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What Does It Sound Like When You Hear Inflation Rose 8% in May?

The Consumer Price Index picked up by 8.6 percent, as price increases climbed at the fastest pace in more than 40 years (New York Times).

If you don’t think about it too hard, it sounds like prices rose 8.6% in May. But that’s not true.

The Department of Labor’s Consumer Price Index actually rose 1.0% in May. The 8.6% increase refers to the fact that the index was 8.6% higher than a year ago.

Would it be too hard for news people to write headlines that clearly conveyed what happened? No, but it wouldn’t sound as “newsworthy” (i.e. interesting) to say prices rose 1.0% in May or that they rose 8.6% in the past year.

What makes this especially annoying is that this is how the government announced the latest inflation news:

The Consumer Price Index for All Urban Consumers (CPI-U) increased 1.0 percent in May on a seasonally adjusted basis after rising 0.3 percent in April, the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics reported today. Over the last 12 months, the all items index increased 8.6 percent before seasonal adjustment.

The increase was broad-based, with the indexes for shelter, gasoline, and food being the largest contributors. After declining in April, the energy index rose 3.9 percent over the month with the gasoline index rising 4.1 percent and the other major component indexes also increasing. The food index rose 1.2 percent in May as the food at home index increased 1.4 percent.

The index for all items less food and energy rose 0.6 percent in May, the same increase as in April. While almost all major components increased over the month, the largest contributors were the indexes for shelter, airline fares, used cars and trucks, and new vehicles.

It’s so much easier to simply say, as the Wall Street Journal did:

Inflation Reaches 8.6% in May

Back to the New York Times for an explanation, not a headline:

In the short term, high inflation can be the result of a hot economy — one in which people have a lot of surplus cash or are accessing a lot of credit and want to spend. If consumers are buying goods and services eagerly enough, businesses may raise prices because they lack adequate supply. Or companies may choose to charge more because they realize they can raise prices and improve their profits without losing customers.

But inflation can — and often does — rise and fall based on developments that have little to do with economic conditions. Limited oil production can make gas expensive. Supply chain problems can keep goods in short supply, pushing up prices.

The inflationary burst America has experienced this year has been driven partly by quirks and partly by demand.

On the quirk side, the coronavirus has caused factories to shut down and has clogged shipping routes, helping to limit the supply of cars and couches and pushing prices higher. Airfares and rates for hotel rooms have rebounded after dropping in the depths of the pandemic. Gas prices have also contributed to heady gains recently.

For those who think gas prices are all Biden’s fault, a word from the Deputy Director of the National Economic Council:

A big reason gas prices are up is because companies cut refinery capacity in 2020 under the last administration [you know who’s]. US refinery capacity went down by 800,000 barrels per day. Refiners are now making bigger [profits by] raising prices at the pump.

The second big reason gas prices are up is Putin’s actions in Ukraine and the global response raising oil prices. Pump prices are up more than $1.60 since then. Our response had the backing of Republicans…

At any rate, here is US oil production in thousands of barrels starting in 2020, a year before Biden took office (there is no Biden “War on Oil”):

Untitled

And back to the Times:

But it is also the case that consumers, who collectively built up big savings thanks to months in lockdown and repeated government stimulus checks, are spending robustly and their demand is driving part of inflation. They are continuing to buy even as costs … rise, and they are shouldering increases in rent and home prices. The indefatigable shopping is helping to keep price increases brisk….

Officials say they do not yet see evidence that rapid inflation is turning into a permanent feature of the economic landscape, even as prices rise very quickly.

But nobody knows for sure. One thing I do know is that the Republicans who are blaming Democrats for high inflation have no plan to address it, and cutting taxes for the rich and corporations (their standard, well, only policy idea) would make inflation worse.

In case you’re really interesting, here are the monthly price increase for the past 13 months, which, by my arithmetic, add up to more than 8%:

MAY ’21 +0.7%   JUNE +0.9%   JULY +0.5%      AUG. +0.3%        SEPT. +0.4%              OCT. +0.9%        NOV. +0.7%    DEC. +0.6%     JAN. ’22 +0.6%    FEB. +0.8%          MARCH +1.2%   APRIL +0.3%   MAY +1.0%

I bet June will be lower.

What’s a Fusion Party?

Third political parties don’t do well in the US. What they usually do is take votes away from the major party they’re ideologically closest to. Thus, in the 2020 election, 1.8 million people voted for the Libertarian Party candidate, not the Republican, and 400,000 voted for the Green Party candidate, not the Democrat. In 2016, 4.5 million voted Libertarian and 1.5 million voted Green. Voting for a third party in America is a way to “send a message”, while helping to elect the Democrat or Republican you probably can’t stand. A classic case was Ralph Nader, noted progressive and consumer advocate, getting 97,000 votes in Florida, in an election with a final margin between Bush and Gore of 573 (thanks to the Supreme Court). Bush should have invited Nader to the White House, although Nader wouldn’t have shown up.

But some third parties make sense. They’re called “fusion” parties. A fusion party nominates the major party candidate they like best. All votes cast for the fusion party in the general election go to the Democrat or Republican they’ve nominated. Thus, in New York, where fusion parties are legal, the Working Families Party usually nominates the Democrat and the Conservative Party usually nominates the Republican. It may sound like a dumb idea (why not just vote for the Democratic or Republican nominee?), but it allows the fusion party to run its own campaign and allows fusion party voters to avoid thinking of themselves as Democrats or Republicans.

The most interesting case, however, is when the fusion party nominates a candidate they’d ordinarily oppose. That happens when the other major party candidate is so bad, the fusion party can’t support them. That’s what’s happening in New Jersey’s 7th Congressional District this year. Disaffected Republicans have created the Moderate Party and nominated the Democrat (who happens to be relatively moderate). They don’t want to support the Republican, because he’s an empty suit who’s aligned himself with the Make America Great Again crowd. They see the Moderate Party as a political home for Republicans or others who might ordinarily vote for a Republican, but can’t bring themselves to support an extremist.

As of now, however, fusion parties are illegal in New Jersey and most other states. They were popular in the 19th century and legal in New Jersey until 1920. For whatever reason, Democratic and Republican politicians have usually preferred the two-party system that put them in power. In 1997, the Supreme Court ruled that states have a strong interest in “the stability of the two-party system”, so although a third party could “endorse” a Democrat or a Republican, they could be prohibited from casting ballots for that candidate.

Assuming the state of New Jersey declines to recognize the Moderate Party, its organizers plan to sue. According to the New Jersey Globe:

The Moderate Party is expected to argue that fusion voting protects voter rights, free speech and equal protection for candidates and voters. Organizers say their group will include Republicans, Democrats and unaffiliated voters.

The Globe article cites two cases in which fusion parties made a difference:

Democrat Daniel Malloy was elected governor of Connecticut in 2010 by 6,500 votes after winning 26,000 votes as the candidate of the Connecticut Working Families Party.

In his 1980 U.S. Senate race in New York, Republican Alphonse D’Amato received 275,000 votes on the Conservative Party line and an additional 152,000 as the Right to Life Party candidate.  That enabled him to defeat Democrat Elizabeth Holtzman by 81,000 votes.

Now that the Republican Party has lost its collective mind, fusion parties would be a way to elect more Democrats. We’ll see if New Jersey’s Secretary of State and Supreme Court allow it to happen.

Yeah, There’s a Name for It

We’re having a primary election today. The people I planned to vote for had no opposition, but I walked over and voted anyway. Voting is a ritual of democracy! (Plus our local election workers used to provide cookies.)

It was worth the trip. They have new, electronic, paper ballot machines. You put in a piece of paper, vote on the touchscreen, and then you look through a little window to see your votes printed on the paper. If it all looks ok, you press “cast your ballot” and the paper goes into a container. So there’s a paper trail if there’s a recount. Very cool. Every voter in the US should be able to use a machine like that. While voting still matters.

From Greg Sargent of The Washington Post:

“1776 motherfuckers.”

That’s what an associate texted to Enrique Tarrio, then the leader of the Proud Boys, just after members of the group stormed the Capitol on Jan. 6, 2021. In a new indictment that prosecutors filed against them, variations on that idea abound: Members refer to the insurrection as a glorious revival of 1776 again and again, with almost comic predictability.

… The way 1776 comes up in the indictment — combined with some surprising new details it reveals — should prompt a serious look at how far-right extremist groups genuinely think about the long struggle that they envision themselves waging.

In short, groups such as these generally are driven by a dangerous vision of popular sovereignty. It essentially holds that the will of the truly authentic “people,” a flexible category they get to define, is being suppressed, requiring periodic “resets” of the system, including via violent, extralegal means.

Such groups aren’t going away anytime soon. We should understand what drives them.

The new indictment that a grand jury returned on Monday against Tarrio and four other Proud Boys is for “seditious conspiracy.” This requires prosecutors to prove that at least two people conspired to use force to overthrow the U.S. government or subvert the execution of U.S. law.

To build this case, prosecutors have sought to present extensive evidence that the Proud Boys fully intended to use force to subvert governmental authority and relevant laws concerning the transfer of presidential power. This included arming themselves with paramilitary gear and discussing violent disruptions online in advance…. The indictment alleges that they attacked police officers, breached police lines with violence, and helped coordinate the storming of the Capitol in real time.

What’s more, in the indictment prosecutors disclose highly revealing text exchanges between Tarrio — who was not present that day — and another member later on Jan. 6. The exchanges appear to refer back to a document Tarrio possessed called “1776 returns,” which reportedly contains a detailed scheme to attack government buildings.

Those text exchanges compare Jan. 6 to both 1776 and the attack on “the Winter Palace,” which helped lead to the Russian Revolution. This seeming reference back to that document perhaps suggests they viewed Jan. 6 as the successful execution of a premeditated plan….

In this context, while all the 1776-oriented talk might seem like posturing, it points to something real and enduring on the far right.

It isn’t easy to pin down the Proud Boys, who tend to define themselves as defenders of Western civilization. Tarrio’s views appear pretty convoluted. In a 2021 interview, he admitted that the 2020 election had not been stolen from former president Donald Trump,… yet he openly celebrated the “fear” that members of Congress felt of “the people,” and helped mobilize Proud Boys to mass around the Capitol that day.

So how to make sense of that, as well as the broader tangle of ideologies on the far right?

helpful framework comes from Joseph Lowndes, a scholar of the right wing at the University of Oregon. As Lowndes notes, a longtime strain in American political culture treats procedural democracy as itself deeply suspect, as subverting a more authentic subterranean popular will.

For such ideologues, what constitutes “the people” is itself redefined by spasmodic revolutionary acts, including violence. The people’s sovereignty, and with it the defining lines of the republic, are also effectively redrawn, or even rebirthed, by such outbursts of energy and militant action.

In this vision, Lowndes told me, the “people” and the “essence of the republic” are “made new again through acts of violent cleansing.” He noted that in this imagining, the “people” are something of a “fiction,” one that is essentially created out of the violent “act.”

“This regeneration through violence is going to be with us for a long time,” Lowndes said, “because it is fundamental to the right-wing political imagination.”

Lurking behind all the 1776 cosplay, then, is a tangle of very real radical and extreme ideologies…. They aren’t going away.

Unquote.

Journalist John Ganz sums up the current situation in response to a New York Times article by a “National Review fellow”, Nate Hochman:

Since he’s fond of Marxist categories, I’d like to introduce Hochman to another one: totality. This refers to the notion that we have to analyze a social and political situation in its entirety, and that failing to do so will give us a false or incomplete picture. While he is more frank than most, Hochman doesn’t want to look at the Right in its totality. While he seems comfortable with the portions of the right that, despite being demagogic and repressive, remain within the bounds of legal and civic behavior, like the anti-trans and anti-Critical Race Theory campaigns, he doesn’t really want to talk about January 6th, or the stolen election myth, great replacement, or the cultish worship of T____, or the Proud Boys, who now have a significant presence in [the] Miami-Dade Republican party….

But these things are as much, if not more, emblematic of the modern Republican party as young Mr. Hochman in his blazer over there at The National Review….

So now let’s recapitulate the totality of the political situation, with the help of Mr. Hochman’s fine essay. He wants to say this new right is essentially a secular [non-religious] party of the aggrieved, [a coalition that feels] the national substance has been undermined by a group of cosmopolitan elites, who have infiltrated all the institutions of power. That believes immigrants threaten to replace the traditional ethnic make up of the country. That borrows conceptions and tactics from the socialist tradition but retools them for counter-revolutionary ends. That is animated by myths of national decline and renewal. That instrumentalizes racial anxieties. That brings together dissatisfied and alienated members of the intelligentsia with the conservative families of the old bourgeoisie and futurist magnates of industry. That looks to a providential figure like T___ for leadership. That has street fighting and militia cadres. That has even attempted an illegal putsch to give their leader absolute power.

If only there was historical precedent and even a neat little word for all that.

Unquote.

Well, here’s a hint. The precedent is Nazi Germany and the neat little word is “FASCISM”.

Florida and Bush v. Gore Set the Stage for 2024

You could say the 2016 election was stolen when the Republican FBI director James Comey sent an extraordinary letter to Congress a week before Election Day to announce nothing of real importance regarding Hillary Clinton’s email. That gave our corporate media the chance to flog the email story one more time, convincing more than 78,000 wavering voters in Michigan, Pennsylvania and Wisconsin to abandon the candidate everybody thought was going to win. The 46 Electoral College votes from those three states put the Republican candidate in the White House.

You could say the Republicans stole that election, but that wouldn’t be quite accurate, because it’s doubtful the dimwitted, self-righteous FBI director was trying to steal the election when he ignored a Justice Department rule and made his last-minute, election-altering news. He was simply trying to cover his ass, fearing that his Republican friends in Congress would be upset with him if he didn’t tell them what he knew a week before the election and their guy ended up losing.

No, it was the 2000 election the Republicans actually stole.

I’d forgotten how blatant the theft was until I stumbled upon a 2001 article in the London Review of Books by law professor Bruce Ackerman. The article is called “Anatomy of a Constitutional Coup”. It explains in detail how the Republicans stole that election. Here’s the last paragraph:

Suppose I had been reporting on the recent election of Vicente Fox as President of Mexico. I would have described how a mob of Fox’s partisans stopped the vote count in Mexico City, how Fox’s campaign chairman used her authority as chief elections officer to prevent the count from continuing, how Fox’s brother exercised his position as governor to take the Presidential election out of the hands of the voters, how the Supreme Court intervened to crush, without any legal ground, the last hope for a complete count. Would we be celebrating the election of President Fox as the dawn of a new democratic day in Mexico?

Replace Mexico with the US, Mexico City with Miami, and Vicente Fox with George W. Bush and that sums up what happened to us in 2000.

If you have the intestinal fortitude to read Professor Ackerman’s fascinating article, you’ll understand why (assuming they don’t win the old-fashioned way), Republicans will almost certainly try to steal the presidential election in 2024. They got away with it in 2000. A mob of Republicans intimidated election officials in Miami; Florida’s Republican Secretary of State interfered with the vote counting; Republican Governor Jeb Bush got the Florida legislature to create an “alternate” slate of electors; and the Republican majority on the Supreme Court used their august authority to finish the job.

What Democrats Could Do

Lots of people are giving Congressional Democrats advice. One such person is Perry Bacon. He writes for The Washington Post. Here’s his suggestion (with commentary from me):

The Republican Party isn’t fit to lead, and most voters know it — that’s why Joe Biden won the presidency. But all those 2020 Biden voters shouldn’t be expected to turn out for two more years of Joe Manchin III (W.Va.) and Kyrsten Sinema (Ariz.) blocking most legislation in the Senate, sometimes joined by moderate Democrats in the House….

Democrats should level with voters. . . . There was never really a Democratic “trifecta,” because Manchin and Sinema are more independents than they are Democrats.

They should be clear about the solution: a Senate with at least 52 Democrats and a House with at least 218 Democrats [they would actually need more than 218, since that would give every Democrat in the House veto power, just like Manchin and Sinema have had in the Senate for the past two years]. If they get that, they can say, they will pass a specific agenda, something like this:
  1. Eliminate the filibuster.
  2. A national law guaranteeing a right to an abortion in the first trimester and in all cases of rape and incest.
  3. A democracy reform law mandating independent commissions to draw state and congressional districts lines free of gerrymandering; vote-by-mail and two weeks of early voting; proportional representation through multi-member congressional districts; and measures to prevent election subversion.
  4. ban on the sale of military-style weapons such as AR-15 rifles and high-capacity magazines, along with universal background checks for gun sales.
  5. A minimum income tax of at least 20 percent on billionaires.
  6. A ban on members of Congress buying individual stocks.
  7. National marijuana legalization.
  8. A climate change plan that puts the United States on a path to net-zero carbon emissions by 2050.
  9. A required civics and life-skills course for high school seniors, with the same curriculum throughout the country.
  10. Voluntary term limits of 12 years in Congress for all Democrats (six terms in the House, two in the Senate) [A better idea would be a voluntary retirement age, say 70 years — airline pilots have to retire at 65, some state judges have to retire at 70]
  11. What connects these ideas? First, many of them are already popular….

Second, they directly confront America’s biggest problem: the radicalized Republican Party and how our political system gives a small bloc of GOP voters, the party’s donors and its elected officials veto power over the preferences of most Americans, including many Republicans.

Third, they acknowledge this stark reality: The United States is experiencing a non-military, uncivil war that the Democrats must win.

The Republican agenda of expanding gun rights, narrowing voting rights and functionally abolishing abortion rights doesn’t seem coherent or logical until you view it as an agenda of White male Christian hegemony. Then it fits together perfectly. The Democrats must stop trying to duck the so-called culture wars and instead fight hard to win them. There is no middle ground between White male Christian hegemony and multiracial, multicultural social democracy — and the Democrats shouldn’t be shy about using their power to impose the latter, since it’s what a clear majority of Americans want.

[These proposals would be] an acknowledgement that America’s economic and political establishments have failed and need to be changed.

Unquote.

Mr. Bacon didn’t include any strictly economic proposals or any ideas for court reform, although he mentions “the proposal of legal writer Elie Mystal to create a 29-member high court” (others have suggested a smaller number, like 13 or 15). But it’s a pretty good list and would remind some voters what would be possible with more Democrats in Congress. 

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