Saturday, December 04, 2021
The Labor Department released its unemployment numbers for November on Friday. It showed the economy had added another 210,000 jobs. Some economists were disappointed with the number of new jobs, but it was enough to reduce the unemployment rate by 0.4% (from 4.6% in October to 4.2% in November).
Here are the relevant statistics for November:
SIZE OF THE CIVILIAN LABOR FORCE:
OFFICIAL NUMBER OF UNEMPLOYED WORKERS:
OFFICIAL UNEMPLOYMENT RATE:
DEMOGRAPHIC BREAKDOWN OF OFFICIAL UNEMPLOYMENT:
Less than HS diploma...............5.7%
Bachelor's deg. or more...............2.3%
NUMBER OF MARGINALLY-ATTACHED WORKERS (unemployed but not counted):
MORE REALISTIC NUMBER OF UNEMPLOYED WORKERS (Official + marginally-attached):
MORE REALISTIC UNEMPLOYMENT RATE:
The Republican Party has no agenda. They showed that in their 2020 convention, when they didn't even bother to propose a platform -- instead just saying that whatever Trump wanted to do was OK with them. Now they are engaged in fighting against masks and vaccinations, obstructing everything Democrats try to do, and even flirting with default and a government shutdown -- all things that hurt this country and its citizens. Why? Just to show their loyalty to Trump. They are now just another cult.
Here's part of how Paul Krugman puts it in his New York Times column:
Under Obama, leading Republicans claimed that their fiscal brinkmanship was motivated by concerns about budget deficits. Some of us argued even at the time that self-proclaimed deficit hawks were phonies, that they didn’t actually care about government debt — a view validated by their silence when the Trump administration blew up the deficit — and that they actually wanted to see the economy suffer on Obama’s watch. But they maintained enough of a veneer of responsibility to fool many commentators.
This time, Republican obstructionists aren’t even pretending to care about red ink. Instead, they’re threatening to shut everything down unless the Biden administration abandons its efforts to fight the coronavirus with vaccine mandates.
What’s that about? As many observers have pointed out, claims that opposition to vaccine mandates (and similar opposition to mask mandates) is about maintaining personal freedom don’t stand up to any kind of scrutiny. No reasonable definition of freedom includes the right to endanger other people’s health and lives because you don’t feel like taking basic precautions.
Furthermore, actions by Republican-controlled state governments, for example in Florida and Texas, show a party that isn’t so much pro-freedom as it is pro-Covid. How else can you explain attempts to prevent private businesses — whose freedom to choose was supposed to be sacrosanct — from requiring that their workers be vaccinated, or offers of special unemployment benefits for the unvaccinated?
In other words, the G.O.P. doesn’t look like a party trying to defend liberty; it looks like a party trying to block any effective response to a deadly disease. Why is it doing this?
To some extent it surely reflects a coldly cynical political calculation. Voters tend to blame whichever party holds the White House for anything bad that happens on its watch, which creates an incentive for a sufficiently ruthless party to engage in outright sabotage. Sure enough, Republicans who fought all efforts to contain the coronavirus are now attacking the Biden administration for failing to end the pandemic.
But trying to shut down the government to block vaccinations seems like overreach, even for hardened cynics. It’s notable that Mitch McConnell, whom nobody could accuse of being a do-gooder, isn’t part of the anti-vaccine caucus.
What seems to be happening instead goes beyond cold calculation. As I’ve pointed out in the past, Republican politicians now act like apparatchiks in an authoritarian regime, competing to take ever more extreme positions as a way to demonstrate their loyalty to the cause — and to The Leader. Catering to anti-vaccine hysteria, doing all they can to keep the pandemic going, has become something Republicans do to remain in good standing within the party.
The result is that one of America’s two major political parties isn’t just refusing to help the nation deal with its problems; it’s actively working to make the country ungovernable.
And I hope the rest of us haven’t lost the ability to be properly horrified at this spectacle.
Friday, December 03, 2021
The COVID-19 Omicron variant has reached the United States. Republicans are already starting to play political games with it (with some even calling it a Democratic Party plot to win the 2022 election). But most Americans are not that stupid. They know it's dangerous, and they are willing to have the government do whatever is necessary to control the virus (in all its forms). The only thing most people don't support is closing down businesses and government again.
The Labor Department released its weekly unemployment statistics on Thursday. It showed that about 222,000 workers filed for unemployment benefits in the week ending on November 27th. That's a slight increase over last week's record low numbers.
Here is the official Labor Department statement:
In the week ending November 27, the advance figure for seasonally adjusted initial claims was 222,000, an increase of 28,000 from the previous week's revised level. The previous week's level was revised down by 5,000 from 199,000 to 194,000. The 4-week moving average was 238,750, a decrease of 12,250 from the previous week's revised average. This is the lowest level for this average since March 14, 2020 when it was 225,500. The previous week's average was revised down by 1,250 from 252,250 to 251,000.
Trump's favorite candidate for the Senate in Pennsylvania (Sean Parnell) has dropped out of the race after being accused of wife-beating. But have no fear. The GOP has someone just as bad to replace him. Medical quack, Dr. Oz, has tossed his hat in the ring.
Here's how Ja'han Jones at MSNBC.com describes it:
Mehmet Oz, known as “Dr. Oz” to the daytimetelevision talk show crowd, entered the Republican primary for Senate in Pennsylvaniaon Tuesday — and there’s no better time for me to remind you how much of a quack he is.
Oz, who is reportedly a longtime New Jersey resident, announced his bid after another Republican in the race, Sean Parnell, suspended his campaign last week. Parnell, who received former President Donald Trump’s endorsement in September, dropped out of the race after his estranged wife accused him of abusing her and their children.
Oz must have seen that as his calling, as he’s now among several candidates vying to win the GOP primary and face off against the leading Democrat for the Senate seat being vacated by two-term Republican Pat Toomey.
In the Washington Examiner op-ed announcing his candidacy, Oz tried to pitch himself as a trustworthy medical authority to the Republican base by regurgitating conservative talking points promising “freedom” from Covid-19 safety protocols. The doctor’s candidacy, according to his op-ed, is premised on his pandemic response proposals. (Spoiler alert: They’re terrible.)
“The arrogant, closed-minded people in charge closed our parks, shuttered our schools, shut down our businesses, and took away our freedom,” Oz wrote, adding,“Doctors are trained to tell it like it is because you deserve to hear our best advice and make your own decisions. It’s why I have fought the establishment my whole career.”
But Oz, a frequent Fox News guest, has been widely discredited for his health claims about Covid and other matters. His candidacy and popular punditry is just the latest sign — in fact, a perfect symbol — of the Republican Party’s embrace of misinformation and its obsession with made-for-TV figures, especially old ones who appear between catheter commercials on Fox News.
I invite you to check out this nonexhaustive list from Business Insider that includes some of the most outlandish, baseless and false claims Oz has made during his time as a TV host. He’s frequently pitched unproven concoctions as miracle solutions for all sorts of maladies, and he’s been called to Congress to answer for his false claims.
Just last year, he called for schools to reopen because doing so might “only cost us 2 to 3 percent, in terms of total mortality.” His disregard for life earned so much backlash that he apologized soon after making the comments.
Oz is a danger to public health who spreads his pseudoscientific theories far and wide. In that sense, he’s the perfect candidate for a Republican Party that’s just as enthralled by medical disinformation as he is.
Thursday, December 02, 2021
The chart above, using figures from the Gun Violence Archive, shows the number of mass shootings in the United States between 2014 and 2021. Note that the U.S. has had 652 mass shootings this year. That's a record -- 41 more than last year (which was also a record number). And this year still has another 30 days to go. The new record will undoubtably climb even higher.
So far, there have been 41,080 deaths from gun violence this year.
There have been 28 school shootings this year. The most recent was at Oxford High School in Michigan just a couple of days ago.
The charts above are from the recent Harvard Kennedy School Institute of Politics Poll -- done between October 26th and November 8th of a national sample of 18 to 29 year olds, with a 3.08 point margin of error.
Last winter, the power grid in Texas failed when a worse-than-normal storm hit the state, and over 200 people died. The GOP has said it fixed the problem in the last legislative session, and Abbott guarantees that there can't be another failure of the grid. They are not telling the truth.
At MSNBC.com, Ja'han Jones explains the situation:
In February, a devastating winter storm and freezing temperatures led to utter catastrophe in Texas. The state’s power grid nearly collapsed, more than 200 people died and millions of customers lived without power for days. But since then, the state lawmakers in charge still haven’t effectively protected the state from a repeat of the crisis.
A new report from NBC News and The Texas Tribune outlined how corporate pressure has effectively weakened lawmakers’ proposals for regulatory measures meant to ensure Texas’ power grid is fit to withstand extreme weather events.
The main takeaway is that some Texas lawmakers created a giant loophole in a bill they passed this year that was meant to require gas companies to weatherize their systems. Specifically, legislators passed a measure including weatherization requirements for power companies, but they left it to state regulatory agencies — namely, the Texas Railroad Commission and the Public Utility Commission — to impose the mandate. Those agencies have allowed power companies to opt out of the weatherization requirements.
As a result of that loophole, Texas has made only incremental changes to avoid a repeat of a disaster in which many died and much of the state was brought to a standstill.
It’s crucial to note that the blackouts in February had a disproportionate impact on Black, Latino and low-income Texans, with many people in Black and Latino communities going days without access to electricity, gas or water.
In June, Texas Gov. Greg Abbott, a Republican, claimed “everything that needed to be done was done to fix the power grid” after the blackouts months earlier.
The NBC News and Texas Tribune report on Texas’ vulnerable power grid undermines his claim that the grid has been adequately prepared for future weather events. It also shows that Abbott and the Republican-led Legislature in Texas are willing to endanger people most susceptible to harm from these events — Black and Latino people — in order to satisfy corporate interests.
Wednesday, December 01, 2021
The chart above is from the Morning Consult Poll -- done between November 24th and 27th of a national sample of 2,200 adults, with a 2 point margin of error.
About 9% of seniors in the U.S. live in poverty. About 16% of children under 5 years old live in poverty. In a country as rich as the United States, neither of those facts should be true. But the numbers do pose a question -- why has this country done a mediocre job of dealing with poverty among the elderly, but a terrible job of dealing with poverty among young children?
Former Labor Secretary Robert Reich answers the question:
The current poverty rate among the elderly is 9 percent. That’s still too high, especially considering that our official measure of poverty understates the true level of hardship by failing to fully account for the high costs of housing.
But the current the poverty rate for children under 5 years old is over 16 percent. That, if I may say so, is an utter scandal.
The rate of child poverty in America hovered around 15 percent through most of the 1980s and early 1990s but worsened after 1996 when the Clinton administration (of which I was a member) joined Republicans in Congress to end a program called “Aid to Families with Dependent Children,” by then known as “welfare.” It had been part of the Social Security Act of 1935. I thought Clinton’s decision shameful then, and still do.
The Build Back Better bill that has passed the House (now awaiting Manchin’s and Sinema’s nods) extends the year-long child tax credit in last year’s Covid bill, thereby reversing Clinton’s decision — but not by much. The extension is for only one additional year. Had the tax credit been made permanent, as was Biden’s original intent, it would have cut child poverty by half.
America’s current rate of child poverty is among the highest of all advanced nations. We do have a Children’s Health Insurance Program, but it’s not close to what other advanced nations give their children. Hell, we don’t even provide what other advanced nations offer by way of childcare. Norway spends about $30,000 per child each year on early childhood care. Finland spends $23,000. Germany, $18,000. The United States? We spend $500 per child — or 1/60th of what Norways spends on its toddlers. As it stands now, Biden’s Build Back Better bill will provide additional funding. But it’s astonishing how little the richest nation in the world has done for its kids.
Let’s be clear: Poverty is a political choice.
So why have we chosen to reduce poverty among America’s elderly but not among America’s children? There are three dominant theories:
Because the elderly vote and children don’t. Many have suggested this, but it can’t be the reason because children have parents and grandparents who do vote.
Because of racism, in that a disproportionate percent of poor kids are children of color. This is a common explanation as well, but it also falls short because a disproportionate percent of the elderly poor are also people of color.
Because of demographics, in that the giant boomer generation is intent on keeping or expanding Social Security and Medicare. The timing doesn’t quite work, in that America was most generous to the elderly way before boomers got old. Besides, boomers have grandkids.
So what’s the answer? My guess is that we as a society were simply more generous to those in need during the 1960s and 1970s, because those were years when the middle class was expanding, and most Americans were doing better. These were the years when we created Medicare and expanded Social Security, and provided a lot of assistance to poor children through Aid to Families with Dependent Children.
But we’re not as generous now. Even though the American economy is far larger than it was then, the middle class is a smaller share of it. For the last four decades America has been dividing into well-off professionals who don’t feel any connection to the poor, and a beleaguered working class that’s easily convinced any help to the poor will cause their taxes to increase.
Hence, in 1996 even a Democratic president decided to end aid to poor kids, largely because polls showed that most Americans — including the vast majority of the working class — no longer supported welfare. Twenty-five years later — and even after the awful consequences of that decision have become apparent — a Democratic Congress has chosen not to provide permanent help to the nation’s poor kids.
In other words, I don’t think we’ve prioritized the elderly poor over poor children. The big difference is we have become far less equal as a society, which has made us less willing to remedy poverty at all.
Tuesday, November 30, 2021
It has been nearly five decades since the Supreme Court's Roe vs. Wade decision. And only the oldest of us now remember the many women that were dying each year from abortions performed by people who didn't have the requisite skills to be doing them. The truth is that Roe vs. Wade has saved many lives.
Now the decision may be overturned. The current Supreme Court, with a 6-3 right-wing majority, is hearing a case from Mississippi that could be used to overturn it. This would be a tragedy.
Below is part of an excellent article by Sarah Wildman in The New York Times. She reminds us of the danger inherent in overturning Roe vs. Wade.
In the United States, with Roe v. Wade likely to be largely dismantled, if not overturned, next year, it is time to look again at the women whose lives — and deaths — changed how the public understands what’s at stake when we talk about banning abortion.
“The thing I worry about in the United States is that the rallying cry won’t happen until women die, and that’s so unnecessary and unfortunate,” said Kathryn Kolbert, who in 1992 argued the major abortion case Planned Parenthood v. Casey before the Supreme Court.
It should not take a high-profile death to expose just how much is at risk when medicine is hamstrung by politics, religion or culture. . . .
Storytelling, Ms. Kolbert pointed out, has always been a tool in the arsenal of the political movement to safeguard abortion rights, or to win them in the first place. In recent years, the focus among activists in the United States has shifted away from telling stories of dangerous back-alley abortions and become one of empowerment, focused on sharing stories that help remove the stigma and shame that still clings to the procedure.
But in the years before Roe, clergy, legislators, media and feminist activists hoped that telling women’s stories of victimization, humiliation and death could humanize the need for universal abortion access and bring about legalization. One such story began with a 1964 police photo of a woman’s bloodied, lifeless body, facedown on a motel carpet. The woman was Geraldine Santoro, known as Gerri, 28 and a mother of two. Ms. Santoro had been fearful of what her estranged and violent husband would do to her if he discovered she was pregnant with a lover’s child. Her boyfriend attempted to perform an abortion on Ms. Santoro, accidentally killing her in the process. (He fled and was later convicted of manslaughter.)
That photo of Ms. Santoro was published in Ms. magazine in 1973, under the words “Never Again.” The image was blown up on placards carried at abortion rights rallies, a visceral illustration of the risks of illegal abortion.
In recent years, the state of abortion rights in America has deteriorated, especially for poor women and women of color. But it may be harder to motivate protesters now, in an era where women of reproductive age have spent their entire lives with the protections of the Roe era. The back-alley abortions that motivated the movement in the past are largely someone else’s memory.
There are other fears now. Today, a person could be charged with a crime after miscarrying or could face legal consequences for ingesting abortion pills ordered on the internet. In states where abortion access has been whittled down, legal provisions promising to safeguard the life of the pregnant woman are left to interpretation by medical personnel. But this is a space without clear answers, and hospital staffs will inevitably factor their own legal and professional risk into what would otherwise be a decision about the patient’s best interest.
Texas’ law banning abortion after about six weeks of pregnancy has been in effect since September, and already, The Lily has reported, a woman in the state who experienced an ectopic pregnancy said she was turned away for care. Ectopic pregnancies, in which a fertilized egg implants outside the uterus, require immediate termination because they endanger the patient’s fertility or, worse, her life. In theory, terminating an ectopic pregnancy is not banned under the Texas law. But in this case, according to the National Abortion Federation’s hotline director, who spoke with The Lily, doctors were afraid to intercede, and the woman ended up driving at least 12 hours to New Mexico for the procedure.
The Texas woman with the ectopic pregnancy survived her ordeal. But as more states consider passing laws like Texas’, the next woman might not. What will happen then? Will we know her name? Will she become a rallying cry? Or will she and other women with tragic stories fade into obscurity, their families fearful of coming forward? No one wants to see this happen, but what are we doing to prevent it?
I called up Lynn Paltrow, the executive director of the National Advocates for Pregnant Women (who happens to be my cousin by marriage), and asked her: Why does tremendous outcry over restrictive abortion laws come after a woman dies, rather than before? Ms. Paltrow was biting in her response. “The primary impact of the anti-abortion movement has not been to stop abortions, it is to dehumanize,” she said. “It is martyrdom and the visible suffering and death of a visible woman that reminds people of their humanity and their right to life.”
In Texas and elsewhere, Americans shouldn’t wait for another woman’s heart to stop beating before they demand change.
Monday, November 29, 2021
The charts above are from the Pew Research Center. They questioned 6,485 adults between September 20th and 26th, and their survey had a 1.9 point margin of error.
It seems that there is a connection between domestic abuse and mass violence. That's not something I had considered, but I'm not surprised. Those who hurt the people they love will find it easier to hurt people they don't know. If you remove the loners (those who have no domestic partner to abuse), I'll bet the percentage of mass murderers who were domestic abusers is much larger.
The following is part of a discussion of this is by Ashley Luthern and Mary Spicuzza in the Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel:
The violence starts at home.
Then it spills out to the public.
Experts and advocates who help survivors of domestic abuse say it's a troubling pattern they've seen repeatedly in mass casualty events.
"Domestic violence — family violence — predicts mass shootings," said Karin Tyler, the injury and violence prevention coordinator for the City of Milwaukee's Office of Violence Prevention.
Nearly 60% of 749 mass shootings between 2014 and 2019 were either domestic violence attacks or committed by men with histories of domestic violence, a 2020 Bloomberg analysis found. A peer-reviewed academic study released earlier this year had a similar finding: About 59% of the 110 mass shootings analyzed were related to domestic violence.
"Not all domestic abusers are this type of abuser, but in almost every mass shooting or mass killing, the person who committed it had a link to some sort of violence in their intimate partner relationships," said Carmen Pitre, president and chief executive of Sojourner Family Peace Center.
Although studies have focused on domestic abuse and mass shootings — not vehicle attacks — the connection is still relevant, said Sara Krall, End Domestic Abuse Wisconsin's homicide prevention program director.
"It's the same dynamic," she said, "and clearly this perpetrator had shown previously that his vehicle was being used to perpetrate harm against his partner, still a weapon.". . .
Studies have found mass shootings typically come after an "explosive event," Krall said.
"Perpetrators of domestic abuse may be at a stage of heightened anger, maybe further emboldened by the situation that just unfolded and may, unfortunately, extend the violence to others who are just in the path of their destruction," she said. . . .
"Our attention is with all who are in shock, mourning, and grief — especially victims and survivors of domestic violence who are finding this time to be particularly challenging as details have emerged about the suspect having a history of domestic abuse," said Monique Minkens, director of End Domestic Abuse Wisconsin, in a statement this week.
"We see time and time again that people who use violence against their current or former partners are more likely to go on to commit acts of violence on a larger scale," Minkens said.