Wednesday, April 1, 2020

Trump's Last Stand

I thought it was an April Fool's joke at first, but apparently Trump actually admitted he screwed the pooch if not in so many words.  He now claims he knew all along the severity of the crisis, but wanted to be America's cheerleader, downplaying the crisis so as not to be a "negative person."  I guess this was his way of saying he didn't want to create a panic.

Of course he quickly turned to hyperbole by saying this is "the worst thing that the country has probably ever seen," discounting the Spanish flu pandemic of 1918 that saw over 675,000 deaths in America alone.  We can only hope this one won't be so bad, as that was a far more significant percentage of the population.  Or, the fact that we went through a horrible Civil War in which 25 percent of the Southern white male population was eliminated, as well as countless others, mostly due to disease and starvation.

No, Donald, this isn't the worst thing the country has ever seen, but you made it demonstrably worse than it should be with your inaction when it really mattered.

There were a number of measures the president could have taken in the early days of this pandemic like invoke the Defense Production Act so that industries could have started making ventilators, masks and other necessary medical equipment back in February, rather than quibbling over potential contracts now.  It seems Trump thinks he can get a better deal than the one GM and Ventec offered him.

Maybe Russia has a few spare ventilators?  All though, it appears Vlad was in denial too and he may need those ventilators for the surging number of cases in his country now that the cat is out of the bag.

Leave it to Mitch to supply the morose president with a way out of the crisis by blaming our lack of preparedness on the Democrats for pursuing impeachment.  No matter how bad things get on their watch, the Republicans will find a way to blame this crisis on the Democrats, as they have blamed every other crisis over the past 40 years on the opposing party.

However, these are words the president will have a hard time taking back.  It was a lengthy press briefing that even left reporters like Jim Acosta agape, as it seemed for once the president understood the magnitude of the crisis and realized he was virtually powerless to do anything about it at this point.  He went on to admit the death toll could easily exceed 100,000, but tried to spin this into a victory of some sort by saying it could have been much worse if they had done nothing about it.   He can't stop cheerleading, and neither can his sycophants who continue to praise his so-called bold actions.

There is nothing bold about what he did.  He downplayed the crisis because it didn't suit his political interests.  He genuinely thought this was something that would go away with a few deaths here and there, but nothing worse than the flu.  Those were his own words back on February 26 when he created this ridiculous task force, headed by Mike Pence, which has failed to meet the needs of the hardest hit states.

You would think the president would pick his Surgeon General to lead such a task force, and put the sharpest minds at work on the crisis.  Even Ben Carson, a retired doctor, would have made more sense than Pence.  Instead, we get sessions led with prayers, and Dr. Fauci's early warnings being casually dismissed in favor of more optimistic forecasts.  However, even Dr. Birx is now forced to admit the extreme severity of the situation and that there isn't much we can do at this point except stay vigilant.

We even learn that Trump had set up a shadow task force led by Jared Kushner, whose mission was to do damage control in the wake of the accelerating case and death numbers and lack of federal relief.  Jared called it an "entrepreneurial approach," drawing praise for Dr. Birx no less.  Give us a fucking break!

There will be no more comparisons to the swine flu, as this pandemic will dwarf those numbers in the coming weeks.  We will crest 200,000 reported cases by the end of the day, with deaths rising rapidly as hospitals become inundated with patients.  As has been the case in Italy and Spain, there aren't enough ventilators and safety equipment to go around to stop the spread of the disease in hospitals, which is the most painful part of this ordeal.  Nurses and orderlies are forced to using trash bags and reusing their face masks, as they do repeated 12-hour shifts.  This makes them an easy mark for the virus, as their tiredness and lack of proper sanitation reduces their immune defenses.

What does our dear leader have to say about all this?  "This is really easy to be negative about. But I want to give people hope too.  I'm a cheerleader for the country -- we are going through the worst thing the country has probably ever seen."  Remember those words.

Tuesday, March 31, 2020

The Ship Comes In

New Yorkers flocked to see the USNS Comfort pull into port despite warnings from the New York police to keep their distance from each other.  It just shows how much emotions govern our instincts, rather than heeding the call to reason.  This is the first high profile sign of federal relief for coronavirus-stricken states, and one can well imagine His Trumpness will milk it for all it is worth in his "highly rated" press briefings.

Trump has consistently downplayed the emergency needs of the hardest hit states.  He doesn't seem to think New York needs as many ventilators as Gov. Cuomo has requested, and that Gov. "Half" Whitmer of Michigan has greatly overblown the situation in her state.  He is apparently only willing to work with governors who are nice to him, trying to make relief contingent on highly visible signs of support.  As Yogi Berra might say, it's quid pro quo all over again.

Sadly, this is the only way our dear president knows how to operate.  For him, everything is transactional, including federal emergency aid.  He hasn't shown an ounce of empathy throughout this crisis, and only last week was asserting that Americans can get back to work by Easter, as if this spring break has gone on long enough.  A view that has been vociferously supported by conservative political pundits and pastors alike, leading to the viral catch phrase, die for the economy.  While those weren't exactly Lt. Gov. Patrick's words that is what he implied during his Fox interview with Tucker Carlson.

Even Trump's new face of medical expertise, Dr. Deborah Birx, conservatively estimates 200,000 persons could die from coronavirus in a best case scenario.  That's nearly three times more than die from flu each year.  Leave it to Trump to put a positive spin on this by saying that is better than the 2.2 million deaths initially estimated if no social distancing guidelines had been put in place.  Nevertheless, Trump has yet to issue a nationwide lockdown, leaving it up to governors to determine the severity of the crisis in their states.

We have become inured to the politicization of everything from Arizona Ice Tea to vaccines, but this is a whole new level of cynicism, as Trump literally plays with people's lives.  The USNS Comfort was long overdue, which I guess is why so many persons came out to see the giant naval emergency relief vessel, but New York still needs ventilators, as do many states, resulting in a bidding wars for medical supplies.

What has trickled in is not nearly enough to battle the exponentially increasing number of cases and deaths resulting from the virus.  The US leads all countries in the number of reported cases, now that we finally have nationwide testing, and the number of deaths increased dramatically this past week.  Trump doesn't want to be reminded of all the dismissive statements he made earlier this month, crassly claiming he is top of this pandemic.

He finally has accepted that he won't be able to reopen America by Easter Sunday but doesn't want this lockdown to continue beyond April 30.  Oddly enough, stocks had a good day yesterday despite having responded favorably to his initial statement last week that he wanted businesses open by April 12.  Cold comfort for a nation struggling to come to terms with an invisible enemy.

Thursday, March 26, 2020

Just when you thought the level of cynicism couldn't get any worse, Fox "News" lowers the bar once again by essentially asking viewers to "die for the economy."  Given that the average age of Fox viewers is over 60, the most at risk group to the virus, that's a staggering request.

This came as a result of Trump showing his determination to reopen the economy before Easter regardless of the consequences.  He let it be known that he disagrees with the doctors who "want to shut down the world," feeling that it is better to get businesses up and running even if "this is going to be bad," referring to the potential death toll that might arise if everyone goes back to work.

His pronouncement flies in the face of health experts' requests around the world, who believe we should maintain as strong as possible a lockdown until more is known about the fatal COVID-19 virus, which is currently ravaging Italy and Spain.  Dr. Fauci has been conspicuously absent from press briefings this week, replaced by Bill Barr of all people.  This was after Fauci's infamous face palm in response to the president going off on one of his many insane tangents.

It seems Wall St. likes the idea.  Stocks rose the past two days by more than 2500 points.  A large part of this was due to the bailout package the Senate agreed on yesterday and the Fed promising to pump as much as $6 trillion into the shutdown economy.  Ever since stock prices have become the bottom line of a company's well being, workers' rights have become less of a concern.  Stocks tend to rise with "restructuring," which translates into cutting back on the payroll.

The Senate bill still has to go through the House, but some GOP senators are already balking at too much money being earmarked for unemployment compensation, calling it a "drafting error."  They would have liked to see the bulk of the money go through the White House, largely unaccounted for, so as to give their corporate backers as much free cash as possible.  Senate Democrats demanded a Congressional oversight committee be set up similar to the one we had to administer the Troubled Asset Relief Program or TARP.  Schumer also added an amendment that neither Trump nor any government officials could benefit from the bailouts, although I imagine the Trump Family Business will find a way to get their hands on some of that cash.

With so much money being poured into the economy by the Fed and all these potential bailouts, what's the rush as far as getting back to work?  We could conceivably keep the partial lockdown in place through May, which is what most health safety officials would prefer.  It's no skin off anyone's nose, least of all Donald-Do-Wrong.  He's never really had to work a single day in his life.

His biggest concern is the stock market tanking and the prospect of massive layoffs, ruining his low unemployment rate numbers.  This is a vanity project and as usual Fox "News" supports him wholeheartedly, even to the point of sacrificing a great many of its viewers.

Friday, March 20, 2020

The Chinese Virus

The Donald is doing his best to try to distance himself from blame on this pandemic, which he now calls the Chinese virus.  Many conservative legislators and pundits had already been calling it the  Wuhan virus, to make it clear where this pandemic originated, blaming the media for calling them racist in their intents.  Fact is we don't know where this virus originated, as there is no patient zero.  It's just the first reported outbreak was in the Wuhan province of China.  Funny enough, the artful dodger referred to a conversation he purportedly had with Chinese President Xi earlier this month, claiming this whole thing would be over by April.

Now, he is trying to peddle Chloroquine as a cure all for the virus, wrongly claiming that the FDA has approved it.  Dr. Hahn subtly corrected him, saying the testing is ongoing but that the FDA is fast-tracking the process with the hope it actually might work.  Trump is so anxious to get this crisis behind him that he will seize on anything, ignoring that it takes months if not years to fully test a drug like this.  If we are to believe the president, he has to do much more than offer false assurances.

The Dow rebounded slightly yesterday, closing back over 20,000, and is poised to make even bigger gains today.  Yesterday, was one of the few days traders showed any restraint, not trying to make a last minute buyback to push gains higher.  Even still, you can see from the dips and peaks, there was a lot of speculating during the day.  At least four big selloffs and buybacks.  

The reality seems to be slowly sinking in that we are in for a long shutdown, as much as eight weeks.  Legislators are floating the idea of declaring a freeze on rent, mortgage and utility payments.  Some states have already done so.  

Florida Gov. DeSantis finally closed down state beaches after the backlash in the national media, grinding Spring Break to a halt.  Still, many kids don't see what the big deal is, as coronavirus has not impacted them as significantly as it has older generations.  They don't seem to consider they will come in contact with their parents and elderly relatives when they get home.  One New Jersey family was utterly devastated by the virus.

Even in Italy, where the mortality rate is a staggering 8 percent, many people continue to defy quarantine.  It's hard to deal with an invisible killer.

This virus is a pandemic.  It doesn't matter where it originated.  You can't being blaming Chinese, as John Cornyn grossly did by implying they got it from eating bats.  This kind of racial stereotyping is an even greater pandemic than the virus itself, and the President and Congressional leaders should know better, yet they continue to pander to their conservative base that is always looking for someone to blame.

As the President said, I don't take responsibility at all, despite having downplayed the virus in early March and effectively allowed it to spread by taking no immediate action.  It's only when the cases started to pile up that he swung into gear, claiming now that he is working harder than anyone on the crisis, having understood its severity all along.  From goat to hero.

Well, the damage is done.  Not only in terms of spread of the virus, but the battering his image has taken over the past three weeks.  He seemed on top of the world back in February with the Dow poised to reach 30,000, the impeachment trial behind him, and approval ratings at 50 percent, an all-time high for him.  But, his laggard response has seen his approval rating sink to 37 percent, implying only his core supporters believe in him at this point.  So, he seeks to deflect attention back to China, which ironically enough appears to have brought the outbreak under control.

Thursday, March 19, 2020

A Real Buccaneer

With all sports suspended, the only action appears to be in the NFL where free agency has begun.  Among the surprises, Tom Brady is headed to Tampa Bay.  Carolina has traded Cam Newton for Teddy Bridgewater.  Nick Foles has landed in Chicago, after some talk New England might take a chance on him.

The NBA season is over.  There will be no March Madness.  The NHL is finished for the year.  Major League Baseball has suspended spring training and so we won't be seeing the first pitch until well into the summer, if at all.

It does feel like wartime, but having Trump call himself a "wartime president" for invoking the Defense Production Act is a bit scary.  The only point of doing this is to produce more respirators and other health care equipment to battle the quickly spreading coronavirus.  But, he offered all the rhetoric of past wartime presidents to assuage his bruised ego.

The problem began when Trump didn't take the virus seriously enough.  He thought it was mostly a PR exercise and had his son-in-law Jared advise him on how best to spin this thing in his favor.  When that didn't work out, he called in what he regards as a medical A-Team to address the problem on a massive scale.  Jared is nowhere to be found now, on to his next task, whatever that may be.

Apparently, Trump didn't understand the magnitude of the crisis until Tucker Carlson called attention to it on Fox.  Surrounded by the "best experts" he still turns to Fox for advice, even if many of the talking heads on Fox are still playing COVID-19 as little more than a common flu.

I guess we should be glad that the enormity of the situation finally sunk into his Trumpness's thick skull, more likely because he genuinely feared he might have gotten the virus at CPAC or his resort at Mar-a-Lago, when news spread he came in contact with infected persons.  Nothing like bringing a disease close to home to make you respond properly.

Even still, most of the measures being proposed are cosmetic, meant to calm a panicked nation rather than address the virus head on.  He still hasn't called for a nationwide lockdown, leaving it up to the states to decide for themselves.  As a result, you see some states take stringent measures.  Nevada has closed down all its hotels and casinos.  Others have opted for a more casual approach.  Florida has let Spring Break go on as planned, essentially making itself a petri dish for the contagion.  Although, some Florida municipalities and counties have taken it into their own hands to close down beaches and nightclubs.

We see various acts of personal defiance to the bans, such as Kid Rock refusing to close down his nightclub, and Devin Nunes encouraging his constituency to ignore the state orders.  California Gov. Newsom is on the cusp of declaring martial law in the state to get all the local authorities to comply with the lockdown.  As it is, the National Guard has been called up in some states to deal with the crisis.  Of course such drastic measures are worrisome as we see our democracy slipping into an autocratic state, not much unlike what happened across Europe between WWI and WWII.  Nothing like a pandemic to enact war powers.  We can only hope all this is temporary.

Even in Europe, where you do have universal health care and ready access to hospitals, the virus appears to be spiraling out of control.  Italy reported nearly 500 deaths in less than 24 hours.  It no longer is a question of if, but when the virus will spread throughout the continent.

Oddly enough, China and South Korea, the initial hardest hit countries, appear to have brought the virus under control, at least for the time being.  In both cases, massive mobilization of health care workers and mobile hospitals were key.

If Trump was serious about this thing, he would have MASH units being set up all over the country to treat the rapidly growing number of cases.  This would be putting the military to good use during a time of crisis, rather than have them patrolling the borders.

I suppose the one good thing to come out of all this is that there are far less planes in the air, cars on the roads and people on the streets.  Mother Earth is breathing a big sigh of relief, and magically the canals of Venice clear up, the air feels fresher to breath and the empty streets open up new vistas.  Most European cities are only letting people out for essential work and essential trips to the stores.

But, what to do about all these lost sports?  I imagine some owners will be seeking compensation from all the lost revenue.  After all, this is a multi-billion dollar entertainment industry that has a deep hold on the public imagination.  Yet, few if any are offering compensation to the large staffs put out by this crisis.  It is the players themselves who are stepping up to pay club personnel during the lockdown.

This is also true of the airline industry, which used its tax cuts on stock buybacks, yet now is demanding a relief package in the neighborhood of $60 billion to make up for all the lost revenue.  You can't have it both ways.

Maybe this virus will help us reset our priorities?  I know that is wishful thinking but after WWII European countries created the social welfare systems we see today, hoping that a huge safety net would diminish the rise of populist figures like Mussolini, Franco and Hitler.  For the most part, it has worked these past 70 years.  Only now is it showing signs of stress with fringe figures rising to the fore.

For some reason, many Americans remain immune to common sense.  They would rather go on with the hodge-podge system we have in place rather than see a universal health care system that would greatly easy the medical worries of a nation constantly suffering from lack of health insurance.  The American Hospital Association, the American Medical Association and just about every representative association of health care providers have favored a universal payer system and eventually a universal health care system, but the private health insurance and pharmaceutical companies have actively campaigned against it.  As a result we have fewer beds per 1000 persons than most European countries.  Germany has four times more hospital beds available per capita than the US, yet it too fears the onslaught of patients if the pandemic were to infect the majority of the population.

Meanwhile, Trump seems to think he can call on the Medical A-Team whenever he needs it.  He sees no point in having these guys around when times are good.  We just subcontract these services, calling on wartime measures to meet the gaping shortfalls in our health care industry.  Imagine how much better prepared we would be if we had spent some of the money we spend on military defense each year to have a proper functioning public health care system?  After all, these are our taxpayer dollars too.

Easier to think about where Tom Brady will land or if Seattle will resign Jadeveon Clowney.  No one really wants to think about these far more pressing issues until it is too late.

Wednesday, March 18, 2020

Just give me 15 days!

Watching the stock markets over the past few weeks really makes me wonder about the savvy of investors.  For each plunge there is a corresponding buyback.  Some of these buybacks have been impressive.  The Dow soared almost 2000 points on Friday.  It's highest point increase ever. Unfortunately, the corresponding drop was even worse.  On Monday the Dow plunged nearly 3000 points.  Its lowest point drop in history.  That's a net loss of 1000 points over two trading days.  Yet, some traders are making a bundle buying at the dip and selling back at the peak, often during the same day.

After yesterday's buyback, you can expect a plunge of 1200 or more today, with the Dow dipping precariously close to 20,000.  It hasn't been that low since Trump took office in January, 2017.  It would erase all these great economic gains the Trump administration has gloated over for the past three years.  Still, Goldman Sachs says the recovery will be quick once these coronavirus fears subside.  I'm not so sure.

We don't know when the virus will run its course.  It's not your typical flu bug that ends with the first warm weather.  Coronavirus keeps spreading, while the typical flu bug has gone into hibernation for the warm months.  Some medical authorities are now saying this virus could last well into the summer, which means the markets will continue to take massive hits with quarantines in place all around the world.  How low can the stock markets go.  If 2008 and 2009 is any indication, much lower than they are now.

During the market collapse that began in October 2008 and stretched to March 2009, the Dow lost 57% of its market value.  We are about halfway there at this point.  This means we could see the Dow drop to as little as 12,800 if 2008 repeats itself.  That's a massive drop that will take months, not weeks to recover.  It took four years for the Dow to regain its losses after that huge crash.  So, Goldman Sachs is talking out its ass.

Even if we blame this massive market drop on coronavirus, it will take at least a year to assess all the damage it has caused.  Assuming the virus goes into remission at some point this summer, it will no doubt come back with a vengeance in late fall, as viruses tend to do.  This is not something that is going to be resolved anytime soon.

In the meantime, the government has to find a way to compensate all the businesses that have taken a massive hit during this time.  Some will survive, others will fail.  We will see a major reshuffling of the airline, tourist, and entertainment industries, which have suffered the worst.  The problem, as Mohamed El-Erian points out, is that the Fed has fired all its ammunition at the beginning of this crisis, meaning it will have nothing left to deal with the crisis as it deepens.  It's like the Fed is betting on this virus running its course over the next few weeks, and things will return to normal this summer.

Of course, that's the way Trump would like it.  He's imagining a stock market rebound that will see it soar to whole new heights just in time for the general election, and this damn coronavirus thing will be forgotten.

It would be much smarter to assume this bear market will last several months and offer infusions at stages, not all at once.  The same goes for traders.  If you want to recover from a 2300-point drop, don't try to buy back all that stock in one day, especially in the last 20 minutes of a trading day, as was the case on Friday.  Buy it back in increments, that way you are likely the stretch the rebound over several days.  Instead, we saw a 3000 point drop on Monday, as the same investors immediately sold back their stocks to make a quick profit.

This kind of casino mentality is going to be the ruin of the markets.  The panic has stretched into the commodity markets, with precious minerals taking huge hits as well.  This means we are seeing a massive liquidation taking place with many persons feeling they need cash on hand to deal with the prolonged shutdown of businesses.  Real estate prices are also dropping.  So far the damage has been minimal, but it will get worse before it is all over.  Gambling like this is not good for anyone, but I suppose with Las Vegas in lockdown and virtually all sports suspended, these gamblers have to find somewhere else to try their luck.

Sadly, the Trump administration has been encouraging this kind of behavior.  You don't hear much from Kudlow anymore, who was pushing investors to buy on the dips when the plunge began.  Mnuchin has launched a number of stimulus measures, which he hopes will put cash in the hands of Americans to weather the next two weeks of quarantine, but not much after that.  Maybe if more money was going to health care services they could deal with the pandemic better?  Instead, much of the White House thinking is centered on how to revive the markets.

We need to bite the bullet here and accept the fact that millions of Americans will get coronavirus.  There is no practical way to contain it at this point.  So far, the attempt has been to "flatten the curve" until more beds and respirators are available at hospitals to deal with the rise in patients.  In other words, by putting everyone in lockdown medical authorities are hoping that they can spread the number of cases over a longer span of time so as not to overwhelm health care providers. The vast majority of victims will recover.  Most of them quickly.  The patients most at risk are the elderly, where the mortality rate is dangerously high as witnessed at this Kirkland nursing home in Washington.

Unfortunately, the Trump administration is incapable of long term response.  What we are seeing is a pathetic attempt at damage control from Trump and his media surrogates.  Unlike his awful response to Hurricane Maria, which ravaged Puerto Rico, this time the entire nation is being impacted.  He can't sweep this virus under the rug, as much as he would like to.

What if anything comes out of it remains to be seen.  Congress bickers over a relief bill with Democrats wanting more money for medical relief and Republicans wanting more money for businesses.  What this pandemic has amply illustrated is how poorly prepared we were for it, despite having had similar scares in the past 10 years.  This administration chose to disband the White House pandemic response team, making us all the more vulnerable for an outbreak like this.  His administration is still insisting on cuts to the understaffed CDC.

It's little wonder we are seeing this volatility on Wall St, with the mixed messages coming out of the White House and no clear plan for how to deal with the crisis.  The Trump administration is literally dealing with the outbreak on 15-day cyclical guidelines, hoping it will go away sooner rather than later.

Saturday, March 14, 2020

That's a Nasty Question

Leave it to PBS to disrupt a well-choreographed press briefing in the final half hour of stock trading Friday with a nasty question.  Trump had spent his ten minutes trying to dismiss allegations that the White House had been slow to respond to COVID-19 when Yamiche Alcindor had the audacity to ask the president why he shut down the pandemic team in 2018.  Trump wants the public to believe he's in the process of making the CDC and National Security Council more responsive to pandemics given the failures of past administrations, when in fact he's the one who decided to dismiss the White House pandemic team put in place by the Obama administration.

Back in December 2016, Ed Yong wrote in The Atlantic what might happen if a pandemic broke out under a Trump administration.  He wasn't far off.  Trump hasn't declared martial law, but he has declared a national emergency, closed off air traffic from Europe, and tried to keep infected cruise ships from docking in California.  Not only that but he now threatens to cut off the West Coast entirely from the US, in a draconian attempt to contain the virus.  It doesn't matter that Ohio has already estimated as many as 100,000 cases could exist in its state, but until now hasn't had the means to test its residents.

Trump could have made test kits available weeks ago, but it appears he wanted to downplay the number of cases fearing the impact such a panic would have on his vaunted economy and in turn his re-election bid.  Wall Street panicked just the same, leading to a 20+ percent drop across the top stock exchanges, including a 28 percent drop in the Dow, which stood at 21,800 on Thursday after a huge selloff.

With Futures pointing up for Friday, the President wanted to give the Dow a shot in the arm, offering a number of false promises and a so-called stimulus plan, which led to a 1300 point surge in the last 20 minutes of trading to push the day close to a 2000 point gain ending the week off on a positive note. You really have to wonder where all this money came from?  It doesn't matter as we are likely to see another selloff on Monday, when the hollowness of his economic initiatives sink in over the weekend.

Like it or not, we are now fully in a recession.  The only question is how bad.  I was listening to CNBC last night, and one of the commentators showed how the market graph over the past three weeks all too closely resembled that of 2008.  We see all these jagged peaks and valleys but the downward decline remains.  No one seems to think we have reached the bottom.

As more and more cases are reported over the next two weeks, now that states have coronavirus testing kits, you can bet the panic will increase.  The only saving grace is that Spring is upon us and that the virus will likely subside in April and go into hibernation over the summer.  That doesn't mean it won't come back with a vengeance next fall, as was the case with the Spanish Flu back in 1918, killing more people the second time around.  The only question is will we be prepared?

Trump being Trump he is more likely to consider the case closed once the virus starts to diminish.  Stocks will most likely start to rebound as investors feel safe again, and by midsummer the president will  be telling us what a great job he did in battling coronavirus.  One hazards to guess how many lives will have been lost in the process.

You have to hand it to Dr. Fauci and other doctors at the National Institute of Health and CDC for walking the fine line between warning Americans of the severity of the pandemic and massaging Trump's ego.  Necessary if you want to keep your job under this president, who got another clean bill of health from the new White House physician despite having come in contact with persons exposed to the coronavirus.  In fact, the president is regarded healthy as a horse by his surgeon general.

All these lies and deceits are piling up, but the Dow took what the president had to say as positive on Friday and he can go back to the links secure in his view that the stock markets are back on track, at least until Monday.  No more nasty questions please.

Wednesday, March 11, 2020

Snake Eyes

Probably the guy getting the hardest hit right is the Donald, with the stock markets all over the place.  After all, this was his baby.  He's been boasting ever since Election Night that he owns the Dow.  It went on a massive bull run his first year in office, peaking at 26,600 on January 26, 2018.  We heard his gloating to no end, but here we are more than two years later and the Dow sits at 25,020, thanks to an 1160 point surge yesterday after the big sell off on Monday.

Trump isn't gloating anymore.  His finance team is offering a number of quick fixes in an effort to instill confidence in the market.  However, it seems traders are only taking advantage of the volatility by buying low one day and selling off the next.  Futures were down over 500 points last night, which means we will see another big selloff today.

You live by the Dow, you die by the Dow.  Economists have long warned not to take the Dow as a measure of economic success.  However, our dear president would like to have it both ways.  When it is up, he takes all the credit.  When it is down he blames it on fears stoked by the fake news.

The Fed's attempts to appease him by lowering prime rates and introducing quantitative easing have done little to allay worries on Wall Street.  Last summer, the economy appeared to be solid, which led Jerome Powell to raise the prime rate incrementally, but it turned out to be too fragile, and he cut rates this past winter, which pushed the Dow up to the point it finally might break the magic 30,000 barrier.  However, the bottom fell out when news of the coronavirus hit, and the Dow sunk over 6000 points in a matter of two weeks.

However, this goes far beyond the coronavirus and to a gambling mentality that seized the stock markets not much unlike 2008.  Stocks similarly were enjoying great peaks before finally crashing in October.  Now as then, supply far exceeds demand, proving once again that supply-side economics doesn't work.  This has been championed ever since Reagan's time by Republicans, presuming supply creates its own demand.

What it creates is a very volatile market place that favors gamblers who have money to burn.  Coronavirus simply exposed the numbers game being played here.  We had an economy that was riding high on a wave of false expectations.  This is what you get when you put together a finance team comprised of venture capitalists and Fox economic advisers, who encourage traders to buy on the dips rather than offering any kind of long term investment strategy.

The Trump White House is finally having to deal with the prospect of a major recession on the horizon, presenting a number of quick fixes that they hope will stabilize the economy and allow him to pass the recession onto the next guy.  His finance team is floating a payroll tax cut, not much unlike that Obama offered in his stimulus package back in 2009.  However, Obama also demanded tighter regulations to rein in the rampant speculation taking place so that the markets would have time to adjust to the lower expectations.  This is something Team Trump is not willing to do.

So, we are right back where we were in 2008 with an economy spinning wildly out of control and the wrong people pulling the levers desperately hoping to bring it back under control.  We can only hope that some of the Obama-era safeguards remain in place so it won't be as devastating a blow this time around.

Whatever the case, Trump's days are numbered.  There is little likelihood he will be able to stave off a recession over the next eight months, which means all that consumer confidence goes out the window.  You can see in his demeanor that he has neither the wits nor the energy to do anything about it.  Events are swirling beyond his ability to spin them in his favor.  So, he does what any cornered politician would do, lash out at the media.

Judging by the sudden surge in Joe Biden's candidacy, sweeping the vast majority of the states over the last two Tuesdays, people want a return to normalcy.  Although this "secret governing plan" has been roundly panned by the media, Democratic voters clearly favor the idea.  Biden took Michigan by a whopping 16 points over Sanders, all but laying Bernie's social revolution to rest.  This was Bernie's last ditch effort to remain a viable challenger.  Even in liberal Washington, Bernie clings to a razor thin lead, with only 2000 votes separating him from Biden with 67 percent of the precincts reporting.

This does not bode well for Trump, who has let it be known on twitter what he thinks of the whole process.  He desperately wanted to square off against the Democratic Socialist Sanders in the general election, not the Affable Joe Biden.

Well, this is a mess of his own making.  If Trump hadn't put so much pressure on the Fed last year to cut rates, worked out his back door deal with Saudi Arabia to flood the market with oil or continued to spend money like there is no tomorrow, racking up over $3 trillion in budget deficits in three years, we might actually have a very stable economy.  Instead, he played the market like he played his casinos, coming up snake eyes.

Friday, March 6, 2020

The Comeback Kid

It's been a crazy week.  Joe Biden is now officially The Comeback Kid with truly one of the biggest turnarounds in campaign history.  All but forgotten two weeks go, Joe is now the clear frontrunner with Bernie scrambling to stay in the race.  It reminds me a bit of 2004 when John Kerry was able to so quickly consolidate the Democratic vote and send Howard Dean packing.  I just hope the final result isn't the same.  Kerry lost to Bush in the general election.

I was never excited about either Joe or Bernie.  I thought both should have sat out this election, but it seems voters want a well-known name and aren't willing to take any chances on newcomers.  Bernie's revolution played out as expected.  His 2016 candidacy was largely predicated on resistance to Hillary's nomination, not a sea change in American politics.  It did help spur the campaigns of young progressive candidates in the 2018 Midterms, so that is very positive, but otherwise he was really nothing more than another Ron Paul.

As for Joe, what can one say?  Let's just hope he holds it together, avoiding any major gaffes and picking a VP that helps bind the fractured party together.  My pick would be Kamala Harris, but then progressives probably want someone more in line with their views like Liz Warren.  However, he needs youth to help balance the ticket.

Meanwhile, the Trump administration is scrambling to deal with the nasty coronavirus spreading across the country and a stock market in panic mode.  After a precipitous 4000-point drop last week, it has been all over the place this week.  Net result, a Dow once inching close to the magic number of 30,000 now sits at 26,120 and is likely to take another tumble today.

Rate cuts and quantitative easing have yielded no positive results.  Jerome Powell seems a man completely lost as what to do next.  He is repeating all the same mistakes made by the Fed during the Bush administration in an effort to stave off the inevitable. It is better to prepare for a recession instead of keep trying to hedge against it.  Of course, His Trumpness will have no recession on his watch, so Powell is stuck between a rock and a hard place.

I don't think it is so much the coronavirus that is battering stocks as it is the ineptitude of governments, particularly the US government, to deal with the potential pandemic.  Trump had cut funding and staffing to the Center of Disease Control over the years, leaving it a virtual empty shell of what it once was.  Now, he is scrambling to put it back together under the helm of Mike Pence.  This is probably the worst choice he could have made -- a religious nut who dismissed previous health scares and has no clue how to manage one that is spreading so rapidly.  One can only hope there are better minds on the task force itself.

Washington has been the hardest hit state given its strong Asian connection.  The most deaths have been reported in the Seattle metropolitan area.  However, many states are now reporting cases after the conservative media tried to politicize coronavirus as a "Democrat disease," whose only purpose is to bring down the president.  Trump hasn't helped himself with some of the outlandish comments he has made in recent days.

As the disease spreads, and is no longer confined to the Asian community, fears spread with it.  Trump tried to downplay the mortality rate, which the World Health Organization estimates at 3.4 percent.  This is a significant increase over an earlier 2 percent.  Of course, this is largely due to the excessive mortality rates in China and Iran.  In Japan and South Korea, both hard hit, the mortality rate is much lower.  Still, the thought of so many persons potentially losing their lives is very scary!

Israel claims it will have a vaccine within weeks, but this is largely political posturing on Dr. Bibi's part.  Japan appears to have had the most success in containing the virus as we look for answers as to how to deal with its spread.  Don't expect anything out of the Mike Pence task force anytime soon, although Trump assures us it will all be over by April.  He's had President Xi's assurance on this.

Like politics, viruses mutate and form new strains.  Some more devastating than others.  The Republican Party has been completely taken over by the Trump virus, but the Democrats have managed to hold the Bernie virus in check and now appear to be curtailing it all together, thanks to the trusty old Biden virus that appears immune to anything.

How Joe pulled off his Super Tuesday landslide will be the stuff of lore for years to come.  It was largely thanks to a huge groundswell of Black Democrats in the South, but Joe also scored big in Massachusetts. Maine and Minnesota, and held his own in California.  He beat Bernie across the board, including cutting into his super majority in Vermont.  Bernie had over 80 percent of the vote in his home state in 2016, but barely more than 50 percent this time around.

Probably the most telling state is Minnesota.  If Bernie had any hope of winning the nomination it was scoring big in the Midwest.  That's why he is now exerting all his energies in Michigan, giving up on the South where he failed to gain any traction.  It's all the more difficult for him with the centrist candidates supporting Biden.  Liz has yet to come out in support of Bernie, and may not do so given the acrimony that arose between them over the last few weeks.

Bernie is once again all alone.  The beautiful loser that attracts Hollywood liberals like Susan Sarandon and radical representatives like AOC.  That's pretty much the story of his life.  A man forever destined to be on the outside looking in.  That's what happens when you model your campaign upon beautiful losers of the past like Eugene Debs.

Socialists work best at the local and state level.  It is virtually impossible to get a significant groundswell across the country to propel you to the presidency.  Debs' best showing was 3.4 percent on his fifth try for President in 1920, and this during a time when there was so much labor unrest in the country.  Today, most persons are relatively content.  What we are looking for is not a revolution, but rather how to fill the cracks that many people fall through. This is why AOC does well in her New York borough and Ilhan Omar in her Minnesota district.  They represent those who aren't getting a fair shake, and making their voices heard.

The idea that this kind of localized angst would spill over into a national movement was patently absurd, but fed by the likes of Michael Moore who thought Bernie would ignite this great passion.  However, Bernie was never more than Howard Beale, giving his voice to many dissatisfied Americans, particularly young Americans, but only enough to generate television news ratings, not the votes he needed to win the nomination.

Why he even ran as a Democrat is beyond me, given he always strongly identified himself as an Independent.  I guess he wanted to show that he was a good sport.  He would see how far his ideas would take him inside the party and then no more.  He didn't want to risk being blamed for helping elect Trump.

Unfortunately, he has generated such a fanatical base that many will probably turn their backs on the Democratic Party once and for all, determined to find the next beautiful loser to voice their angst.  Maybe Susan will run for President in 2024.  More likely, you will see a stronger progressive caucus emerge within the Democratic Party, pinning their hopes on an AOC candidacy in 2028.

What most Americans want right now is normalcy. They are tired of the orange blob in the White House and long for a return to someone who isn't going to constantly be embarrassing the nation.  Joe is prone to gaffes, but at least he apologizes for them.  Donald doubles down.  The big question now is who Joe picks as his running mate.  James Clyburn, who has emerged as the kingmaker, says it should be a woman.  Who is anyone's guess, lets just hope Joe doesn't blow it.

Sunday, February 23, 2020

Fear and Loathing on the Campaign Trail 2020

I didn't see that one coming.  I thought Bernie would pull off Nevada but not by 30 points.  It was a slaughter, with the moderates left to pick up the scraps in the state.  I'm fascinated by all these Latinos and Blacks turning Bernie's way.  I don't know what they expect to gain from his nomination, but I guess they think some of his "Democratic Socialism" will trickle their way.

Bernie appears to have tapped into the same deep-seated anxieties among Social Liberals that Trump was able to tap among Religious Conservatives last time around, but is it enough to carry him through the primaries and beyond?  Many Democrats have taken the maximalist position on health care.  They want to see a single-payer system that has been dubbed "Medicare for All."

On the surface, it only seems fair.  We pay into Social Security and Medicare with our very first paychecks, but aren't able to collect until we have one foot in the grave.  In the meantime, we have to sock money away in 401K plans and cover our health insurance, despite the 15 percent cut the federal government takes from every paycheck in the form of Federal Insurance Contributions or FICA for short.  As a young person, you wonder if it will be there waiting for you when you turn 66 years and 2 months, the current official age of retirement.  Assuming, of course, you live that long.

However, it takes much more than just providing universal health insurance to bring medical costs down.  The federal government has to control the entire health care system.  What Bernie doesn't tell his supporters is that most hospitals in Europe are public.  Doctors, nurses and administration staff are paid through the government.  The pharmaceutical industry is similarly state controlled.  It would require a huge overhaul of our health care industry, which just isn't going to happen.  Not in our lifetimes anyway.

In fact, Bernie doesn't tell you much of anything.  He just plays on emotions and has managed to channel these emotions into votes.  Democrats are falling prey to the same "exaggerated hyperbole" Trump so effectively used on the Campaign Trail 2016.  Bernie has no plan, just a bottomless well of ideas that he trots out at rallies to stir the masses.

Now, I'm all for thinking big but you have to offer a path to get there.  Liz, bless her heart, has done that but she has failed to gain anywhere near the groundswell of support that Bernie has.  It seems no one wants to get bogged down in details, or hear Joe, Amy and Pete tell you how impractical it all is.  This makes it very easy for Bernie, who likes to claim these progressive ideas as his own even though they have been floating around for decades.

The problem comes in November.  What turned many persons to Trump in 2016 was all the unrest on the streets.  Bernie threatens to make it an even more raucous convention this time around with all his Berniecrats dictating the platform. This is eerily reminiscent of 1972 when George McGovern offered a very progressive platform only to see major dissent in the ranks and a huge victory for Richard Nixon in the general election.

Given that there are a whole lot of folks that don't like Trump, this opens the door for a third party candidate who would appeal to Independent voters and moderates of both stripes, who make up the lion's share of the electorate.  Bloomberg is ready to fill that vacuum.  You think he will honor that pledge he made last month if he sees all those voters just waiting for a moderate candidate to steer them between the Scylla a Charybdis of American politics?  I highly doubt it.

Bernie is too high on his "revolution" to see the ramifications of his nomination.  In a three-way race with winner-take-all in virtually every state,  the Trump campaign must really like its chances at this point.

As I have said before Bernie should have never run this time around.  There were plenty of younger candidates to carry his presumed mantel, but he chose to ignore them.  He made this election all about himself, even if he likes to tell his rabid supporters it is about them.  Only he can give them what they want.  Sound familiar?

It's really hard to figure these campaigns.  Emotions give way to anxieties and there is very little sense to be made of it all.  To think that Democratic voters would favor a 78-year-old curmudgeon over much younger, more dynamic candidates is a real mystery.  Why for instance didn't Latinos get behind the much more sensible and articulate Julian Castro?  Why didn't Blacks get behind Kamala Harris or Cory Booker? Why aren't women supporting Liz Warren or Amy Klobuchar? Why aren't white men voting for Joe Biden?  What is it in Bernie that they see?

Your guess is as good as mine. To me, Bernie is just a big bag of hot air, but he has been able to touch a nerve and now we have to brace ourselves for his possible nomination.  It's still not too late, but the alternatives are equally frightening -- a 78-year-old megabillionaire and a 78-year-old shameless politician inventing stories of being arrested when he went to visit Nelson Mandela in South Africa.

What's wrong with Pete or Liz or even Amy?  Are they too bland?  Or, do we just call out the elephant in the room and admit that most Democrats don't think a gay man or straight woman can beat Donald Trump so they will vote for Bernie or Joe or Mike instead.  This is truly sad, and represents the end of the Democratic Party as we know it.

We have let ourselves become ruled by our fears and loathing, so wrapped up in this idea that if we don't get Trump out of office the world as we know it will come to an end.  We no longer look at the alternatives with a clear eye.  We discarded so many viable candidates without even a glance.  We have let ourselves become completely governed by our emotions, easy victims of the grotesque reality show that television and social media have become.  This has become "bat country."

Friday, February 21, 2020

The Night Mayor Bloom Lost His Cool

It remains to be seen whether Liz Warren stuck a dagger in the heart of Mayor Bloomberg's "unpresidented" financially "yuge" campaign, but it does appear he took a big hit Wednesday night.  Anyone who thought the former New York Mayor and Megabillionaire would be the "man of the people" was sorely disappointed.  Old Bloom was just himself -- an arrogant billionaire who thought he could buy an election like he did in New York.

Liz wasn't the only one to go after him.  All the Democrats did.  What's worse is that Bloomberg just stood there rolling his eyes, unable to offer any witty retort as he made no effort to prepare for the debate.  As expected, he tried to spin the debate the next day as a "win," but no one was buying it, except the facebook advertisement department.

He's literally pouring a million dollars per day into facebook ads in an effort to win over the imaginary facebook audience.  His effort to make him look hip by paying influencers to post memes expressing his coolness hasn't exactly paid off.  Anyone can post a meme, flattering or unflattering.  It doesn't matter how much money you pour into your campaign, you have to find a way to seize the public imagination.  This is what won it for Trump back in 2016, and he didn't even have to pay for it.

To this point, Bloomberg has far outspent what Trump spent on his entire campaign four years ago, and other than a temporary blip in the national polls, he hasn't seemed to gain much traction.  The only saving grace is that he is not on the ballot in Nevada, so he can brush off the caucus this weekend and keep his beady little eyes focused on Super Tuesday.

The debate however was a disaster.  No one thought he did well, not even those who would be sympathetic to him.  He was torn apart from the get-go and his feeble responses did little to restore confidence in him.  Liz continued her withering attack the next day, basically saying that it is Mayor Bloom who should go home, and not the rest of the Democratic field, so that he can fight it out with Bernie Sanders for the remainder of the primaries.

The ironic part, as Mayor Pete pointed out, is that neither he nor Bernie are Democrats.  They only registered as Democrats to run in the primaries.  Bernie switched back to being an Independent after his failed bid in 2016 only to re-register as a Democrat when he chose to run again in 2019.  Mayor Bloom registered as a Democrat for the first time last year.

Bloomberg probably wouldn't even be in the race had not Liz announced her wealth tax last October.  Within days, Bloomberg announced his campaign fearing a Warren presidency would take a devastating toll on his wealth.  By her "wealth tax calculator," he stood to lose over $3 billion.  Why not spend that money on his own presidential run?  He's been toying with the idea for the past two decades.

For whatever reason, Liz lost her momentum in the following months and her campaign appeared to be dying on the vine.  However, she re-emerged Wednesday night as a formidable contender, declared the clear debate winner in virtually all media outlets.  She just needed someone to go after like Mayor Bloom.

Unfortunately, Bernie escaped the debate with nary a scratch.  Pete threw a few barbs at him, but nothing that stuck.  The former South Bend mayor had to fend off Amy Klobuchar, who has been nipping at his heels for months.  However, this time she failed to leave any marks, and most likely will fade in the upcoming primaries and drop out by Super Tuesday.  As for Biden, he might as well not shown up for the little impact he made on the debate.

Bloomberg would have been better advised to take a pass on the debate as well, as he was clearly unprepared for the grilling that took place.  This is surprising since his campaign team had to know Liz would go after him.  She said so herself.  Instead, they just went into damage control mode.

One never knows how things will turn.  Trump didn't do well in the Republican primary debates either, as his Friends at Fox reminded him, and yet still emerged as the nominee.  There are a lot of people who think that only with Bloomberg's money do the Democrats stand a chance in November.  It's not likely that he will bankroll another candidate after the beating he took Wednesday night, and who would want his endorsement anyway.  So, Bloom has no choice but to gut it out and hope that Democrats will choose his acute business sense over the social programs the other Democrats are promising.

Whatever the case, the veil has been lifted for all to see.  Liz summed it up best, "Democrats take a huge risk if we just substitute one arrogant billionaire for another."  Mayor Bloom is not the answer.

Monday, February 17, 2020

Victory lap

With his Senate acquittal, Trump literally takes a victory lap around Daytona, only to have the race postponed due to rain.  Nancy was sure to remind everyone that the stain of his impeachment can not be removed, but as far as our attention-grabbing president is concerned it no longer matters.  He is now free to do whatever he wants, and made sure to purge those pesky members of his administration who refused to heed his order not to testify so that there will be less rats in the kitchen.

Like so many descents into autocracy, what appears comical at first increasingly becomes more tragic. There are still enough checks and balances to keep his administration relatively contained, but the big fear is that if Trump were to be re-elected in the Fall, that oversight would diminish to a whisper.  Not only would he be able to stack the federal courts with favorable judges but turn the Department of Justice into his Ministry of Vengeance, seeking charges on all those who he believes conspired against him.  Attorney General Barr is already doing so.  It would all be in the name of national security, which Alan Dershowitz has told us is AOK.  A president has the right to protect himself in the name of the people.

The Trump administration has already done a great amount of damage at the federal level and threatens to do much more.  His budget proposal for 2021 would shift vast sums of money from domestic programs to national security, essentially militarizing our country and its borders the way a South American dictator would do.  At a whopping $4.8 trillion, we would see yet another trillion dollar debt increase, as this administration and its Republican cohorts in Congress have made no attempt to balance the budget during his tenure.  All those worries about a ballooning national debt during the Obama years appear to be suspended, as Republicans had no problem raising the debt limit with Trump in the White House.

You don't even hear much from conservative economic advisors.  Federal Reserve Chairman Powell continues to cut interest rates, despite his initial resistance to do so.  This is a stimulus measure.  If we had a strong economy, Powell wouldn't need to be doing this.  However, he received so much pressure from the Trump administration that he eventually relented, much like Greenspan did with Bush back in the early 2000s.

What the Trump White House had hoped to replicate was the huge economic boom that occurred between 2004 and 2006.  Ben Bernanke had warned against this approach, but by the time he took over from Greenspan it was too late.  Congress had freed up the banks and other lending institutions to provide as many home and business loans as possible to help create the "ownership society" George W. Bush imagined.  All these bad loans finally came due, but as is so often the case the borrowers are blamed and not the banks.  Everything would have been just fine if we turned over Federal Housing Finance Agency to Bush's administration.

Obviously, we don't learn from our mistakes.  All those foreclosures allowed real estate developers like Trump to pick up vast amounts of property on the cheap thanks to bank fire sales.  These banks can always apply to the government for bailouts to cover the shortfall, as they did in 2008.  Too big to fail, they said, well here we go again.

It doesn't do any good to sound the alarm because no one is listening.  Trump supporters have their heads so far up their asses they couldn't hear an air-raid siren at this point.  They will vote for Trump and their MAGA legislators come hell or high water.  For them, it is more important to protect unborn babies and keep gays out of wedding chapels and lock down our borders against nasty immigrants.

They don't seem to realize that the level of mendacity among businessmen of all stripes is so high now that not even trailer parks are safe.  These guys will literally buy up anything that turns a profit, leaving the vast majority of Americans, Republican and Democrat alike, fighting over whatever scraps are left available.  More and more Americans find themselves living on the edge of poverty, but woe be it to anyone to suggest providing a bigger economic safety net. That would be Socialism!

Mostly, we have to eliminate the predatory lending practices that put so many persons on the edge of economic ruin.  If you truly want to make America great again, reduce the number of temptations that increase the risk of personal bankruptcy.  Personal debt is enormous, and some of this debt is impossible to get out from under even if you do declare bankruptcy.

Student loans are a prime example.  Rather than easing this ever-increasing personal debt by offering some form of debt forgiveness, Trump's 2021 budget would eliminate public service loan forgiveness, and no longer provide any subsidies while still in school.  You would be responsible for the accruing interest from day one, where before this interest was covered by the government until you completed school, and deferments given depending on your economic situation after completion.  It's not likely that this mendacious plan will get through the House, but it is worth noting how this administration thinks.

For all the talk of taking back the government for the people, this horrendous budget lays bare Trump's pernicious greed for all to see, at least for those who choose to do so.  Many will simply see it is tightening the reins, not taking into account that these domestic cuts aren't being used to reduce the annual deficit, but rather transfer the money to other parts of the budget, which government contractors can more easily exploit.  By labeling anyone who calls him out as "fake news," he assures that his blind followers will take him at his word on twitter.

For Trump, the world is his stage and he has proven remarkably adept at convincing just enough persons to allow him to keep this reality show going.  He survived a Senate trial not because conservative senators thought he was innocent, but because they were willing to look the other way to maintain their own seats in Congress.  Trump has so thoroughly taken over the Republican Party that there are very few Republicans left to challenge him.  William Weld continues his fruitless campaign in the Republican primaries, and Mitt Romney became a national hero by voting for Trump's impeachment on the first article of abuse of power, but that's about it.

As long as he can keep the Democrats fighting among themselves and unsure as to what position to take in regard to a party platform, he ensures a low voter turnout next fall.  Disgruntled Democrats simply won't turn up at the polls.  That certainly seems to be the case among Black and Latino voters, who have virtually no choices left that represent their best interests.

Not that his current poll standing can't change at the drop of a flag. We have seen his fortunes rise and fall throughout his tenure.  For now, Trump can smile gleefully out the window of the Beast as it takes a victory lap around the Daytona motor speedway, knowing that many Americans live vicariously through him.  As long as he continues to play on their wish fulfillment, he has their votes in his back pocket.

Saturday, February 15, 2020

How fortunes have turned!

Many Americans have fallen in love with billionaires.  I don't know if it is because they like to believe some of that enormous fortune will trickle down to them, or if they imagine themselves rich one day and want the same tax breaks and other favors these billionaires get to live essentially rent-free in the state of their choice.

The number of politicians and pundits endorsing Bloomberg has continued to grow.  The former mayor of the Big Apple is joining Stacey Abrams at a voting rights event in Georgia, where one presumes he will formally receive her endorsement.  She is a rising star in the Democratic Party after her hard-fought campaign for governor of the state in 2018, which she narrowly lost.  Many wanted her to run against David Perdue for a Senate seat, but she deferred.  Bloomberg also recently picked up Sam Donaldson's vote of confidence, whatever that's worth these days.

Super Tuesday is shaping up to be boom or bust for Mike Bloomberg.  He has placed all his money on a big showing the first Tuesday in March, where 14 states, the territory of American Samoa and Democrats Abroad go to the polls to vote.  The biggest prizes are California and Texas, but a lot of Southern states will be voting where Bloomberg expects to do well.  He received the endorsement of the Alabama Democratic Party, led by Joe Reed.

It seems Black Democratic leaders, who initially favored Biden as the man who could beat Trump, are now laying their bets on Mayor Bloom.  It largely appears to be a case of pragmatics, as it is hard to believe there is much enthusiasm in supporting a guy who promoted the notorious stop and frisk law as Mayor of New York.  The same law that led to the death of Eric Garner in 2014 by strangulation.  The former mayor has since apologized, but this is very much akin to Clinton apologizing for his notorious crime bill, which Hillary had to pay the price for during her 2016 presidential run.  You can expect a very low Black voter turnout come next November if Mayor Bloomberg is the Democratic nominee for President.

You can probably expect a low Black and Hispanic voter turnout regardless, as none of the candidates have appealed very much to minorities in this country.  It's not like they haven't tried, but there is nothing in their political records to suggest any close affinity, as there was for Bill Clinton and Barack Obama.  This election will largely come down to white voters, unless somehow Bernie, Pete or Amy find a way to tap into this deeply frustrated minority electorate.

Even among white voters, you are not likely to see a huge turnout among Millennials if it is Bloom v. Trump on the ballot in November.  So far, the only candidate Millennials have really warmed up to is Bernie.  Some are beginning to look at Pete more closely, but for the most part it has been meh.  This means this election strongly favors Trump if the vote comes down to white people born before 1980.

What had seemed like a very promising election is devolving rapidly into one that looks very much like 2004.  With all this deflating energy, Democrats will have a hard time holding onto the House of Representatives, much less win the Senate despite the high number of Republican Senators up for re-election.  They need to do something quick to re-ignite the fire among their voting base, lest they find themselves stuck with a billionaire con man of their own to go up against the Man of Teflon.

I guess I will have to learn to play Plutocracy: The Game, as that appears to be where we are headed if Democrats actually think this pint-sized billionaire is the answer to Donald Trump.

Thursday, February 13, 2020

A kiss is just a kiss

Euphemisms abound when trying to come up with reasons not to like Pete Buttigieg.  Sister Amy Klobuchar keeps harping on his "inexperience."  Joe Biden has started to mock it, hoping to channel his Lloyd Bentsen moment.   At least Bernie Sanders went after Pete's "wine cave" donations. But, they are all hinting at the same thing - Pete won't win because no one will vote for an openly gay president.

That might have been the case ten or twenty years ago, but today being gay is no longer a liability.  We have our first openly gay governor, and we have a whole host of LGBT members in Congress.  Mainstream Americans obviously no longer seem to mind, but when you are looking for faults the unprecedented nature of Mayor Pete's run raises eyebrows.

The young former mayor of South Bend, Indiana, is by far the most articulate of all the candidates, he also appears to be the least ruffled by attacks.  The guy is unflappable, and he's banking on that to carry him through this nomination process.

Bernie and Liz have topped out at 35 per cent.  That's their voting share in Iowa and New Hampshire and it's not likely to get much higher in other states.  By contrast, 55 per cent of Democrats voted for moderate candidates in Pete, Joe and Amy.  If this was a two-person race between Bernie and Pete, the young mayor would win handily, but Joe refuses to concede and Amy believes she has "Klomentum" thanks to the endless plugging on CNN.  I believe it was Chris Cuomo who coined this ridiculous term.

Nevertheless, Pete continues to exceed all expectations.  He was expected to be no better than third in Iowa, and even after his surprise win he wasn't expected to challenge Bernie in New Hampshire, yet he came within 1.5 percentage points of the crusty old Vermont senator, and earned the same number of delegates.  Sound familiar?  That's exactly what Barack Obama did in 2008.

If Pete could somehow convince Joe and Amy to join him, they could easily save the Democratic Party from the vaccuous windbag Bernie.  The guy is an idealogue of the worst sort.  He refuses to concede his ignorance on any point, including the term "Democratic Socialist," which he claims to be in the European mold.  There are no Democratic Socialists in Europe.  There are Social Democrats (a more benign term) and they lead many European countries providing the social health and welfare network he champions on the campaign trail.

European men, gay or straight, aren't afraid to kiss each other in public.  Being gay is not a barrier.  There are currently three openly gay prime ministers in Europe, including the Prime Minister of Ireland.  President Pete would be in good company.

Bernie is so incredibly out of touch it's laughable, but like the crusty old uncle or grand dad in the family, no one says anything.  He's never once shown how he would get all his progressive legislation through Congress, and this from a man who has been sitting in the Senate for 14 years.  There is no way Congress will ever approve "Medicare for All," largely because we have 50 separate health care systems in this country.  One for every state.  Try to imagine the logistics in imposing such a comprehensive health care system on a country of 350 million people?  Bernie certainly hasn't.

By contrast, Pete offers a more pragmatic approach, dare I say like that of Obama, to augment the existing health care system.  Basically, all the next Democratic President has to do is strengthen the Affordable Care Act, which Trump and the Republicans have worked so hard to undermine, and most Americans will be happy.

From the get-go, our country was founded on the idea of a symbiotic relationship between government and private industry.  Alexander Hamilton outlined this relationship in his Report on Manufactures submitted to Congress in 1791.  There have been attempts to institute a broader federal government after the Civil War, during the Great Depression and  after the Civil Rights Act.  It succeeded in part, as we have a comprehensive health, education and welfare system underwritten by federal, state and local governments.  It is nothing like our European allies, but it works somehow.  Some states better than others.

That's the way most Americans want it, and that has been made perfectly clear in Iowa and New Hampshire.  This great "revolution" Bernie promised failed to materialize at the polls.  He failed to bring in any new voters beyond those he claimed to introduce in 2016.  What we have are the same Bernie Bros and Sistras pitching their poorly informed idea of a socialist government overhaul that the vast majority of Americans don't want.

If Bernie had been smart, he would have tried to educate Americans as to the meaning of the health and welfare system he imagines, but what we have found out is that he is not the great professor, but just another snake oil salesman who has finally been exposed.  You aren't going to make sweeping changes in this country without offering a practical path toward this new social welfare system he and his democratic socialist cohorts have championed.  It's all smoke and mirrors.

Most voters have seen through it, but quite a few cling to it.  So, who is the best candidate to unite the party and move forward?  It certainly isn't Joe Biden, who as James Carville pointed out, "hasn't roped a cow yet," referring to his previous failed presidential runs.  Amy maybe?  She certainly has become the media darling in the wake of Liz Warren's collapse.  The only viable candidate left is Pete Buttigieg, but no one wants to admit it, not even James Carville.

Of course, there are a few who hold out for Mike Bloomberg's triumphant entry into the race on Super Tuesday, but this will be a huge belly flop.  The guy has bought tons of airtime and has managed to convince more than a few political pundits that he's the man.  But, like Bernie,  he's not a Democrat.  He's a Republican turned Independent running as a Democrat in a pathetic attempt to draw attention to himself at the expense of Trump.

The only guy who has the temperament to be president is Pete Buttigieg.  I would argue that Liz Warren and Amy Klobuchar also have the temperament to be president, but the election isn't swinging their way.  It is swinging Pete's way, and the sooner we realize it the better for all of us.  This is a guy Americans can unite around, at least most Americans, and send that orange-haired fop in the White House into retirement, preferably at a federal penitentiary.