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Trump’s boasts about pre-coronavirus economy aren’t relevant, economists say

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As President Donald Trump and the Democratic presidential nominee Joe Biden trade boasts and barbs over the former and the current state of the economy, analysts have zeroed in on Trump’s claims of record-high job creation — which comes saddled with significant caveats.

“The job market is still a shadow of what it was prior to the pandemic,” Mark Zandi, chief economist at Moody’s Analytics, said.

The White House bragged about the jobless rate falling from a peak of 14.7 percent in April to 8.4 percent in August, but that decrease obscures the sobering deficit that still remains of more than 11 million jobs, compared to the pre-pandemic labor market.

The picture is even grimmer for some worker subgroups: By February, Black unemployment had already begun to creep up from the 5.5 percent low it hit in the fall of 2019, skyrocketing to 16.7 percent in April and then rising again in May, a month in which the overall unemployment dropped. Black unemployment was 13 percent in August and Hispanic unemployment was 10.5 percent.

The reality when it comes to the recovery in economic activity also falls short of White House claims. Third quarter gross domestic product is scheduled to be released Wednesday, and the Atlanta Fed’s GDPNow tracking tool indicates an unprecedented jump of 32 percent.

Bragging about the pre-coronavirus economy does little to reassure a worried electorate, Mark Hamrick, senior economic analyst at Bankrate.com, said. “The administration will tout the strength of the recovery in recent months, but that’s also within the context of steep declines in March and April, and the same is true of the annualized contraction in GDP. When people talk about the fact that there’s likely a record rebound, the two cannot be viewed in the absence of the other,” he said.

“What’s most important is where the economy stands and where it’s headed … GDP will likely be contracting for the full year,” he said.

“The real risk, and the real issue, is Q4,” Zandi said. “Given the lack of momentum … you can cherry-pick numbers, but the reality is even after that strong Q3 number, we’re only going to get about half the GDP back.”

Biden has said the middle class got a raw deal even before the pandemic, noting Trump’s policies exacerbated economic inequality. The Federal Reserve found that, in 2018, nearly 4 in 10 Americans would be unable to shoulder a $400 emergency expense without having to borrow money, an increase of a mere two percentage points from 2017, the first year of Trump’s presidency and the year the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act was implemented.

Likewise, the stock market increases the president touts have not been shared equally: According to the Pew Research Center, nearly half of Americans have no exposure to the stock market at all, and a mere 14 percent of households have any direct investments in individual stocks.

“We know there were disproportionate gains in income among the wealthiest Americans. That was because of the strength of the stock market and the way the tax cut was designed,” Hamrick said. “Those are inconvenient facts for the president.”

For a president elected on a platform of economic populism, the vast majority of Americans have gained remarkably little. In the first quarter of 2020, just before Covid-19 struck, the richest 10 percent of households held roughly 69 percent of the nation’s collective wealth, with just over 31 percent held by the richest 1 percent, while the poorest half held a mere 1.4 percent — figures nearly unchanged from the first quarter of Trump’s presidency.

Zandi said the tax cuts introduced in 2017 were a boon to rich Americans and corporations, and pointed out that financing those tax cuts also left the nation on shakier economic footing for the long term. The Urban-Brookings Tax Policy Center said the tax cuts could add from $1 trillion to $2 trillion to the federal debt — and most American households will have little to show for it, Zandi said.

“The prime beneficiaries were high-income, high-net worth households. They were the winners,” he said.

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Abolish the House of Lords! Unelected peers to unite with 'undemocratic EU' in Brexit plot

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THE House of Lords will simply be fuelling calls for its outright abolition if it attempts to gut the Government’s Internal Market Bill, Tory MP Daniel Kawczynski has said.

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Democrats work to make inroads in the South for the first time in decades

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ATLANTA — Karen Ashley has walked with a handful of older Black men, residents of a low-income housing development, to the State Farm Arena each day early voting has been available in Georgia.

These strolls, which she called “wheelchairs and walkers to the polls,” are the culmination of months of work, including candidate forums and debate watch parties she held at the apartment building.

As the director of resident services at Friendship Towers, Ashley, 59, said she aimed to get all 106 residents — many of whom did not complete high school and had never voted before — to cast their ballots.

“I had the thought one time when I was looking at all of the negative back and forth between this group and that,” she said while accompanying some residents back to their homes. “And I said, ‘They don’t even consider this population.’ I said, ‘Guys, this is what we’re gonna do. We’re gonna register, we’re gonna vote and your voice will be counted.’”

Voters line up to cast their ballots for the upcoming presidential elections in Atlanta on Oct. 12, 2020.Chris Aluka Berry / Reuters

It is voters like them who could make the difference in a number of increasingly contentious races in Georgia, where both Senate seats are competitive and Joe Biden could be the first Democratic presidential candidate to win the state since Bill Clinton eked out a 13,000 vote lead in 1992.

Even beyond Georgia, first-time and minority voters also have a large role in Democrats’ prospects across the South. The region is, in some ways, at play for Democrats this election cycle, particularly in a number of Senate contests that are now neck and neck just ahead of Election Day.

Despite the political convention that Republicans hold a secure grip on the South, Democratic candidates are polling competitively in North Carolina, South Carolina, Kentucky, Georgia, Alabama, Mississippi and Texas — which together account for eight Senate seats and possibly the balance of power in the chamber.

They could also help usher in additional Electoral College votes for Biden, though many experts remain skeptical whether Democrats can achieve a blue wave.

Still, Georgia races have grown increasingly tight in the past few years, which is why it remains the main target for Democrats. Since losing the state’s race for the governorship by only 50,000 votes, Stacey Abrams and her voter rights organization, Fair Fight, have helped register more than 800,000 new voters in the state.

By engaging with new voters in the South — many of them young and minorities — Democratic candidates hope to find a pathway Nov. 3 in a region often disregarded by their party and increasingly dominated by Republicans in the decades after President Lyndon B. Johnson signed the Civil Rights Act.

“It’s hard work over time, and it’s a deep commitment to the noble idea that your vote is your voice and your voice is your human dignity.”

Rev. Raphael Warnock

Rev. Raphael Warnock, the leading Democratic candidate for Georgia’s Senate special election, is Black and the pastor at the Ebenezer Baptist Church, a pulpit made famous by Martin Luther King, Jr. He sees hope in the new Southern demographic. He worked with Abrams to register those 800,000 voters and noted that 49 percent of them are people of color and 45 percent are under the age of 30.

“This is not magic,” he said. “It’s hard work over time, and it’s a deep commitment to the noble idea that your vote is your voice and your voice is your human dignity.”

Senate races in the South

Early and absentee voting and donations to the campaigns of this strong class of Southern Democratic candidates would appear to indicate a groundswell of support — something long considered impossible in the South.

Democrats’ mail-in ballots and early in-person voting in Kentucky, where former Marine fighter pilot Amy McGrath is challenging the Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, have outstripped Republicans by 17 points, according to NBC News’ count. Democrats have out-voted Republicans by 17 percent in North Carolina in early voting, a state where 2.1 million people have already cast their ballots — a 230 percent increase from this time in 2016. It remains to be seen how these numbers translate on Election Day, as they are inflated by drives to vote early during the pandemic.

Amy McGrath at the Early Vote Cookout at a local restaurant in Louisville, Ky., on Oct. 17, 2020Jon Cherry / Getty Images

In South Carolina, however, Democrat Jaime Harrison raised a historic $57 million in a tight race against the incumbent Sen. Lindsey Graham. In Texas, Air Force veteran MJ Hegar is polling within a few points of Sen. John Cornyn, the Republican Senate majority whip who has held the seat since 2002. Sen. Doug Jones, the first Democrat to win a U.S. Senate seat from Alabama since 1988, has outraised his opponent by about $18 million. And in Georgia’s other Senate race, Jon Ossoff appears to be tied with incumbent Republican Sen. David Perdue in each new poll released.

“Georgia becomes younger and more diverse by the hour,” Ossoff said. “And the political infrastructure that’s been built and invested here in Georgia over the last decade is paying dividends. We’ve seen record voter registration, we’re seeing record turnout and enthusiasm. We’re not paying much attention to polls day by day, but the turnout is really encouraging.”

It is unlikely that Democrats will win all of these seats, but the very fact they are competitive is significant. The chance for a Democratic victory even appears brighter in ruby red Mississippi than it has in decades.

Democrats in Mississippi had not come within 14 points of this Senate seat since Republicans took official control of it in 1978. That changed in 2018 when Mike Espy, the secretary of agriculture under then-President Bill Clinton, garnered more than 46 percent of the vote in a special election for the seat and lost by 8 points.

Since his comparatively close loss, Espy — the state’s first Black congressman since Reconstruction — hopes to benefit from increased turnout during an election year while expanding his voter outreach and fundraising. In the final weeks of October, Espy raised nearly $3.9 million while his opponent, Sen. Cindy Hyde-Smith, the Republican incumbent, pulled in less than $85,000, according to Mississippi Today.

The math of his campaign, Espy previously told NBC News, is dependent on turning out Black voters, who make up nearly 38 percent of the state’s population, and reaching out to white moderates. The influx of cash appears to be helping.

He’s polling close with Hyde-Smith and voter turnout could be working in his direction. Hinds County, which is home to a large number of the state’s Black voters, already recorded more than 9,800 early or absentee votes two weeks before the election. In 2016, the county only received 5,309 early or absentee votes for the entire election.

Mike Espy and Cindy Hyde-Smith during their televised debate in Jackson, Miss. on Nov. 20, 2018.Rogelio V. Solis / AP file

“The reason no one won in the South in 25 years is because no one ran,” said Joe Trippi, a Democratic strategist who has advised Espy’s campaign and helped Jones win his Alabama race in 2017. “You’d sometimes have a good candidate run, but they had no capacity to raise money or get involvement from the national party. That’s changed now and for the first time in umpteen years, even if you don’t think Joe Biden can win there, voters in these places have a reason to vote.”

How did the South become competitive?

Jones’ success and the intrigue of candidates such as Abrams and Beto O’Rourke in 2018 brought the national gaze to the South in ways it hadn’t before, long after organizers had built up a grassroots movement by themselves.

Organizers said they took note of a shift in demographics away from white evangelicals, as well as a renewed engagement among young voters in reaction to the Trump administration.

Warnock, the pastor and Senate candidate in Georgia, has worked on voter drives in the state for decades — even driving Hurricane Katrina refugees back to Louisiana so they could vote. He said the South has long been defined by a “politics of fear and the divisions ensconced in the so-called Southern Strategy,” referring to the election strategy used by President Richard Nixon that many believe led to the political realignment of the South by fanning the flames of racism.

Lawn signs for Jon Ossoff and Rev. Raphael Warnock at a campaign event on Oct. 3, 2020 in Lithonia, Ga.Elijah Nouvelage / Getty Images

“What we’re witnessing is the reversal of that through changing demographics as a result of reverse migration, younger voters are responding to the moment and older voters are seeing how people in Washington are not thinking about them,” he said.

State Democratic parties in the South left their candidates and infrastructure to die on the vine for years under aging leadership. Reform has begun with younger and more diverse organizers taking control in recent years.

In the past year alone, members of the Mississippi and the Alabama Democratic parties forced out their party heads and ushered in new leadership that made them younger and more diverse than they have been in history.

Howard Dean, a former Democratic presidential candidate, is credited with creating the 50-state strategy in the 2000s, which aimed investment at state parties to have credible candidates compete for every office — a concept that was never truly realized. He said in recent years “state parties atrophied for the most part.”

“But that’s shifting again now,” Dean said, citing Alabama as an example. “A lot of parties that have been weak for a long time are getting stronger.”

That change began happening despite the lack of investment from the larger party structure, though Dean said the various wings of the Democratic Party are coordinating better than they have in years past

Still, Jones did not receive much support in Alabama until the end of his race in 2017, and Espy drew close in Mississippi without much help in 2018. In contrast, the Democratic National Committee is now funding major ad campaigns in North Carolina, Georgia, Florida and Texas and putting further investment in the races in Kentucky, Mississippi and South Carolina.

Rallygoer Gregg Smythe cheers during a drive-in rally for Jaime Harrison on Oct. 17, 2020 in North Charleston, S.C.Cameron Pollack / Getty Images

For the first time in decades, Democrats in the South have an opportunity, said Clay Middleton, a Black member of the Democratic National Committee who has worked as a political strategist across the South.

This renewed enthusiasm at the top of each state’s ticket can help each state party rebuild its long-forgotten infrastructure, allows for organizers to update their data, run ads, cycle dollars through local communities and build a bench of new leaders.

“I’m 38 years old, and I don’t ever recall there being this level of intentional investment into Southern Democratic Party infrastructure,” Middleton said, “which means we’re making progress and doing the right things.”

A future for Democrats in the South?

It remains to be seen whether this is a prolonged shift in Southern politics, or if it is a sudden invigoration caused by a caustic and unpopular president. It is still a deeply conservative and religious region, and some strategists warned that Democrats need to tread carefully.

Brian Walsh, a Republican strategist, said no matter how Democrats do, the GOP will have to reconsider itself as the party of Trump. Republicans, he said, ignored the warnings of the party’s 2012 election autopsy that concluded it needed to broaden its base by moderating its views on immigration and by reaching out to minority groups.

Voters cast their ballots for the upcoming presidential elections at State Farm Arena in Atlanta on Oct. 12, 2020.Chris Aluka Berry / Reuters

“One thing that always helps Republicans though is that the only other party is the Democrats,” Walsh said. “You have the extremes of both parties that are the loudest voices right now. They have to be careful to not overreach as well and suddenly support things like the Green New Deal or ‘Medicare for All.’”

But if these Senate candidates, functioning as the top of their state tickets, are able to get voters to turn out, that could change their states fundamentally in elections to come, experts said, especially as Democrats argue that a number of Southern state legislatures are in play, as well.

It remains to be seen, however, whether this is a moment of Democratic success or bluster.

“I just hope we don’t take a step back after all this investment,” Middelton said. “When the analysis is done, I think there is going to be a reshuffling of how we would look at the South in presidential years and otherwise.”

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Staggering cost of no deal Brexit for Angela Merkel and Emmanuel Macron – new report

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GERMANY and France are set for a whopping £10.7 billion blow unless the European Union can secure a Brexit deal with Britain, a new report has warned.

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