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Economic Reprisal

October 5, 2020

The campaign season getting into its final stretch, pundits will say more and more about the economy. Much of it nonsense. The US enjoyed eleven years of steady economic expansion from the financial crisis until the Covid-19 pandemic. The first graph shows real GDP. Like the other graphs here, it was grabbed from my friend Fred, and runs from 2001, because a little history always provides context for current economic data.

Private sector employment may be second only to GDP as a basic vital sign of the economy. It is shown in the second graph. Like GDP, it shows steady growth during the expansion.

Trump cheerleaders often write as if the economy did horribly under Obama, and then Trump came in and turned it around. If you look at the actual data, the financial crisis mattered, and the current pandemic mattered. You will find it difficult to find any inflections in these graphs where the current president mattered.

This morning, one respondent was boasting that Trump had been the best president ever for blacks, because he had raised their employment. Presumably, unlike presidents past. The graph for black employment is shown third. While it is true it did not take off like general employment right after the financial crisis, it shows a steady rise from 2011, with no significant change in that trend after 2017.

But surely manufacturing employment — a key part of Trump’s first campaign — was one area where he made a difference? It is the last graph. Again, the data shows otherwise. 

It is true, of  course, that GDP and employment and the stock market all hit new highs while Trump was president. Just as they had while Obama was president. Just as they have for most presidents, and will for presidents to come. A president who speaks as if he did something special because economic growth continued also while he was in office likely will deceive you also about other things. 

The story isn’t yet done with the current inflection in the economy, and whether it shows nothing but a blip due to the pandemic, or whether that  will expose deeper economic issues. It will be a while yet before we know that. 

September moon

October 1, 2020

The last race of September was a pursuit, because the race committee failed to show. An almost full moon shone on the bay. I had earlier gone on a practice sail on the recently delivered friend’s boat. We sailed back just as Passion was exiting, and I watched the racers from shore. There were hundreds on the bayfront enjoying the evening. Some small boat I didn’t recognize was anchored at the south end of the marina.

Trump’s taxes

September 29, 2020

Given the recent media revelations on Trump’s taxes, some may be confused that New York prosecutors continue to press a subpoena for his tax returns, and that he continues to fight that in court. The New York Times reporting, however interesting on other grounds, does not provide the chain of custody that would constitute legal evidence of what Trump’s accountants actually filed. It is those filed documents, under the signatures of him and his children, that could show that they committed fraud:

Cohen triggered the probe after he handed Congress a series of Trump financial records from 2011 to 2013, New York said in a filing in state court in Manhattan. The investigation is looking into whether Trump inflated the value of assets to secure favorable terms for loans and insurance, as well as whether he devalued other assets to avoid taxes, according to the filing.

Of course, Trump could release his tax returns, to corroborate his own claims, to put to rest New York’s investigations, and to provide the same visibility into his financial behavior as all other presidential candidates in recent history. Were he as innocent as he claims.

Nancy Pelosi is quite correct that if Trump or his business has debts of the order reported, that constitutes both large conflict of interest and a US security weakness.

I agree a bit with Beau of the Fifth Column that the focus on how little tax Trump paid will have no effect on his base. (Youtube video.) Where I’m skeptical is the notion that a different framing of the issue will change their minds. That kind of reframing doesn’t give integrity to someone duped or dishonest. What cult ever has dissolved just because its leader was exposed? It is those outside a cult who think, surely no one could believe this if they know the facts? Alas, that is not the psychology of it.

Weekend delivery

September 28, 2020

Kemah is Texas’s sailing capital, with a handful of marinas, dozens of boat brokers, hundreds of boats on the market, and even some nearby yacht clubs. It sits on Galveston bay, which is not nearly as nice a sailing bay as Corpus Christi. But boats are made from money, and Kemah also sits next to Houston, where there is a lot of money. So when Chase, a neighbor with small sailing experience, decided he wanted a boat large enough for family sailing, that was where he found a Cape Dory 27 he liked. Now into its fifth decade, it qualifies as a “good old boat.”

Purchase and some repairs completed, that left the task of getting the boat home. Generally speaking, there are two water routes. The faster and easier and more conducive to sailing is to exit the Houston ship channel, then sail over to Port Aransas, enter the jetties, and it is an easy sail home. That takes most of two days, so requires enough crew to work in watches. Being two old men who like to sleep at night, we decided to go by the ICW, stopping at various spots along the way.

The ICW is a narrow channel, cut partly through wetlands and in places through dry land. In many places it seems barely wide enough for the tugboats pushing barges to pass each other. Still, that should provide plenty of room for a small sailboat, even if those on the sailboat aren’t always certain of that. Every trip you will run into spots that are narrowed by ongoing work to dredge or lay pipeline or similar. There are floodgates at the Brazos, locks at the Colorado, and one swing bridge at Caney Creek.

Though commercial traffic is its first purpose, the ICW attracts a variety of recreational vessels, mostly fishing, some cruisers, some just using it as convenient route. All the Texas stops that have a gulf outlet — Freeport, Matagorda, even Port O’Connor — are attracting deep sea fishing boats. Chase was surprised at how many nice, new homes were on the waters nearby these.

Our first day was delayed by a return to Kemah due to mechanical issues. The next day we were able to sail the Houston ship channel. Once in the ICW, like most sailboats, we motor-sailed. It is safer and more convenient, given that you have no choice of course, that the wind isn’t always favorable, that you need to circle while waiting your turn at the swing bridge or other narrow passes, and that it provides a bit more confidence dealing with the commercial traffic. You let the sails out when they give some extra speed, and pull them back in when they become a nuisance. When we stopped at Matagorda, the forecast turned to rain, so we decided to interrupt the delivery. We left the boat there. Then, a sneaky little depression turned into a tropical storm. And we weren’t able to finish the delivery until this weekend past.

Carolyn drove us to Matagorda Friday morning, and we got the boat ready, and set off. There was no wind. Matagorda Bay was eerily glassy. Sounds are different on a bay when the water isn’t moving at all. Everything distant seems to creep up. Under some light, the horizon practically disappears. It is one of those natural phenomenon that can’t be well explained or captured.

We motored to Port O’Connor, where we had rented a slip. It was right on the ICW, between two shrimp boats. The fueling station and boat ramp next to it was heavily trafficked by shallow water fishers.

We left early Saturday for the last leg. A wind from SSE was building, so we were able to motor-sail. It was in the middle of San Antonio bay that this trip had its moment that everything was going well “until.” The engine slows for no reason. Then returns. And slows. And does this a couple of times more, before dying and refusing to start. Fortunately, the wind was favorable and the ICW ahead didn’t have any strange twists, so we had time to ponder things, while proceeding along under sail.

Chase is a pilot with mechanical background, and quickly diagnosed the engine problem as water in the fuel. He drained the primary filter. On both tacks, since the drain is to one side, and doing that on the original tack didn’t seem sufficient. Alas, that still didn’t solve the problem. Which left us figuring out what to do next. In these situations, you spend a surprising amount of time looking at the charts and the latest wind forecasts, thinking about where up ahead you might have difficulty, and where you might decide to pull in. An obvious candidate was House of Boats, a yard near Rockport where people take their boats for both paid and do-it-yourself repairs. But by the time we got there, it seemed like we had favorable wind to get to Corpus Christi bay before sunset. And once in the bay, we were home free, daylight or not.

Which worked. We exited the ICW into the bay with about a half-hour of light remaining. It was dark when we sailed into the marina, but these are home waters.

Sunday, Chase sucked a little more water out of the primary filter, and bled the engine, and got it started. He pulled water from the tank, also. The O-ring on the deck fuel inlet seems worn, so he suspects the rain from tropical storm Beta. After such a trip, I always think of the slips that we made, and what we should have done better. Still a successful delivery: the boat is home, for play and projects.

The problem in Spain is .. politics?

September 24, 2020

David Jiménez blames the Spanish government for its missteps, leading to the second coronavirus wave there. Of course, governments rightly get blamed for such things, since they rightly are responsible for such things. He uses that to argue for structural reform:

Responsibility for health care management was handed off from a central government that had handled the pandemic ineptly (Spain led in mortality and health-worker infection rates) to the country’s 17 autonomous regions, which have not done any better. …

It is crucial that Spain reform electoral law so that voters choose their representatives directly, rethink the territorial organization that has caused a lack of coordination among regions, and strengthen the independence of the government institutions, which are filled with politicians who offer blind loyalty to their political parties.

The problem is that structural reform is hard. Entrenched minorities will hold onto power in any way possible.

On the beach

September 23, 2020

The rich with beach-side homes continue to chip away at Floridians’ right to walk the beach. If the citizens there don’t get more active on this issue, their children and grandchildren will be the losers.

New Zealand has banned cruise ships during the pandemic, and soon will ban yochties, also.

On the other hand, Antigua, Barbados, and some other island nations are looking at the digital nomads who now are working remotely, and are inviting them to work from their hopeful shores.

Photo shows sunrise over Matagorda, Texas.

Protests against epidemic measures in Spain

September 22, 2020

Given Spain’s communal living and street life, it is not surprising that it was ripe ground for this kind of respiratory infection, and is again. It is interesting to read about recent protests in Madrid against new measures prescribed. There is nothing about people calling the virus a hoax. No cries that a government is tyrannical simply because it implements restrictions to fight an epidemic. No, instead, the protests are caused by the fact that the restrictions fall harder on poorer areas. Photo shows a fishing town on the north coast.

Honoring Ginsburg

September 21, 2020

Often missing from many of the good and fulsome obituaries of Ruth Bader Ginsburg is her late dedication to exercise. Perhaps she lived no longer for that. But it likely was what kept her vital, until her final days.

All the discussions about what Trump and McConnell and their party should do are wasted breath. They will push an anti-Ginsburg onto the court, because that is one of their missions and because they have control of the Senate. If decent Americans relieve them of that in November, there will be good opportunity to undo some of the corruptions they have wreaked in our government. If. Things are more bleak otherwise.

If you want to honor Ginsburg, first get to the polls and vote against every Republican. Help others to do likewise. Again and again and again and again and again. Once there is a Democratic Senate, push for structural reforms. Perhaps when the larger part of what now is Washington, DC, is made a state, it should take the name Ginsburg.

And develop a habit of exercise.

Update: Ginsburg will be buried at Arlington.

This thing called “civil liberty”

September 17, 2020

Bill Barr said this:

You know, putting a national lockdown, stay-at-home orders, is like house arrest. It’s — you know, other than slavery, which was a different kind of restraint, this is the greatest intrusion on civil liberties in American history.

Not decades of Jim Crow. Not laws against contraception, or making wives subsidiary to husbands. Not denying women the vote. Not treating homosexuality as a crime. Not conscription. Not the Indian Wars. Not any of the things that have motivated large civil rights movements in US history, other than abolition. No, in Bill Barr’s mind, the greatest blight on civil liberties in the US, other than slavery, were temporary measures of a sort commonly used to fight an epidemic.

I hope today any historian writing a history of civil liberty in the US includes a chapter on its use as propaganda by those who generally oppose it. What Barr said is a great example of that, and should be the most stupid and morally blind thing said by a US politician this decade. But I suspect his boss will surpass it within the year.

See other anti-suffrage cards at Bored Panda.

More chalk magic

September 16, 2020

After yesterday’s post, Carolyn stumbled across a short article about Chuan-Bin Chung, who lectures on anatomical art at a university in Taiwan.