Trumpanomics and Dumpster Diving for Dollars in Santa Barbara

Riffing on Debate and the Supreme Court as Poodle’s Head Explodes

Credit: Jonathan Ernst

RUN BLUES:  I missed Tuesday night’s presidential debate, which is to say — having caught some of it — I saw too much. It was like watching a belligerent drunk driver going the wrong way up a freeway onramp with all the inevitable consequences. If there is to be a rematch, ESPN should moderate. Joe Biden blinked too much for my taste but still managed to get off a good throwaway line: “Trump wouldn’t know a suburb unless he took a wrong turn.” This came in response to Trump’s wild hair charge that Biden is hell-bent on wiping suburbs off the face of the planet.

This, presumably, is the game plan for scaring suburban white women into submission. If these women only belonged to the same charismatic “community” of faith as Trump’s latest Supreme Court nominee, Amy Coney Barrett. People of Promise, the community to which Barrett has been involved, does not allow women to serve on their board. As has been widely reported, women are permitted certain ancillary leadership roles, that of “handmaiden” being the best known. 

The body of Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg, scientists have just discovered, was already spinning well before they put her in the ground. 

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Having forgotten to take my Ritalin, I found myself struggling to focus on Tuesday night’s jibber jabber. I kept flashing on the $70,000 tax write-off the New York Times just reported Donald Trump claimed for haircuts. As I attempted to do the math, my head exploded. Until COVID hit, I was a loyal customer at Willie’s Barber Shop on Figueroa Street. Willie’s son Gilbert — who runs the place now — is a peach of a human being, and Willie himself — ageless and unstoppable — never fails to astonish with tales of adventures, only a few of which can be printed in a family publication. For all Willie’s gruffness, he too is a peach and can be seen — when he thinks no one is looking — extracting bottles and cans from the recycling receptacle on behalf of older customers for whom such deep dives are no longer physically possible but for whom the redemption fees remain economically essential.

How many haircuts would I have to get, I wondered, to claim such a tax deduction? At the rates Willie’s charges, that’s between 2,800 and 3,500, depending on the size of the tip. At the rate I’m going, I’d have to live another 800 years, at which time, I might be right up there with Willie himself. 

What I may have missed by such musings was any mention of supplemental unemployment benefits by either of the candidates. The silence on this subject — by either party — has also caused my head to explode. It’s hardly academic. I have loved ones who are fully or partially unemployed as a result of COVID. Those benefits were a lifeline, not some luxury. That federal aid expired July 31. 

Trump’s stopgap “solution” was to make available to states limited funds — recipients would get half as much — otherwise designated for disaster victims. Those funds recently expired, and there’s no credible threat of help on the horizon. For millions of people, this ticking time bomb has become the metronome of their life. In Santa Barbara County, that’s reality for 16,800 people. 

The good news is — as usual — things could be worse. In fact, they just were. The month before, the number of unemployed here was 21,700. But compared to a year ago, it’s still grim. Today’s unemployment rate for Santa Barbara County hovers at 8 percent. A year ago this time, it was 3.4 percent.

To be fair, the Democrats agreed upon a $3 trillion bill in May. Republican leadership laughed. They proposed a $1 trillion plan instead. Trump sat uncharacteristically silent. Later, the Republicans amended their offer to $660 billion, some of which would go to school vouchers, thus making it certified deal-killer for Democrats. 

At some point, Trump broke his silence on the subject and suggested he was open to a deal with bigger numbers than GOP leaders wanted. But in fact, it was all kabuki theater, faux negotiations conducted in bad faith just to make the other side look bad. 

Last week, a bipartisan Congressional crew known as the Problem Solvers — to which Santa Barbara Congressmember Salud Carbajal belongs — proposed a $1.5 billion deal. The Democratic leadership unveiled yet another variant just this week, this one for $2.2 trillion. The timing, of course, is suspect, coming just one day before the debate. But then, the timing of everything these days is politically suspect and for good reason.

I could mention, of course, the imminent threat posed to beneficiaries of the Affordable Care Act posed by the Trump Administration, but that might feel like more rhetorical noise. In Santa Barbara County, 16,000 people are now enrolled in one of Covered California’s many plans. More than that, there’s the 34,000 more people who have qualified for MediCal coverage only because of eligibility expansions triggered by the Affordable Care Act. 

In one breath, Trump has famously claimed to support coverage for people with pre-existing conditions. In the other, he’s challenging the constitutionality of the only program — Affordable Care — that’s mandated such protections. I’m not sure how that adds up, but you can do the math yourselves: 50,000 people in a county of 425,000. I guess we’ll find out soon enough when Amy Barrett gets confirmed to the high court.

Say what you want about Trump’s performance, but he was dead right about one thing. “Elections,” he said, “have consequences.”

At this rate, we’ll all be raiding the recycling bins. If you see Willie, be sure to say hi.

Correction: The bipartisan group to which Congressmember Salud Carbajal belongs is the Problem Solvers, not the Progress Makers.

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