Will Trump, Republicans snatch defeat from the jaws of victory?

Donald Trump has a bad habit of snatching defeat from the jaws of victory. In fact, he may well be the Democrats best chance of taking back the White House in November.

Trump got a good bump in the polls when the Senate “acquitted” him of the impeachment charges, then gave it all back with his bumblin’, fumblin’ handling of the coronavirus pandemic. Now Trump and his acolytes may be setting him up for defeat in November.

In the kind of political master stroke you don’t expect from him, Trump conceded his didn’t have the power to restart the economy—that’s the responsibility of the 50 governors. If they screw it up, Trump escapes blame. If things go well and the economy is on the upswing in October, he will probably get reelected.

But, of course, he couldn’t leave things well enough alone. Almost immediately after releasing his three-phase plan for returning to normal, Trump proceeded to undermine the effort by calling for the “liberation” of supporters chaffing under the lock-down restrictions.

Those seeking liberation—MAGA hat-wearing, Bible totting, gun-carrying anti-vaxxers—have staged demonstrations in several states demanding a return to normal. Georgia’s Republican governor is starting to reopen the state, even though the health statistics say it’s too early.

They are encouraged by people like Attorney General William Barr, who said the shutdowns are “disturbingly close” to house arrest, and that the Justice Department will sue states if they “go too far.” Then there’s Lieutenant Governor Dan Patrick of Texas, who said “some things are more important than living,” like making money.

The problem is that we may be trying to return to normal too soon. Small studies by researchers at Stanford and the University of Southern California have concluded the coronavirus has infected more people than previously believed, but is nowhere close to the level we need to create herd immunity.

Most experts expect a second surge of the virus later this year, and Robert Redfield, director of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, said that surge will be more fatal if it arrives during flu season. A vaccine is 12 to 24 months in the future, if we’re lucky.

A majority of respondents to recent polls on the subject are fearful shutdown restricts will be lifted too soon. If a second surge of the virus arrives in September or October and forces another shutdown of the economy, voters will remember that Republican governors egged on by Trump were hell-bent on reopening the economy when they vote the first Tuesday in November.

Posted in Coronavirus pandemic, Democratic Party, Donald Trump, Politics, Republican Party | Leave a comment

Bernie lost the war, but he may have won the revolution

You have to give the Republicans credit for holding onto their views, even when their own actions make them look like hypocrites.

We were told for the better part of a year that Bernie Sanders would seize control of the Democrats and turn them into a socialist—if not communist—party. Since Bernie flamed out, we’re being told that Sanders has pulled Joe Biden so far left he has no chance of winning in November.

They point to Biden’s agenda, which promises free community college, plus free university for every family earning less than $125,000 a year. While he resists “Medicare for All,” Biden wants to add a “public option” to ObamaCare.

Then there’s the cost: Biden proposes tax increases totaling $3.4 trillion over 10 years, twice what Hillary Clinton proposed in 2016. His climate plan alone runs to $1.7 trillion over a decade!

That’s all part of the GOP’s strategy for reelecting Donald Trump: Run on a strong economy while tying Biden to Bernie and the Squad. Neither one of those is working very well right now.

The economy is in freefall and the Republicans have supported legislation to prop up the economy that will add another $2.4 trillion (and maybe another $2 trillion on top of that) to a national deficit that is already over $1 trillion a year. (Big-spending Democrats prefer to inflict the pain now with tax increases while big-spending Republicans prefer to inflict the pain on future generations by piling up national debt.)

And what do Republicans propose to do with this deficit spending? Well, the $2.2 trillion Cares Act draws from key elements of the liberal activist platform honed over the past decade. These include:

Extending unemployment benefits to gig workers, shielding renters from eviction, student debt relief, and creating guidelines governing how private companies pay their executives, reward shareholders, and interact with organized labor.

While it’s not exactly Bernie’s “Medicare for All,” the Trump administration promises the government will pay the coronavirus medical bills of any uninsured Americans—and reimburse health care providers at Medicare rates.

Senator Josh Hawley (R.—Mo.) is actually proposing the government guarantee 80% of the paychecks of private company employees during the pandemic. “Workers ought to be able to keep their jobs,” Hawley said. Just like in Denmark and France.

As things stand now, the unemployed will get $600 a week for up to four months from the feds on top of whatever benefits they collect from their home state, making it profitable for some people to get laid off. Then there’s the $1,200 going to everybody who qualifies, including those who don’t need the money. You would think we’re one of those delusional socialist countries in Europe.

All of this received unanimous Republican support in the U.S. Senate. (For the record, the Cares Act will carried by that here-to-for stalwart of fiscal probity, Major Leader Mitch McConnell.) Nevada County’s two House representatives, Doug LaMalfa and Tom McClintock, lamented the new deficit spending but went along anyway. As columnist William Galston wrote in The Wall Street Journal: “…there are few libertarians in economic foxholes.”

This is quite a change from the Republican response to the fiscal meltdown of 2008-09. When a $700 billion plan to rescue banks came up for a vote in September 2008, two-thirds of House Republicans voted against it despite pleas from party leaders and their own president, George W. Bush. A follow-up $800 billion plan from Barack Obama didn’t get a single House Republican vote.

The Tea Party movement spawned by the big bank bailout—you know, the people who were going to bring fiscal discipline to the Republican Party—has remained silent as the Trump administration routinely racks up $1 trillion deficits. Now they say they’ve had enough.

Jenny Beth Martin, co-founder of the Tea Party Patriots, says 96% of the group’s supporters “don’t want any more spending. They think $2.2 trillion-plus in spending should be enough.” But Trump’s talking about another $2 trillion in infrastructure spending, and he’ll get it after he makes enough concessions to the Democrats.

The big thinkers right-of-center are scrambling to explain this aberrant behavior. Matt Schlapp of the American Conservative Union invoked the spirit of the 5th Amendment—the part about taking property without just compensation—when he said:

“The conservative principal is that when government takes your property and economic rights, they are obliged to come up with a financial settlement.” (Nice try, Matt.)

Other Republicans explain all of this by saying we live in extraordinary times that require radical—but temporary—measures, and that they had to make concessions to Democrats to get a bill passed. But history shows us that once something new—even radical—is tried, it rarely disappears.

“It’s been shocking how certain ideas that have been viewed as fringe and partisan have quickly come into the mainstream,” said Ed Mills, a policy analyst for brokerage Raymond James and Associates. “These tools are now in the tool kit. They will be used again.”

So folks, you can forget about the party that used to oppose big government, deficit spending, and meddling in free markets. Bernie lost the war, but he may have won the revolution.

Posted in Bernie Sanders, Democratic Party, Donald Trump, Economy, Government, Joe Biden, Politics, Public Policy, Rep. Doug LaMalfa, Rep. Tom McClintock, Republican Party, Tea Party, Uncategorized | 5 Comments

Maybe they have Trump–and God–on their side

New York City is getting the bulk of the attention these days as the epicenter of the Covid-19 outbreak in this county, but that focus will soon switch to a part of the country that has been even slower than the Big Apple to take the threat seriously.

I’m referring to the Solid South–the 11 states that made up the Confederacy and are big supporters of Donald Trump. It is also the poorest region of the country, has the highest rates of obesity, hypertension, diabetes and other diseases that make Covid-19 a killer, and has the fewest hospitals and lowest rate of medically insured.

“We, in general, have a sicker population and we are concerned that our outcomes…are going to be worse because of that,” said Joseph Kanter, a public health official in Louisiana who was referring to the enter South in his statement.

These state are also led predominantly by Republican governors–Virginia, Louisiana and Kentucky are the exceptions–who have been slow or unwilling to embrace the concepts of social distancing and lockdowns.

(The seven remaining states in the U.S. that don’t have lockdowns as I write this are all governed by Republicans. Surgeon General Jerome Adams pleaded with these states Sunday to consider a lockdown of just one week, but he shouldn’t hold his breath waiting for it to happen.)

There are a variety of reasons why Republican governors have been dragging their feet on this issue: Skepticism about the science, damage to the economy, reluctance to buck a president who has been slow to get on the bandwagon, and a persistent belief among conservatives that the coronavirus is overrated and/or a hoax by liberals to make the president look bad.

But the virus really doesn’t care about politics, and Louisiana, Georgia and Florida are rapidly developing new hot spots for the disease. Alabama, Georgia and Florida recently issued lockdown orders, although none of them has the severity you find in places like California.

Gov. Brian Kent of Georgia, who said he learned just last week that coronavirus can be transmitted by people who appear to be healthy (health officials have been saying that for weeks), exempted the state’s beach communities from his lockdown. Many coastal residents are not happy.

Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis, who has one of the largest population of elderly in the country, long resisted any attempts to restrict the movement of people until finally giving in last week. But he did exempt religious gatherings, which are proving to be a major source of the disease around the world.

While most of the mainline religions have canceled services or moved them online, fundamentalist and evangelical churches have resisted such restrictions in this country. In Louisiana, Pastor Tony Spell of the Life Tabernacle Church in Baton Rouge has been arrested for refusing an order to cancel services despite a recent surge of cases in the state.

The largest source of coronavirus cases in the Sacramento region–71 to date–is members of the Bethany Slavic Missionary Church. Church officials say they are no longer holding services, but public health officials say they have reports of large groups of church members gathering in homes for services.

The problem isn’t limited to the United States. The biggest source of coronavirus cases in Israel is the nation’s ultraorthodox Jews, who refuse to cancel religious services and other large gatherings. (They were also the source of the measles outbreak in New York City last year.)

Iran emerged as one of the hardest-hit countries as clerics and worshipers were reluctant to interfere with religious traditions, and people gathering at holy shrines in Qom. Health officials in South Korea traced a large share of cases to the secretive Shincheonji Church. In Muslim-majority Malaysia, authorities have reported hundreds of cases linked to an Islamic religious gathering.

Next Sunday is Easter, the holiest day in Christianity, and it will occur right in the middle of what health officials say will be the worst two weeks since the coronavirus hit the U.S. President Trump is warning that tens of thousands could die in the near future, and Adams has said this will be our next Pearl Harbor.

We’ll see whether our fundamentalist brethren do what’s best for their fellow Americans, or ignore the advice of health officials and trust in God to protect all of us. We’ll also see if Republican governors have the guts to stand up and tell them to shut down their services.

Posted in Coronavirus pandemic, Donald Trump, Politics, Public Policy, Science, Uncategorized | Leave a comment

Trump using public dollars, dirty tricks in reelection bid

We were one of millions of American families that recently received a post card with a summary of the advice you’ve been getting on how to deal with the coronavirus. The card, which was paid for with tax dollars, came with the headline “President Trump’s Coronavirus Guidelines for America.”

I’ve received many government mailers over the years from administrations of both parties. Occasionaly, they’ll include a brief message from the incumbent president, but never a blatant headline like this card carries.

(The headline is a fraud anyway. Instead of providing useful advice on how to slowdown the coronavirus, Trump has downplayed its seriousness, offered false hope for a quick vaccine, and promoted two drugs that have never been proven to treat the disease. Public health experts hold their breath every time he opens his mouth on the subject.)

Trump appears to be viewing the coronavirus pandemic as a way to promote his reelection. Several news outlets have reported that Trump wants his name on every stimulus check mailed to citizens (normally, a functionary in the Treasury Department would sign such checks) and has bragged that the TV ratings for his daily briefings rival those of “Monday Night Football.”

This is not the first time Trump has used public resources to promote his reelection and it won’t be the last. White House social media director Dan Scavino recently tweeted a doctored news clip that appeared to show Joe Biden endorsing Trump’s reelection bid. Scavino is paid by the government, not Trump’s reelection campaign, but that didn’t stop him from spending time on a partisan political stunt.

The clip, which was tweeted and retweeted millions of times, appears to show Biden saying at a political rally that “we can only reelect Donald Trump.” The clip edits out the rest of Biden’s sentence. He’s what he actually said:

“We can only reelect Donald Trump if in fact we get engaged in this circular firing squad here. It’s got to be a positive campaign.”

Trump, who has never cared about the truth or accuracy, retweeted the clip, as did campaign manager Brad Parscale and campaign senior legal advisor Jenna Ellis. The clip was also tweeted by conservative talk show host Mark Levin and conservative web sites such as Townhall and RedState.

But Trump’s campaign is playing a different tune now, sending cease and desist letters to television stations airing an ad from super PAC Priorities USA Action that’s a scathing attack on Trump’s response to the coronavirus pandemic. The ad features a graph mapping coronavirus cases in the U.S. over the past two months with audio of comments Trump has made downplaying the threat of the virus.

The letter, which also suggests the stations’ broadcast licenses might be in jeopardy if they keep running the ad, said the ad “stitched together fragments from multiple speeches by President Trump to fraudulently and maliciously imply that President Trump called the coronavirus outbreak a ‘hoax’.”

The ad doesn’t explicitly say Trump called the virus a “hoax.” It runs audio of Trump saying , “This is their new hoax,” without identifying who he was talking about, as the number of coronavirus cases rises on the graph. Trump was referring to Democratic criticism of the president’s slow response to the threat.

Then there was that fund-raising mailer sent out by the Republican Party that appeared to be an official U.S. Census form, and the high volume of mysterious phone calls that jammed the lines of the Iowa Democratic Party on the night of the caucuses. I can’t wait until the real campaign starts after Labor Day.

Posted in Coronavirus pandemic, Democratic Party, Donald Trump, Joe Biden, Media, Politics, Republican Party, Uncategorized | Leave a comment

Spend money on the wealth creators, not the laggards?

Blogger George Rebane, perhaps the leading thinker among conservatives in these parts (granted, there’s not much competition for the honor), takes a dim view of current efforts to lavish money on the people who will be hurt the most by the shutdown of the economy.

Rebane, who has written in the past that employees are costs that owners try to eliminate, writes at Rebane’s Ruminations that “…low- and mid-range workers are continuously pandered to about (sic) the feds bailing out Wall Street capitalists and greedy corporations. They don’t grasp that giving money only to such workers will not help, for they will have nowhere to spend it for their necessities…”

“It is America’s business owners and investors who create and sustain the companies, and take the risks to make the stuff we need while creating the jobs that make our quality of life possible.”

Rebane apparently believes that food, rent and utilities are not necessities that are likely to suck up any money low- and mid-range workers get from the government. There is little else you can afford to spend money on when you live paycheck to paycheck and those checks aren’t coming in.

But don’t think for a minute that America’s major corporations will be denied a spot at the public trough. They have unleashed their army of lobbyists on members of Congress and the administration, seeking low interest loans if not outright bailouts. Companies like United Airlines are threatening to lay-off thousands of workers if they don’t get what they want.

Left unsaid is why America’s corporate titans have scant cash reserves to cushion them for the next few months, particularly since the economy has been growing for a decade and they got a huge tax cut three years ago.

Instead of banking money for a rainy day, they have been spending it on stock buybacks and dividend increases. Given the low interest rates of recent years, many companies borrowed money to do both while also financing acquisitions. Corporate debt now stands at a record $10 trillion.

Even Donald Trump finds this annoying, saying he is disappointed corporations didn’t use the money saved from the tax cut to invest in their businesses. He said there will be no dividend increases or buy-backs if the government bails them out.

Then there are the leveraged buy-outs that burden companies with debt. Take Cirque du Soleil. After a hedge fund acquired the company in a leveraged buy-out in 2015, Cirque was saddled with $700 million in debt. Now that all of its touring shows are out of business, the company is likely to default on its debt payments.

The few corporate scolds left out there like to talk about “moral hazard,” the lack of incentive to guard against risk when you’re protected from its consequences. Corporations know there is little risk when the federal government bails them out, as we learned in 2008-09.

I say it’s time for the creators of wealth to face up to the consequences of their profligate ways. Instead of bailing them out, we should expose them to the tender mercies of Warren Buffett, who currently has over $120 billion in reserves and is looking to invest it.

Buffett comes across as a folksy, grandfather type, but he makes companies pay dearly when he comes to their rescue. Back in 2008-09, he provided a lifeline to Goldman Sachs, General Electric and Dow Chemical, and financed the acquisition of Wrigley by Mars.

What did he charge for his services? The Wall Street Journal estimated in 2013 that Buffett had a gain of “$10 billion and counting” from the bailouts. That’s the kind of “moral hazard” that really teaches a lesson.

Posted in Economy, Financial crisis, George Rebane, Politics, Uncategorized | 2 Comments

It's not the system, it's the leadership that matters

“You never let a serious crisis got to waste.”Rahm Emanuel, chief of staff to Barack Obama

Perhaps channeling Emanuel, conservative commentators are using the coronavirus pandemic to champion the claim that our free-market health care system and capitalist ingenuity will prevail over single-payer, aka, Medicare for All, medical systems in stopping the pandemic.

To bolster their argument, they have zeroed in on Italy, where the pandemic is out of control and has claimed more lives that it did in China. Critics are quick to point out that Italy has socialized medicine while neglecting to mention it also has the second oldest population after Japan and was slow to implement social distancing and other measure to flatten the curve.

These critics also fail to mention the experience of another single-payer nation, South Korea, in subduing the pandemic, possible because it makes the United States look bad in comparison.

Both South Korea and the U.S. confirmed their first case of coronavirus on the same the day, January 20. That’s where the similarities end. Unlike its free market counterpart, South Korea swiftly implemented mass-scale testing along with consistent, transparent messaging to literally stop the pandemic in its tracks.

Falling back on lessons learned from the 2003 SARS epidemic and the 2015 MERS outbreak, authorities immediately orders up test kits from the World Health Organization and tasked its domestic drug companies with coming up with more test kits quickly. The first ones were ready to go Feb. 10.

Citizens are now being tested at the rate of 20,000 a day at 633 sites around the country, many of them mobile drive-up facilities. Because South Korea has a single-payer health care system, testing is free for everybody. The poor don’t have to delay getting a test because they can’t pay for it.

“Testing is central because that leads to early detection, it minimizes future threat, and it quickly treats those with the virus,” said Kang Kyung-wha, the country’s foreign minister. South Korean deaths from Covid-19 are well below the 3% death rate experienced by other countries.

As we know in the U.S., testing is still a developing debacle. For starters, we rejected the WHO test for one of our own, and the initial version had problems–it didn’t always work. Despite repeated assurances from Donald Trump and various administration officials, tests are still not widely available. Drive-up tests facilities are operating in fits and starts as the bugs are worked out.

As a result, we have no clue how bad the infection rate is in this country. If we’re lucky, we’ll flatten the curve before we even know it.

The Washington Post has reported that Trump blew off intelligence warnings in early January that coronavirus could be a serious problem in the U.S. He and others have denied that, but there is no denying that Trump and his acolytes initially downplayed the seriousness of the disease. Many of his media flunkies called the coronavirus a hoax or political hit job.

As The Wall Street Journal reported in an extensive report entitled “America Needed Tests. The Government Failed” published March 19:

“Health care officials say the current state of testing reflects both technical and planning failures, as well as a broader failure of imagination. Leaders including President Trump and Health and Human Services Secretary Alex Azar early in the outbreak appeared unable or unwilling to envision a crisis of the scale that has now emerged…”

Now that we are stumbling and fumbling to get the pandemic under control, Trump is not helping matters by suggesting that existing drugs can treat the disease and that a vaccine is just around the corner. That’s a stark contrast to the approach of Korean President Moon Jae-in, who has deferred to medical authorities and avoided topics where he was ignorant.

The difference between the U.S. and South Korea is leadership. They have it. We don’t.

Posted in Coronavirus pandemic, Donald Trump, Politics, Uncategorized | Leave a comment

Trump’s perfect stock market rally has evaporated

Donald Trump has been bragging about how the stock market has appreciated since he took office. Less than a week ago, he pointed out a 1-day gain of almost 10% by the Dow-Jones Industrial Average, the basis barometer used by investors to gauge the market.

It is certainly true that if you invested in the market the day Trump was inaugurated and then sold everything about 10 days ago, you would have a very big gain. But that was 10 days ago. Today, you would basically be back to where you started.

The D-J 30 Industrials closed downed 6.3% today at 19,898, just 71 points above the closing price the day Trump took the oath of office. Nobdody thinks we’re anywhere near the bottom of this market correction so the Trump “rally” should be in the red by the end of the week.

However, people who invested in the Obama rally are singing a much different tune. The D-J was up 55.1% during the 8 years he was in office.

But hey: The 1% got their tax cut, and that’s what really counts.

Posted in Donald Trump, Economy, Financial crisis, Politics, Republican Party, Uncategorized | Leave a comment