Something to Read and Share If You Care About This Damn Country

From Paul Waldman of The Washington Post:

America, you’re on your own from here on out.

That is the message President Txxxx sent over the weekend with his quartet of executive orders — a quintessential Txxxx non-solution to a monumental problem largely of his own making.

This may be the last significant action — or at least an action that pretends to be significant — that the president takes between now and Election Day to deal with the coronavirus pandemic and the economic crisis it has caused. And it will accomplish almost nothing.

Let’s break it down:

  • The supplemental unemployment insurance included in the Cares Act, which provided the 30 million or so Americans who have lost their jobs with an additional $600 a week, has expired. Txxxx’s order claims to restore $300 of that and asks states to chip in another $100. But it establishes a new program that could take months to implement and is potentially unconstitutional anyway, since the power to appropriate money lies with Congress, not the president.
  • Txxxx ordered the temporary suspension of payroll tax collection, an action which, if it survives legal challenge, will do practically nothing to help the economy (by definition, people who are unemployed are not on payrolls). It will, however, weaken the Social Security and Medicare systems, which are funded by payroll taxes. As written, his order only defers collection of those taxes, which means employers and employees would have to pay them back later, though Txxxx claimed that if reelected, he would “terminate” the taxes, which he also can’t do.
  • Txxxx instructed his administration to “consider” banning evictions at properties with federally owned mortgages. There is an eviction tsunami on its way that could see tens of millions of Americans lose their homes. This does nothing to prevent that.
  • Txxxx delayed interest and payment requirements for student loans until the end of the year. This is the only one of the orders that might actually help people.

So in total, these executive orders will have little impact on the economic crisis Americans are facing. But just as Txxxx claims that his handling of the pandemic itself has been a story of unmitigated success, when he performed a signing ceremony before a crowd of dues-paying members at one of his golf clubs, he said the executive orders “will take care of pretty much this entire situation.”

That was the tell. Txxxx took this step because the allegedly masterful dealmaker couldn’t be bothered to work with Congress to arrive at an agreement on a comprehensive rescue package, and now he will simply say that his work is done.

So much of how Txxxx operates was evident in this episode: claiming powers he doesn’t actually possess, issuing orders of questionable legality, lying about what they do, claiming to solve problems he hasn’t actually solved, creating worse problems over the long term and doing it because he wasn’t up to the hard work of governing. The fact that he essentially turned the announcement into an ad for one of his golf clubs — yet again seeking a way to use his office to benefit his personal financial interests — was the icing on the cake.

From this point forward, when asked about the pandemic, Txxxx will say as he has so many times before that he has done a terrific job and everything is as good as it could be. Yet while many of our peer countries are beginning to return to normal life, the United States could reach more than 200,000 deaths from covid-19 by Election Day at current rates, along with millions more infections (and as we’re learning, many people who survive the illness are left with a long and difficult recovery).

In the same way, when he’s asked about the continued economic misery in the country, he’ll say: I solved it — don’t you remember those executive orders? Everyone is thanking me because the economy is doing so great now.

Meanwhile, so many needs that an actual rescue bill ought to address are going unmet: real aid for the unemployed, aid to states and localities to save their imperiled budgets that are already leading to layoffs and slashed services, aid to schools, aid to the Postal Service that the president seems to be trying to hobble, genuine eviction protections, money to enable states to conduct a safe and secure election in November and so much more.

It’s still possible for Congress to pass such a bill, even if the president thinks it’s no longer necessary. Perhaps Republicans who have been so reluctant to provide too much assistance to the country will realize that Txxxx’s spin isn’t working and their own survival could depend on not giving up quite yet on arriving at an agreement.

All those lost lives and shattered families and shuttered businesses can’t be waved away with an absurd ceremony at a golf club. Txxxx may think they can, but the rest of us have to confront reality. And it’s only getting worse.

Unquote.

Fortune’s site has a “comprehensive guide to voting in all 50 states”. It’s time to register if you aren’t and then vote Democratic when you can. 

You can see if you’re registered here.

Biden on a Staggering Statistic

From Joe Biden and his team:

Today, we learned that another 2.1 million people filed for unemployment last week, bringing the total number of new unemployment claims since this crisis began to more than 40 million. This is just the latest evidence of D—- T—-’s utter failure to do what a president should and must do: lead in a crisis. He ignored the warnings, refused to prepare the country, and wasn’t honest with the American people about what was needed — and we are all living with the horrific results. Now, nearly a quarter of the American workforce has filed for unemployment — a figure so staggering that it would have seemed unthinkable not long ago.

Though the coronavirus is to blame for planting the seeds of this damage, we know that D—- T—-’s persistent failure to act is responsible for the tragic and unprecedented scale of the crisis. T—- was warned for months about the urgency of the situation, but sat on his hands — undermining public health experts and spinning false promises to the American people to prop up his political standing at the expense of public safety.

Germany, by contrast, had its first reported case of coronavirus almost a week after the United States, but has suffered only a tiny fraction of the unemployment we’ve faced thanks to a swift and effective public health response. Millions more Americans would be employed today — and our lives would have a far greater semblance of normalcy — had T—- responded with similar resolve. A devastating study released last week found that 36,000 people could have been saved had [the Toddler] taken action even one week earlier. Instead, more than 100,000 Americans have been lost forever, and the day-to-day lives and future dreams of 40 million people and their families have been thrown off course.

Even now, T—- refuses to focus on getting help to those who need it most. The largest single recipient of relief funds intended for small businesses was a hotel executive and major T—- donor who claimed more than $58 million in taxpayer bailout money. A private jet company founded by a T—- donor received another $27 million. And a cell phone location-tracking company that has been hired by the T—- campaign to target voters obtained nearly $3 million.

Meanwhile, actual small businesses and mom-and-pop entrepreneurs — the lifeblood of local economies — are being turned away in droves. As if that weren’t enough, T—- has also used the cover of this crisis to brazenly fire five inspectors general, the public watchdogs whose job it is to guard against corruption — including the official responsible for providing oversight of pandemic relief funds.

The corruption is obvious — the incompetence even more so. Two months after Congress passed the CARES Act to speed relief to the American people, not one dollar allocated for the Main Street Lending Program — a $600 billion fund designed to help small and medium-sized businesses across America — has been disbursed. Not one dollar, as businesses keep laying workers off and struggle through some of the most brutal months in modern history. Wall Street has gotten the help it needs; Main Street is still waiting. There is no excuse for this Administration’s lack of urgency or care given all that the American people are enduring right now.

I oversaw implementation of the nearly $800 billion Recovery Act — with less than 0.2 percent waste, fraud, and abuse. That response didn’t happen by magic. It took sustained focus and constant pressure and personal engagement at the highest levels to make sure we were implementing the program efficiently and effectively on behalf of the American people. We need that type of response right now — albeit on a dramatically larger scale.

D—- T—- should be laser-focused on getting relief out as fast as possible to the people who actually need it — with no favoritism and no fraud. That he continues to occupy himself with self-pitying tweets and dangerous conspiracy theories in the face of an ongoing, world-historic crisis killing thousands of Americans each day and putting millions more out of work is beyond comprehension. I pray that the President thinks of them.

Unquote.

Don’t bother praying. God helps those who help themselves in November.

The Devastating Transformation of Work in the US

Quote: “Corporate profits and income inequality have grown in large part because US firms have successfully taken advantage of the weak state of unions and labor organizing … to transform work relations. Increasingly, workers, regardless of their educational level, find themselves forced to take jobs with few if any benefits and no long-term or ongoing relationship with their employer.”

Reports from the Economic Front

Two of the best-known labor economists in the US,  Lawrence F. Katz and Alan B. Krueger, recently published a study of the rise of so-called alternative work arrangements.

Here is what they found:

The percentage of workers engaged in alternative work arrangements – defined as temporary help agency workers, on-call workers, contract workers, and independent contractors or freelancers – rose from 10.1 percent [of all employed workers] in February 2005 to 15.8 percent in late 2015.

That is a huge jump, especially since the percentage of workers with alternative work arrangements barely budged over the period February 1995 to February 2005; it was only 9.3 in 1995.

But their most startling finding is the following:

A striking implication of these estimates is that all of the net employment growth in the U.S. economy from 2005 to 2015 appears to have occurred in alternative work arrangements. Total employment according to the…

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We Are Stronger Together, But Let’s Get to Work!

You’ve probably heard variations on a well-known slogan this year. Two I’ve heard are “Make America White Again” and “Make America Great for White People Again”.

It’s unlikely, however, that you’ve heard variations on Hillary Clinton’s slogan or even know what her slogan is. She never wears a silly hat that has it plastered on the front.

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Yes, that’s it: “Stronger Together”.

I agree with the sentiment, of course, since we are stronger as a nation when we work together. But “Stronger Together” hasn’t caught on, certainly not as much as “Make America As Great As It Was For White Men In 1955”.

In fact, there were at least two articles this week that said Hillary needs a better slogan, something that would express an overarching theme, something you could put on a t-shirt or a stupid hat. The Guardian actually called their editorial “Hillary Needs a Slogan to Sum Up What She Stands For”:

Mrs. Clinton seems to have a hundred carefully costed policies but not one eye-catching slogan. She radiates a sensible incrementalism. She campaigns in prose, leaving poetry to her predecessor. This is a mistake. She needs to focus on what is driving discontent in America: an economic system that no longer defuses high levels of inequality with opportunities for all….Mrs. Clinton needs to find a resonant theme to sum up her policies: a Marshall Plan for the middle classes would not be a bad idea. Monday is her chance to show she is motivated by the common good. Mrs. Clinton should seize it.

I’m not sure many Americans could identify the Marshall Plan today, but you get their drift. A columnist for Bloomberg View contributed “Clinton Needs a Better Slogan” the very same day:

The Democratic nominee does have 40 bullet-point programs on everything from child care to mental health to the Middle East. But she has no memorable rallying cry to capture her candidacy and rationale to be president.

To test that, simply ask a bunch of Clinton supporters to summarize in a sentence or two what her candidacy is about. You usually get multiple paragraphs in response.

This is more a political than a substantive issue. Slogans are no substitute for governing policies….Still, a catchphrase can be a powerful and moving expression of a candidate’s authentic ambitions.

Yes, a simple catchphrase could finally help undecided voters make up their minds between two candidates as different as Hillary and Voldemort.

So I got to thinking. What might be better than “Stronger Together”?

First, it occurred to me that Hillary has said her primary goal as President will be to get the economy working for all of us, partly by improving the labor market in a number of ways.

Second, Hillary is known as a hard worker. Even Republican politicians agree that she has a remarkably strong work ethic. Indeed, people often suggest she works too hard and needs to lighten up (all those position papers, for example).

So I came up with this:

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I like “Let’s Get To Work” for several reasons.

It summarizes Hillary’s primary goal as President, an improved economy for all of us, not just those at the economic top.

It reminds people that she’s a hard worker who has lots of ideas and the energy and temperament to get things done, even to get things done with the Republicans in Congress, as she did when she was First Lady and a Senator.

It brings to mind the backlog of work to be done in Washington, all the projects and initiatives that have gone nowhere because of Republican opposition (increased infrastructure spending, a higher minimum wage, immigration reform, criminal justice reform, etc. etc.).

For older voters, it might even evoke memories of Franklin Roosevelt’s New Deal or, more recently, the growing economy we enjoyed during Bill Clinton’s administration. And there could hardly be a more welcome promise to the unemployed and underemployed than “Let’s Get To Work”.

I believe it’s positive, inclusive and relatively specific. Plus, it sounds less like a reaction to her opponent’s campaign of bigotry and exclusion than “Stronger Together”.

Since we’re living in the era of electronic sharing, I submitted my proposed slogan to Hillary and her campaign and also sent it soaring into the Twitter-verse. I’ve also shared it with a few live human beings of my acquaintance.

Of course, I know it’s late to fully adopt a new slogan, and so far all I’ve got back from the Clinton campaign is a form letter thanking me and encouraging me to volunteer.

But hope springs eternal! Perhaps, when Hillary offers her closing remarks on Monday night before an audience of 100 million or so people (minus me), she’ll wind up her two or three minutes with a ringing call to action: 

Let’s get to work!

Hey, maybe she’ll even cite a guy from New Jersey as the source of this new, exciting summation of her candidacy. Stranger things have happened!

And if you doubt me, consider this editorial in The New York Times from tomorrow’s paper: “Hillary Clinton for President: Our endorsement is rooted in respect for her intellect, experience and courage”. The whole thing is worth reading, but here’s the last paragraph:

Through war and recession, Americans born since 9/11 have had to grow up fast, and they deserve a grown-up president. A lifetime’s commitment to solving problems in the real world qualifies Hillary Clinton for this job, and the country should put her to work.

You can thank me after the election.

Cutting the Cord (Thanks to a Hard-Working Man)

The Verizon website said their technician would get to our house around 9:30 pm to do our installation. The anonymous dispatcher said it would really be around 8:15 (only three hours after the original 5 pm deadline).

So it was a pleasant surprise when the technician called at 6:30 to say he’d be at our house in fifteen minutes. He arrived as promised and quickly got to work.

Four hours later, he was done. Among other things, he’d had to string 350 feet of cable from our basement to a telephone pole two blocks away, working in the dark on a hot, humid night. It was an impressive performance.

When we thanked him and said good-night, we assumed he’d be dropping off his van at some Verizon garage and then get home by midnight or so. No, he’d actually be driving to Newark to do some work for another customer. He explained that Verizon is forcing their previously-unionized technicians to work 60 hours a week.

We didn’t ask what time he started work yesterday. But on a good day, if all goes well, he puts in 12 hours. That’s not 12 hours in an air-conditioned or heated office. That’s 12 hours of driving around, in good and bad weather, carrying equipment, going up and down stairs, climbing on roofs, drilling holes, stringing cable, attaching electronic gizmos to inside and outside walls, while also dealing with people like us. Sometimes in the dark. 

Do you think it would be a good idea for Verizon to hire and train more technicians, so their employees wouldn’t have to work 12 hours a day (or more), five days a week? We all know the corporate business model is to get as much work as possible out of workers while providing as little compensation as possible, but there are lots of Americans who could use a decent job. It would be good for the country and even good for the corporations if they’d spread some of the wealth around.