The way things look ...
alt= puppy peeking through porch spindles Ocean City boardwalk at night pool closed for season Cmas tree refleceted in glass paperweight (estab. 1999)

Presidential Job Approval
Gallup Wkly: 37% - 1/27/19)
US Economic Confidence Index (-6.4)
Conference Board - 1/29/19
Civilian Labor Force Participation Rate: 63.1%
Bureau of Labor Statistics -Dec. 2018

Tax Reform
IV Q 17
I Q 18 II Q 18 III Q 18* IV Q 18
Priv Sect Emp
+2,564 (2.05%)!
Priv Sect Wages
($, wkly avg.)
919.08 924.60 930.81 939.78
+28.98 (3.15%)!
(% un-annualized)**
18,223.8 18,324.0 18,511.6
447.7 (2.46%)
Non-Res Fixed Inv
(% un-annualized)**
2,582.7 2,654.0 2,708.9
+133.0 (5.15%)
Fed Receipts
$ (bil.)
770 732 1,046†
+1 (0.2%)
$ (bil.)
-225 -373
895 worse!
* % is +/(-) baseline
! $ (bil) bet/worse than baseline
** chained 2012 $ (bil)
† Apr inc. tax receipts

 12/10/18 -- When Will This Infernal Music Stop? 
Not a big a fan of 24/7 Christmas radio programming? It would seem most of your friends and neighbors disagree. And radio programmers love what it does for their ratings. So maybe it's you. Visit this year's Christmas Page and get the story on how, and why, it's come to this. While you're there, Let the Christmas Spirit Index measure your inner Grinch for you. It may be time for an attitude adjustment, one way or the other.

 11/6/18 -- Mitchy the Kidder 

Mitch McConnell is not like Donald Trump.

Our President is a bold-faced pathological liar, and he doesn’t care who knows it. He figures if people aren't smart enough to realize that everything he says is mostly untethered from reality, that's their problem.

The Senate Majority Leader, on the other hand, is cautious about saying things that are readily provably untrue. His comments are generally constructed from carefully selected strings of facts calculated to lead the listener to a plausible truth. Just not necessarily the whole truth. He figures if people aren't smart enough to figure that out, that's their problem too.

Still, they have two things in common. One is that both are much more interested in buttressing a position than setting the record straight. Case in point: Senator McConnell's recent interview with Bloomberg News, in which he said of the annual federal deficit, ($779 billion, up an embarrassing 17 percent) ...

It’s disappointing but it’s not a Republican problem. It’s a bipartisan problem: unwillingness to address the real drivers of the debt.

Senator McConnell was trying to make a point by implication that the surging federal deficit did not come from declining revenues resulting, in turn, from the giant tax cuts Republicans pushed through last year. To his mind the blame belonged to Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid.

Those are, as he said, the large and growing components distorting total spending, and certainly legislators in both chambers haven't been anxious to address the problem. So it was a plausible statement, yes? The question is, will it stand up to rigorous cross-examination?

And the answer, of course, is no. But to a man passing by on horseback, it sounds right enough.

McConnell would be correct to argue revenues in FY 2018 did not decline overall from the previous year; they stayed basically flat.

So the problem was clearly spending? Yes, by analytic proposition. Spending that exceeds revenues by definition is what causes deficits. But, actually no. Tax revenues did decline as a result of the tax cut. (How could they not?)

Before the Plan's new rates took effect, last February, revenues were actually outpacing the prior year's. From February on, though, they trailed the prior year.

Without the tax cut, it seems almost certain that year-end revenues would have been higher than they wound up. So any suggestion that the tax cuts didn't add to the deficit is false on its face, as would be readily apparent to anyone who got off his horse and took a closer look. After February, corporate tax revenues alone dropped by $92 billion (or 31%) compared to the previous year.

Once the new tax cuts took effect, Federal revenues shrank each month compared to the previous year. The exception was April, where remittances were exceedingly high but were actually last year's taxes paid at last year's tax rates.

McConnell's deceit in the Bloomberg interview also extended to what he had to say about entitlements themselves. Here's the more expansive quote from the interview. Click for full interview.

"It's very disturbing, and it's driven by the three big entitlement programs that are very popular: Medicare, Social Security and Medicaid. That's 70 percent of what we spend every year There's been a bipartisan reluctance to tackle entitlement changes because of the popularity of those programs. Hopefully at some point here we'll get serious about this. We haven't been yet."

First off, one of the main unresponsive legislators the Senator was wagging his finger at is McConnell himself. He's been Majority Leader since 2015. No one was in a better position to do something about entitlements or deficits or both. And yet the deficit grew by 77% under his aegis.

Other posts on this page ...

In economics, "Best" is a relative thing
Portnoy's Analyst to Portney: "And so now we begin?"
7 X 13 according to Lou Costello
Until we meet again, may God hold you in the hollow of his hand
Keeping track.
"They have learned that the fountain of youth / Is a mixture of gin and vermouth."
Where you stand depends on where you sit (Miles's Law)

Second, the casual listener would hear in McConnell's remarks that Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid accounted for 70% of federal spending. Only they don't, as anyone looking at the numbers could confirm after some simple arithmetic.

FY 2018: Spending by Category
Social Security 977
Medicare 585
Medicaid 389
DoD—Military 599
Net Public Debt Interest 371
Other 1,189
Total 4,110
(in $billions)

It's true that discretionary spending accounts for 30% of outlays. But Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid are only part of the total entitlements figure. Combined they account for only 47% of total spending.

That's still a lot but it's not 70%. Entitlements also include most Veterans' Administration programs, federal employee and military retirement plans, unemployment compensation, food stamps and agricultural price support programs. As Majority Leader of the Senate, McConnell would know that. It was no slip of the tongue.

Anyway, who says spending money on the welfare of our citizenry is money less well spent than on overseas military adventures, profligate border control schemes, corporate giveaway schemes and interest on the debt, much less Congressional health care?

Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid have done a lot of Americans a lot of good. They're hardly giveaways. And the third program, in concept, is supposed to save the country money. If Republicans don't care for that, maybe they should try to see if they could get their heart to grow two sizes.

Third, this might be a good time to point out that whatever Mitch might do to cut back Social Security, it would have zero effect on federal indebtedness.

The CBO presents budget results on what is called a consolidated basis as a manner of convenience. Social Security, you will remember, is not funded through general revenues. It's got its own money, which Mitch can't so easily touch. It doesn't, and never will, run a deficit, per statute. It's a lender to the federal government, not a borrower.

In a similar way, only 41% of Medicare funding comes from general revenues. The bulk of the rest is from payroll taxes and beneficiary premiums. And Medicaid is paid for in a sizable way by the states. (By the way, Medicare outlays actually declined by $10 billion (1.7%) last year.)

This not to suggest that our three major entitlement programs aren't facing long-term financing issues that Congress can and should address and that Congress hasn't been dilatory in not doing so already. (This is Congress we're talking about, after all.) And cuts are not the best, and certainly not the only, solution available to them.

But this is to suggest that the Senate Majority Leader was with Bloomberg, as is his too-frequent wont, using entitlements as a convenient political football and doing so in a pretty dishonest way.

It's much easier to tell when the President is lying. Mitch is counting on that.


In all very numerous assemblies, of whatever characters composed, passion never fails to wrest the sceptre from reason. Had every Athenian citizen been a Socrates, every Athenian assembly would still have been a mob.
Illustration by Zohar Lazar
James Madison foresees the dangers social networking poses to the body politic in "The Federalist No. 55" (1788). Jeffrey Rosen explains in "Madison vs The Mob" in The Atlantic.
posted 10/13/18

 9/10/18 --3,000 Words. (You plan on voting?) 

Source: S&P Dow Jones Indices
Source: S&P Dow Jones Indices
Source: Bureau of Labor Statistics
Source: Committee for a Responsible Federal Budget (projections); Congressional Budget Office (historical deficit).

The Editorial Board, The New York Times
The editorial board represents the opion of the board, its editor and the publisher.
It is separate from the newsroom and the Op-Ed section

 7/28/18 --Laissez Les Bons Temps Rouler 

"Best economy we've ever had in the history of our country."

QED #1: Really?

Another case of Trumpian other-world hyperbole? What do you think? Welcome news, but as Hank Greenberg once famously said, "Let's not rewrite history."

Some context, courtesy of the Fake News Washington Post (owned as it is by Jeff Bezos, who carries the unpardonable sin of being richer than our President. (Worth a side trip: "How Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos reinvented The Washington Post, the 140-year-old newspaper he bought for $250 million:" Business Insider)

4.1% GDP growth would have been …

  • The fifth best quarter under Obama
  • Tied for the fifth best under George W. Bush
  • Tied for the 13th best under Bill Clinton
  • Tied for the fifth best under George H.W. Bush
  • The 14th best under Reagan
    Washington Post

“We’ve turned it all around. We are the economic envy of the entire world.”

QED #2: You didn't build that.

Never-Trumpers will assuredly scoff at giving Trump credit for all -- or even much -- of the gain, and they can make their case. But let's not. It is a little like taking credit for the sunrise, but that's just Donald being Donald. It's as natural to him as breathing, and if we didn't let him take credit for everything, it would be no fun having him around at all.

See how he feels about his financial paternity next quarter if GDP slows, as it probably will. (Not to panic: still positive, should probably drop just a little. This is still a good economy.)

Unquestionably, the second-quarter GDP figure came in some part from improved personal consumption (up 4%) and business investment (up 7.3%)— and those in turn generated in large measure by the fiscal stimulus of last year's tax cuts. Something Trump could legitimately take credit for.

The President has called the acceleration "amazing" and proof his policies are working. But the surge also reflected long-term factors plus some that one wouldn't want to see endure into next quarter or beyond.

In one line: Looks great; won't last.
Ian Shepherdson, chief economist at Pantheon Macroeconomics.
President Donald J. Trump's personally selected, Let the Good Times Roll, "Hall-of-Fame" GDP music video playlist. Enjoy.

The Financial Times points to the increase in exports caused by foreign buyers of soybeans and other US exports trying to get ahead of "tit-for-tat tariffs" imposed by the US and its warring trading partners .

Trump built that too, in a way, but opportunistic short-term trading machinations are hardly emblematic of the kind of "sea change" that's going to drive U.S. economic policies forward.

“This isn’t a one-time shot. I happen to think we are going to do very, very well in our next report.”

QED #3: Sustainability is another matter.

4.1 GDP is nothing to sneeze at; best since 2014. And truly the headline statistic in a while-positive still-lackluster quarter given the money poured into it what with tax cuts and a burgeoning deficit. (See box above.) Nonetheless, many analysts are anticipating growth, too, could cool in the coming months.

The Economist projects a full-year GDP gain of 2.8%. It's a little bit like the stock market, or your fortunes in life. In the words of Lewis Black, "It goes up, it goes down, it goes up, it goes down. Nobody knows why the fuck it happens."

But let's try. First, cogitate for a moment on the following analysis from Forbes (Capitalist Tool).

"When the actual $18,507.2 billion GDP output [ed: Real GDP, billions of chained 2012 dollars] is compared to last quarter’s $18,324 billion and multiplied by 4, the result is 4.0%. The 4.1% calculation comes from adding the various components that make up GDP, such as personal consumption, private domestic investment, exports & imports and government spending.

"The next item to note is that the calculation uses one-quarter changes and multiplies them by 4. This means that any component that had an unusual increase or decrease in a quarter gets magnified. This becomes even more important when something such as impending tariffs gets multiple players to shift their production or sales into one quarter vs. another, as can be seen in the June quarter export results. In theory, this should be offset in the next quarter, which is why it is important to take a look at growth over a year or longer timeframe. From a year ago GDP grew at a 2.85% rate."
("Here's What Impacted The June Quarter's GDP Growth")

The fiscal stimulus is expected to fade in 2019, absent another tax cut which seems unlikely. Strong second quarter growth will likely keep the Federal Reserve on course to raise interest rates two more times this year. And further to trading and tariffs, Paul Ashworth, chief US economist at Capital Economics, was quoted in the FT as saying that the 80% annualized jump in exports of foods, feeds and beverages, driven mainly by the spike in soybean and corn shipments, added a full percentage point to overall GDP growth in the second quarter.  Also unlikely to be repeated.

Even the Donald is not totally unaware. His reverie aside, he exhibits some effects of getting repeatedly scuffed up by life as it passes him by. His full-year GDP brag of 3% growth was a surprise model of hard-learned temperance in the midst of the usual exaggerated self-congratulation.

Kind of like Phil Conners assessing his chances of leaving Punxsutawney in Groundhog Day, "Chance of departure today? I'd say 80 percent … 75-80 percent." Just last year he could see no reason why we wouldn't "go to 4 percent, 5 percent, and even 6 percent."

You live, you learn; eh, Mr. President?

(Alternative scenario: It's the pundits who turn out to be wrong, and then there'll be no living with him.)

Third quarter's GDP numbers get announced right before Election Day. Oh, boy.

 6/1/18 -- 1,000 Words 

Just in case you've really got an attitude about this stuff, the House Select Benghazi Committee hearings took 950 days before quietly closing up shop shortly after the 2016 election. It took little action beyond hurling a few insults at the State Department and the Obama Administration in its final report.

No determination was made about Secretary of State Hillary Clinton's private email server and whether it compromised the handling of classified information. The panel spent more than $7.8 million. The FBI declined to pursue criminal charges regarding the email system.

Robert Mueller is estimated to have spent $17 million so far investigating Russian interference in the 2016 presidential election.

The total cost for Ken Starr's probes of Whitewater and Lewinsky, which lasted four and a half years, is put at $39.2 million, or around $58 million in today's dollars. Prior to Starr's involvement, special counsel Robert Fiske Jr. spent $6 million, the equivalent of $8.9 million today.

Lawrence Walsh spent $47.4 million investigating Iran-Contra over eight years, which adjusted for inflation would be around $82 million in today's dollars.

Watergate is estimated to have cost, according to an Associated Press report from 1975, about $8 million. But that includes legal costs for both the defendants and the special prosecutor's office in the major Watergate trials. Adjusted for inflation, that's approximately $22 million in 2016 dollars.

 4/27/18 --Tax Reform Scorecard: 1st Qtr Numbers 

Not a rousing success, but tempered by some caveats

First Quarter GDP often disappoints: winter storms, New Year's hangovers, whatever. And the first GDP estimate (there are three) is often adjusted, and often up, as more data becomes available. Early Q1 predictions spanned a range from 2% to 3%+.

First quarter federal revenues are often sluggish as well, more so this year with the hit from the Trump Tax Cuts.

Employment numbers were a little disappointing. And Steve Mnuchen might have been surprised by private sector wage growth as well, but that having been said, nobody other than Steve expected a much big number than that. It will take some time to see the full effect of the tax cuts on wages. And they didn't go to the average Joe anyway, so probably not much short-term boost to GDP either.

And the deficit? Well, you did understand that was going up, didn't you? Well, didn't you?

Stated intentions behind the Tax Reform Legislation:

  • economic growth to improve significantly measured by GDP
  • jobs and corporate investment to increase significantly, creating a stronger workplace and greater employment,
  • payroll wages to rise,
  • Government revenues to grow sufficiently to outpace spending (keeping the deficit from blowing up).

We're off and running. Stay tuned.

 4/7/18 -- You must remember this, a kiss is still a kiss, a deal is still a deal 

Not too long ago, the Wall Street Journal chided President Trump for failing to grasp that international trade is not a zero-sum game. It softened its criticism somewhat by adding that he had otherwise done an admirable job of shepherding the economy since his election.

Thus demonstrating that even America's other great newspaper can be wrong twice in the same day. Talk about your fake news.

Numerous other media voices routinely sound dissenting notes to that latter appraisal, accusing our 45th President of a multifarious range of financial missteps, from feckless to reckless to downright stupid. Moreover, even timid critics would accede to the fact the Trump administration has caught a wave or two — employment, wage and economic growth, ISIS, even immi-gration (although he can't see it) — all of which got their shape during, and some would argue due to, its predecessor's second term in office. (It could be fairly argued that Obama got lucky too, at least on the economy. Right place, right time eventually.)

An argument could be made that any self-respecting economy would know its way back from the deepest recession in a country's history, no matter how the recovery were managed. At some point things can only get better.

And then, of course, at some point they can get worse again. Indeed, if Washington were going to get the blame for screwing things up, right about now could be about the right time. And Trump could be the one, just by bad luck, to be in the spotlight when it all starts to go south again. Ask Hoover about that.

The point has been made more than once in these postings that presidencies don't wreck economies; economies wreck presidencies.

But if a downturn should turn out to turn on trade, well that would be a self-inflicted wound. Something may well need to be done about China. But what Trump has in his impetuous mind may not be it.

Back to the WSJ's first caution — that trade is not a zero-sum game. There's almost universal agreement in the media that the Journal got that right. But they've all got that wrong, at least in the terms of the strange, dyslexic way our President views trade.

U.S. Trade Gap
Exports Imports Deficit
$1,471,000,000,000 $2,205,000,000,000 ($734,000,000,000)
2016 est.

To the Donald, it's the opposite of golf: high score wins. If you're buying more than selling, then you're losing. An odd conclusion for a rich guy who should know that when you have enough money it's often easier, smarter and cheaper to buy rather than make. Let the losers work themselves to death making stuff while you concentrate on what you do best, taking money off of them in other ways and then using that money to buy their wares.

The economic foundation of trade as a zero-sum game was eruditely expressed by the late, great overweight comedian, John Pinette, who — agitated by a mercantile system smitten with loyalty cards — lamented the bygone days when "I give you my money and you give me your stuff." An even-up swap. At the end of the day you're neither richer or poorer. A willing buyer and a willing seller transacting on mutually agreeable price and terms.

Basically Pinette wanted to go long on stuff and short on money because he had the money and wanted the stuff. If you don't like the price you either don't buy or find another vendor, or just raise the prices on people you're going to sell other stuff to.

This is why it's not uncommon for rich countries to run negative current account balances in the trade department.

It bears keeping in mind that the country President Trump thinks is so rudely treated and so easily fleeced and outfoxed by world markets is the second largest exporter of merchandise in the world, serving up 8.6% of global exports, behind only China and barely.

The United States is also the largest exporter of services in the world, a category where it runs a surplus and commands a 14.1% share of the trade. Hardly the skinny guy at the beach getting sand kicked in his face.

But it's also true that American businesses buy a ton of stuff overseas to sell to customers here. They also ship lots of components and unfinished goods overseas for final assembly (because it's cost-efficient) and then import the finished goods back into this country to sell in the US market. Think iphones, computers, automobiles. Thereby driving up U.S. import balences.

Largest Deficits
United States ($734,000,000,000)
European Union ($344,000,000,000)
United Kingdom ($169,500,000,000)
India ($130,800,000,000)
Turkey ($45,800,000,000)
Hong Kong ($21,800,000,000)
Spain ($21,600,000,000)
France ($20,000,000,000)
Australia ($18,800,000,000)
Canada ($16,600,000,000)

(For an eye-opening view of how American companies employ globalized supply chain manufacturing practices to their benefit, see "U.S.-China trade deficit: Numbers can be deceiving" in the Orlando Sentinel. Sometimes objects in the mirror aren't as big as they appear.)

If you're buying more than you're selling, you may be a loser but this isn't the reason why. You're doing it because you can afford to do it. Now if you're someone who's not making up for it with money you're earning elsewhere, then maybe you're got a problem. But last time anyone looked, America remains a rich country despite running a trade deficit since 1975.

But a whopper of a trade deficit it is. Maybe not something to get apoplectic over, but certainly an area that warrants some tending. And China's not a bad place to start. They either don't or don't care to understand the protocols that have traditionally guided global trading partners. For his attention the president deserves some kudos. Now if only he had a better understanding of the subject.

The popular thinking on trade deficits is simple, appealing — and wrong.
Cato Institute

Writing for the Libertarian think tank The Cato Institute, way back in 1998 and long before the age of Trump, Daniel T. Griswold presciently prophesized that politicized reactions to the trade deficit could actually impede efforts to reduce barriers to trade in the United States and abroad.

"Contrary to popular conception, the trade deficit is not caused by unfair trade practices abroad or declining industrial competitiveness at home. Trade deficits reflect the flow of capital across international borders, flows that are determined by national rates of savings and investment. This renders trade policy an ineffective tool for reducing a nation's trade deficit."

You want to fight for better trade terms and better behavior? That is probably always a worthwhile effort. Is China a trade cheat? Sure.

But there's something wrong with the President's basic math when it comes to trade. He must have cut class to close a real estate deal the day they talked about international trade when he was at Wharton. And maybe another day, too, when they discussed the ways free trade is mutually beneficial for all parties concerned, serving both financial and geo-political strategies, assuming they're well thought out.

Trade deals don't set prices, don't set volume requirements, don't force anyone to buy or sell anything to anyone. They do oil the machinery for when people do decide to buy and sell.

If you want to create a better trade environment there's plenty of ways to do it including direct bilateral and multilateral negotiations and working with international oversight organizations to enforce the rules. Slow and cumbersome? Yes. But if instead of threatening everyone, the president gathered the support of enough of this country's trading partners against China's cursory but persistent abuses, he might be able to lead the effort to prod the atherosclerotic World Trade Organization to negotiate something constructive.

But nobody since the 1930s thinks punitive tariffs are a good way to go about addressing trade imbalances.

Largest Surpluses
China $574,000,000,000
Germany $295,400,000,000
South Korea $103,900,000,000
Russia $94,200,000,000
Netherlands $83,800,000,000
Singapore $82,000,000,000
United Arab Emirates $69,100,000,000
Taiwan $65,390,000,000
Italy $64,100,000,000

One proven-effective way for reducing the trade gap would be to get the federal government to borrow less. When the federal budget deficit declined in the otherwise uncomfortable Clinton and Gingrich era in the late 1980s, so too did America's trade deficit.

Another way would be to get the public to save more. America's savings rate (currently 3.4%) ranked it 16th out of the 28 countries in 2013. It's been a longstanding concern to economic policymakers. Larry Summers noted in a paper he did for Brookings in 1987 that "... increasing national saving and investment was a principal objective of the Economic Recovery Tax Act of 1981 and of the supply-side economic policies that accompanied it." He also noted that it unfortunately didn't work all that well.

Bloomberg noted in January of this year that personal savings as a share of disposable income was falling so rapidly it might put a curb on future growth in the US economy this year. One more thing for Steve Mnuchin (Trump's Treasury Secretary) to worry about. He's counting on growth to pay for the Administration's Tax Cut package.

One time-tested, sure-fire trade trade deficit cure is to have a recession. "The Great Recession" of 2008, ushered in by the financial meltdown, caused American imports of goods to fall by 26 percent, by far the largest annual drop since the government began keeping records in 1948.

The idea of creating his own recession doesn't seem to have occurred to the Donald yet, but he's liable to stumble onto it anyway. Who knows? The tariff reprisals he's threatening the rest of the world with, if they really are imposed, could just be the thing to do the trick.

 3/17/18 -- Cead Mile Failte 

One hundred thousand welcomes to this, our virtual St. Patrick's Day party webpage.

In Ireland, this day has traditionally been treated as primarily a religious observance, starting out with church in the morning, and dedicated to serious spiritual and cultural reflection during the remainder of the day.

Saint Patrick, Christian missionary, bishop and apostle of Ireland, died on March 17, 461 Saul, Downpatrick, Ireland. See History Channel.

A measure of our degeneracy here in the colonies is that we have turned it -- like Halloween, traditionally a day to honor the dead, and New Year's, a day of personal rededication -- basically into a national drink-up.

In all fairness it was the Irish principally who first screwed up Halloween, so only fitting that they should get a little of that back on their national day.

First, there is the parade. You can catch New York's version, the granddaddy of them all, as they say, at

(The very first St. Patrick's Day parade took place in 1762 when Irish soldiers serving in the English military marched through New York City.)

Streaming starts around 11 am, and you can stay there, if you want, to the bitter end. That's what my parents used to do in their retirement. (It's on TV locally, still.)

They'd set up a card table in the living room (in an era when houses generally had one television), and have a leisurely lunch capped off with something sweet and several cups of coffee poured with their best china service, eventually leading into scotch and soda and rye and ginger. (That may seem backwards but my parents never were ones to wreck a good high.)

There they'd be still when I got home from work. Wide awake and in a pretty good mood. (Them, not me.)

At that point we'd move ritually inside for corned beef and cabbage, a meal I never cared much for until I reached adulthood myself. And bottles of beer. The latter probably the thing that turned me around.

You may not have time for the parade, much less such a leisurely indulgence of it. But the corned beef is pretty easy so long as you have the wit to remember to put it on early.

Mastery of the preparation involves little more than tossing a chunk of meat into simmering water for three hours. Cook the carrots, potatoes, and cabbage as you usually would. Just throw them in the same water. They all finish up at the same time, as very good friends.

You don't have to bake your own Irish soda bread, although it's pretty easy too. (I trust. I'm actually trying my hand at it this year for the very first time. I never used to like raisins either.) But you can just buy it.

And then for us (me) it's time for Irish coffee. Coffee, Jameson's (or Tullamore Dew or Bushmills, whatever's on hand), a little sugar and whipped cream (out of the can is fine). And then, for those still awake and able to get there unassisted, time for bed.

To put you in the proper mood during cocktails and the meal and the post meal, here's a playlist of twenty-some Irish ditties to create the atmosphere. Just in case you don't already a playlist of your own stored somewhere. Click the picture.

You want a really virtual St. Patrick's Day party? Facetime us, and we'll synchronize our music play and spend some time exchanging toasts, reminiscences, funny faces and other pleasantries. We'll be around.

It's suggested you finish your night off with The High Kings music video (on the YouTube list) of their rendition of The Parting Glass*. It will send you off to bed with a tear in your eye. How Irish.

Or the last part of one of the night's NCAA tourney basketball games. How American.

Erin Go Bragh, babies!

"Walls for the wind,
And a roof for the rain,
And drinks beside the fire -
Laughter to cheer you
And those you love near you,
And all that your heart may desire!" 
- Irish Blessing

*The Parting Glass is actually Scottish in origin. It was the most popular parting song in Scotland before Robert Burns supplanted it with Auld Lang Syne (1788). The Irish appropriated it from the Scots and turned it into a drinking song. How like them.

 2/10/18 --Put Up and Shut Up - Tax Reform Scorecard 

The president has already made clear that he's already decided "Tax Reform" is already a huge success. Fantastic. Already transforming our way of life. Which is kind of charming since the effect of the new withholding schedules is only beginning to show up in John Q. Public's wallet with February's paychecks.

Bigly? Maybe it will be, but how can he know so soon? Maybe we should wait and see before declaring victory.

How good will it really get? And how will we know? The metrics all can, and will, move in one direction or another in response to any variety of inputs that don't have much to do with tax collections (all that "reform" really changes). But success or failure for this already-famous tax initiative will probably not be nuanced. The result will be pellucid. It's either a big success or it's a flop. No one will be interested in the whys or wherefores.

One suspects the President feels the job was over as soon as the bill passed. He's already moving on. And he expects everyone else will feel the same. He's probably not even thinking anyone will try to follow it along and make sure.

But here at websitesammy we're stupid that way. So with this posting we inaugurate (good word, no?) a running scorecard that will track the salient economic elements that should define how salutary an effect the new reforms are working on us and our financial spirits.

To recap, the stated intentions behind the legislation were these:

  • for economic growth to improve significantly (measured by Gross Domestic Product: GDP
  • for jobs and corporate investment to increase significantly, creating a stronger workplace and greater employment,
  • for payroll wages to rise,
  • for government revenues to grow sufficiently to outpace spending (keeping the deficit from blowing up).

"And if it looks like this then you're doing it right," to quote noted financier Lou Bega.

The measures we need to track, quarter to quarter, are private sector workforce size, private sector employment cost, gross domestic product, non-residential private investment, increase or decrease in the size of the federal deficit, and federal revenue growth.

All captured on the scorecard above, to be updated each quarter. The first two metrics are courtesy of the Bureau of Labor Statistics, the second two come from the Bureau of Economic Analysis, and he last two are from the Congressional Budget Office.

Exciting, huh? How will it turn out? No one knows, including Steven Mnuchin and the president. That's why we're doing this, to find out. By the numbers, so to speak.

This posting will gradually recede down the page with the passage of time and flow of tides, like they always do. But the Scorecard will remain with us, riding high in its own banner right there at the top of the page. For, oh, let's say the next three years.

Then we can talk, Mr. President.

  2/2//18 --O Tempora, O Mores 

Christine Keeler died in December, in case you missed it. Didn't get a lot of coverage. Understandable. These days what does other than the Trump White House?

But even under quieter circumstances,readers might not get excited over this bit of news. You'd need to have been born before 1950 to remember her. And those old enough to remember probably can't anyway or at least can't remember much.

And why should they? Be like Hamlet marveling at the actor emoting over the Queen of Troy's grief at her husband's death when the Dane prince himself is struggling to get worked up sufficiently to avenge his own father's murder? ("What's Hecuba to him, or he to Hecuba?")

The story of Christine Keeler has interesting parallels for our times and on a number of salient levels. There is this saying in French, Plus ca change, plus c'est la meme chose. "The more things change, the more they stay the same." Part of the charm of this fatalistic little epigram is that its elements can be directly transposed and it still seems to make a lot of sense. Plus c'est la meme chose, plus ca change.

What was known as "The Profumo Affair" offers interesting insights into what has changed in our lives over 50 years and what has not. And what probably never will.

At the height of the Cold War, Christine Keeler, a rather stunning looking nineteen-year-old, a cabaret dancer and aspiring model in London, got involved with a married government Cabinet minister who was twice her age and married.

John Dennis Profumo was the up-and-coming British politician—Harold Macmillan's Secretary of War—who in 1961 entered into a consensual sexual relationship with Keeler, which, uh, went viral. At first he tried denial, but the scandal eventually led to his resignation from the Conservative government, and finally Macmillan's resignation as prime minister, for "health reasons" in October 1963. The Conservatives lost the ensuing election to Labor's Harold Wilson, ending 13 years of unbroken Tory rule

So how did those two hook up in the first place. Easy? The Rooskies did it. Took sexual advantage of her to compromise him. Really. Well, maybe not really. But that was the story some papers were selling. And the people were buying. As is their wont.

A key figure in the Profumo debacle was Dr. Stephen Thomas Ward, a socially well-connected osteopath who took Keeler under his wing shortly after he met her in Murray's Cabaret in Soho, where she was cabaret dancing (i.e., toplessly).

Christine had come to the big city looking for excitement, adventure and the benefits of better social connections. Ward, who could provide all three, began to show her around.

At a pool party at Cliveden, the Buckinghamshire mansion owned by Lord Astor, Christine caught the eye of John Profumo, the 5th Baron Profumo and aforementioned political up-and-comer. How did she engage such an obviously busy man? She was the one swimming naked in Lord Astor's pool. Profumo, a bit of a libertine, as up-and-coming politicians can be, asked to be introduced. Ward obliged.

"The last thing in speed." Keeler and Rice-Davies

In short order Profumo and Keeler took up an affair. She was young, innocent, stunning AND very active sexually speaking: a girl on the very cutting edge of the 60s. And this was only July of 1961.

As fate would have it, another set of eyes at the Cliveden party took note of Christine's breast stroke in the pool, and that was Yevgeny Ivanov, a naval attache at the Soviet Embassy. Ward was socially connected with him as well and was happy to make another introduction, with same inevitable result. Any friend of Ward's could apparently be a friend of Christine's, for whom "very active sexually speaking" also entailed a strong bias toward polygamy.

She took the geometry in her stride and managed it well, which is to say discretely as well as enthusiastically. Truth be told, there were others in the equation too. Which is actually what eventually brought the whole Profumo matter crashing down on the public consciousness.

The British intelligence agency MI5 already had their eyes on Ivanov, as they did any Russian diplomat in their country snooping around. This was during the Cold War and in addition to having more fun in London than they could in Moscow, then as now these guys had a job to do gathering intelligence for the Mother country.

Keeler and Profumo's affair was brief. Some suggest it ended after a few weeks, while others believe it continued, with decreasing fervor, until December 1961. It's generally believed MI5 did the math for Profumo and warned him off Keeler and the Ward crowd for his own good.

British Intelligence (MI5) knew Yevgeny Ivanov thanks to a Soviet double-agent named Oleg Penkovsky, and what they knew was that Ivanov was an intelligence officer in the GRU (Glavnoye Razvedyvatel'noye Upravleniye: Soviet military intelligence). Ward and Ivanov had become firm friends in London. Ivanov frequently visited Ward at his home at Wimpole Mews and sometimes joined weekend parties Ward hosted at the Cliveden cottage (which he rented from Lord Astor).

One story has it that MI5 considered Ivanov a possible defector, and sought Ward's help in turning him. Another take was that Ward might be complicit, aiding and abetting Ivanov in his espionage efforts, Many thought Ivanov was using the Keeler menage a trois to gain access to sensitive papers in Profumo's possession while the British politician was too distracted or besotted or just too stupid to realize what was going on.

Keeler herself was indifferent to politics.

Christine Keeler was born in Uxbridge, west London, on February 22, 1942. Her father deserted the family while she was still a child, and her mother later set up home with another man in a pair of converted railway carriages near Windsor. Christine was sexually abused as a teenager, both by her mother's lover and by his friends, who often employed her as a babysitter.

As soon as she was old enough, Christine headed off to the big city.

The doctor is in. Stephen Thomas Ward: osteopath to the posh.

Whether or not Ward was a spy can be, and still is, debated by those with long memories and lasting interests. What he wasn't, was a pimp. But that's what he was accused of when the Profumo story broke out into the open. Even Christine seemed to be of two minds on the spy angle, telling different stories to different journalists at different times in her life. (For which she got paid.)

One thing Keeler was not, was a prostitute. At least not technically. She said she only took money for sex occasionally when she was really short of cash. Apparently her compensation for sexual favors was mainly the company she carried on with and the lifestyle she shared in. And, of course, the sex.

No, she did not have sex, paid or no, with Ward. That wasn't the basis of their relationship. It seems most likely they were, seriously, just good friends. And roommates. He put a roof over her head in London. He didn't take money from her. In fact he most likely contributed monetarily to helping her maintain her exciting new lifestyle.

He did the same for her fellow cabaret dancer and wide-eyed cosmopolitan ingenue, Mandy Rice-Davies, a fetching blonde originally from Wales with a sexual outlook profile that pretty much matched Christine's.

It was a firearms violation involving two other of Keeler's sexual partners, well after her relationship with Profumo, that brought the Keeler lifestyle into what Billy Joel termed "the white hot spotlight."

Two East Indians, a jazz singer by the name of Aloysius "Lucky" Gordon and an aspiring jazz promoter and accomplished petty thief, Johnny Edgecombe, were competing for Keeler's affections at the time, but were not so gifted with the same diplomatic skills, or taste for public probity, as Messrs. Profumo and Ivanov possessed. These guys bristled with mutual jealousies and recriminations, which led by turns to an ugly public quarrel with Keeler involving a gun.

John Profumo and the missus, a bit of a looker herself in her time.

At one point things had gotten a little too rough between Keeler and Gordon. Edgecombe stepped in as her protector and slashed Gordon's face with a knife. Then after Keeler ended her relationship with Edgecombe and he had a very angry Gordon on his tail, he showed up in December 1962 at Wimpole Mews where Keeler was visiting, and, failing to gain access, fired five shots at the building.

It made the news.

Edgecombe's arrest and trial brought Keeler some public attention. And as tends to happen in such situations, where the press, in pursuit of a hot story, is consumed with publishing all the news that fits, the more salacious the better, Christine's other, more sensitive assignations gradually leaked into public knowledge as well.

The face that launched a thousand flash bulbs

(Edgecombe served five years for possession of a firearm with the intent to endanger life. After his release he scored, at last, some notable success as a promoter and also worked in films and TV. He succumbed to lung and kidney cancer at age 77 in 2010)

But thence the "Profumo Affair," brought on by two guys who had nothing to do with it. It was, of course, abetted by a concern on the part of at least some of the people that at least some of Keeler's affairs could have had at least some impact on national security. Again, the Cold War.

By March 22 1963, Profumo found it necessary to deliver a statement to parliament, denying any "impropriety whatsoever" in his relationship with Christine Keeler. And there that would put an end to that. But by June, he was resigning and Ward was being arrested and charged with living on immoral earnings. This despite the fact that the man was already fairly wealthy with a top-drawer medical clientele.

For Profumo, then considered a prospect for foreign secretary and even maybe a future prime minister, it was the end of a very promising career. His affair with Keeler was no doubt one of many such liaisons he and other Tory Cabinet ministers routinely engaged in. But with the trial, public gossip and the Fleet Street tabloids were going so far as to link Tory politicians with call-girls and sex orgies (not so far-fetched, by some accounts).

Macmillan and his Cabinet began to fear that Ward trial publicity could surface the names of other establishment figures involved in sexual escapades that would not look good in the light of day.

For Ward himself it got a good deal worse than that. Two days after Profumo's resignation the good doctor was arrested and charged with living off immoral earnings and of procuring. His trial, which posterity has tended to regard as an act of "political revenge," establishment types getting back at a nuisance who'd, however unintentionally, embarrassed them and disturbed the serenity of their social order, began on July 22, 1963.

Evidently while living with Ward, Keeler and Rice-Davies in turn had made small contributions to household expenses and repaid moneys Ward had lent them. The prosecution's case, as preposterous as it may seem, was that these payments represented immoral earnings. Keeler and Rice-Davies were the prosecution's principal witnesses.

On July 30, toward the very end of his trial, Ward in despair took an overdose of sleeping tablets. The next day the jury found him guilty in absentia. (He beat the pimping charges.) On August 3, before sentencing, Ward died without regaining consciousness from his overdose.

17 Wimpole Mews, where one night shots rang out.
"How could they know the palace there had been
Behind the door where my love reigned as queen?"

The media were quick to condemn both Christine Keeler and her friend Mandy Rice-Davies as prostitutes. The thought was not entertained that they might just be randy young women who'd had a stroke of luck with their social calendars and were making their own decisions about their choice and numbers of sexual partners. Picking mainly from among a pool of people who could afford to pick up the check. (With a few low-lifes thrown in on the side. Girls just want to have fun.)

And besides, if they weren't prostitutes then how could Ward be prosecuted as a pimp and for living on immoral earnings?

In December 1963 Keeler herself was sentenced to nine months in prison after pleading guilty to perjury. (She served six.) She had accused Lucky Gordon of assault in 1962 and he got a six-year sentence, but his conviction was overturned on appeal when it was found that the evidence given by Keeler at trial was substantially false. Gordon died in 2017 at the age of 85.

After her release, Keeler sort of faded away. She went through two brief marriages, bore two children, who remain loyal to her, and led a life of undistinguished obscurity and relatively low means. She made some money writing about her experience and giving interviews about a story that steadily lost its importance as the years passed.

She, or rather it, never completely left the stage. There was a movie or two made about the affair, videos and television appearances, even a song by Phil Ochs. In 2013 a West End musical was staged based on the incident, believe it or not. Stephen Ward with book and lyrics by Don Black and Christopher Hampton and music by Andrew Lloyd Webber, enjoyed a very brief run at London's Aldwych Theatre in 2013.

Yevgeny Ivanov was recalled to Moscow in December 1962, before the Profumo affair went public, and continued his naval career in the Soviet Union, serving with the Black Sea fleet. In his memoirs Ivanov claimed to have obtained significant military intelligence while circulating in British political circles.

He said his GRU seniors had been unaware of his relationship with Keeler until the story broke in the UK. He'd seen no need to report upon a private relationship. Revelations of the affair did cause his wife Maya to leave him, however. He was reportedly awarded the Order of Lenin at some point in his later years. In 1994, he was found dead in his Moscow flat at the age of 68.

John the 5th Baron Profumo? A dozen years of charity work in the East End won him a CBE (Commander of the British Empire) in 1975. Bestowed by the Queen in person. He lived well on his substantial inherited wealth. In 1995, Margaret Thatcher invited him to her 70th birthday dinner.

On March 7, 2006, Baron Profumo, at the age of 91, suffered a stroke and died two days later surrounded by his family.

In 1963 Keeler sat for a photo to promote a proposed film on The Keeler Affair. But the first true Love Child of the '60s proved squeamish about posing nude. Photographer Lewis Morley persuaded her to sit astride a plywood chair so that the back would obscure most of her body. In fact, she confessed later she had her knickers on for the entire shoot. The chair got a tonier ending than Keeler did. It is on display in London's Victoria and Albert Museum, the world's largest museum of decorative arts and design.

On December 5, 2017, Christine Keeler passed away at age 73 at the Princess Royal University Hospital in Greater London. She had been suffering from chronic obstructive pulmonary disease. The news of her death was posted on Facebook, by her son, two days later.

She had been living for several years by then under an assumed name. Her London playmate, Mandy Rice-Davies who'd led a more conventional post-scandal life, had predeceased her three years prior, at age 70, from cancer.

So they're all gone now. Only the story lives, calling to us from the past, from time to time, to remind us of who we are.

Time eventually makes fools of us all, Eric Temple Bell observed a century ago (writing under an assumed name). But except for sacrificial lamb Stephen Ward, the men of the Profumo affair seemed to fare somewhat better than the women, in both reputation and consequences.

That may have been as much due to social class as gender, and anyway perhaps by now, with the "Me Too" movement and increased feminine assertiveness, things will be different. Some people thought they might be after the Profumo Affair. Or after the 60s. Or after 1972.

Men as a class do tend to display bad instincts when in the presence of very good looking women and in the possession of too much stature or power. Some women know how to navigate these circumstances, some how to exploit them. Some are just brutalized by them, victims of their own innocence, naivete or lack of animal awareness.

And Russia, well, Russia is like the poor.

Bell said the only solace from our foolish fate is the knowledge "that greater shall come after us." A. E. Houseman observed that the only real escape is by dying young. As to the former, who cares? And as to the latter, who wants to do that?

  He said ... She said ...

The U.S. gross domestic product, a broad measure of the economy, increased by 2.3 percent, in 2017, federal economists reported Friday. GDP growth slowed in the year's fourth quarter to an annualized rate of 2.6 percent, breaking a two-quarter streak of growth of more than 3 percent. The economy grew far faster in 2017 than during the year before, but the slowed fourth quarter growth underscores the challenge President Trump's administration will have in delivering the growth rates he has promised. Officials had focused on 3 percent GDP growth as proof his economic policies were working, and Trump has said it could go far beyond that target.
January 26, 2017 (citing BEA GDP release of same date)
So we're at 3.3 percent GDP. I see no reason why we don't go to 4 percent, 5 percent, and even 6 percent.
President Donald Trump White House Remarks, December 6, 2017.


Nothing in all the world is more dangerous than sincere ignorance and conscientious stupidity.
Martin Luther King, Jr., from his book Strength to Love, a collection of his sermons, published in 1963, dealing primarily with racial segregation in the United States and the importance of permanent religious values.