Later On

A blog written for those whose interests more or less match mine.

Archive for March 1st, 2018

Shocker: Democrats’ predictions about the GOP tax cut are coming trueP

leave a comment »

Paul Waldman writes in the Washington Post:

When Republicans put together their tax bill last year, it was not much of a surprise to see that its centerpiece was a gigantic corporate tax cut, lowering the statutory corporate rate from 35 percent down to 21 percent. This cut accounted for about $1 trillion of the bill’s total $1.5 trillion cost, but Republicans said it really wasn’t about helping corporations at all.

No, the real target was the workers: Corporations would take the money and use it to create new jobs and raise the wages of those working for them, as trickle-down economics did its magical work.

Democrats, on the other hand, said it was a scam. They charged that workers would see only a fraction of the benefits, and instead corporations would use most of their windfall for things like stock buybacks, which increase share prices and benefit the wealthy people who own the vast majority of stocks.

And of course, most of the news media treated this argument in the standard he said/she said manner: Republicans say this, Democrats say that, and the truth lies in some secret location we may never actually reach.

Well, it has been only two months since President Trump signed the bill into law, and we’re already learning what anyone with any sense knew at the time: Everything Democrats predicted is turning out to be right. Let’s look at this report in the New York Times, which describes how stock buybacks are reaching record levels:

Almost 100 American corporations have trumpeted such plans in the past month. American companies have announced more than $178 billion in planned buybacks — the largest amount unveiled in a single quarter, according to Birinyi Associates, a market research firm.

Such purchases reduce a company’s total number of outstanding shares, giving each remaining share a slightly bigger piece of the profit pie.

Cisco said this month that in response to the tax package, it would bring back to the United States $67 billion of overseas cash, using $25 billion to finance additional share repurchases. Alphabet, the parent company of Google, authorized up to $8.6 billion in stock purchases. PepsiCo announced a fresh $15 billion in planned buybacks. Chip gear maker Applied Materials disclosed plans for a $6 billion program to buy shares. Late last month, home improvement retailer Lowe’s unveiled plans for $5 billion in purchases.

While the Times does note that some businesses are raising salaries, the piece concludes that “much” of the savings from the tax cuts is going to these buybacks, with this big-picture effect:

Those so-called buybacks are good for shareholders, including the senior executives who tend to be big owners of their companies’ stock. A company purchasing its own shares is a time-tested way to bolster its stock price.

But the purchases can come at the expense of investments in things like hiring, research and development and building new plants — the sort of investments that directly help the overall economy. The buybacks are also most likely to worsen economic inequality because the benefits of stocks purchases flow disproportionately to the richest Americans.

This is exactly what Democrats warned would happen. How could Democrats have been so clairvoyant? Do they own a time machine?

Well, no. They applied logic, looked at data and understood history. Republicans, on the other hand, were spinning out a ludicrous fantasy with no basis whatsoever.

Among the things Democrats pointed out was that even before the tax cut, corporations were making near-record profits and sitting on mountains of cash; if they wanted to invest, create jobs and raise wages, they already had the means to do it. They also observed that even before the tax cut passed, corporations were saying publicly that they intended to use the money for stock buybacks.

But what about those bonuses that companies announced and that Trump kept touting? It’s true that some companies did give workers one-time bonuses. But it was essentially a PR move. Take Walmart, for instance. It made a splashy announcement that it would be giving bonuses of up to $1,000 to workers, which sounded great. But then it turned out that you’d only get that much if you’d been working there for 20 years, and the average worker would get around $190. Which is better than nothing, but it isn’t exactly going to transform your life.

And as ThinkProgress noted, the total value of Walmart’s bonuses was $400 million, which seems like a lot until you learn that over 10 years the value of the tax cut to the corporation will be $18 billion. In other words, about 2 percent of its tax cut is going to workers, at least in the short run. . .

Continue reading.

Written by LeisureGuy

1 March 2018 at 8:37 pm

Trump trade policy will turn the US into Brazil

leave a comment »

David Goldman reports in Asia Times:

The broad US stock market gave up an early rally and fell over 5% after President Trump’s announcement of punitive tariffs of 25% on steel and 10% on aluminum, the highest in US history. US Steel, the country’s largest producer of the metal, rose 6.4% on the news and aluminum producer Nucor gained 2.4%, while the S&P 500 average lost 1%. General Motors fell almost 4%, Ford fell 3%, United Technologies fell 2.8% and Boeing fell 3.4%.

Raw materials prices have little to do with the erosion of America’s industrial base. Chronic underinvestment in capital-intensive manufacturing is the underlying problem, and American manufacturers avoid big capital commitments because they can’t compete with Asian subsidies for industrial plant and equipment. Asian economies view a $10 billion semiconductor fabrication plant the way Americans view a bridge, stadium or airport, as a public good that merits taxpayer support. China’s economy is so big that its subsidies distort capital investment around the world.

By protecting raw materials exporters while ignoring the decline of American high-tech capacity, the Trump trade policy nudges the US economy towards the economic profile of a Brazil: a producer and exporter of agricultural goods and raw or semi-finished materials with an atrophied industrial base.

Trump announced the tariffs in offhand remarks to reporters at the White House, after a day of conflicting signals. The White House had planned an announcement as of Wednesday night, but postponed it until this morning. Trump tweeted early Thursday, “Our Steel and Aluminum industries (and many others) have been decimated by decades of unfair trade and bad policies from around the world. We must not let our country, companies and workers be taken advantage of any longer. We want free, fair and SMART TRADE!”

As the equity market plunge suggests, Trump’s announcement is anything but smart. America’s greatest commercial challenge comes from China, which dominates many categories of high-tech manufacturing and has committed tens of billions of dollars to a campaign for supremacy in semiconductors. But China’s steel and aluminum exports to the US amount to less than 1% of the total; America’s main suppliers are Canada, Brazil, South Korea, Mexico, Russia, Turkey and Japan, in order of importance. China has been accused of depressing world prices of industrial metals, although aluminum prices have risen by 60% and steel prices have doubled since the Nov. 2015 low. US Steel’s stock price has jumped from $7 a share in early 2016 to $43 before Trump’s announcement.

US Steel’s 29,000 employees won’t determine the outcome of any major election, but the White House evidently believes that it needs to show the flag on trade to maintain credibility with its working-class supporters. If Trump’s trade announcement was a cynical political gesture with domestic politics in mind, the damage will be limited. But earlier this week, the president promoted trade warrior Peter Navarro to a rank equal to that of Economic Policy Council head Gary Cohn, which suggests that other shoes are likely to drop.

In two recent essays for the Journal of American Affairs, I examined the decline of innovation and productivity in the US, and the impact of this decline on US trade. Starting in the 2000’s, US venture capitalists stopped investing in manufacturing.

The reason has to do with return on capital. In the United States, return on equity is negatively correlated with capital intensity. In China, it is positively correlated, and strongly so. That is the result of government subsidies for capital investment.

The charts below show the capital intensity (total assets per unit of earnings before interest and taxes) vs. return on equity of each company in the China MSCI Index and the S&P 500 respectively. . .

Continue reading.

Written by LeisureGuy

1 March 2018 at 5:34 pm

Gun Injuries Drop During NRA Conventions

leave a comment »

Melinda Wenner Moyer writes in Scientific American:

The National Rifle Association asserts firearms are safe in the hands of people who know how to use them. It promotes firearm-training courses that it says are taken by one million Americans each year. And opponents of new gun regulation contend injuries occur only among inexperienced users.

But where is the evidence?

Funding on the public-health impact of guns is scarce, in part because of a long-standing congressional provision that prohibits the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention from funding research that could be construed as pro-gun control. But Anupam Jena, a health care policy researcher at Harvard Medical School, and Andrew Olenski, a Columbia University graduate student in economics, devised a clever strategy involving the NRA itself to test the oft-cited argument about gun safety. Their study published today in The New England Journal of Medicine suggests even the most dedicated and presumably well-trained gun enthusiasts—the NRA’s annual convention attendees—are hardly immune to firearm injuries.

The two began their work with the knowledge that more than 80,000 Americans attend the NRA’s annual meeting each year. Understanding as well the organization’s stated dedication to safe and responsible gun use, they posed the question: What happens when tens of thousands of experienced gun users are at a gathering where they may be less likely to use their firearms?

Jena has long been interested in how large events influence health outcomes and behavior. Bringing this novel analytical method to gun use, the researchers mined private health insurance data from 2007 to 2015, analyzing national firearm injury rates during the NRA’s conventions—when members listen to lectures and peruse exhibit halls rather than hunt or practice shooting—and compared them with firearm injury rates on similar days before and after each convention.

If guns were perfectly safe in the hands of trained NRA members, Jena and Olenski reasoned, they should have found no differences between gun injury rates on convention days versus other days. Yet injury rates were, on average, 20 percent lower on meeting days. “We believe this is due to brief reductions in gun use during the dates of these meetings,” Jena says. “The main implication is that guns carry inherent risk even among individuals who we might consider to be skilled and experienced in the use of firearms.” Importantly, they did not find any corresponding drop in firearm crime rates on convention days, which suggests NRA meeting attendees are not responsible for a large proportion of U.S. gun crimes—just gun injuries, many of which may be accidental. In 2015 the U.S. logged nearly 85,000 firearm injuries, of which 17,000 were unintentional.

“I’m not surprised by the findings,” says Daniel Webster, director of the Johns Hopkins Center for Gun Policy and Research who was not involved in the study. They are “consistent with a variety of studies that show where there are more guns, more people get shot in unintentional shootings, suicides, domestic homicides and criminal assaults with guns, after controlling for other factors.” It makes sense, he adds, “those with the greatest exposure to firearms take a break from handling loaded firearms in their homes and in other contexts, and fewer people are shot.”

Jena points out the 20 percent injury drop on convention days corresponds to a seemingly small absolute reduction in the nationwide gun injury rate—one fewer gun injury for every 300,000 Americans. But this difference is not trivial, he says, considering only about 80,000 Americans out of a gun-owning population of tens of millions attend each meeting. In other words, a group only slightly larger than the population of Camden, N.J., appears to nudge gun injury statistics down for a few days every spring. NRA meetings, the researchers contend, may influence gun use even among people who don’t attend. Hunting and shooting ranges around the country may close on convention days so that employees can go, and group outings may be postponed during the confab even if only one group member plans to attend.

The design of this study only identifies associations, not precise cause-and-effect relationships, and so is unable to ascertain that the observed injury drop on convention days came about because NRA members are not using their weapons. But several study details support this explanation. First, injury rates on convention days dropped among men not women, consistent with the 85 percent of NRA meeting attendees who were male in 2017. The authors also found injury decreases were highest within the state hosting the convention, given that gun owners are more likely to attend meetings held close to home.

The new study does not imply firearm safety training is a useless endeavor. In a September 2017 study  . . .

Continue reading.

Written by LeisureGuy

1 March 2018 at 1:07 pm

Posted in Guns, Health, Science

Famous anecdotes that get it wrong: Walter Cronkite turning LBJ against the Vietnam War

leave a comment »

From Michael A. Cohen’s email newsletter this morning:

Fifty years ago this week, the legendary CBS newscaster Walter Cronkite delivered one of the best-known reports in modern broadcast journalism. Having returned from Vietnam, a month after the Tet Offensive, Cronkite declared the war a “stalemate” and that it was time for the United States to extricate itself from the conflict in Southeast Asia. Cronkite’s report is often credited with turning public opinion in the United States against the war and contributing to President Lyndon Johnson’s decision not to seek reelection in 1968.

Allegedly, Johnson watched the broadcast in the White House, turned to his press secretary George Christian and said “if he had lost Walter Cronkite, he had lost Mr. Average Citizen.”

In an op-ed a few days ago in the New York Times, Mark Bowden marked the anniversary of the broadcast and said, “Cronkite’s report was significant. It contributed greatly to the shift in public opinion against the war.”

There’s a big problem with this argument: it’s not true. Indeed, while researching my book on 1968 I assumed the veracity of the Cronkite story and I planned to use it as a pivot point in the narrative. But thankfully I read this wonderful 2012 essay by Louis Menand in the New Yorker that exposes the truth.

Relying in large measure on the sleuthing in W. Joseph Campbell’s book “Getting It Wrong : Ten of the Greatest Misrepresented Stories in American Journalism,” Menand points out that LBJ was in Austin, Texas the night of Cronkite’s report and there’s no evidence he ever watched the broadcast.  While Johnson would eventually call for a bombing halt in Vietnam and propose peace talks with the North Vietnamese there’s little evidence that Cronkite had anything to do with it. For that you need to thank Eugene McCarthy and Robert Kennedy.

There’s similarly no evidence that Cronkite’s report shifted public opinion. Indeed, going back to the summer of 1967, polling showed a growing number of Americans dissatisfied with the war’s progress. By the late summer, Gallup reported for the first time that a majority of Americans believed the decision to get involved in Vietnam had been a “mistake.”  Tet merely accelerated a decline in support for the war that was already long-evident. Finally, Cronkite rather than leading the journalistic assault against the war was a lagging indicator.

In October, Time, which had long been a supporter of the war in Vietnam and anti-Communism, published a vivid and dismaying report on the desperate situation facing Marines under siege in the South Vietnamese outpost at Con Thien, which the magazine called “the worst place in the world.” According to Time the “only audible consensus” in the country was the one building against Johnson and the war. Months earlier, star New York Times reporter R.W. Apple had written a blockbuster story called ” The Signs of Stalemate” based on private conversations with increasingly pessimistic US officials. The paper followed up with a series of editorials blasting Johnson’s stewardship of the war. Even after Tet, the conservative Wall Street Journal editorial page along with other papers like the St. Louis Post Dispatch, made clear that Johnson must find an exit strategy from Vietnam – and they said so before Cronkite did.

None of this is to take away from the power of Cronkite’s reporting, who to his credit went to Vietnam to see for himself how the war was progressing. But it’s nonetheless, fascinating how long this myth of Cronkite’s outsized influence on the war has persisted. By late February 1968, the American people didn’t need the most venerable newscaster in America telling them that the war was lost. A growing number of them already knew it to be true.

Written by LeisureGuy

1 March 2018 at 10:21 am

Posted in Daily life, Guns, Media

Sen. Sasse, Republicans have been ‘ditching’ a whole bunch of things

leave a comment »

Jennifer Rubin in the Washington Post calls out Sen. Sasse for his selective outrage and lists some of the problems President Trump creates:

President Trump’s comments on Wednesday that we should take guns from mentally ill people and worry about due process later would, once upon a time, have set conservatives’ teeth on edge. However, my colleague James Hohmann writes that “only one Republican member of Congress appears to have sent out a press release objecting to Trump’s comments. ‘We’re not ditching any Constitutional protections simply because the last person the president talked to today doesn’t like them,’ Sen. Ben Sasse (R-Neb.) said in a statement.”
Well done, Sen. Sasse, but we could have used more of this over the past year from Republicans, especially GOP leadership in the House and Senate. Republicans over the past year might even have taken action to make certain that we weren’t ditching:

  • the Constitution’s emoluments clause because the president doesn’t like losing his opportunities to leverage the presidency for financial gain;
  • the norm against putting unqualified relatives in high office because the president doesn’t like working without the ego-stroking and hand-holding only his family can provide;
  • the First Amendment’s protection for religious freedom because Trump doesn’t like grappling with the tough issues surrounding domestic radicalization and instead prefers to whip up xenophobic hatred against Muslim immigrants;
  • the First Amendment’s protection for a free press because Trump doesn’t like how members of the press are “able to write whatever they want“;
  • the concern for mounting debt because Trump doesn’t like going to the trouble of crafting a revenue-neutral tax reform bill;
  • the objective of containing Iran’s regional ambitions because Trump doesn’t like any issue regarding Iran except if it entails ripping up the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (the Iran nuclear deal);
  • the obligation to preserve and protect the country because Trump doesn’t like annoying Russian President Vladimir Putin by, for example, increasing defenses against election meddling and imposing new sanctions;
  • the Justice Department’s independence from politics because Trump doesn’t like the idea that the department acts as the lawyer for the country, not as his personal legal attack squad empowered to take down political enemies and spare his friends;
  • the Senate’s “advise and consent” power regarding Cabinet and judicial nominees because Trump doesn’t like sending up names of only qualified, ethical people;
  • recognition of objective reality because Trump doesn’t like to learn facts or be accountable for his actions;
  • human decency because Trump doesn’t like female accusers calling out male abusers;
  • promises to protect the “dreamers” because Trump doesn’t like taking on his anti-immigrant base and muzzling Stephen Miller;
  • due process when it comes to enforcing the criminal contempt conviction of Joe Arpaio, because Trump doesn’t like punishing law enforcement officials for abusing immigrants’ rights; and
  • protection for the special counsel because Trump doesn’t like being put under a legal microscope.

From time to time, Sasse and others have tweeted or made tough-sounding statements, but Republicans haven’t actually done much of anything to restrain Trump’s contempt for democracy, democratic institutions, truth and basic human decency. To the contrary, they have  . . .

Continue reading.

Written by LeisureGuy

1 March 2018 at 10:03 am

Return of an iKon: Plisson grey badger, Soap Commander Love, iKon 101, and Dark Rose

with 9 comments

In the Great Razor Purge before the move, I sold my iKon Shavecraft #101 and have regretted it ever since. The 101 is a superb razor. Like the iKon OSS and other iKon asymmetric modes, it has a comb guard on one side and a bar guard on the other, but the bar guard is deeply cut and at a glance looks like the comb guard, though the difference is obvious if you look at the back of the baseplate (see photo).  I uses it as a regular DE razor, switching from one side to the other as lather accumulates, and both sides have the same face feel and both are extremely comfortable and extremely efficient (and thus the 101 is included in my list of recommended razors). So I finally broke down and ordered a replacement and it arrived yesterday, so I happily used it today.

Soap Commander Love is a fine rose-fragranced soap, and the Plisson grey badger is a terrific brush, brought to me by The Wife from one of her Paris trips (and she leaves tomorrow on another). I took my time with the lather, just enjoying the warmth, fragrance, and slightly coarse and gritty feel of the brush.

And the I picked up the razor and wondered why on earth I had ever sold mine. If you’re looking for another great razor, the iKon 101 head is $35. Three passes and an absolutely smooth face with no problems.

A splash of Saint Charles Shave Dark Rose aftershave, one of my favorites, and the day is underway.

Written by LeisureGuy

1 March 2018 at 9:54 am

Posted in Shaving

%d bloggers like this: