Economy Section….

Our prez isn’t so much President of the United States as he is leader of an extremist subset.  The radical right has his ear, so it’s who Trump news caters to & he’d never want to do anything to cross them.  In pursuing misguided economic policies demanded by his base, we all pay the price.  The main example is the tax cut bill, touted as a great achievement spurring tremendous economic growth.  But the reality of how we’re likely to watch this caffeine buzz play out, the benefits go mainly to the top with workers unlikely to realize much gain from it.  But it is projected to increase annual deficits to over $1 Trillion, ultimately sabotaging economic growth & adding to already unmanageable future debt obligations.  Trump has his base so mesmerized, they’ve abandoned conservative principles in favor of a cult personality.  And at a time we need strategic economic thinking by chess masters taking us smartly into a fast-changing modern world, our policies are being formulated by a leader still learning the game of checkers.


None of the discussions coming out of DC these days even begin to get to the heart of our economic difficulties.  While roughly half the population are currently enjoying relatively strong economic conditions, the other half continues to struggle with little prospects for the future.  At a time we need to create an environment for the formation & worker training for better jobs providing more opportunity to the underprivileged, the debate & focus remain on small-thinking/trivial discussions where America continues to abysmally fail much of their working class.  Without real hope, people fall into a state of despondency & despair.  The following excerpt is patched together from millions-of-americans-are-among-the-poorest-people-in-the-world_partner, which shows despite our massive wealth creation & strong economic data, we’re nonetheless seeing something within our economic model that’s seriously amiss.  These conditions are bad enough, but the failure of leadership to address such conditions is inexcusable:

It’s difficult for many Americans to admit the truth about extreme poverty in our country. Our poorest citizens may not be living in a farming village where they eat millet soup and walk a mile for water. But they have to deal with homelessness, alcoholism, mental health disease, opioid addiction, stress-inducing indebtedness and inequality, and pollution levels that are the highest in the developed world. All of that makes for rock-bottom living standards. According to Credit Suisse data over the past three years, anywhere from 4 to 10 percent of the world’s poorest decile are Americans. That’s 20 to 50 million adults. It’s likely that many of them are only temporarily in debt, and that they have a much better chance than a third-world villager to climb out of poverty. But it’s just as likely that they’ll be replaced by other impoverished Americans, especially with an aging population woefully unprepared for retirement, and with the great majority of new job prospects temporary or contract-based, without security or benefits. “There are millions of Americans whose suffering, through material poverty and poor health, is as bad or worse than that of the people in Africa or in Asia.” That’s the conclusion of Princeton researcher Angus Deaton. Based on World Bank and Oxford numbers, he estimates that over 5 million Americans are absolutely poor by global standards. The extreme level of inequality in the U.S. is battering the poor with a sense of inferiority. It’s ripping apart once-interdependent communities, and it’s triggering a surge in drug and alcohol and suicide “deaths of despair.” Also, while third-world villagers may not have the opportunities available in the U.S., those very opportunities are becoming less and less available to the neediest Americans. It’s hard for people with wealth and power to admit all this. Because then they might feel obligated to do something about it.


We’ve posted several paragraphs below taken from this-is-what-life-without-retirement-savings-looks-like, showing the financial distress experienced by many in the working middle class the past few decades have led to this retirement crisis:

Many people reaching retirement age don’t have the pensions that lots of workers in previous generations did, and often have not put enough money into their 401(k)s to live off of; the median savings in a 401(k) plan for people between the ages of 55 and 64 is just $15,000, according to the National Institute on Retirement Security, a nonprofit. Other workers did not have access to a retirement plan through their employer. That means that as people reach their mid-60s, they either have to dramatically curtail their spending or keep working to survive. “This will be the first time that we have a lot of people who find themselves downwardly mobile as they grow older,” Diane Oakley, the executive director of the National Institute on Retirement Security, told me. “They’re going to go from being near poor to poor.”


The problem is growing as more Baby Boomers reach retirement age—between 8,000 to 10,000 Americans turn 65 every day, according to Kevin Prindiville, the executive director of Justice in Aging, a nonprofit that addresses senior poverty. Older Americans were the only demographic for whom poverty rates increased in a statistically significant way between 2015 and 2016, according to Census Bureau data. While poverty fell among people 18 and under and people 18 to 64 between 2015 and 2016, it rose to 14.5 percent for people over 65 according to the Census Bureau’s Supplemental Poverty Measure, which is considered a more accurate measure of poverty because it takes into account health-care costs and other big expenses. “In the early decades of our work, we were serving communities that had been poor when they were younger,” Prindiville told me. “Increasingly, we’re seeing folks who are becoming poor for the first time in old age.”


This presents a worrying preview of what could befall millions of workers who will retire in the coming decades. If today’s seniors are struggling with retirement savings, what will become of the people of working age today, many of whom hold unsteady jobs and have patchwork incomes that leave little room for retirement savings? The current wave of senior poverty could just be the beginning. Two-thirds of Americans don’t contribute any money to a 401(k) or other retirement account, according to Census Bureau researchers. And this could have larger implications for the economy. If today’s middle-class households curtail their spending when they retire, the whole economy could suffer.


The retirement-savings system in the United States has three pillars: Social Security, employer-sponsored pensions or retirement-savings plans, and individual savings. But with the rise of less-stable jobs and the decline of pensions, a larger share of older Americans are relying only on Social Security, without either of the two other pillars to contribute to their finances. This by definition means they have less money than they did when they were working: Social Security replaces only about 40 percent of an average wage earner’s income when they retire, while financial advisors say that retirees need at least 70 percent of their pre-retirement earnings to live comfortably.


Today’s seniors are so reliant on Social Security in part because companies that once provided pensions began, in the 1970s, to turn the responsibility of retirement saving over to individuals. Rather than “defined benefit” plans, in which people are guaranteed a certain amount of money every year in retirement, they receive “defined contribution” plans, which means the employer sets aside a certain amount of money per year. This switch saved companies money because it asked employees, not employers, to take on the risks associated with long-term investing. This means that the amount people receive is more affected by the ups and downs of the stock market, their individual wages, and interest rates. In 1979, 28 percent of private-sector workers had participated in defined-benefit retirement plans — by 2014, just 2 percent did, according to the Employee Benefit Research Institute, a nonprofit. By contrast, seven percent of private-sector workers participated in defined-contribution plans in 1979 — by 2014, 34 percent did.


The recession and economic trends in the years since have also worsened the finances of millions of seniors. Some bought homes during the housing boom and then found they owed more on their homes than they were worth, and had to walk away. Others invested in the stock market and saw their investments shrink dramatically.  But even people who emerged from the recession relatively unscathed may have a hard time saving, according to a 2017 report from Government Accountability Office. Average wages, when adjusted for inflation, have remained near where they were in the 1970s, which makes it hard for workers to increase their savings. This has had a significant impact on the bottom 80 percent of workers, for whom average wages have remained relatively constant, even as income increased for the top 20 percent of households in the past three decades. For many seniors, the answer to this lack of savings has meant working longer and longer, as Roberta Gordon is doing. Today, about 12.4 percent of the population aged 65 or older is still in the workforce, up from 3 percent in 2000, according to Oakley.   

So the related articles below get into a menagerie of economic issues, including healthcare, tax cuts & deficits, gun laws, DACA & possibly moving beyond the two-party system.  In the group of tax cut links, this excerpt from people-are-starting-to-realize-the-gop-tax-bill-was-a-massive-scam makes it abundantly clear who those tax cuts were really designed for:

President Donald Trump and the Republicans sold their slapdash effort at tax reform as a boon to the middle class. As the law goes into effect, however, new polling suggests that most Americans are struggling to see any benefit at all in their paychecks. A survey from Politico and Morning Consult found that only 37 percent of employed people have seen an increase in their paychecks since the law went into effect, while 53 percent of people have not noticed a change. The bill was never designed to be a tax cut for working Americans. It was designed, first and foremost, to be a massive giveaway for corporations. It slashed the corporate tax rate at the cost of $2 trillion over ten years.

Illustrating how misguided & shortsighted poorly conceived tax cuts can be, see this article  giving-tax-cuts-to-the-companies-that-deserve-them that reveals a very unfortunate reality in this excerpt, which if you go onto read the rest of the article, offers suggestions on specific ways to stipulate/incentivize businesses to do right by their workers & actually earn those tax cuts:


A recent White House press release boasted that as many as one million Americans have gotten what it called ‘Trump Bonuses” and “Trump Pay Raises” from their employers the purported result of lower corporate tax rates in the tax cut legislation rushed through Congress in December. In reality, however, shareholders, not U.S. workers, are likely to be the Trump tax cuts’ biggest beneficiaries. In earnings calls last fall, reported Bloomberg, most big companies assured investors they would pass along their windfalls in the form of share buybacks and dividends. Democratic Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer (N.Y.) recently circulated a list of 30 large companies that have announced a total of $83.7 billion in share buybacks in expectation of the new law.


For decades now, U.S. workers’ interests have lost out to stockholders’ expectations, thanks to the unrelenting pressure of “shareholder primacy.” In pursuit of rosy short-term gains, companies have sacrificed their own long-term well-being —  forgoing spending on R&D, advertising and maintenance to meet quarterly revenue targets- while shortchanging workers on pay and training. Though wages are finally creeping upward, these increases still cannot compensate for years of stagnation and disinvestment. Unfortunately, mere exhortation will not right the balance between workers and shareholders, so long as companies must compete for investors’ attention in a global market. Nor will overly heavy-handed regulation, which would only invite resistance, evasion, or, worse yet, the flight of U.S. companies to friendlier shores. Rather, policymakers need new mechanisms that put the interests of workers and shareholders in harmony, rather than in conflict.


Inside other links below, with Trump’s chronic dishonesty, it’s not at all surprising the realities of his economic policies don’t match up with his bold boasts.  There is one issue where Trump pushed back against traditional GOP ideology that finally needed to be questioned.  Trump just made a speech on trade & to be fair, I’ve always appreciated Trump shining the light on unfair trade deals, where other country’s erecting trade barriers & currency manipulations & subsidizing their industries & other factors caused massive outsourcing of jobs from America & huge trade deficits.  What should concern us is whether Trump’s negotiating new deals, imposing tariffs & other actions will actually contribute to beneficial trade relationships, or cause more harm than good as we sacrifice our economic authority & influence to rising economic powers like China.  

In another group of links, we have to admire those students taking up a cause they believe in & are taking on the NRA.  Trump & the NRA trying to quell the public anger with limited or misplaced measures should not be allowed to deflect from the real remedies needed.  How ridiculous to think arming teachers is somehow the overriding answer, which would likely only increase gun deaths in schools.  Guns could accidentally discharge, be impulsively used when teachers feel threatened or lose their tempers, lawless students could jump their teachers & confiscate their guns, & those whose primary profession is teaching when possessing a handgun is no match for an AR-15.  The House more than the Senate will hold up any kind of reasonable gun-restriction deal, & Lord only knows what Trump might support.  See this excerpt from the-parkland-shooting-may-just-ruin-the-gop where the GOP/NRA partnership really needs to come to an end:

Will Republican fealty to the NRA finally sink the GOP? It’s starting to feel that way, more than a week following the school shooting in Parkland, Florida, in which 17 were murdered; three months after 26 churchgoers were slaughtered in Sutherland Springs, Texas; four months after 58 concertgoers were massacred (and 500 injured) in Las Vegas; and more than five years after 26 elementary school children and teachers were gunned down in Newtown, Connecticut. After each of those shootings, nothing much happened. Or rather, the exact same thing happened: Liberals (including President Obama after all those gradeschoolers were slaughtered in Sandy Hook) spoke of the need to pass significant gun control measures, conservatives opposed doing anything, and the conservatives won, with the clamoring for action dying down fairly quickly after the bodies were buried. 


This time it’s different. For one thing, three of the 10 deadliest mass shootings in American history have taken place within the past five months. For another, the presidency of Donald Trump has many on the left side of the political divide in a constant state of agitation, hungry to take back power from the right and eager to organize public protests. Then you have the inspiring outspokenness of the high school students from Parkland, who have been speaking out in demonstrations and on TV for the past week. All of these trends have likely contributed to the recent sharp shift in public opinion on gun control.  

Toward the bottom links, the court decision looks to buy time for Dreamers being allowed to stay in the country awhile longer, but also takes away the sense of urgency for DC politicians to pass a permanent solution, so without a firm deadline on this very difficult/divisive issue, nothing will happen this year on a DACA bill.  Then we see articles that if neither of the two major parties wants to advance the interests of the people, & if our political system continues to prove hopelessly dysfunctional & broken beyond repair, maybe it will be necessary to transition over to a multi-party system.

Who is the man, that would risk his neck for his brother man?….

Trump just said with that shooter at the school spraying the hallways with his AR-15, with him as our hero leader even without a weapon, he would have stormed the school & taken down the killer with his bare hands!  See his account of his heroics from the articles in part 2.  If Trump really wants to play Mr. Action Detective Tough Superhero by thinking he’s Rambo or somebody, he needs the right music to inspire the courage to save the day! Who’s the cat that won’t cop out, when there’s danger all about. Can ya dig it?….

economic policies with john shaft
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