Abbreviated Pundit Roundup: The economy

Paul Krugman of The New York Times says that even if the Bureau of Economic Analysis shows a shrinking in real G.D.P. for the second quarter, that does not necessarily mean that the economy is in recession.

There’s a pretty good chance the Bureau of Economic Analysis, which produces the numbers on gross domestic product and other macroeconomic data, will declare on Thursday, preliminarily, that real G.D.P. shrank in the second quarter of 2022. Since it has already announced that real G.D.P. shrank in the first quarter, there will be a lot of breathless commentary to the effect that we’re officially in a recession.

But we won’t be. That’s not how recessions are defined; more important, it’s not how they should be defined. It’s possible that the people who actually decide whether we’re in a recession — more about them in a minute — will eventually declare that a recession began in the United States in the first half of this year, although that’s unlikely given other economic data. But they won’t base their decision solely on whether we’ve had two successive quarters of falling real G.D.P.

To understand why, it helps to know a bit about the history of what is known as business cycle dating.

William Danvers writes for The Hill that the American economy is still going through economic shocks caused by the COVID-19 pandemic.

Supply and demand, which is fundamental to the cost of goods and services, were affected dramatically by the pandemic. People largely stayed at home. Jobs were lost and businesses were closed. Supply chains were disrupted. The nature of work and education changed. How people viewed their jobs and their future in the workforce was altered.

Lockdowns meant that the home became central to day-to-day lives, which altered patterns of consumption and how the economy functioned. For example, going to movies and restaurants was drastically curtailed, even halted. The restrictions of everyday life during the height of the pandemic had an impact on how people viewed their day-to-day activities. Working from home, another pandemic-related change, affects issues such as office space, public transportation and the functioning of businesses that no longer connect to the pre-pandemic economic reality of going into the office regularly.

Understanding the role that the pandemic has played in determining the present economic state in the U.S. and globally, as well as the economic future, is key to determining responses to present crises. Biden has been criticized for putting too much money into the economy and thereby increasing the likelihood of inflationary pressure with his American Rescue Plan, but the plan was literally a lifeline for millions of Americans — who, in turn, helped stabilize the economy.  

Burgess Everett and Marianne Levine of POLITICO report on the deal that Senator Joe Manchin struck with Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer on a financial package that includes energy and climate spending as well as ACA premiums.

Moreover, Manchin’s announcement came hours after final passage of semiconductor legislation, a bill Republicans threatened to block mere weeks ago in an effort to stop Democrats from pursuing a party-line tax, climate and health care package.

The Manchin-Schumer deal includes roughly $370 billion in energy and climate spending, $300 billion in deficit reduction, three years of subsidies for Affordable Care Act premiums, prescription drug reform and significant tax changes. Manchin said the bill was at one point “bigger than that” but that’s where the two Democrats settled.

As part of the agreement announced Wednesday, Schumer and Speaker Nancy Pelosi agreed to pass legislation governing energy permits. Manchin said he spoke to Schumer, Pelosi and President Joe Biden on Wednesday.

Paul M. Krawzak of Roll Call  lays out the possibilities for the “vote-a-rama” to come.

A full CBO score wasn’t yet available for the not-yet-released Senate substitute text. But under the publicly unveiled parameters of a deal struck between Majority Leader Charles E. Schumer, D-N.Y., and Joe Manchin III, D-W.Va., it will contain drug pricing provisions that will reduce “on-budget” deficits — the part that counts toward meeting reconciliation directives — by $277 billion over a decade.

Adding two years of expanded health insurance premium subsidies would be expected to cost somewhere in the ballpark of $40 billion, reducing the net deficit reduction.

Still, that leaves plenty of room for senators to offer amendments, including on things like extending expiring Trump-era tax cuts, provided they don’t go below $1 billion in Finance Committee deficit reduction. GOP senators could offer other amendments, including on energy policy, to try and put Democrats in a tough spot ahead of midterm elections this November.

Alternatively, there’d be room for Democrats to try to expand spending within Finance’s jurisdiction. They could seek to add a paid leave program, expanded child tax credits, funding for home- and community-based care under Medicaid, or Medicare hearing benefits that were in earlier versions — as well as tax increases to pay for it all.

Gabriel R. Sanchez, Keesha Middlemass, and Alla Rodriguez of The Brookings institution look at the effects of misinformation on the American electorate.

One of the drivers of decreased confidence in the political system has been the explosion of misinformation deliberately aimed at disrupting the democratic process. This confuses and overwhelms voters. Throughout the 2020 election cycle, Russia’s cyber efforts and online actors were able to influence public perceptions and sought to amplify mistrust in the electoral process by denigrating mail-in voting, highlighting alleged irregularities, and accusing the Democratic Party of engaging in voter fraud. The “big lie” reinforced by President Trump about the 2020 election results amplified the Russian efforts and has lasting implications on voters’ trust in election outcomes.

The Collaborative Multi-Racial Political Study reveals that a robust 57% of white Americans believes there was voter fraud in the 2020 presidential election, including 26% of whom believe there was definitely fraud in 2020. This survey also reveals that racial and ethnic minorities are highly susceptible to misinformation regarding voter fraud, as 38% of Latinos and 30% of African Americans think there might have been at least some fraud in 2020. Furthermore, in a 2021 survey by Howard University Digital Informers, a slim majority (51.5%) of respondents believe that “Black Americans are targets of fake news”.

In conjunction with the circulation of claims of election fraud and misinformation throughout the country, the public’s trust in our democratic system subsequently declined as well. An ABC NEWS/Washington Post survey found that only 20% feel “very confident” in the integrity of the U.S. election system. Furthermore, 56% of respondents of a recent CNN poll said that they have “little or no confidence” that the elections represent the will of the people. This pessimism is shared by the America youth as well, as 42% of the Harvard Youth Poll participants believe that their vote does not make a difference.

Jennifer Rubin of The Washington Post writes that the deluge from DOJ investigations of Trump and his acolytes for the Jan. 6 attempt to overthrow the duly elected American government are just beginning.

It might have been hard for jaded Beltway reporters to imagine, but powerful evidence presented dramatically in a easily accessible way — along with steady amplification by the media — may well be draining Trump of his support and encouraging Republicans to look elsewhere for a leader. No wonder the right-wing editorial pages of the New York Post and Wall Street Journal, both Rupert Murdoch publications, have broken sharply with Trump. Trump of all people should understand how the aura of being a “loser” turns people off.

If you feel as though the pace of revelations has picked up, you’re not alone. On Tuesday, the New York Times published another blockbuster report regarding Trump’s phony elector scheme. The Times reviewed emails that show one lawyer involved in the scheme “repeatedly used the word ‘fake’ to refer to the so-called electors, who were intended to provide Vice President Mike Pence and Mr. Trump’s allies in Congress a rationale for derailing the congressional process of certifying the outcome.” That’s classic “admissions against interest” — the sort of self-incriminating statements that light up prosecutors’ eyes. Plus, with more names popping up in emails, the pool of witnesses grows. The Post’s report also revealed that the Justice Department has the phone logs of senior Trump aides.[…]

The question now is not whether Trump will be exposed to criminal investigations but how far along and how fast they are moving. Meanwhile, the public’s view of his conduct grows ever more negative, with possible consequences for his party. If Trump feels a tad claustrophobic, it’s because the walls are closing in.

Renée Graham of The Boston Globe writes that Trump’s base will not abandon him because of white supremacy, not in spite of it.

With a historic 81 million votes Joe Biden won the 2020 presidential election. But Trump got 74 million votes, 11 million more than he garnered in 2016. That means millions more people heard Trump’s lies, witnessed his racism, and saw him impeached for abuse of power and obstruction of Congress and thought, “Yup, I want some of that for four more years.”

Now, even after a second impeachment and an ongoing House investigation revealing Trump’s culpability in the deadly insurrection that defiled the Capitol and wounded our democracy, Republicans have remade themselves in his graven image, their would-be autocrat a half-century in the making. Election deniers who’ve swallowed whole Trump’s Big Lie are vying for seats in the Senate and House, and as governors and secretaries of state who will certify future elections.

Despite not even a scintilla of evidence to the contrary, nearly 70 percent of Republicans do not believe that Biden is the legitimately elected president. More than 60 percent of Republicans say Jan. 6 was not an insurrection, but a “legitimate protest.” Reacting to Trump’s crimes alone is like treating the wound, but not an infection that continues to spread.

Trump’s minions carry their support and what he emboldened not as a millstone, but as a badge of honor. Time won’t change that.

Charles Blow of The New York Times writes that Trump doesn’t care one bit about law and order and neither do the MAGA folks.

This week, Trump returned to Washington for the first time since he left office. And the speech he gave was another law and order speech, returning to the theme of empowering the police, calling for the execution of drug dealers, and describing the country as a “cesspool of crime.”

In all this, he encouraged cities to reinstate racialized stop-and-frisk policies, because “it works,” and called on them to flood the streets with more officers and pull back on accountability for those officers’ actions.

Trump said, “There is no longer respect for the law, and there certainly is no order.”

Clearly, irony escapes the man.

But his remarks underscore another reality, beyond the fact that his support for the police is opportunistic at best, and it is this: In societies that prize grotesque imbalance, you will reap grotesque resistance and violent expressions. And when you add stressors like a pandemic and surging inflation, the problem will only get worse.

Elizabeth Wellington of The Philadelphia Inquirer says that The Sesame Place staff needs are even simpler than DEI (Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion) training; that staff needs basic couth and “home training.”

Real talk: DEI alone won’t solve this problem, because DEI doesn’t teach common decency and manners. A mean person, dressed up as a friendly Sesame Street monster, decided it was OK to behave nastily toward two Black children. Instead of greeting the little girls with outstretched arms — or at the very least offering them high fives — this cretin, disguised as a muppet, shooed them away after giving other children — white children — mad love. And more videos have surfaced of Black children being ignored by Sesame Place characters, demonstrating a pattern of mistreatment. […]

Let’s be clear: This column isn’t knocking the need for DEI training, so the people whining about being forced to acknowledge Black history as American history can cool their racist heels. Diversity, equity, and inclusion training in workplaces is meant to teach people how to recognize unconscious biases that result in them treating their Black colleagues like servants. DEI also helps institutions raise employees’ awareness of systemic racism that results in unequal housing, pay, education, transportation, and food access.

DEI training doesn’t, however, teach basic manners. It doesn’t instill kindness. It doesn’t cure a bitter heart. Call me crazy, but a person should not need DEI training to know they should treat Black children with the same compassion they treat white children. That’s the job of home training. Sesame Place needs to do a better job making sure they hire employees who have home training. DEI training helps employers spot racists and reject them because racists are not good people.

Aaron Bolton and Ellis Juhlin of Kaiser Health News report that increasing numbers of women may be opting for permanent sterilization in response to the Dobbs decision.

The uncertainty around abortion access in Montana and other states where abortion is now or could become illegal, plus the fear of future legal fights over long-term contraception, has seemingly spurred a rise in the number of people seeking surgical sterilization, according to reports from doctors. That includes Marietti, who is having a salpingectomy, a procedure in which the fallopian tubes are removed instead of tied, as in tubal ligation, which can be reversible.

How many people sought permanent sterilization after the fall of Roe won’t become clear until next year, said Megan Kavanaugh, a researcher for the Guttmacher Institute, which gathers data related to reproductive health care across the U.S. and supports abortion rights.

But anecdotal reports indicate that more people have been undergoing permanent birth control procedures since the Supreme Court’s June 24 decision in Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health Organization, which struck down Roe. Dr. Kavita Arora, who chairs the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists’ ethics committee, said providers across the country are beginning to see an influx of patients into their operating rooms.

Eric Kutscher and Lala Tomnoy Das write for the Los Angeles Times that discrimination in the medical and public health systems against LGBTQ individuals is key to ending the monkeypox outbreak.

It’s no accident that this virus receiving a weak public health response is one that mostly affects men who have sex with men, many of whom self-identify as gay, bisexual and transgender. In fact, WHO advisers declined to declare a monkeypox emergency in June in part because the disease has not moved out of this primary risk group. With cases rising, WHO Director-General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus overruled advisers to make the declaration.

To be clear, nothing about LGBTQ individuals makes them more biologically susceptible to monkeypox. The current outbreak is primarily transmitting via close physical and sexual contact, though it can also spread through respiratory secretions and touching infected materials (such as clothing and linens). The reason this virus continues unchecked among men who have sex with men is that public health authorities have been slow to treat the risk to these individuals as an emergency.

To end monkeypox, we must confront the discrimination in the medical and public health systems that has enabled this preventable crisis. Clearly, having a vaccine for monkeypox is not enough in the face of homophobia that hampers public health response. And the steps it will take to end monkeypox will also enhance access to the comprehensive and patient-centered primary care that largely does not reach LGBTQ individuals.

I’ve heard that song before.

Aydali Campa of InsideClimateNews writes that a number of west side residents in Atlanta fear that an EPA investigation of high levels of lead in the area may lead eventually to gentrification.

In 2018, a graduate student found high levels of lead, a powerful neurotoxin, in a few urban gardens across the west side of Atlanta and alerted the Environmental Protection Agency. Since 2019, the EPA has been testing soil in the study area, but mistrust from residents has slowed that process. Many who live in the two historically Black neighborhoods in the study area view the federal government’s efforts with a jaundiced eye. They suspect the remediation is part of an effort to help gentrification flourish by pushing them off the now-valuable land where Black Atlantans have lived with toxins for a long time.

So far, the agency has been cleaning the site under its emergency response program for short-term cleanups, but the projects under this program have time and funding limits. In March of this year, the EPA added the site that spans 627 acres to the Superfund National Priorities List, making it eligible to receive federal funding for the investigation and long-term cleanup. As a Superfund site, the EPA will oversee remediation and evaluate public health and environmental risk associated with the contamination. Under the current scope, EPA officials say the cleanup will take about four more years, and the site will likely grow by as many as hundreds more properties. They estimate the entire cost of the remediation to be upwards of $49 million.

It will take testing of residents’ soil and blood to understand the extent of the contamination and its harm to residents’ health. Despite not doubting that their homes could be polluted with lead, some residents say that the community’s history of racism and displacement makes them wary of allowing the government into their homes to confirm it.

An eight-reporter team for Der Spiegel writes about the end of globalization (!) and what that means for Germany.

These days, even stoic government leaders seem overwhelmed by the barrage of world crises, tremendous upheavals and changing times. The global financial crisis, the refugee crisis, Brexit, the climate collapse, the coronavirus pandemic and the war in Ukraine have all happened in succession. It’s more than enough to make a person dizzy. And yet, all this now simply feels like a preview for the massive change that is only now starting to role in: The age of globalization is coming to an end.[…]

Globalization has never been a purely economic phenomenon. For three decades, it was the defining world order, the guiding principle informing all political decisions. It determined how and where we work and how well we live and even who is a friend and who is a foe.

Linked to this was a clear vision of the further development of humanity: that the world would become ever more prosperous, and thus necessarily ever more modern, ever more liberal, ever more democratic. And that it would constantly become more Western. That economic ties would also create common values. And, more importantly: peace – at least more than ever before.

But all of these supposed certainties have just been steamrolled by Putin’s tanks. These days, everybody who is anybody is proclaiming the death of globalization.

Finally today, Andrew Downie of the Guardian writes about the outrage among a group of Brazilian senators because a prosecutor dropped five criminal charges against Brazilian President Jair Bolosonaro related to his mismanagement of COVID.

A congressional inquiry into Bolsonaro’s handling of the pandemic ended last October with recommendations that the president face a range of charges, but a senior prosecutor, Lindôra Araujo, shelved five of the nine charges, leading senior lawmakers to request her conduct be examined.

Seven senators also asked the supreme court to ignore her decision as they promised not to let Bolsonaro and his supporters off the hook. “Those who want to halt the investigations into those crimes under investigation by the Covid CPI will not be allowed to rest,” said Humberto Costa, one of the seven senators.

The chief prosecutor’s office said evidence initially presented to the Covid inquiry “did not contain the proper individual proofs” required to meet the legal criteria for criminal charges. It also said relevant documents were missing and that evidence to connect the alleged crimes was lacking.

It called Araujo’s ruling strictly “legal”, while classing last year’s Covid inquiry as “political”.

Have a good day, everyone!

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