Posted by: Bruce Allen | May 29, 2020

Trump’s Psychopathy Score–95%

© Bruce Allen

A healthy number of Americans, as well as numerous citizens of other countries around the globe, casually refer to the President of the United States, Donald Trump, as a psychopath. Since he became president in 2017 he has said and done innumerable things to reinforce this opinion. But the label itself is vague, often misused, and not generally held up to any kind of examination. It is mostly an expression of outrage for a miserable excuse of a man whose execrable, inappropriate behaviors elicit shock and anger among sentient human beings around the world.

A smidgen of research reveals a scientific screen useful in determining whether someone who happens to be the leader of the most powerful nation on Earth is, indeed, a psychopath or just an ignorant, poorly-briefed asshole. It does not answer the exasperating question of how such a defective damaged individual could ever become a city councilman, much less president. Enter the Hare Psychopathy Checklist.

“The Hare Psychopathy Checklist-Revised (PCL-R) is a diagnostic tool used to rate a person’s psychopathic or antisocial tendencies. It was developed in the 1970’s by Dr. Robert Hare, a Canadian professor and researcher renowned in criminal psychology, who has spent three decades studying the concept known as the psychopath and based partly on Hare’s work with prison inmates in Vancouver.”–from the Doc Zone blog on the Canadian Broadcasting website, by Ann-Marie McDonald.

Screenshot (435)Cutting and pasting from a lovely article by Meagan Drillinger appearing on the Thrillist website in January of 2016, here is the 20-item list, along with the Ms. Drillinger’s take on the meaning of each. I have inserted my own Trump-specific observations in red:

Glib and superficial charm: The tendency to be smooth, engaging, charming, slick, and verbally facile. Psychopathic charm is not in the least shy, self-conscious, or afraid to say anything. A psychopath never gets tongue-tied. They have freed themselves from the social conventions about taking turns in talking, for example. Trump exhibits this trait as well as anyone with an 800 word vocabulary can.

Grandiose self-worth: A grossly inflated view of one’s abilities and self-worth, self-assured, opinionated, cocky, a braggart. Psychopaths are arrogant people who believe they are superior human beings. No explanation necessary.

Need for stimulation or proneness to boredom: An excessive need for novel, thrilling, and exciting stimulation; taking chances and doing things that are risky. Psychopaths often have low self-discipline in carrying tasks through to completion because they get bored easily. They fail to work at the same job for any length of time, for example, or to finish tasks that they consider dull or routine. Ditto.

Pathological lying: Can be moderate or high; in moderate form, they will be shrewd, crafty, cunning, sly, and clever; in extreme form, they will be deceptive, deceitful, underhanded, unscrupulous, manipulative, and dishonest. His most definitive characteristic. An inability to tell the truth. A compulsion to lie even when it’s not necessary, even when video exposing the lie is readily available.

Conning and manipulativeness: The use of deceit and deception to cheat, con, or defraud others for personal gain; distinguished from Item four in the degree to which exploitation and callous ruthlessness is present, as reflected in a lack of concern for the feelings and suffering of one’s victims. Ask Michael Cohen or any of the numerous others he has casually thrown under buses during his time on Earth. On deck: Mike Pence.

Lack of remorse or guilt: A lack of feelings or concern for the losses, pain, and suffering of victims; a tendency to be unconcerned, dispassionate, cold-hearted, and non-empathic. This item is usually demonstrated by a disdain for one’s victims. On vivid display every day.

Shallow affect: Emotional poverty or a limited range or depth of feelings; interpersonal coldness in spite of signs of open gregariousness. Ditto.

Callousness and lack of empathy: A lack of feelings toward people in general; cold, contemptuous, inconsiderate, and tactless. His response to 100,000 pandemic-related deaths is Exhibit A.

Parasitic lifestyle: An intentional, manipulative, selfish, and exploitative financial dependence on others as reflected in a lack of motivation, low self-discipline, and inability to begin or complete responsibilities. Spending over $133 million of taxpayer money on his golf outings since becoming President is but one example.

Poor behavioral controls: Expressions of irritability, annoyance, impatience, threats, aggression, and verbal abuse; inadequate control of anger and temper; acting hastily. This item constitutes a good example of Trump’s character in microcosm.

Promiscuous sexual behavior: A variety of brief, superficial relations, numerous affairs, and an indiscriminate selection of sexual partners; the maintenance of several relationships at the same time; a history of attempts to sexually coerce others into sexual activity or taking great pride at discussing sexual exploits or conquests. Evidenced by the 20 or 30 women who have come forward claiming he has sexually assaulted them.

Early behavior problems: A variety of behaviors prior to age 13, including lying, theft, cheating, vandalism, bullying, sexual activity, fire-setting, glue-sniffing, alcohol use, and running away from home. Described in some detail in the book Trump Revealed: The Definitive Biography of the 45th President, by Michael Kranish and Marc Fisher. He was sent off to a military boarding school for misfits at age 13.

Lack of realistic, long-term goals: An inability or persistent failure to develop and execute long-term plans and goals; a nomadic existence, aimless, lacking direction in life. Bored with real estate and television, he decided to run for president as a lark, with no real hope of actually winning.

Impulsivity: The occurrence of behaviors that are unpremeditated and lack reflection or planning; inability to resist temptation, frustrations, and urges; a lack of deliberation without considering the consequences; foolhardy, rash, unpredictable, erratic, and reckless. He has been criticized, by me and others, as not having policy positions, but instead having policy moods, which change from day to day.

Irresponsibility: Repeated failure to fulfill or honor obligations and commitments; such as not paying bills, defaulting on loans, performing sloppy work, being absent or late to work, failing to honor contractual agreements. His record of not paying bills, suing and screwing contractors and suppliers, etc. is legendary. He still owes the District of Columbia government $7.3 million for costs associated with his inauguration festivities in 2017.

Failure to accept responsibility for own actions: A failure to accept responsibility for one’s actions reflected in low conscientiousness, an absence of dutifulness, antagonistic manipulation, denial of responsibility, and an effort to manipulate others through this denial. Most recently, he announced on TV that he takes no responsibility for the pandemic and the 100,000 deaths it has caused in the U.S.

Many short-term marital relationships: A lack of commitment to a long-term relationship reflected in inconsistent, undependable, and unreliable commitments in life, including marital. Ivana, Marla, Melania…

Juvenile delinquency: Behavior problems between the ages of 13-18; mostly behaviors that are crimes or clearly involve aspects of antagonism, exploitation, aggression, manipulation, or a callous, ruthless tough-mindedness. Op cit, Kranish and Fisher.

Revocation of conditional release: A revocation of probation or other conditional releases due to technical violations, such as carelessness, low deliberation, or failing to appear. No parole violations of which I’m aware, due to his ability to buy his way out of trouble. This is the only item on the list on which he fails to secure a perfect score.

Criminal versatility: A diversity of types of criminal offenses, regardless if the person has been arrested or convicted for them; taking great pride at getting away with crimes. Trump Foundation, Trump University, payoffs to porn stars and centerfolds, boasting about his ability to get away with shooting someone in the middle of Fifth Avenue, etc.

Fortunately for Donald Trump, roughly a third of Americans share at least a few of his pathologies and approve of his behaviors. These people, exhibiting group psychosis, are referred to as The Trump Base. They are generally white, under-educated (high school diploma or less), gun-toting alcoholic racists. I say, if one is going in for sweeping, slanderous generalizations, one might as well go all in.

For the few poor souls reading this, you can now refer to President Trump as a psychopath comfortable with the knowledge that, at least in a clinical sense, you are right on. Americans planning to vote for Trump in November should keep in mind the old adage, “Fool me once, shame on you.” You can say that in 2016 you were unaware that he is mentally and morally deficient. In 2020, those characteristics are on full display.

Posted by: Bruce Allen | May 22, 2020

Biden: Debates Must Go Asymmetric

© Bruce Allen

Joe Biden, the putative Democratic opponent of Donald Trump in November’s presidential election, cannot win by following his instinctive gentlemanly rules of engagement. In order to beat the scurrilous Trump, he must resort to asymmetric warfare.

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What do I mean by asymmetric warfare? Over at Wikipedia, it “is war between belligerents whose relative military power … strategy or tactics differ significantly. This is typically a war between a standing, professional army and an insurgency or resistance movement militias who often have status of unlawful combatants.” This is unfamiliar territory for Joe Biden, the polished, polite professional. His instinctive approach to electioneering, in 2020, is the street equivalent of bringing boxing gloves to a knife fight.

The two historical antecedents of asymmetric warfare most frequently cited are the American war of independence against the British and the Viet Nam war. In both, vastly superior forces–in arms, men, and materiel–were punked by guerrilla forces with less of everything but spirit and tactics. Had the British or, later, American armies squared off in traditional battlefield formations, the American rebels and the Viet Cong would have been vanquished in a month. But the underdogs prevailed by not fighting “fairly.” If Biden insists upon taking the high road, relying upon his superior experience, intellect and class, he will suffer the same fate as Cornwallis and Westmoreland.

Similar to the Viet Cong, Trump has shown that he will do, or say, literally anything to win; political terrorism seems a good term. Traditional political debate rhetoric–policy-laden, technical, based upon facts and accepted theories of economics–is a stranger to him. Instead, he relies on baseless accusations, de-bunked conspiracy theories, and flat-out lies designed to gin up his base of fact-free supporters. I expect him to ask Biden, “Have you stopped beating your wife?” secure in the knowledge that the vice president would be damned by answering either  “Yes” or “No.”

Biden, despite decades in the business, is unskilled in this kind of debate. In the face of Trump’s inevitable torrent of lies and accusations, he will need to focus on the two primary facts of life under Trump. It would be pointless for him to criticize Trump about his arms-length relationship with reality, about the grifters who comprise the bulk of his administration, or the many thousands of provable lies he has told since January of 2017. Biden must be laser-focused on Trump’s flaccid response to the Covid 19 pandemic and the unfolding debacle of an American economy collapsing around us.

Healthcare, immigration, women’s rights, and global warming–all of these are critical issues upon which Biden can affirm his positions during the campaign. He will undoubtedly select an articulate female running mate who can help deliver his message on these subjects during the summer and early fall. Many voters care deeply about one or more of these issues, in all of which Trump has a clear record of failure. Guns are a tricky issue that Democrats will have to navigate carefully.

In order to eject Trump from the White House, Biden must hone his skills at the politics of division in preparing for the debates. He must drive a wedge between Trump’s hardcore base and everyone else in the country, most notably independents and those pesky, suicidal Sanders disciples. He must invoke Barack Obama and win going away with Democrats, and must use the campaign, and especially the debates, to emphasize to independent voters that another four years of stumbling, mumbling and fumbling in a corrupt White House will cause permanent damage to the republic. He must win the debates by openly laying blame for the unimaginable toll the pandemic has taken on our citizenry and economy directly at Trump’s feet. Trump, as is his wont, will deny and deflect, but Biden cannot allow him to slip off the hook.

Forget Marquis of Queensbury rules. Forget civil discourse. Attack Trump for his massive failures in managing the pandemic and the economy. Concede the 35% of the electorate who believe, astonishingly, that Trump walks on water; they are immune to logic anyway. Take every question from debate moderators and pivot to the pandemic and the economy. Only by making Trump own, and eat, these twin catastrophes can Joe Biden become our 46th president.

This is not debate club. This is a war. Biden will have to out-Trump Trump to win.

 

Posted by: Bruce Allen | May 16, 2020

The West Wing, 2020 Style

© Bruce Allen

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Recently, my wife and I have become the last couple in America to watch The West Wing on Netflix, a network TV drama that ran on NBC from 1999 to 2006. The writing is razor sharp, the acting superb, and the plots are, so to speak, ripped from the headlines. The actors are well-cast and play their roles with style, the pace is frenetic, and, all things considered, it is outstanding TV, especially coming from one of the (formerly) Big Three networks.

A brief rundown of the main characters:

  • Chief of Staff Leo McGarry, played by John Spencer
  • Deputy Chief of Staff Josh Lyman, played by Bradley Whitford
  • Communications Director Toby Ziegler, played by Richard Schiff
  • Deputy Communications Director Sam Seaborn, played by Rob Lowe
  • Press Secretary C.J. Cregg, played by Allison Janney
  • President Josiah “Jed” Bartlett, played by Martin Sheen

Each of the characters is quick-witted, highly educated, articulate, passionate about their jobs and compassionate toward the people they serve, the American public. Empathy abounds on the show, exhibited by all of the characters at various times and under various circumstances. There is chaos, brought on by world events. The President calls most of the shots and invariably has the last word, as expected, but treats his subordinates with respect, even when they screw up. He engenders tremendous loyalty from everyone involved; they are loyal by choice, not due to intimidation or ambition. Even with a president and his staff driven by integrity and a ubiquitous desire to “do the right thing,” the administration seems to stagger from one crisis to another, barely getting by.

Here’s the point. Watching the show, watching the interaction of the players and their reactions to events, one cannot help comparing it to the current troop of of chimpanzees occupying the White House in 2020. Let’s take a look at this crew.

  • Chief of Staff–currently Mark Meadows, until recently one of the inmates of the asylum known as The House Freedom Caucus. His predecessors were the thug Mick Mulvaney, currently Ambassador to Mars; John Kelly, former military general who besmirched his previously sterling reputation by kowtowing to 45; and Reince Priebus, Republican spear carrier and failed apologist for Trumpublicans everywhere,  at present residing under a rock somewhere in Pennsylvania or possibly Tralfamadore.
  • Deputy Chief of Staff–some non-person who goes by the name of Taylor Weyeneth.
  • Communications Director–nobody. Literally nobody.
  • Deputy Communications Director–same as the Director. Not a person.
  • Press Secretary–Kayleigh McEnany, with a law degree from Harvard and nothing else, the presence of a high school cheerleader and the gravitas of Pee Wee Herman. She is living proof that pretty much anyone who gets in can graduate from Harvard Law. McEnany, who, I suspect, changed the spelling of her last name from McInaney, was preceded in this role by Liar in Chief Sarah Huckabee Sanders, who never once in, like, two years gave a straight answer during a press conference. And, last but not least,
  • President Donald Trump, whom we all know to be an immoral ignoramus and congenital liar.
  • Of course, as we know, lying around on rocks sunning themselves are a number of ex officio lizards, most notably Jared and Ivanka and the execrable racist Stephen Miller. These six, then, comprise the brain trust of the Trump White House–Trump, Meadows, McEnany and the three reptiles. (Weyeneth, who may actually not exist, would be there to fetch covfefe and hamberders.)

Watching the West Wing, there are crises in which all six of the principals are involved in high-level international issues with multiple conflicting ramifications, demanding each to perform at extremely high levels, both in terms of intellect and persuasion. There are no simple issues; every problem, every crisis seems to have multiple constituents and virtually intractable conflicts. But the six of them, working together, using humor, their collective intellect and innate drive to do things right, somehow muddle through.

One can only shake one’s head and wonder what goes on in the Trump White House, with 45 sitting at the head of the table in the Situation Room, bored, unbriefed, thinking only about his re-election and how to escape back to the residence, his TV and his Twitter account. The coronavirus and the Crash of ’20 demand the best and brightest minds in the country. Without them, here we are, closing in on 100,000 dead, 25% unemployment, a society practically as divided as it was in The Civil War.

There is, at present, about an even chance this confederacy of dunces, to borrow the title of John K. Toole’s book, will be re-elected in November. We have become the laughingstock of the world, despite our military might and thousands of nuclear weapons. Lord have mercy on us if we allow this clown posse another four years.

Posted by: Bruce Allen | April 23, 2020

The Economy: Humpty Dumpty

© Bruce Allen                                              April 23, 2020

Originally posted in late March, plenty has happened since then. Checking to see how the predictions are holding up.

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All the king’s horses and all the king’s men…

The coronavirus plague appears ready, willing and able to hang around for a long time, coming in seasonal waves through populations lacking immunity, until there is a vaccine. We’re talking years, more due to the number of “strains” of the virus running loose out there. The long-term questions concerning the disease are 1) how quickly can we get in front of it and 2) if we do get in front of it, can we stay there?

The Next Great Recession into which we’ve entered promises to be different from anything since the 1930’s. The Roosevelt government grappled with The Depression for years, unable to accomplish much of anything at scale, and the economy only got turned around by World War II and the sudden need for millions of tons of American-made products, including weapons, planes, ships, etc., down the line. But, on its own, and without an exogenous event to “spike the curve,” the Depression could have lasted another ten years.

Here, in 2020, the exogenous event is the virus, and the allegedly-healthy economy is exposed as the fragile instrument it is. Outside the Fortune 1000, a plurality of small companies is two bad months away from ceasing to exist. If a restaurant is told there will be no serving customers inside until, say, September, they will generally be done. Some will be in a niche that permits quick conversion to a carryout/delivery model during that time, a model which will have higher unit costs and lower revenues, since customers will mostly evade the stiff margins extant on the beverage side of the business. (“What, I’m gonna order a bottle of beer from you for $7.00 when I have a 12-pack in the fridge downstairs that’s already paid for and won’t be halfway warm from sitting around for an hour?”) People understand that delivery food arrives, at best, tepid, and are not going to want to pay restaurant prices to eat cold food at their kitchen table.

The pre-portioned, cook-at-home model should thrive. The ongoing demise of brick-and-mortal retail will accelerate behind the long tail of the virus and the increased ease and safety of online purchasing. Click a few buttons on your phone, pick up the parcel on your doorstep, run everything through the autoclave and, presto, no contact with the potentially lethal outside world. If it doesn’t fit, send it back. UPS and FedEx will be killing it.

Companies like WalMart and Amazon are hiring anyone who can fog a mirror to work the fields of their warehouses. These have to be terrible jobs, jobs waiting to be replaced by robots who aren’t delayed by traffic or a sick child. Who don’t unionize.

Lots of jobs filling orders at, like, Kroger, for folks to pick up curbside. A pretty good deal for the customer until the substitutions become intolerable. A gruesome job for the order fillers, who are not equipped to make those nuanced substitutions in a second language and whose days are pretty similar. Wage slaves in the extreme, many working on their English. The point of this is that when the government releases jobs data, along with all the good jobs that have disappeared–millions of them–most of the new hires are entry level, low-potential, people happy to have any job at all. Take away the “bad, new jobs” from the report and the results will be even more disheartening.

The fact is that small businesses, once closed for any period of time, cannot put Humpty Dumpty together again in a week.  Or perhaps ever. They are, at that point, starting from scratch with a big debt load from their recent bankruptcy. Plenty of experience, sure, and a field that has recently been cleared of most of the competition. Even with subsidized government loans, assuming the figures could come close to working, the debtor/owner would literally be starting over, albeit with a number of companies in his Contacts. Finding a place. Finding equipment and furnishings. Lining up vendors. Likely that he owes money to most of his previous vendors and dealers, so it might not be as easy as it would be otherwise. On the plus side, there will be plenty of first class locations and employees available.

A healthy number of companies nationally, millions, companies whose CLOSED sign has been in the door for, say, four months, are history. As are the jobs they had once created. The loan at the bank. The account activity with suppliers. In economic terms, this has the effect of a tsunami in the service sector and well beyond, one that will reach every corner of this country. To think that $2.3 trillion will begin to “fix” the damage is, sadly, laughable.

The economy has just gotten significantly smaller. In three weeks. For a long time, as if it had been hit by an immense, national economic hurricane. Can’t just go in on Monday and turn on the lights in a building that, in this case, has had the locks changed and the equipment auctioned off. Unemployment numbers in double digits are expected by summer. GDP economic activity, according to an estimate from Goldman Sachs, will be down 24% in the second quarter. Administration figures have thrown around a 30% unemployment number (by Election Day) reminiscent of Joseph Stalin’s chestnut about death and deaths. Whatever, it’s going to be epic. Frightening. People dying in the halls of hospitals while their kids’ jobs and way of life vanish before their eyes. A true socioeconomic calamity in the making.

At this point, the Fed can inject cash into the markets only by making their own balance sheet worse. Congress and The Smirking Dolt seem prepared to spend as much as possible to fight the Rona in red states. Not so much in blue states. New York, for instance, can, according to official Federal policy, drop dead. But unfathomable numbers, more like $7-10 trillion, are the correct order of magnitude if, in fact, Humpty Dumpty can be brought back to life, good as new and better than ever. Until then, there will be plenty of funerals.

Posted by: Bruce Allen | April 19, 2020

Coronavirus: Here to Stay?

© Bruce Allen

What if instead of referring to a city approaching THE peak of the virus we came to refer to cities having A peak, as in one of several, as in a mountain range? What if it turns out that coronavirus is here to stay until everyone has been vaccinated or tested positive for antibodies?

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These are questions raised in the linked article from The Guardian. This Harvard professor is saying the pandemic is not drawing to a close; au contraire, he suggests it’s just getting started. Me, I am filing this one under “FRIGHTENING.”

Most of the people I know are dealing with social distancing consciously, maintaining standards established weeks ago, and just tired as hell of it. But they take comfort in the notion, apparently misplaced, that the End, so to speak, is Near. The end of the lockdown. The end of social distancing. The resumption of so much great stuff, from concerts and athletics to dinner with friends.

I’ve had a nagging fear, confirmed by the Harvard guy, that this virus may be around a lot longer than people expect, that our failure to get on top of it early allowed it to establish enough of a hold on our population that we won’t be getting rid of it entirely in summers, as we generally do with the old fashioned flu, that we will have allowed it to become a seasonal flu instead of a one-and-done. Similar to the flu we’re all accustomed to, except more lethal. And, at this point, no vaccine.

I’ve observed here that the economy, collateral damage to the health crisis, has effectively become smaller in the past two months. This article suggests it may be that our personal pieces of the world have become smaller, that we get out less, see family and friends less, go shopping less, travel less, becoming part of the new Curbside Economy where ready-to-eat meals are left on your stoop. Notice how every ad you see on TV emphasizes “No Contact”–the service department of your car dealer, the pizza place, etc. We are encouraged to believe that this is a short-term issue. It’s not.

There are countries in Africa that have 12 million inhabitants and 6 ventilators. Rona hasn’t visited them yet, but it will. When it does, we may see the first mass extinction event discussed in Robert Hunter’s important and largely ignored book “Thermageddon,” the authoritative predictor of global warming written in 2003. Hunter was the founder of Greenpeace and knows his way around the environment.

In Thermageddon, the effects of global warming lead eventually to conditions in swaths of the world that will not support life. The extinction events will not be like the five historical events in geologic time, which were global. The 21st century version of these events will be regional.

One recalls the summer of 2019 in Australia, the heartache, when hundreds of millions of animals died in the fires and heat, loss of habitat, loss of drinking water, etc. Coronavirus, left untreated, could have a similar effect on human populations in Africa, Asia and the Middle East. The virus is, as we speak, mutating. No reason to believe it won’t mutate it’s way to loving hot weather.

The truth is that most everything we know about coronavirus at this point is anecdotal, since we cannot measure without adequate testing kits and labs, and we can’t manage what we can’t measure. It’s highly likely that most Americans are not immune to the coronavirus, and that it is not going entirely away. In the absence of testing, we are forced to rely on belief, which is why I think, for many of us, social distancing is here for a long time.

We do have the ability to trace and measure localized swells in infections, and trace them to specific events. There is no doubt in my mind that experimental efforts in generating large group events will result in pockets of infection. People don’t know that they may be carriers–no testing–and so the ping pong balls start flying, bumping into each other. This idea, these experimental, defiant gatherings, appear embraced more by red voters than blue voters, may cause higher infection rates among red voters. Hunh.

Testing and vaccinations are the way to win this war, not arbitrary declarations of “Mission Accomplished” followed by increased incidence of the virus. Loyalty to Donald Trump will not feed the beast in locales in which the virus is established. A man who believes in full authority and no responsibility has no business running a dry cleaning store, much less the most powerful nation on Earth.

This, it would seem, is put-up-or-shut-up time for Trump and red state voters. Agriculture is a mess due to tariffs, healthcare is drying up, now this. The blind loyalty of Trump supporters has been sorely tested for over three years, but they’re still here. There may not be as many of them as there once were, but they’re still here. Will it be the Rona that finally turns them around?

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The wrong man to lead the U.S. for the next four years.

 

 

Posted by: Bruce Allen | April 16, 2020

That Lethal American Spirit

© Bruce Allen

The lawsuits are coming! You know, the ones filed by thousands of business owners, claiming that THEY should be allowed to continue operations, that leaving them off the list was both arbitrary AND capricious. Claiming their right to become a locus of the virus. Don’t tread on me. Don’t fence me in. That mentality. With, in the lasting words of Warren Zevon, lawyers, guns and money.

Michigan protestors

See also the protestors in Michigan who’ve recently taken to the streets, draped in the flag, to convince their governor to re-open the state and allow them back to work, at locations which will, of course, become loci for the virus. This is a measure of the desperation people feel who lose even a single paycheck, one pay envelope away from disaster when it arrives. We are only now beginning to see the effects. Those who argue that the great American economy has been a house of cards have something going for them.

I’ve been asked several times why Korean and Chinese officials have such better results when it comes to containing coronavirus. It’s because their citizens are far more accustomed to being pushed around by their governments. This, in addition to Eastern cultural traditions, deference to authority, etc. So The Powers That Be determine to close a Wuhan, they close it. No discussion. Re-open when virus gone.

Americans are not built the same way. We are mostly rednecks who don’t appreciate people telling us what to do, where to go, where not to go, when, and stuff like that. We believe in freedom of expression, no matter how stupid. We disrespect higher education and think of most government officials as being smarty-pantsed meddlers. We are anti-intellectual, which, in the immediate case, causes us to doubt the public health folks telling us to stay home. True, we are confined to quarters, watching our financial lives crumble before our very eyes, going slowly mad. Domestic violence across the country is on the rise.

It is inevitable, given the plethora of right-wing judges appointed by McConnell & Co in the Senate, that many of these suits will obtain judicial relief for the plaintiffs from the good sense being imposed upon them. Suddenly, employees of these companies will be getting called back to work, well before the “all clear” signal has been issued from their state capital. This will put those employees in the bind faced by all working people in April of 2020–risk infection or get evicted. And if you do get infected, odds are you’ll end up with big medical bills, no job, and ultimately get evicted anyway. Like the old joke about Death, or Chi-Chi.*

The financial pressure upon governors and mayors will be brutal; safety net expenditures will be through the roof while tax income will drop like a stone, creating what are, in many states, illegal situations around budget deficits. Earlier, I forgot to mention that Americans are strongly anti-socialist until trouble arrives, at which moment they want their government money. Like now. With unemployment anticipated to approach 1930’s levels and no assurance of any kind of quick rebound, these deficits will begin to pile up as far as the eye can see. At the federal level, $3.8 trillion YTD within a fiscal year that ends in, like, October.

The so-called American Spirit, embodied in New Hampshire license plates “Live Free or Die (in Scenic New Hampshire)” sits at the root of this current situation, where sheltering in place is starting to chafe. The American Spirit is unbridled, impulsive, and subject to angry outbursts when thwarted. The periodic flooding of the collective American consciousness by sudden exogenous events–Pearl Harbor, 9/11, this–drive us, currently, to want to act against our own best interests. We want to show the world that Americans aren’t going to get pushed around by some microbe.

Funny how you can actually graph a representation of The American Spirit applied to coronavirus. Currently, we are managing, while the number of reported cases doubled in a week from one to two million. Like different rivers cresting at different times during spring rains, the virus will peak and valley at locations all over the board where environmental conditions are right–poor, crowded, and dirty. With a pre-emptive return of workers to their workplaces, conditions appear ripe for a second wave of infections.

Two huge questions remain unanswered going forward. If you’ve been infected once, can you get infected again? And when will a reliable antibody test be available? Without answers to these questions, even knowing if we’ve quashed the virus will be impossible.

Deputy Barney Fife, when confronted with what were always small problems in Mayberry, used to always say, “Nip it! Nip it! Nip it in the bud!!” This mentality is what has worked in Korea and, apparently, China. It won’t work in the U.S. Many millions of people will continue to go to work, generally without any say in the matter or any other options. The virus will continue to spread, hopefully at much lower rates due to summer weather and possible immunity. But it doesn’t look to go away. The American Spirit will have allowed the coronavirus to become a seasonal flu, like the flu, only way more potent. And that’s a problem.

The other problem is the economy which, if my profs had it right in college, will be a shambles by the time the election rolls around. Unemployment in the high teens or low twenties. Gasoline at $1.25. Persistent deflation. (We recall that inflation works to the benefit of the borrower, since the $100 a month he sends his creditor is worth less each month. However, deflation works to the benefit of lenders, which, over time, will encourage defaults if re-financing is not available in all sectors of a struggling economy.)

Donald Trump is the political savior of folks deeply entwined in The American Spirit. Together, they will make most things worse. The only answer, at this point, is for Joe Biden to win the presidency and the U.S. Senate gets flipped, with McConnell out on his political ass.

Luckily, it seems a growing number of Americans find great huge helpings of American Spirit distasteful, especially if they have pre-existing ideological or moral reasons to dislike Donald Trump. Historically, in conditions like what we will be experiencing between now and the election, incumbents get creamed. The Republican Party is anchored to Trump’s survivability, and Trump’s team has no real idea how to approach the problems–appointing Ivanka to lead the small business recovery effort?–on any level. Oh, and let’s not leave out ‘the astonishing vapidity’ of Jared Kushner, so eloquently unfurled by one of my favorite WAPO columnists, Jennifer Senior. And Peter Navarro, a true, card-carrying crackpot.

The American Spirit looks fully capable of taking a bad situation and making it worse. Donald Trump is exactly the man to lead that effort.

* * *

*Three missionaries are captured by a tribe of South American indigenous people, tied up and thrown into a hut. They are sweating bullets and can hear the chiefs arguing. Suddenly, a warrior enters the hut, points to the first missionary, and says, “You choose.  DEATH, or Chi-Chi!” The missionary, only knowing he didn’t want to die, chose Chi-Chi. The warrior reported this to the Chief, who stepped in and pronounced, “You choose Chi-Chi! Take him away.” At which point the prisoner is dragged off and gang-raped by every male in the tribe, then thrown back into the hut with the other two.
The warrior re-appears, points to the second missionary, and demands, “You. Choose DEATH, or Chi-Chi!” The missionary, knowing what he was in for, but unwilling to die, said, “Chi-Chi.” Again, the warrior reported to the Chief, who appeared, repeated the first order, and they dragged the poor sod off for the rough treatment again. Again, he is tossed back into the hut with the other two.
Meanwhile, during all of this, the third missionary has had time to think, to listen to the screams, to consider his place in the world. He has reached a decision. The warrior appears for a third time, says to him, “You. Choose DEATH, or Chi-Chi.” The missionary looks him in the eye and says, “I choose death.” The warrior reported this to the Chief, who again appeared. The Chief eyes the missionary, and says, “You choose death?” The missionary replies, “Yes, I’d rather die than go through that.” And the Chief says, “OK, You choose death. Good. BUT FIRST, CHI-CHI!!!”

 

 

 

Posted by: Bruce Allen | April 13, 2020

Trump is Toast

© Bruce Allen

Back in the day, entering college, I declared a political science major, having grown up in the D.C. area in a political environment and anticipating a career in government service. I changed my major to economics, apparently mimicking my dad’s degree from Illinois. But the real reason was my budding belief that the way to understand politics was to understand economics.

Economics is one of a handful of social sciences in which it is important to be able to predict things. You can probably find a degree in polling somewhere in this country. But the point is that one can project from current economic conditions what those conditions are likely to be in, say, September and October. Despite massive governmental intervention in the markets, unemployment is likely to approach 20% nationally with some metro pockets much worse. Business failures will be at all-time highs, reflecting one of the results of what the profs at Wash You in St. Louis and, later, at Michigan State called an “exogenous event,” one of those pesky real-world things–in this case, a bungled pandemic–that blow up your models.

Capture

Imagine being one of the, say, 25 million people who lose their jobs due, directly or otherwise, to the virus; these are in addition to the people who lose their lives. These people, many of whom will go on to lose their homes and marriages, are going to be unhappy about what has happened to them. Many of them have been sick and have lost their jobs simultaneously. Most of them will feel innocent and will want to blame someone, and that someone is likely to be Trump. And it’s likely that many of the jobs lost have been low-paying jobs in western/red states, places the Repugs have taken for granted for a generation anyway.

A few supporters will conclude that the Rona has been sent by God to punish the wicked, only to have it strike their own families and friends. I guess that’s the way things go on the right end of the evangelical curve.

Biden is clever enough to build his campaign to address both the recently-arisen health and healthcare issues as well as a plan to re-build what will be a shattered retail landscape, ranging from the franchised Subway restaurant down the street to institutions like Fenway Park, the Miami Dolphins and the L.A. Coliseum, for example.

I believe most professionals are under-estimating the effects these types of lost jobs will have on downstream employment. The strains on what’s left of the social safety net will be enormous. The soft underbelly of our economy will be on full display, unable to respond quickly enough to a sea change in business conditions, setting off a chain reaction of loans going bad, up and down the line. With $10 trillion in aggressive corporate bonds out there, the possibility of big no-shit defaults looms.

Under these conditions–the virus lingering in places, infections up and down, here and there–and with the economy on the virtual brink, it is unclear to me how Trump argues for re-election. Unless it is to paraphrase the old saw about events at Ford’s Theater in Washington in 1865, in which a reporter asks the new widow, “Other than that, Mrs. Lincoln, how was the play?” Trump cannot argue that, were it not for this unseen, unknown, unexpected virus, everything would have been peachy. By late summer, that dog will not hunt.

All Joe Biden needs to do is remain positive in his outlook for the immediate future, and relentless in his criticism of Donald Trump’s lack of leadership in his handling of the pandemic and the business failures it caused. Events already in place will assure a wide audience for this message.

Recent polling puts Biden 11 points ahead of Trump nationally. That could widen to, say, 15% by June. I also believe a number of economists who predict that the economy will not “bounce back” from this debacle, that many of the meaningful effects of the disease will linger until a vaccine is developed and deployed, which could be years.

Democrats can pay attention to flipping the Senate, using Bloomberg’s analytics, supporting candidates like Amy McGrath in Kentucky, taking on the execrable Mitch McConnell. Pinning Republicans in Congress, by their own words and votes, to Trump’s failed policies. Picturing them as enablers of a demented narcissist. Show them putting party ahead of country Every. Single. Time. they had a chance. Flipping the Senate this year should be easier than was flipping the House in 2018. Holding on to the House should be a breeze.

For Republicans, the 2020 presidential campaign will feature an impeached, unhinged incumbent, unemployment of 18%, and a country that has suffered more avoidable loss than the Vietnam generation. A world economy mired in recession, with Depression-level pain and pressure evident throughout American society. A system stretched to the breaking point. An incumbent who refuses to take any responsibility for anything. A voting public furious at what has happened to them, their families and their friends.

Even with the deck stacked so completely against him, Trump could, I suppose, steal a victory in the electoral college. But it looks to be harder that it was in 2016, with an unpopular Democratic nominee arguing against another candidate. We have since learned that the Trump administration so many of us dreaded now exists. Clinton was forced to predict what a Trump administration would look like. Biden has the advantage of pointing out what it has, in fact, become: William Barr. Mark Meadows. Mike Pompeo. Larry Frickin Kudlow. Steve “The Foreclosure King” Mnuchin. Rudy Giuliani.

A sleazier, slimier collection of guys wearing $2000 suits you’ll never find.

It’s almost impossible for me to imagine lightning striking twice with this Trump guy. We Never-Trumpers feared for the worst, and now it’s here. The “it came from out of nowhere” excuse doesn’t wash. In any presidency, pivotal moments do not announce their impending arrival two months in advance. Like the Cuban Missile Crisis, Katrina, and 9/11 they can be on you in hours or days. By any measure, Trump’s response to this not-so-sudden turn of events has been unsatisfactory. Certainly undeserving of re-election in any sane nation.

Posted by: Bruce Allen | April 11, 2020

Re-Shuffling the Deck

© Bruce Allen

Thinking, again, about the post-corona world of commerce here in the U.S.

We’ve observed here before that professional and college athletics have replaced traditional manufacturers in the economy of the early 21st century. The players, the fans, and the businesses that make a living selling, here in Indy, to the Colts, Pacers, IU and Purdue are numerous and have an enormous impact on the financial health of the Indianapolis area. However, in order to feed the engine of this economic activity great crowds are necessary—sellouts if at all possible—in close quarters, in food lines, bumper-to-bumper in gear stores, etc.

Unemployment

Lined up for unemployment applications, Florida April 2020

The conventional wisdom in the U.S. on the Saturday before Easter and after Good Friday, when Jesus was allegedly in Hell, taunting Satan, before rising again on Sunday, is that the world will be returning to some kind of new normal by the end of summer. That there will not be a recurrence of Covid-19 or any of its cousins. The realization that many of the retailers and restaurants we used to patronize will no longer exist or will be in some stage of re-opening if and when possible. That the retail/restaurant sector of the economy will have taken a seismic hit, and that big changes will need to be made in response. Those organizations nimble enough to deliver goods and services in the Curbside Economy in a timely and efficient manner will be the new kings. The herd, as it were, will have been thinned.

The story is vastly different for the college and professional sports enterprises. For as slow as the rest of the economy will be returning to some state of equilibrium, if not normalcy, it could easily take years—think three or four years—before people would even think about attending these events in a concentration resembling that before the virus struck. For these organizations, too, corona must be viewed as an existential threat. The small businesses, the storefronts, as we’ve discussed, are screwed. And the monster businesses—the friggin’ Lakers, The L.A. Coliseum, Notre Dame football—are well and deeply screwed. It might well become illegal for more than, say, 20% of a team’s tickets could be sold, to maintain social distancing. None of these organizations can survive three years of no fan revenue followed by years of 20% fan revenues.

Back in the dark ages of the 1970’s in college, we discussed the multiplier effect as it applied to basic industries; essentially, the observation that we, as a nation, cannot stand around giving each other haircuts to make our system work. We need engines, what we called basic industries, to create jobs that create more jobs that create even more jobs. In the 1800’s and 1900’s these were manufacturers, drivers of the Industrial Revolution.

By the early 21st century, most of these employers were gone. In their places had grown these cathedrals to athletics and, in Ed Sullivan’s words, other “really big shews.” Monster trucks. Rodeos. Concerts. Conventions. Hundreds of college stadia. Never mind the sports. Never mind what happens to the TV industry, which suddenly has hours of time to sell at fire-sale prices. None of these new basic industries will survive what appears will be the aftermath of the pandemic. Nor will the hundreds of other businesses who depend on these organizations for their livelihood. Imagine how much money was lost when March Madness was canceled for 2020. Many, many millions. This will drive giant holes in the regional economies where the stadia are located. Surely this is being discussed in board rooms all over the world, but there is nothing in the media, other than the delays and uncertainty.

Big time athletics, as a profession, as a past-time, as we knew it, is gone. Until an effective pan-virus vaccine has been created and distributed nationally.

Some of us wonder how The Coliseum in Rome could have fallen into such disrepair over time. Decades from now, people may look at the husks of Lucas Oil Stadium or The Rose Bowl and wonder the same thing. As for the malls of America, a lot of them are developing kind of a ghost town look, too.

The times they are a-changing. The re-shuffling of the deck has begun.

Posted by: Bruce Allen | April 9, 2020

Dear Bud By The Cornfield–

© Bruce Allen  Re-posted on April 9, 2020. Originally posted on October 2, 2007

This is a post from October 2007 when this column operated under a different format. Back then, I would make up questions, then send them to myself, pretending to be, like, Confused in Connecticut. Bud, an old friend who actually thought I wanted people to send in questions, is no longer with us. I found this while looking for something else, and, despite the rough transition from his actual Republican question to my answer, still think I had Hillary pegged back then. The John Edwards reference proves this is old.

Dear Mr. BruAl—  I want to know about your view of Hillary Clinton and her relationships in the USA.  Your blog rocks.  So far.       Bud by the Cornfield

Dear Bud—-

This link will give you most of what little we know about Hillary at this point in her life.  It’s maybe 20 or 30 pages.  Please take an hour or two to read the link, then get back to me for a few giggles.

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Hillary_Rodham_Clinton#Early_life

Hillary is an almost mutant example of what we refer to as The Alpha Female.  Pound for pound, tougher than any Christian man on earth.  Mentally tough, a career overachiever willing to “dig deep” in the pursuit of truth, justice and the American way.  (Yes, that was Superman, but you get our point.) She realized early in her career that she would not do well as a Republican and switched in time for the ’72 election.  Since then she has been a loud mainstream liberal.  And it’s the “liberal” part that makes so many folks throughout the country uncomfortable about Hillary.

Someone named Willis Player said that a liberal “is a person whose interests aren’t at stake at the moment.”  Back in the 40’s and 50’s and 60’s when the old Great Democratic coalition came together, being a liberal meant supporting income redistribution, from the wealthy to the poor.  Almost straight from the Bible.  It meant supporting integration and voting rights and better schools, with higher taxes on businesses and the wealthy paying for it.  It meant deficit spending in years of recession and accumulating surpluses during years of economic expansion.  Growing up in the DC area, most of our parents were liberal democrats. Whereas black urban democrats and dixiecrats were largely born to their politics, suburban liberals, with the zeal of the convert, chose them.  Being a liberal suggested enlightened self interest, service to a higher purpose than one’s own wallet, marginal personal sacrifice for the benefit of the greater good.

In 2007 in central Indiana liberal is a dirty word.  How did this happen?

We at Mr. BruAl like to believe that our boy Ron Reagan began the process of converting a term connoting self-sacrifice and belief in racial equality into one of derision.  If you’re a liberal in Indiana in 2007 people think you’re soft in the head, probably a closet homosexual, hopelessly naive, or simply incapable of critical thinking.  (BTW, back in the 1920’s, Ron Reagan thumped my father during a high school debate contest somewhere between Dixon and Mendota, Illinois.)  During his 8 years he made fun of  “tax and spend” liberals while spending the ol’ Soviet Union out of existence, bringing the US economy out of recession and financing it all, lower taxes included, on his giant MasterCard, the national debt.  Republicans liked the results of credit card spending so much they bought into the ridicule of liberals that accompanied it.  Puddingheaded liberals couldn’t possibly understand the Laffer curve, the secret allowing both guns and butter.

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/National_debt_by_U.S._presidential_terms

The above chart looks at national debt as a percentage of GNP.  The first column of figures is the national debt percentage at the start of the term.  The second column is the percentage at the end of the term(s).  Let’s see how our boy Ron did compared to those around him, including the tax and spend liberals:                                                 Net

Eisenhower                 1953-1960        71.3       55.1   -16.2% Outstanding

Kennedy/Johnson      1961-1968        55.1      38.6    -16.5% Outstanding

Nixon/Ford                 1969-1976        38.6      35.8        -2.8% Acceptable

Jimmy Carter              1977-1980        35.8      32.6       -3.2% One term only

Ronald Reagan      1981-1988       32.6     53.1    +20.5%     Impeachable

George Bush Sr.     1989-1992       53.1     66.2   +13.1%      Unacceptable

Bill Clinton                   1993-2000        66.2      57.4     -8.8% Very good

George Bush Jr.    2001-2008*      57.4     69.8*   +12.4%    Shameful

*projected

Let’s acknowledge the active participation of the largely Democratic congress during these periods of frightening federal largesse.  Let’s also acknowledge the existence of lags in these figures, which undoubtedly distort the results.  Let’s not pretend that the difference is solely due to putting the military “back where it belongs” after years of alleged Democratic neglect.  Since the early 80’s, being a conservative equates to having overseen the effective doubling of the national debt, the not-surprising consequence of having supported both big government and the ruthless and simultaneous pursuit of tax cuts scaled to disproportionately benefit people in higher income brackets.

As the national debt increases, growing debt payments thereon reduce the government’s ability to fund itself, a situation in which the magic of compound interest is clearly working against us.  With politicians clearly unable to keep themselves from spending tax dollars, there is no long term alternative, outside of ridiculously optimistic forecasts of economic productivity, to increasing tax revenues.  This is one half of the vise slowing growth prospects for the U.S. economy in the foreseeable future, the other half being the inevitable increase in the price of oil and the shocks that those increases always produce in the real prices of other goods and services.

In closing, Bud, let us say that Hillary comes across as moody, vindictive, cynical, betrayed, brilliant, utterly determined, and amoral, a do good-er at heart, who made the decision, back when it was fashionable, to become a liberal politician.  She has stuck to her guns pretty much since then.  We would not want to cross her, and we believe that Emma Thompson probably did a superb rendition of her in the movie version of Primary Colors.  She is who she is.  As a “Yellow Dog Democrat” we would vote for her before we’d vote for any of the current Republicans, if only so we could tell our grandchildren that we voted for the first woman ever to run for president.  The same way we tell our daughters we voted for George McGovern in our first presidential election, and convinced our parents not to vote Republican for the first time EVER that same year.  (We liberals  love the futile, symbolic, highly-principled gesture.  Republicans, please see Goldwater in ’64.)

Is Mr. BruAl a bleeding heart?  Probably.  Does Mr. BruAl still support the concept of redistributing income to address poverty?  Yes.  Is the political system sufficiently corrupt to prevent higher funding from producing better results?  Yes.  Is the crisis in families in our underclass, the result of generations of crime, drugs, welfare, debt, illegitimacy, abortion, incarceration and bureaucratic indifference, making it seem impossible to educate children from those environments?  How could it not?

Mr. BruAl understands how Hillary can cause the skin of true conservatives to crawl.  We do not expect her to get elected, although she could  be an effective vice presidential candidate to a John Edwards.  We believe that long-time Democrats think of Hillary the way long-time Republicans think of Nixon–flawed and unlikeable, something of a conniver, but one whose sins are far outweighed by his or her achievements, intellect and leadership.  Certainly worth voting for.

One last note.  As to her relationships in the USA, the only stuff we’re willing to make up are the thing during college with the Sigma Xi’s from Harvard, the state police lieutenant in Little Rock, the Secret Service guy at the White House and the National Security guy, and the one-nighter with the new Federal Reserve guy at the Drake in Chicago last year when Bill was doing some crazy stuff in Africa.  Typical of you Republicans to only want the lurid details.

Thanks for writing.

Posted by: Bruce Allen | April 3, 2020

Epic Fail in Progress; Future Unclear

© Bruce Allen

What if, say, over the next five years the notion of leaving one’s home to consume food and/or beverages becomes absurd.  Attending a convention would be laughable. Air travel undertaken only when driving is impractical. Concerts–impossible. Schools online only. Resorts, yeah, resorts. Cruises too, right?

Virtually everything people consume would be delivered to their home or to one of many mini-distribution centers locally that used to be retail outlets. Places that will ship orders or where customers can go to pick up their orders. Staycations will become the order of the day, finding creative ways to have fun at home.

What if brick-and-mortar retail suffered the same fate? That the concept of going out shopping and having lunch will be but a fond memory in a world of isolation and video screens. And all the millions of people who made their livings around these industries will be out of work, pretty much permanently, needing to point their careers in different directions.

Unemployment chart 04032020

Discretionary spending would drop to the floor, between the millions of people without ready access to income or assets and people who are well-off but have fewer of the things they used to spend money on available to them. I fear these contagions are here to stay, that it’s one this year and another the next. [BTW, imagine if coronavirus was as lethal as, say, smallpox. I venture to say no one has ever had smallpox and not known it.]

In January Nancy and I started discussing logarithmic curves. I didn’t foresee how quickly this would come upon us, how the numbers have been jumping of late. I did foresee that the job losses would exceed the number of infections. And we all observed how the President downplayed the virus back in January and February, calling it another Democratic hoax designed to drive him out of office. And although it’s clearly no Democratic hoax, it may succeed in driving him from office. A national health disaster on top of a brutal depression as the election looms. There’s no way.

Getting back to the questions I started with. We cannot conceive what our economy may look like in five years, if, in fact, the economic issues exposed during this period spin out of control. I told my wife I wanted to get $10,000 in cash and keep it in the house in case the wheels fell off and we are forced to buy food on a black market of some kind. She laughed it off and said I could get $5,000, just to humor me. I hope never to need it.

The American economy is consumption-based, with around 75% of all economic activity centered around consumers consuming. It is also leveraged, dependent upon this economic activity to continue, about as regular as a piston, month after month, to keep everyone getting paid.

A virtual shutdown of the discretionary economy for an extended period of time–three to six months–would make it difficult to rebuild and reopen many storefront businesses. This is why the upcoming depression is likely to be long and deep. The Fed has already shot its load, and the Treasury needs to print and sell bonds as fast as possible to keep up with relief efforts. Tax revenues are falling fast, and transfer payments, otherwise known as the social safety net, are pouring out money, in generally insufficient amounts per recipient, but totaling in the billions of dollars.

I’ve been a casual student of public policy and economics since I was in college. I cannot remember a confluence of events and economic conditions that left our economy–never mind our healthcare system–so vulnerable to threats ranging from rising interest rates to a fall in the value of the dollar to sovereign debt defaults. It is difficult to peer into the future, but the need to do so is driven by the reality that the economy needs to be re-configured in a post-2020 world. With a healthcare system likewise in shambles, this country is in desperate need of new leadership.

Posted by: Bruce Allen | March 31, 2020

The Retail/Restaurant Sky is Falling

© Bruce Allen

We may be witnessing the end of a form of capitalism we’ve been enjoying for centuries. Not the form of capitalism having to do with the, tut tut, owners of the means of production, the captains of industry, the IBMs and Apples of the world. The street-level form in which people leave their homes and go out to shop, dine, work, lodge and travel, patrons of millions of small businesses farther down the food chain from the Alphabets of the world. A world in which the people went to the goods and services.

We now live in a world—advertised as temporary, but part of a trend—in which the goods and services need to get to the people. Restaurants and small brick-and-mortar retailers as we’ve known them all our lives will likely cease to exist as segments of the American retail marketplace. The shopping part, via places like Amazon, has already been figured out. It’s the food part—who does the shopping, measuring, prepping, and preparing—that will need to be re-configured, because people have stopped going out to eat.

Think about that. Restaurant sales in 2019 were approximately $863 billion dollars. Other retail sales totaled $6 trillion, of which 60% occurred in stores, 40% online, another $3.6 trillion, puts the total at $4.5 trillion, the size of the market at severe risk until everyone has been immunized and as long as a new virus doesn’t come along and ruin everything again next year. [Never mind the global impacts, which could approach extinction events in some areas.]

The Federal Reserve Bank of St. Louis, where my old econ professor at WashYou used to work, yesterday announced that the U.S. economy could shed 47 million jobs between now and the fall, resulting in an unemployment rate of 32%, which compares to the 25% rate of unemployment during the Depression of the 1930’s. Any notion that the economy would bounce back equally fast is wrong, in that so much of the infrastructure of the small retail/restaurant segment of the market is a fragile, month-to-month proposition for much of the year, trying to pay the lease and make payroll every week. Such infrastructure cannot weather inactivity.

Two months closed and most of these businesses are gone. Their equipment is sold and their employees have either found other employment or are on unemployment. These companies are not like balloons that you can let the air out of and then blow up again. For many, not only will they close their stores, but they will have angry creditors to deal with afterwards, bills to pay, no income. This, in turn, will threaten their homes, their marriages, everything. And it will be happening over and over and over in the months to come. Keeping America Great.

The destructive effect of this change, that people will look for reasons NOT to go out shopping and dining, will be immense. The result will be a change in how we produce and procure meals, primarily dinners, week-in-and-week-out. For a good number of Americans, going out a few times a month, even a couple times a week, had become part of trying to keep up with kids and their activities. Keeps mom sane, the kids generally love it, no clean-up, etc. Consider that in 2021 this option could become extremely limited, that 95% of the independent restaurants, and plenty of franchised chain restaurants, will have closed, most for good, creating holes in out lots at shopping centers across the country. Separate problem.

Eating at home will have once again become the way of the world. The question as to who does the parts before the actual final cooking or warming up has yet to be answered. This is probably a business-builder for companies that produce what we once called TV dinners, peel back the foil and avoid the mixed vegetables. It will undoubtedly enlarge the market for companies modeled along Pea Pod and Hello Fresh and Blue Apron. Not to mention grocery retailers themselves, who will have replaced workers who used to be cashiers and stockers and added a layer of employees who fill online orders. Grocery retailers will probably go from conventional retailers to small warehouses, with pick-up and delivery docks.

The ‘sheltering at home’ we’ve been experiencing here in Indianapolis has been an isolating event, just my wife and me at almost all times, with occasional outdoor visits from our kids and grands; we see 95% less of them than we did three weeks ago. The notion of not going anywhere we don’t have to has become customary but is still pretty much of a bummer. My concern looking ahead is that 2020 is not the last we will have seen of covid 19, that it or something very much like it will torment us in 2021 and perhaps beyond, that the vaccines under development will be aiming at moving targets/mutations each season.

The idea that folks can organize to help small businesses survive is, as they say, not supported by the data. Certainly, everyone would love for it to happen. But market forces, mountains of corporate debt, an economy built on just-in-time replenishment and an inelastic workforce is a delicate thing, not built to withstand multi-months of no activity and more of reduced activity, if any. The steps the government has taken to extend loans to small businesses will take forever to administer and won’t be highly sought by entrepreneurs with certain immediate debts and uncertain future revenues. Not even declarations of moratoria on debt and rent payments will avoid some kind of future reckoning.

Providing unemployment benefits for some 40 million workers will quickly bankrupt states’ allocated funds. At the federal level, income tax revenues will decline, and new programs designed to stop the bleeding will add to the deficit. The notion that the United States could ‘run out of money’ was, in the past, unthinkable. Now, even liberals must consider that there will be constraints to our ability to sell more Treasury bonds to finance the deficits, both present and yet to come. Some $23 trillion in revolving debt, with more coming every day as the virus makes policymakers look trivial and irrelevant, incapable of doing anything more than allocating taxpayer moneys to big corporations, essentially ignoring the immediate problems of 40-some million people.

The fact that interest rates on Treasury bills and notes are at historical lows is good, for now. If rates go up with the deficit, re-financing older loans will become more and more expensive. This, according to conservatives, is the real threat. It has been held over our heads for 50 years, and we’ve yet to see the expected fallout, but now may, in fact, be the time.

This is a government on the run. This is a society and economy poised to undergo massive, tectonic plate-sized changes, changes that will permanently alter the American retail landscape. ‘Sheltering in place’ is a preview of what is yet to come.

How any president can survive such a stupendous, epic fail in an election year is beyond me.

Posted by: Bruce Allen | March 28, 2020

The Economy: Humpty Dumpty

© Bruce Allen

Originally posted in late March, plenty has happened since then. Checking to see how the predictions are holding up.

humpty-dumpty-cute-falls-down-62661416

All the king’s horses and all the king’s men…

The coronavirus plague appears ready, willing and able to hang around for a long time, coming in seasonal waves through populations lacking immunity, until there is a vaccine. We’re talking years, more due to the number of “strains” of the virus running loose out there. The long-term questions concerning the disease are 1) how quickly can we get in front of it and 2) if we do get in front of it, can we stay there?

The Next Great Recession into which we’ve entered promises to be different from anything since the 1930’s. The Roosevelt government grappled with The Depression for years, unable to accomplish much of anything at scale, and the economy only got turned around by World War II and the sudden need for millions of tons of American-made products, including weapons, planes, ships, etc., down the line. But, on its own, and without an exogenous event to “spike the curve,” the Depression could have lasted another ten years.

Here, in 2020, the exogenous event is the virus, and the allegedly-healthy economy is exposed as the fragile instrument it is. Outside the Fortune 1000, a plurality of small companies is two bad months away from ceasing to exist. If a restaurant is told there will be no serving customers inside until, say, September, they will generally be done. Some will be in a niche that permits quick conversion to a carryout/delivery model during that time, a model which will have higher unit costs and lower revenues, since customers will mostly evade the stiff margins extant on the beverage side of the business. (“What, I’m gonna order a bottle of beer from you for $7.00 when I have a 12-pack in the fridge downstairs that’s already paid for and won’t be halfway warm from sitting around for an hour?”) People understand that delivery food arrives, at best, tepid, and are not going to want to pay restaurant prices to eat cold food at their kitchen table.

The pre-portioned, cook-at-home model should thrive. The ongoing demise of brick-and-mortal retail will accelerate behind the long tail of the virus and the increased ease and safety of online purchasing. Click a few buttons on your phone, pick up the parcel on your doorstep, run everything through the autoclave and, presto, no contact with the potentially lethal outside world. If it doesn’t fit, send it back. UPS and FedEx will be killing it.

Companies like WalMart and Amazon are hiring anyone who can fog a mirror to work the fields of their warehouses. These have to be terrible jobs, jobs waiting to be replaced by robots who aren’t delayed by traffic or a sick child. Who don’t unionize.

Lots of jobs filling orders at, like, Kroger, for folks to pick up curbside. A pretty good deal for the customer until the substitutions become intolerable. A gruesome job for the order fillers, who are not equipped to make those nuanced substitutions in a second language and whose days are pretty similar. Wage slaves in the extreme, many working on their English. The point of this is that when the government releases jobs data, along with all the good jobs that have disappeared–millions of them–most of the new hires are entry level, low-potential, people happy to have any job at all. Take away the “bad, new jobs” from the report and the results will be even more disheartening.

The fact is that small businesses, once closed for any period of time, cannot put Humpty Dumpty together again in a week.  Or perhaps ever. They are, at that point, starting from scratch with a big debt load from their recent bankruptcy. Plenty of experience, sure, and a field that has recently been cleared of most of the competition. Even with subsidized government loans, assuming the figures could come close to working, the debtor/owner would literally be starting over, albeit with a number of companies in his Contacts. Finding a place. Finding equipment and furnishings. Lining up vendors. Likely that he owes money to most of his previous vendors and dealers, so it might not be as easy as it would be otherwise. On the plus side, there will be plenty of first class locations and employees available.

A healthy number of companies nationally, millions, companies whose CLOSED sign has been in the door for, say, four months, are history. As are the jobs they had once created. The loan at the bank. The account activity with suppliers. In economic terms, this has the effect of a tsunami in the service sector and well beyond, one that will reach every corner of this country. To think that $2.3 trillion will begin to “fix” the damage is, sadly, laughable.

The economy has just gotten significantly smaller. In three weeks. For a long time, as if it had been hit by an immense, national economic hurricane. Can’t just go in on Monday and turn on the lights in a building that, in this case, has had the locks changed and the equipment auctioned off. Unemployment numbers in double digits are expected by summer. GDP economic activity, according to an estimate from Goldman Sachs, will be down 24% in the second quarter. Administration figures have thrown around a 30% unemployment number (by Election Day) reminiscent of Joseph Stalin’s chestnut about death and deaths. Whatever, it’s going to be epic. Frightening. People dying in the halls of hospitals while their kids’ jobs and way of life vanish before their eyes. A true socioeconomic calamity in the making.

At this point, the Fed can inject cash into the markets only by making their own balance sheet worse. Congress and The Smirking Dolt seem prepared to spend as much as possible to fight the Rona in red states. Not so much in blue states. New York, for instance, can, according to official Federal policy, drop dead. But unfathomable numbers, more like $7-10 trillion, are the correct order of magnitude if, in fact, Humpty Dumpty can be brought back to life, good as new and better than ever. Until then, there will be plenty of funerals.

 

Posted by: Bruce Allen | March 26, 2020

Hey, Boomer–thanks for everything

© Bruce Allen

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In the early stages of the Trump Recession, which will be the largest in history, with historical ramifications, the problem at the root of the downturn is this: People, many of them boomers, have all but stopped what economists call “discretionary spending.” They are still spending money on things perceived as needs, where they can, although long-term shortages in a surprising number of these categories are becoming a concern.

But discretionary spending–restaurants, vacations, hotels, concerts, sporting events etc.–has come to a halt. This, in turn, has put pressure on smaller businesses, farther down the food chain, that support these industries or who make a living serving their employees. The majority of these service companies, I suspect, are hand-to-mouth operations, trying to make payroll and stay current on the lease. Downturns such as these–sudden, serious, existential–often squeeze the toothpaste out of the tube for these enterprises. No amount of “stimulus,” which is mostly fake anyway, will help.

Six months from now the economic landscape is going to look vastly different from theUp&down chart-Main way it looks today. Strip malls will look like strip mines; wastelands, tenants long gone, doors locked, signs down. Only the crème de la crème of restaurants, for example, will continue to exist, and then in a reduced capacity. An entire sector of the economy is about to get swept away by this virus, even if the outbreak is contained at something approaching its current level, which is doubtful. Much of the damage has already been done. Movie theaters, bowling alleys, anything entertainment-related will have a hard time surviving this thing. So will their former employees.

From here in the Midwest, it appears new unemployment claims will be at historic levels beginning this week and continuing through April and May if not longer. The unemployment rate, currently around an all-time low of 3.5%, is expected to reach around 11% by June. This assumes around 18 million people looking for work in June, compared to around 6 million in January. Some highly-placed alarmists in the Administration are throwing around numbers like 30% unemployment on the horizon, which, even to me, is dubious. But 20% appears within reach, if the Trumpists continue to fumble the ball backwards.

Sure, the bailout is great and all, but there’s way too much trickle-down going on. Senators acting as the board of directors for entire industries, deciding which shall live and which shall die. Almost half a billion in a slush fund for Trump and Mnuchin to throw around as they see fit just before the election.

So much has been made over my entire adult life about small businesses and the vital role they play in creating jobs in this country. The majority of them do OK in the best of years, then along comes the Rona. Customers gone, employees gone, lease gone, furnishings and equipment gone, debts remaining. Most of these guys are going to go broke. Some will lose their homes. Some will lose their spouses. Their employees will be screwed. And there are millions of them out there, watching their life’s work go up in smoke, like a brushfire. Three months between getting by and losing it all.

So much of American business operates, either intentionally or by necessity, on “just in time” logistics. Lots of links, lots of moving parts. A kink will, accordingly, cause a number of problems for a number of companies. Think suppliers for a restaurant that suddenly closes owing $150,000. Now, multiply this by the millions, and you will understand the scale and scope of what is happening here. $2 trillion, over an achingly long time and with pieces being taken out at many places along the way, will not begin to put Humpty Dumpty back together again. The general over-storing of America–too many restaurants, too many clothing stores–is coming to an end.

The notion that there will be a quick spring-back from all this, once the virus is a memory, is misguided. The problem is that all of these small businesses–thinking restaurants here–lying in ruins cannot suddenly put everything back together, gather the crew, and hope to attract a population which, over three months, has acclimated to preparing its own meals and is shocked at how much they save each month. They will return to restaurants in the foreseeable future, but their frequency and choices at that point will be limited.

The sad truth about the Trump Recession is that there will not be much the federal government can do about it. Lowering interest rates, even if it worked, is impossible, as they’re already at zero. Forces are in motion at this moment which will make it hard for the owners of small businesses that employed so many workers–many of them in low-paying jobs–to come back and employ people again anytime soon. They will be too busy trying to hold onto their homes. The social costs of high unemployment–quitting school, dealing with student loans, crime–will add to the overall costs of failed government policy.

Is it any wonder that young people hate old people these days?

 

 

Posted by: Bruce Allen | March 24, 2020

Trump’s Double Bind

© Bruce Allen

From Wikipedia: A double bind is a dilemma…in which an individual (or group) receives two or more conflicting messages, with one negating the other. In some circumstances (particularly families and relationships) this might be emotionally distressing. This creates a situation in which a successful response to one message results in a failed response to the other (and vice versa), so that the person will automatically be wrong regardless of response. The double bind occurs when the person cannot confront the inherent dilemma, and therefore can neither resolve it nor opt out of the situation.

There is a cohort in the world population that will say they saw something like this coming. I’m a member of that cohort. As President, the Smirking Dolt has been faking it and riffing and lying and getting by simply by being around while the rising tide of global economic growth, however tepid, kept his political boat afloat. But we suspected that gutting the bureaucracy and replacing capable aides and advisors with boot-licking yes-men would ultimately result in the country getting into some kind of jam.

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That jam has arrived, and it has put Trump in a place he richly deserves. It has put him in a classic double bind–when the person cannot confront the inherent dilemma, and therefore can neither resolve it nor opt out of the situation.

One horn of Trump’s dilemma is the coronavirus that demands that people hunker down, stay away from crowds, and spend as little time in commercial establishments as possible. Only by doing these things can it be prevented from killing literally millions of Americans. The second horn is the effect that fighting the virus has on the economy and equity markets, which is to say, it takes a chainsaw to them. If the lock-downs continue for months there will be huge swaths of the previous economy that will cease to exist. A general depression could ensue, as painful as the original. Such an event would test the global financial system’s ability to maintain itself.

For virtually all Democrats, most independents and a handful of Republicans, watchingUp&down chart-Main Trump writhe with the available alternatives–prolonged standing down, which will minimize the killing effects of the virus but threaten the collapse of the economy, or abandoning the notion of social distancing and jocking the citizenry to get out there and spend, assuring the virus will take a huge toll, thus, again, ensuring the eventual collapse of the economy–has delivered a visceral kind of pleasure, the kind of pleasure Patriots haters get when the network shows Bill Bellichick scowling on the sidelines, hoodie in place, in the cold rain, at night, while his team is losing.

Trump seems to be leaning toward the latter, lifting restrictions on people’s movements and allowing the economy to breathe while allowing the virus to spread. He is growing increasingly irritated with Dr. Fauci, who has this stubborn tendency to tell the truth. Trump is likely to come off the rails any day, perhaps late next week, when the March economic numbers are released.

Trump cannot deal with his inherent dilemma–win or lose against the virus, the economy is toast. No amount of grafty Federal bailout is going to fix it. And the election is in seven months. In the words of the entitled fool himself, as regards his presidency, the timing of this whole virus thing is totally unfair, and it’s Obama’s fault we’re unprepared.

In my words, he brought most of this upon himself, running the government as if it were a business, trimming “waste,” (namely anything and anyone associated with Obama). Deferring capital expenditures on things like masks, ventilators and research. Putting his own people in key positions. Assuming the analysts who warned of such an event were wrong, assuming that he knew more about it than they did.

Historically, when Trump has found himself in some kind of jam, he has been able to bully, bluster, threaten, lie and sue his way out of it. But he cannot fire the virus. He can fire Dr. Fauci, which will briefly reduce his overall level of anger, until the blow-back becomes severe. A day or two. His lies, back when there were 15 cases and no deaths, were astonishing, that the virus would “just…magically…go away” in a week or two. This is the pathological narcissist in full view–no longer able to distinguish between the world as it is the and world as he wants it to be.

Trump, I imagine, feels shackled. He has reached the pinnacle of his career–President of the United States, preparing for a second term–and must now watch the stock market melt down, the healthcare system melt down, the entire economy melt down, all of which will be laid at his doorstep. He didn’t invent the virus, but his inability to react and lead allowed it to flourish. He didn’t cause the upcoming recession by himself, but he’s been playing fast and loose with the economy since he was inaugurated and has two moronic yes-men, Steve Mnuchin and Larry Kudlow, calling the shots on policy. (The same Larry Kudlow who said on TV in 2007 that, in his opinion, the US economy and stock markets were poised for great returns going forward. Jeesh.)

I guiltily enjoy watching The Smirking Dolt pinned on the horns of his double bind. I’m just sorry the nation will be paying such a high price for his ineptitude and mental illness.

 

Posted by: Bruce Allen | March 22, 2020

Aging in the Corona Age

© Bruce Allen

Corona cakes

Today I am now 69 years old. Due to this anniversary occurring during the Corona Age, my wife and I will spend the day, and the evening, in our home, with only FaceTime contacts with our kids and grands. Including those two miles down the road. We had our joint birthday dinner last night–strip steaks–and will have leftovers for dinner and more of last night’s birthday cake for dessert.

We are self-distancing and taking rather extraordinary sanitizing measures to avoid the virus. It affects the old more than the young, a fact which would have been a distraction thirty years ago but is, oddly, threatening today. And my wife since forever is immune-suppressed and more vulnerable to stuff like this than your average woman of a certain age.

For me, after your 21st, birthdays are things to be noted more than celebrated. Certainly, on the back nine of life, birthdays can be found in the dictionary under “mixed blessings,” as they bring you one year closer to the grand finale and you probably get stuck with the dinner check to boot. Seriously, at my age, I don’t expect people to get excited for me about turning 69. I’m at elevated risk for the Rona and I’m too old to give blood. My health and joints are showing some wear, but overall I can still hold up my end of the sofa. Get off my lawn.

So, at 69, I feel impaired but not old. I see people younger than me whose demeanor suggests they live a less-healthy lifestyle than do I. I see people around my age who are bent and gaunt, weak as a feather, on the glidepath, and I don’t feel at all like I should be grouped with them as being at elevated risk. OK, higher than my grands, but not like folks who live in a nursing home, God love them when it arrives.

The social paralysis which accompanies social distancing is something older couples can withstand more easily than younger couples and infinitely more than younger couples with kids. For kids, the Corona Age must seem like their vision of dystopia, a world gone mad in which you can’t see the friends you’ve worked hard to make and there’s nothing to do and no sports on TV, no March Madness. No movies, no restaurants, no nothing. Sitting around, craving screen time, craving play and exercise and competition, craving regimentation. I crave watching our families live their lives; I love being PopPop. But at Corona birthdays, you don’t get to hang out. Or go out. It’s pretty much business as usual.

Which, at age 69, is more than fine. I know the kids of friends, and their son-in-law who announced early in the marriage that he didn’t eat leftovers. I’m thinking a few things, among them, 1) You do now, 2) Please don’t, and by this I mean don’t, tell me what you will and will not eat. Tell me what you like and I’ll do what I can, and 3) You moron. Some of the best meals ever come the day after a different meal. In addition to being a tiresome boor and working your wife and mother of two to death, you’re missing some great food. No man married 45 years would ever make that statement. Ever. We’re lucky our kids and in-laws are generally sane.

We keep the TV off as much as possible. I watch half an hour of CNN around lunch, and she likes to watch local news for a half hour around wine-thirty. We’ve found some Netflix and Amazon series that we watch in the evenings, which end early for me, since I like doing this writing stuff early in the morning, before the sun is up. Exactly the opposite of the way I was in college.

I was at home last night–duh–when it occurred to me that my dad, on his 69th birthday, had a son who was 27 with a shitty career, one kid on the ground and one in the hangar. Dad had bounced around during his career, never really found his niche, been disastrously self-employed for a brief while, and had to work well into his 70’s at the VA to approach retirement rationally, which he did.  I’m pretty sure he loathed every minute of it.

Our youngest turned 36 this year, our oldest will be 43. He had a lot more on his plate at age 69 than do I. I don’t have much stress in my life with Nancy, and I’m grateful for that. My dad had to scramble his entire life to live in a manner in which he looked forward to becoming accustomed. He read Yachting and Road & Track. At one point he owned TWO boats, Bertrams, with ocean-rated hulls, and he didn’t know how to swim and was basically terrified of going into the water, never drove either of them.  While his wife, 14 years his junior, worked her ass off as an admin for a State cabinet appointee who couldn’t find his etc., etc., and about which she was eternally bitter, the woman who knew what’s going on working for the man in charge.

Ancient history. We have a lot of blessings. No longer have to scramble. We’ve always been prudent with our spending, so this enforced prudence ain’t no big thing. We read, we stay on top of the news, and we pursue our own books and our own interests. We share most all of our meals. We are probably going to have to change how we shop for groceries, but that will come next. After we blow out the candles.

* * *

Finally, the story of my life: All of this reminds me of an old joke. About health.

Fred Sandford goes to see his doctor.

Fred: “Doc, here’s my problem. I feel good, but my friends tell me I looks bad.”

Doc: “Huh. You say you feels good, but people tell you you looks bad?”

Fred: “That’s right. Tell me what’s wrong with me, Doc!”

Doc: “Well, here in the big medical book, I’m looking, hang on, looks good feels good, that ain’t it, looks bad feels bad, no, shit, that ain’t it,…mumbling…Here it is. Looks bad, feels good.”

Fred: “I knew you could help me, Doc. What’s it say?”

Doc: “It says here you is a vagina.”

 

Posted by: Bruce Allen | March 20, 2020

An Only Child Thanks His Big Brother

© Bruce Allen

As a girl, my mother used to babysit for her brother’s family, looking after their sons Butch and Buddy. This was in Ft. Worth Texas during the Depression, and it seemed to form a lasting bond between mom and Butch, who now prefers to be known as Roy, but will always be Butch to me. They grew up. She went off to Washington, D.C. at age 18 in 1941 to work in the War Office. Roy worked for her estranged dad, then went to Texas A&M and joined the Army. Mom and my dad married right after the war and they lived in D.C. and, later, the Maryland suburbs.

During the early 1960’s, when I was in my formative years, mom and I went for a visit to Ft. Worth to meet some Boswells. We stayed with her brother Roy Sr., his wife Viola Hiawatha Boswell, and their sons Butch and Buddy, whom I will forever see jitterbugging in the kitchen with their mom and my mom to the Beach Boys’ I Get Around. I had no idea one was allowed to have that much fun indoors. The photo of mom’s brother Roy grilling brisket on their patio, grinning, in his boxers will remain etched in my memory forever.

During that visit, an amazing eye-opener for me, the boys took me “sightseeing”—drag racing through the freeways of Dallas in Buddy’s 409 Chevrolet, against a Ford Galaxy 500 full of African Americans of the black persuasion, which, as I recall, struck my cousins as funny. What I thought was funny was the speedometer needle hitting 120+ mph in downtown Dallas on a Sunday morning, radio blasting, cousins yelling and laughing. Butch was a bodybuilder and was massive in those days; he made an overpowering impression on me, with my pipe cleaner arms and glasses. I was good at math. Fishing. Sports. And really nothing else.

Me, this sheltered suburban dork whose primary shirt of choice was a white undershirt. Shorts with lots of zippers. Big glasses. Generic tennis shoes. Delicate hands, a piano player. Good student. No game. No idea how to act around girls. No older brother to show me, and a father in his mid-50’s who was a good guy but preferred not to get into it. But my speech patterns were changed a little for the rest of my life by that visit to Texas, y’all. A whole new range of practically acceptable behaviors had been opened up to me. Of course, left to my own devices, when I returned home I went back to homework and piano lessons.

In the mid 60’s, when I was a teenager, Butch got stationed in northern Virginia, and would come to visit with us, his only family in the area, on the occasional weekend. Age-wise, he was between my mom and me. On his own, I think he recognized that I needed a little behavior modeling, behaviors that made it easier to talk to girls. Speaking to them, uninvited, on the boardwalk in Ocean City, Maryland, where he would take me out for an evening of university-level Texas patter, soft serve and cheese steaks. And he was consistently hilarious. I was awestruck.

Back in Kensington, we would go out for burgers and fries and pinball, strike up conversations with actual women—more his age than mine—but him showing me how it was done. How to be a little colorful, how to get my sense of humor working for me—make ‘em laugh—and how to relax while under the intoxicating effects of puberty and teenage girls trying to look good at the beach. He drank beer; I drank Cokes. Lots of Cokes.

In those days, according to my memory, Butch was working as a mathematician living in some high rise in Arlington with a roommate, in reasonable proximity to a hotel used by a bunch of flight attendants on layovers. The best of the stories involved the two guys and two of the “stews” driving to Charlestown racetrack, betting some ridiculous winner for something like $1600, and the four of them jetting off to Miami for the weekend! I don’t know where I heard that story, but to me, it was proof beyond a shadow that my cousin Butch had things figured out and if I wanted to do better with girls, and life in general, I had to take a few risks and project my own personality into situations. And I had to create the situations. I had to assert myself.

Some will say I learned this lesson too well. Some will say I should have set the switch on the side of my head from “SEND” to “RECEIVE” and listened more to others, rather than trying to project my worldview on innocent friends. For me, I think my life turned out better for having chosen to be more like Butch and less like me. I think I had the capacity to be a quiet, introverted, unhappy guy with poor social skills and useless intellect. An underachiever. Risk averse.

Instead, I adopted my lifelong persona as one who is possibly smart but definitely funny. When I get anxious, I generally try to make others laugh, to ease my own stress. I inherited from my father the ability to never forget a joke, a one-liner, a throwaway, or a riff I ever heard in my life that made me laugh. I won’t remember a new person’s name, but I will remember funny stuff I heard in the mid-70’s (as well as who I heard say it).

My cousin Butch is, I believe, largely unaware of the difference he made in me when I was at an awkward stage and he undoubtedly had better things to do. But he loved my mom enough to adopt me, 10 years his junior, and show me a world I had only read about previously. He modeled behaviors—assertive but not aggressive, charming, big Texas smile, all the girls were “darlin’.” I recognized these behaviors as constituting what we now call “game,” and I paid close attention.

And which is how I convinced my wife, normally a great judge of character, to marry me in a moment of desperation in 1975. She will tell you that I had some game (no she won’t) in 1973, even though I felt I was grossly faking it. 45 years later, she remains kind enough to have forgotten most of the laugh lines I use, and occasionally laughs again at stuff she’s been dealing with since the Ford administration.

I hope to see Butch, who lives in California, before one of us kicks off. My mother suffered a miscarriage when I was four; otherwise I might have been an older brother myself. Butch voluntarily appointed himself my older brother as I entered puberty and stuck around past graduation from college. It’s ironic that I owe a debt of gratitude to my mother, who cultivated our family’s relationship with their nephew/my cousin. She was never that great around family.

With Butch Boswell, somehow, it was different.

Posted by: Bruce Allen | March 19, 2020

Economy in Free Fall

© Bruce Allen

Goldman Sachs just revised their estimate of GDP for the second quarter of this year. They had previously projected a decline of 5%, a staggering number. Yesterday’s revision raised that to 24%. Over twice as bad as the worst quarter in recorded history, back in 1982, when activity fell by, like, 10.2%. Astonishing. This is a re-post from a few weeks back.

So, back in the day, several degrees ago, I was an econ major. I do not call myself an economist since I’ve never worked as one professionally. But I learned a few things about how the economy works. Turns out most of the theory I was taught has since been discredited. That’s OK. What I learned was how to examine economic problems.

70% of the economic activity in this country comes from consumers consuming. A healthy portion of that involved getting out in the world, dining and shopping. Retail service workers account for a sizable wedge of the economic pie. This whole “shelter in place” thing we seem to be doing, as older people living in Indiana, has reduced our discretionary spending by 75%. We still shop online, and are starting to get our grocery orders pulled for pickup, by me, without going into the Kroger.

People all around us are losing their jobs, getting furloughed and laid off, having hours reduced, getting behind with their creditors, and being forced into “survival mode,” including a number of executive/manager types. This is happening everywhere, not just in the “hot spots.” The entire country looks like Hoxie, Kansas at 10:30 on a Wednesday night. In short, consumers are not spending money like they did only a month ago. The idea of going out to a restaurant tonight is suddenly absurd.

This is all what economists call “micro” stuff, stuff that occurs at the individual household level. From a macro point of view, we as a country entered this sudden, steep recession running a trillion dollar annual deficit, despite record employment, which was due, in no small part, to the trillion dollar annual deficit. In terms of Federal spending, the credit card is kind of maxed out; anything “extra” the government does to goose the post-Rona economy will simply add to the deficit. The Rona is providing the government with the need for another layer of government, one tasked with ensuring sterility in all areas in which human beings exist.

On the monetary side, within, like, three weeks, the Federal Reserve, the nation’s bank, reduced short-term interest rates effectively to zero. Historically, one of the classic responses to normal downturns, during which, on average, the discount rate was probably in the 4-6% range, was to lower the discount rate. This key element is gone, which is unfortunate, but probably not as relevant as it would have been in previous downturns.

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This one will not respond vigorously to lowering interest rates–QE4, here we come–nor by mailing every American a check for $1000. Those Americans who don’t need the money should send it back or give it to charity, but most will probably simply dump it back in the bank, their bank, an inter-bank transfer generating zero economic activity. Yay. Never mind that for a solid percentage of those for whom $1000 is important, it is unlikely to help a situation involving working parent or parents, debts up the wazoo and a house that’s coming down around their ears.

There will be a slew of economic statistics released in early April indicating what happened in March as regards economic activity, employment and prices. These will be negative and will reflect less than a month of the new reality. The reports to be released in early May will be worse. By then, the major stock market indices, currently back to 2017 levels and heading south, will likely be in tatters. Bond prices will have jumped with lower interest rates, but further price increases at zero rates should not be seen as a sign of confidence in the economy, other than that portion coming from other parts of the world which are, by comparison, less well-off than ourselves, another frightening thought. What’s really going on with virus transmission at the street level in third world countries?

This is the reality delivered to us randomly by a newish, somewhat predictable virus, and deliberately by Donald Trump and his co-conspirators in the US Senate. The overall macroeconomic condition preceding the virus  was due, in part, to the historically regressive “tax reform” act in 2017. This bill, on its own resulted in a gigantic transfer of wealth, $1.9 trillion, from the poor and working classes in this country to the wealthy, with very little enhanced economic activity resulting. Companies did buy-backs or cut big dividend checks to investors. This is the nature of regressive tax policy.

In 2017 and 2018, companies were not going to do big investments in plant and equipment or increase headcount in R&D in the face of an expansion that was, like, eight years old, with an unstable president calling the shots on everything from taxes to tariffs to repatriation of offshore funds. (Whatever came of the offshore funds thing anyway?) Big corporations received tens of billions of dollars in the way of tax refunds; they didn’t have to do all that building and hiring. So they didn’t do it. They hired plenty of minimum wage workers and part-timers, paid as little as possible in benefits, and made a lot of money. The employment numbers looked great, but everything else was just OK.

Sorry. Economics. Due to the virus and the administration’s lackluster approach to mitigating it, federal response expenditures are likely to run into the trillions, and buyers will start wanting higher returns for investing in US treasuries. Even with that day approaching we find ourselves tripping over one another to provide bailouts hither and yon. ‘Tapping the strength of America,’ with our kids, their kids and their kids shouldering the payments.

Joe Biden at the last debate occasionally sounded like a used car salesman: All of this FOR FREE! No kidding! Free! Starting immediately and until we win this impending and rhetorical war. Don’t talk to me about costs! We’re talking American lives here! We’ll spend what it takes to get the job done and deal with the rest when we can. First things first.

I heard a report suggesting this “sheltering in place” stuff could last 18 months. Those of us who survive, which will be most of us, will adapt to the new reality and, likely, a new economy, a shadow of its former self. Society incoherent, immobilized, alienated, prisoners in a world where we’re chancing death for ourselves and our loved ones if we sit down for coffee somewhere with a friend.

Luckily, the virus seems to go on hiatus during warm weather, suggesting light at the end of the tunnel, until covid20 arrives sometime somewhere in October. Perhaps the domestic economy will receive a respite during the summer. But we have a smaller economy today than we did a month ago, and conditions are likely to deteriorate in the short term. So brace yourselves, consider moving south, and vote for Joe Biden in November.

 

Posted by: Bruce Allen | March 18, 2020

Biden’s VP Possibilities Fascinating

© Bruce Allen

Now that our boy Sleepy Joe has seized the Democratic nomination for president, we libtards can and should be forgiven for thinking the following:

  • The ‘Rona fail and impending sharp recession could overwhelm our ability to mitigate in real time. We, as a country, are willing to throw money at the “victims” of ‘Rona. It will be, for many small business owners, too little too late.
  • The ‘Rona fail itself will make the administration look bad, and comes at a bad time, election-wise. Having both the economy and the healthcare system take it on the chin simultaneously during an election year can’t be a good thing. Trump’s many weaknesses have been, and will continue to be, on full display.
  • There’s always the 25th amendment if he goes entirely off the rails in public.
  • Biden will compete financially in the fall with the help of Michael Bloomberg’s SuperPAC. Otherwise, it would be a rout. But on a financially level playing field, Biden will have plenty of room to make Trump look bad to a lot of people. After all, Trump is not good at this whole Presidenting thing.
  • Even if the Senate does not flip this year–it easily could–it most definitely will flip in either 2022 or 2024. Demographics at work.
  • Importantly, Biden’s choice of a VP candidate will be fascinating.

We know she will be a woman, preferably a woman of color. She should arrive somewhere to the left of Joe himself, appeal to a younger, more progressive crowd. She should be brutally smart, tough as a $2 steak, and able to think on her feet. The prototype candidate would be Kamala Harris, who many of us could easily visualize as president one day.

Personally, I like the idea of a few other possibles, most, in fact, of the high-profile women candidates from the past 12 months. But Harris, Elizabeth Warren or Amy Klobuchar would be most likely to succeed against Trump and Haley. Yes, Haley. I still believe Pence will go under the bus because of the ‘Rona fail and Haley’s nomination, in his place, will occur on or about July 16. But that’s just me. Just a hunch.

Stacey Adams? I’m not sure the country is ready for her. I fear that, for many Americans, Harris is more “white” than Adams, and that while they would vote for a Harris team they might not vote for an Adams team, for that reason, and that is just pathetic.

Biden could, in a bit of riverboat gambling, appoint Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez as his running mate and go upriver with The Colonel. Though she is patently not ready to assume the role of Commander-in-Chief she could, if the need arose, resign and hand the presidency to the Speaker of the House, likely to be Nancy Pelosi. AOC would, on the bright side, bring immense support from population cohorts where Biden does absolutely miserably, the young and brown and black and poor. Proof that the Democratic Party wishes to be the party of the young, of the environmentally concerned, of those struggling to climb the ladder of financial security. Let the Republicans be the party of the old and out of touch.

So, that whole AOC thing isn’t going to happen, but she will have an effect on this election as will the rest of the group of four troublemakers in the Democratic House that get such a kick out of trolling Trump and his minions. A brutal recession and a health epidemic will form an amazing backdrop for the 2020 election. If the Democrats cannot make it happen in 2020, Lord have mercy on us all for we are truly lost.

Posted by: Bruce Allen | March 16, 2020

Coronavirus: Tripping over Risk

© Bruce Allen

beach storm at night.

The intellectual problem, for me, with the coronavirus is the lack of any discernment as to the eventual scale and duration of the disease at its peak. Today, for the vast majority of us, it’s something we read about, or we know someone who knows someone who has tested positive. But we have seen Italy, and it appears our lax national response to the outbreak in this country resembles theirs. Conflicting news reports and gossip make it all hard to understand: Just how scared should we be?

The last time I remember being in this condition was a New Year’s Eve, around 1969-1971, spent at my parents’ house on the dune at Ocean City, MD. I had two longstanding friends with me, and we had guitars and plenty of food and alcohol and controlled substances, the town to ourselves, and a deteriorating weather forecast which turned into an impressive northeaster. My inebriation, around 2 am, was challenged by the storm. Waves within 15 feet of the front patio. Wind blowing rain through the sliding glass doors upstairs, pooling water on the floor which found its way downstairs to the main floor from perhaps a dozen different points. Pots and pans everywhere. Plink plink plink. The power went out and the phones went down.

I remember having a lit candle on a Formica coffee table, and the wax starting to spill over. I remember nearly oozing grape jelly onto a turquoise sofa. I could not determine which was worse.  I could not determine whether we were just bored, or if the house was going to take some damage, or whether we were going to be swept out to sea, never to be heard from, famous martyrs in our little home town. Again, an inability to determine the scale of a problem or set of problems. In 1970, my concern had to do with levels, understanding the level of danger or ennui we were experiencing or about to experience. In 2020, it is trying to understand the risk of 1) getting the disease, and 2) surviving it at age 69.

My wife asked me the other day if I was all whooped up over the virus. I think it was just after I had returned from Kroger. I said no, I was going to take some increased precautions around my own hygiene but am not going to confine myself to the house. I don’t get out much as it is, especially during the winter, but spring is in the wings and we’re better off outside than inside anyway. I consider myself healthy enough to get through the disease, if and when I get it. My wife, immune-suppressed, will need to be fastidious.

Bottom line: Will the eventual death toll in the U.S. be in the hundreds or in the hundreds of thousands?

However one evaluates the level of risk for oneself and one’s loved ones, it is important not to overlook the inept manner in which the government prepared us for this eventuality. The Trump administration has been caught flat-footed on this. The Federal Reserve has essentially emptied its interest rate gun already and we’re just getting started. Next thing is to raid the Treasury and print money, which theoretically will spur inflation. Economic activity has been cut by–what??–20% in one week? How’s this going to look in a month, when hospitals are turning people away? And what are they going to do to “make people whole”–drop bales of cash out of airplanes?

Or will the coronavirus just magically disappear, the way the President assured us it would, back when we had a dozen cases. Steve Mnuchin advises us there will be no recession, so we can check that off. Sounds like all is well in Trumpland.

Posted by: Bruce Allen | March 15, 2020

Crunching a few Coronavirus Numbers

© Bruce Allen

Screenshot (350)Screenshot (351)

Age and Coronavirus:  Versus U.S. median age as of 2016 of 37.9:

Italy  45.1

Japan  46.9

Germany 46.8

S. Korea 41.2

France 41.2

Hong Kong 44.0

China 37.1

[Clearly, if you want to live a long life, you should lose a war to the United States.]

The idea is that the virus will strike older populations harder. But perhaps these older populations are accustomed to more solitude, thereby limiting their risk of contracting the virus. ‘Easier’ for them to self-quarantine? Will Germany and Japan follow Italy with serious outbreaks due, in part, to their aging populations? Or will they show the organizational skills to thwart the outbreak at its onset, as S. Korea is doing?

The U.S., so far, has shown far less than a robust response to coronavirus, led by a president who has assured us from the beginning that it was really nothing to get all lathered up about. With a younger population—mostly immigrants, btw—the U.S. will likely experience better numbers than has Italy. Self-quarantining has taken hold; moms with kids are frantic. The entire world is considering cancelling itself, with little more than a “gut” feeling that all will be well by, like, June. I dunno…a lot depends on the extent to which the bug goes ‘dormant’ in hot weather. Even if it goes away for three months, something very much like it is likely to return in the winter. If it doesn’t go away for three months, pretty much everyone will get exposed.

More fun with numbers: The conventional wisdom is that coronavirus is 10 times as lethal as the flu. This presumes an overall death rate from coronavirus of 1/100. Of the confirmed cases, there is, at present, something like a 2.4% death rate, concentrated in older population segments. At this rate, if you are old, coronavirus is 20 times more likely to kill you than the flu. So, for older populations especially, it is serious. For concentrations of older populations—assisted living centers, nursing homes, etc.—it is undoubtedly Job #1 in working with geriatrics, as it probably should have been since day one.

Income and Coronavirus

Somewhere the numbers exist to compare morbidity and mortality rates by median income per country. See the extent to which well-funded public health programs produce great stats, while poor undeveloped nations watch these outbreaks, collectively shrugging at their inability to do more than summon the U.N. Don’t bother calling the U.S. these days—we no longer send aid money to sh**holes. And we’re busy bungling our own outbreak.

Human Rights and Coronavirus

Notice the scale and apparent effectiveness of the public health response to outbreaks in China and S. Korea. Far more regimented public behaviors in these countries than in the don’t-fence-me-in USA. It will be harder for Americans to strictly limit their exposures than it would be in China or Korea, where the iron fist is still very much a thing. Don’t ask, just do it. With a smile, if you would be so kind. Here at home, not only is the public health—testing and treating—response inadequate, but the public is being actively lied to by the Trump administration and its minions. This Dr. Fauci seems to be the only one willing to make sense, and one wonders how much longer he will be around. Not a team player if you catch my meaning. He’s on Chapter 12 of his book. Agent loves it so far.

So here we are. No March Madness. No sports, period, unless you’re into rodeo or figure skating. The two local grandsons are going mental; no games being played for them, either. For them, this must feel a little like internment felt to Japanese-Americans imprisoned ‘for their own good’ during WWII. A sense that all purpose in living revolves around a ball of some kind—playing, watching, arguing, boasting—and they’ve taken all the balls away. Can’t go to the gyms. Can’t watch it on TV. In March and April, two of the best months in sports.

Unthinkable. Home schooling. Formal cleaning and exercise sessions—mom and the kids. No restaurants. No group stuff at all, outside the immediate neighbors. No unnecessary trips to Kroger or Menard’s. No weekend masses. News on TV and little else. Netflix and Amazon. No state basketball sectionals. No Pacers. No Purdue. As The Smirking Dolt might say, “we’ve talked to a lot of people who think we Hoosiers have been treated unfairly, and frankly it’s a disgrace what they’ve done blah blah blah.”

I keep thinking that the national response to what is still a very benign virus, as viruses go, has been sad and slipshod. I keep imagining what would happen if there were ever a release of a powerful, weapons-grade germ capable of wholesale terminal assault on human beings. Our enemies must be watching this unfold with pure relish. Sure, the U.S. is big and rich. No, it can’t get out of its own way when it comes to germs. For this reason alone it would be in the interests of our enemies to keep Donald Trump in office for another four years. Another four years of bumbling, fumbling, stumbling and mumbling while Russia and China play global hardball.

It’s almost enough to make one want to vote for Joe Biden for president.

Posted by: Bruce Allen | March 13, 2020

Bernie “The Kingfish” Sanders

© Bruce Allen
From The Kingfish, by Randy Newman
Everybody gather ’round
Loosen up your suspenders
Hunker down on the ground
I’m a cracker
And you are too
But don’t I take good care of you?
Who built the highway to Baton Rouge?
Who put up the hospital and built you schools?
Who looks after shit-kickers like you?
The Kingfish do.
Who gave a party at the Roosevelt Hotel?
And invited the whole north half of the state down there for free
The people in the city
Had their eyes bugging out
Cause everyone of you
Looked just like me
Kingfish, Kingfish
Everybody sing…It’s the Kingfish, the Kingfish
Every man a king!

Who took on the Standard Oil men
And whipped their ass
Just like he promised he’d do?
Ain’t no Standard Oil men gonna run this state
Gonna be run by little folks like me and you!

It’s the Kingfish, the Kingfish
Friend of the working man!
It’s the Kingfish, the Kingfish
The Kingfish gonna save this land!

Bernie_Sanders_in_March_2020

In 2020, Bernie Sanders has become Huey Long. He has a highly refined idea of what’s right, and he expresses it without compromise or apology. He speaks to the have-nots, hardworking men and women who are drowning in the current employment, education and healthcare environment. He makes big promises and rails against Korporate Amerika and her minions. He is firm in the extreme. He’s a perfect example, as I often am, that being right doesn’t always matter.
From what I read, he is no longer running to win the nomination, but instead to get his principles ingrained in the 2020 Democratic platform. If his supporters are content with this, then he has every right to stay and keep the fire to Biden’s feet.
Bernie Sanders knows, as of late, that he will never be president, and apparently came to terms with that fact last week, prior to his TV address. If I were 22 and anything like the way I was when I was, in fact, 22, I would love Bernie and hit the streets on his behalf. (Not knocking on doors–getting teargassed by The Man). I just think that even a slightly Democratic Congress will not be easily moved by most of his Big Ideas. If the Senate remains in Republican hands, a president Sanders would be stymied from day one, as a matter of policy, by the majority.
So Bernie needs to keep doing what he does, which is guide the conversation to the left, without creating a lot of sound bytes that make Biden look bad. He should limit the time spent criticizing poor decisions Biden may have made 20 or 30 years ago. In forensic debate, I believe the expression is, “He must keep it in his pants.” The debate should continue only for so long as it can remain civil and move toward unifying the party in the fall.
Biden came out the other day and spoke about the virus briefly, coming across as Presidential, the diametric opposite of The Smirking Dolt when it comes to managing people’s fears and expectations in a way that makes them confident going forward. Much easier to do when you’re not the party that got caught without masks or test kits, with a decimated staff and budget, starved annually as being “non-essential.” under the Trumpistas.
The Great Unwinding of the financial markets now taking place caused the U.S. Fed to inject $1.5 trillion into the economy yesterday. None of the impacts of the virus–health, economic, with huge splits between rich and poor–are sustainable. (This completely ignores the impacts being felt in other major activity zones across the world. Italy, for instance, is closed to travel, the 8th-largest economy in the world.) The world is left to hope the virus closes up shop in warmer weather, similar to the way the flu seems to do. (It may be, however, that warmers weather puts people outside more where the risk of infection is far less.) Covid-19 is ten times as lethal as the flu, especially among older populations.
So Bernie is heading back to Washington to work on the latest array of crises being mis-managed by The White House. He’ll never get to do it from the White House. But his forcing the party left of center is good for all. The Dems don’t want to become the new Party of the Old. Leave that to red state Republicans. If Biden can learn to speak to younger people he will evict Trump in November and help flip the Senate.
It’s the Kingfish, the Kingfish
Friend of the working man!
It’s the Kingfish, the Kingfish
The Kingfish gonna save this land!
Posted by: Bruce Allen | March 1, 2020

Joe’s Last Stand

© Bruce Allen

I posted this on March 1. Bloomberg didn’t make it, but it appears we’re Ridin’ with Biden in 2020.

Lest my longtime readers—both of you—come to the mistaken conclusion that I have changed my political stripes, let me assure you that I haven’t. I have long been and am still a table-pounding liberal Democrat marooned in a red state.

Recently I have been pounding the table of Michael Bloomberg, who I see as the only Dem candidate capable of taking a real fight to Donald Trump in November. The longer the campaign goes on, the more I learn about Mr. Bloomberg, the less comfortable I am with this position.

If this were a less weaponized election, where a single footstep in the wrong small puddle can get you pilloried on Fox News, if it were just a contest between the half dozen or so presidential candidates left standing, Mike Bloomberg would possibly be my last choice. Were it simply a matter of policy and ideology, I would rank the candidates

  1. Elizabeth Warren
  2. Pete Buttigieg
  3. Amy Klobuchar
  4. Bernie Sanders
  5. Joe Biden
  6. Tom Steyer
  7. Michael Bloomberg

The thing is, it’s not. It’s not about policy and ideology. Polls suggest a negative relationship between being thought of as a radical (the media term for “progressive”) and one’s electability amongst a populace in which the left makes all the noise and the moderates actually show up to vote. People can say the Democratic party has shifted to the left, but only in comparison to the execrable Republican party which has taken such a decidedly rightward cant. A Republican party in thrall to this smirking dolt who, in terms of election-time support, controls upwards of 35% of the popular vote and uses that control like a club.

We, as Dems, like to view presidential elections the way we do boxing matches—may the better man, or woman, win—when they haven’t been that way for a long time. No more one-on-one, level playing field, same weapons. The 2020 presidential election, and the down-ticket races in inspires, will be a political knife fight. And, one more time, with feeling, as dad used to say, you don’t bring boxing gloves to a knife fight.

You bring a knife. A Mike Bloomberg who has played in this sandbox for decades and knows how to get things done. Who, as a person, is no one to admire, but who, as a political force, can bring guns to the fight. Can recruit and hire and re-hire smart people to work for him, turning things around.

On a personal level, guys like Mike Bloomberg, who have become wildly successful in both business and politics, tend to believe they know everything about everything. While they were on the way up they knew what they didn’t know, but have now forgotten and think they know it all. Wealth brings arrogance, power and accomplishments. Mike’s belief system has produced all kinds of bad programs, programs that impinged severely on people’s civil rights, a history of shameful comments directed toward women, and a reluctance to accept blame for much of what troubles him today, in 2020.

He has operated, so far, something of a stealth strategy outside of the Super Tuesday states. Inside those states, he has saturated TV and the internet with well-made, convincing commercials, serious commercials, that are reaching lots of eyeballs. Especially in conservative, red-hued areas, Bloomberg is seen as the one Democrat with a pair on him who will step up and get things done, without all the Trumpian dystopia, and without all the usual Democratic whining about fairness.

So there’s that. For Joe Biden, the 2020 campaign came down to South Carolina, and he made a stand that, with Rep. Jim Clyburn, delivered him a lifesaving win. The way I see it, Joe should be able to enjoy that win for about three days, when Super Tuesday delivers Mike Bloomberg a depressingly high number of delegates.

Annotation 2020-03-01 065714

Courtesy NPR

1,344 delegates will be chosen on Super Tuesday. Bloomberg, I suspect, will be in the top three, along with Sanders and Biden. Super Tuesday will mark the end of at least one campaign, perhaps several. Once that occurs, we will have to re-shuffle the deck, see who’s where.

Until then, and after his first career primary win, I say congrats to Joe Biden, a man who has known personal loss and who has risen up to make positive noises one more time. A man who sees himself, at least in a relative sense, working on the side of the angels. Willing to give it the old college try once again. Taking one more turn at the brass ring, and not giving up without a fight.

Posted by: Bruce Allen | February 26, 2020

Ugh–The Intro Mike Bloomberg Needs Before His Next TV Gig

© Bruce Allen

As a Never Trumper, I have believed for some time that Bloomberg is the only Dem candidate with the resources to bludgeon Trump to defeat in 2020. Bloomberg’s moneyclub is bigger than Trump’s, steel rather than wood, and he would beat Trump in an old-time New York City street fight. There is nothing in this world that Mike Bloomberg would rather spend his billions on than beating Donald Trump. 

Mike is not very good on stage. Stiff, a whiff of arrogance, and a complete inability to make the crowd laugh, which he wants to do. Part of the problem is his history. People can’t get past the stories and facts about Mike’s past; they only listen to 2020 policy proposals with one ear. Mike needs to make a commercial in which he delivers a mea culpa about all this stuff. Clear the air, once and for all. If and when those subjects come up in future debates, then he could wave them off by saying he had previously addressed them all.

Good evening. My name is Michael Bloomberg and I’m running for President. I need to address several personal issues of real concern to me which are hurting my campaign and my millions of supporters.

Over the years I have been accused of a variety of personal failings, ranging from arrogance to specific programs such as Stop and Frisk. Lately, I have been portrayed as a racist, sexist capitalist who has been successful by taking advantage of tax laws and employees. Two months ago, I would have stood here and offered up a number of politician-like excuses and rationalizations for my various behaviors. Tonight I will not.

I will say that, concerning many of the human failings of which I’ve been accused, I have simply been wrong. The patter between men and women in the workplace was, in the 1980’s, more, um, lax, than it is today. Participating in it was boorish on my part, and the fact that most men did it is no excuse. Similarly, the initial motivation for Stop and Frisk was the disproportionate numbers of black and brown New Yorkers getting murdered in what were black-on-black and brown-on-brown crimes. It was badly implemented and poorly promoted. It was largely my fault. But the original germ of the idea was to reduce murder rates among young black and Hispanic males.

I’m not seeking anyone’s endorsement of these personal failures nor of my need to recant now. What I am seeking is agreement that people’s feelings and attitudes in these areas can evolve over time. Mine have, and I regret things I did and said earlier in my career and especially when I was a Republican. When I realized that party, even before it was hijacked by Donald Trump, no longer reflected my beliefs, I made my way—indirectly 😊—to the Democratic party, where I belong and where I hope to improve issues ranging from climate change to women’s rights.

As a candidate for President, I have a host of qualifications and accomplishments to cite. My wealth, so often criticized by my opponents, was earned. But as a human being, I’m a work in progress and am consciously working to move in the right direction. Entering the campaign, I thought I was accustomed to the spotlight always being on. I did not expect to be the target of so many personal attacks delivered by the other candidates. This lack of preparation is entirely my fault as well.

The Judeo-Christian ethic which many of us have absorbed during our lives encourages the forgiveness of our neighbors. Before I get too far down the road in this campaign I need to ask your forgiveness for my shortcomings. Give it to me, and we will put an end to the Trump presidency and prepare the ground for another new Democratic President in 2024. I promise to be a single-term President and to work ceaselessly with Congress—both houses, both aisles—on behalf of the Democratic platform, and to restore ideological balance in the Judiciary. To get after assault weapons and climate change.

[Pause, looking directly at the camera, serious but bland, for 10 seconds. Then smile.]

Now, let’s talk policy.

Mike_Bloomberg_Headshot

Posted by: Bruce Allen | February 23, 2020

1972 Redux Shaping Up in November

© Bruce Allen

In 1972 we young leftist voters got all whooped up about George McGovern, who was truly one of us. A decorated pilot in WWII, an anti-war candidate who would get us out of Vietnam and into a kinder, gentler national mood. McGovern got pummeled in November, allowing Richard Nixon a second term of well-deserved destruction.

In 2020 the young idealists who call themselves leftists have found their man in Bernie Sanders, the gruff, Independent U.S. Senator who is determined to make America work for all of us and not just the top 1%, etc. Bernie, during a long political career on the left, has become an expert in street-level organizing. Nevada demonstrated that concerted, passionate organizing efforts among Americans of color can work, as Sanders swept to a win largely on the basis of how well he did with underclass voters in Nevada. But, as one Nevada political observer observed, Bernie’s floor base of support and his ceiling of committed support are about the same. In addition to the mindless Trump base, he scares a lot of moderate and independent voters, who may have no other choice but to sit this one out if their choices are Bernie or Trump.

Medicare for All is the thing. I don’t think Sanders has taken the time to show–visually–how monthly household finances would change under his proposed system. The aggregate public cost of the program would be offset at the household level, as the percentages of income spent on shelter, food, utilities and healthcare would shift dramatically. So, if a family trying to live on $25,000 found that Sanders’ healthcare plan would cost them an extra $50 a month in taxes but would save them $200 a month in out-of-pocket expenses in a good year and God only knows how much–perhaps their home–if someone were to get seriously ill, it would be much easier to sell.

The reason politicians like Sanders are so rare is because it seems the entire planet, starting with young people, is shifting to the right. Societies, nations, are frightened of “the other.” the person who is different from me and my neighbors. They are therefore constructing elaborate campaigns meant to isolate and insulate minorities. Special requirements in order to vote. Profiling by street cops. More jails, more courts. The American Model of how not to love your brother.

Right-wing youth groups in Europe are multiplying at a rapid rate. Young people, who are threatened, largely, by immigrants who take their jobs and work for less. So different from the 60’s, when we were learning how to welcome diversity in our midst and finding common cause around war, racial injustice and income inequality. Bernie is a product of those times and believes the world today thinks the way the world in 1972 did.

All of this assumes Sanders soars to the nomination based upon a great night in Nevada. There’s plenty of primaries coming up, including Mike Bloomberg’s saturation of the media in the Super Tuesday states where he’s on the ballot in every one. Keep in mind that Nevada gave Sanders a full seven (7) delegates, that there has been almost no blood shed, delegate-wise, in the primaries so far.

One question is whether Bloomberg’s media saturation of California will blunt the state’s natural inclination to go for Bernie. If Sanders gets more than 30% of the vote in California and tramples Bloomberg in the process I’d guess he’ll be the eventual nominee. In the absence Bloomberg’s money, which he’s already declined, of millions of first-time voters on November 3 (a pronounced rarity), and despite working on the side of the angels, Bernie will lead the Democrats on the high road over a cliff. Those who survive will have to endure another four years of The Smirking Dolt.

With Bernie Sanders as our candidate, the night of November 3 will be, to paraphrase Thomas Hobbes, short, nasty and brutish. Our consciences, however, will be clear.

Posted by: Bruce Allen | February 11, 2020

Liberal Democrats Slowly Coming to a Boil

© Bruce Allen

The left wing of the Democratic party, of which I’ve long been an enthusiastic member, is preparing to lead the party off a cliff again in November, mostly for ideological reasons. The vast amount of attention being paid to Iowa and New Hampshire, people actively kvetching, arguing about Bernie versus Elizabeth versus Joe versus Pete, then there’s Amy…

We’re arguing ideology while our house is burning down. None of our faves can beat Trump in November. All are fatally flawed. This is why the media is suddenly referring to the Dem primary as “messy.” Trump’s visceral appeal to a third of the country, and a budget approaching $1 billion–thank you, Citizens United–virtually guarantee he will spend and lie his way to another electoral college victory. Yet we clamor on, about Bernie versus Elizabeth versus Joe versus Pete. Then there’s Amy…

We have our high-minded young Sanders supporters exhibiting the zeal of the convert by stating their intent to sit 2020 out if Bernie is not the nominee. He and Elizabeth Warren have chained themselves to the anchor of Medicare for All and thrown themselves overboard. Pete is too young and will lose the homophobic Trump base by default. Joe’s lost a step, does not inspire passion, and garbles his speech at bad times. All will get crushed financially. All will go down swinging, in the face of Trump’s war chest and transactional, scorched earth mentality. This, in turn, will allow Republicans to maintain control of the Senate, and, quick as you like, we’re in for another insufferable four years.

We Democratic amphibians sit in the pot, arguing about policy issues, and fail to notice the water temperature going up on us. The primaries are important, and all that will of the people stuff. But, but, but… By the time it becomes clear that their passionate favorite candidate cannot win the election they will be fully boiled, unaware of what has become of them.

The X-factor this season, one which is rising rapidly in the polls despite not campaigning actively in the first four contests is, of course, Michael Bloomberg. Former Republican, former Stop & Frisk proponent, cozies up to other billionaires in his too fabulous New York lifestyle. A man of leisure and unimaginable wealth, 12 years the mayor of one of the world’s most challenging cities, who has decided to get rid of Donald Trump the best way possible.

Mike_Bloomberg_Headshot

Money and data.

Most of the lefties in the Democratic party, especially younger voters, will perceive Michael Bloomberg as an old machine-style ogre, the antithesis of Bernie and Elizabeth, will refuse to vote for him and will find themselves having to survive another four years of really bad Republican governance. This is being unable to see the forest for the trees. Republicans don’t have these kinds of issues with their young voters because most of them don’t actually think about issues. They have tribal feelings, feelings that are attracted to guys like Trump, who made it to the top not by being smart, but by being tough. That, and not taking any shit from “the blacks.” He speaks their language.

The Democratic party needs an anti-gun, pro-environment, pro-income equality, principled president beholden to no industries or special interests. Beyond the reach of financial persuasion. Doing it because he has experience and recognizes poor governance when he sees it. Recognizing that, at the federal level, such incompetence is dangerous.

Many people groan, thinking, “Great. Another white New York billionaire. The first one isn’t working out so well.” That observation fails to capture the difference in the two old white billionaires, which is cavernous, when it comes to business or political acumen, wealth, honesty, character and intellect.

Michael Bloomberg has known Donald Trump for decades as the beneficiary of a nepotistic crook of a father, shown how things work by Roy Cohn, bankrupt over and over again, womanizing fake billionaire, the laughingstock of Manhattan society. He will dissect Trump in any debate, on any level, on any subject. The best Trump can do is Stop & Frisk and “little Jew.” Oh, and he’s coming to take your automatic weapons.

Michael Bloomberg expects to emerge from Super Tuesday in early March the leading Democratic candidate for the presidency. He is bringing his billions and will end up on national debate stages, satisfying some, infuriating others. He will be leveling the financial playing field, deploying his billions up against those of the RNC and its PACs.

One side or the other is buying this election. It might as well be the Democrats.

We lefties need to get over ourselves and get Trump out of the White House. Even if there is a leading current Democratic contender after Nevada, all that is subject to change on March 4. Bloomberg’s down-ballot resources will make a difference in races at the state level, and it is crucial for Dems to flip the Senate in November to avoid another four years of legislative gridlock and judicial perversion. Michael Bloomberg will have a positive impact on all those things, whether or not he is that candidate. State legislatures will re-draw voting districts after the 2020 census; Democrats have another real opportunity here.

This is, as someone said recently, the fight of our lives. Donald Trump has hijacked the presidency and is now using it solely as it benefits him. How much time, one wonders, does he spend Presidenting on a given day, and how much time is spent focused on TV coverage of the primary season? The Attorney General has proven himself totally compromised, #MoscowMitch is calling the shots in the Senate, and the planet is melting. Various sectors of the government are in the process of being weaponized, including most of the Executive branch and a growing part of the judiciary. Republicans in the Senate want to hear from Hunter Biden. Jeff Bezos wants to hear from Donald Trump.

Most of us would be content to see Trump lose to Bloomberg in November and get hounded in retirement by the Southern District of New York and the NY Attorney General. Bloomberg would be expected to be a one-term president, there to restore sanity and prepare the ground for a Democratic president in 2024 who will need to focus on climate change, healthcare, poverty, guns, integrity of elections and the vast array of issues confronting this country.

Bloomberg, along with a Democratic Congress, has a puncher’s chance of getting some real things done. Trump has none. Zero, zip, nada. The choice, for Democrats of all stripes, is clear. Vote for Bloomberg in 2020 and restore sanity to Washington. Let the current crop of old white men, including Mike, age out of contention, and see who emerges as a true leader.

2020 is a big opportunity to stop the Trumpian bleeding. 2024 will be an opportunity to get things headed back in the right direction.

Posted by: Bruce Allen | February 4, 2020

An Open Letter to Mike Bloomberg

Sir:

One presumes there will be a single-payer healthcare system of some sort in the US within the next ten years. Take as given the following facts:

  • The US population is aging. As things now stand there will be an insufficient number of healthcare providers to care for the growing number of seniors. Hey, Boomer.
  • There are limited career opportunities available in most parts of the country. Plenty of jobs out there, but relatively few that aren’t dead-end soul-killers.
  • Although the compensation for nurses and doctors, across the board, has been relatively high for years, their hours, their stress levels, and their ‘life and death’ reality combine to result in early burnout and career blowouts. This, after decades in school.
  • Under a single-payer system, doctors will make less money. Relatively few will be selected for specialist training and compensation.

All of these factors suggest the creation of a formal US Medical Corps, a new branch of the government. Quasi-military in nature with formal enlistments and a transparent set of ranks and career paths. Suitable for employees with high school degrees, MD degrees and any degree in between. A place where those not inclined to military service could be recruited, hired and trained in the vast number of jobs which will be required, at all levels from cleaning floors to operating on patients, in the near future.

Enlistees, who commit/enlist to a minimum number of years in the service, could expect full employment, benefits, etc., along with an emphasis on growing the cleaning and maintenance staff, the nurses, physicians and PAs who will handle 97% of all caregiving. In each branch of medicine there would continue to be board-certified attending physicians, limited to, like, 50 hours of clinic or on-call service per week. 50 hours per week would, ideally, be considered a full week in all branches. And a significant cut in the time demanded from nurses and physicians in the current set-up, with a corresponding improvement in their quality of life, self-esteem, and likelihood to remain in the profession.

This army/contingent of healthcare providers, with an emphasis on gerontology, could be there in time for the peak of what by then will have become a crisis of numbers. Too many of them, the aged, sick and weak, and too few of us, those responsible for keeping them in this world. It takes a village.

In conjunction with a sensible single-payer plan, the US could upgrade its workforce, save money long term by reducing staff turnover and burnout, and provide training and development in a growth industry that does not require a college degree. Where would the money come from? Same place it always does. Where would the staff and training come from? I believe many of those in the healthcare business, working in hospitals, could conceive of working in a structured, less cortisol-soaked environment. Either as instructors or practitioners.

An emphasis on public service and quality of life for those enlisted. A predictable, attainable and attractive career path for those committed to improving themselves. A ‘public option,’ if you will, for those interested in medical service.

As the planet warms, a number of diseases are expected to thrive. A US Medical Corps could establish trained teams to send to localities in need, similar to they way we treat raging brushfires these days. All hands on deck. In a health crisis—think pandemic, a bird flu–there would be skilled manpower on call to assist right away. Sending in the National Guard would do little to help in these situations. Having a Medical Corps, in addition to military medical people, is sound policy as the world approaches 2030, the point of no return, the disappearance of the polar ice caps.

Since I was in my 30’s lol I’ve believed that, upon graduation from high school, every student should, the following fall, begin two years of mandatory public service—military service, conservation service, infrastructure service, coding service, whatever—prior to going off to college or a job. Another organized, government-run ‘boondoggle’ to prepare kids for what lies ahead. Most 18-year old’s—sorry—are not prepared for anything. The choice should not simply be college or McDonald’s. Two years to figure out, at a minimum, what they don’t want to do with the rest of their lives. Cheap labor for the US, an introduction to the real world for teenagers who will mostly live to be 100 and for whom two years is nothing.

The US Medical Corps is a big idea. Two years of mandatory public service is another. But two ideas which address a number of pressing national needs after generations of doing basically nothing, when doing nothing is no longer an option. The US used to be capable of executing big ideas, years ago, but not lately. The sad part is watching the planet hurtling toward mass extinctions—not of koala bears, but people—in areas of the planet which are densely populated and forested.

It is important that Mr. Bloomberg continue to consider non-mainstream ideas; he’s one of a handful of public figures capable of providing measurable support for common-sense, relatively new approaches. He is beholden to no one and no particular industries other than his own. He is the king of data, and data will show that these ideas produce a net positive social good. The benefits would outweigh the costs.

A Bloomberg presidency cannot be about incremental change. Along with a Democratic senate—a real possibility this November after the show trial orchestrated by #Trump’sBitch, Mitch McConnell—a Bloomberg presidency could more closely resemble a Kennedy presidency, a willingness to attack big ideas, a period when we lead the world in the fight against the existential crisis of global warming, occupying the high moral and scientific ground. Leading by example, not by hollow threat.

Mike Bloomberg is perfectly equipped to execute Job #1 in 2020: eject Donald Trump from Washington. He can out-everything Trump can ever do, spend or say, having known him since he was a nepotistic laughingstock amongst the NY rich and famous, back in the day. Then there’s Bloomberg, with an unencumbered campaign budget and a burning desire to serve the post-Trump Democratic party. If not as President, then as benefactor.

It was not that long ago that Donald Trump was just another NY real estate hustler. And it’s not like he has experienced a lot of personal growth in the interim. He is obese and starting to slur his words regularly. One expects him to begin foaming at the mouth during campaign events at the Reichstag this summer. Mike, on the other hand, can afford to remain calm and collected, sharp as a razor, thrilled to engage the President in online exchanges. No contest. Bring it on. Policy? Sure. Personal? Sure. Go ahead—call me a little NY Jew. I’m going to show you the way out of town.

The American people in 2020 need answers, not invective. They need brains, not bullies. They need policies, not policy moods. They need mounds of legislation to repair the Trumpian wholesale neutering of public environmental protection and conservation programs since 2017.

Mike Bloomberg has long supported efforts aimed at environmental protection and resource conservation. I have signed up to work for him when his Indiana program gets underway. With a Democratic House and Senate he could lead real action on a number of sane initiatives with a team of experienced hands eager to right the wrongs of the past four years. Otherwise, we as a race will simply continue to stumble towards oblivion, rudder-less, talking about the economy and the Kardashians and generally mucking about until it’s too late to avoid the worst, which is yet to come.

We need leadership and we need it right now.

Posted by: Bruce Allen | January 24, 2020

The U.S. Senate–Someone Should Wring Their Neck

Trump Family in Jail

The headline comes from a Facebook page I discovered the other day.

Here in the dark days of the winter of 2019-20, with McConnell and the Repugs running the show trial, the outcome pre-ordained, very Putinesque–“In Russia we have no problem with free elections. We just want to make sure we know who will win before the voting takes place.”–one is disposed by over-consumption of news to despair, that we have in store for us another five years of this madness.

Although I personally believe Mike Bloomberg has the plan, the data and the money to capture the Dems nomination and crush Trump in November, we can discuss what happens if, as widely expected, the Dems nominate the wrong candidate, i.e., someone other than Bloomberg, who is more ideologically pure but is under-resourced compared to Trump’s money and media machine, and that Trump wins another term. This, clearly, would be the bad news.

Suppose, however, at the same time that Trump is eking out a rage-filled victory in the electoral college, the senators in the so-called battleground states, Republicans defending their seats against competent Democratic challengers, discovering to their horror that the charade they put on in theBroken_GOP image January impeachment “trial” pissed people off and they have become tired of the obvious corruption of the Trump administration and its unctuous lackeys in both houses of Congress. People wanted Trump cleared, not covered up. In November the Dems flip the senate. Broken_GOP image

So McConnell loses to McGrath, courtesy of money from The Committee, i.e., Mike Bloomberg, and four other senators lose their seats. Chuck Shumer becomes the SML, the committees all get new chairmen, etc., just as occurred in the House in 2018. With Dems likely to maintain control of Congress in 2020, due in no small part to the disgust being expressed by female voters and suburban voters, we would be left with a Republican president (the term “embattled” comes to mind) and a solidly Democratic congress, both houses capable of a majority on their own and more votes than that if and when. The spell would be broken.

So it’s all about the senate in November. In the states where it’s going to be close. It is safe to assume that people will be aware of the impeachment parade. If they are also aware of how fake it was, they become candidates for re-communication. (As opposed to ex-communication.) It is therefore important to point out the facts, say, the top six, that were deliberately overlooked by senate Republicans as they reached their impartial “verdicts.”

Suppose, while we’re at it, that Trump’s visible drug and health issues get worse, that he becomes physically, as well as intellectually, incapacitated. The pressure of a rough campaign against a guy like Bloomberg, with an unlimited budget and the desire to spend a big piece of it to see Trump erased from the map, could be too much. Once and for all. At some point the SDNY is going to get involved again with Trump’s finances and taxes. The State of New York is in hot pursuit of him on several fronts. He has Ivanka, Don Jr. and Eric as children, and what’s his name, the looker’s kid, moping around. Being President pretty much sucks, even though the motorcades are sweet.

Schiff

Adam Schiff may be saving Western Civilization these days.

If, in fact, a lot of people have seen The Real Donald Trump in action and have not found it in any way amusing, the impeachment organized by Pelosi and Shumer will have worked. It will have illuminated for TV viewers that the senate voted Trump “Not Guilty” despite the absolute mountain of evidence to the contrary. It empowered him to scream “Totally Exonerated” into every microphone pushed in his face from this time forward. It must be made to be seen as an obscenity, politicians so cowardly as to willingly trample the Constitution under their Italian loafers. Just to be buddies with The President.

I’m hoping to work for Mike Bloomberg in Indiana once he gets the state staked out. My understanding is he is devoting the bulk of his resources to Super Tuesday states, hoping to emerge the following day leading the Democratic field, and go from there, using money and data to direct its efforts. And to build party infrastructure that downstream candidates can continue to use for years. Mike Bloomberg made his money in the data business. Today, it drives the world. And Trump’s guy, Brad Parscale, is in way over his head.

As a voter, it would be fun to watch Trump and Bloomberg square off for the presidency. Along with my Polish Jew of a grandmother, my money would be on the Jew. Take care of that, and much of the rest will take care of itself.

Posted by: Bruce Allen | August 2, 2019

Julian Castro: Impeach Him

© Bruce Allen   August 2, 2019

Dear Mr. BruAl–

My pre-Post-Trump-Stress Disorder continues unabated. I keep thinking, “If this guy can’t get impeached, no one ever will.” Is there a way for the Democratic Party, the one still functioning, to manage the impeachment process so as to help them avoid the “inoculation” of Trump by a treasonous Senate led by Russian tool Mitch McConnell?

Desperate in Danville

Dear Desperate–

I feel your pain. As does Julian Castro. This from Slate in their post-debate autopsy:

Capture

I think he’s on to something, perhaps the only thing, that doing the right thing–airing Trump’s malfeasance laundry on Twitter–making Americans pay attention, interrupting soap operas–will inevitably lead to a purely partisan acquittal in the Senate which must then be aggressively laid at the feet of Moscow Mitch. Doing it this way accomplishes two things: it exposes, for the benefit especially of The Base, the full extent of his self-dealing and general incompetence. Two, it links Trump and McConnell, the self-styled Grim Reaper, to proven Russian interference in the 2016 election and anticipated interference in the upcoming one.

If, as Castro points out, the Dems fail to impeach, Trump will use that failure like a club in 2020.

Capture

What the hell?

Then there’s the matter of conscience. To avoid acting in good conscience due to political considerations is something Republicans do. They play harder, and have shown a willingness bordering on glee to play on the Trump team, to buy into the lying, the deceit, the divisiveness, the race-baiting. #SilenceisComplicity.

So, Desperate, get on the horn to your congressman and demand impeachment of Donald Trump for high crimes and misdemeanors. Write him snail mail to which someone in his office needs to spend time responding. Write Trump and demand his resignation if that makes you feel better. Go to some of next year’s demonstrations, get tear-gassed, tell your grandkids about it someday. But there is a way out of this in which both Trump and McConnell eat it in 2020. I salute your efforts.

Mr. BruAl

Posted by: Bruce Allen | July 3, 2019

Externalities

© Bruce Allen   July 3, 2019

As a recovering resource economics major in college, I am blessed with a vague notion of how economic things work in this world. I recall getting tripped up over the insistence that “the whole is greater than the sum of the parts,” among many other equations concerning capitalism. In conjunction with my politics at the time, I came to the conclusion that private profit is what you get when you subtract private costs from social costs. The social costs go largely unpaid by the capitalist, rather by those living and/or working at, say, a facility which would add value to components while producing identifiable, real, and, in the long term, lethal social costs in the forms of environmental degradation, health issues, mental health issues, resource depletion, etc., etc. Worldwide, examples are countless.

Broken_GOP image

 

This typical picture of 21st century capitalism relies, for the most part, on capitalists being able to ignore these social costs and force their payment by others. They pay vast sums to politicians to advance their interests in Washington. The overarching example of this is global warming, created by billions of people and millions of businesses who are too busy scratching out a living to worry much about wood smoke or effluent finding its way into the water supply. The “we’ll all run out at the same time” mentality supports this attitude. And, in a great swath of the human population, carbon footprints and arctic ice melt are the absolute last things on peoples’ minds.

So externalities, abusive of people, the environment, the very culture, are what prop up capitalism, for if capitalists had to pay the costs of remediation of these damages they would suddenly become not-for-profit entities. BP can’t always be cleaning up the Gulf of Mexico. As a society, we have embraced capitalism as the way to improve our own little worlds. The problem is that in doing so we virtually guarantee the continuing degradation of the ‘larger’ world, the planet, our health system, the state of marriage and childcare, poverty, warfare, genocide, on and on. The politically expedient approach, always, is to kick the can down the road and let this stuff be someone else’s problem.

The politically expedient approach is not sustainable.

Some people have argued that we have evolved as a species by adapting to and ‘conquering’ the land, having become competitive, having embraced the Western ‘more is better than less’ mentality. In the process, however, we have, as a species, lost the ability to band together as people to combat an existential crisis, one that portends, at some point in the foreseeable future, a great human die-off and thousands and thousands of square miles of shoreline becoming inundated, infiltrated, and, ultimately, uninhabitable by salt water intrusion.

Decision-makers in the world, west and east, recognize all this and find ways to stick such concerns in alexandria-ocasio-cortezsome corner of their brains where they only have to think about them when forced to by circumstance. In John Sanford’s novel about first contact with alien intelligence, the kiosk advised the heavily-armed delegation from Earth that it had been in contact with a number of different civilizations for thousands of years, and would maintain such contacts until the lesser planets invariably destroyed themselves. Which, I suppose, is the point—we are destroying ourselves as a species, and are too busy watching and talking about the Kardashians to do anything meaningful, politically-speaking, to address the problems, to acknowledge that the companies, world-wide, creating externalities will be intimately involved in paying for their remediation. There is no such thing as “government money;” it is all taxpayer money.

I read once the opinion that behind every great fortune lies a great crime. A system of political economy that values achievement and requires growth will, ultimately, sew the seeds of its own doom. People, a high number of whom are business executives, will decide, on a micro/individual scale as it were, to produce externalities of one sort or another—trucking strawberries from California to Indiana. Such practices make no economic or environmental sense and must stop or be stopped. If one were a radical environmentalist, one would want it to be a federal crime to ship strawberries from California to Indiana. In a sustainable world, it would probably be a criminal, and therefore unprofitable, act to ship the strawberries across the country. In June.

As little as mainstream Democrats care about all this stuff—please Lord let it be someone else’s problem, someone not facing a primary challenge next time around—Republicans care even less. Republicans, judging from their actions, are in cahoots with the polluters and carbon producers to keep American laws as friendly as those of other nations. Recently, the list of other nations has been expanded.

cropped-sunrise2.jpg

So, we, individually, will continue to make the decisions best for our own particular situations for as long as we can, exercising our gift of free will, while the planet melts. The slowest train wreck in history is unfolding right in front of us, but the motion is so slow and sporadic that it largely fails to register. It is considered politically inexpedient, if not downright unpatriotic, to go up against global warming. A few Democratic candidates are going there, but they’re doomed, too. People are willing to give up nothing to save the planet. We still want more, more money, more mobility, more expensive toys, than what the planet can support.

Should one be prone to extrapolation and/or intellection, one would be highly concerned about our planet’s ability to maintain its viability. Malthus and Ricardo said this would happen and, by the 1950s, were fully discredited by mainstream economists, who insisted growth would lead us to the promised land, that resource development, in conjunction with Yankee ingenuity, would deliver us from those grim 19th century visions. By then, willful ignorance of externalities was firmly ingrained in government and politics. Air and water quality were a disaster. And we survived.

With global CO2 concentrations on a solidly upward trajectory, as the expression goes, this time it’s different. Global warming will, ultimately, force all politicians to become one-issue politicians. It is reasonable to expect large areas of the desert southwest to de-habitate, due to a lack of readily accessible drinking water. A migration toward the northeast, and notably around the Great Lakes, will occur, as people will never wish to be without water ever again as long as they live. The political economy will be re-shaped on the fly. A number of industries will cease to exist. This exodus will only delay the problem, it will not avoid it.

It is probably past time for thinking people on both sides of the political aisle to become single issue voters, concerned about reversing climate change first and foremost. The long-term implications of not doing so will reverberate for the rest of human history. The generation which was spawned by The Greatest Generation is on track to become The Worst Generation, boomers like me who destroyed middle management, wrecked the planet, invented student debt, and got blindsided by technology along the way. We boomers must take much of the blame for the way things are.

It’s those pesky externalities…

 

Posted by: Bruce Allen | May 10, 2019

Republican Orthodoxy in the Trump Era

© Bruce Allen

My wife gets mad at me all the time for taking shots at Republicans for a host of alleged character flaws, and she is, of course, right. Upon some reflection it occurred to me that a healthy number of my Indiana friends are Republicans, so it’s clear my problem is not with Republicans in persona. My problem is, and has always been, with Republican orthodoxy.

This orthodoxy, the guiding principles behind the party’s policy and legislative agenda, has changed radically during my adult life; I graduated from high school in 1969. It has, somehow, gone from bad to worse during this period, its adherents heading the same way, to the point today where discussing politics with one’s in-laws has the potential to disrupt family relationships 50 and 60 years old.

Who Has Represented Republican Orthodoxy Recently?

Dwight Eisenhower—50’s and 60’s

Republicans during this period were generally strong on defense, weak on domestic issues, strong on fiscal responsibility, and against government spending in general on the grounds that it displaces normal corporate capitalist behaviors whereby the rich get richer and the poor get poorer. Steely-eyed fiscal hawks, spend it all on defense, not a penny for scenery, etc. Ghetto-ize blacks in concentrated urban areas.

Richard Nixon—70’s

Nixon opened up the relationship with China and brought disgrace to his party; he was busy getting us out of Viet Nam “with honor” while busy covering up an election theft in a race that was already won. But many Republicans stood up when it was time to dispose of Nixon. His subsequent pardon by Gerald Ford produced Jimmy Carter, who immediately confronted a hostile, wounded Congress and hostages in Iran. It was ugly. Lucky for the Republicans that George McGovern was such an inept candidate in 1972, albeit a generally quality guy. As President, Nixon came perilously close to beating the rap in what should have been an opened-and-closed case,

Ronald Reagan—80’s, 90’s

Along comes Ronald Reagan to save the day in 1980. He drives the Soviet Union into the dirt and puts it all on the big U.S. Mastercard, driving the national debt to unheard-of levels. A chicken in every pot, too. So much for fiscal responsibility. He is for free trade, generous immigration laws, but is tough on labor and crime. Big military budgets. Republicans during this period were pretty smug, as the Democrats had trouble getting out of their own way. Paging Michael Dukakis. Riding his long coattails were Bush Sr. and Bush Jr., interrupted by eight tumultuous and otherwise successful years under Bill Clinton. It was the Bushes who transformed Republican orthodoxy into a worldview in which the US is constantly involved in numerous conflicts and that annual spending on defense equals the total defense spending of the next six countries on the list. Oh, and global warming was a myth.

The Bushes—00’s – 2016

Wearing the mantle of Reaganism and adding wars in Iraq and Afghanistan kept father and son busy for twelve years. And that was pretty much it. A strong preference for adding to deficits rather than raising taxes. Unconcerned with social programs. Bush Jr. inherited an annual budget surplus of $384 billion and turned it into a $500 billion deficit in two years, courtesy, in part, of 9/11. It continued to grow from there. Bushism, if there is such a thing, is based upon stumbling into interminable foreign military adventures with no end game in mind. It is an expensive failure, one to which orthodox Republicans are married. It produces a strong economy. Oh, and global warming was a myth.

Donald Trump—2017 – ???

2017 is where Republican orthodoxy got turned on its shoulder and neck area, causing adherents to risk cervical damage explaining The New Orthodoxy. Under Trump, this includes:

  • Everything the President does is good, legal and smart. Same for the Attorney General.
  • Stealing Supreme Court nominations is good, legal and smart.
  • Immigration is the biggest problem facing this country.
  • North Korea is the biggest problem facing this country.
  • China is the biggest problem facing this country.
  • Russia is the biggest problem facing this country.
  • Obamacare is the biggest problem facing this country.
  • Mitch McConnell is a patriot.
  • Global warming is a myth. Historical cycles, y’know.
  • Tariffs produce revenues paid by China. Utterly, obviously, demonstrably wrong. So wrong as to be stupid to promote the notion. And he doesn’t even remotely understand the concept of “balance of trade,” which I know for a fact they teach at The Wharton School. Must’ve skipped that class.
  • His language is sometimes unfortunate.

There’s plenty more, depending upon the day and time. This is a President who does not hold policy positions, but instead has policy moods. This is a President who, since day one, had no intention of ensuring that laws of the United States were executed and obeyed without favor or fraud. This is a President who, after decades of egregious behavior dating back to the 60’s, has never had to deal with any form of consequences. The money he’s lost over the years was always OPM—other people’s money. And now, despite the documented fact that he has attempted to obstruct justice numerous times while in office, he is getting away with it all again.

Senate Republicans, the personification of Republican orthodoxy, are good with this. They are his primary facilitators. They’ve bought into the ethical lapses, the general boorishness, the thousands of outright lies, and come to his defense, committing their own obstructions, whenever Democrats attempt to invoke their Constitutional powers. Trump’s game plan—run out the clock, avoiding disclosing proof of anything big enough to sway the 2020 election until after the election. It appears to be working, as everything the Democrats are doing is headed for a courtroom near you. With Republicans having been beavering away for two years to stuff Federal district and appeals courts with obeisant Republican tools, the likelihood of at least one of them instituting a Constitutional crisis—ordering Congress, for example, to withdraw a properly-issued subpoena—is pretty high. But for orthodox Republicans, it’s all good. Hate the sin, love the sinner.

We Democrats certainly have our own issues. But we haven’t sold our political souls in order to placate this would-be despot. There’s that. As for our orthodox friends, all we can do is pray for them. And us.

 

Posted by: Bruce Allen | April 9, 2019

Things for which I no longer have time

© Bruce Allen

britainduringtheblitz

London during The Blitz, shown for no reason whatsoever

Dear Mr. BruAl–

Now that you’re really what most people consider “older,” do you find you’ve become more crotchety in your dotage? Do more things annoy you? What about letters like this–do they annoy you as well?

It’s just that, like, you’re kind of a dick.

Sincerely,

Chafed in Cheyenne

Dear Chafed–

Now that I’m really getting up there–just turned “mid-to-late 60’s”–I’ve learned a few things about myself, despite the fact that when it comes to me I’m a slow learner. There was a documentary on PBS the other night about some poor guy who found his calling when he was 86. I have, at this point, identified a number of things I actively don’t like. From there, it is a matter of deduction to arrive at those things I do enjoy/love/appreciate, etc. No, I haven’t gotten around to the deduction part yet. But among those things I have learned, over decades, to despise are the following:

State-level elected officials who ignore “constituent requests,” due to the fact that they receive campaign money from the other side. I don’t mind getting turned down–well, I do, actually–but at least acknowledge that I took the time to communicate at all. And don’t do like Susan Brooks’ office and Joe Donnelly’s office and send a form letter on a completely different subject.

Remarkably obvious errors by the Indiana Department of Revenue at tax time. Two years in a row they mis-read the figures on my Turbo Tax return, two years in a row they sent me hate mail demanding thousands of dollars forthwith, interest, penalties and possible incarceration, etc.. Together, we discovered an error in their software. I wrote my elected state representatives and never heard a word.

Long, unmanaged or untimed traffic lights, where one sits idling in a queue while no one goes through. The roundabout is as close to a perfect solution to this problem as I’ve seen. Being able to travel considerable distances in the city without hitting a single traffic light is awesome. Ten years from now, when all but one of the lights are gone in Carmel, Indiana, it will be a unique place. To have lived through all of the hundreds of construction projects was just a matter of poor timing. Stuff that occurs when one lives in the same house for 35 years.

The utter, bottomless, cynical depravity at the highest levels of the Republican party. Funny how the perception of the party is growing to fit my mother’s lifelong belief that the vast majority of Republicans are just plain mean.

Any interaction with a commercial or public institution that can only be solved by a telephone call to a call tree. What can a call tree solve that a website can’t? My immediate response is to start shouting “REPRESENTATIVE” at the phone until I get a live person. But having to interact with a living human being at this time in history is unkind and a time-waster. Especially if one is vexed, it is much easier to come across as less of a jackwagon in a text or chat.

Participating in local Democratic efforts to elect good candidates in a ruby red county in a ruby red state. I will find a presidential candidate to support and probably some local Democrats. They are almost non-existent in these parts. Primaries are a running joke. Basically, I’m saying I no longer have time for living in a red state.

Anyone who tries to convince me that global warming is not a thing right now. Or that the American economy is sinking under a multi-trillion dollar pile of debt. Or that Social Security and Medicare are hopelessly, demographically doomed. Or that gerrymandering is the natural order of things in the real world. Or that corporations are people. If so, they would be allowed to own annuities, and they’re not.

Upon the Titanic that is our globally-warming globe, we are busily re-arranging the deck chairs while we vault headlong toward the point of no return–2030 by most counts–having observed that global carbon emissions increased significantly in 2018 over 2017. What’s more, the deck chairs look like crap. We argue about tariffs and human rights, and my own country is leading the way toward an eventual mass extinction in distant parts of that globe. Awesome. Those of you not thinking of your grandchildren at this moment, and their grandchildren, are asshats. Sorry.

I no longer have time to defend the mass consumption of meat. I understand I will have to demote it from a staple of my diet to an occasional condiment, procured from One Bad Day Farms locally, motto, “Why pay less?” This will have a starfish effect on the problem and make my latter years worse to a greater degree. It’s how we liberals roll. Nothing gets old hippies juiced like large, loud, futile demonstrations in favor of unpopular ideas.

There’s more, stuff about turn signals, people who text and drive, Cable modems that need lots of re-booting. Patriarchy. Nepotism. Mitch McConnell. Dogs running loose in the neighborhood.  Five months of damp boxers in the Indiana summer heat. Weeds of all types. Pancreatic cancer and all other cancers. What the Catholic church has allowed to take place within its walls.

Every time I go to confession I confess the same sins. Likewise, these existential problems have all been about the same during my entire adult life. None have gotten much better, and those that have are being assaulted by the reg raiders of the Trump administration as we speak. The point is, having expressed my opinions over the years to no effect, I have resolved to close off certain areas of my mind, refusing to engage in serious discussions about those topics. No time.

Becoming, as it were, a liberal version of the Trump base. This is my very first insight into what makes them tick. This is helpful moving forward.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Posted by: Bruce Allen | March 18, 2019

It’s the Hypocrisy, Stupid!

© Bruce Allen

Dear Mr. BruAl–

Why does it seem you’re always mad at Republicans about something? Aren’t both of the major political parties pretty much the same?

Red State Rodney

Dear Rodney–

Of all the infuriating things about Trump’s Republican apologists on Capitol Hill, and there are scores of these things, the single most dangerous is the artificial reality created when they refuse to acknowledge their own hypocrisy. By allowing Il Douche to get away with so many things for which they would have sent Barack Obama to the guillotine, and then not copping to it–“Damned Dems do it, too.”–guys like the execrable Lindsey Graham in effect order us to believe untruth. This is not how democracy is supposed to work.

As we watch the steady unraveling of the Trump administration, the turnover, the confusion, the lack of policy direction, the lying from Sarah Sanders’ podium, the hypocrisy of congressional Republicans amounts to co-dependency with a president who is over his head, unhinged, and un-briefable. The Republican party, in other words, is in denial of what appears to be a lemming-like following of Trump as he leads those foolish enough to throw in with him over a career wrecking, possibly criminal cliff. History shows it–people who have trusted and helped Trump over the years have been routinely tossed aside upon becoming inconvenient. With promises to keep and no interpersonal concerns beyond his own immediate needs (read: pathological narcissism), this is unlikely to change in the foreseeable future.

Once the indictments start flowing from the SDNY, addressed to Don Jr., Jared, Miller, Hicks, Norma?, Weisselberg, Deutsche Bank and several Russian billionaires, life is going to deteriorate, again, for Trump and those around him. Trump may end up pardoning, or trying to pardon, Manafort or Flynn but he can’t pardon everyone and survive politically. Even the most dedicated, most fact-impervious, most ill-informed Trump supporters out in West Virginia and Arkansas would start to smell a rat. And there are numerous state prosecutions gearing up for which no presidential pardon is allowed. Most of those are being filed in blue states. Go figure.

Congressional Republicans are, indeed, caught between a rock and a hard place. They can support Trump and his Reich, or they can dissent and be assured of well-funded primary challenges from the right. This is the 21st century equivalent of the old “silver or lead” incentive used to recruit employees into the South American drug cartels. Support Trump and we’ll pay you. Oppose us and we’ll kill your career. You choose. And if it seems unfair that honorable men such as Mitch McConnell and Marco Rubio would have to make such choices, they’ve been playing along all the while and knew what they were getting into. In the case of most Capitol Hill politicians, the salutation, ” The Honorable,” is badly mis-placed.

It feels like we’re in the eye of the storm. The initial Mueller and Michael Cohen chapters have taken place and people are going to jail. That there is a second set being prepared by the SDNY cannot be doubted, and when the subpoenas and warrants go out, things will get worse for Trump. The economy looks poised for a recession next year. North Korea is going nowhere. The Wall is going nowhere. The stock market is going nowhere. No policy initiatives emanating from the White House; too much time spent tweeting and not governing. Political calculations galore; strategic and economic calculations on the back of cocktail napkins.

I, for one, am ready for the back wall of the storm. Republicans need to pay a stiff price in 2020. This presidency is an outrage.

Posted by: Bruce Allen | September 11, 2018

One Issue in November Midterms

© Bruce Allen   Published originally on 9/11/2018. Seems like folks chose oversight.

Sorry, but the 2018 midterms, now officially eight weeks away, are about a single issue. The issue is congressional oversight of the President, as spelled out in The Constitution. Please excuse this rather lengthy and abridged theft from Wikipedia:

“The legislature is authorized to appropriate funds; raise and support armies; provide for and maintain a navy; declare war; provide for organizing and calling forth the national guard; regulate interstate and foreign commerce; establish post offices and post roads; advise and consent on treaties and presidential nominations (Senate); and impeach (House) and try (Senate) the President, Vice President, and civil officers for treason, bribery, or other high crimes and misdemeanors.

The authority to oversee derives from these constitutional powers. Congress could not carry them out reasonably or responsibly without knowing what the executive is doing; how programs are being administered, by whom, and at what cost; and whether officials are obeying the law and complying with legislative intent. The Supreme Court has legitimated Congress’s investigative power, subject to constitutional safeguards for civil liberties.”

In September of 2018, the Republican majority in the U.S. House of Representatives is guilty of malfeasance. It has failed to exercise its constitutional responsibility, as the elected representatives of all U.S. citizens, to keep tabs on the President, in order that he not be tempted to abuse the powers of his office, for instance, by using the Department of Justice as a tool for political purposes. In addition to the customary backscratching and pork, the Republican majority can now add “aiding and abetting the commission of multiple felonies, if not outright treason, by Donald Trump” to its list of barbaric legislative accomplishments.

In September of 2018 House Republicans are acting as defense counsel for the President. Paging the loathsome and felonious Devin Nunes. This is not simply a lack of doing their sworn duty at all, or doing it only poorly. It is a matter of doing the exact opposite of their sworn duty. Not misfeasance or nonfeasance. Malfeasance.

The November elections will determine whether Congress, going forward, will begin to exercise its constitutional obligations as regards Donald Trump. Boil it down and the question kind of becomes, “How do you feel about the U.S. Constitution?” Most liberals would say they support the Constitution, as would most conservatives. As for the Trump base, most of whom describe themselves as Second Amendment Folks, knee-jerk support for the Constitution is baked into their consciousness.

Here’s why it doesn’t really matter how one thinks of oneself politically. On the foundational role of oversight in the revolutionary birth of this country, to prevent abuse by the king, you will discover yourself in favor of it. If you were glad it was there during the Nixon years, you support oversight. If you were glad it was there during the Clinton years and the Benghazi years, you support oversight. And, clearly, if you miss it these days, you support oversight.

There is but one way to restore oversight to the United States. It is to turn the House and conduct proper investigations into the abuses and criminal activities of senior administration officials, including the President. Whichever party controls Congress beginning in 2019 will have the future of the country in their hands. As strange as it may sound, here it is: If you supported the impeachment of Bill Clinton and the grilling of Hillary Clinton, if you wish in your heart of hearts that both had landed in jail, you need to vote for congressional Democrats and Senators in November.

If this viewpoint makes you sick and angry, you have to admit that the issue cuts both ways. Either there is constitutionally-mandated oversight of the President and his administration or there ain’t. Under the present conditions it will be necessary to put Democrats in the majority in Congress, if only for a single term, to get to the bottom of the allegations against the President and his family. Only this way can he clear his name and show his own support for the Constitution.

It may be that all of this will become moot once Robert Mueller releases his subpoenas and indictments. Or Trump shuts down the government in September because he feels like it and nobody tells him what to do. Or someone somewhere releases a tape or a video that fatally offends his remaining support among independent or female or southern voters. Or it turns out that Jared wrote the op-ed in the NYT. It may be that, for the Republicans in November, the House is already a lost cause, and they’re going to have to work to maintain their wafer-thin control of the Senate.

Speaking of the Senate, there’s this:

Image may contain: one or more people, eyeglasses and text

It really is a shame that Mitch McConnell is not up for re-election this year. His day will surely come.

Two months out, it feels pretty likely that the trend is for turning the House and not turning the Senate. However, the likelihood of news and/or events and/or revelations and/or indictments between now and November is high. No blue collar Trump supporter in Ohio is going to get jacked up over the fact that Trump’s debt-financed recovery is finally reaching into the middle class or that some slice of unemployment data is 3% better than a month ago. In general, he’s not feeling the big ol’ tax cut very much. He is preparing, however, to receive his 2019 health benefits package in October, which will likely offer him reduced benefits and significantly higher premiums. Goodbye tax cut. For Republicans, there will be no running on the strength of the economy; most of the base isn’t feeling it. Including soybean farmers in Iowa.

Voters in November can be expected to be unable to see the forest for the trees. The prehistoric concept of oversight will probably get shouted down by the noise and confusion of the various machines built and unleashed to influence the way we think and the things we believe to be true. Robert Mueller, Stormy Daniels, Michael Cohen, Paul Manafort, etc., ad nauseum. And the things they don’t want us to think about. Such as Republicans having failed to exercise their constitutional authority, as the majority in a highly-polarized House, to oversee the activities and functions of the President.

How do you feel about the U.S. Constitution?

 

Posted by: Bruce Allen | October 2, 2007

Dear Bud By The Cornfield–

© Bruce Allen  Reposted on April 9, 2020

This is a post from October 2007 when this column operated under a different format. Back then, I would make up questions, then send them to myself, pretending to be, like, Confused in Connecticut. Bud, an old friend who actually thought I wanted people to send in questions, is no longer with us. I found this while looking for something else, and, despite the rough transition from his actual Republican question to my answer, still think I had Hillary pegged back then. The John Edwards reference proves this is old.

Dear Mr. BruAl—  I want to know about your view of Hillary Clinton and her relationships in the USA.  Your blog rocks.  So far.       Bud by the Cornfield

Dear Bud—-

This link will give you most of what little we know about Hillary at this point in her life.  It’s maybe 20 or 30 pages.  Please take an hour or two to read the link, then get back to me for a few giggles.

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Hillary_Rodham_Clinton#Early_life

Hillary is an almost mutant example of what we refer to as The Alpha Female.  Pound for pound, tougher than any Christian man on earth.  Mentally tough, a career overachiever willing to “dig deep” in the pursuit of truth, justice and the American way.  (Yes, that was Superman, but you get our point.) She realized early in her career that she would not do well as a Republican and switched in time for the ’72 election.  Since then she has been a loud mainstream liberal.  And it’s the “liberal” part that makes so many folks throughout the country uncomfortable about Hillary.

Someone named Willis Player said that a liberal “is a person whose interests aren’t at stake at the moment.”  Back in the 40’s and 50’s and 60’s when the old Great Democratic coalition came together, being a liberal meant supporting income redistribution, from the wealthy to the poor.  Almost straight from the Bible.  It meant supporting integration and voting rights and better schools, with higher taxes on businesses and the wealthy paying for it.  It meant deficit spending in years of recession and accumulating surpluses during years of economic expansion.  Growing up in the DC area, most of our parents were liberal democrats. Whereas black urban democrats and dixiecrats were largely born to their politics, suburban liberals, with the zeal of the convert, chose them.  Being a liberal suggested enlightened self interest, service to a higher purpose than one’s own wallet, marginal personal sacrifice for the benefit of the greater good.

In 2007 in central Indiana liberal is a dirty word.  How did this happen?

We at Mr. BruAl like to believe that our boy Ron Reagan began the process of converting a term connoting self-sacrifice and belief in racial equality into one of derision.  If you’re a liberal in Indiana in 2007 people think you’re soft in the head, probably a closet homosexual, hopelessly naive, or simply incapable of critical thinking.  (BTW, back in the 1920’s, Ron Reagan thumped my father during a high school debate contest somewhere between Dixon and Mendota, Illinois.)  During his 8 years he made fun of  “tax and spend” liberals while spending the ol’ Soviet Union out of existence, bringing the US economy out of recession and financing it all, lower taxes included, on his giant MasterCard, the national debt.  Republicans liked the results of credit card spending so much they bought into the ridicule of liberals that accompanied it.  Puddingheaded liberals couldn’t possibly understand the Laffer curve, the secret allowing both guns and butter.

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/National_debt_by_U.S._presidential_terms

The above chart looks at national debt as a percentage of GNP.  The first column of figures is the national debt percentage at the start of the term.  The second column is the percentage at the end of the term(s).  Let’s see how our boy Ron did compared to those around him, including the tax and spend liberals:                                                 Net

Eisenhower                 1953-1960        71.3       55.1   -16.2% Outstanding

Kennedy/Johnson      1961-1968        55.1      38.6    -16.5% Outstanding

Nixon/Ford                 1969-1976        38.6      35.8        -2.8% Acceptable

Jimmy Carter              1977-1980        35.8      32.6       -3.2% One term only

Ronald Reagan      1981-1988       32.6     53.1    +20.5%     Impeachable

George Bush Sr.     1989-1992       53.1     66.2   +13.1%      Unacceptable

Bill Clinton                   1993-2000        66.2      57.4     -8.8% Very good

George Bush Jr.    2001-2008*      57.4     69.8*   +12.4%    Shameful

*projected

Let’s acknowledge the active participation of the largely Democratic congress during these periods of frightening federal largesse.  Let’s also acknowledge the existence of lags in these figures, which undoubtedly distort the results.  Let’s not pretend that the difference is solely due to putting the military “back where it belongs” after years of alleged Democratic neglect.  Since the early 80’s, being a conservative equates to having overseen the effective doubling of the national debt, the not-surprising consequence of having supported both big government and the ruthless and simultaneous pursuit of tax cuts scaled to disproportionately benefit people in higher income brackets.

As the national debt increases, growing debt payments thereon reduce the government’s ability to fund itself, a situation in which the magic of compound interest is clearly working against us.  With politicians clearly unable to keep themselves from spending tax dollars, there is no long term alternative, outside of ridiculously optimistic forecasts of economic productivity, to increasing tax revenues.  This is one half of the vise slowing growth prospects for the U.S. economy in the foreseeable future, the other half being the inevitable increase in the price of oil and the shocks that those increases always produce in the real prices of other goods and services.

In closing, Bud, let us say that Hillary comes across as moody, vindictive, cynical, betrayed, brilliant, utterly determined, and amoral, a do good-er at heart, who made the decision, back when it was fashionable, to become a liberal politician.  She has stuck to her guns pretty much since then.  We would not want to cross her, and we believe that Emma Thompson probably did a superb rendition of her in the movie version of Primary Colors.  She is who she is.  As a “Yellow Dog Democrat” we would vote for her before we’d vote for any of the current Republicans, if only so we could tell our grandchildren that we voted for the first woman ever to run for president.  The same way we tell our daughters we voted for George McGovern in our first presidential election, and convinced our parents not to vote Republican for the first time EVER that same year.  (We liberals  love the futile, symbolic, highly-principled gesture.  Republicans, please see Goldwater in ’64.)

Is Mr. BruAl a bleeding heart?  Probably.  Does Mr. BruAl still support the concept of redistributing income to address poverty?  Yes.  Is the political system sufficiently corrupt to prevent higher funding from producing better results?  Yes.  Is the crisis in families in our underclass, the result of generations of crime, drugs, welfare, debt, illegitimacy, abortion, incarceration and bureaucratic indifference, making it seem impossible to educate children from those environments?  How could it not?

Mr. BruAl understands how Hillary can cause the skin of true conservatives to crawl.  We do not expect her to get elected, although she could  be an effective vice presidential candidate to a John Edwards.  We believe that long-time Democrats think of Hillary the way long-time Republicans think of Nixon–flawed and unlikeable, something of a conniver, but one whose sins are far outweighed by his or her achievements, intellect and leadership.  Certainly worth voting for.

One last note.  As to her relationships in the USA, the only stuff we’re willing to make up are the thing during college with the Sigma Xi’s from Harvard, the state police lieutenant in Little Rock, the Secret Service guy at the White House and the National Security guy, and the one-nighter with the new Federal Reserve guy at the Drake in Chicago last year when Bill was doing some crazy stuff in Africa.  Typical of you Republicans to only want the lurid details.

Thanks for writing.

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