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

In Trump’s ‘Great Economy,’ Inequality Is Getting Worse

Reprinted with permission from Daily Kos.

Every month when the Bureau of Labor Statistics releases its monthly jobs report, Donald Trump and Republicans crow about the economy and the low unemployment rate. And every month, too many Americans wonder when they’re going to start feeling the effects of that “great economy.”

A recent study on poverty and a new way of measuring the quality of jobs show the shallowness of GOP claims about the U.S. economy. Poverty went up in at least one county in every state, concentrated in rural areas and the South. And a new system of measurement called the Job Quality Index shows that, although there are jobs available, for the most part, they aren’t jobs that pay well and aren’t career jobs for the long term. Often, they don’t even employ workers for a full 40 hours a week.

Combine that with the disastrous effects of the Trump tariffs and the trade war with China, especially how that trade war hurt U.S. manufacturing; the surge in bankruptcies of small farmers; the fact that American consumers now have a record $14 trillion in debt; and the 2017 GOP tax reform scam that turned into a windfall for big companies instead of helping everyday Americans, and most of us don’t feel that we’re better off than before Trump became president—a benchmark used by challengers in nearly every election.

Don’t forget that, after the GOP House and Senate passed and Trump signed the tax overhaul in late 2017, Trump’s message to his rich cronies at Mar-a-Lago gathered for the Christmas holidays was, “You all just got a lot richer.”

That was not a message that trickled down to average Americans. The supposed tax savings didn’t do much trickling down for them, either. Since the country started coming out of the Great Recession in 2009, the overall U.S. poverty rate has decreased. But between 2016 and 2018, the poverty rate grew in 30 percent of counties across America, according to data from the U.S. Census Bureau.

As a story from HuffPost put it:

The counties with the biggest jumps in poverty ranged across the political and demographic spectrum: from 97 percent white and solidly Republican-voting Carter County in Kentucky to black-majority, Democratic Bullock County in Alabama.

Most of the biggest increases were in areas both rural and Southern. Those areas generally had residents who lacked job training and skills and industries that suffered downturns.

Those industries included the coal industry in many of those poverty-stricken areas. Coal output has decreased by 27 percent in the last five years, and 50 coal power plants have closed across the country since Trump became president. That’s good news for the environment, but bad news for those counting on coal mining for a paycheck. It’s also a betrayal of one of Trump’s main promises in coal country.

But the unemployment rate is only 3.5 percent. That’s got to be great, right? Actually, considering the kinds of jobs available—and the fact that wage growth is fairly stagnant—not so much. And this isn’t a recent phenomenon.

The U.S. Private Sector Job Quality Index, or JQI, is a new economic indicator developed by academic economists that measures desirable higher-wage/higher-hour jobs versus lower-wage/lower-hour jobs. Job quality is defined as the weekly dollar-income a job generates for an employee. A paper defining the system and explaining why the detailed indicator is a more accurate reading of the economy is available at this link.

The paper’s conclusion reiterates the fact that U.S. manufacturing jobs have “declined dramatically in the last three decades,” and replacement jobs are poorer-paying, service-sector jobs with no guarantee of job stability or even a full work week. There also has been a “massive loss of market share, revenue, and jobs to foreign manufacturers.”

An important question surrounding the decline of manufacturing is whether those leaving manufacturing are transitioning into better or worse jobs. …

With other countries targeting what they see as high-value industries, the US is not just in danger of, but actually has been, forced into greater reliance on low-value, low-growth industries, offering lower-wage, lower-hours jobs. The success of superstar companies like Google or Apple or Pfizer should not blind us to the fact that today Leisure & Hospitality is our largest sector with 14.7 million non-management employees. It’s a sector that pays  such workers $16.58 an hour and the average worker works just  25.8 hours a week — resulting in average weekly income of $428. …

When all that a country has left is the domestic manufacture of processed foodstuffs, you end up with a lot of unhealthy and unwealthy workers who are in dire shortage of security, much less dignity. A republic that offers no better than this cannot long endure.

“When U.S. unemployment is at a 50-year low, why do so many people have trouble finding work with decent pay and adequate predictable hours?” asks a story from Forbes on the JQI. Answer: Few non-specialized good jobs are available.

Tens of millions of working-aged Americans are still not formally employed and have no apparent interest in sending out a resume. If the job market is so hot, why are so many people sitting on the sidelines? One frequently cited explanation is the growing proportion of older generation workers. Now we have another more important element. Workers don’t re-enter the workforce because many of the jobs themselves are rotten. …

Many looked to the category of jobs known as Professional and Technical Services as a path for the economy to “move to higher ground.” Professional and Technical Services were supposed to offer high pay, growth in employee numbers, and an opportunity to increase productivity. In fact, the JQI does report that employment is up 41 percent in this sector and the average weekly pay for non-managerial workers of $1,575 exceeds the pay of many other industries. But that’s not enough to rescue what the economy lost in manufacturing.

To recap:

  • Many of the jobs available are poorer, with stagnant wages and little job stability or full employment guarantees.
  • The tax bills of many big companies ended up being even smaller than what was anticipated in the GOP tax scam law. This has caused a ballooning federal deficit that could reach $1 trillion in 2020.
  • Trump’s trade war with China led to a loss of U.S. manufacturing jobs and higher prices. No matter what he claims about a new agreement, it’s not a done deal, and it’s only “Phase One” of a partial deal with few specifics released.
  • After Trump’s tariffs against China, China retaliated with tariffs that were devastating to U.S. farmers. Despite $28 billion in farm subsidies in the last two years (many of which went to large agriculture suppliers, some foreign-owned), farm bankruptcies surged, especially in the Midwest.
  • The record $14 trillion in debt that Americans owe is spread across mortgages, auto loans, credit cards, student loans, and other forms of debt. By themselves, student loans make up $1.5 trillion of the debt total. And medical costs are still growing faster than income—medical costs have gone up 33 percent since 2009.

It doesn’t matter if the stock market had its best annual gain in six years. When only those at the top are benefiting from those stock market gains—not every worker has a 401(k) or fat IRA account—then there’s no trickle down from a bloated stock market. Although 20 states and 26 cities and counties are raising the minimum wage in 2020, the federal minimum wage of $7.25 an hour hasn’t gone up since 2009.

This is a message that all Democratic candidates should be repeating over and over, whether they’re running for president, the House, the Senate, or a state office: The Trump economy isn’t helping most Americans.

These Are The Republicans We Won’t Miss In 2020

Reprinted with permission from Alternet

Over the last year, we’ve said goodbye to many Republicans who are no longer in office or are on their way out. There are way too many Republican losers to mention. So let’s take a look at just a handful of those in the 2019 edition of the GOP Hall of Shame.

This list won’t even include all of the 34 people indicted in the investigation into Russian election interference by special counsel Robert Mueller, some of whom are Russians who will never face justice.

More than two dozen House Republicans are opting to retire rather than face voters next fall (a few are running for another office). Only nine Democrats fall in that same category. Some members of the GOP leaving the House likely decided that life in the minority just wasn’t any fun anymore. Some may fear tougher reelection fights, although some of those leaving are in fairly red districts.

For starters, let’s look at the two miscreants who pleaded guilty to crimes and were forced to leave office early. Amazingly, both were reelected in 2018, despite the fact that they were under indictment.

Chris Collins. Collins was the first House member to support Donald Trump’s campaign in the 2016 election and became an unofficial spokesman for Trump in the House. In September 2019, the upstate New York congressman, along with his son and the father of the son’s then-fiancée, pleaded guilty to insider trading charges that were related to Collins’ investment in Innate Immunotherapeutics, an Australian biotech firm. Collins pleaded guilty to two of eight charges against him—conspiracy to commit securities fraud and lying to the FBI. He faces a sentencing hearing in January 2020.

Collins was charged in August 2018 with securities fraud, wire fraud, and making false statements to FBI agents. He was the largest investor and a member of the board of the Australian firm, and he touted the company’s stock to many in Congress, regularly bragging about how many millionaires he had made. When a drug trial failed, he warned his son, Cameron, and Stephen Zarsky, the prospective father-in-law, and they dumped their stock in Innate Immunotherapeutics. They avoided hundreds of thousands of dollars in losses.

In 2018, Collins won his race by one percentage point. Even though the 27th Congressional District is traditionally Republican, the taint may carry over to the next election.

Duncan Hunter. What is there to say about Duncan Hunter, the congressman who used campaign funds to pay for family vacations, trysts with mistresses, and flight expenses for a pet rabbit named EggBurt? In December, Hunter pleaded guilty to federal corruption charges of misusing more than $200,000 in campaign funds.

The San Diego-area congressman and his wife, Margaret, originally were indicted in August 2018, and both pleaded not guilty. But Hunter blamed all of the campaign snafus on his wife, who at one point had been his campaign manager. No doubt angered at the reports by prosecutors of campaign funds used on Hunter’s affairs with lobbyists and campaign staffers, Margaret Hunter pleaded guilty to conspiring with her husband to “knowingly and willingly” convert campaign funds for personal use. She also agreed to cooperate with prosecutors in the case against Hunter.

You’ve got to enjoy the detail in Margaret Hunter’s 22-page plea agreement from this CNN story:In the document, Margaret Hunter admits that she repeatedly conspired with her husband between 2009 and 2016 to use campaign funds to cover routine expenses like groceries, as well as couples outings with their friends to the track at Del Mar and other restaurants, lavish family gatherings at the Hotel Del Coronado, a $14,263 Italian vacation that the family could not have otherwise paid for, and a family trip to Minnesota in which they spent $250 in campaign funds on air transport for the family bunny, EggBurt. (Much of that spending was repaid to the campaign account by Duncan Hunter after the charges were revealed in the press).

Both Hunters await sentencing.

Kentucky Gov. Matt Bevin. If ever a lawmaker deserved to be thrown out on his sorry behind, it’s Bevin. He narrowly lost reelection in November to Democrat Andy Beshear. And there was much rejoicing.

Bevin’s election in 2015 was really due to his strong opposition to marriage equality, specifically his support for Kim Davis, the infamous homophobic county clerk in Rowan County, Kentucky. Davis, you might recall, become a conservative folk hero for refusing to issue marriage licenses to same-sex couples.

Back when she was in the spotlight, Davis had already been married four times to three different men. Her personal life might be her own, but it’s hypocritical to claim moral superiority over marriage equality when you’re discarding husbands left and right and the father of your twins is your third husband, the twins were conceived while you were still married to your first husband, and the twins are claimed by your second one (got all that?). Luckily, Davis was voted out of office in 2018, so we’re a year late in wishing her a not-so-fond farewell. But the state of Kentucky is left with $224,000 in legal fees over lawsuits filed by couples hurt by her refusal to grant them marriage licenses.

But back to Bevin. In April 2018, Bevin vetoed the entire state budget and tax overhaul plan with complaints about increases in education funding, increases that had been passed by Republican lawmakers. The Kentucky Legislature overrode his veto to make sure those increases, which were won with massive efforts and backing from Kentucky teachers, stayed in place. With that veto, Bevin won the instant enmity of the state’s teachers, and their support for Beshear was one of the big reasons for the Democrat’s victory.

Bevin’s worst move, however, was issuing a slew of pardons right before he left office. Those pardoned included convicted rapists, murderers, and drug offenders. There were 428 pardons and commutations in all. The Louisville Courier-Journal has a complete list (available to subscribers) of all the miscreants to whom Bevin gave his get-out-of-jail-free cards, including one whose family raised more than $20,000 for Bevin to retire a 2015 campaign debt. “The beneficiaries include one offender convicted of raping a child, another who hired a hit man to kill his business partner, and a third who killed his parents,” according to a story at NPR. Now the FBI is investigating those pardons.

The GOP majority in the Virginia Legislature. How sweet was it on election night 2019 when we all realized that the great Commonwealth of Virginia would now be in Democratic hands? Virginia Republicans quickly realized that their old approaches to campaigning—calling their opponents “socialists” and worse—weren’t working anymore, with the state’s suburbs turning reliably blue. No Republican has won a statewide race in Virginia since 2009.

Besides Democratic strength in the suburbs, hard work by volunteers for Moms Demand Action for Gun Sense in America turned gun violence into a top issue in the election. I’ll let Virginia residents weigh in on which Republicans they most enjoyed seeing kicked out of office.

Members of the Trump gang in prison. How many Trumpsters are currently behind bars, have served a sentence, or are heading to the slammer sometime soon? It’s hard to keep track. There are currently six people affiliated with either the 2016 Trump campaign, the Trump businesses, or the Trump administration who have been convicted of or have pleaded guilty to crimes as a result of the Mueller investigation. A story from Forbes had the rundown:

  • Michael Cohen, Trump’s former personal lawyer, was sentenced in December 2018 to three years in prison for lying to Congress, campaign finance violations, and tax evasion. He received an additional two months of prison time for lying to Congress about a Moscow Trump Tower deal.
  • Roger Stone, the longtime GOP operative who has a tattoo of Richard Nixon on his back, was found guilty of lying to Congress and witness tampering in relation to his work on President Trump’s 2016 campaign. He will be sentenced in February 2020.
  • George Papadopoulos, a former Trump foreign policy advisor, was sentenced in September 2018 to 14 days in prison (with a year of supervised release) after pleading guilty to lying to FBI agents about his contacts with Russian intermediaries during the 2016 campaign. The sleazebag filed in October to run for Democrat Katie Hill’s vacant California congressional seat.
  • Paul Manafort, Trump’s former campaign manager, was found guilty by a Virginia court of tax and bank fraud in August 2018, and in November 2018 voided his plea deal (by lying to investigators) in separate federal charges brought by Mueller. He’s currently serving a combined 4 1/2 years in prison in both cases.
  • Rick Gates, a former deputy to Manafort during the Trump campaign, pleaded guilty in February 2018 to charges of conspiracy against the United States and making false statements. He was sentenced in December to 45 days in prison (which he can serve on weekends) and three years’ probation.
  • Michael Flynn, Trump’s former national security adviser, pleaded guilty in December 2017 to lying to the FBI. His long-delayed sentencing has been yet again postponed until Jan. 28, 2020, after a federal judge rejected his claims of innocence and his attacks on the FBI.

Members of the Trump gang who aren’t in prison—yet. So many to indict, so little time, and so much GOP resistance:

Trump’s good buddy and personal lawyer Rudy Giuliani faces possible prosecution for acting as an unregistered foreign agent, but that’s just the beginning. He’s also being investigated by the U.S. Attorney’s office in New York (which he once headed) for possible campaign finance violations as part of an active investigation into his financial dealings. From a Fortune story:

“I would not be surprised if he gets indicted,” said Mimi Rocah, a former federal prosecutor with the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Southern District of New York. “It’s clear Giuliani is up to his ears in shady stuff and there’s tons of smoke.”

Two Giuliani associates, Lev Parnas and Igor Fruman, are already charged with illegally funneling hundreds of thousands of dollars to U.S. officials and a political action committee that backed Trump.

Will former Energy Secretary Rick Perry face any legal problems after two of his political supporters secured a potentially lucrative oil and gas exploration deal? Or just general derision from thinking people everywhere?

And what about possible legal jeopardy for Donald Trump Jr., Eric, Ivanka, and Trump son-in-law Jared Kushner, all of whom face ethical charges of their own over the millions they’ve made since Donald Trump has been in office?

By this time next year, we hope to be saying goodbye to many other Republicans. In the Senate, there’s a good chance we might see the end of the political careers of Sens. Cory Gardner of Colorado, Martha McSally of Arizona, and (fingers crossed) Susan Collins of Maine. With any luck, we might see exits from Thom Tillis of North Carolina and Joni Ernst of Iowa. Especially sweet, even if less likely, would be losses by head Trump butt-kisser Lindsey Graham of South Carolina and the turtle-weasel Mitch McConnell of Kentucky.

But the sweetest loss of all a year from now? That would be one Donald J. Trump.