Archive for March 2020

Will November Come Soon Enough?

March 28, 2020

During the Coronavirus pandemic, one of the higher rated television broadcasts is the daily White House Covid-19 briefing.  Featuring President Trump and Vice President Pence along with a supporting cast of experts like Dr Anthony Fauci to flunkies like Peter Navarro, the program could be just as well seen as an expose “one step forward, two steps backward”.

Normally the President takes center stage and riffs about what heroic actions in the last 24 hours he has taken or directed to be taken, and how optimistic he is that the outcomes will be “better than what most people are predicting”. 

Vice President Pence follows with as many honey coated words as he can muster, thanking everyone from healthcare providers to “the men and women” in uniforms to (without fail) President Trump (for his brilliant and decisive leadership).  Others like Drs Fauci and Birx are called forward to actually relay facts and truths about the pandemic.

The self proclaimed “war time” leader, President Trump, routinely demonstrates a novel method of leadership.  The President boast about himself and his unsupported theories about the pandemic.  The President consistently predicts outcomes that none of his fact driven subordinates can verify.

The average briefing script goes like this. 

  • President – “Covid-19 was unpredicted, no one could have seen it coming, and is by far the worst pandemic in history.  Or, this Administration is working tirelessly and developing plans to make testing available to everyone and PPE supplies for anyone that needs them.  Or, this Administration is responding better and faster than any other Administration before it.  And, if possible, problem Z or shortage Y were problems left by the Obama Administration and my Administration is fixing them.
  • Vice President Pence – “I just want to thank you Mr President for your decisive leadership in this grave matter”.
  • Special Assistant Peter Navarro (the I never met a tariff I didn’t like) – “I just want to thank you Mr President for your brilliant leadership.  Your decisive leadership is making my job of getting 30,000 ventilators to Americans who need them possible”.
  • Reporters Questions – “Mr President, you said you would like to see travel restrictions eased by Easter, do you still see that as possible?”  President Trump – “Yes I just feel Americans are ready to jump back in, roll up their sleeves and get our economy roaring again”  Dr Fauci -“I think we all hope that would be possible but I don’t see any data yet that can lead to that outcome”.

One can take almost any relevant topic and the daily script would flow similarly.  Profuse thanks for President Trump’s decisive leadership.  Political personal either claiming the Government had already responded to a States request for assistant, or the request was very questionable as necessary.  Add just enough facts from those like Drs Fauci and Birx (sort of like salt and pepper in a soup) and the White House version of the “Apprentice” becomes must watch TV.

The deeply troubling aspect is that there are many Americans who are ready to accept these daily briefings as accurate portrayals of the pandemic facts and a proper characterization of President Trump’s leadership.  If the President can’t hold his arena events, these daily briefings are his next best chance.

The implication are critical.

  • More Americans must come to see that when the President criticizes one State’s Governor, the President is actually abandoning “all” of the State’s residents. 
  • More Americans must realize when the President doubts “fact based evidence”, this doubt is putting all Americans at risk. 
  • And more Americans must see through President Trump’s narcissistic behavior as a “real and present danger” to the country.

The November election must bring “more Americans” to the polls and cast more votes than President Trump’s supporters.  I just hope there are not “daily briefings” still going on in November.  

$2 Trillion, Hmmm

March 26, 2020

The Senate has passed a $2 Trillion rescue package aimed at mitigating the economic damages attributed to Covid-19.  This bill represents the only type of compromise Congress knows how to arrange.  When the two sides cannot agree, just add more spending to even things up.  The House should pass this bill and the President has said he will sign it.  Hmmm.

At first blush, the package looks to hold “bailout amounts” for most all the adversely impacted parties.  Big business, small business, hospitals, cities and States, and regular people all seem to be in line for some type of government handout.  And for some, the handout will be very much needed.

With Democrats scurrying to take credit for massive pieces of the new bill, the President is likely to get a pass for adding $2 Trillion more to the national debt… with of course no plan or even idea how the country will pay for this necessary bailout.

This necessary piece of legislation stands tall in comparison to the President’s 2017 unfunded tax cut.  Never the less, the Trillions from the unfunded tax cut and the $2 Trillion in unfunded bailout money both hit the national debt and liabilities which will need to be paid back some day.

What can a responsible Congress do other than look to our children and grandchildren to pay off this debt?

  • How about reversing the multi-trillion dollar tax cut President Trump signed in 2017? 
  • How about returning Defense Spending to 2016 levels? 
  • How about passing a tax surcharge, say beginning in 2021 and over the next 5 years paying back the government for the $2 Trillion?

But what ever the government decides, just don’t insult Americans’ intelligence by saying the $2 Trillion bailout will pay for itself.

Is The President Correct?

March 24, 2020

The coronavirus sweeping the world including the United States is in no way the fault of President Trump.  Pandemics happen and is Covid-19 ever happening.  President Trump, however, is and will be responsible for much of the countermeasures taken across the US.  In the end, President Trump will be judged by how the US fairs in comparison to the rest of the world.

President Trump appears acutely aware of this inevitable comparison and is leaving no doubts that he is in charge, a “war time” President, he says.  So far, President Trump’s performance has been dismal on large important matters and just ok on lesser issues. 

For example,

  • The President denied the disease would spread despite his medical experts strong  advice. 
  • The President doubled down on the likely length of the infectious period saying Covid-19 would soon be old news “much sooner than many experts are saying”. 
  • And, the President announced that a cure might already be in hand.  Citing a malaria drug that had shown anti-viral activity, he suggested this untested and unproven treatment might cut short Covid-19.  Hmmm.

But his most recent tweets (and press comments) saying that the cure for Covid-19 should not be worse than the disease itself has unhinged the markets and the nation.

The President, in effect, is saying “social distancing” should be only tried for a short time and then life should return to normal (like the recent period of 3.5% unemployment).  In other words, Americans should face the prospects of increased infections and associated deaths so that the US economy recovered quickly.  Hmmm.

What is he thinking?  Does the President believe that Americans will simply go back to flying or taking a cruise just because the President says so?  Does the President feel that opening restaurants and bars along with boutiques and stores will suddenly energize the economy?  Where will Americans get the money to buy goods and services if for the past month they have been laid off?

The President’s motives are clear.  The economy is important and is in danger of suffering a severe contraction, as is every other country in the world.  In fact many economists are predicting a 20-30% unemployment rate and a stock market collapse of 30-50%.  The President apparently thinks his words will lessen these economic outcomes… and miraculously President Trump will be reelected in November.

President Trump is in for a surprise.  The Covid-19 restrictions are likely to be in place for the better part of 6 months and the passing of Covid-19 will be accompanied by a great depression. 

Rather than pretending the President can raise his hands and push the oceans back, President Trump should be surrounding himself with the best supply chain and economic minds he can find.  Developing a longer term recovery plan, which foresees a global recovery, would represent a major contribution. 

But don’t expect that from President Trump.

President Trump’s time in office has been marked by taking things apart, not building.  Trump has made his name by bluffing, intimidating, and reneging on agreements.  These are not the qualities of a “war time” or “recovery” President.

Fortunately November is coming and enough of the country will recognize the President has no clothes on.  A change in top leadership will put in place a clean recovery agenda and a new team to accomplish it.  Won’t social distancing be over by then?

Anything To Be Worried About?

March 22, 2020

Covid-19 has changed the routines of most all Americans.  Social distancing is becoming the norm and restricted travel is replacing our “let’s go” mentality.  The White House has gradually coalesced around the same message the President seems to have been reigned in a bit, replacing his wild, uninformed speculation with prepared sound bites.  Hmmm.

Most pundits are cautioning that we should delay criticizing the President over what could have or what should have already happened in America’s response to Covid-19.  There will be plenty of time, pundits claim, once the virus infections begin to wane.  But is there anything else Americans should be worried about?

What if:

  • There is a cyber attack which cripples the national electricity grid?  Do you think the government (which does not have in stock pile enough personal protective equipment or ventilators, or hospital beds, is prepared to respond and rebuild the national grid?  Do you think the White House, who denies any Russian meddling in the 2016 elections, could determine where a cyber attack originated and if so, take appropriate action?
  • there is a massive earthquake in California and cities like Los Angeles or San Francisco are devastated.  Do you think this government could respond with appropriate civil defense or aid in restoration?
  • there is hostile act by Russia, China, or Iran (for example), like Russians invading the Ukraine, China invading and occupying Taiwan, or Iran openly supplying Iraqi or Syrian militias with weapons of mass destruction.  Do you think the US government could do anything more than talk?

And

  • President Trump becomes incapacitated and Vice President Pence takes over.  If you weren’t worried by any of these other hypothetical situations, Pence should worry you.  The Vice President might be a fundamentally better person than Donald Trump but a man of action, Pence is not.  He would be more likely to seclude himself and turn to prayer rather than assembling competent individuals. 

Too scary to think about.

2008 Revisited

March 17, 2020

Towards the end of George W Bush’s second term, the wheels came off the bus.  The global financial system was sucked into credit starving crisis as the world realized US invented “credit default swaps” and other “mortgage backed derivatives” were not as advertised and unlikely to yield their promised return.  Liquidity was about to disappear and with it the normal business world as we knew it.  Only through drastic government intervention could the greedy action by the private sector be reversed.  For a Republican President and a conservative packed Administration, reality said that everything anti big government issue the Bush Administration had championed was not just wrong (to oppose), they were dangerously wrong.

Fast forward to 2020, the Trump Administration is not only looking similar, but in most respects, looking less competent and dangerously unprepared for a health emergency (remember Hurricane Katrina?) likely to be followed by an economic “pandemic”.  The current coronavirus health emergency is bringing the world’s economy to a halt step by step.  Spain, Italy, and Germany are closing their borders and mandating all sorts of business to close.  “No work, no pay” for service workers will soon impact other parts of the economy. Too many Americans will have no income.  And, soon, large corporations (eg airlines, automotive makers) will begin lining up for government assistance.  What do you think the “I’m against big government” proponents will say?

Upon reflection, the 2008 economic crisis was easy to diagnose, especially in hindsight.  Pandemics, however, represent a totally different challenge.  The source and the potential impact is both huge and unknowable.  With world travel so extensive, the spread of new viruses is almost guaranteed.  So doesn’t rapid detection and scientific counter measure rate as important as the defense budget?

And what about scientific information in general?  What about climate change?

Today, in the government’s now daily press appearance, there was more breathlessness about an “emergency spending initiative”.  “We are going to get money in the hands of Americans”.  Hmmm (Wall Street listening?).

Where did the “pull yourself up by your bootstraps” attitude go?  Where is “you know Bernie Sanders and all Democrats are socialists” refrain?  Where has common sense gone?

Covid-19 is going to cause a mess with the US (and every other country’s) economy.  Attitudes and false theories will be exposed for what they are.  Capitalism without guardrails is a disaster.  Capitalism with sensible guardrails is the path to future prosperity.

Do you think the Donald and his assembled staff will lead the country in the right direction?

Searching For Covid-19

March 15, 2020

From radio and television reports, it is hard to imagine anyone who has not heard about the coronavirus, Covid-19.  Labeled a worldwide pandemic, the virus has caused closing of schools, sports leagues, and many public events.  Even though our President has acted as if the virus threat is not real, enough competent medical personnel have spoken convincingly of the virus’s threat.

Months ago I booked a March week’s vacation on Sanibel Island, Florida.  I had decided to fly and rent a car since time would be short.  And then came the coronavirus and all the travel disruptions.  So, I decided to cancel the airline flight (too many people in too confided a space), and the car rental (since it would be unneeded if I drove my own car).

And drive to Florida (from Pennsylvania) I did.  From the highway (route 95) traffic, one could not tell anything was astray.  Traffic was intense where it usually was and steady in both direction in other places.  The Benson, North Carolina motel, where I stayed overnight, was full and the nearby restaurants were humming along as normal.

On Friday, I stayed with friends in southeast Georgia.  Again, local life was completely normal although there was concern whether the upcoming “Crawfish Fest” would need to be canceled due to low attendance.  Hmmm.

On Saturday, I drove the remaining distance to Sanibel.  While on 75, I could see an enormous back up of stop and go traffic heading north and out of Florida.  The influx of cars seemed to be coming from Orlando and probably followed from the closure of the theme parks.  But on to Sanibel was easy.

I stopped at a Ft Myers grocery store and found some sold out items, most notably the meat department where pork was plentiful and everything else was not.  On Sanibel, the condo community looks just as is has in previous years.  The beach and beach walkers were totally familiar.  Covid-19?  Where could it be?

The Sunday Naples newspaper was another eye opener.  There were numerous articles about the coronavirus and its impact domestically and worldwide.  There were also more “open house” and “real estate for sale” ads than I can remember seeing anyplace. “Florida is open for business” seemed to be the headlines even though these words did not appear in print.

Time will tell whether my choice to visit Sanibel was shortsighted or of no consequence.  The low overall odds of contracting Covid-19 as well as the “social distancing” we practice are likely to help.  One other “help”, I will not be attending any open houses or contacting realtors about available housing.

Wounded Bear?

March 13, 2020

Super Tuesday and last week’s Democrat primary on March 10 contained an unmistakeable message.  Donald Trump is on track to be a one term President.  Thank goodness for small blessings.

But wait, is the November election just a foregone conclusion or will Trump pull another rabbit out of his hat?

Joe Biden’s primary victories sent the message that Democrats were prepared to turnout in large numbers so that Donald Trump would not have a second term.  Democrats also signaled they sought a moderate, more predictable person as their next President.  So is the race over?

President Trump has demonstrated clearly that there is no low standard that the President would not crawl under.  Remember the Donald “stalking” Hillary Clinton during the 2016 debates?  Don’t be surprised if Trump refuses to debate or insists on some format changes at the last minute.  And with respect to the President being truthful, get real.  

The President could also try to fiddle with the election date like moving the date to some latter, presumably more advantageous for him, date. If nothing else, this play would create confusion and potentially lower the turnout.   Expect claims from the President and the GOP that Democrats are engaged in campaign finance violations.  And the time honored technique involves getting the US into some open military conflict (under the idea that the country should not change horses in the middle of a stream).  Hmmm.

The wounded bear, however, may be wounded to a far greater degree than just a surging Joe Biden.  Covid-19 might be the unexpected and unlikely “Trump killer”.  The coronavirus has brought into the sunlight all the worst characteristics of the President.  Cluelessness about science and facts, appointment of “yes man” instead of competent leaders, and poor choices on government priorities and policies all support the conclusion that the Trump Administration is incompetent.  Hmmm.  

Do You Wonder?

March 11, 2020

The stock market (aka Wall Street) has gone up and down like a yo-yo the past few days.  The market rose over 1100 points one day after haven fallen about 2000 points the day before, and the next day down again “oh so many points”.  If you don’t recognize it, this movement is called “volatility”.  And where she goes, nobody knows….

The market is manned by the largest concentration of cowards and conniving weasels, all after a quick buck..  On one hand, so may Wall Street experts speak to the inability to predict the wild swings the market is known to take.  On the other, these same experts are quit willing to predict what tomorrow’s closings will be.  Be the first one in, be the first one out.  Hmmm.

The market is first and foremost a “herd”.  Someone bolts towards the exit door and the rest follow.  And, of course, there are the automated brokers who on command from some “algorithm” buy or sell despite what other influences might exist.  Fair competition for a day trader?  How about a normal fund?  Hmmm.

But the market is not immune from influences from the government.  Positive statements, carefully crafted new policies, and above all, a credible administration do wonders for the market’s performance.

The problem with belly button focus on Wall Street’s performance (while important) is that the market is micro focused… if it doesn’t happen now, right now, then it doesn’t matter.  Hmmm.

Administrations must be focused (or at least a god portion of its focus) upon longer term outcomes.  That type of focus is good for the nation, of course, and it mitigates the inherent problem that short term focus presents.  Things change and things change quickly!!!

The political world is harsh and punishes short term poor performance harshly. While everyone loves a long term promise, the market simply can’t wait long enough to see the outcome.  Hmmm.

Any politician who promise short term economic miracles is a charlatan.  Long term growth, however, can result from prudent investment in sound projects.  But how can the system achieve long term growth.

So don’t worry about the market and its convoluted behavior.  Rather worry about institutional fixes which would enhance transparency, accountability, and long term performance.  Hmmm.

Fight To The End

March 9, 2020

In most literature, the hero or heroin are beloved, if and when they persevere and “fight to the end”.  The central character does not waiver in the quest, especially against unfavorable odds, and carries the struggle to the bitter end.  In some stories, the hero or heroin wins, in other stories they lose.  Those who give up, however, are viewed as weak and undeserving of our praise.  Hmmm.

Bernie Sanders finds himself in a predicament.  He has a large, hugely supportive band of supporters to whom Bernie can do no wrong.  But the larger and broader Democrat party appears to be coalescing around his opponent, Joe Biden.  In other words, Biden’s platform is more appealing to more Democrats than Sanders progressive agenda. 

Logic and party loyalty would suggest (or demand) that Sanders, should he continue to contest future primaries, would do so in a manner that did not hurt the party ultimate nominee in November.  But our hero, Bernie Sanders, appears to think he will go down with the ship and leave the other ships burning too.

Case in point might be Sanders’ criticism of Joe Biden’s NAFTA support.  Sanders claims that thousands and thousands of good paying jobs were lost when NAFTA passed which allowed US companies to move work to Mexico.

According to Bernie, that would not have happened had Sanders been in charge.  Automotive jobs would have remained in rust belt States and workers would have continued to earn UAW wages.  Unfortunately, a suitable explanation of why NAFTA was on balance positive for the United States requires more than a 30 second sound bite.

So, while Sanders is factually correct that Biden supported NAFTA and many jobs were ultimately outsources, Bernie is missing the bigger and uglier point.  The US automobile industry was on a direct path to extinction due to lower cost, higher quality foreign brands.  NAFTA allowed negotiators for both the auto makers and the unions to find a face saving way to reduce costs and still keep US nameplates active.  

The real issue with Sanders’ “victory at all costs” approach is that he is not going to get the nomination.  If Sanders did get the nomination, most pundits project that the cost to Democrat Congressional candidates would be heavy.  Further there is a good chance Sanders would not win the presidency.  Hmmm.

Tuesday will again shed more light on the ultimate Democrat winner.  Cleverly, while Sanders is thrashing Biden, Biden is focused on the reasons Trump should not be reelected.  At the end of the day, voters will decide mainly based on “I’m forTrump” or “I’m for anybody else”.   

At this point Biden looks like the best option. 

Is Covid-19 Republican or Democrat?

March 6, 2020

The coronavirus, now named Covid-19, is threatening to upend the global economy and take the lives of many people.  The virus which started in China is now populating most countries around the world as it spread initially from travelers returning home from China, and now from locally infected persons to others.  This health emergency is just another reminder that the world has become a tightly knit place and acting otherwise is a fool’s mission.

Think about the prospect of taking a cruise vacation and then learn while at sea, that ports are closed to  your ship because there is an infected person onboard.  In the past month, one cruise ship was denied docking in many Asian ports.  Finally Cambodia welcomed the ship with open arms.  Passengers raced off the ship and instead of site seeing, caught air transportation to other parts of the world.  And yes, many of the passengers unknowingly transported the virus with them.

In another situation, Japan allowed a cruise ship to dock but not discharge any passengers.  Before the 14 day quasi-quarantine was over, Japan allowed the US to send transportation to evacuate American citizens.  Even though the evacuees were again quarantined an additional 14 days, infections spread outside the containment area.

One can say “America First”.  One can believe that America’s destiny is a matter of self determination and that life is a zero sum game.  One can believe that science and the scientific method are suspect and government expenditures towards science research is not a proper government responsibility.  All these beliefs are possible but their veracities are not probable.

These beliefs may have been rational in 1820, but not in 2020.   Similar to believing the earth is flat, denying today that our lives are part of global events is as ridiculous.  But does that make Covid-19 a product of Republican or Democrat thinking?

Of course the answer is neither.  Covid-19 is a mutated virus and certainly not the last pathogen that will spread around the world.  In 2020, the global economy is complicated and intertwined.  Simply arguing a return to life as in 1820s is foolish because it means asking Americans to adopt a dramatically lower standard of living while still being at risk of infection.

Covid-19 and other future pathogens happen with or without US involvement.  Going alone is like an ostrich putting its head in the sand.  For another example, the harmful aspects of global warming (for example, rising sea levels, more frequent violent storms, droughts) also do not require the US participation to occur.  

So an interesting question might be, which political party, republican or democrat might prefer to ignore global events?