Friday, July 20, 2018

THE HOUSE | Meanwhile, Back in Congress, These Bills Passed

L to R: Democrat Maxine Waters Ranking
Member, Financial Services Committee,
and Chairman Jeb Hensarling (GOP).
The following is from Dana Chasin, posted by permission. He calls it "Update 286: If at First You Do Succeed..."

On Monday, a package of financial regulatory measures (deregulatory in aggregate effect), cleared the House overwhelmingly.

These bills have joined other bills passed by the House among bills on the Senate’s post-recess floor time queue. JOBS 3.0 raises non-Dodd-Frank issues. It also also raises S. 2155 on a smaller scale, with something for everyone to loathe or love.

(Next Tuesday, July 24, Americans For Financial Reform sponsors:  “Regulating Wall Street - Ten Years Later.” Senators Sherrod Brown and Elizabeth Warren are among the participants.  To RSVP, click here.)

JOBS Act 3.0

This week, House Financial Services Chair Jeb Hensarling and Ranking Member Maxine Waters announced a bipartisan agreement on the terms of a broad regulatory rollback package.  (Hensarling interview is here: https://www.bloomberg.com/news/videos/2018-05-23/rep-hensarling-says-more-deregulation-by-midterms-is-very-realistic-video.)

The legislation, entitled S.488, the JOBS and Investor Confidence Act of 2018 (or Jobs Act 3.0), is the most comprehensive package of changes to federal securities laws to pass the House with broad and bipartisan support since Congress approved the JOBS Act of 2012.  [NB: in 2015, Congress enacted a much smaller set of tweaks to securities laws as part of broader transportation reauthorization legislation, which some have dubbed “JOBS Act 2.0”.]

S.488 is comprised of 32 previously introduced bills, the vast majority of which have cleared the House or the Financial Services Committee.

This third iteration of the JOBS Act has many of the hallmarks of the JOBS Act of 2012.  It combines a number of disparate and seemingly innocuous pieces of legislation that relax or moderate various existing regulatory requirements relating to U.S. capital markets, in particular, the issuance and sale of securities.

The House passed the package on a 406-4 vote on Tuesday with bipartisan support, including from Ranking Member Maxine Waters and Chairman Jeb Hensarling. It looks like the Senate will consider the bill during the summer.

Public-Private Market Paradox

The JOBS Act 3.0 package contains provisions that simultaneously seek to encourage growth in the public market, while cutting back on regulations in the private market.

The bills include:

H.R.79: The HALOS Act permits issuers of private securities that are exempt from SEC registration requirements pursuant to SEC Rule 506(b) to also be exempt from certain restrictions on the use of general solicitation in the advertising and sale of such securities, further weakening investor protections in a segment of the market that is growing rapidly but plagued by fraud.

Private securities markets are appropriate for certain types of issuers and investors, but they are inherently problematic, given that they are characterized by significant risk -- lack of liquidity, oversight and transparency.  The private nature of these markets also makes it difficult for investors other than large institutional investors or venture funds to obtain information about the security, or otherwise value the security.

H.R.5877: The Main Street Growth Act lays the statutory foundation for the establishment of one or more “venture exchanges.” The Act sets forth a process under which any national securities exchange registered with the SEC can “elect” to become a venture exchange, which is subject to different standards and rules than those that govern all other national securities exchanges in the United States.

The venture exchange provisions in S.488 build upon provisions enacted in Section 501 of S.2155 that dramatically changed the way securities can be recognized as “covered” and exempted from state review by virtue of being listed on a national securities exchange. Taken together, the two provisions will ensure that certain national exchanges in the U.S. will likely operate with significantly lower listing standards than those that currently apply to national exchanges.

H.R.6177: The Developing and Empowering our Aspiring Leaders (DEAL) Act requires the SEC to allow venture capital funds to invest in secondary market shares of venture capital companies instead of primary offerings, complementing the "venture exchange" piece of the larger bill by basically creating an ecosystem for trading shares in private venture companies.

This Act, together with the HALOS and Main Street Growth Acts, further blurs the distinction between public and private securities markets, expanding the “quasi-public” securities market that was the major legacy of the JOBS Act of 2012, and making it more likely that retail investors will soon be solicited and sold securities that are in many respects more speculative and risky than is currently permitted under the securities laws.

H.R.1645: The Fostering Innovation Act ostensibly aims to encourage IPO formation by doubling the time that low-revenue emerging growth companies (EGCs) are exempt from key financial reporting controls. However, the Act is predicted to affect less than 2 percent of publicly traded companies and is therefore unlikely to have a discernible effect on increasing the amount of IPOs. Crucially, the bill gives special treatment to EGCs, opening the door for other issuers to demand the same and potentially precipitating a “special treatment” race to the bottom. The long-term effect of lowering the bar for a few is that the bar gets lowered for all.

A Work in Progress

H.R.1585: The Fair Investment Opportunities for Professional Experts Act sets in statute the definition of an “accredited investor” and codifies the current thresholds for annual income and net worth. The bill would create new qualitative pathways for individuals to become accredited and attempts to address the $1 million asset threshold that was originally set by rule in 1982 by indexing it to inflation every five years. However, even with the inflation adjustments, the bill would see retirees with no experience or sophistication in investment matters qualifying as “accredited investors” by virtue of their retirement savings, or wealth realized from an event such as an inheritance or the sale of a primary residence. This bill could be amended to rectify these important issues in the Senate, but in its current form, it is an example of the unbalanced nature of some of the bills in the JOBS 3.0 package.

Where most bills in the package relate to capital markets access, two pertain to the systemic risk pillars of stress testing and resolution planning.

H.R.4566: The Alleviating Stress Test Burdens to Help Investors Act exempts nonbank financial institutions from DFA company-run stress-testing requirements.

H.R.4292: The Financial Institution Living Will Improvement Act requires banks to submit resolution plans every two years instead of annually. These measures mimic what regulators may already decide with newfound discretion under S.2155.

Improvements to JOBS Act 3.0

JOBS Act 3.0 is modest compared to its predecessors, but underwent significant changes during its crafting. Therefore, in some cases, the bills that have been incorporated in the package are different than the previous iterations. The package has been welcomed by some institutions, such as the Council of Institutional Investors, for its provisions that address insider trading and multiclass share structure disclosure.

Unfortunately, the speed with which the package is and has been moving has made it difficult for those on and off the Hill to properly evaluate its benefits and risks. With so many moving parts, JOBS Act 3.0 needs time to be fleshed out and examined more thoroughly before concrete suggestions can be made. This is likely post-August recess.

Political Developments/State-of-Play

S.488 now moves to the Senate. With the legislative schedule packed with nominations, appropriations bills, and the Farm bill,  Senate Majority Leader McConnell announced that “Senators will continue their ongoing bipartisan discussions as we work towards a vote in the coming months.”

Other Senators have indicated the negotiations and busy schedule could push the floor debate for at least three to four weeks.  Look for the package to reach the Senate floor after the summer recess, perhaps attached to a funding or appropriations bill, or as standalone legislation.


Monday, July 16, 2018

MCCAIN | Trump "Abased" before Putin "Tyrant"

Senator John McCain, Chairman,
Senate Armed Services Committee
Washington, D.C.  July 6, 2018 – U.S. Senator John McCain (R-AZ), Chairman of the Senate Armed Services Committee, released the following statement today on President Trump’s meeting and press conference with Vladimir Putin in Helsinki:
“Today’s press conference in Helsinki was one of the most disgraceful performances by an American president in memory. The damage inflicted by President Trump’s naiveté, egotism, false equivalence, and sympathy for autocrats is difficult to calculate. But it is clear that the summit in Helsinki was a tragic mistake.
“President Trump proved not only unable, but unwilling to stand up to Putin. He and Putin seemed to be speaking from the same script as the president made a conscious choice to defend a tyrant against the fair questions of a free press, and to grant Putin an uncontested platform to spew propaganda and lies to the world.
“It is tempting to describe the press conference as a pathetic rout – as an illustration of the perils of under-preparation and inexperience. But these were not the errant tweets of a novice politician. These were the deliberate choices of a president who seems determined to realize his delusions of a warm relationship with Putin’s regime without any regard for the true nature of his rule, his violent disregard for the sovereignty of his neighbors, his complicity in the slaughter of the Syrian people, his violation of international treaties, and his assault on democratic institutions throughout the world. 
“Coming close on the heels of President Trump’s bombastic and erratic conduct towards our closest friends and allies in Brussels and Britain, today’s press conference marks a recent low point in the history of the American Presidency. That the president was attended in Helsinki by a team of competent and patriotic advisors makes his blunders and capitulations all the more painful and inexplicable.
“No prior president has ever abased himself more abjectly before a tyrant. Not only did President Trump fail to speak the truth about an adversary; but speaking for America to the world, our president failed to defend all that makes us who we are—a republic of free people dedicated to the cause of liberty at home and abroad. American presidents must be the champions of that cause if it is to succeed. Americans are waiting and hoping for President Trump to embrace that sacred responsibility. One can only hope they are not waiting totally in vain.”
###

OTTAWA | Fiddlers in The Glebe

Backyard Music Festival for Randal's 80th.
OTTAWA, July 15, 2018–The impromptu orchestra assembled in the back of Randal and Elaine's house in The Glebe to celebrate Randal's 80th birthday.

Under the shade of a gazebo and an umbrella, a steady stream of liquid refreshment flowed.

Music

The music went on from 2 pm to 7 pm.

At its peak five fiddlers were going, three guitars and the keyboard.

A fine flautist was also contributing to the Irish-themed music early on.

Players filtered in and out, but the keyboard player and a couple of other players were there from beginning to end. Near the end, Randal's violin teacher, Master Violinist Denis Lanctot joined in.

Here are two clips of the music, the first one with dancing! (The dancers are Pat Steenberg in black and white and Michele Pronovost in the dress. The music is "Barnburners' Jamboree" and "Maple Sugar."

Birthday Cake

L to R: Randal Marlin, Sneezy Waters and 
Vince Halfhide (legendary musicians
 in Ottawa for decades), Irene 
McCloskey on keyboard, Alex Marlin.
With Randal on the fiddle and two of his sons, Alex and Nick, on the guitar and singing, the family was a music festival of its own.

Then the birthday cakes were brought out. Another movie clip of that.

Marlin Family Photo

At the end of the day, the family assembled for a photo first of Randal and Elaine's six children, three boys and three girls (now men and women), and then the whole family of eight.

Catherine, daughter and youngest child of Elaine and Michael Schintgen, also got into the group photo.

Here are the names of the six children and three grandchildren:
  • Christine Marlin Schintgen (married to Michael Schintgen), of Barry's Bay, Ontario. Children: Carl, Eric, Catherine.
  • Alex Marlin, of Toronto.
  • Greg Marlin, of Ottawa.
  • Nick Marlin, of Ottawa.
  • Laura Marlin, of Calgary, engaged to be married later in July to Emanuel Côté.
  • Marguerite (Margie) Marlin (married to Myles Dunn), of Ottawa.
    L to R: Elaine Marlin, Randal Marlin, Christine and Catherine (one of three children)
    Schintgen, Laura Marlin, Greg Marlin, Margie Marlin, Alex Marlin and Nick Marlin.

    See also: Two Poems for Randal from Clyde Sanger . There Is No Planet B

    Sunday, July 15, 2018

    OTTAWA | Randal's 80th Birthday, 2 Poems

    Clyde Sanger (L) reads out his poem honoring
    Randal's 80th. The Sangers and Marlins edited
     and wrote for the Glebe ReportL to R: Sanger, 
    his assistant Emma, Pierre Pronovost, Anna
    Barantseva, Nick Marlin, Randal Marlin, Michèle
    Pronovost, Julianna Ovens, Sinclair Robinson.
    OTTAWA, July 15, 2018–My brother Randal and his wife Elaine celebrated his 80th birthday yesterday with an afternoon of feasting and music in The Glebe.

    In the interest of full disclosure of the Truth, which is always a concern of my brother, I should say at the outset that Randal's 80th birthday was really in January.

    But he has found over the years that invitations to come to Ottawa in January when people are in, say, Florida, fall on deaf ears.

    So it was a case of nunc pro tunc. A good time to come to Ottawa – When the weather is dry, / And no clouds hide the sky. / When air fills with sun, / And the outside is fun.

    Which rhymes are a good segue to the fine poem to Elaine and Randal that Clyde Sanger read out to the assembled relatives and friends of Randal. Here is my snapshot of the poem he read out and left behind for Randal and Elaine at their house, posted here with the poet's permission:



    L to R: Julianna Ovens, Sinclair Robinson, Pat Steenberg, Tony Patterson, 
    Laura Marlin, Alice Tepper Marlin. Photos by JT Marlin.
    Elaine and Randal were regular contributors, and for a few years Elaine was the editor.

    The onlookers included family and many Glebe friends.

    Five years ago, Clyde Sanger wrote another poem about Randal's search for Truth, which I also append with appreciation and thanks for permission to post.

    This is at a time when Truth is in Helsinki, hostage to Greed and Power, https://bit.ly/2urjl39.


    See also: Fiddlers in The Glebe, Ottawa, which includes a couple of movie clips . There Is No Planet B


    CANADA | "There Is No Planet B"

    Protest in Ottawa against Farm Policy
     (Subsidies, Hormones, Caged Animals...)
    OTTAWA, July 15, 2018–On our way yesterday from our hotel to The Glebe area of Ottawa, where my brother lives, we went by a protest of Canadian farm policy.

    The signs recited the shortcomings of farm policy, from caged animals to hormone injections to animal-farm subsidies.

    My favorite sign was "There is no Planet B".

    The central concern of the protesters seemed to be about treatment of animals.

    The demonstration was sponsored by Nation Rising, a Canadian organization. They were heading for Parliament Hill, where they listed to some speeches. https://bit.ly/2uxYQRG

    They were chanting: "The PLANet, the PEOple, the A-NI-MALS. In a Morse code version of iambic verse meter, the line went: .–., .–.,.– – –.

    I thought it was effective to have a police escort on bicycles, showing some sympathy with the environmental concerns of the protesters and at the same time allowing the police to control the crowds at ground level with more equipment than a pedestrian could carry.

    See also: "Democrats Seek Unity" https://cityeconomist.blogspot.com/2018/07/east-hampton-democrats-united-to-defeat.html.

    Saturday, July 14, 2018

    GERMANY | Trump Ambassador Doing What Putin Did

    Angela Merkel addresses Donald Trump,
    as John Bolton, his hawkish National
    Security Advisor, stands over him.
    Ottawa, Canada July 14 – Today, Bastille Day, we got more news about Robert Mueller's indictment of 12 more Russians (running total: 25), for interfering in U.S. elections.

    Here is the WaPo coverage:
    https://bit.ly/2zDIwVn.

    What the Russians did was reprehensible.

    It is also what U.S. Ambassador to Germany Richard Grenell is doing, according to a thoughtful two-part analysis of the damage Trump is doing to the U.S.-German ties in Der Spiegelhttps://bit.ly/2NRZBhd.

    Wednesday, July 11, 2018

    PINK ARMY FORMING | How Women Won Primaries

    Pink Army Rising
    The following commentary is by Dana Chasin and is posted by permission:

    Since President Trump’s election, hundreds of first-time female candidates have competed for political office.

    A record 472 female candidates filed to run for House seats this cycle, shattering the 2012 record of 298 and more than doubling the number of women who ran in 2016.

    More than three-quarters of the women who competed for House seats have run in Democratic primaries.
    Women candidates are also winning at higher rates than ever before. Of primary contests between one woman, one man, and no incumbent, 65 percent have been won by the female candidate. A blue is wave anticipated in November; it may well turn out to be a pink army that leads it.
    Contributions from Women Rise Sharply
    Women are giving more to political campaigns. This election cycle, campaign contributions from female donors total 31 percent of House candidate fundraising, more than in any other election year and up from 27 percent in 2014. Women are not only participating by running, they are also participating by donating.

    Source: Cook Political Report

    Female Political Activism Up 
    Political engagement and activism by women is at an all-time high. The Women’s March on Washington saw record numbers in D.C.—and across the nation—show up to make their voices heard on a issues such as women’s rights, gender equality, and paid family leave. Continuing with the #MeToo movement, we have seen the power of women’s voices in the political narrative and their engagement in the issues that matter most to them.
    According to the latest Gallup poll tracking, just 35 percent of women approve of President Trump’s performance, compared with  49 percent of men. In 2016, Trump lost the female vote by an unprecedented 13 points, receiving just 41 percent to 54 percent for Hillary Clinton. Unmarried women, Latino, and millennial voters all came out to vote in the 2016 election in greater numbers than in 2012.  Given the rise in female political activism and the rise of female candidates focusing on issues that women care about, 2018 will surely be remembered as the Year of the Woman.
    Progressive Women Win
    Polls show that the Americans are looking for change from their political leaders-- and women are delivering. Candidates from districts as different as Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez's and Kara Eastman’s won their primaries against moderate incumbents, Joe Crowley and Brad Ashford, by running on more progressive policies and visions, and greater attention to neglected demographics.  While Ocasio-Cortez should cruise in her deep blue district, Eastman will face stiff competition in a purple Nebraska district that has been separated by one percentage point the last few election cycles.


    Regardless of how difficult their general election fights will be, their primary victories represent the direction that this blue wave is headed – towards women and towards progressive outsiders.
    Economic and Related Issues
    A number of policy positions have played well for female Democrats during this primary season.
    • Health Care
    Voters rank health care as the number one issue going into the November midterms, and they are looking for sweeping reform proposals from candidates, not incremental changes.  Democratic candidates, such as Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, are running (and winning) on bold, progressive policies such as Medicare for All. Healthcare issues resonate strongly with female voters because they make 80 percent of health decisions in the family, according to the U.S. Department of Labor.  Voters also tend to trust women more when it comes to healthcare, and given the importance that voters assign to the topic this will certainly advantage female candidates.
    • Taxes and the Economy
    The recent GOP tax cuts have gone from a positive to either a neutral or negative campaign message in the eyes of voters. This negative impression by the electorate could be further exacerbated if the GOP look to attack entitlements in order to make amends for their fiscally irresponsible Tax Cuts and Jobs Act bill. Likewise, with the economy, voters are looking for bold messaging: to rewrite the rules of the game so the economy works for everyone, not just a select few. As wages stagnate while the cost of living increases, the tax cuts feel more and more like a dividend for wealthy special interests who rig the rules.
    • Campaign Finance Reform
    Despite the repeated transgressions of the Trump administration, Democrats are double-digits behind Trump when it comes to “cleaning up the swamp.”  Democratic candidates are winning their primaries by linking economic and political reform. This issue is critical in the perception among voters that candidates stand for something and are not part of a political establishment that is looking to continue the status quo.  Many candidates have found that eschewing donations from big business, lobbyists, and/or super PACs resonates strongly with voters.
    The Pink Army
    A total of 29 female non-incumbent Democratic candidates have won primaries in districts that are considered to be competitive (not solid Dem or GOP) by Cook Political Report. The candidates in these districts are scattered around the country but are united by their prioritization of economic issues on the campaign trail and their desire for change.
    More importantly, they will be a preponderant factor in enabling Democrats to take back the House in November.  The Cook Political Report has predicted that Democrats are going to win between 20-35 seats in November. To achieve this, Democrats must go with the flow of a pink army that has already seen half of all House Democratic nominations thus far go to women, more than double the previous record. 

    POLICE | Rate of Fatal Shootings, Large U.S. Cities

    Source: Excerpted from https://priceonomics.com

    July 11, 2018 – There's a company called Priceonomics that works with organizations that collect data to analyze the information.

    Their latest release is a table showing the rate of fatal shootings relative to the population of major cities in the United States, during the years 2000 and 2018.*

    New York City has the lowest rate, 0.2 deaths per 100,000 population. St Louis has the highest rate, 36.3 deaths per 100,000 population.

    The St Louis rate is 181 times bigger.

    A big hand for the NYPD, and for former Police Commissioner Bill Bratton, who managed the changes in the Department that led to the low NYC death rate, along with the gun control laws.

    And congratulations to the various groups along the way that have helped in the effort to improve gun safety, such as Everytown for Gun Safety, the largest gun violence prevention organization in the United States. John Feinblatt, the organization's president, was part of former New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg's administration, serving as NYC's criminal justice coordinator. In 2010 Feinblatt was appointed the Mayor’s chief policy advisor. Previously he was founding director of the Center for Court Innovation and the founding director of Midtown Community Court.**

    *https://priceonomics.com/the-places-with-the-most-and-least-police/.
    **https://www.guns.com/2014/07/01/exclusive-interview-with-everytown-president-gun-control-discusses-its-agenda/













    Monday, July 2, 2018

    EAST END DEMOCRATS UNIFY (Updated July 6)

    Democratic Nominee for Congress Perry Gershon at
    Democratic Unity Rally, with 235 in Attendance.
    EAST HAMPTON, NY, Monday, July 2— Local Democrats held a successful Unity Rally to celebrate unified opposition to the current NY-1 U.S. Representative in Congress, Tea Party zealot Lee Zeldin.

    All of the four candidates who did not win last week’s Democratic primary showed up yesterday to support the winner, Perry Gershon.

    Despite 91-degree heat, 235 friends and supporters showed up to pledge their support for Gershon.

    Perry Gershon, Winner of the
    Democratic Primary, to Run Against
    Lee Zeldin. Photos by E Rautenberg.

    Momentum continued from the estimated 75 percent increase in turnout over that of the 2016 primary.

    The event was attended by two Democratic Members of Congress — 15-term Representative Nita Lowey, from the NY-17 (Westchester), and 12-term Representative Carolyn Maloney, from the NY-12 (East Side Manhattan, West Queens, North Brooklyn).

    Also speaking was New York State Assemblywoman Christine Pellegrino, who in May won a celebrated upset victory in a district on the Nassau-Suffolk county line that has been strongly Republican.
    Supporters of Gershon
    The event was held at a private home in the center of East Hampton’s Springs Historic District.

    The East Hampton event was organized by several grassroots organizations that have emerged since the election of the president, primarily East End Resist & Replace, with encouragement from Let’s Visit Lee Zeldin and others, in collaboration with the East Hampton Town Democratic Party.

    Alice Tepper Marlin
    Welcomes Guests
    Participants in the event included Peter Van Scoyoc, Town Supervisor, and members of the Board such as Sylvia Overby. Former Congressman Tim Bishop was also on hand.

    Speakers discussed activities applicable to all areas of the country for defeating allies of President Donald Trump.

    Said Gershon: “The turnout here is a sign that this district doesn’t want more out-of-touch politicians like Lee Zeldin and Donald Trump, but a movement that’s striving for a better future for us all. It’s time to fire Lee Zeldin, take back the House, and stop Donald Trump.”

    Added Kate Browning, who finished the primary in second place: “With buddies at his kickoff event like Sean Spicer and Sebastian Gorka, and his support for terrible policies like ripping apart families, it's clear Lee Zeldin belongs on Fox & Friends — not representing Suffolk families in Congress.”

    The volunteers checking in guests counted 210 people, with another dozen from Perry Gershon's campaign team. The total attendance count was 235.

    Guests were asked to volunteer to work on the campaign, and 76 signed up to do canvassing, 77 phone-banking, 49 to host a party, 32 to host a fundraiser, and 55 to do voter registration. The hard work is just beginning. (Story in the East Hampton Star here: http://easthamptonstar.com/Government/2018705/After-Primary-Democrats-Project-Unity)

    Peter Van Scoyoc, East Hampton Town Supervisor, calls on the four candidates who did not win the Primary to express their support for the winning candidate. They all were there and they all gave their support. It was a turning point for many.


    HEIDI FISKE | Mexico Ready to Embrace China?

    Lopéz Obrador, Mexico's Newly 
    Elected President
    The following story originated from our Mexico tracker, Heidi Fiske:

    Trump's plan to alienate the neighbors and friends of the United States is bearing fruit.

    This blogpost, written by Heidi Fiske, expressed our alarm about the case of Mexico. Our concerns were justified. The country is reacting as one might expect, turning to other nations to seek help.

    Until now, Mexican leaders have been wary of involving China in their country’s affairs for fear of angering the United States. 

    Not any more. Its just-elected socialist president Andrés Manuel López Obrador plans a range of infrastructure projects in the poverty-stricken south of Mexico in which he grew up.

    Many of these projects are expected to be financed with Chinese loans. We are watching this evolving story.

    Saturday, June 9, 2018

    DANA CHASIN | Social Security as a Political Hotcake

    Dana Chasin has just commented on  the Social Security Board of Trustees  annual report, issued on Tuesday. Posted here by permission:
    The Trustees' Report highlights the continued fiscal challenges that face the Social Security program (SSA). 
    Based on current trends, without supplemental taxes or other changes, the SSA would not be able to pay 100 percent of benefits in 16 years:
    • Disability Insurance (SSDI) has income sufficient to pay full benefits on program only though 2032
    • Old Age and Survivors Insurance (OASI) has income sufficient to fund program only through 2034
    • In 2011, the Board projected that Social Security would be unable to provide full benefits only through 2036; they have now adjusted that projection to 2034.
    • Social Security is now paying out more in benefits than it receives in total revenue, years earlier than previously projected.
    The Report describes the above dates as the years when these programs will be “depleted.” The debate around the status of the OASI and DI programs has centered around the program’s looming “insolvency.”
    Social Security, of course, does not go insolvent. Suggesting Social Security is or may become insolvent or bankrupt raises hackles needlessly even as it delights ideologues.
    While looming benefit cuts are a serious concern that can and should be avoided, the SSA is not a business. It is a facet of the American government that has committed to guarantee retirement funds to the American worker.
    Looming Shortfall; Several Simple Solutions 
    Experts warn that the longer Congress waits to solve Social Security’s pending shortfall, the more expensive it will be to fix. In 2011, the Social Security Board of Trustees estimated it would take $6.5 trillion to avoid benefit cuts over the next 75 years. This year, they calculate that it would take $13.2 trillion.
    Fixing the program that economists call the most “valuable component of our retirement system,” will be relatively straightforward. House Republicans propose cutting benefits and raising the retirement age to buoy the SSA. Thankfully, this solution appears dead on arrival, given the public’s overwhelming support for maintaining or increasing current levels of Social Security benefits.
    A particularly promising proposal in the House Ways and Means Committee is H.R. 1902, the Social Security 2100 Act. The bill currently has 172 Democratic cosponsors and would strengthen Social Security benefits by:
    • increasing monthly benefits by two percent
    • indexing cost of living adjustments to Consumer Price Index- Elderly (CPI-E)
    • creating a new special minimum benefit equal to 125% of the poverty line
    The bill would keep the Social Security Trust Fund “solvent,” ie paying out full benefits, for the next 75 years according to the SSA Board of Trustees. It would accomplish this by applying the payroll tax to income over $400,000 and gradually increasing the payroll tax rate on both employees and employers, among other measures.
    Congress could also consider applying unearned income such as capital gains to Social Security tax. If we were to FICA a tiny portion (1-3 percent) of capital gains, we would solve the Social Security problem easily -- in fact, it would present a significant opportunity to increase benefit levels substantially, possibly by two times.
    Midterm Political Challenge and Opportunity 
    With straightforward solutions available, Congress has no excuse not to address Social Security’s long-term shortfalls. Exacerbated by a brand new $1.5 trillion hole in the budget, this is a year when people will hear threats to Social Security. They may believe it. Democrats, as they have in the past, will provide reassurance. This cycle especially, this reassurance is likely to provide a large benefit for them in the midterms.

    Thursday, June 7, 2018

    ICELAND | Most Peaceful – Lessons

    The Consolations of Being Small
    Iceland is the most peaceful country in the world, and has been since 2008, according to the global peace index, which I had a hand in developing early on. https://bit.ly/2oBv52i

    Why Iceland? Could it be because it decided to protect its citizens from the financial crisis of 2008, instead of the country's over-extended financial institutions that got its citizens into trouble? One reason it couldn't protect its financial institutions is that the trouble they got into was way beyond the ability of the government to solve. https://wapo.st/2JjarhP

    Another possibility – Iceland feels protected by its Scandinavian friends (although Iceland declared its independence from Denmark in 1944), perhaps the way Australia and Canada feel protected by Britain.

    What are the lessons of Iceland?
    1. Better for the economy for the government to protect small depositors than the outsized financial sector.
    2. Easier to do this when the country is so small that aggressive financial institutions can't possibly push losses onto the taxpayer. When the country is too small to build a large self-perpetuating defense establishment.

    Monday, June 4, 2018

    ART BIZ | Turning an Artistic Idea into Cash

    Postcard of the "Flag of the People's Republic
    of Palm Beach." 2016. 48" x 72", Acrylic on Canvas.
    I was talking today with Kenneth Walker at a Harvard event. 

    He went to Brown as an undergraduate, and finished up at the Harvard School of Design.

    He told me the minute he met me that he was an architect inspired by Ayn Rand. He had great faith in the free market and was also on the Palm Beach Planning and Zoning Board.

    I asked him: "How does a Libertarian function as a member of the Palm Beach Gestapo?"
    Walker with Flag.

    He said, casting his eye to the next table: "I can see a vacant seat or two for you over there."

    But he was just kidding... I think. Later I checked online and he is  portrayed as representing small businesses that are being oppressed by the P&Z Board. A worthy role.

    He had a lot of interesting things to say. He swam with the pop-art folk in the 1960s and developed his own style, before he started his firm Walker Group Designs. What intrigued me most from an ART BIZ perspective is that he has figured out how to turn his artistic ideas into cash. His idea after the election of Donald Trump in 2016 was to develop a flag for the "People's Republic of Palm Beach."

    I didn't ask him how he interprets his flag. The Palm Beach Post says he just made the British red and blue more tropical, switching to the pastel green and pink of Palm Beach.

    My own interpretation is that the gold dollar signs are for the Randian producers, who are cornered by the pinko stripes of the  moocher-taker-looter-parasites. That would fit the title of the flag and the role the artist plays on the P&Z Board.

    So I asked him how much he charges for this cute little flag, thinking I could pick up a couple of them as gifts. He said that he had made three paintings in different sizes, selling at $25K, $35K and $45K, as I remember. 

    Then he made the painting into a real flag, ready to haul up the flag pole complete with free grommets to hang it by. He made 20 numbered flags. He sells them for $10K each. In case you are as curious as I was, he has sold seven of them. So he has 13 left in inventory. 

    He told me that if anyone buys one of his unsold Palm Beach Flags through this post, he will donate a percentage to a charity of my choice. What an opportunity for you, reader, to do good at the same time as you indulge your artistic whim! Please follow up with Wendy Fritz (interview here) at the Fritz Gallery, +1-561-906-5337. Say you are responding to my post.👍

    Thursday, May 31, 2018

    BOOK BIZ | Healthy, Says Ingram, Citing WSJ

    If you don't study your history you are a leaf
    disconnected from its tree, said Michael
    Crichton. So there.
    May 31, 2018 – In its regular emailed newsletter, the book distribution giant Ingram reports that the publishing industry is alive and well, the focus of the attention of several investors with deep pockets.

    I was blessed with a copy of the Ingram email because I stopped by their Javits Center booth this morning at BookExpo. Ingram offers a great deal to self-publishers, including hard-cover options in  a variety of sizes.

    In support of the thesis that book publishing has a great future, Ingram cites an article from earlier in the month in the Wall Street Journal that names Snap Inc. Chairman, Michael Lynton, billionaire Len Blavatnik, and Ellis Jones, chairman of investment firm Wasserstein & Co., among investors pouring millions of dollars into printed books.

    The immediate focus of the WSJ article was the acquisition by Lynton and the investors of the regional publishing company Arcadia, which engages nostalgia buffs by producing collections of high-quality old photographs in heritage books. Arcadia is the largest local-history publishing company in the United States, with 14,000 titles.

    DANA CHASIN | Postal Banking's Promise (and Pitfalls)

    Postal Savings Certificate from
    FDR Days (1941).
    Last month, Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand introduced S. 2755, the Postal Banking Act.   The bill would establish retail banking services at every U.S. post office and authorize the U.S. Postal Service (USPS) to offer checking and savings accounts, small-dollar loans, debit cards, cash withdrawals and money transfer services in each of its roughly 30,000 offices. – Dana Chasin's Update 275, Guest-Posted by Permission.

    In 1910, President William Howard Taft introduced a postal-savings system for new immigrants and the poor that lasted until 1967. The need for postal banking has been revived by several recent events.

    The USPS Inspector General (IG) published a report in 2014 in response to the USPS  $2.7 billion deficit, describing how the USPS could implement postal banking policies to address the agency's funding crisis. Postal banking could generate $9 billion profit.  Sen. Elizabeth Warren has been a long time advocate of postal banking since this IG  report and lauded many of the benefits of postal banking. Sen. Bernie Sanders brought postal banking back to the forefront with Sen. Warren during the 2016 primary campaign.

    The endorsements by these progressive stars in the Senate led to strong popular support of the idea, but neither Senator introduced legislation. S. 2755 is the first legislative step  since 2014.
    Benefit 1. Serving lower income and rural communities

    Because of a lack of access to high-quality financial institutions, many Americans take out high interest, high-cost alternative forms of credit, costing them nearly $100 billion a year. The average underserved household pays creditors 10 percent ($2,412) of their gross income in fees and interest. Postal banking would allow more than 80 million lower-income Americans without bank accounts to access essential financial tools and be safeguarded from predatory lenders.

    The USPS’s 30,000 office locations would house the retail arm of the bank because they are located in every community. These locations exist in banking deserts. 38 percent are in zip codes with zero banks and 21 percent are in zip codes with only one bank branch. Providing access will help Americans generate savings, wealth and credit, while bringing millions of households into the banking system.


    Benefit 2. Eliminating the USPS funding crisis

    President Trump recently gave a speech blaming Amazon for the USPS funding crisis. Nevertheless, Congress is the entity most responsible for the funding crisis facing the USPS. This funding crisis has plagued the USPS since the Bush administration passed the Postal Accountability and Enhancement Act of 2006 (PAEA). The USPS has reported losses every year since 2007, losing $2.7 billion in 2017 alone. This can be attributed to the provision in PAEA that requires the Postal Service to prefund its retirees' health benefits up to 2056. Costing $5 billion per year, this is a requirement that no other entity, private or public, has to make. According to the 2014 IG’s report, postal banking would generate $9 billion in profit annually, effectively eliminating the funding crisis the USPS faces.

    Benefit 3. Reducing the Need for Payday Lending

    The main focus of S. 2755 is to fight payday lending. S. 2755 would implement smaller short term loans as a public option. 12 million people spend a total of $7 billion a year on short term, smaller loans known as payday loans. These loans average $375 initially with an additional $520 (138%) in fees and interest. Payday lenders have been known to charge interest rates in excess of 300 percent. The USPS has estimated that they could provide the same loan for less than 30 percent in interest rates. S. 2755 would set the interest rates around 10 percent.
    Payday lending may be a trickier legislative fix than the first two benefits provided by the bill. There would be underwriting issues that would have to be solved and the interest rate would have to be debated. Implementing small dollar loans into postal banking, however, would decrease predatory payday lending and increase the number of low income Americans who have access to loans they can pay back, improving credit scores.

    Benefit 4. Expanding Access to Financial Institutions 

    S. 2755 would assist millions outside of the banking system who are vulnerable to predatory lenders and other risks, especially those living in rural areas. Many of these people have been denied access to financial institutions simply because of their location.
    Although access to financial institutions has not been regarded as a fundamental right in the past, this bill attempts to frame it that way and poses the question: Why haven’t we regarded it that way before? And why isn’t access to financial institutions a fundamental right?
    Why the Idea Hasn’t Been Taken up

    It should come as no surprise there are opponents to incorporating financial services into USPS operations. The Citizens Against Government Waste has been vocal, publishing a letter arguing the Postal Service should not be trusted to manage money, pointing to it surpassing its statutory debt limit and $120 billion unfunded liability. Anti-government conservatives in the Republican Party are unlikely to warm up to an idea like S. 2755 anytime soon. The bill is something to watch if the Democrats continue to regain power as the midterm elections proceed..

    Wednesday, May 23, 2018

    SUFFOLK, NY | Job Growth – A Zero for Zeldin

    Source: Bureau of Labor Statistics, data released May 23,
    2018. www.bls.gov.
    The Congressman from CD 1 in Suffolk County, New York, was first elected in 2014, and reelected in 2016. 

    He has made creating jobs a central part of his program, one of the main issues highlighted on his own web site.

    He said in 2016 he would go to Washington, work with the Tea Party to reduce environmental and other regulations, and "help grow our economy and create more good paying jobs".

    So how's it going with that, Mr. Zeldin?

    Numbers just came out today for the fourth quarter of 2017. They show that Suffolk County ranked 309th out of the 347 largest counties for growth during 2017, comparing fourth quarter 2017 with the fourth quarter of the previous year.

    The growth rate was Point One Percent. That's one-tenth of one percent. That is statistically equivalent to Zero.

    Compare that with Brooklyn (King's County), which grew 41 times as fast, 4.1 percent, and ranked 14th out of the 347 largest counties.

    Zeldin has had two terms to prove he can make a difference in job growth. I would say he flunks his own test. He has not helped grow the economy. He has not "created more good-paying jobs". Time's up!

    Wednesday, May 2, 2018

    LABOR MARKET | Dana Chasin Update 268

    Two months ago, teachers in West Virginia began a statewide strike that would last for weeks.  It would pay off, winning gains for educators who have endured some of the lowest wages and worst benefits in the country. Yet the stuck wages afflicting so many workers stand alongside a 45-year low in new unemployment claims last week.  What explains this disparity? What in fact are the prevailing labor and wage conditions in the country? What are the political implications for November? The following comments are from an email from Dana Chasin, posted here by permission.

    Inspired by the efforts in West Virginia, teachers across the country’s low-wage states have initiated job action. Tens of thousands of teachers have walked out across Oklahoma, Arizona, Kentucky, and Colorado to protest low wages, poor benefits, and shrinking education funding.  Tensions are simmering in North Carolina and Mississippi, and calls for action in Texas and Indiana suggest that the wave of teacher strikes is likely far from over.
    Americans overwhelmingly support teachers’ demands for higher wages.  Over 50 percent of the country would support higher taxes to raise teachers’ wages.  Perhaps this support is attributable to familiarity. If the grievances that these educators cite to justify labor action sound familiar, that’s because stagnant wages and declining benefits have come to define the American labor market conditions in recent years.
    For Most, Stuck Wages
    As with red-state teachers, a vast majority of Americans rely on their paychecks and employer-provided benefits to make ends meet, and these have hardly improved in decades.  
    Between 1950 and 1970, Americans enjoyed a post-war boom that saw wages grow in line with the broader economy.  Economists have long thought that if worker productivity rises, wages will also increase in kind. The three decades after WWII supported this notion.  Over this period, wages rose by 91 percent, almost exactly in step with the 97 percent rate growth in national productivity.
    In 2016, American workers were 75 percent more productive than they were in 1973, but had only seen their take home pay rise 12 percent in that time. American workers have seen their share of productivity gains collapse.
    Paradox:  Plentiful Work, Slow Wage Growth
    President Trump and congressional Republicans say that the stable and historically low unemployment rate is their doing, not that they inherited an economy that saw steady reductions in unemployment for five straight years.
    Real wages have been stagnant for even longer, but Trump is not taking credit here.  In many cases even the declines seen in unemployment rates are concentrated predominantly in low-wage, low-quality job sectors.  While the economy has been adding jobs, in many places around the country these jobs tend to pay the minimum wage. Regional differentials in labor markets can also confuse national-level statistics.
    A Look Behind The Numbers
    Beyond this, while today’s unemployment rate is certainly low, this can obscure real problems in the labor market.
    During the Great Recession, the labor force participation rate fell from 67 percent to 63 percent.  Many people fell into underemployment or lost faith in the notion that any opportunities existed for them. The size of the workforce has remained around 63 percent since, suggesting fewer opportunities and a lingering disillusionment among those that have fallen out of the workforce.
    The Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) quantifies an alternative measure of slack in the labor market that takes the above categories of workers into account. While the unemployment rate (measuring only those seeking jobs within the last four weeks as being unemployed) is 4.1 percent, another measure reveals a more substantial underutilization of the workforce.  When taking into account the workers who are involuntarily part-time, marginally attached workers, and discouraged workers, the U-6 unemployment rate is 8.3 percent today – more than twice that of the conventional measure.
    New Ideas About Bargaining Power
    There is considerable debate as to why incomes have stagnated for as long as they have. Some theorists see “market-exogenous” changes in technology and globalization to explain the rise of inequality.  In this formulation, advances in shipping and information technologies allowed capital unfettered access to the entire world’s labor supply, causing a shift in production from high wage areas to low wage areas.
    More recently, economists and policy thinkers have turned their attention to the role of market power or labor market concentration in wage analysis.  This theory focuses on concentration as a driving factor in wage stagnation. Market concentration accounts for 10-15 percent of annual wage losses, suggesting that workers’ wage bargaining power is weakening in certain robust labor markets.
    The last forty years has seen a retreat from policies and institutions that support the relative bargaining power of workers. The decline of American unions is an oft-cited reason for the erosion of workers’ bargaining position vis-a-vis employers, but other factors tether employees to low wages as well, including:
    • a retreat from the pursuit of full employment by policymakers
    • the predominance of noncompete clauses in low wage environments
    • salary history disclosure requirements
    • public infrastructure degradation and a dearth of mass transportation options.
    The concentration of labor markets and the collapse of worker power have played an important part in the divergence between labor productivity and wage growth, and can at least partially explain the why wages are hardly responding to very low unemployment rates.
    Labor Market Not Monolithic for Midterms
    America is comprised of very diverse economies across many regions. While technological changes and shifting market power have depressed employment levels and wages overall, the composition of local economies determine the effect those developments have on a local workforce.  Regional economies with significant vulnerability to trade competition have seen commensurate declines in employment. Those exposed to technological change have undergone a reorganization of the local workforce.  Those that have experienced market consolidation have seen other deleterious effects.
    President Trump and Congressional Republicans may try to take credit in the run-up to the November midterm elections for the nation’s continued low unemployment rate.  But their claims will likely fall on deaf ears in communities where trade competition have depressed employment and where laborers have lost negotiation power relative to their employers.  After cutting taxes overwhelmingly for the corporations and the wealthiest, the GOP hasn’t shown many voters yet the benefits they were promised; instead, they continue to struggle with continually stagnant wages and precious few good jobs.  But with all the GOP tax talk, they increasingly perceive another threat to their retirement security, which we will address next time.

    To be added to the news digest assembled by Dana Chasin and the 20/20 team, go here.