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Monday, December 09, 2019 {{ new Date().getDay() }}

Tag: pandemic impact

Abbott's Border 'Inspection' Stunt Cost Texas Economy Over $4 Billion

Democratic former Rep. Beto O’Rourke, who is running against Republican incumbent Gov. Greg Abbott in Texas’ 2022 gubernatorial race, has been lambasting his political opponent for imposing enhanced inspections on commercial trucks entering Texas from Mexico. Abbott’s recent political stunt, O’Rourke stresses on the campaign trial, was terrible for Texas’ economy — and economic consulting firm the Perryman Group is now saying that Texas suffered losses of $4.2 billion in gross product.

Abbott’s enhanced inspections made it much more difficult for commercial truck drivers entering Texas from Mexico to deliver fresh produce and other goods. Long delays resulted in fresh produce going bad. And the inspections temporarily caused the closing of the Pharr-Reynosa International Bridge, which links Pharr, Texas with Reynosa, Mexico in the state of Tamaulipas.

Abbott’s political theatrics, according to Perryman, not only affected the Texas economy, but the U.S. economy in general. Texas isn’t necessarily the final destination for Mexican goods that enter the U.S. via the Lone Star State, and those trucks often make their way to the Midwest and other parts of the U.S. to deliver a variety of fruits and vegetables.

The economic losses, Perryman reports, will be difficult or “impossible” to make up.

In a report published on April 20, Perryman explains, “The recent slowdowns due to additional inspections disrupted these patterns, resulting in not only spoilage of perishable items, but also, production delays. Given the strained capacity at the border in normal times, it will be difficult and, in many instances, impossible to ‘catch up.’”

Abbott’s apologists are claiming that Democrats, including those in the Biden Administration, favor “open borders” — which is nonsense. As Perryman is pointing out, border security doesn’t have to come at the expense of the U.S. economy.

Moreover, Abbott’s inspections came at a time when the United States’ supply chain has had to cope with the difficulties caused by the COVID-19 pandemic —a global health crisis that, according to Johns Hopkins University in Baltimore, has caused more than 6.2 million deaths worldwide and over 991,000 deaths in the United States.

In its report, Perryman said, “Inefficiencies in the flow of imports and exports across the border leads to notable economic losses. While border security is certainly an issue that must be addressed, introducing artificial inefficiencies into an important, capacity constrained element of an already overly stressed national supply chain is a costly option.”

Reprinted with permission from AlterNet

Blame Biden For Higher Prices -- But Then What?

No subject inflames political passions more than the powerful inflationary pressures that now squeeze every working family — and nobody likes to talk about inflation more than Republicans, who have reason to believe that rising prices will lift their political boats next November. Polls show that Americans furious over the costs of gasoline, food, housing and nearly everything else blame President Joe Biden, just as Republican leaders insist they should.

When playing this blame game, the Republicans like to keep things simple. The price hikes must be Biden's fault, because he is president while they are going up. And the way to bring them down is to elect congressional Republicans in 2022 and a Republican president, perhaps Donald Trump again, in 2024.

The problem with this simple-minded approach is that, like most economic analysis focused on a snapshot, it eliminates all the important facts and context. It is like saying that the COVID-19 pandemic — not the response, but the contagion itself — was Trump's fault because he was president when it occurred.

According to the Republicans, inflation's principal cause was Biden's spending on the American Rescue Plan, which pumped too much liquidity into the economy at a moment when production could not keep up. Fewer goods chased by more money inevitably made prices rise. But if that's true, then those same Republicans must explain why prices have risen at nearly the same rate across the developed world — and much more rapidly in some countries.

Across Europe, the current year-on-year inflation rate is 7.5 percent, or roughly one percent lower than in the United States, which clearly has nothing to do with Biden or his spending policies. The main causes behind this round of global inflation are the supply-chain disruptions caused by the global pandemic, which are affecting every country, and the Russian war against Ukraine.

Would we be happier if we were living with Europe's inflation rate? Not much — and we would be coping with much higher unemployment. Whatever else is said about the Biden economic plan, he has succeeded in driving unemployment down to the lowest level in 50 years, at roughly 3.6 percent. That is a historic jobs boom, resulting in higher wages for the lowest-paid workers in our economy.

Meanwhile, unemployment across the European Union is now around 6.2 percent. Higher prices harm working families, but buying the necessities is far more challenging when the family's breadwinners are out of work.

So perhaps one percent or a little more of the present inflation rate can be attributed plausibly to the American Rescue Plan. But that spending did nothing to raise gas or food prices, both vulnerable to the effects of pandemic and war. And when Republicans complain about the inflationary impact of Biden's economic program, someone should ask what they plan to do about the problem if and when they regain power. They appear to have no answer.

In fact, Sean Hannity, Trump's favorite Fox News host, had the temerity to pose that question to the former president last week. "If you're president, what would you do?" asked Hannity, after framing his query with a damning denunciation of Biden and the economy.

"So what you're saying sounds all very easy and sounds very simple, not actually that simple," Trump began, careening into a long, indeed very long reply that was full of self-praise but empty of an actual answer to his fanboy's question. Because he has no answer.

Now, Trump rarely offers any coherent response on policy issues, which is one of the reasons that he abolished the Republican platform altogether in 2020. What about his fellow partisans on Capitol Hill, whose midterm campaign rides on voter anger over inflation? Sen. Rick Scott (R-FL), who chairs the National Republican Senatorial Committee, recently released an 11-point program that mostly consists of hollow culture war rhetoric rather than concrete proposals. (One of his brilliant ideas is to complete the border-wall boondoggle, at enormous cost, and name it after Trump.)

Scott has no answer to inflation — which his program doesn't even mention — but he does want to raise tax rates for working families that earn too little to pay federal income taxes now. And then there's Texas Gov. Greg Abbott, another leading Republican voice, who recently clogged up border crossings with a "truck inspection" stunt. He wanted to make a point about immigration, but only succeeded in driving up the price of food imported from Mexico and harming industries in his own state.

No, the Republicans only have one idea: Scream about Joe Biden, and hope voters don't realize they have no plan and no clue until after Election Day.

To find out more about Joe Conason, editor-in-chief of The National Memo, and read features by other Creators Syndicate writers and cartoonists, visit the Creators Syndicate website at www.creators.com.

Is America's Pandemic Derangement A Permanent Condition?

A few months ago, I ran into a recently-retired judge, a former prosecutor and friendly acquaintance, at the grocery store. I asked him what he thought was causing the wave of homicides and shooting incidents around the city. Even in our normally safe, quiet neighborhood, it’s not uncommon to hear fusillades of gunfire in the night—semi-automatic pistols by the sound of them.

“Damned if I know,” he said. “Probably the same thing that’s making everybody drive like lunatics.”

It’s true. In my travels around town, it’s not uncommon to be passed on a double yellow line on residential streets. Thirty seconds later, you pull up behind them gunning their engines at a stoplight. Everybody drives like they’re in Dallas, with lots of tailgating and horn-blowing. Granted, I’m an old duffer in no particular hurry, but people run so many red lights that it’s definitely a good idea to look both ways on green.

One-finger salutes are ill-advised, as many of these knuckleheads go around heavily armed.

Did I mention a safe neighborhood? Last week there was a homicide at a bar a couple of blocks from our house. The doorman, a universally popular fellow, told a guy he couldn’t carry his drink outside. The idiot came back with a pistol and shot him dead. They showed a remarkably clear photo of the killer on TV and arrested him the next morning—a 23-year-old from across the river.

Two lives destroyed over nothing.

But it’s not just where I live. (Little Rock.) Increasingly bad behavior is nationwide. Auto fatalities, to stick with a relatively non-politicized issue for the moment, are up sharply since the Covid pandemic began. Although traffic volumes diminished with many working from home (or not working), car crash deaths rose fully 18.4 percent in 2021.

According to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, “the main behaviors that drove this increase include: impaired driving, speeding, and failure to wear a seat belt.” It appears that some of the same jerks who resented face masks compensated by unbuckling their seat bels.

Why am I not surprised?

“If there was a way to make the driving experience less safe for drivers, less safe for passengers, or less safe for everyone else on the road,” Matt Yglesias comments “people did it.”

At the nation’s airports, there has been an epidemic of unruly passenger behavior—people punching gate attendants, slapping flight attendants, even trying to break into cockpits. Mostly over face masks.

May I offer you another cocktail, sir?

Elsewhere, drug overdose fatalities are up, there’s been an increase in attacks on health care workers, and schools across the country report a sharp uptick in disruptive behavior by students.

A substantial proportion of our fellow Americans are simply losing it. There’s even been a rise in comedian-slapping at the Oscars.

Writing in The Atlantic, Olga Khazan wonders why: “In 2020, the U.S. murder rate rose by nearly a third, the biggest increase on record, then rose again in 2021. Car thefts spiked 14 percent last year, and carjackings have surged in various cities. And if there were a national tracker of school-board-meeting hissy fits, it would be heaving with data points right now.”

Indeed, it’s no longer shocking to hear of school board members receiving death threats—a dubious honor that used to be reserved for such minor public figures as newspaper columnists.

Maybe I’m losing my edge, however, as it’s been months since anybody has vowed to murder me (I do block threatening emailers). Personal abuse, however, has risen sharply. Name-calling is way up, and reading comprehension is down. It’s remarkable how few people can follow an argument that hits their personal hot spots.

Quote something our former president has said in praise of noted humanitarian Vladimir Putin and you’re a “liar!" afflicted with “Trump Derangement Syndrome.” An awful lot of these people sound like Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas’s wife, Ginny, i.e. like cranks haunted by imaginary conspiracies and dreaming of vengeance.

For the most part, I agree with The Atlantic’s Khazan that the “rage, frustration, and stress” coursing through American society have a lot to do with Covid, and attendant feelings of fear, frustration and sorrow.

Loneliness too.

“The pandemic” she writes, “loosened ties between people: Kids stopped going to school; their parents stopped going to work; parishioners stopped going to church; people stopped gathering, in general.” Most experts she consulted—psychiatrists, criminologists, and social historians—believe that as our social interactions return to normal, our collective behavior will also improve.

Color me skeptical, but I think that the decay of journalism in the age of Fox News and the derangements of social media have done permanent harm. Mere facts no longer persuade.. The propaganda term “Fake News” has become a self-fulfilling prophecy. Millions believe nothing they don’t wish to believe. They have utter contempt for anybody who disagrees.

That won’t change painlessly.

Why Barriers To Abortion Can Be Fatal In A Pandemic

The COVID-19 pandemic has given a big boost to methods of bringing health care to people remotely, known as "telemedicine." If there's a lethal contagion going around, a doctor's office is one obvious place to avoid, if at all possible, and virtual visits make that option more feasible.

So, last year, the federal government took steps to spare Americans from risking their health in pursuit of treatment. The Department of Health and Human Services allowed Medicare to cover more remote services while letting physicians prescribe controlled substances without examining the patient in the flesh.

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What We Owe Our College Students

Two weeks into spring semester at the University of Florida, groups of unmasked college students — 30 or more at a time, many hollering as they partied — stood in lines to enter bars and clubs in Gainesville.

Photos in The Gainesville Sun showed them standing elbow to elbow, ear to ear. I've seen more space between parentheses. This is precisely what we are not supposed to do as this pandemic continues to rage.

The beginning of this sentence in the accompanying story caught my eye: "Though most students were wary to talk to The Sun, those who did said they weren't afraid of picking up the virus because they weren't at risk of infecting elderly, vulnerable family members, would get tested before returning home or already had COVID-19."

So much hubris in that flotilla of thought bubbles, but their reticence to speak to a reporter suggests that some of them knew what they were doing was potentially dangerous. There's a lot of hope in that.

These are not bad kids. For starters, they're not kids. They're young adults whose brains are still developing, and we ask so much of them, especially now. College is supposed to be a time of growth and self-discovery, where students are encouraged to run at full speed, wings spread wide. Instead, we are grounding them and asking that they behave better than many of the supposed grown-ups in their orbits.

One of the reasons I have faith in these students to do better is my experience in teaching college ethics during COVID-19 in the journalism school at my alma mater, Kent State. While we try to stay focused on issues hitched to our profession, it has been impossible to ignore the other ethical dilemmas swirling around us right now.

Most of my students work hourly wage jobs to stay in school, and too many employers have been willing to put them at risk because they know their young employees can't afford to quit.

Families, too, can be unfairly demanding. Their grandparents miss them; their younger siblings need them as they struggle to learn from home. Parents with the best intentions succumb to exhaustion and turn to their college students to help keep home life afloat.

And so we've talked, twice a week in our Zoom classroom, about how to ethically navigate this scary and complicated time in our country.

I've heard the arguments, often voiced as complaints, that children should be taught ethics at a much earlier age. Agreed, but young adulthood is complicated, and we all benefit from their exploring what it means to be an ethical person at their age.

Ethics discussions help students discover who they are and what lines they won't cross. In every class, we explore the whys behind our values and biases. It's not as simple as dictating right from wrong, and it's so rewarding to see nearly universal values arise around the concept of the greater good.

They work at getting there. One of my favorite classroom pivots in discussions begins with, "Now, let me complicate it for you ... "

Before COVID-19, a common discussion involved how much one should endure for an employer. At first, students almost universally agreed they would leave a job if their boss asked them to violate their values.

Let me complicate it for you, I'd say: You're a parent with children to house and feed.

The discussion becomes more nuanced.

Let me further complicate it for you: You're a single parent, the sole provider.

Their groans are good-natured, and they are up for the debate. It is an honor to watch them help one another grow as they explore what they owe themselves and their world.

With COVID-19, we've pivoted again. How do they advocate for themselves and their co-workers? What is the appropriate response to bosses who don't care about their safety and angry customers who are wiling to put them at risk? How do they say no to loved ones? As one student put it: "I tell her, 'No, Grandma. I can't see you now because I love you and I want you to stay alive.'"

They sort out what it means to be a responsible person in the time of COVID-19, one discussion at a time. By the end of the semester, they're brainstorming family dialogues and workplace solutions because they care about one another.

We can judge those students lining up at bars in college towns across the country. Or we can ask how we are failing them. We can engage in conversations that help them find the best version of themselves, and hope they hold it against us for taking so long.

Connie Schultz is a Pulitzer Prize-winning columnist and professional in residence at Kent State University's school of journalism. She is the author of two non-fiction books, including "...and His Lovely Wife," which chronicled the successful race of her husband, Sherrod Brown, for the U.S. Senate. She is also the author of The New York Times bestselling novel, "The Daughters of Erietown." To find out more about Connie Schultz (schultz.connie@gmail.com) and read her past columns, please visit the Creators Syndicate webpage at www.creators.com.