy is Norway­, but it gets almost all of its electricity from abundant hydro-electricity while exporting lucrative gas and oil. It has its cake and exports at the same time.

To be fair, proponents point to Britain but while it has dramatic­ally reduced emissions, it has fallen short of some targets, has already switched from coal to gas for cost reasons rather than clim­ate, and it gets about 20 per cent of its electricity from nuclear.

In Australia, added emissions reduction will be costly and difficult. Already our shift to about 23 per cent renewable power has helped double electricity costs and threaten energy security.

For just over a fortnight this month, South Australia faced an accidental experiment. Cut off from the Victorian intercon­nector because of storm damage, it was left as an island, reliant on its own generation, four years and $500m of government investment after its statewide blackout in 2016.

Saved by cool weather, the state just managed to scrape through, but only by relying on gas for 70 per cent of its electricity generation. The state’s much-vaunted 50 per cent renewable energy achievements fell by the wayside — the zeitgeist wasn’t blowing when required — and without coal-fired power from across the state border, it only got through by firing up every bit of gas it could.

If targets and subsidies force out more coal and gas power in Victoria and NSW, all this will get much worse. Battery storage is too expensive and too short-lived to play much of a role.

Writing in The Wall Street Journal in August, Mark P. Mills detailed the resources needed for expansion of wind farms and battery storage.

“Building one wind turbine requires 900 tons of steel, 2500 tons of concrete and 45 tons of plastic,” he outlined.

“The International Renewable Energy Agency calculates that solar goals for 2050 consistent with the Paris Accords will result in old-panel disposal constituting more than double the tonnage of all today’s global plastic waste.”

He points out that the manufacture of a single electric car battery­ demands the digging up and processing of 230,000kg of raw materials. For each car.

The mining growth required, especially for rare earths, would be extraordinary, expensive and energy intensive.

“Building enough wind turbines to supply half the world’s electricity would require nearly two billion tons of coal to produce concrete and steel, along with two billion barrels of oil to make the composite blades,” wrote Mills, confronting the reality of clean, green industries.

Our debate is dominated by unrealistic posturing rather than cold hard facts. Scott Morrison ought to stick to practical policies and dismiss the climate poseurs in his own ranks and in the state ­Liberal governments. Australia ought to either focus primarily on affordable and reliable power or, if we are serious about emissions reduction, consider solving our energy security, climate policy and submarine technology dilemmas through a pivot to nuclear technology.

Politicians must resist believing their own publicity. One of the greatest risks for the Coalition after winning last year’s election was believing that the result was all about its brilliance rather than being largely a consequence of Labor’s determination to make themselves unelectable.

With a thin reform agenda, fragile economy and underlying divisions in its ranks, it is vital that the Coalition governs compet­ently and embarks on a more ambitious program. It has been tardy on this front but, again, has been gifted a re-election strategy­ by a Labor Party addicted to radical, non-nuclear climate action as the learned helplessness of its electoral failure.

Morrison must oppose climate self-harm and fight for reliable, ­affordable electricity — coal-fired, gas-fired or nuclear. This contest will shape our economic future and crystallise his government’s reason for being.


Dangerous leniency for youthful criminals

A TEENAGER accused of breaking into a woman's home and raping her yesterday morning was released on bail for sex offences allegedly committed just a month ago.

The 17-year-old was charged with various offences in Cooktown last month, including sexual assault and assault with intent to commit rape.

It is understood he was granted bail and ordered to live in Cairns and not return to Cooktown as one of the conditions of his bail.

LNP leader Deb Frecklington described yesterday's alleged incident at Edmonton as a "horrific, horrific case". She said the community was being put in danger by Labor's decision to scrap the breach of bail offence for juveniles and amendments to the Youth JuStice Act.

"Labor's 'catch and release' youth bail laws are putting the public at risk," she said. "There is a revolving door of yob  crime and the community has had enough."

A senior police officer who did not want to be named said current legislation "left a lot to be answered for". "It's absolutely outrageous and it's leaving the community at risk," he said.

The youth was also part of the bail hub program Operation Regenerate, which involves police on paid overtime taking youths on recreational outings. The operation was part of a $9.4 million statewide investment from the State Government to lower the number of children remanded in custody.

Cairns MP Michael Healy defended Labor's juvenile crime policies. "The Youth Justice Act is clear, a person can be remanded in custody to keep the community safe or to prevent them from offending," he said.. "Locking them up is not the simple solution ... the only way to address this problem is being hard and direct on the causes of crime."

The woman allegedly 'attacked by the teen is aged over 50. She called police and he was allegedly found naked soon after. The woman was treated in Cairns Hospital. It is understood the teen appeared in a closed court session late yesterday charged with, rape, assault. With intent to commit rape and enter dwelling with intent. He was remanded in custody with the case adjourned until May.

From the Brisbane "Courier Mail" of 29/2/20

 Posted by John J. Ray (M.A.; Ph.D.).    For a daily critique of Leftist activities,  see DISSECTING LEFTISM.  To keep up with attacks on free speech see Tongue Tied. Also, don't forget your daily roundup  of pro-environment but anti-Greenie  news and commentary at GREENIE WATCH .  Email me  here