Economies in mirror appear larger than they are

During the 2016 presidential race, Donald Trump promised Americans that, as their president, he would usher in “tremendous” economic expansion of as much as six percent. While that growth rate has not materialized, the USA’s gross domestic product (GDP) grew at an annual rate of 4.1% in the second quarter of 2018. That’s respectable growth, so president Trump boasted that “we have accomplished an economic turnaround of historic proportions.” That’s true if you look back only the year and a half that Trump has occupied the Oval Office. However, if your historical perspective is longer, the proportion of the GDP’s growth is not so large after all (click chart below to view full size).

Quarterly GDP change higher than 4 percent
Highlighted quarters had greater than four percent GDP growth (annualized)

Other than Q2 2018, the GDP has grown less than three percent each quarter since Trump’s inauguration. In comparison:

  • There were four quarters during president Barack Obama’s term in which the growth rate exceeded 4.1%—once even surpassing five percent. And Obama had to start his term with the economy mired in the Great Recession that president Bush handed off to him.
  • The GDP growth was larger yet during president Bill Clinton’s administration. Trump’s best quarter so far would have been only the thirteenth best quarter during Clinton’s term, when eight quarters were larger than five percent and one even reached 7.5%. Now that’s HUGE by historic proportions!

It’s also important to understand that the Bureau of Economic Analysis reports quarterly results on an annualized basis. That means the growth rate it reports for each quarter is the amount the GDP would grow if the rate in the given quarter were to be sustained for an entire fiscal year. So the 4.1% annual growth rate Trump is touting is much larger than the actual rate the GDP has grown for any full year he has been POTUS.

Yes, growth was strong in Q2 2018. But the GDP only grew 2.2% (annualized) in the first quarter of this year. Therefore, for the GDP to achieve an actual growth rate of 4.1% for the full fiscal year 2018, the quarterly growth will have to average over five percent (annualized) in both of the remaining quarters of fiscal year 2018. It would be nice for the economy to grow that fast this year but, with the growing headwinds of an escalating trade war, it will be a very tall order.

So Americans should be pleased to see the strong growth the GDP underwent last quarter. But they need to keep in mind that it’s only a snapshot of a single quarter. In retrospect, the growth of the GDP appears larger than it was.

The care & feeding of immigrant children

The separation of children from their parents at the border has been dominating the news cycle recently. It has resulted in a great deal of exposure of the plight of these children. It’s important to be aware of what goes on inside the brains of children separated from their parents.

Many people are already doing a good job making Americans aware of what these immigrant children are going through. So I found it interesting when a letter from a paramedic at the Texas border revealed another side to the immigration issue. Lee Whitt shined a light on what it’s like for him and his colleagues to care for these children on the border. This letter helped me to recognize that the rank & file at the front line of this crisis should not be thought of in the same light as their leadership in president Trump’s administration:

The issues he raises have been reported in the media but I encourage you to read Whitt’s post anyway because his anecdotes really add important color to the narrative. The media have corroborated that the people working directly with these children are doing a yeoman’s job with the minimal resources they have and under the challenging constraints their leadership have imposed on them. I think Americans should give more recognition to them and the heartbreaking work they’re doing.

I also agree with Whitt’s statement that “I could care less what you think of President Trump but where I draw the line is when we start taking down innocent people and painting them as villains in an effort to destroy someone else.” The irony is that president Trump is the chief person I see taking down innocent people and painting them as villains. His rhetoric explicitly painting immigrants as an infestation of MS-13 gang members, drug dealers, murderers, and rapists is meant to dehumanize immigrants and stoke xenophobia.

So take a minute to look away from Trump’s divisive and heartless actions and recognize the people at the border caring for the immigrant children Trump has detained in their hands.

The latest best “seller” spy thriller

Why bother reading a long Tom Clancy novel when you can read USA v. Internet Research Agency (PDF) in only 37 double-spaced pages. This indictment of thirteen Russian nationals by special prosecutor Robert Mueller reads like spy fiction. But it’s a true story of the subversion of USA’s 2016 federal election by Russia and its American agents.

The part that caught my attention is the clause that says “defendants knowingly and intentionally conspired with each other (and with persons known and unknown to the Grand Jury) to defraud the United States.” The defendants are now in Russia and will never see the inside of an American courtroom on this matter. So why would Mueller indict them? The indictment lays the foundation of the crime out to the American people for later when Mueller charges the Americans who conspired with the Russian agents.

So who are the conspirators “known and unknown to the Grand Jury”? One thing you can be sure of is that the court filings Mueller has made to date are just the tip of the iceberg of evidence he has already assembled.

As we know, president Donald Trump’s disgraced former national security adviser Michael Flynn has already pleaded guilty of lying to the FBI and will cooperate with the Russia inquiry, as has a member of candidate Trump’s foreign policy advisory panel George Papadopoulos (PDF). Trump’s campaign manager Paul Manafort has been indicted on multiple related counts including conspiracy against the USA. And Manafort’s campaign deputy Rick Gates is close to a plea deal with Mueller.

The conspirators unknown to the Grand Jury are part of the Mueller iceberg we can’t see (yet). I think we will find that they are associates of the ones we already know about. They will likely include Donald Trump Jr. and president Trump’s senior adviser (and son-in-law) Jared Kushner, among other people involved in the Trump campaign or working in the West Wing. But there’s one key person who is centrally related to all of the aforementioned gang of crooks—the Fraudster in Chief, Donald Trump himself.

As fascinating as the USA v. Internet Research Agency indictment is, I’m really looking forward to its sequel. That will be the articles of impeachment against president Trump.

Spectrum deception

Spectrum offered me cable TV service unsolicited by mailing me the flier shown below. It seemed like a reasonable offer for the price they quoted. As you can see in The Spectrum Advantage column of the table showing the terms of their offer, they assured me there would be “No added taxes or extra fees with Spectrum TV.” Confident that Spectrum would charge me no more than $39.99 for cable TV service, I signed up.

Flyer from Spectrum offering cable TV service
Spectrum offer

Upon receiving the first bill, I discovered that they were not honoring their offer. Instead of a flat $39.99 for the cable TV portion of my bill (see image below), Spectrum was billing me $55.93 per month! That total does not include the cable boxes and the DVR service—I have no problem with Spectrum charging me additional fees for them. But I do have a problem with them charging me a total of $8.44 in three extra fees under the Spectrum TV service. They also snuck in a $7.50 “Broadcast TV Surcharge.” But calling it a “surcharge” didn’t fool me. The word “surcharge” is literally defined as an extra fee—just the thing Spectrum assured me would not be billed in their offer of “no added taxes or extra fees.”

Cropped page of Spectrum bill showing section with extra fees
Spectrum bill

So I contacted Spectrum’s customer service representative to have them honor the terms they offered me and remove the extra fees from my bill. But all I got was double-talk. Regarding the surcharge, she tried to tell me that “it says added fee and that’s not part of that category. If you remove cable service it will go away.” If you remove cable service and it will go away, that means it is an extra fee specifically on Spectrum TV—exactly what they said I would not have. She was trying to justify not honoring their offer with a fallacy called begging the question. And regarding the other fees, she simply insisted that they could not remove them. I suggested giving me a credit each month to reimburse me for the extra fees if they could not be removed but she refused that suggestion as well.

What Spectrum did is lure me into subscribing for their service with a standard price of $56 per month by telling me they would only charge me $40 for it. But after they connected the service and without any notice, they billed me $56 anyway—the classic bait & switch. It would have been acceptable if I had known going into the deal that they were going to charge me their standard rate but it is not acceptable when the only reason I subscribed is because they approached me unsolicited and offered it to me for $39.99. The moral of the story is that you cannot trust Spectrum to honor the terms they agree on with you.

Video doesn’t lie—or does it?

A video of a police shooting has been going viral on social media today. Yesterday, a police officer in a neighboring city shot a male subject while bystanders recorded the incident. The officer has already been found guilty of murder by countless users of social media. After all, they all saw the video of the shooting and video doesn’t lie. That may be true but video can be very deceiving.

Here is the video that was making the rounds on facebook but I warn you to not play it if you do not want to see a person shot:

That looks pretty incriminating against the police officer, doesn’t it? But what the video does not tell you is the full story. An officer from the Huntington Beach Police Department contacted the subject outside a 7/11 store. As the officer began to talk to the subject, a verbal confrontation began and the subject refused to listen to any commands given by the officer. As the incident escalated and became physically violent, the officer attempted several force options, including his taser, which were all ineffective. The subject violently attacked and assaulted the officer when a struggle over the officer’s gun belt ensued. The officer tried to retain his weapon while the subject continued to grab at the officer’s belt. The subject then removed a piece of equipment from the officer’s gun belt. It was then that the officer fired his weapon at the subject.

Presenting a longer version of the incident from a different angle that corroborates the details presented in the previous paragraph, here’s a different video of the same shooting:

Huntington Beach Shooting – WARNING – GRAPHIC CONTENT!!!
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=gKWHXI-izG8
(Embedding disabled by request)

As you can see, this video paints a very different picture of the shooting than the first video does. Let me be explicit that I am not claiming the officer was blameless in this shooting. Even the longer video provides insufficient information for me to reach that conclusion. But by the same token, the shorter video is insufficient for a multitude of armchair cops to leap to the conclusion that the shooting was unjustified.

My point is that even a video does not necessarily provide a comprehensive understanding of all facts related to the subject of the video. In fact, a video clip can even distort the truth on the matter. So we should reserve our convictions of people in the video until the incident has been fully investigated and a we have studied a complete accounting of the results of the investigation.

Even a dog has the sense to get out of the rain

I’m watching NBC News report on Hurricane Irma making landfall near Naples with a life-threatening storm surge on TV and I’m getting irritated. In all fairness, the hypocrisy of the reporting is not limited to NBC.  Just about every major news broadcast is guilty of what I’m watching. Nonetheless, it’s folly and it’s unfair to first responders.

NBC’s Kerry Sanders is reporting from the exposed top deck of a parking structure where the eye of the hurricane is about to make landfall. The wind is blowing so hard that he can barely stay on his feet. Rain is falling almost horizontally and I can see debris flying through the camera shot.

Sanders can barely hear the anchor through his ear monitor and the roar of the storm is almost drowning out Sanders’ voice in the broadcast. But I can hear he’s reporting that the wind is blowing very hard and the rain is falling in a deluge. He’s telling us that the ocean is beginning to rapidly rise onto land and it’s going to be a record storm surge.  It’s very dangerous to be outside, so everyone should have evacuated the area, he says.

Meanwhile, who are the only people cavalier enough to be out in Naples? That’s right—the NBC news crew (and I’m sure other networks’ crews). But we don’t need to see Sanders standing outside in a Category 2 hurricane to realize that the wind is blowing very hard and the rain is falling in a deluge. It’s a hurricane and that’s what they do. NBC has been telling us for days that the storm surge could be twenty feet high when Irma makes landfall in Florida.

The local authorities have already told everyone to evacuate because of the extreme danger in riding out the storm. The authorities warned that anyone who chooses to shelter in place should not expect any response to emergency calls that come in while the winds are high and the waters rising. They have been warning residents that there will be no rescues during the brunt of the storm because doing so risks the life and safety of the first responders. Police officers, firemen, and other emergency workers will need to be healthy to move into the devastation as soon the winds die down.

However, you can bet that Sanders and other news crews would expect immediate treatment in the overburdened hospital if one of them got struck in the head by the debris we can see flying by at over 100 miles per hour. Even though these reporters willfully and knowingly put themselves into this danger just to make a report that is no more informative than it would be from a hardened shelter, they would call 911 if they suddenly found themselves in an emergency situation. And they would want a Coast Guard rescue helicopter to be there if the storm surge took them by surprise and swept them away.

If they were acting responsibly, news agencies would mount unmanned camera feeds out in the storm and have their reporters report the latest news from a safe and secure location. Nowadays, the most up-to-date information comes through telecommunications that would be most reliable indoors out of the storm, so their best reporting would come from such a location anyway. There’s even a possibility that reporters already on location during the storm could obstruct or distract the rescuers’ ingress. Hurricane reporting would actually be more valuable to viewers if the reporters moved in just after the first responders than it is when they are on site before the storm.

What good is the EPA?

President Trump recently proposed cutting the Environmental Protection Agency’s (EPA) budget more than thirty percent but I have seen relatively little outrage voiced over these cuts. It seems that Americans are more concerned about the Supreme Court nomination and Trump’s ties to Russia. While they are both important issues, I expected a greater outcry about the environment since it will have a greater impact on Americans long after Trump’s nominee vacates the SCOTUS bench.

Then it occurred to me that Millennials have never known a time when the smog in LA was so thick that you could barely see the Hollywood sign from the Hollywood Freeway for the entire summer. And Baby Boomers are about the only Americans who remember the Cuyahoga River being so polluted that it literally caught on fire. So many Americans take the relatively clean condition of the United States for granted because it doesn’t seem as urgent an issue as it does to those of us who remember how badly polluted this country used to be.

But all you have to do to get an idea of what the environment could be like is to look at present-day China. It struggles with air pollution and photos of China’s water pollution show that its environment is worse than the USA ever was. But China’s central government does not regulate pollution like the EPA has for almost fifty years in the USA. So pollution goes on relatively unabated there.

Instead, capitalism has been the biggest driver of China’s pollution problems. The invisible hand of the free market generally works against a clean environment as it looks to maximize profits by minimizing the societal costs born by free enterprise. I’m as big a proponent of capitalism as the next American but I don’t deny that, although private businesses do not, the American people do bear the societal costs. And the societal cost of industry is pollution.

But as bad as I know from experience that pollution can get in the USA, it’s the least environmental concern younger Americans should have. They haven’t felt Global Warming sneaking up on them but they are the ones who will feel its impact the most in the future. Military experts say climate change poses a “significant risk” to national security, not terrorism. And although Global Mean Sea Level has risen 0.13 inches a year for the past couple of decades, that’s nothing compared to what we can expect in the years to come if we don’t curtail the release of greenhouse gases into the atmosphere. The rise of the oceans will accelerate to reach another two meters by the end of the century. Say goodbye to Miami, New Orleans, and much of Manhattan.

Yet president Trump has pledged to rip up the Paris climate agreement, which would likely lead to its demise. So it’s clear that the EPA will be getting no love from him either. Unless Americans protest cuts to the EPA, prepare for all of its good work to be undone and a slide back to the polluted states of America.

Two wrongs don’t make a right

I have not watched all of the Senate Judiciary Committee’s hearing of Neil Gorsuch regarding his nomination by President Trump to be a justice of the Supreme Court of the United States (SCOTUS) but I’ve watched a substantial amount of it. I’ve also read criticisms and statements in support of Gorsuch’s nomination. In my opinion, nothing that we know of disqualifies Gorsuch for the highest bench and there’s no reason for the senate to withhold consent to the nomination.

Nonetheless, many Democrat senators would like to prevent or at least stall his confirmation. For the most part, it’s because the Republicans refused to even allow a vote on President Obama’s nomination of Merrick Garland for the SCOTUS. I’ve already stated that the Republican senators’ refusal to consider Obama’s nomination was a dereliction of their duty to uphold the Constitution of the USA. But that applies equally to Democrat senators if they attempt to block Gorsuch’s nomination. Two wrongs don’t make a right.

For that reason, the senate should move to a vote on the nomination within a reasonable amount of time after Gorsuch’s hearing concludes. Democrats should not necessarily vote in favor of the nomination—they should vote their conscience. But unlike the way the Republicans treated Garland, Democrats should at least vote on the nomination. It is their duty and Gorsuch deserves it. Blocking the vote would only harm the Democrats in the senate.

The Democrats will face much more critical challenges in the future that they will need the GOP’s backing on. If the Democrat’s make blocking Gorsuch’s nomination an issue, the Republicans will simply make opposition to the Democrats automatic on future issues for purely partisan issues. It is likely that the senate will have sound, irrefutable grounds to impeach Trump before the end of his term as president but the senate will need the cooperation of the GOP to issue articles of impeachment. The senate will also need to deal with issues like health care, the budget, and immigration during the Trump administration. So I call on the Democrat senators to treat Trump’s nomination of Gorsuch in the same way they would have treated Obama’s nomination of Garland.