Our Coronavirus Situation: A Recap and Some Speculation

Reboot -From a Google Image Search – World Science Festival

On the one hand we have the virus, a very nasty bug, almost the pandemic we have worried about for so long, but probably not the pandemic to end all pandemics. This virus got away from us. It was not isolated and squashed as happened with Zika and Ebola, Mers, Sars and H1N1. Perhaps it was able to infect many people who showed no symptoms and this helped it become more prevalent. The response of our Federal government and the President, who insists that he is all-powerful, clearly played an enormous role in the path of destruction that the novel coronavirus has cut through America. Although it affected every country more or less, President Trump had more advance warning than most other nations. 

We had already dealt with several potential pandemics and there were structures designed to deal with any microbial disaster that might arise. But these structures were dismantled. Some of the conditions that favor oddball viruses and microbes seem to have arisen because we live in a more global world where people without immunities are exposed to germs or bugs they would rarely have met up with before travel became so popular, and before so many consumers were so flush with money to spend abroad. There is also evidence to suggest that lab research on infectious diseases may have run amuck and several oops-moments may have loosed these tough invaders on an unsuspecting world. 

Of course the Federal government could not be to blame for the disease even if a lab accident caused it. But what the Federal government does get the blame for is botching the treatment of the disease. Getting this government to move at all was difficult at first because a President focused on the economy could see the ruin ahead and he thought denial and just bulling his way through might serve. When that assumption proved to be incorrect and the disease took over the news cycle you would think the President would have switched gears and pitched in to help in whatever ways he (in his infinite power) could. But it was like he was operating in a time warp which made him always out of sync with the facts on the ground. Denial works for small government crises which are often protected by real or imagined national security concerns, but you cannot deny an epidemic this widespread. Our leader did try though and his refusal to accept reality most likely made the effects of the virus worse.

On the other hand we have the economy. America cannot remain closed, even though it is not completely closed. The entire American economy is based on sellers and buyers, in other words, Capitalism. Now that the discussion about opening things up has begun to reach critical mass it is only a matter of time before we are operating full-tilt once again. Because this virus is not conquered, life will, most likely, still be strange. How many businesses will come back? Will cities be full of boarded up shops of bankrupted businesses? The coronavirus seems to be mutating with the new attacks on younger people and the strokes and the blood clots. Will that trend continue? We seem close to a vaccine which would solve many immediate problems but much could happen before we have a reliable vaccine. 

There are many speculations. Will the virus dictate the changes in our economy? Will we use this moment of a pause in commerce, which may never happen again, to contemplate a different path for the future? Would it be possible to choose a sort of Capitalism Lite, and keep some of this time for families? I know families are under pressure from too much enforced proximity, but I can’t help thinking that parents and children will wish for some of this time back if the normal rat race returns; running to work, picking children up from afterschool activities, dropping them off at clubs, lessons, play dates, racing through the days. Do we have any control at all over what economy we get or is all that in the hands of the top 1% or even the top 10%? 

Paul Krugman in the NYT says we will never pay off this deficit and we don’t need to. I found that comforting, although no Conservative will ever agree with it. They will begin to talk of cuts because of the deficit any minute now. For all their love of Capitalism they do not understand it. Healthy Capitalism does not work without buyers. Buyers cannot buy without income, money. If you starve all your buyers, all your consumers, will the 10% at the top generate enough consumption to keep Capitalism booming? If we could design the reboot of the economy what would it look like? If we don’t design it what will we get? Can we get off the ride, slow the roll given the current wins Capitalism has experienced; all the regulations undone, all the environmental protections thrown on the rising heaps of global garbage? The people who want to reopen, who insist that we just go, open the faucet all the way, are unlikely to accept anything that slows down the return of the old economy. They would be happy if it was raging tomorrow. If we can’t ease into a calmer economy, an economy that offers room for leisure (Conservative anathema) then will this virus come roaring back and force the issue? So many things we do not know, cannot answer.

Articles talk about changes already occurring in the environment, even from this short reprieve. Animals are wandering into spaces temporarily abandoned by humans. Smog and dirty air, unbreathable air, has disappeared over manufacturing centers. Crowded nations have had time to clean streets and let the works of man shine. Although if the works of man shine for no one, who is there to appreciate them. People do need to return to this equation, but will we have a new respect for our surroundings? This is a time of grief and loss, and it is  also a time of opportunity. I think it is an opportunity we will miss because the drumbeat of commerce is the most insistent music of our times and the most powerful, the wealthiest, will not allow us time to lick our wounds and think our thoughts and see our way through to a new day. It will be a shame to waste the sorrowful lessons of these tiny organisms who would not mind surviving even as they the kill their hosts. How can so many big brains be so clueless?

Speaking Truth to Power

From a Google Image Search – theIndependent.co.uk

It’s no secret that I have never exactly been a fan of the Old Coot-in Chief. Perhaps he is an acquired taste, but I think a person’s reaction to him is more a matter of love-at-first-sight, or get-out-of-my-sight. Watching 45 handle a pandemic, a National Emergency, life or death in America has not done a thing to move him up in my regard. Donald J. has had some difficulties accepting that one novel coronavirus could appear out of nowhere and stop his fine economy in its tracks. He was counting on that economy to get him elected. He has been unable to hide his shock and disappointment. He is used to finding a way around tough obstacles, or bulldozing his way through them, and, since he feels no need to observe the usual niceties, a muscular approach has often worked for him, although not always. 

But there was absolutely no way around COVID-19, no shortcuts, nothing to negotiate, although Trump tried. By the time he acknowledged it the only way out was to go through it, and in a way that seemed to require a process that has been systematic and deliberate, not the normal MO for our chief. It was a choice between the physical health of the nation or the economic health of the nation. Don’t get me wrong. I don’t think this would be an easy choice for anyone to make. The choice the President wanted to make became clearer every day, and it became clearer every day that he might not be able to win his way through this one quickly and easily. His inner struggles had consequences for the entire nation. He wanted to collect his accolades without doing his due diligence.

What has been so frustrating about watching how the President has been dealing with this virus is that he is always hampered by his pathologies, and therefore, so are we the people. First he tried to sweep the whole thing under the rug. If he had only realized that he was making things worse instead of better. 

I remember how we reacted to one woman’s experience when she was forced to isolate herself in what was basically a bubble tent. She was not ill. I am thinking this was during the Ebola scare. They were watching her through the incubation period to see if she got sick. Some people were aghast that such a thing could happen in the land of the free. But Ebola got nipped in the bud quickly and never became the pandemic officials feared it would be. 

The previous administration did what Trump did not, which was tackle the thing early and head-on. I won’t mention any names because I don’t want to upset the old man. You know how he gets when you mention a certain person. It’s like waving a red cape in front of a bull. But if instead of retribution the President had been able to emulate a successful strategy and take this virus seriously from the very first case perhaps we wouldn’t have had to go through all this. 

Did Trump’s inability to accept an attack from a totally unexpected direction and deal with it doom Americans to social distancing and death? Did his inability to stop campaigning and accept that the economy might be less than perfect for a while cause the free fall that he (and we) have been faced with? Did his allegiance to small government make logistics a nightmare? Perhaps it is too cruel to blame all of this on one stubborn old man, who doesn’t realize that true genius is knowing how to harness the talents of other geniuses to make you look good. But he does not play well with others.

President Trump could still redeem himself by acing the recovery. He could stop his stubborn insistence, which none of us can understand, that there will be no testing. Clearly if would  shorten the recovery time, but he must think it would lengthen it. Your genius may be leading you astray on this one, sir. He could facilitate tests to see who is recovered and who has antibodies. He could facilitate testing to see who needs to still shelter in place. Testing is one area where a change of heart would be welcome. Why doesn’t he see that this is the path back to a workable economy?

Why doesn’t the President back voting by mail? Why does he plant his feet and insist that voting by mail would allow for big time election fraud? There is no reason to believe that Americans cheat in elections. In fact, that’s insulting. We respect the right to vote. It leaves us free to conclude that 45 fears that too many Democrats would get to vote if mail-in ballots were an option. It leaves us to believe that Donald J Trump does not believe he can get elected if we have a fair and free 2020 election that also takes coronavirus risks into account. Settling this issue would also help us get back to the economy he thinks will send him back to the Oval Office.

The third thing that our President could do that would help him and us would be to let the doctors do what doctors do and let the Federal government do what Federal governments do. A true genius accepts his limitations. You can stop favoring big corporations who have already received million and billions in bailouts. I think they can weather this storm. You do not value your middle class citizens enough, your small business folks. You do not value the struggling families who keep America running on minimum wages.

The bailout you gave to Americans was not big enough and it was not targeted at those who will have the hardest time recovering from this massive economic time out. I know it goes against everything that you (Trump) and the Republicans believe, but going against your instincts at this particular moment will get you back to where you want to be faster than your way will. Your way could cause this virus, for which we have no cure, to fire up anew and tank the economy all over again. Do all these things and do them well and then you can collect those accolades.

Crisis Management By Ideology

From a Google Image Search – The Hill

Crisis Management By Ideology

The Dems want to bail out citizens who can’t work during this pandemic because their employers have had to close down. They can’t pay mortgages or rent, utilities, college loans, buy groceries and medicines. The way things are set up, if you can’t pay you can’t stay, and you end up in bankruptcy. Small businesses face the same problems on a slightly larger scale and if they can’t reopen then the downstream repercussions will be dire. We are a consumer economy. If no one consumes the economy dies. 

Dems say start at the bottom and take care of everyone and maybe not worry so much about the people at the top who have been bailed out and had tax cuts and have banked some really enormous profits. (Except they didn’t bank their profits, what they did was stock buy backs – and now they want more bail-out money.) Dems say rescue everyone, even those who are the poorest people – no means testing. Just flood the bottom with money, both citizens and small business, because money may not trickle down, but a depressed economy can definitely rise from the bottom up. 

Yes there are progressive Dems. We’re in the middle of an election. Republicans do not have a progressive bone in their bodies, even dispossessed Republicans who currently have no party. Giving people money means that a Democratic ideology gets a positive vote in Congress. And that goes against everything Republicans believe. They have almost achieved their small government goals. They were ready to cut the safety net the way a winning basketball team gets to cut down the net from the backboard. They have insisted that the coronavirus should be managed in the states, by the states and for the states. They are already having to back off on this policy because the needs are too great for the states to handle without federal help. And now they want Republicans to give away money to hoi polloi which, to them, is like throwing it into a waste basket. They just cannot understand that supporting the economy from the bottom up could help give it a jump start when we are done with social distancing.

There is little taste for rescuing rich folks once again. They have not exactly showered their good fortunes down on the rest of us and if there was a trickle it was so tiny as to be untraceable. The Republicans also want carte blanche over who they will rescue. They want the Treasury Department to be able to disperse the funds as they wish. This is something the Dems can’t swallow having already watched companies spend their windfalls on buying back their own stock and lavishing the dividends of their good fortune on stockholders rather than workers. They were able to ramp up production and hire back workers but this is not actually trickle down as salaries rose very little, although it certainly benefited all of us as good economies always do.

It comes down to the “spendthrift” habits of the Democrats who think a good economy must take care of everyone, not just CEO’s, those progressive socialists as the Republicans like to label them. If Democrats are such spendthrifts then why does the deficit go down when Democrats are in charge? Check it out. Historically that has been true. 

Republicans feel that those on the bottom need to struggle more, that this will inspire them to rise, although it is easy to see that this policy is far more likely to cause despair and depression. Republicans have been implementing their ideology of small government, give power back to the states, but some states are so poor that we will have to rescue them from the novel coronavirus or we will all drown in grief. How is Republican small government working? It ended that Pandemic Program (that got folded into another program) and could not function at all when most needed. The Republican ideology is what we are experiencing right now and it is failing miserably. Yet Republicans refuse to pass a stimulus that addresses the needs of both the top and the bottom because it is against their deeply flawed ideology. 

But the face of this pandemic, the people who own it on TV every day, are the Republicans. If Republican Senators do to American once again what you are planning to do, insist on only helping those who are wealthy I swear you will lose the 2020 election so badly that your party may not recover for decades. Most Americans know nothing about ideology and they will not care if your stimulus does not stand up to your conservative purity tests. If it works you will be heroes. As a Democrat, if it wouldn’t have such dire consequences for America, I would be happy to watch Republicans go down in flames. But as a human being I have to argue for what is right, which is neither progressive nor conservative, but somewhere in the middle. We so need to see the back of Mitch McConnell.

The president also has an ideology. It is money. It is the economy. It is the stock market. The president thinks that in 15 days America will be restored to normality, I guess by royal decree. Fate does seem to favor Trump and perhaps, once again, the universe will comply with his edicts. I would love this to be over in fifteen days. The only thing I would hate about it is that our resident egomaniac would claim it a personal victory. And he would get his heart’s desire (why is it his heart’s desire) to be reelected in 2020. To try to unravel a pandemic in the midst of an election in a divided America puts us all at risk because those who are supposed to represent us have their intellect clouded by their ideology, which prevents rational, reasoned, targeted action, and literally kills Americans and possibly the American economy. 

https://www.washingtonpost.com/opinions/2020/03/23/gop-just-smuggled-another-awful-provision-into-big-stimulus-bill/

Blame the Stock Market for Income Inequality

From a Google Image Search – Wall Street Journal

Sometimes when you sit in the cheap seats, up in nosebleed territory, the world below seems far away and small. Although the individual actors may lose definition, the view offers compensations in terms of seeing overall patterns, movements and strategies. Watching the economy from the cheap seats is very different because all the action is above where all the rich folks are, and the cheap seats are below, sometimes far below. When doom befalls those in the pricey seats, the fallout reaches to the cheap seats, and although the impact is less, it makes already difficult lives tougher. But in the pricey seats there can be mayhem – some win – some lose – some topple back to the cheap seats. When those in the expensive seats, the box seats, win, the people in the cheap seats can watch the celebration but they are not invited to the after-party.

What my analogy says is that you don’t have to be an economics major to know about the ebb and flow of money in the world. And you don’t have to be an expert to draw some interesting conclusions. Listen to the news. Pundits quite often point out that people at lower income levels do not own stocks, but most economic decision-making must consider how bills, laws, regulations, taxes, all things economic (even tariffs) will affect the stock market. That means that the economic needs of folks who do not own stocks don’t matter much in decisions that affect the economy. Even so, the whole economy, top-to-bottom is affected by whatever economic measures are taken. The poor can get poorer, or there may be times when a flourishing economy at the top temporarily lightens economic stresses at the base.

Progressives blame Capitalism for the economic inequality that has become increasingly apparent both in American and globally. But if you listen from your cheap seat you eventually understand that a lot of the blame belongs with the stock market. Capitalism can and did exist without stocks or stock markets, but once the stock market turned investment into a game that anyone with money could play, it was as if Capitalism went on steroids. 

In order for the partnership to work, industry and business have to keep the investors happy with ever-bigger profits, rising stock values and higher dividends (if they are offered). This means that workers only get higher wages after owners and stock holders get paid. Since businesses get more investments when profits go to stock holders than when they go to workers guess who gets robbed?

When there were strong unions, workers could demand a share of the pie and then stop working (walkout, go on strike) if they were ignored. Conservatives have always opposed unions, but in the past decade they have managed to weaken unions by passing right-to-work laws which have stripped workers of much of the power they once had to act as a balance against the demands of stock holders. The market is doing well, worker incomes are not.

The profits that go to shareholders keep making those who have stocks and those who own businesses richer, and since money equals power, these particular citizens are able to exert a lot of pressure in Washington and can keep getting laws passed that favor those who are already wealthy. Lobbyists, PACS that fund elections, laws like the Supreme Court decision that gave free speech (and votes) to dollars (money equals speech, corporations are people) have expanded the power of wealthy Americans who own stock. And because those who cannot afford stocks know that everyone is hurt if the stock market tumbles they are afraid to oppose even the most outrageous legislation (like the Trump tax cuts) because they don’t know how their opposition will affect the overall economy and their own everyday lives.

The stock market becomes a rocket that delivers more and more money to those who already have it and turns workers into statistics in a global worker market where American salaries already seem too magnanimous. 

If it is the stock market that is responsible for a lot of the economic inequality that exists then do we do away with the stock market? Well, good luck with that. And although this conclusion was reached in the cheap seats, when the question was put to the “Google” it was clear that there are already expert articles which show that economists were ahead on this. It can take longer to draw valid conclusions about money when you have always been in the cheap seats. 

With income, the story is a familiar one of rising inequality. In 1989 and 2016, the poorest fifth had 3 percent of pre-tax family income. But the top fifth of families saw their share of income rise from 57 percent in 1989 to 64 percent in 2016. Put another way, the bottom group’s share remained miniscule, the top group’s share rose by 9 percentage points (or one-sixth), and middle America saw its share diminish.

For corporate equity, we find that the lowest-income fifth of families had 1.1 percent of corporate equity in 1989, and 2.0 percent in 2016 (over the same timespan, the second-bottom quintile share went from 3.5 percent to 1.6 percent, so the total share of corporate equity of the bottom 40 percent fell). By contrast, the highest-income quintile had 77 percent of corporate equity in 1989, and 89 percent of corporate equity in 2016. Hence, corporate equity is considerably more skewed than expenditure or income, and has become considerably more skewed over the past three decades.

Even if the shares had remained unchanged at their 1989 levels, excess market power would have exacerbated inequality, because stock holdings were considerably more skewed than consumption. But because consumption inequality remained little changed, while inequality in stock holdings worsened, the effect of market power on inequality was even more substantial in 2016 than a generation earlier.”

https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S0304387817300858

https://digitalcommons.iwu.edu/uer/vol15/iss1/7/

A solution I like better than trying to close the stock market (which would be even harder than passing sensible gun laws) is for everyone to “inherit” some stocks when they turn 18, or 25, or, even better, at birth – and not risky stock, good solid stock, in accounts they cannot cash in until a real need arises (college, training, buying a house, starting a business) that also will serve as an investment. Medical emergencies would be handled in another way. Then everyone would have a reason to follow the market, to wish the economy well, to learn about investing and to experience an opportunity to have an economic goal and to reach that goal. This would also go far to lessen economic inequality, and reparations could be managed by giving those who have been held back by racial discrimination a larger share in the market.

You can start laughing now – but it could work and it would be so much more peaceful than a revolution.

From a Google Image Search – Giphy.gif

Examining Republican Myths

Republican economic myth 3 big

The Economy

Why are we still hearing the whine of Republicans like gnats buzzing our brains by way of our ears, saying things like they do not dare let Democrats get their hands on the economy and that they might be able to cast an extremely reluctant vote for Hillary if she moderates her agenda for the economy? I seem to recall that the Republicans were in office when this country went into the Great American Recession in 2008. I keep thinking (don’t you) that it was lack of regulation on banks and investment firms that created a housing bubble which was destined to burst and do real damage to millions of Americans. I have, with many other middle class Americans, waited for some of that “trickle down” to get into my bank account but that hasn’t happened. We have examined these Republicans myths many times.

So, my question is, why do Republicans still think that they should be put in charge of the American economy? Why do they think that the same policies that tanked the American economy are what we need to set it right? These are the same Republicans who obstructed the Obama administration so much that he was never really allowed to stimulate the economy as much as he would have liked and who then want to use the slow recovery meme against the Democrats in the 2016 election. I guess they think we have very short memories, or that they are so popular (or that their media brainwashing has been so effective) that the truth does not matter.

Thomas Friedman, who leans right, wrote about this in yesterday’s New York Times. He cites Hillary Clinton’s progressive agenda as being anti-business and he suggests that her policies will discourage, rather than encourage investment and innovation. Although Hillary may not have been addressing business interests lately, she knows that this country’s engine of growth is business, employment and a spirit of invention that keeps us striving to break new ground. He makes it sound as if she will replace industry with infrastructure, private with public, but she is not advocating any such dichotomy. She is saying that improvements in infrastructure will boost employment, but will also push economic growth and make it easier and less expensive to do business in America.

Republican myth 3 big

Foreign Affairs

I also keep hearing a chorus, sort of like the chorus in a Greek tragedy, softly chanting a refrain that tells us the heroic tale of the mighty Republicans who are much better at foreign affairs and winning battles than those dumb Democrats who seem to think that we can rely on diplomacy, alliances, and hit and run soldiering. In this version of the Republican myths they blame the Democrats, especially Hillary, for the chaos in Libya and they tell us that Obama and Hillary are to blame for the upheavals in the entire Middle East as if we have already forgotten who took the lid off the pot in Iraq (43). As if the internet played no part in the events of the turn of this century.

They are caught in a narrative that suggests that complex world events have simple causes. According to Republicans people can’t cause climate change, but one person, acting on his/her own can topple empires and create global political chaos with well-intentioned but clumsy advice. Yes Obama backed off from the “red line” in Syria, but where would we be right now if he didn’t? I suppose in GOP-world we would be shut of Assad, the Syrian people would not be flooding Europe (so that their children can have some quality to their lives), and there would be no ISIS. But this is all hypothetical and we might just be stuck sending our sons and daughters into a situation that is still in flux and cannot be solved with powerful rifles and dead soldiers.

They insist that ISIS would not exist if Obama had never brought the troops home from Iraq and the rest of us insist that ISIS would not exist if Bush had never sent our troops to Iraq. By artificially speeding up an awakening that probably was inevitable but perhaps not quite so imminent chaos was loosed on the world in the sense of the conflicting sects of a religion that we once saw as monolithic but which was not, in the sense of how the Islamic religion, which has been left in a peaceful-seeming equilibrium will eventually either temper its fundamentalism with modern secularism or will wall itself off in an ecstasy of purity and either turn its back on the rest of us or force our foreheads to the floor. I think Bush would have done better by all of us if he had gone directly to Afghanistan and left Iraq alone, although the taunting of Saddam Hussein was hard to ignore. Once the Middle East awakened to the 21st century, some Muslims with disgust, some with interest, the changes we are experiencing there were probably inevitable.

The GOP shows no more prescience or military brilliance when faced with our current dilemmas than the Democrats and, in fact, because they do not like to approach the problems we face with any delicacy, their desire to stomp around using the dusty boots of America’s children, and their bombast would actually be harmful. Many people believe that Hillary Clinton is too hawkish to conduct our foreign affairs in these combustible times, but I like to think that Hillary is unlikely to turn Obama’s foreign policy approach aside and become an avenging Amazon. She has too much compassion for women and children to leave the effects of her decisions on them out of the equation.

The GOP, if you really consider the past seven or eight years and the mistakes of G. W., has nothing to offer us on either the American economy or our foreign policy, but Hillary will still take their stand on these issues into account because she wants to unify, rather than divide, America. The Republicans cannot be trusted to do the same if they are in control.