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Friday, April 3, 2020

6.6 million new unemployment claims April 2nd

As the saying goes, "Records are made to be broken." But I don't think it's too often the case that it happens at the very next opportunity. Nevertheless, one week after the United States smashed its previous record for first-time unemployment claims with just under 3.3 million, it doubled the record on April 2, with over 6.6 million new unemployment claims, adding another 4 percentage points to the unemployment rate.

After that news dropped, the Congressional Budget Office (via TPM) updated its economic projections for the nation's economy. Among other things, it expects the unemployment rate to exceed 10% in the second quarter. If you remember, the peak monthly unemployment rate during the Great Recession was 10.0%, so exceeding that figure represents yet another win for Trump. So much winning!

In fact, University of Michigan economist Justin Wolfers, writing in The New York Times, estimates the current unemployment rate to be about 13%. This would be the highest rate reached since the Great Depression, he points out.

The CBO report also expects that gross domestic product will fall by over 7% in the second quarter, an annualized rate of over 28%. "Those declines could be much larger, however," it adds. In fact, Wells Fargo economists are much more pessimistic and suggest a second-quarter GDP contraction of 14.3%, topping the current record for quarterly GDP drop, the 10% fall during the Eisenhower administration in 1958 Q1. So much winning!

Of course, these impacts would have been much smaller except for the illegitimate Trump regime's failed preparations and response to the COVID-19 pandemic. After two months of minimizing the outbreak and assuring us everything was under control, the federal government is still not doing anything to ensure that supplies goes to the places most in need at a fair price. Indeed, the evidence from the April 2 nightly pandemic briefing/campaign rally suggests just the opposite. The federal government is flying in large amounts of needed equipment from abroad, then putting it in the hands of private companies which then force the states into bidding wars for the products! Unfortunately, my commenting rules prohibiting me from saying more; just imagine a string of obscenities.

In related pandemic news, as of 7:45am EST, the Johns Hopkins Coronavirus Dashboard shows the United States not just with the most cases in the world, but more than twice as many (245,573) as second-place Spain (117,710). The number of new daily cases continues to increase, as shown in this screenshot from the dashboard:

(Click on US at the top of the country list on the left, then select daily increase in the lower right.)

Yes, on April 1, the United States topped 30,000 new cases in a day for the first time, which was just shy of 3/8 of all new cases in the world.

And the most morbid statistic for last: With over 6,000 deaths so far, doubling every 3 days, the United States is set to pass both Spain and Italy in the next six days to reach the top spot for the most deaths of any country in the world.

Yes, I'm tired of all this winning. And scared, too.

Friday, March 27, 2020

3.3 Million!! and other dubious records for the USA

I for one am getting tired of all the "winning" under the illegitimate Trump regime. Today (March 26) we hit two milestones, neither of which is cause to celebrate.

The first biggie is 3.28 million people filed first-time claims for unemployment in the last week. To put this in perspective, with a labor force of 164.6 million, it means that the unemployment rate rose 2.0% in one week. To look at it another way, the previous record for most unemployment claims in a week came in 1982, during the Reagan administration, and that record was 695,000. So this week we surpassed the previous high by a factor of 4.7. For a visual representation, see the tweet below by Heidi Shierholz, the director of policy at the Economic Policy Institute:

This leaves me pretty speechless. So I'll just move on to the second milestone.

On Thursday, the United States moved into the #1 position on the total number of COVID-19 cases of any country in the world, passing both Italy in China in the last 24 hours. In another record, the number of new cases on March 25 was 18,100, breaking China's one-day new case record of 15,100 from February 12. (For those of you keeping score at home, that's six weeks ago!) And unfortunately, the generally rising pattern of new daily cases is continuing, per the Johns Hopkins website.

(Click on "US" at the top of the list of countries at the left, then click on "Daily Increase" on the chart in the lower right-hand corner.)

For good measure, the number of new cases globally hit a record of 61,900 on March 25, also with a continuing upward trend.

This is a disaster in the making if these trends don't improve soon. I don't have a crystal ball, so all I can say is listen to the scientists.

Saturday, March 7, 2020

Did I say "dictatorship"?

Did I say "dictatorship"? Don't believe it's true? Here is some more evidence for those with open eyes.

The New York Times reports that Erik Prince, brother of Education Secretary Betsy DeVos, has since 2016 been recruiting former spies in U.S. and U.K. intelligence to help spy on organizations that oppose the illegitimate Trump administration. If you remember my linked article, this counts as "rage-inducing." And color me not surprised. Trump's authoritarian tendencies have always been in evidence for anyone paying attention.

Apparently it's not enough, as I discussed last time, to turn the Department of Justice into an organization that absolves Trump's allies and persecutes his perceived enemies. Now it's time for conservatives (and probably Trump himself, though it has not been proven at this time) to send spies into Democratic political campaigns, unions, liberal organizations, etc., in order to discredit and harass them. This story is not new historically, of course. Government and/or powerful people with close ties to government spying on citizens is a hallmark of dictatorship.

One important vector for this spying is so-called Project Veritas (the Newspeak in the conservative movement has been visible to me since at least Gingrich's 1994 "Contract with America"), the organization that first made its name by using highly deceptive (to put it mildly) film editing to destroy the Association of Community Organizations for Reform Now (ACORN), a group long vilified by conservatives for having the audacity to register voters in large numbers. The idea behind using Project Veritas is to combine its already-willing spies with technical competence in espionage.

The Times reports that the Trump Foundation made a $20,000 grant to Project Veritas in 2015. The organization's most recent budget, for 2018, was $8.7 million. Its ties to the conservative movement are deep.

This is what we are up against. The combined might of the Department of Justice and systematic spying are being deployed to ensure another four years of the illegitimate Trump regime. If we are to restore democracy in our country, we have to win big in November, with margins that make the election impossible to steal.

By the way, I am a proud former ACORN organizer myself. "The people shall rule."

Saturday, February 22, 2020

PBS "Frontline" episode analyzes Amazon, including HQ2

The PBS series "Frontline" on February 18 broadcast a nearly two-hour investigation of Amazon, "Amazon Empire: The Rise and Reign of Jeff Bezos." There were many important points to the story.

Naturally, there was coverage of the HQ2 auction, with an interview of Good Jobs First executive director Greg LeRoy, who also spoke on Amazon's early benefit of avoiding sales tax, something brick and mortar stores can't do. In fact, Amazon did not collect sales tax nationwide until 2017.

Labor relations were another important focus of the show. Amazon is infamously anti-union, one of the issues that came up after the company announced it would put half of HQ2 in New York City. Blowback on that score was one reason Amazon pulled out of that investment. Speedup and related safety issues (i.e., that it was difficult to "make quota" in the warehouse without cutting safety corners) are one more source of contention the story focused on. The company also chose to use a delivery truck that was too small for Department of Transportation regulations to apply to it, despite having thousands of drivers and their traffic accidents. The thing is, while we can easily find out how many vehicle accidents drivers for FedEx and UPS have, there is no comparable source of information for Amazon due to its avoidance of regulation.

Needless to say, Amazon has used tax haven subsidiaries to avoid paying taxes. According to Think Progress in 2012, all of these subsidiaries were in Luxembourg. Its report said the company's tax arrangements under so-called "check-the-box" provisions of the U.S. tax code saved it $700 million in U.S. taxes up to that point. The European Union pursued tax agreements between Amazon and Luxembourg as an illegal state aid, ordering the company to repay €250 million ($294 million) to Luxembourg in 2017.

Finally, "Frontline" covers the question of whether Facebook is a monopoly or has market power. Hilariously -- and tellingly -- company executives never use the phrase "market share," only coming as close as "market segment share." But the show interviewed numerous people who recounted what happened when Amazon suddenly stopped carrying their products, and many people were afraid to come on the show because of fear of retribution from Amazon. I recommend it highly.

Thursday, February 20, 2020

Wow! Boeing asks for end of Washington State subsidies UPDATED X 2

The New York Times is reporting that Boeing Corporation has requested that the state of Washington stop providing it with tax breaks that the World Trade Organization (WTO) has on multiple occasions ruled to be an illegal subsidy under the Agreement on Subsidies and Countervailing Measures. On February 19, State Senator Marko Liias and co-sponsors introduced a bill at the company's request to end these subsidies.

Of course, Boeing's move did not come from the goodness of the company's heart. It represents part of its maneuvering in its WTO war with Airbus. 16 years ago, the United States challenged Airbus' EU subsidies at the WTO and the European Union fired right back with a complaint against Boeing's subsidies from the state and federal government. Both won as plaintiffs and lost as defendants. (The same was true for Canada and Brazil, which alleged illegal export subsidies to Embraer and Bombardier regional jets.) As I noted over six years ago, while the federal government had eliminated its subsidies to Boeing through NASA and the Department of Defense, the state and local subsidies were continuing merrily along. Indeed, the WTO Appellate Body affirmed this again last year (h/t NYT), with the state subsidies valued at $100 million per year.

As a result, the company wants to clean its slate in order to help the United States press its case against Airbus and the unresolved issues there with EU subsidies. (Note that in the WTO, only countries have standing to file complaints; companies cannot do so.) Airbus received billions of dollars worth of subsidized loans in so-called "launch aid." This is quite an amazing dispute: Not only has it lasted ever since the World Trade Organization came into being in 1995, but a settlement to the dispute was supposed to be part of the agreements creating the WTO.

The bill is expected to pass in the current legislative session, which ends March 12. Thus, thanks to the European Union and the World Trade Organization, Washington taxpayers will save $100 million a year going forward.

Update: CNBC reports that the tax break saved Boeing $200 million in 2018, double the amount mentioned above.

Update 2: My colleague Kasia Tarczynska at Good Jobs First reminds me that Boeing also receives subsidies in Missouri and South Carolina. This led me back to the WTO's report on U.S. compliance as modified by the Appellate Body. While the dispute, for whatever reason, did not include Missouri subsidies, it also covered a variety of subsidies beyond Washington state, including Industrial Revenue Bonds (IRBs) from Wichita, Kansas, and 11 subsides that comprised the South Carolina package. If I have this correct, the Dispute Panel found that the United States had not removed the state and local subsidies in Washington, while the Appellate Body added that only some of the subsidies in South Carolina were in violation of the rules, and it was unclear if Wichita's IRBs constituted a "specific subsidy" that could be sanctioned. It is possible, therefore, that Boeing may have some more cleaning up to do to get to the blank slate it wants to have when it presses against Airbus subsidies.