The Fed is doing some very alarming stuff

The Thinker by Rodin

Should you care about the Federal Reserve? Sometimes called the Federal Reserve Bank (it’s not a real bank), but generally just “The Fed”, the Fed basically controls our money supply. It does this with virtually no oversight by those who ultimately hold the bag when it makes mistakes: us taxpayers.

I am most alarmed by what the Federal Reserve has been up to lately. It looks both completely sane and completely crazy. To start, the Fed cut interest rates banks can charge to borrow from each other, or the Fed itself, to zero. This happened in 2008 too and it’s their way of stimulating the economy. I noted in an earlier post that this seemed to be the last trick in their toolbox. Since both consumers and companies were already in hoc to the maximum, this wasn’t a viable way to stimulate growth anymore. But it was what they knew how to do, so they did it.

But the Fed has invented some new tricks they haven’t done before. The Fed has basically decided to bail out any business, at least those that are publicly traded. In the last recession, a lot of large businesses were too big to fail. Now it looks like most businesses in the United States that are publicly traded are too big to fail, in the eyes of the Fed.

Most of these businesses got in trouble because of the cheap money the Fed has promulgated since the previous recession. With no rules, businesses borrowed instead of investing and saving. Mostly they used borrowed money to buy back their own stock. When the stock price invariably went up due to supply and demand, its executives (whose pay is largely based on stock prices, which they get at a discount) sell them and profit. In short, the Fed’s policies of making money so cheap in many ways made this new depression so much worse.

During the Great Recession the Fed also bought a lot of corporate stock too, to show faith in the market. It helped stabilize things and turned the market around, although it took a very long time. Now the Fed is buying corporate debt in unlimited quantities. Basically a business tells the Fed gets to say how much their debt is worth as a share of their company, and the Fed will buy it, no questions asked. Essentially the Fed is paying inflated prices for very shaky corporate debt that no one else wants to buy.

In exchange, companies get some ready cash to help them tie things over. Maybe the Fed will recoup its investment and eventually even make a profit for us taxpayers. But this money was created and doled out with essentially no oversight. The Fed is not accountable to anyone. While there are certain things the Fed cannot do, anything not specifically prohibited is in theory legal.

If I were to load up my family’s portfolio with junk bonds, my spouse would likely divorce me. But when the Fed does the same, there’s no spouse to object, and no oversight to worry. You have to hope the Fed knows what it’s doing, and Donald Trump appointed many of them. God help us.

I don’t have much trust in the Fed. These tactics strike me as desperate. Moreover, they are letting the rich reap a huge windfall. Many of them were like me: smart enough to sell at peak market when we knew it wouldn’t last due to COVID-19. They bought more stock at low market, toward the middle of March. And now with the stock market reaching their pre-crash highs again — due to the Fed buying so much stock that supply and demand is inflating their prices artificially again, despite the ruined economy — they are cashing in again. It appears that the Fed is exacerbating income inequality in the name of keeping the economy from collapsing even more. The Fed is becoming a wealth distribution mechanism that seems to favor the rich.

A rational government should not tolerate this. The Fed is basically trying to keep American capitalism, as we have known it, going. It’s just that it looks like American capitalism is in its death throes. A model of capitalism that is inured from the consequences its actions like the environment costs it inflicts on the rest of us deserves to die. If it is to be replaced at all, it should be with a version of capitalism that works in the interests of the people, not against it.

In short, the Fed’s actions strike me overall as desperate and very chancy. It needs oversight and reigning in. Consumer advocates, and not Wall Street insiders should oversee it. It needs to be accountable.

Donald Trump and the Republican Party are trying to kill you

The Thinker by Rodin

No, really. Donald Trump may not actually want you specifically dead (at least, if he hasn’t Tweeted your name), but that seems to be the effect of his words and actions.

Strangely, those he wants to kill the most seem to be his most loyal supporters. Maybe he doesn’t actually want a second term? If so, I suspect his psychoses won’t let him admit it to himself, so maybe he’s acting on a subconscious level.

But he must understand at some level that he’s unlikely to win reelection, even when he and his Republican cronies pull out all the voter disenfranchisement stops. It’s too big for anyone to rig because our voting system is too decentralized. Oh, I’m sure some will try. The Russians are probably targeting the election systems of swing states. Such attempts are likely to be uncovered, as most states routinely audit paper ballots against electronic records. With the likely unemployment rate come election likely in the teens, or higher, both he and his party are likely to lose massively.

Hitler chose suicide for he and Eva. Trump may be choosing it for his most loyal supporters. For example, Trump wants you to know he’s taking hydroxychloriquine, although it sounds like he plans to stop taking it soon. Trump is such a massive liar that if he’s getting it at all, most likely the pills are going down the toilet. Following Trump’s advice doesn’t sound good if you value your life because today’s Washington Post reports its linked to increased risk of death for those with COVID-19.

Sudden cardiac death though is not a bad way to go, if you have to go, and for Trump the death of his supporters may be preferable to the shame of defeat. And if it’s likely to fell anyone, it’s likely to fell Donald Trump. He has most of the risk factors: advanced age and other underlying medical conditions including his obesity. In addition to killing him and many of his supporters, also disproportionately older and obese, it might kill some of those who actually depend on the drug to control lupus but can’t get it, due to Trump’s promotion of it. One possible reason he’s hyping it: he may have a financial interest in its supplier. Or it could be he just wants you dead. We know of at least one documented case where it did.

Or maybe you should consider other treatments the president recommends or is wondering about. So far I haven’t heard of anyone trying to ingest Clorox or figuring out a way to get a suntan from the inside, as Trump mused about at one of his task force meetings. It wouldn’t take much Clorox to kill you, and even less to severely injure you. It’s also a pretty fast way to go, but doesn’t sound too pleasant. People prefer to commit suicide by gunshot wound or jumping off of building; dying by drinking Clorox sounds particularly unpleasant. I don’t think it’s possible to give you ultraviolet radiation inside your skin, not without peeling a whole lot of it back with a scalpel, which might kill you by itself from the massive bleeding or resulting infections.

I have to wonder what someone ten years ago reading this would say to themselves: WTF? No one ten years ago would believe we would elect as president anyone stupid enough to advocate any of this stuff. Ten years, even Republicans would be first to say any such “president” should be removed, or at least 25th amendment-ed. But if Trump’s base is around forty percent of us, I have to assume that many of us figure it’s okay, but perhaps only if Trump says it’s okay. Hopefully most of them won’t actually try it, but I’m guessing some of these same Trump supporters thinking COVID-19 is all fake news and are busy rubbing shoulders with strangers on beaches would probably drink some of this latest Jim Jones version of KoolAid.

But it’s not just Trump that wants to kill you. It’s the whole Republican Party. Republicans in general though are less explicit about it, just not as much as you might think. Texas’s lieutenant governor Dan Patrick was one of the first ones to say, heck, I’d be first to get in line to die if it meant that my grandchildren could keep living the American Dream. Strangely though no one has seen Dan Patrick volunteer to up his odds. I have to think he’s hoping that you will die for the Republican Party instead. Why? Because they are the Party of Life, I guess.

But there are plenty of other more subtle ways to kill you. For example, by loosening the air quality standards. This has the advantage of not just killing Republicans, but disproportionately more of the people they really hate, which is broadly anyone who is poor and not white, or either. Asthma seems to disproportionately hit African Americans, but really anyone whose idea of affordable housing requires living near petrochemical plants or in dense, urban neighborhoods is a good candidate for death via asthma.

So whether overtly, covertly or unintentionally, it all amounts to the same thing. Donald Trump and Republicans in general want you dead. And if not dead, then at least have the courtesy not to vote. They’ll do their best to keep you from doing it.

Praise Jesus!

We need some means testing on these stimulus payments

The Thinker by Rodin

Obviously, our nation is going through a crisis at the moment. With a real unemployment rate probably at twenty percent, and with about one third of renters not paying their rent (probably because they can’t afford to do so), things are pretty awful. It’s made more awful by overburdened state unemployment systems that are rapidly running out of money, and so many newly unemployed people finding it impossible simply to file for unemployment. Phone lines and unemployment offices are jammed.

So sure, I get it. Lots of people need to be bailed out by Uncle Sam because this pandemic is not their fault so they don’t deserve to be thrown into poverty. There have been three bailout bills already, which seemed more focused on bailing out businesses than people. We got our $1200 per person one time deposit of free money.

There is talk that new legislation should give each taxpayer $2000 each per month to do things like pay the rent and buy food. I suspect a lot of these people would make more unemployed than employed. That’s not to say these payments are overly generous. $2000 a month is just $24,000 a year. Assuming you could get this for a whole year and had no other income, you are making twice as much as you would in poverty. But our poverty level is surreally low: $12,760 for an individual in most states, and that won’t even pay your rent. So $24,000 a year is probably something close to a living wage. Well, no, not really. If a $15/hour minimum wage law took effect, it would amount to $31,200 a year. $24,000 amounts to $11.53/hour with a forty-hour workweek. By the way, the official minimum wage in the United States is just $7.25/hour or $15,080 a year, which is above the official poverty level, but obviously not enough to survive on, which is why at least until recently lower wage people shuffled two or three jobs each.

The proposals though are to give everyone earning less than $130,000 a year $2000 a month. For married couples like us, we’d get $4000 a month. As best I can tell there doesn’t seem to be any “buts” in the proposed legislation. Not everyone of course is unemployed. I’m betting if you make $100,000 a year, you are not one of them. It certainly is possible, but it’s unlikely.

It gets absurd though. My wife and I are retired. We each have a pension and I also draw from Social Security. My wife isn’t old enough yet to get social security. I also have a reasonably hefty 401K to supplement our income. Oh, and we don’t have a mortgage. It’s paid off, along with our cars. I do some consulting put it’s purely voluntary, and it’s not a huge amount of money. Anyhow, we are both effectively retired and completely debt free with well padded bank accounts. Yes, I am aware how unusual this is and how lucky we are. But unless our pension system gives out, we have no financial worries for the rest of our lives. Yet, the proposal is still to send us $4000 a month.

It’s crazy. I certainly understand and support the general idea that most people aren’t like us and live paycheck to paycheck. But if your family is already making $100,000 or more a year and you remain gainfully employed, you shouldn’t need much if anything in the way of government subsidies. The cap should be much lower, and the amount should be reduced for those with higher incomes, if they get money at all.

What did we do with our first stimulus checks? We gave it away to people who needed it. We both have friends in need. I gave my $1200 to my friend in need, and my wife gave her $1200 to her friend in need. Both needed it a lot more than the $1200 each they got.

Giving it away though wasn’t a hard decision. We obviously hadn’t earned it and we didn’t need it at all. We were doing exactly what the government should have done if we had something resembling a functional government: putting the money where it would do someone who needed it actual good and would also be quickly spent and stimulate the economy. Throwing money indiscriminately at a problem like this is so incredibly wasteful. In our case, the money would have gone into our already well-padded saving account, or maybe used to buy some undervalued stocks that will hopefully translate into a more well-padded investment portfolio when stocks recover.

Oh, and speaking of stocks, we were proactive there as well. If you follow my blog, you’ll see I moved stocks to bonds near peak market in February. In March when stocks were cheap I moved some money from bonds to stocks. And today, looking at the absurdly inflated value of stocks with an official 14.5% unemployment rate and a real solution to the pandemic at least a year away, I captured some of those gains by moving them back to bonds. We’ll see if I’m right and another market mini-crash is on the horizon.

I literally can’t think of a way to spend it. We have two paid off cars, one bought for cash a year ago, the other bought in 2011. I’m obviously not going to take on a home construction project, at least indoors, not with COVID-19 rampant. And our house is less than five years old anyhow. It was built to suit our needs. I can’t go to the mall and buy stuff; it’s closed, as are most stores. I could buy stuff online, but we don’t really need anything and in any event it would be hard to spend $1200 each per month online to buy stuff. I’m not sure where we’d put it. I can’t take a vacation. There is nowhere to go and even if I can get there, I’ll be eating takeout. There’s not much else to do but ride this thing out in the comfort of our nice paid-off home.

I’ll be gob smacked if this proposal moves forward as is. If we’re going to get $4000 a month on top of our already super comfortable lifestyle, I’m not sure what we’ll do with it. We may give it away to those who need it more than we do again.

But really, smarter legislation is needed. Before getting a payment, under penalty of law you should have to assert that you need the money. You should document your unemployment situation, your dependents, and your approximate monthly expenses and provide a range of your saved assets. You should sign your statement, probably electronically using maybe your IRS PIN numbers. Then you should qualify for one of these payments. When your employment situation changes, you should be required to re-file within thirty days to reduce or eliminate your payments.

I’m all for helping those who need it, but I’m against this wholesale rape of the U.S. Treasury from those like me and doubtless many millions of others that don’t.

Chaos causes more chaos

The Thinker by Rodin

For those of you pining for anarchy, look around. Happy yet?

You should be ecstatic. For the rest of us, it’s feeling a lot like hell. Yesterday’s job report showed a 14.5% unemployment rate and more than twenty million newly unemployed people. The real unemployment rate is likely above twenty percent. Meanwhile, civil society is getting increasingly uncivil. Although less than thirty percent of us want to stop social distancing, those thirty percent are making a huge ruckus. They want to go back to the way things were, as if that were suddenly possible. Who cares if it kills grandma? Real freedom means being able to eat a Big Mac at 2 AM.

A few dozen of these idiots were protesting locally in Northampton, Massachusetts on the Coolidge Bridge, which spans the Connecticut River. The good news is that Massachusetts’s idiots are not quite a stupid at Duval County Florida idiots; some of who are rubbing shoulders on Jacksonville area beaches. About half of our protesters were wearing masks and at least attempting to keep a social distance. I hope they got it out of their system and returned to staying at home. We’ve managed to plateau COVID-19 infections here locally. It wouldn’t take too many of these protests to push the rate up again. And these idiots would be some of the most likely to contract the disease, and show Darwinism in action.

We spend billions of dollars a year supposedly to mitigate the risks for pandemics like we are experiencing. This crisis has revealed how poorly these agencies are doing their jobs. The Centers for Disease Control apparently has a set of guidelines for more safely opening up local economies. But they won’t see the light of day because the Trump administration won’t let them publish them. The part of our government that is supposed to function, the Executive Branch, is being held hostage by a constantly vacillating “president”. Voters elected Donald Trump because he was going to bring change to Washington.

Well good news there! Trump has brought change to Washington. He’s changed our government from one that often worked in the interests of the people to one wholly captive to his constant changes of mind, mood swings, tweets and general obnoxiousness. He has no idea what he is doing because he has spent his career running things chaotically. And his narcissism makes him impervious to criticism.

He’s a seventy-something Calvin (from Calvin & Hobbes), still in his terrible twos. I was all for his White House COVID-19 task force shutting down. They weren’t doing anything useful anyhow, because doing something requires a plan. Trump is incapable of adhering to any plan and will change his mind on a dime if he thinks it will improve his reelection prospects. The result of course is chaos. A chaotic mind with power is bound to cause a lot of chaos.

So of course we’re not doing the sensible stuff other countries have done to get them out of their COVID-19 quagmires. The USA has 5% of the world’s population and as of today 32% of its reported cases, and the number of reported cases vastly undercounts the likely number of cases. We also have 28% of the deaths, also probably vastly understated.

The testing that we are actually doing is a tiny fraction of the testing needed to determine whether it is safe to reopen local economies. There is no coordination or marshaling of resources so the pandemic can be fought logically. Trump finds it convenient to push responsibility onto the governors. It’s easier to do this than think and plan, things he is utterly incapable of doing. And of course, it allows him to blame others. Meanwhile his son-in-law Jared Kushner has been trying to deal with the issue by getting unpaid interns to dial around for masks and personal protective equipment. They have no experience in this and have proven ineffective, but neither does Jared Kushner.

We do have this entity called the Defense Logistics Agency whose mission is to adroitly find, marshal and distribute supplies just for things like this. It has 26,000 people trained to do exactly this who could be put to work. Logistics though is anathema to this administration. Logistics implies thought, order and planning. It’s quite likely that no one in the White House even knows the DLA exists. If Trump wanted to help his reelection prospects, he could put a general in charge of the effort then shut up about COVID-19 and let the professionals do their work. But of course he can’t. He will vacillate on anything. The DLA’s role in this crisis is ancillary at best.

Trump likes to say that nobody knows more about X than he does. The truth is just about anyone, even you, know more about X than he does. I suspect any of you reading this could do a better job of managing the procurement of nasal swabs than Trump or Jared Kushner. In fact, when Trump says nobody knows more than me about X, it’s a sure sign his narcissism is acting up again and he feels the need to cover for his deficiencies. Nobody knows more about nuclear proliferation than Donald Trump, someone who hardly ever reads. Yet some of his supporters actually believe this stuff. The truth is, Trump is dumb as dirt. By applauding this idiot his supporters are revealing they should be considered dumb as dirt too.

Trump’s one skill is simple carnival barking. He knows how to throw up a show. He knows how to entertain. He knows how to project what he wants to project. He gives his supporters what they want: validation, outrage and entertainment. Unfortunately for the rest of us, we need competence and true governance, something he is incapable of.

The result is the chaos all around us: twenty million unemployed and a country rapidly devolving into third world status. If that’s what you voted for, congratulations. Trump is doing a great job.

The Iowa caucus and New Hampshire primary have been demoted

The Thinker by Rodin

The 2020 Democratic nomination process pulled a surprise this year. It showed that doing well in Iowa and New Hampshire probably doesn’t matter anymore.

Doing well in Iowa has been a great predictor of eventually winning the Democratic Party nomination. With the exception of 1992 when their incumbent senator was in the primary, banking Iowa proved to be the momentum that carried over to the nomination. Iowa sends only 41 delegates to the national convention, out of 3979 pledged delegates. That’s about one percent of pledged delegates. New Hampshire’s track record of being the first primary state is much worse than Iowa’s, but it picks only 24 delegates. Nonetheless, until now, it’s been an easy decision to decide to invest heavily in Iowa’s caucus and the New Hampshire primary as well. They set a candidate’s narrative on their eventual electability.

Biden won only six of Iowa’s 41 delegates and no delegates in New Hampshire. Yet he’s going to win the nomination in a landslide. What went wrong?

South Carolina went wrong, or perhaps right. Biden won 39 of its 54 delegates there. South Carolina Democrats of course are mostly African American voters. This time around, South Carolina set the narrative on who the nominee would be, surprising pretty much everyone, including the Biden campaign. Biden won ten of the 15 Super Tuesday states, held just four days later. South Carolina effectively set the narrative this time around, and African Americans showed and have emerged as the Democratic Party’s principle power broker.

The lesson from this should be obvious: if you want to be president, you should spent a whole lot of time and resources in South Carolina and a whole lot less in Iowa and New Hampshire. And if you want to win South Carolina, not only do you need to spend a lot of time there; you need to invest much of your political career to working on issues that African Americans care about. Also, those who discount the savvy of African American voters do so at their peril.

Biden was assumed to be the front-runner before any voting started. Polls generally gave him the edge. It’s just that many of us didn’t believe the polls. Joe looked bland and tired, and we found it much easier to be enthused about progressive candidates. I was enthused about Elizabeth Warren. I still am; she’s just out of the race now. So many progressives like me were hoping to convince principally non-white voters to vote for our favorite, but the biggest voting bloc in the party decided they wanted pragmatic Joe instead of ideological Elizabeth or Bernie.

Biden did it despite the plethora of mainstream candidates that included Amy Klobuchar, Pete Buttigieg, Kamala Harris and Mike Bloomberg. He did it on a shoestring budget. While early and principally white voters found things to like about these candidates, the party’s African American bloc did not. They signaled to other minorities that form what is now arguably the core of the Democratic Party who they should vote for. And primary voters listened, trusting their instincts more than the traditional white base of the party.

This election’s primary process then seems to suggest a new era for the Democratic Party: as the party principally of African Americans and other minorities. This leaves progressive whites in an awkward place because we seem to vote disproportionately for progressive white candidates. A few will cross party lines and vote for Republicans and Trump instead, but most of us will have to rethink the optics of our voting choice. We need to realize that our power and influence in the party is diluted and is likely to remain this way in 2024 and beyond, and that minorities are the party’s new majority.

November’s election should be a blowout for Democrats

The Thinker by Rodin

Like most 2016 election prognosticators, I blew it. I accepted conventional wisdom that Hillary Clinton would win. It sure looked that way from the polls. I blew it but most of us did as well. We didn’t understand the extent of Russian election interference; or the impact of former FBI Director James Comey’s announcement that the FBI would be taking another look through her emails; and the misogyny factor which was hard to quantify, but was real enough. I also discounted how badly an unpopular candidate (Clinton) would fare, along with general desire of voters to switch things up after eight years. I also assumed most voters could see through the fraud that Trump was. Maybe many of them did, just didn’t care.

So my suggesting that Democrats will do very well on November 3 should be taken with a ton of salt. One reason is because it’s unclear whether an election could be held and if held, held fairly. There hasn’t been a fair national election in a very long time, simply because of rampant voter suppression in many red states. So I can’t assume this election will be any different; in fact it’s likely to be worse than 2016.

Presumptive Democratic nominee Joe Biden thinks Trump will try to find a way to delay the election. I don’t think so; this would take an act of Congress and with power split in Congress I can’t see it happening. It’s not hard to imagine it taking place in the midst of a next COVID-19 wave.

Southern states will probably try to imitate Wisconsin and do away with mail-in voting as much as possible. The strategy didn’t work so well in Wisconsin’s latest election, which put a liberal justice on the state’s supreme court by about a ten-point margin. If there is another wave of the virus around election time, seniors are the most likely to stay home, as they have the most to lose. It’s likely to be counterproductive.

Still, it’s not hard to predict that Joe Biden should have a winning night, and will sweep in a large wave of Democrats with him. Here are some of my reasons for thinking this:

  • The COVID-19 epidemic is unlikely to get better. It’s likely to plateau at some point, but we can’t expect it to go away completely over the next few months. We’ll most likely see a resurgence in the summer or fall. Epidemiologists suggest that will be worse than this initial wave, and include a wave of flu-related deaths as well.
  • There has been virtually nothing the Trump administration has done to adapt to the pandemic. There is still nothing resembling mass testing. Whatever is done is done chaotically and way too late. Trump could not have done a worse job managing this, and as the death rate grows he can’t talk his way out of his bumbling incompetence.
  • The economy will still be in tatters, with the unemployment rate likely in the teens at best. The state of the economy is generally the best predictor about whether an incumbent gets reelected. But it won’t be just Trump who owns the economy, it will be all those in charge, mostly Republicans. House Democrats can point to legislation they introduced that is much more generous to working people. Voters will understand clearly who is on their side.
  • The factors that worked for Trump in 2016 will probably work against him this time. Misogyny and racism aren’t likely to be a factor in the presidential race, unless it’s against Biden’s VP pick.
  • Our conservative Supreme Court seems itching to overturn the Affordable Care Act, which will come at the worst possible time if it happens: just before an election. It’s possible it will do the same with overturning Roe v. Wade, a decision that is still widely supported by a majority of Americans.
  • In 2016, there were a lot of non-identified secret Trump voters; too embarrassed I think to tell pollsters they were going to vote for him. I think it will be just the opposite this time. Trump voters won’t admit they won’t vote for him, as that would be embarrassing to admit. But it’s in their best interest to vote against him. Mostly they will vote for whoever is likelier to improve their economic situation, which should still be pretty dire toward the end of the year.
  • The polls are already not looking good. At worst Biden has about a six-point lead nationally, but he’s polling ahead of Trump in key swing states like Florida, Michigan and Wisconsin that he must win. It looks likely that Trump will lose Arizona, possibly moving it into the purple state category.
  • We’ve going through a significant emotional event. As best I can tell this was coined by the sociologist Morris Massey. The basic thesis is to truly change behavior; it has to have a huge emotional impact. Twenty percent unemployment, worrying about losing your housing, bread lines, being unable to pay your doctor bills and watching people you know die unnecessarily from a virus should more than qualify. It worked during the Great Depression, and we may be in its redux by the time November rolls around.
  • The general trend since 2016 is that Democrats have been on a winning streak, and Republicans have been playing a rather poor defensive game. Where they have won, it’s mostly been through cheating, such as the Georgia governor’s race.
  • Seniors are turning against Trump, and they’ve been his most loyal voting block. They can identify with Middle Class Joe Biden. He looks nice and white, has a winning smile and seems relatable. Also, crazy and erratic tempers are no longer in.
  • Demographics: boomers like me are starting to die off, and COVID-19 will accelerate the trend. In any event, those of us who are retired certainly don’t want our safety net collapsed, but Trump seems to be doing everything possible to collapse it. There’s got to be a lot of buyer’s remorse out there.

Of course wishing won’t make it so, so to preclude the possibility activists like me will be working hard to make sure it doesn’t happen again. Republicans will still probably outspend Democrats, but there aren’t that many persuadable voters out there. Trump has no record of accomplishments to run on. The carnage of his self-dealing and mal-administration is obvious and inescapable. Likely there will be many wild moments during the campaign, but I don’t see how Trump or Republicans can turn this around.

I expect a Democrat in the White House in January, and a Democratic Congress as well.

It’s not just #FloridaMorons, it’s about 40% of us with a death wish

The Thinker by Rodin

Few things get me hopping mad, but this article did:

Local news aired photos and videos of Florida’s shoreline dotted with people, closer than six feet apart, spurring #FloridaMorons to trend on Twitter after Gov. Ron DeSantis (R) gave the go-ahead for local beachfront governments to decide whether to reopen their beaches during a news briefing Friday. Duval and St. Johns counties have reopened their beaches, while Miami-Dade County officials said they are considering following suit.

While it made me mad, it didn’t particularly surprise me. Florida was late to the game to shut things down, so I shouldn’t be surprised they are taking the first to take steps to open things up. Texas plans to ease restrictions this week too. Protestors in many states are clamoring to open things up in their states. Chilling at home with Netflix is proving too challenging.

Most people are finding the coronavirus inconvenient. I know we are. But I sure don’t want to open everything up, not without some credible data that shows us that the risks of doing so are minimal.

At best, these governors seem to think that because it appears they hit their death peak, that’s enough and it will be all downhill from now on. At worst of course there are a whole lot of Republicans who are all for sacrificing grandma, or really anyone, to bring back the America they knew before all this began.

Curiously, none of these people advocating this seem to be willing to put their own lives at significant risk. They could perhaps volunteer as the visitors’ desk at their local hospital sans mask, or take food to shut-ins, or volunteer to sit behind the cash register at the pharmacy counter at their local CVS. They want others to do these things, probably for at or near the minimum wage.

And of course a lot of these Republicans think coronavirus is a big hoax, as if all those COVID-19 deaths happening inside and outside our country aren’t happening, despite refrigerator trucks outside of hospitals with corpses and mass graves being dug at an island off the Bronx. Then there are the usual conspiracy theories run amok: it was created in a lab and it’s part of a secret plot by Democrats to destroy our freedoms. As if freedoms were not connected to our shared social responsibilities.

Science of course doesn’t matter to them. All those virologists and epidemiologists that get advanced degrees to study this stuff can be discounted if it goes against their prejudices and inclinations. Unlike during the 1918 Spanish flu, we not only know what causes this, but what we can do about it. During the Spanish flu, Philadelphia held a parade and it made the flu rampant in the city. It’s not hard at all to predict those Jacksonville, Florida beaches that were opened up yesterday, where plenty of people weren’t social distancing, will soon cause a spike in local COVID-19 cases.

Of course all this staying at home and social distancing is inconvenient and painful sometimes. For many people, there is no income coming in except a $1200 government handout, the sort of handout many of these people would have been against just a couple of months ago. Of course, it’s okay if it helps people like them, just not those others.

Many are wondering how long it will be before they get evicted for not paying rent, which about a third of renters aren’t or can’t pay. People in general have been living on the margins for decades, their increased productivity propping up stock prices, but never their bottom line. No wonder that 40% of households don’t have $1000 saved for an emergency. So some of them have to believe that it’s all a hoax because they have to go to work to make money to keep themselves from hunger and/or homelessness.

Republicans though specialize in cognitive dissonance; so of course so many of them can’t wrap their heads around the idea that this is just the way it is and what we are doing is the least painful way to get through this. Absent widespread testing (only 1% of Americans have been tested) and good empirical data, we simply don’t know. So opening up things will just make things worse.

But it probably won’t work anyhow. My mayor can declare that all the parks are reopened and we don’t need to wear masks or worry about social distancing, but I’ll still stay mostly homebound, and use gloves and a mask anyhow. Sensible people will. We know the risks are real and potentially deadly not just to people we don’t know, but to us. And because we won’t go out when things are uncertain, we won’t spend like we did, so the economic hit is likely to continue.

Polls say that’s 60% of us are sensible people, which means four out of 10 of us don’t get it. That’s roughly the percentage of people supporting Trump. All that disinformation has been crammed into their brains; they can’t see beyond it. To make it much worse of course our “president” has been promoting quack cures and encouraging people in certain states to “liberate” their states. Umm, inciting insurrection is a federal crime.

All this likely means that instead of flattening the curve, it’s likely to rise, last longer and kill a lot of people who’d otherwise survive. There are only a few ways out of this thing that will work. The sensible way is to do a lot of widespread and compulsory testing and contact tracing, until we have a vaccine that will inoculate us against the virus. But we don’t have the tests we need, we have at best a half hearted infrastructure for carrying it out, and we mostly lack quick and affordable tests to determine who has it or has been exposed to it.

Or we can drag this thing out interminably and allow millions to die unnecessarily because, apparently, many of us are too stupid to follow the advice of the people trained to deal with this stuff.

I’d care less if it took out only these foolish and ignorant people. They’re going to cause a bumper crop of Darwin Award nominees this year. But many of the rest of us still doing the sensible things will get this virus anyhow, in spite of our best efforts, because people like them will put so much more of it into our environment.

Ignorance kills. As much as Trump and many Americans want there to be an easy way out, there isn’t one.

Things should never go back to the way they were, if we’re smart

The Thinker by Rodin

I suspect that in retrospect March 2020 won’t be remembered so much for the COVID-19 crisis, but as the catalyst for finally remaking our society into one that works for the people again.

It’s all pretty crazy and hellish right now, but it’s made crazier and more hellish because we’re trying to deal with COVID-19 and our economic crisis by using old rules that no longer work.

Take our Federal Reserve, for example. In reality, the Fed doesn’t have a whole lot of tools left in its toolbox. Its most effective remaining tool is that it prints the money. By effectively throwing out unlimited sums of money, it’s trying to keep our economy from collapsing altogether by underwriting our banks and businesses. It seems to be buying us some time, for example, by keeping banks flush with cash when in times before the Federal Reserve (the Great Depression) there would be a run on banks. But dropping the federal funds rate to 0% isn’t going to help at all. It did in 2008, but won’t anymore. Both businesses and consumers are already in hoc up to their eyeballs. We already can’t afford the debt we got. It’s hard to see how acquiring more of it will help the economy.

In just a few weeks our real unemployment rate is now likely over ten percent. Much of our economy has ground to a halt. It may prove to be ephemeral, which I first thought, but with some weeks to look at what’s going on, I no longer think so.

COVID-19 has thrown nearly the perfect monkey wrench into our economy, which had been hanging by a thread because it was based everyone spending beyond their means. Most companies made it worse. Instead of hoarding cash when times were good to get, they used borrowed money to buy back their own stock, which executives then sold to increase their personal wealth and their companies more fragile. Most people just get by, or have fallen behind, a victim of wages that rarely increase. Mostly, our productivity went into shareholders’ pockets instead. If they couldn’t afford the debt they had before the crisis, they won’t be able to now that it’s here.

All this was made considerably worse by our administration’s counterproductive approach to dealing with a pandemic. The $2.2T relief bill passed by Congress and signed into law won’t be nearly enough. A one time payment of $1200 per person and $500 per child won’t get us through this crisis. At best it will pay a month of rent or a house payment, plus a few other expenses. Expanded unemployment benefits will be a lot more meaningful to most people, if they can get them. It’s hard to apply for unemployment when so many others are doing the same thing. Until the U.S. Treasury bails out states’ unemployment funds, the funds in these accounts won’t last long.

Most likely COVID-19 will keep us at home for months, and when we are allowed to open businesses again, it will be tentatively. The doctors that Donald Trump refuses to listen to expect a resurgence of the virus later in the year unless we maintain strict social distancing. A vaccine is likely at least a year away, so things couldn’t go back to normal until those of us who don’t have it are inoculated against the virus. So most likely we can expect a year or more of doing what we are doing now, with systems under strain if not collapsing all around us.

But the economy really can’t come roaring back, not unless it works a lot differently. Those who get jobs back will be lucky to get what they had before and a wage similar to what they had before. Government cash will help, but it won’t be nearly enough, which will leave people more impoverished in general, and more financially fragile. Without laws requiring debt forbearance, or debt forgiveness, growth looks unlikely.

Which means the only way out is through political change, which hopefully will come in November. People generally vote in their own self interest, so there should be plenty of motivation. Then there’s Donald Trump doing the best to kill off his own supporters. Even if they are smart enough not to follow his advice, a lot of his supporters are poor white people, mostly in rural areas with health care networks that are already fraying at the seams. COVID-19 mostly hasn’t hit rural America yet, but it will, and it will make New York City look like a walk in the park.

These problems won’t solve themselves by a lack of government. You can see now what the lack of government has done: left us largely unprepared for a pandemic. Meaningful change happens through a government that acts in the people’s interests and works to proactively prevent exactly what we are going through now.

It won’t get better though if we keep doing things the way we have always done things. That’s why the Fed’s actions feel so toothless, at best postponing the inevitable. The Fed can’t innovate its way out of our crisis because it has a limited set of tools, and it’s used pretty much all of them. The Trump administration simply doesn’t have the imagination to do what needs to be done. It hopes for short term miracles, which is why Trump is promoting Hydroxychloroquine to treat COVID-19. People have died, are dying and will die for Trump’s bogus medical cures.

We the living who get through this by doing sensible things like staying at home and washing our hands regularly have an opportunity in 2021 to remake America into a country that meets our needs again. We could start to use money not to bail out companies, but instead to create a clean and green infrastructure. Then perhaps we can expect to see a real light at the end of our tunnel.

Welcome to hell, Republicans

The Thinker by Rodin

Here in Massachusetts, our blue-leaning state has elected a Republican governor twice. His name is Charlie Baker. He’s the kind of Republican I remember from my youth, before most of them went insane. Governor Baker is pragmatic and works across the aisle. In some ways he is more Democratic than Governor Andrew Cuomo next door in New York, supposedly a Democrat. He refused to vote for Trump and his main focus seems to be to just do things sensibly. Baker may be the only pragmatic Republican left in the country.

Baker has been busy with COVID-19 issues, of course, as have most governors. Governors, well, govern. They deal with the world as it is and no matter how messy aim to make it work better for their people. No wonder then that our blue-leaning state has put him twice in the governorship; we appreciate people who have these skills regardless of party. To get things done he has to figure out how to do it adroitly. Right now it’s a combination of bully pulpit, stretching what he can do under the law a bit and hunkering down with aids and our legislature to more intelligently allocate our state’s resources.

Trump though is ruling, not governing. Rulers don’t govern; they just tell other people what to do and don’t care about how if affects people. Trump is tone deaf to the needs of most Americans and listens only to those who give him money or keep him in power. He has no central strategy, no real plans. He ping pongs from moment to moment, hoping to find the words that strokes his ego. He really doesn’t care about governing; he just wants to rule. He’ll do it his way, or not at all.

It never occurs to Trump to try to work together with people unlike him to try to achieve his goals. He never learned the art of flattery; instead he expects everyone to flatter him. He’s quite comfortable short shifting New York state in its supply of ventilators because Governor Cuomo hasn’t flattered him sufficiently. He wants people to grovel and kiss his ring like he’s the pope. And he’s filled his administration with lackeys that know only how to chase after his constantly changing desires, rather than people who try to exercise the levers of government to achieve what people actually need. He not only expects tone deafness; he requires it.

So it’s no surprise that we were caught with our pants down on this COVID-19 crisis. It’s no surprise that it took months to start doing just a few of the things intelligent people do to mitigate these things. He has no experience in governing and has used none of his time in office to try to acquire these skills. Bullies never learn the art of negotiation. They just practice fear and intimidation because it’s all they know how to do.

With the exception of a few Republican governors like Charlie Baker, most Republican governors out there seemed more enamored with ruling rather than governing too. Take Ron DeSantis, Florida’s governor, who only recently decided to keep people home, allowing his state to contribute disproportionately to the spread of COVID-19. Now his solution seems to be to not allow New Yorkers to drive into the state. He is also bizarrely exempting churches from his social distancing rules, arguing that religious services are essential services.

By ruling rather than governing, he’s going to kill a lot more citizens of his state proportionately than most other states. By following the Republican Party playbook rather than by applying the resources of government to meet the needs of the moment, like Trump, he is seeking short term popularity and adherence to party dogma against the needs of his state.

It’s not a stretch to say that Republicanism is killing people in these states and all over our country. It’s a philosophy that says business is always right, and that government has no legitimate role to play beyond enabling extreme capitalism and promoting cronyism. Unsurprisingly, this is leaving states and the federal government without the tools and the institutional memory to adroitly handle the challenges we all face. It may kill millions of us.

Governing requires pragmatic people with a long term vision who not only need to adroitly shift resources to meet the challenges of the moment, but to imagine beyond their term of office and leave their jurisdictions better prepared for these events than when they have arrived. It’s called being a fiduciary. With the exception of a few Republican governors, they, our president and the Republican parts of our Congress have only proved to be miserable failures.

They swallowed Reagan’s KoolAid: that government is the problem. A government though that governs in response to the needs of the people is exactly what government is supposed to do. What we have now is a largely wholesale lack of governing.

Welcome to hell, Republicans. And if looking for someone to blame, look in the mirror.

God won’t save you from COVID-19, but science might

The Thinker by Rodin

Everyone’s feeling out of kilter these days. Most of us are feeling somewhat scared too.

It’s reasonable to expect that in the weeks ahead we will feel more scared, as the COVID-19 crisis gets much, much worse. When people we know, particularly family and celebrities, are felled by the disease we’re going to be looking for escape from this hell. For some it will be from a bottle of booze. For many perhaps it will come by praying to God that you or people you know will be spared.

There is nothing wrong with either prayer or meditation. Both have proven mental health benefits. It helps us feel connected to the larger world and helps many find solace in difficult times. Whether God saves you or not you’ll never know for sure, but science can probably save you, if you pay attention to what scientists and medical professionals are telling you to do and follow their advice. If God has a higher power at work, it’s the power of science.

What we are experiencing in 2020 is hardly new to mankind. Aside from the many wars mankind has endured over the years, natural disasters and pestilence have been periodic killers too. It’s been a while though since we’ve seen a pandemic, so it’s new and very frightening. In my 63 years, I don’t think we’ve had a proper pandemic here in the United States. Still, what we are going through now is hardly unplowed territory. Since the early 1980s we have been dealing with HIV and its AIDS disease. We’ve made progress but most of the progress has come through boring things like monogamy and practicing safe sex.

The religious among us seem to be in two camps on COVID-19. Some see it with the frame they gave to AIDS and HIV: God is punishing us for all our rampant sinning. Then there are others, like Jerry Falwell Jr., who swallowed the Republican KoolAid and reopened Liberty University after Spring Break. I’m guessing he figured his students were too godly to get COVID-19.

Falwell should be practicing penance at the moment, but if he’s not his students are. Some are likely to pay with their lives. For many younger people, catching the disease is no walk in the park. It will kill them. Heck, it killed the guy who first discovered the disease and tried to get the Chinese government to do something about it. Instead, he was punished. He was 33 years old.

I was on a cruise this month. Fortunately, no one was infected on the cruise. Two weeks later we show no signs of the disease, but while on the cruise we were meticulous about regularly washing our hands. The cruise line was meticulous about squirting our hands with sanitizer when we went to eat too. Before the cruise we spent a night at a Rodeway Inn in Fort Lauderdale, Florida. Eating their free breakfast in the morning, someone on the P.A. system was saying the way to fight the disease was to stop listening to the liberal news media.

He should have listened. There’s no more cruising going in and out of Fort Lauderdale and won’t be for a long time. He’s probably one of much of the hotel staff that’s been laid off because of the disease, made much worse because their Republican governor Ron DeSantis put profits over public health, doing much to spread the disease as spring breakers brought it back home. Florida still lags other states in keeping its populace at home. Maybe he’s figuring that God will save them.

God’s not coming to his rescue. He didn’t come to Jerry Falwell Jr.’s rescue and he won’t be coming to your rescue either. I can say it’s because God doesn’t exist, which is likely, but I can’t prove it. What I can say is that with if God exists, its a removed and impersonal god, that shows no interest in your life in particular. It didn’t keep people from getting the plague either. Even back then though the smarter ones inferred that it had a lot to do with people being clustered closely together. Today, others like my friend Tom are using the same strategy: flee to the country and hope to ride it out there. You can also do what health care professionals are telling us to do. That’s what we’re doing.

It’s human to be scared by all of this. For most of us it will be one of the major events in our lives, and a shared world trauma. Some of us cope with stress better than others. Religion is supposed to give us ways of coping with this kind of stress in particular. If so, I don’t see much evidence that it’s working. Part of the stress of the religious is their cognitive dissonance. They know what their religion is telling them is crap, but they can’t admit it to themselves.

The successful people are going to acknowledge that it is crap and move on. This is not to say that religion is necessarily bad, but certain flavors of it can be quite toxic, and a lot of religious Americans are in this camp. Most are evangelicals. If we are at the first stages of Armageddon, it’s going to be sending many more of these Christians to early graves. Of course, a lot of us less religious folk will be felled by it too. But fewer of us will because we will largely heed the advice scientists like Dr. Fauci are giving us.

To me, following their advice is something of a balm because it’s likely to actually work. It may also be my nature, but although concerned I am markedly happier than most of the people around me. It comes not through choosing ignorance, but learning what works to keep from getting infected and then doing it scrupulously. I’ve learned there are ways to be less afraid of COVID-19 and things you can still do an enjoy to give you pleasure and meaning.

Here’s some of what I’m doing. You might want to see if these strategies work for you too:

  • I stay mostly indoors
  • I keep surfaces I touch clean with appropriate disinfectants
  • When I go out shopping, I am careful. I bring sanitary wipes, stay calm, and keep a social distance. Since I am age 60+, I take advantage of special shopping hours for us more at-risk people.
  • I mostly succeed in not touching my face
  • Some face touching will happen anyhow. So I try to wash my face with soap and water once a day too. Keeping it clean means if I touch it I probably won’t get infected if I then touch my mouth or a mucus membrane.
  • I wash my hands periodically throughout the day, with soap and water, at least for twenty seconds, being very thorough to clean all surfaces
  • I try to get outside once a day and take a walk. Walking is quite safe if you maintain a social distance. There are parks and trails nearby. Seeing people makes me feel connected to them. The fresh air and sunshine feels good too. Hearing the birds and feeling wind on my face makes me feel alive.
  • When the weather permits, I open up the windows and enjoy the fresh air. There’s no coronavirus in the air unless someone coughs on you. Outdoor air is likely healthier than indoor air anyhow.
  • I keep busy doing stuff: consulting when it is available, indulge in my hobbies and try not to obsessively watch the news. Watching Star Trek Picard was a great distraction.
  • After going shopping, I wipe surfaces and things I touched, including groceries I brought in if possible. I leave stuff that’s not too perishable in the garage for a few days. And I wash my hands.
  • I count on layers of protection. The most likely way of acquiring the disease is from touching your face and then touching your mouth or nose. I keep both hands and face clean.
  • Realize this is not forever.
  • Chat with friends and family virtually. Be positive but realistic. Encourage them that by doing sensible things they are likely to be survivors.

In one way we are lucky: our finances won’t be stretched by this crisis, so that’s a huge relief. Most of you won’t be so lucky, but you will get some relief from the government. Hopefully it will let you ride the financial impacts for a while without feeling like you are in a financial crisis too.

By doing these things, you are also being virtuous. In addition to hopefully putting yourself in a healthier space, you are also helping society. You are helping to cut the transmission of the disease so others can survive it. You are making things less stressed for our overtaxed healthcare workers. Your actions may be boring, and make you feel lonely, but it’s vital. Staying at home helps not only you, but everyone.

Keep praying to God if that gives you comfort. We know what kills people now when pandemics occur. In the past, we didn’t know so we attributed it to the supernatural. Trust that God revealed science for a reason, and that it wants you to place your trust in our scientists. One to 3 percent of us who get the disease won’t survive it, but most of us will, but only if we stop doing the stupid stuff.

Stay safe and stay positive. This won’t last forever.