• Lunchtime Photo

    In recognition of Joe Biden’s plan to stop building Trump’s border wall and instead offer up new comprehensive immigration legislation, here’s another picture of the border wall in California. As I’ve mentioned before, the wall stops at that little hill in the distance, which doesn’t look all that hard to cross. I imagine that anyone with a little gumption can still make it into the US.

    September 26, 2020 — Near Jacumba Hot Springs, California
  • Armageddon Is Still a Ways Off

    We seem to be living in a moment where everything that happens is taken as a sign of apocalyptic change. GameStop isn’t just another in a long line of manias and bubbles, it’s the start of a citizens revolt against Wall Street. The 1/6 insurrection wasn’t the latest in a long history of American riots and protests, it’s the beginning of the end for democracy. Donald Trump wasn’t just a buffoon who lucked his way into office, he’s a harbinger of a fascist takeover of the country. Zoom isn’t merely a temporary response to an unprecedented pandemic, it’s a death knell for the workplace as we know it.

    Can we please stop this nonsense? I’ll let you know when we’re really facing some apocalyptic change, OK?

  • Chart of the Day: GDP Was Up 4% In the 4th Quarter

    Real GDP increased at an annual rate of 4 percent in the fourth quarter of last year. Normally this would be a very respectable growth rate, but in the COVID-19 era it’s kind of meaningless. Here’s a different way of looking at it that tells a more meaningful story:

    If GDP had continued growing at its rate of the past decade, it would have reached $19.5 trillion last quarter. Instead it ended up at $18.8 trillion, which means we’re $700 billion below where we “should be” in the absence of any pandemic effect. This is the amount we need to make up to get back on our old growth path. It’s also the hole that needs to be filled with additional consumer spending.

    So how much extra consumer spending do we need to close this gap? We just passed a $900 billion bill and personal savings are still about $1 trillion above their normal level, which means we have nearly $2 trillion in potential extra spending available over the next few quarters. That might be enough on its own to get the economy back on track, though I’ll leave the final word up to economists with better analytical chops than me.

    Needless to say, there’s not much chance of this extra spending actually happening until vaccinations are widespread and the economy opens up fully. Call it Q3 at the earliest. In the meantime, we may not need a lot more spending aimed at stimulating the broad economy, but we do need to spend money providing help where it’s needed. That primarily means the unemployed and local governments, both of whom have suffered the brunt of lost income. Let’s get to it.

  • Europe Now In “Full-Blown Crisis” Over Vaccinations

    You think we have vaccination problems? Check out Europe:

    The European Union has been besieged by problems since it approved its first coronavirus vaccine in December and rushed to begin a vast immunization campaign, but now its woes have snowballed into a full-blown crisis. With the pain of supply shortages being felt across Europe, Spain on Wednesday became the first E.U. country to partly suspend immunizations for lack of doses. It announced that it would suspend the vaccination program in Madrid for two weeks, and warned that Catalonia may follow suit.

    ….Last week, the E.U.’s executive branch, the European Commission, set a goal of having 70 percent of its population inoculated by this summer. Four days later the president of the European Council, Charles Michel, pronounced that “difficult.” By this week, a mere 2 percent of E.U. citizens had received at least one dose of a coronavirus vaccine.

    The United States currently has about 7 percent of its population vaccinated:

    At the risk of venturing an unpopular point, this is making Brexit look pretty good, isn’t it?

  • All the World’s a Paywall Now

    Eugenio Marongiu/Image Source via ZUMA

    It’s getting harder and harder to follow politics on the web. The big newspapers went behind paywalls long ago, of course. Then the Substack revolution started pulling individual authors behind a paywall. And political magazines have been steadily moving behind paywalls for a while. The Nation has been behind a paywall for years. Ditto for New York. And now even the blog at National Review is paywalled—parts of it, anyway.

    It’s sort of ironic, I guess: the political internet is becoming more and more like the old political print ecosystem. Back then you had to pay to buy a newspaper, pay to buy a magazine, and pay to subscribe to a newsletter. And if you wanted to comment on political affairs, you needed to work for an organization that subscribed to all these things so that you could keep up.

    Oh well. The internet was nice while it lasted. But we all have to eat.

  • “Socialist” Is a Great Fear Tactic

    Mary Evans via ZUMA

    In the LA Times today, Robin Abcarian writes:

    They tried it with Barack Obama. Didn’t work. Tried it with Joe Biden. Didn’t work. Will the Republican right ever understand that using phrases like “radical left” and “socialism” to tarnish Democratic candidates is a fear tactic that should be retired?

    There’s a fundamental misunderstanding here. Abcarian assumes that “socialist” is a standard sort of political slur designed to sway undecided voters. It’s not. It’s aimed solely at the Fox News set as a way of keeping them in line. The folks who spout this stuff couldn’t care less what you or I or Abcarian think of it.

    This is a good example of the way that the right-wing media machine keeps its audience scared witless. To these folks, “socialism” is freighted with connotations: Democrats want to tax your money away. They want to give your money to Black people. They want to crush Christianity. They want government bureaucrats to control every aspect of your life. They want schools to teach your kids that gay sex is good and patriotism is bad.

    None of this is aimed at liberals or even moderates. Hell, you have to listen to Fox News and Rush Limbaugh and the others regularly to even understand all these connotations. But make no mistake: “socialist” is just shorthand for high taxes, hatred of white people, zealous secularism, and indoctrination of our kids. It’s a great fear tactic, but only if you understand the audience it’s aimed at.

  • I Have a Question About the Social Security Website

    I’m over 62 and about to retire from paying work, so I thought I’d check out what my Social Security benefits would be if I started taking them now. That’s no problem: just log in to my account at ssa.gov and take a quick look. So I did this last night and here’s what I got:

    Their website is only available during business hours? Can anyone explain this?