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@DavidCayJ

Banks Gouging Their Customers Face Tough New Regulation Under Biden

Junk fees and checking account overdraft fees are on the run now that President Joe Biden has appointed regulators who are looking out for bank customers instead of just bankers.

Such fees can result in a cup of coffee that costs $40 — five bucks for the java and a $35 bank overdraft fee because the debit card purchase came to pennies more than the customer had on deposit.

The Biden administration is reviving the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau, the brainchild of Sen. Elizabeth Warren that Trump and his cronies tried to shut down.

Before Trump, and now under Biden, the board is recovering for consumers many times its annual budget. Under Trump CFPB enforcement shriveled as $1 fines for bank misconduct became common.

In a much more tentative way, the Office of the Comptroller of the Currency may be recovering some regulatory backbone after being weakened under the predatory banker Stephen Mnuchin when he was Trump’s Treasury Secretary.

Ending Junk Fees

These two agencies are pushing to end junk fees and reduce overdraft fees. The Comptroller has even proposed specific reforms on overdraft fees.

A dozen large banks, recognizing the days of easy profits from gouging customers with junk and overdraft fees were unlikely to survive a Biden administration, reduced or eliminated them last year, the trade publication American Banker reported. Its reporting showed “how quickly a longtime mainstay of the consumer banking business has fallen into disfavor.”

If you haven’t heard about that, it’s not surprising. The actions have gained hardly any mention in America’s major news organizations with a few exceptions.

For decades I’ve noted that newspaper business pages and cable financial news channels typically report on banking issues through the eyes of bankers instead of the vastly larger audience of bank customers.

The nonprofit National Consumer Law Center has long been at the forefront in working for policies that reduce or eliminate overdraft and junk fees. Center lawyer Chi Chi Wu says that fees for overdrafts or insufficient funds on deposit “are one of the leading reasons that people are unbanked, either because past overdrafts put the consumer on an account screening lists that prevent them from opening new accounts, or because the fees make it too costly to maintain an account.”

Account screening can also be seen as an anti-consumer measure designed to give banks an excuse to reject service. It’s a key factor in the public banking movement to make low-cost banking services universal.

Whitewashing Banking History

Sadly, the banking industry is busy trying to erase the real history of its price gouging, dishonest mortgage lending, and reckless risk-taking as banks mixed the staid business of retail banking (checking and savings accounts; auto, credit card, and mortgage loans) with the risky but often more profitable businesses of underwriting stocks and bonds, trading securities and commodities and insurance.

A revealing example of this comes from the web pages of the Consumer Bankers Association which has a mildly Orwellian name. The trade group is not about consumers, but retail banks that serve them. You can get a flavor of its real interest from articles it reprints. For example: Fewer People Are Paying Overdraft Fees and Banks are Hurting.

Orwellian is a strong term, but then note this February 10 announcement, paying close attention to the words “understand” and “attack.”

“The Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (CFPB) last month launched a new initiative to better understand fees charged by banks and other financial institutions, with a specific emphasis on overdraft fees. The launch marked the latest attempt by the CFPB to attack the banking industry with extreme rhetoric…”

Using understanding and attack as synonyms is not just Orwellian, it's Trumpian.

Actual Banking History

Here’s some perspective on why a federal agency dedicated to protecting consumers from predatory banking practices would be interested in such fees:

Overdraft fees per American adult averaged $687 in 2008 (the equivalent of $915 in today’s money) with a total cost to bank customers of almost $200 billion in today’s money. Fewer than 10 percent of bank customers incur more than 90 percent of bank overdraft fees, most of them poorly paid workers.

Those fees have now fallen 77 percent to $158 per American, the Consumer Bankers Association says, a burden still borne mostly by the poorly paid. But the association focuses on how this “hurts” banks, not the consumers they exist to serve.

Here’s another association claim that would make Orwell smile: “America’s leading banks engage in rigorous underwriting practices.”

“Arts and Crafts”

Failure to underwrite mortgages, including the brazen fabrication of documents in “arts and crafts” rooms at Countrywide Mortgage to justify mortgages to unqualified buyers, was half the reason for the Great Recession in 2008. The other half was dishonest ratings by Wall Street. Journalist Michael Hudson was onto this as early as 2005 while most news reports praised the glories of mortgage lenders who were neck-deep in fraud against their customers and buyers of mortgage-backed securities.

All this is documented in the report of the Financial Crisis Inquiry Commission. From page 23 of its report:

“This report catalogues the corrosion of mortgage-lending standards…. Many mortgage lenders set the bar so low that lenders simply took eager borrowers’ qualifications on faith, often with a willful disregard for a borrower’s ability to pay. Nearly one-quarter of all mortgages made in the first half of 2005 were interest-only loans. During the same year, 68 percent of ‘option ARM’ loans originated by Countrywide and Washington Mutual had low- or no-documentation requirements.”

By the way, no error has ever been found in the inquiry commission report.

Keep all this in mind as the Consumer Finance Protection Board and the Comptroller move to make new regulations that protect customers from the worst behavior by bankers.

David Cay Johnston is the Editor-in-Chief of DCReport. He is an investigative journalist and author, a specialist in economics and tax issues, and winner of the 2001 Pulitzer Prize for Beat Reporting.

Reprinted with permission from DCReport

The Failure To Raise The Federal Minimum Wage Is A Moral Outrage

Reprinted with permission from DCReport

Very few of the poorest paid workers in America have unions to advocate for them, but many have a proxy for unions: government.

The minimum wage rose in 21 states this month thanks to a combination of ballot measures passed by voters, state laws raising the minimum and automatic inflation adjusters authorized by nine legislatures. These laws set a floor, a minimum standard, of pay.

That’s not as good as it could be. Indeed, it’s a glass-less-than-half-full scenario for the lowest paid American workers in 29 states. For them, the New Year meant continuing to labor for the same old inadequate wages.

Voting out those officeholders who use their power to keep the poor impoverished, especially those who do so while claiming to be Christians, would solve this problem of favoring capital at the expense of labor. It would also save money because people with inadequate incomes use a host of social services that cost taxpayers.

The federal minimum wage increased last in 2009 thanks to legislation signed by President George W. Bush. That law authorized three consecutive annual increases. Since then, Republicans have blocked every effort to raise the minimum wage even as inflation erodes its value.

The $7.25 that took effect in 2009 is worth less than $5.50 in today’s money, the government’s official inflation calculator shows. That calculator tends to understate the effects of rising prices on the poor because they spend so much of their money on food, energy and rent.

Economy Up, Minimum Wage Down

Compare this with1969, when the nominal minimum wage was $1.60. That’s the equivalent of $12.50 today. Our country today is a vastly wealthier country with a Gross Domestic Product per person of $66,144, about three-quarters larger than in 1969. Yet the minimum wage has shrunk dramatically rather than grown in tandem with inflation, the economy or overall worker productivity as lawmakers have bit-by-bit tilted the economic playing field in favor of investors and against workers.

You can check the minimum wage in your state and what effect state law will have on future pay in a report from the Economic Policy Institute, which focuses on the poor and poorly paid workers.


Minimum Wage Workers In 21 States Got A Raise On New Year's Day

States with minimum wage increases effective January 1, 2022 by type of increase

Notes: The New York State increase took effect on December 21, 2021. Source: Economic Policy Institute

Republicans in Congress block every proposal to raise the federal minimum wage. They claim, falsely, that paying higher wages would ruin many small businesses and would mostly benefit teenagers, neither of which is even close to being true.

Studies of counties that share a border at a state line in which one side raised the minimum wage and the other didn’t find strong earnings effects and no employment effects of minimum wage increases.

Bible Belt States

Sixty percent of minimum wage workers are age 25 or older, the Bureau of Labor Statistics says. The highest levels of workers being paid the minimum wage or less are found in so-called Bible Belt states, which are also among the poorest states. About 5% of workers in Louisiana and South Carolina earn the minimum wage or less as do about four percent in Mississippi.

Raising the minimum wage, numerous studies have shown, may eliminate one in 200 low-wage jobs. The increased pay to the other 199 workers would be vastly greater than the loss of that one job, increasing overall capacity to buy goods and services. That is, raising the minimum wage is a win for workers, for businesses with products and services to sell. Customers have more to spend; tax more revenue flows in and less is spent on subsidies for the poorest workers among us.

The resistance to raising the minimum wage among politicians who shout that they are Christians is especially appalling given the many teachings in testaments Old and New about paying workers what their labor is worth and the Christian obligation to sacrifice for the poor.

The Baylor University Center for Christian Ethics shows simply and eloquently why actual Christians should support a living wage to protect workers against bad employers:

Since the 13th century, Christians have urged employers to pay a just wage—not the low payment that desperate workers will accept, but the amount they would take for their labor if they were neither coerced nor deceived nor bargaining from a vastly unequal position.

Indeed, “remuneration for labor is to be such that man may be furnished the means to cultivate worthily his own material, social, cultural, and spiritual life and that of his dependents,” wrote Pope Paul VI in Gaudium et Spes [the Pastoral Constitution on the Church in the Modern World] (1965).

By itself, this appeal is impractical, says [Prof.] Jerold Waltman. “Unless all employers are equally convinced of the rightness of paying a just wage, and all do so in fact, the unscrupulous employer wins a competitive advantage. Therefore, only a law compelling all employers to pay the just wage will level the playing field.”

Moral Duty

Consider this moral duty to pay a living wage in the context of the law on minimum wages for restaurant and bar workers. President Bill Clinton and Congress fixed the minimum wage in 1993 at $2.13. Adjusted for inflation that’s just $1.10 an hour today.

Waitstaff, busboys and the like must apply their tips to fill the gap between $2.13 and $7.25. That means that the first $5.12 in tips they collect each hour is just a subsidy to the restaurant or bar owner who pays only the federal minimum.

To get an idea of just how hard congressional Republicans are making life for the lowest-paid workers consider this: The average cost of a municipal bus to get to work and back was $3.20 – and that was in 2019. That’s an hour and a half of minimum wage restaurant work just for bus fare.

The Informed Critic Locked Up By Trump Files Suit Against Him

Reprinted with permission from DCReport

Remember “Lock Her Up,” the wannabe dictator Donald Trump’s rallying cry about Hillary Clinton?

Trump did lock someone up — and in clear violation of the First and Fourth Amendments: Michael Cohen, his longtime lawyer, fixer and the man who paid Stormy Daniels $130,000 to keep quiet about her barely a minute intimacy with Donald.

Now Cohen is suing Trump, then Attorney General William P. Barr and six other individuals. For all eight of them the facts and circumstances are just awful.

Cohen’s federal lawsuit asserts that Trump “issued specific directives and guidance to his co-defendants that govern the treatment” of Cohen as well as others Trump perceived as enemies.

“At his [Trump’s] direction,” the lawsuit alleges, Cohen “was remanded back to prison and subjected to great indignities when he was unlawfully incarcerated.”

Proving that Trump was personally engaged, while easy to believe, may prove difficult.

Throughout his career as a con artist Trump has avoided email, tossed out calendars at the end of each month and, as president, destroyed official documents in violation of federal law.

The National Archives created a team to recover ripped up papers from the Oval Office wastebasket to piece them back together.

Running Roughshod Over Rights

The suit is a so-called Bivens action, named for a 1971 Supreme Court decision against six unnamed federal agents who violated a suspect’s Fourth Amendment rights against unreasonable search and seizure. The high court, voting 5-4, held that since every wrong must have a remedy in law, allowing Bivens and others like him to sue when their Fourth Amendment rights were violated was a remedy implied by the Framers.

Justices Hugo Black and Harry Blackmun, in separate dissents, expressed worries that Bivens actions would flood the federal courts with cases.

Of course, their fears would be realized only if federal agents were routinely running roughshod over Fourth Amendment and other Constitutional rights. Following Justices Black’s and Blackmun’s line of reasoning, had they prevailed, it would have signaled to federal agents that they could indeed run roughshod over constitutional rights.

Cohen has an ironclad First Amendment case for prior restraint of his rights of speech and press even if he can’t prove that Trump personally ordered him thrown into the modern dungeon at Otisville prison, where Jewish prisoners are concentrated.

Forbidden To Speak

Cohen lawyers Andrew Laufer and Jeff Levine describe an extraordinary addition to the boilerplate contract for home release with an ankle monitor. “The very first condition within the agreement specifically forbade Mr. Cohen from speaking to or through all media, including publishing his tell-all book about then President Trump,” Laufer and Levine wrote.

Here’s the exact wording showing irrefutable proof of First Amendment prior restraint:

No engagement of any kind with of the media, including print, tv, film, books, or any other form of media/news. Prohibition from all social media platforms. No posting on social media and a requirement that you communicate with friends and family to exercise discretion in not posting on your behalf or posting any information about you. The purpose is to avoid glamorizing or bringing publicity to your status as a sentenced inmate serving a custodial term in the community.

Lawyers Laufer and Levine call the speak-no-criticism-of Donald language “a prima facie violation of Mr. Cohen’s constitutional rights under the First Amendment as well as in retaliation for his public comments and proposed publication of his tell-all book critical of President Trump.” They are absolutely right about that.

Cohen asked the probation officers who summoned him for some explanation of this extraordinary provision and whether it could be “refined,” his complaint says. Cohen was told to wait while federal probation officer Adam Pakula left to consult with higher-ups. About 90 minutes later Cohen was taken back into custody.

Solitary Confinement

He was held in solitary for 16 days – just for asking a more than reasonable question about an obvious violation of his Constitutional rights. If this case ever gets to trial, you should expect that federal prisons officials will say that solitary confinement was used to protect Cohen from the coronavirus. How convenient for them.

Where are the howls from Fox, Wall Street Journal editorial writers, and those Republicans who rail against tyranny?

Cohen was still in solitary two weeks later when senior U.S. District Judge Alvin K. Hellerstein ordered Cohen’s immediate release from custody. Judge Hellerstein said Cohen’s return to prison was “retaliatory in response” to block Cohen’s “First Amendment rights to publish a book” criticizing Trump.

Federal prison officials and contractor GEO Group, whose top executive was a prominent Trump supporter and seeker of more taxpayer money for private prisons, slow-walked the judge’s order. Cohen spent two more days locked up in solitary the lawsuit asserts. After a Cohen victory at trial or more likely in settlement talks to avoid a trial that implicit contempt for a judicial order will likely prove costly.

But unless a judge, or a settlement agreement, requires the eight defendants to pay out of their own pockets for what they did under the guise of lawful authority we taxpayers will foot the bill for their un-American behavior.

Team Trump’s Lawlessness

Two months after being freed Cohen’s book Disloyal: A Memoir was where he laid out his solid case about Trump’s dishonesty and contempt for the rule of law.

The shut-up condition was totally lawless, but also consistent with Trump’s oft-stated view that no one should be allowed to write about him in ways he dislikes. And then there’s his campaign vow, aimed at journalists who refuse to be sycophants, “to open up libel laws, and we’re going to have people sue you like you’ve never got sued before.”

While Trump broke that promise, like almost every other one he made to con his way into office, legal attacks on honest journalism in America are growing, as are state laws designed to restrict or even shut down honest reporting, as explained well here.

Trump Fatigue

We have also seen cops, taking their cue from Donald, target reporters for police violence in New York City, Minneapolis and Portland, Ore.

To those with Trump fatigue, me included, it would be easy to just say meh and move on. Who cares that yet another lawsuit has been filed against Donald?

But Trump is still trying to find a way back into power. Worse, people as competent as they are dangerous to liberty are scheming to do what Trump tried and failed to pull off, turning America into a dictatorship.

Cohen’s lawsuit is a reminder of how this isn’t abstract, this isn’t a potential. Cohen’s lawsuit serves as a scary reminder that of a clear and present danger to all of us and to our liberties.

Under Trump's Misrule, The Most Highly Compensated Got Even Richer

Reprinted with permission from DCReport

Donald Trump's presidency and the Covid pandemic combined to make 2020 a remarkably enriching year for the highest-paid workers in America. Meanwhile, the numbers for the bottom 99.9 percent are, in a word, awful.

Just one in 900 workers makes $1 million or more, a new Social Security report on wages shows. My annual analysis of this data shows that this thin and rich group made 14 percent more money in 2020 than in 2019.

On average, the pretax pay of the $1 million-and-up workers increased by $305,600. That's after adjusting for inflation.

The other 99.9 percent of American workers got an average raise of just $76 each. But even that overstates how badly most workers did. That's because most of this minuscule pay increase went to the 1/10th of workers making $100,000 to $1 million. The bottom 88 percent, those making less than $100,000, got next to nothing.

The standard measure for worker pay is the median. It illustrates the typical pay situation because at the median, half of workers make more while half make less. Median pay in 2020 rose by a mere $26.

What A Surprise!

Put another way, for each $1 of increased pay going to the typical worker, each worker in the two-comma club collected $11,750.

Suppose $26 is the height of the heel of a shoe worn by a man standing on Fifth Avenue outside Trump Tower. The heel is 1 inch. The height for the highest-paid workers' pay would soar 315 feet above that 58-story high-rise, for a total of 908 feet. That's a lot of heels. Plus one.

Trump has a policy: One for you, thousands for the rich; another for you, thousands more for the rich…

And don't forget, Trump's 2017 tax law gave the most highly paid workers a roughly four percent federal income-tax cut. Also, those workers tend to be the Americans with significant stock portfolios and Trump gave corporations a 40% tax-rate cut. So, they got a two-fer.

Crumbs For The Rest

You didn't get anything like either of those income-tax cuts. You got crumbs in tax savings plus the burden of $2 trillion in federal debt to pay for the Trump/Radical Republican tax cuts.

Indeed, if you live in the states with most of the high-paying jobs – California, Connecticut, New York, Maryland and the like – Trump and congressional Republicans increased federal income taxes for millions of people. That's because Trump and the Radical Republicans took away your deductions for state and local income and property taxes and mortgage interest. The number of Americans who itemize deductions, including charitable gifts, fell by three-fourths after Trump's tax cuts for the rich and the companies they own became law.

More pay going to workers at the top is a long-term trend that began long before Trump. What's significant in the newest data is how much that trend accelerated during the Trump years.

In 2016, just 143 workers made $50 million or more. That number jumped 50% in Trump's first year as president and stayed at that level in 2018 and 2019. But in 2020, Trump's last year as president, the number of workers paid $50 million and up soared to 358, 1.5 times as much as under Barack Obama.

Monthly gross paychecks for those 358 highest-paid workers averaged close to $8 million each. A worker at the median pay would have to labor for more than 225 years to get paid what these workers made in a month.

More For The Top

Even more significant, the share of all pay going to $1 million-and-up workers grew by a fourth during Trump's four years.

Their collective pay rose to 5.2 percent of all worker compensation, up from 4.2 percent of total compensation in 2016 under Obama. That means most workers got a thinner slice of the American wage pie under Trump, the opposite of MAGA pledges to improve most incomes and just as I predicted back in 2015 and 2016.

The median worker in 2020 made just $34,612, or less than $3,000 a month before taxes. During Trump's four years, inflation-adjusted median income rose by five percent.

By far the biggest increase in median pay in this century occurred in 2014 under Obama when Social Security data show an increase of 3.44 percent over 2013.

The average pay for all workers was $53,383.18, or less than $4,500 per month.

More than two-thirds of workers made less than the average. The average is higher than the median because all those very highly paid workers skew the average upward.

One more awful fact: The number of Americans with any work fell in 2020 by more than one percentage point. In 2020, more than 1.7 million fewer people found any paid work than in 2019. That's the first time this has happened in all of Trump's life.

While Trump at his inaugural promised that every act he took would be for the benefit of the "forgotten men and women" of America, it was all just another con.

His actions, again and again, favored the highly paid, the already rich, and, not least of all, the Trump-Kushner family.

David Cay Johnston is the editor-in-chief of DCReport. He is an investigative journalist and author, a specialist in economics and tax issues, and winner of the 2001 Pulitzer Prize for Beat Reporting. He is also a former columnist for The National Memo.



How Three Dollars A Day Can Buy America A Rich Future

Reprinted with permission from DCReport

How much would you be willing to invest for a better future for yourself, today's youngsters, and beyond?

Would you be willing to invest $3 a day?

That's more than the gross upfront cost of President Joe Biden's human infrastructure bill.

Read Now Show less

Recall Results Show Trumpism On The Run

Reprinted with permission from DC Report

The overwhelming failure in the recall of California Gov. Gavin Newsom should send a powerful message to those Republicans who think their future lies with Donald Trump and Trumpism. It doesn't.

By any measure, the vote to retain Newsom was a landslide. Almost 64 percent of voters cast ballots against recalling Newsom.

That's better than the record margin by which Newsom won in 2018. He won that race with just under 62 percent of the vote. It also equals the share of California votes for Biden against Trump in 2020.

The recall vote is a clear repudiation of the Trumpian tactic of trying to disrupt and delegitimize government when anyone but a Trumper wins the popular vote. Havoc will continue, but it can be defeated – always — if enough sensible Americans cast ballots.

Trumpism isn't dead, not yet. But it's not attracting new adherents, either. That's because all it offers is anger, the lethal rejection of medical science and cultish devotion to a deeply disturbed con artist who just makes stuff up like his very recent delusional claim of being rescued on 9/11 by two firefighters.

Trumpism is not an ideology, just political masturbation.

And no one in America is more captured by self-love than Donald Trump.

General elections, especially when the presidency is on the ballot, draw far more voters than special elections. That's why the Republican Party has long relied on them to put its people in office. The GOP simply does better at turning out the vote than the Democrats, or at least it did until 2020.

In spring, it looked like Newsom could become the third governor in American history to be recalled because rank-and-file Democrats weren't paying attention. Neither were the independents, whose numbers equal those of Republicans in California.

Newsom had loaded himself up with political baggage in the way he handled the worst of the Covid pandemic. His public health emergency order last fall imposed mask and indoor activities limits that infuriated not just the freedumb crowd but some struggling small business owners.

In an act of maddening arrogance and political stupidity, the governor enjoyed dinner in a Napa Valley French restaurant without a mask. He violated other Covid protocols as well. And he got photographed.

"Do as I say and not as I do" has ended the careers of more than a few politicians, yet Newsom is coming out of the recall much stronger than ever.

Newsom got lucky, but that stroke of political luck contains a valuable lesson for defeating Trumpism.

The leading candidate to succeed Newsom if the recall won was Larry Elder, a deranged Trumper radio talk show host. Elder made clear the recall was a referendum on Trumpism, a novice political move that professional Democrats exploited fully.

Under California's century-old populist recall rules, a small minority can force an election. Then if 50 percent plus one voter favor recall, the new governor is whomever gets the most votes the same day. That could, literally, be someone who earns less than ten percent of the vote. Elder polled at about 18 percent but won 45 percent of the vote in a field of almost 50 gubernatorial wannabes. Still, Elder secured far fewer votes than the number of votes favoring recall.

Let us hope the populist California recall, initiative and referendum rules will get modernized to make putting items on the ballot harder.

There is a lesson in what happened between June and September 14.

Elder is a longtime fixture in the Los Angeles radio market, a robust marketplace of music, news, ideas, and nonsense.

A true-red Trumper, Elder spouts crazy, illogical, half-baked, fact-free, absurd, and downright offensive ideas, sometimes contradicting himself just like his hero does.

After Elder complained that Los Angeles Times never reviewed his books, the paper obliged. The devastating result is an object lesson in being careful what you wish for because it may come true. Wrote reviewer David L. Ulin after reading four of Elder's seven books:

Elder is not a writer but a brand. As such, he is always on brand, regardless of the issue: the economy, the unhoused, law enforcement, immigration rights. His columns represent not so much a voice in conversation as a series of diatribes. When it comes to public policy, Elder offers neither subtlety nor nuance, not least because that isn't what his audience wants.

Facts are to Elder just as they are to Trump: They don't matter. Like Trump, Elder creates his own reality.

That goes over well among the American Taliban and their uncouth cousins, the American Yahoos. California is not poor Alabama or Mississippi or home to Covidiocy leaders as in Texas and Florida.

California, where I grew up and lived for 36 years, is rich. It would boast Earth's fifth-biggest economy if it were a nation because of education and science.

Be it growing strawberries year-round, making movies, or splicing genes, California's economy is science-driven. Trumpism rejects science as it preys on the minds of people who didn't pay attention in high school and couldn't explain the function of RNA if their lives depended on it. Among Trumpers, it's OK, indeed more than OK, to be ignorant.

Elder promotes some wildly crazy ideas. He proposed reparations for slave owners because their "property" was taken away by President Abraham Lincoln. He also said he would have voted against the 1964 Civil Rights Act.

By the way, Elder is Black.

On the day before the recall vote ended, Elder posted on his website assertions that the recall vote results were fraud and statistical analysis proved that.

That's a remarkable claim to make before any vote results are known and before the election ends. But it's consistent with the Trumpism practice of just making stuff up. The week before the election, Trump said the election was rigged for Newsom. He reiterated that on election day.

Elder's campaign also made clear that he intended to govern California in pure Trumpian style, by tweet rather than substance. That also alarmed voters in a state whose economy is heavily based on science.

Most Californians had never heard of Elder before the recall. Only when Democratic strategists started to get out the word about what a crazy loon Elder is, Democrats, independents and those Republicans not infected with Trumpism began mailing in their ballots in large numbers.

The lesson: Who votes is all that matters in elections.

Trumpers are a slowly dwindling minority. As a class, they don't understand how the world works, don't embrace logic, think they are smarter than the scientists they denounce, embrace stupidity and incompetence [see Dunning-Krueger Effect] and are easily taken in by slogans rather than substance. Many are as closed-minded as the Taliban.

Those people love Trump because he freed the inner racism of the Republican Party, which has always been there. Witness opposition to civil rights and voting rights. Trump told his followers that it was OK to use racial slurs and that violently attacking those you disagree with meant you were "fine people."

The insurmountable problem for Republicans – unless they steal elections – is that white supremacy continues to slowly fade despite its vicious public displays during the brief Trump era. That's because humans evolved toward cooperation, not Trump's Hobbesian notions of brutal power abused to make life nasty, brutish, and short for the many.

The lesson about building a better America is that to defeat Trumpism its opponents must make sure they get out the story of who Trumper candidates are and what they believe. Letting them hide behind slogans is a terrible strategy.

But most of all, people must vote. All that matters is turning out the vote. Period. Elections are won by those who cast ballots.

That's the whole point of the GOP proposing — and in many states enacting — laws to suppress the votes of people not in line with what's left of traditional Republicanism and politically flaccid Trumpism.

America is home to far more good, decent and caring people than losers drawn to Trump.

Vote. Be an owner of our government, not a renter or, worst of all, a squatter.

What Major Media Got Wrong About That August Jobs Number

Reprinted with permission from DC Report

"Disappointing" is the consensus of newscasters about the August jobs report. They are wrong.

The economy added 235,000 jobs as Covid made a big comeback, especially in the South where governors spurn science and people stay away from bars, restaurants and shopping malls.

Most news reports lacked context about how rare it is to add that many jobs in a month. Most of the reports I read also failed to note that under President Joe Biden jobs are growing at more than triple the rate under Trump before the pandemic began.

Overall, the American economy is growing even faster than the six percent that Trump promised voters. Pre-pandemic, Trump delivered barely half that growth rate.

July was excellent with more than a million jobs added. In June, the economy added 962,000 jobs. That makes the August number seem small, but only by very short-term comparison.

Under Biden, the economy has added an average of 636,000 jobs per month, the federal Bureau of Labor Statistics "all employees" report CES0000000001 shows. That's close to 4.5 million jobs added since Biden became president on Jan. 20.

On Donald Trump's watch – before the pandemic – the economy added only 188,000 jobs per month. President Barack Obama did better than that once the collapsing economy he inherited turned around in early 2010; more than 200,000 jobs per month on average were added.

Genuinely Awful

Looking at Trump's entire time in office, his jobs performance was genuinely awful. On Trump's watch, the economy lost an average of 2.8 million jobs per month. That's primarily because in March and April of 2020 the economy lost 22.4 million jobs.

Since Ronald Reagan assumed office four decades ago, only one president has added an average of more than 235,000 jobs a month. That was Bill Clinton. During Clinton's eight years, the economy added an average of 242,000 jobs per month.

Clinton did even better than those figures suggest because there were about 62 million fewer Americans on his watch. Adjust for that smaller population and the Clinton economy added the equivalent of about 297,000 jobs per month with today's population of 333.3 million people.

In August, the economy added 37,000 manufacturing jobs. Under Trump 1,800 more factories closed. Thousands of factory workers lost their jobs, primarily because of his disastrous and ill-informed tariffs.

The most interesting August job developments were in the delivery of goods compared with the traditional retail trade and in services like bars and restaurants.

Jobs in transportation and warehousing, which benefit from the home delivery of products, grew by 53,000 and brought the total to a modestly new high with 22,000 more such jobs than before the pandemic.

Retail employment – think clerks at malls – declined, with 29,000 fewer jobs in August and 285,000 fewer than in February 2020, before the pandemic.

Bars and restaurants shed 42,000 workers, evidently because fear of coronavirus infection is keeping more people at home. That number may worsen in the months ahead as the anti-vaxxers, sheep worm remedy users and mask refusers spread more gratuitous disease and death.

Trump Faltering In 2019

The Trump economy was faltering even before the pandemic, as I reported here citing official government data. Trump's overall economic performance was subpar, as I detailed from official government data in April 2019 when I gave Trump a grade of C for economic performance.

Candidate Trump repeatedly said he would produce 6% annual economic growth. He only got above 4% for one quarter. Even that was only because businesses stepped up purchases ahead of his disastrous tariffs.

After three years in office, economic growth under Trump was worse than every other president after Harry S Truman except for George H.W. Bush.

Under Biden, the economy grew at a 6.5% annual rate from April through June, the second quarter of this year. the Congressional Budget Office estimates that "real GDP will grow by 7.4 percent in calendar year 2021."

Happy Go Magic Land

Many Trump fans refuse to accept that Trump was bad for the economy and jobs even before the pandemic. These Trumpers seek solace in the childish fantasy world of Happy Go Magic Land.

And don't forget, Trump ran in 2016 promising to pay off the entire federal debt in eight years. Instead, during his four years, it grew and grew, in good part due its use to finance tax cuts for the wealthiest Americans and large corporations.

So read the 235,000 jobs added in context. It's a sharp fall from June and July, but that's mainly due to Covid making a comeback in states headed by Republican governors who deny science and thus kill their own citizens.

Viewed in context, the 235,000 jobs created in August are a clear positive for America.

Why Americans Can’t Have Nice Things

Reprinted with permission from DCReport

All the recrimination-filled reporting and commentary about how fast Afghanistan fell to the Taliban after President Joe Biden made the courageous decision to finish withdrawing our troops misses a much more important story.

This story concerns why Americans can't have nice things anymore while our main economic competitor China does and is investing in a lucrative and influential future.

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Trump Makes A Stunning Confession

Reprinted with permission from DC Report

In an astonishing admission, Donald Trump said Thursday that instead of hiring only "the best people," as he promised voters, he hired "garbage."

He also complained Thursday that these former appointees didn't follow his version of omerta after a new book revealed that he wanted to execute an unidentified White House leaker. Omerta is the ancient Sicilian mob tradition of never talking outside their criminal gang, an offense punished by death.

Each day America's beggar-in-chief issues "Save America" statements via email. Most are petty, many deranged, but now and then, truth inadvertently comes through because of his utter lack of self-awareness, his emotional immaturity and his rank incompetence as a leader. I've shown for three decades his failures to his furious denials.

Now the people he chose for his White House team are telling their stories of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde, the White House years.

Here is what Trump declared at 12:49 on Thursday afternoon:Let's dissect this unintended confession.

First, many of the people Trump says are "all of a sudden" talking to reporters have been talking to them for months and years. Trump doesn't read books nor did he read his Presidential Daily Brief when he was president. Not reading more deeply than the cover of a book often leaves Trump badly, sadly — and when he was president — dangerously misinformed.

If Trump cracks the spines of the bookshelf of tell-alls coming out now, he would know that the authors carefully cultivated these sources and won their trust while he was president.

Second, notice that people who worked with Trump and now speak about him, other than as he wants, are "losers."

The reason Trump made oh so many people sign nondisclosure agreements, even some 2016 campaign volunteers, was that anyone who gets inside could see the truth about Trump: He is and always has been a fraud.

The reality: He's the self-made man who blew daddy's fortune. He's the Don Juan sued repeatedly for groping and allegedly raping women because he lacked the charm to seduce them. And now he's the beggar-in-chief, a faux billionaire reduced to pleading for alms from the people he says he loves, the "poorly educated" whom he hurt so badly while in office.

Third, Trump is back to his "many say" device, as if that lends credence to what he says.

The fact is that many say he is the worst president of all time. Many say he is a Kremlin stooge. If these documents published in The Guardian on Thursday are true, Vladimir Putin owned him. Many say he is a lousy businessman.

I could go on here with enough examples to fill three books—oh, wait, Thursday I finished my third Trump book, The Big Cheat, out September 28.

Fourth, who conflates stars and garbage? There are great metaphors, there are mediocre metaphors, and then there are Trumpian trash metaphors.

But at least this one was honest trash in which Trump admitted, finally, that he didn't hire the best and the brightest, but a bunch of losers.

Weisselberg Dumped As Director Of Trump's Scottish Golf Course

Reprinted with permission from DCReport

Allen Weisselberg, the indicted Trump Organization executive, was removed this week as a director of Donald Trump's under par golf resort in Aberdeen, Scotland, public records show.

The move is the first to indicate how the indictment of Trump's longtime chief financial officer is affecting operations of the twice-impeached former president's real estate and resort empire.

Weisselberg's removal comes as Scottish lawmakers and Avaaz, a global public-interest organization, are pushing for an "unexplained wealth" inquiry into how Trump got the money to buy and refurbish both of his money-losing Scottish golf courses.

A 2018 British law lets investigators examine company and personal financial records to determine sources of money and riches that they deem suspicious. It's been called the McMafia law.

Trump's Aberdeen course lost nearly $1.5 million (£1.1 million) in 2019, up slightly from 2018. The property has lost money for seven years in a row.The course also has an interest-free loan from the Trump Organization of $61.1 million (£44.4 million), disclosure documents show. Manipulating interest expenses is a common tax avoidance technique that can justify criminal charges of tax fraud unless executed with extreme care.

There are only two ways Weisselberg could be removed as a director of the Trump International Golf Club Scotland, Ltd.

Weisselberg could have done so on his own. In that case, lawyers may have advised him to do so for reasons not yet clear.

The other way would have been on orders from Donald Trump and executed through his sons Don Jr. and Eric, who remain as the only directors. That, too, may indicate a criminal defense strategic move. Since Weisselberg remains on the Trump Organization payroll it almost certainly does not suggest a split between the interests of Weisselberg and his boss.

Trumps Tighten Grip

The move suggests that Trump may be trying to make sure only he and his family members exercise any legal control over the Trump Organization.

Removing Weisselberg would not block or limit any Scottish inquiry or the investigation by the New York county district attorney's special grand jury, which on July 1 indicted Weisselberg and the Trump Organization.

The New York indictments detailed a calculated 15-year scheme using two sets of books to cheat the federal, state and city governments out of more than $800,000 in taxes.

Larceny, Tax Fraud, Conspiracy

Weisselberg and the Trump Organization face 15 counts of grand larceny, tax fraud and conspiracy. Weisselberg could get 15 years on conviction, but he also could get probation without even home confinement. None of the crimes for which Weisselberg is charged come with a mandatory prison sentence upon conviction.

Weisselberg plead not guilty when brought in handcuffs before a state judge in Manhattan. The judge released the 73-year-old executive on his own recognizance.

The 25-page indictment is the first in what I'm sure will be multiple cases as prosecutors try to persuade insiders that they will be better off turning state's evidence than sticking with Trump.

Those who agree to help prosecutors early on get the best deals, often involving no prison time. Those who hold out may face prison even if they eventually cooperate. The indictment signals that prosecutors have solid evidence against tax cheats in the Trump Organization as well as anyone who took part in manipulating business records.

As I read it, the indictment hints at future charges against Trump's two oldest sons, daughter Ivanka and Weisselberg's son Barry. The latter runs the cash-only ice rink and carousel in Central Park for Trump.

New York Mayor Bill de Blasio is trying to cancel that lucrative contract and another pact Trump has for a municipal golf course.

'Consultant Fees' For Ivanka

Ivanka was a Trump Organization vice president when she was paid more than $700,000 in consulting fees, which may be a disguised gift subject to tax.

Barry Weisselberg got a free apartment near Central Park, a car and other perks on which his ex-wife Jennifer has said no taxes were paid. Jennifer Weisselberg, following a contentious divorce, is supplying prosecutors with extensive financial documents.

Donald Trump and his lawyers have tried to minimize the criminal charges while not disputing that Weisselberg received $1.7 million in non-cash compensation that was never reported to tax authorities as required by law.

I critiqued Trump's cavalier attitude in this earlier column.

Weisselberg has never been a director of Trump's larger Scottish course, Turnberry, where son, Eric, is the sole director. Weisselberg, however, is listed in British disclosure reports as a person exerting significant control along with Don Jr., while Eric is not listed as having significant control.

Trump's Turnberry golf resort showed a small loss in 2019 after losing $19 million (£13.8 million) in 2018. It has never turned a profit under Trump.

The United Kingdom requires private companies like the Trump Organization to make more disclosures than American law requires. The list includes total revenue (called "turnover") and profits, fees paid to directors, dividends paid to owners and loans outstanding.

In America, only companies with publicly traded stock or bonds must make such disclosures. As Donald Trump's personal property, the Trump Organization and its more than 500 affiliated enterprises are not required to make similar public disclosures.

David Cay Johnston is the Editor-in-Chief of DCReport. He is an investigative journalist and author, a specialist in economics and tax issues, and winner of the 2001 Pulitzer Prize for Beat Reporting.

Indictment: Trump Thinks He Can Choose Which Laws To Heed

Reprinted with permission from DC Report

The extraordinary indictment of the Trump Organization last Thursday prompted an extraordinarily awful response from its sole owner and its lawyer.

Trump asserted that he can pick and choose which laws he obeys. His lawyer, Alan Futerfass, says that prosecutors should have settled the Trump Organization tax fraud allegations in secret negotiations, not with criminal charges filed in public.

What's brazen is how Trump and Futerfass reveal support for two systems of justice, separate and unequal, with people like themselves getting special light treatment.

Pay close attention to the last words in this Trump Organization statement: "The district attorney is bringing a criminal prosecution involving employee benefits that neither the IRS nor any other district attorney would ever think of bringing."

The statement is a lie. Tax fraud cases involving unreported compensation get prosecuted.

Still, the Trump Organization statement may serve a useful purpose by awakening the public to how little prosecution there is against what the IRS says is rampant and growing tax evasion at the top of the economic ladder. Such inattention may cost the rest of us more than a trillion dollars a year.

The Trumpian assertion that prosecutors should not bring charges against thieves who steal from our governments reveals the entitled view among too many of the wealthiest and most privileged Americans. Many of the rich think money makes them special, so special that the criminal law shouldn't apply to them.

The 15-count indictments returned by a Manhattan grand jury are only the first in what l likely will be a series of charges. Ultimately, I anticipate that a grand jury will return a state-level racketeering enterprise indictment. That would allow a receiver to take control of the Trump Organization, ending its decades of cheating workers, vendors, governments and investors.

The richly detailed bill of particulars hints at other likely prosecutions.

Prosecutors charged Trump bagman Allen Weisselberg, chief operating office for the organization, only after he repeatedly rejected invitations to flip on Trump and turn state's evidence. Weisselberg, the indictment says, destroyed some evidence and maintained two sets of books to hide transactions from tax collectors.

This indictment is a tool to leverage Weisselberg, to get him to realize the awful fate that awaits him if he clings to Trump.

After 48 years of doing the Trump family's dirty work, Weisselberg has become a wholly owned psychological subsidiary of Trump's criminal mind. Breaking free would be difficult for Weisselberg, who is about to turn 74, but the prospect of dying in prison may clarify his thoughts about his moral and legal duty. Weisselberg could get 15 years, but he also might get probation.

Trump Textbook

Trump has long argued that he himself is above the law.

When Manhattan District Attorney Cyrus Vance was trying to get his accounting, business and tax records, Trump went to the Supreme Court twice. In 2019, Trump lawyer George Consovoy told a federal judge that if Trump actually shot someone on Fifth Avenue, the NYPD could not even investigate the murder.

Years earlier Trump endorsed a textbook for his scam Trump University. This is from Trump University Asset Protection 101: Tax and Legal Strategies of the Rich: "When you own your own business, you determine how much income tax you pay."

That's not true, but it sure tells you how Trump thinks.

Contrast Trump's cavalier attitude about breaking the law with how American law enforcement and the courts treat those born into poverty who commit petty nonviolent crimes.

Willie Simmons is serving life in an Alabama prison for stealing $9 in 1982. Alvin Kennard got the same life sentence for stealing $36 in 1984, though a judge freed him last year.

50 Years For A Pizza Thief

Jerry Dewayne Williams—broke, hungry and turned away when he begged for food—grabbed a slice of pizza from four children in Redondo Beach, California. Williams got 25 years to life, though a judge let him go after five years.

And then there's Leandro Andrade, another penniless man, who stole four videos in one store and five in another. The U.S. Supreme Court held that his consecutive 25-year sentences were "not unreasonable."

Yet the Trump Organization asserts that enabling its chief finance officer to steal $880,000 from the federal, state and New York City governments shouldn't be prosecuted.

Nine bucks, nine videos, one slice of pizza for a hungry man result in life sentences or damn close, but prosecutors should look the other way or allow tax fraudsters to negotiate in secret, pay some money and go on their way? That's Trumpian chutzpah.

Victor Hugo's 19th century novel Les Misérables about Jean Valjean, who stole bread for his starving sister and spent the next 19 years in prison, is not exactly fiction in modern-day America.

One law for peasants and another for the privileged is not in our Declaration of Independence or our Constitution. Still, it dwells in the hearts of a majority of our Supreme Court justices, as well as Donald Trump and his well-heeled white-collar criminal defense lawyers.

Expect More Indictments

You can be sure that the finely detailed case filed Thursday is far from a comprehensive indictment of Trump Organization tax cheating.

Barbara Res, who for many years oversaw Trump construction projects, told Ari Melber on MSNBC just hours after the arraignments about dubious $1,000 a week expense accounts.

"The first time I started working for Trump, one of the first things I encountered was, I was checking expenses of one of our top employees, and they were ridiculous," Res said.

Res said she spoke to Trump about the inexplicable expense money only to discover he was behind it. "Trump told me to just come up with just so much, I forget the amount, a thousand dollars a week or whatever it was in expenses, maybe not that much back then, and they'll be paid. And they'll be off the books."

What Res described is tax fraud, plain and simple. And if we applied to Trump the same standards applied to Simmons, Kennard, Williams and Andrade, then Trump would have started wearing an orange jumpsuit decades ago. But we don't have equal justice for all.

Notice that Trump's statement through the Trump Organization and lawyer Futterfas' statements aren't denials of tax fraud, just assertions that to prosecute for these crimes isn't fair.

How You — And Congress — Subsidize The Richest Americans

Reprinted with permission from DC Report

ProPublica scored a fantastic scoop when it obtained and meticulously analyzed 15 years of raw income tax data on the wealthiest Americans. This leak of Internal Revenue Service records is by far the biggest and most important tax news in the 55 years that I've reported on taxes.

Thanks to the leaker, we now know beyond any doubt that the endless claims that America has a progressive income tax system are bunk. A progressive system means that the more you make, the greater the share of your income you pay in taxes. Back in 2005, I got the George W. Bush administration to acknowledge that the system stops becoming progressive near the top.

But, unfortunately, ProPublica shows that it's even worse than what I reported back then.

Working people pay a larger share of their income in tax than the wealthiest of the wealthy. The top marginal tax rate on labor income is almost double that of capital gains.

Jeff Bezos, the richest man in America, paid no income tax in 2007 and 2011. He doesn't dispute that.

Bezos was not alone. Multi-billionaires Elon Musk, Michael Bloomberg, Carl Icahn, and George Soros all pulled off the same trick at least once in recent years, ProPublica reported after analyzing the IRS data. Warren Buffet pays less in tax than millions of Americans, something he and Soros have said is wrong.

Bloomberg, the former New York City mayor and owner of the financial data and news business bearing his name, paid over five years an income tax rate lower than that of the poorest half of American taxpayers.

Bloomberg Pays Just Three Percent

On his income tax returns, Bloomberg reported making $10 billion. Yet, he paid just three percent .

The bottom half of income taxpayers averaged $17,200 of income in 2017 and paid four percent.

A system in which people who gross about $330 a week pay a much higher tax rate than someone who makes billions each year is not just regressive; it's an outrage. It violates principles of taxation that date to the Old Testament and ancient Athens.

I couldn't help but notice that my wife, a charity CEO, and I pay a higher income tax rate than Bezos, Bloomberg, and Buffett.

By the grace of Congress, those billionaires get to take unlimited losses when they make losing stock investments while Jennifer and I—and you—can deduct only $3,000 a year. So even if my wife and I live into our 90s, we will die with losses we never got to deduct.

That's just the kind of unfairness Professor Dorothy A. Brown compellingly demonstrates in her insightful and readable new book The Whiteness of Wealth.

Until now, the Wealth Defense Industry—armies of accountants, lawyers and wealth managers who specialize in using trusts, tax loopholes, off-shore corporations and foundations to benefit their 0.05 percent clients—tricked people. They pointed to posted tax rates, not actual rates paid by the super-super-super rich, and asserted with cherry-picked data that the rich pay a lot.

Salaried Workers Pay More

The granular data ProPublica obtained proves that the tax rates Congress puts in the law and the tax rates people pay only match up for working Americans in the bottom 99.5 percent.

Congress taxes workers much more heavily than billionaire capitalists who, ProPublica showed, can live income tax-free.

All of the people ProPublica wrote about are white men. Professor Brown of Emory University shows how our existing tax system favors wealth above income and discriminates against Black Americans. The design of our tax system plays a significant role in the vast wealth disparities between white Americans and people of color.

ProPublica's reporting backs her up. It showed that for most Americans, annual income taxes far exceed yearly increases in wealth.

Good Debt

At the apex of American wealth, you can live tax-free, as I showed many years ago. That is thanks to rules favoring the rich, loopholes Congress refuses to close, and minimal enforcement of our tax laws against the plutocrat class.

One simple technique is borrowing against your assets. Congress doesn't count that borrowed money as income.

For example: Let's say you're a 60-year-old founder-CEO holding $10 billion of stock in your company, which grows in value at a modest rate of five percent, or $500 million, a year. You determine that you can live comfortably on $50 million a year.

You then borrow that money, putting that much of your holdings up as collateral.

Do you see where this is going? You can borrow and live on $50 million a year every year for the rest of your life without paying a cent of federal income tax.

It gets better. The IRS determines interest rates on intra-family loans. The current rates are next to zero, less than even our modest inflation rate. Given that, why would anyone sell stock and pay a 20 percent tax rate to buy a yacht or a new jet when they can borrow against themselves almost interest-free and watch their stocks keep rising in value?

Hunting For The Leaker

The Biden White House announced late Tuesday that law enforcement is hunting for the leaker, who faces up to a decade in prison.

Whoever dared to do this should be hailed as a national hero on a par with Darnella Frazier, the fearless teenage girl with a steady hand who last summer recorded the slow, agonizing murder of George Floyd by Minneapolis police.

We should be building statues to honor this leaker, if he or she is ever identified, just as we should erect one to honor Remy Welling, the IRS corporate auditor whose leak to me 17 years ago proved corruption in the Silicon Valley stock options system.

Thanks to ProPublica and its source, maybe Americans will at long last wake up and realize that our federal income tax, as currently designed, is a massive subsidy system for the super-rich.

And the source of those subsidies for Bezos, Bloomberg, Buffett, Musk, and other multibillionaires? That would be you.

Why You Shouldn't Be Scared By Inflation Headlines

Reprinted with permission from DC Report

Lots of luck right now trying to find a bicycle for under a thousand dollars. And if you insist on building a new house right now the price of lumber will be dear, adding perhaps $4,000 to construction costs for a typical home.

But don't assume that ruinous inflation is on the way. It's not. These are just temporary bumps and those who just wait a bit will see prices fall back.

It may be hard to appreciate this given all the scary stories in the news about inflation, stories that often lack context and nuance. But don't be scared.

And don't pay attention to the brief ups and downs in the price of stocks because half of American stock tradingis done not by investors but by traders whose computers move so fast they can be in and out of a stock in less than a second. Besides, stocks don't make goods or services so they aren't part of the economy that creates jobs and produces paychecks.

Yes, the news is full of unsettling stories about inflation, but if you read carefully, you'll notice that the talk is about prices rising perhaps four percent this year. Not a big deal.

Indeed, the highest inflation rate ever in our country was 29.8 percent in 1778. Since 1913, the highest rate was 19.7 percent in 1917, according to Investopedia. In 1946, inflation was 18.1 percent

In 1979 and 1980 combined, prices rose by a quarter. Now that would be scary today, but that is not what is happening.

Post-World War II Boom

This is more like 1946 when soldiers and sailors came home and wartime rationing left huge deficits in people's demand for goods. No cars or trucks had been built in America, other than to prosecute World War II, since 1941. People were getting married, so they needed homes and apartments and there was a boom in babies that lasted until the end of 1964. That made prices soar even though the economy fell into a brief recession as we moved from a wartime economy to a peacetime economy.

That was then; this is now. The pent-up demand from the pandemic is for only 15 months, not almost four years as in the 1940s.

Also, today, we have 8.2 million fewer jobs than before the Covid pandemic. We should have added another three million or so jobs since the coronavirus first appeared in America. That means millions of households are struggling just to pay the rent and eat. But for the social safety net spending under both Trump and Biden, we would be in a very deep recession. Instead, our economy grew six percent in the first quarter, roughly double the growth under Trump in his first three years.

At the same time many millions of households, a large majority of them, continued working. Their spending fell, however, because they didn't have to go into work. They stopped going out to restaurants as they ate at home. Dry cleaners saw their customers evaporate. These people deferred spending on vacations and big purchases like cars and trucks.

Some of those who kept on working paid down or paid off their debt. Others added to their savings. In both cases they are primed to spend. That will mean a surge in consumption, but it won't last.

'Price Indifferent'

These folks can afford to be what economists call price indifferent. They may not be happy about it, but if the price of a bicycle doubles, they can just hand over the money. That won't go on for long. Bicycles are still being manufactured and once the surge in demand is fulfilled retailers will no longer be able to charge premium prices.

For the 12 months ending in April overall inflation, before adjusting for seasonal factors, was 4.2 percent, according to the government Bureau of Labor Statistics. That's the highest rate in this century, but it's not ruinous.

Prices of used cars and trucks accounted for a third of the inflation in the past 12 months. These prices were up ten percent in April, the government reported. Prices surged because people who have put off buying used vehicles rushed to market as the economy and jobs began opening.

The prices of some foods are up right now because after 15 months of limited mobility, some shortages of crop workers and weather, both droughts and deluges. Trump's tariffs that savaged the price of American soybeans and enriched Brazilian soybean farmers also played a role.

These are temporary effects. We always see such temporary effects after a major shock to the economy.

We still have a shortage of money in the hands of most Americans. Purchasing by those who were able to save a great deal more during the pandemic in the short term is causing this blip of inflation.

Think Peaches vs. Plums

This is pretty much the same effect we see when bad weather ruins the peach crop and prices rise so much that many people decide to eat plums, apricots, or apples instead. Likewise, when a bumper crop of peaches hits the market and prices fall, people buy fewer plums, apricots. and apples.

The key reason inflation is not going to turn long-term and ruinous is the huge excess cash held by those toward the top of the income and wealth ladders. They have far more cash than can be profitably invested. Just a year ago there was serious talk the banks might start charging people to hold their cash, which we have seen in a very limited fashion in Europe.

America is so awash in cash, though highly concentrated cash, that banks pay a tiny fraction of one percent on savings accounts. If you have $25,000 in your bank it may pay just 20 cents interest each month.

That's because demand for cash in the business world is extremely weak compared with the oceans of greenbacks being held in checking, savings, and money-market accounts.

Every day, banks pitch mortgages to people with solid credit scores at about two percent interest. Back in the early 1980s, mortgages ran 12 to 14 percent.

So, if all the flowers budding in the warming Spring weather are making you desire a new bicycle, just hold off for a bit. Ride your old bike, arrange to borrow your neighbor's, or take a walk. As soon as the people who are price indifferent have fulfilled their demand for new bikes, prices will fall back.

Let’s Mock The Idiots Who Think Vaccines Are More Dangerous Than Covid-19

Reprinted with permission from DC Report

The arrival of effective Covid vaccines has revealed a grave failure in American education. Tens of millions of Americans, the ones who say they will never get vaccinated because there's no need or because they don't trust the vaccines, somehow made it through years of mandatory schooling without learning numbers.

That they failed grammar school 'rithmetic is obvious if you ask two questions:

  1. How many unvaccinated Americans has Covid killed?
  2. How many vaccinated Americans has Covid killed?

The answers: 577,000 and 74.

That's 7,800 unvaccinated people dying for each one who was vaccinated.

And what of infectious cases? The latest Centers for Disease Control and Prevention count is 32,472,201 Americans infected of whom just 5,800 were vaccinated. Only 396 of those vaccinated yet sick required hospitalization.

No vaccine is totally effective, especially not at first. When I was a boy in the 1950s, about 160,000 people a year, mostly children, contracted polio. More than a thousand died each year. Then we got the polio vaccines. First came the dead virus Salk vaccine in 1955, and then in 1961 the much more effective Sabin vaccine, which used a weakened but living poliovirus.

Back then some polio cases were associated with vaccination, mostly because one manufacturer had poor quality controls. That's an argument for rigorous regulation and inspection backed up by severe punishments like prison time for owners and managers who play cheapskates on safety. It's not an argument for avoiding vaccines.

The polio vaccines worked although the United States approved the Sabin vaccine only after the Soviet Union allowed it to be administered to children in then-Communist Russia.

Parents today have no idea about the universal pre-1955 fear among parents that their babies would end up in iron lungs or worse. The last time a new polio case originated in America was 1979.

Few Deaths Among Vaccinated

As for the current pandemic, death is rare among people who are fully vaccinated. That means up to two shots and two weeks out from the date of the last shot. Covid deaths will become even rarer going forward, provided that vaccination becomes near-universal.

And yet 10s of millions of Americans believe—with absolutely no basis in verifiable fact—that the Covid vaccines are riskier than going without.

Rampant innumeracy helps explain the insane news that almost one in five healthcare workers doesn't plan to get vaccinated, as The Washington Post reported in March. Almost a third of Massachusetts State Police have not been vaccinated, and say they don't plan to be, either.

Ditto for thousands of healthcare workers in North Carolina hospitals. To persuade all state employees to get vaccinated, Maryland pays $100 but does not punish those who refuse.

Consider what a friend paraphrased this week: A doorman at her Manhattan apartment said he thought his risk was higher if he got vaccinated.

Here's the other side of the story if tens of millions never get vaccinated:

The coronavirus will keep spreading to new human hosts. It randomly will mutate until a new variant proves even more infectious than the viruses circulating now, which will likely spark another pandemic, putting us all back into lockdown.

Virus Runs Rampant

Oh wait, that's already happening with pernicious new variants in Brazil, Britain, and South Africa. Look at the contagion gone wild in India where a lack of beds, supplies, and oxygen means hospitals turn away people.

Sorry, you're just going to die because Prime Minister Narendra Modi failed to prepare for a pandemic even after seeing Donald Trump's lethally incompetent pandemic mismanagement in America.

Now imagine a new coronavirus variant with characteristics like MERS, the Middle East Respiratory Syndrome. In the past decade, it's only infected about 2,600 people—a third of them died. MERS is still around. It's just been contained, which is what vaccination is supposed to do with Covid.

A mutated virus that kills not fewer than two percent of those infected, as with Covid, but 33 percent of those infected, would devastate American society for decades.

It would mean death on the scale of the recurring Black Death pandemics that ravaged Europe for three centuries killing a third of the populace. Had that been the mortality rate for Covid, more than 11 million Americans would be dead.

Viruses don't respect borders, beliefs or governments. They operate on the same principle as cancer cells—growth for the sake of growth, even though they kill the host and thus their own colonies.

Thoughtless as the coronavirus is, it moves around the globe efficiently, carried to every corner of Earth by human hosts in jetliners. And that means we need universal global vaccination because people in India are dying from this virus and its variants are a threat to people in Indiana.

Wealthy Nations Need To Step Up

At two shots per person that's close to 16 billion doses, though it may well be that half as many will do the trick because we don't all live in packed modern urban areas.

That will cost a fortune and yet we as Americans have a direct interest, just as do residents of other wealthy countries, in paying to vaccinate people in poor countries because it's for our own well-being, our own protection.

This global cost brings us back to innumeracy. How did tens of millions of our fellow Americans get high school diplomas without grasping simple issues about numbers?

Students, which of these is more? 577,000 or 74?

Aw, gee, teacher, I can't tell the difference.

How do people like the quarter of New York City cops who have not been vaccinated even get hired for a job that requires critical thinking skills, while distinguishing between 577,000 and 74 is pretty basic? (This may help explain why we have so many bad shootings by police; too little emphasis during hiring on critical mental skills.)

Surely the public schools—as well as private and parochial schools that are supposed to meet government standards— are failing to teach about numbers and about the basics of science in a meaningful way.

Stupid Republican

We have numerous members of Congress, Republicans all it turns out, who are proudly anti-science or scientific illiterates. They are so ill-informed they don't know the difference between "climate" and "weather" and evidently don't want to learn, either.

Such ignorance is found across America. Some people moronically believe that science is just another religion.

Then there are the fools who teach the absurd notion that people and dinosaurs coexisted.

Innumeracy would be less common but for a decision by PBS more than four decades ago to cancel The Electric Company, the daily kids show about numbers and their relationships. It lasted for only 780 episodes over six seasons.

The Electric Company died because there were no puppets, toys and related merch to sell to kids, unlike Sesame Street, which lasted 51 seasons on public television before moving to HBO, making it unavailable to millions of children whose parents can't afford the pay-TV service.

If only someone had created the Sign family of puppets—Equals, Plus, Minus, and all their symbolic cousins. Then maybe the total numbers from puppet sales would have multiplied into enough funds to cover production costs, adding up to a positive product, namely more Americans learning their numbers and relationships between numbers.

There are, of course, other factors influencing those saying no to vaccination.

Religious Foolishness

Some hold mystical beliefs, like the Ohio woman on CNN who said she would never get infected nor would those around her because she was "covered in the blood of Jesus Christ." Some anti-mask and anti-social distancing pastors insisted that Covid was no danger, punishment for fornication, or other nonsense—only to die from the disease.

Then there are the lies posed as questions by Tucker Carlson of Fox, who falsely says officials won't answer questions about vaccination, questions that have been answered without hesitation both broadly and in fine detail. Some Trumpers see vaccination as supporting President Joe Biden, oblivious that Donald Trump and Melania got vaccinated in secret even though he had the disease and recovered.

And then there are the crazy and incoherent QAnon-type conspiracy theorists who spread the silly lie that Big Brother plants tracking agents in the vaccine. Can we recognize and discuss mass paranoia, per the many DCReport essays by Dr. Bandy X. Lee?

In California, Orange County Supervisor Don Wagner asked Dr. Clayton Chau, the county's chief public health officer, about trackers in the vaccines. Dr. Chau laughed openly.

Later Wagner said that laughing was what he wanted because he was trying to persuade some constituents that the idea of a tracker in the vaccines is loony.

Taking the supervisor at his word, I think he's on to something. The smart response to anyone who says the vaccine is riskier than not is to laugh—loudly, openly and heartily. That's not taking away their free speech; it's using our free speech to respond with the derision their idiocy deserves.

We have good reason to mock and shame these people by calling them out for what they are: stupid, uneducated fools; children posing as adults; selfish little spirits who care only about themselves and not their neighbors.

We should make them social pariahs because they are endangering us all by needlessly increasing the risk of a new pandemic or a deadly future wave of the current Covid crisis.

How Biden Can Curtail Terrorism, Tax Evasion, And Money Laundering

Reprinted with permission from DC Report

Money laundering, both for terrorist finance and tax evasion, threatens national security. Now a private group that watches the quality of anti-money laundering efforts has put forth a smart plan to modernize and upgrade our government's capacity to track illicit cross-border financial transactions.

This is news you will be hard-pressed to find elsewhere.

Global Financial Integrity has a plan, and it's a good one, to better America's Financial Crimes Enforcement Network. FinCEN, as it's known, is a critical government agency housed at Treasury and staffed heavily with IRS financial sleuths. It doesn't get nearly the respect or budget it deserves.

Global Financial Integrity is itself an under-appreciated Washington nonprofit funded by a host of sources including the Ford Foundation and five governments, though not the United States. On a budget of not much more than $1 million per year, it has done solid work calling attention to the growing problem of illicit finance.

Jim Henry, DCReport's economics correspondent, has spent decades documenting the flow of illicit money. He estimates from analysis of official banking and trade documents that at least $40 trillion of illicit money sloshes around the globe. The total may be $50 trillion.

To get an idea of the gigantic size of that bag of corrupt money consider this: Henry's lower-end estimate almost equals the combined annual economic output of the world's two largest economies, America and China.

Global Financial Integrity, in a report titled "Enhancing National Security by Re-imagining FinCEN," makes these recommendations:

  1. Give the FinCEN director a seat on the Deputies Committee of the National Security Council (NSC) to raise the agency's stature within the national security community.
  2. Create within FinCEN a National Anti-Money Laundering Data Center for advanced data collection, synthesis, analysis, and distribution to law enforcement for AML activity.
  3. Establish a "Manhattan Project" to identify, develop, and use state-of-the-art technologies needed to fulfill the technology for that data center.
  4. Launch within FinCEN a National Anti-Money Laundering Training Center which will be an anti-money laundering knowledge and education hub for FinCEN staff, financial institution regulators, law enforcement at the federal, state, and local levels and for both state and federal prosecutors.
  5. Create a Strategic Analysis Team to examine emerging and long-term trends in money laundering methods and computer technologies to counter those threats.

Those are superb ideas all. But will Congress care?

A core problem with hunting for terrorist finance is that the tools used to sift through billions of transactions involving trillions of dollars are the financial equivalent of trawling the ocean bottom for cod. Trawlers catch plenty of cod, but they also drag in many unwanted species.

Tax Cheats Off The Hook

The George W. Bush administration was averse to a serious hunt for big-league tax cheats. It disconnected from a nascent movement by major countries to coordinate their tax policies, a boon to tax cheats. It even refused to hire 80 more IRS investigators to hunt for transactions by Al Qaeda and other terrorist groups in the wake of 9/11.

Source: UN Office on Drugs and Crime

The official excuse was that taxpayers couldn't afford an extra $12 million in spending. That is an absurdity when trillions were being spent on the wars in Afghanistan, still underway, and Iraq. But the funding denial made perfect sense if you knew that anti-money laundering nets catch tax cheats along with terrorists. And since the political donor class is rife with tax cheating, catching tax cheats can be inconvenient for politicians in power, and fellow party members, as a Congressional staffer recently reminded me.

In writing about money laundering in casinos since 1988, in my coverage of taxes since 1995, and on terrorist finance after 9/11, I developed a deep appreciation for the unsung work of FinCEN – and recognition of its weaknesses.

More People, Better Tech

What is needed now to strengthen FinCEN: more staff, super-sophisticated computers on par with the National Security Agency, and, most of all, adding a seat for FinCEN at White House National Security Council meetings.

A FinCEN director once told me that given enough time and resources his staff could find a single $19.99 credit card transaction anywhere in the world. The 9/11 attacks were cheap, costing only about $100,000. We shouldn't forget that relatively small expenditures can be used to cause enormous harm.

To find the little transactions behind big attacks in the future FinCEN needs enormous computer power to separate golden nuggets of fact from the massive overburden of routine financial transactions. FinCEN also needs to be set free to find not just terrorists, but tax cheats.

With trillions of dollars of illicit money in the hands of criminals, kleptocrats, and terrorists, and hundreds of billions of dollars of federal income taxes evaded each year, it's long past time to upgrade FinCEN.

It’s Time For Corporate America To Step Up And Defend Democracy

Reprinted with permission from DC Report

As the Senate minority tries to kill H.R. 1, which would add many more Americans to the voting rolls, there is a simple and effective mechanism to build support for the bill to expand the franchise.

Corporate America needs to step up or face a serious reputational risk for not supporting the For The People Act.

That bill would ensure voting by mail, which, despite fact-free Trumpian claims of fraud, works as well or better than in-person voting, It would make sure people are not limited to Tuesdays to cast ballots, a practice enacted early in America's history when men with property voted, but few working men cast ballots.

Passage in the Senate requires a 60-vote majority. How absurd. A minority of senators hold the power to prevent majority rule. Repealing or revising the filibuster rule would allow a majority vote to pass H.R. 1, with Vice President Kamala Harris casting the tie-breaking vote if Republican resolve endures against popular voting.

But imagine if Corporate America comes out for H.R. 1 as strongly as it did recent efforts to oppress Latinx and LGBTQ Americans, which it would if pressure is brought to bear hard and credibly.

The most powerful economic force in America is corporations. Fewer than 3,300 companies control more than 80% of all business assets. This tiny slice of America's nearly six million companies rings up more than half the total corporate sales each year. And if there is one thing many of these corporation's CEOs have said again and again is that discrimination is bad for business.

Limiting the franchise is rank discrimination at its most base level, a threat to the strength of our democracy. Blocking voting is exactly what is sought by the Russian president and meddler, Vladimir Putin, who says democracy is a joke and less bluntly that dictators should rule. Putin, the man Trump said he admires and trusts, knows that over time a narrower voter base will divide and weaken the United States. Deny people their right to vote or impose barriers to casting ballots and America represents the privileged, not the people.

What could be more un-American than to keep people from voting? We literally fought a war over this since enslaved people, who by law were not human, could not vote. America spent more than seven decades seeking suffrage until women, at least nominally, got the right to vote a century ago in the 19th Amendment.

I can't imagine that a single one of those 3,266 big companies would publicly take a stand against enabling citizens to vote. That doesn't mean they don't practice racial, gender, and religious bigotry with their workers and customers, good intentions or not. All of the many formal complaints and lawsuits tell you that many of them do discriminate.

What you don't see is major companies proclaiming, as many did before the Civil Rights, Feminist and Gender equality movements, "bigots are us."

A Stain On America

Bigotry, especially racial and gendered bigotry, has been a stain on our country from before its founding. It's a stain that millions of people want to protect from the political solvent of government by the people because of their own prejudice and the benefits they perceive flow to them from limiting who votes.

Putting big companies on the spot can help change that. In the past, we've seen how as the dominant force in American life, the biggest corporations, can influence the law to reduce discrimination. These moves have not always been successful. But on the whole, they have been tremendously positive in moving America toward a society of equal justice for all.

In 2015 nearly 400 companies joined in asking our Supreme Court to strike down state laws barring same-sex marriage. The firms ranged from Aetna, Amazon, and Apple to Northrup Grumman to Zoom and Zynga. By a 5-4 vote, our Supreme Court in Obergefell v. Hodges held that denying same-sex marriage violated a fundamental Constitutional right and violated the 14th Amendment due process and equal protection clauses.

That post-Civil War reform amendment has been under attack by Donald Trump, GOP leader Mitch McConnell, and a few senators because it grants citizenship to anyone born in American territory. Some people such as anti-taxers want to repeal the entire amendment, an argument I've heard at national gatherings. Some conventioneers believe our federal government is a criminal organization.

Proposals to repeal the 15th Amendment, which guarantees the right to vote regardless of race, have been under way among conservatives for more than a century. The libertarian Cato Institute has published in favor of enabling states to discriminate by effectively ignoring parts of our Constitution.

Corporate Interventions

Corporate America intervenes when it is smart for business. And that means when the public makes clear they will move their dollars to a competitor. Here are some examples of Corporate America doing the right thing to oppose bigotry laws.

Consider the silly bathroom bills that discriminated against people whose sexual orientation isn't binary. Republicans in North Carolina said their discriminatory legislation wouldn't cost the state a dime. In fact, the state suffered $3.8 billion in lost business over a dozen years, according to a richly detailed Associated Press investigation.

Brian Moynihan, CEO of Bank of America, North Carolina's biggest company, was front and center in saying discrimination is bad for business. He told a March 2017 World Affairs Council meeting in Charlotte, just after a loudmouth bigot became president:

"Companies are moving to other places because they don't face an issue that they face here. What's going on that you don't know about? What convention decided to take you off the list? What location for a distribution facility took you off the list? What corporate headquarters consideration for a foreign company — there's a lot of them out there — just took you off the list because they just didn't want to be bothered with the controversy?"

A year earlier, Disney took a public stand against bigotry in Georgia. "Although we have had great experiences filming in Georgia, we will plan to take our business elsewhere should any legislation allowing discriminatory practices be signed into state law." The company said the legislation would permit religious groups and organizations to discriminate based on sexuality.

The legislature passed that law, but Republican Nathan Deal, at the time Georgia's governor, vetoed it. "Our people work side by side without regard to the color of our skin, or the religion we adhere to. We are working to make life better for our families and our communities. That is the character of Georgia. I intend to do my part to keep it that way," the governor said.

Arizona Discriminates

In 2010, after Arizona passed what amounted to a "show me your papers" law designed to discriminate against Latinx people, numerous companies, trade associations, and individual businesses canceled conventions, sales meetings, and other events in the Copper State, which as a territory was part of the Confederacy.

The companies were not alone. Cities from St. Paul to San Francisco adopted policies that banned most official travel to Arizona.

In 2012 our Supreme Court struck down most of Arizona's anti-Latinix law. It upheld only the section requiring police officers who lawfully stop someone for an unrelated reason to determine immigration status.

That surviving provision created a zone of bigotry so wide that one of my middle-aged children was caught in it. She looks as Latinx as I do, which is to say not at all. An Arizona patrol officer stopped and questioned her for 20 minutes. His grounds? Oregon license plates were on her car.

Repeatedly he asked where in Mexico she grew up, ignoring her New York driver's license, proper registration, and insurance documents and her careful civil statements that she was born in Northern California and had never been to Mexico. Such harassment under the pretense of law in Arizona remains commonplace.

Corporate pressure doesn't always work.

Indiana still has a bigotry law signed by Mike Pence more than a decade ago.

In 2016 more than 80 CEOs sent a letter to North Carolina's governor telling him they would invest and spend their money elsewhere if a bill barring any future protections for lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender people became law. Gov. Pat McCrory signed the bill anyway.

Politicians depend on donations from PACs, which in good measure are funded with corporate money. Money talks, especially in the Senate.

The smart move for those who want universal voting would be to put the heat on Corporate America and its trade associations. Organize friends in phone call chains and dial up the "stand up for America" U.S. Chamber of Commerce, the National Association of Manufacturers or these Digital Age trade associations.