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The Wrongologist

Geopolitics, Power and Political Economy

Monday Wake Up Call – April 6, 2020

The Daily Escape:

Texas bluebonnets, Round Rock, TX – 2018 photo by dried_fruit

Here are the latest national numbers (which will be out of date by the time you read them). From The COVID Tracking Project: (as of 4/4)

  • Number of daily cases: 305,755, up 33,767 or +12.4% vs. April 3
  • Rate of case increase: 12.4% vs. 13.75% on 4/3 and 15% average for the past week
  • Number of deaths: Total 8,314, up 1,352 vs. April 3
  • Rate of deaths increase 4/4 vs 4/3: 19.4% % vs. 20.4% on 4/3
  • Daily number of tests 4/4 vs. 4/3: 1,623,807, up 226,945 over 4/3
  • Rate of increase in tests: +16.2% vs. previous day

The rates of growth in cases and deaths have begun to slow. In the past week, they are in a decelerating trend, declining by about 1%/day. Testing is growing, which is a very good thing.

Just when you think you can’t get any more cynical about America’s response to the pandemic, we tumble to the fact that about a third of hospital emergency rooms are now staffed by doctors on the payrolls of two physician staffing companies, TeamHealth and Envision Health. They are owned by two Wall Street private equity firms. Envision Healthcare employs 69,000 healthcare workers nationwide while TeamHealth employs 20,000. Private equity firm Blackstone Group owns TeamHealth; Kravis Kohlberg Roberts (KKR) owns Envision. Private equity is the term for a large unregulated pool of money run by financiers who use that money to invest in, lend to, and/or buy companies and restructure them.

Wrongo began hearing that despite the urgent pleas from hospitals on the front lines of the COVOID-19 outbreak, nurses and doctors were being taken off schedules in nearby places once “elective” procedures were suspended, as they are at many hospitals and clinics. That means the associated revenues were lost, or at the very least, postponed.

Here’s a report from Yahoo Finance:

“KKR & Co.-backed Envision, which carries over $7 billion of debt amassed through one of the biggest leveraged buyouts in recent years, reported steep drops at its care facilities. In just two weeks, it suffered declines of 65% to 75% in business at its 168 open ambulatory surgical centers, compared to the same period last year, the company said in a private report to investors. About 90 centers are closed.”

Private equity has taken over more and more of hospital staffing, including emergency departments. The legal fig leaf that allows private equity firms like Blackstone and KKR to play doctor is that their deals are structured so that an individual MD or group of MDs is the nominal owner of the specialty practice, even though the business is stripped of its assets. The practices’ operating contracts are widely believed to strip the MDs of any say in management.

Care of the sick is not the mission of these companies; their mission is to make profits for the private equity firms and its investors. In 2018, Paladin Healthcare, an entity owned by private equity baron Joel Freedman, bought Philadelphia’s Hahnemann University Hospital. This hospital served the poor, and Freedman closed it down so he could use the land to build luxury apartments.

When the city recently asked to use the empty hospital as part of its solution for the Coronavirus pandemic, Freedman demanded $1M/month in rent. Overcharging patients and insurance companies for providing urgent and desperately needed emergency medical care is bad enough. But holding a city hostage?

In another example, STAT reports on another private equity firm: (emphasis by Wrongo)

“Alteon Health, which employs about 1,700 emergency medicine doctors and other physicians who staff hospital emergency rooms across the country, announced it would suspend paid time off, matching contributions to employees’ 401(K) retirement accounts, and discretionary bonuses in response to the pandemic…The company also said it would reduce some clinicians’ hours to the minimum required to maintain health insurance coverage, and that it would convert some salaried employees to hourly status for “maximum staffing flexibility.”

NY’s Governor Cuomo and others are pleading to have doctors come out of retirement, and here we have skilled doctors who have the training and are being asked to work fewer hours? All of the Republican talk about “choice” and “markets” in healthcare is just self-serving BS that benefits their buddies.

Time to wake up America!

Why do private equity firms continue to benefit from the “carried interest” tax loophole? Shouldn’t they shoulder their part of the financial grief the pandemic is causing to our country?

To help you wake up, here is John Lennon’s 1970 song, “Isolation”. It appeared on John Lennon/Plastic Ono Band. It has a whole new meaning in today’s context:

Sample Lyric:

We’re afraid of everyone,

Afraid of the sun.

Isolation

The sun will never disappear,

But the world may not have many years.

Isolation.

Those who read the Wrongologist in email can view the video here. 

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Monday Wake Up Call – Leadership Edition, March 30, 2020

The Daily Escape:

Last light, Tombstone Territory Park, Yukon, AK – fall 2019 photo by tmsvdw

A few days ago, Wrongo heard someone say that we should be careful what we wished for from Trump. He was talking about Trump’s lack of leadership regarding the pandemic. His thought was that the last thing people should want was Trump in full command, and attempting a vigorous response. We’re already failing, and that wouldn’t make it better.

OTOH, it’s been terrible to learn how ill-prepared we are, and how passive-aggressive the administration has been about doing more. It’s past time to accept the excuse that these people are well-intended but awful managers. Take this bit of news from the WaPo:

“On Feb. 5, with fewer than a dozen confirmed novel coronavirus cases in the United States but tens of thousands around the globe, a shouting match broke out in the White House Situation Room between Health and Human Services Secretary Alex Azar and an Office of Management and Budget official….Azar had asked OMB that morning for $2 billion to buy respirator masks and other supplies for a depleted federal stockpile of emergency medical equipment…”

Several weeks later, the request was cut to $500 million. Now, there’s $16 billion in the stimulus bill for the strategic stockpile, but that’s at least six weeks too late. The government has been overwhelmed by urgent requests for masks, respirators, gloves and gowns since the first US case of Covid-19 was confirmed. But on February 7th, Secretary of State Pompeo announced that we were sending:

“…nearly 17.8 tons of donated medical supplies to the Chinese people, including masks, gowns, gauze, respirators, and other vital materials.”

Yes, this was after there were already 12 confirmed cases in the US, and after the HHS request for $2 billion to buy the same things was denied.

Then there’s Trump’s strategy, “better be nice to me if you want any medical gear”. More from the WaPo:

“Anecdotally, there are wide differences….Democratic-leaning Massachusetts, which has had a serious outbreak in Boston, has received 17% of the protective gear it requested….Maine requested a half-million N95 specialized protective masks and received 25,558 — about 5% of what it sought. The shipment delivered to Colorado — 49,000 N95 masks, 115,000 surgical masks and other supplies — would be “enough for only one full day of statewide operations…”

But, when Trump’s guy is in charge, as in Florida, it’s a different story: (emphasis by Wrongo)

“Florida has been an exception in its dealings with the stockpile: The state submitted a request on March 11 for 430,000 surgical masks, 180,000 N95 respirators, 82,000 face shields and 238,000 gloves, among other supplies — and received a shipment with everything three days later…It received an identical shipment on March 23, according to the division, and is awaiting a third.”

So, three times what they asked for, while California, with Trump nemesis Democratic Governor Newsom in charge, actually got worse than nothing. KRON-TV in San Diego reports that Los Angeles received 170 broken ventilators from the national stockpile. Surely, a simple clerical error.

California also asked for 20 million N95 respirators, and has received 358,381.

Trump is actually doing what he’s been saying: “I am sending aid to states that like me, and withholding aid from states that don’t like me.” That’s Trump’s re-election strategy: Support the states he needs to win for an Electoral College victory.

Reward your friends, punish your enemies. Is that the kind of leadership America needs?

You know leadership when you see it. Sadly, even the UK’s Prime Minister Bozo Boris Johnson shows more leadership than America’s Bozo. After Johnson’s terrible start fighting the Coronavirus, one that rivaled Trump’s, things have turned around. There is consistent messaging: The government has adopted the slogan “Save lives”, “Protect the NHS” [the national health system], and “Stay home”. Simple and clear, something the entire country can rally around.

In the US? No message is simple, or clear. Most messages are conflicting or simply unworkable, like Trump’s suggestion of issuing an executive order quarantining the states of NY, NJ and CT, an unconstitutional and unenforceable idea. How about THAT for leadership.

Trump’s plan for re-election is: “If you aren’t dead, I saved you. Show some appreciation. I take no responsibility for those whose governors failed to save you“. Favoring those states he may need in 2020 is outrageous and criminal.

Two audio-visual aids today for your Monday Wake Up. First, a staggering animated chart showing the growth in Coronavirus cases world-wide during March, with a particular focus on the US:

Those who read the Wrongologist in email can view the video here.

Second, a hilarious YouTube video done to Queen’s “Bohemian Rhapsody”. Naturally, it’s called “Coronavirus Rhapsody“:

Those who read the Wrongologist in email can view the video here.

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Monday Wake Up Call – March 23, 2020

The Daily Escape:

Great Wave off Kanagawa – Japanese woodblock print by Hokusai c. 1829. The wave could represent a tsunami of COVID-19 cases, or could it represent the rising of malign intent by Trump towards our democracy?

Are we in the midst of a national emergency or not? Is a tsunami of COVID-19 cases about to inundate America, or not? Let Wrongo answer: It’s a national emergency. When there’s a national emergency, does the federal government let the states take care of the problem? It does not.

Here’s America’s worst excuse for a leader on twitter Sunday afternoon:

He says it’s not the federal government’s job to lead in a national emergency. As Haberman and Baker said in the NYT: (emphasis by Wrongo)

“For years, skeptics expressed concern about how he would handle a genuine crisis threatening the nation, and now they know.”

Any other president, even the weakest, would have acted differently. Despite the fact that his policies are generally pretty standard right-wing Republican, Trump has managed to make a national disaster worse than it had to be.

Now all Americans should know how it feels to be Puerto Rican.

Bloomberg reports that Trump’s directive for governors to buy their own medical supplies to fight the coronavirus ran into a big problem when the federal government outbid them for the products! Earlier that day, Trump said that his administration is not a “shipping clerk” for medical gear that the states require to fight the virus.

Another example from the NYT: (emphasis and brackets by Wrongo)

“…on Saturday {Trump] sought to assure an anxious American public that help was on the way…and that private companies had agreed to provide desperately needed medical supplies to fight the fast-spreading coronavirus.

But Mr. Trump [said] he would not compel companies to make face masks and other gear to protect front-line health workers from the virus….. Mr. Trump said the clothing company Hanes was among those that had been enlisted to start churning out masks, although the company said they would not be the N-95 masks that are most effective in protecting medical workers.”

Trump could simply order companies like Hanes to make them, but instead, Hanes is making masks that don’t actually protect medical personnel. Capitalism @ work!  At a time of national emergency, Trump is letting the market do it, and simply declaring victory.

Another: In the on-going (Sunday) negotiations on the Coronavirus bail-out package, it turns out that Treasury Secretary Mnuchin and the White House are demanding that the relief package include $500 billion to be provided to corporations at the discretion of Treasury Secretary Steve Mnuchin.

The best part is that it permits the Treasury secretary to withhold the names of corporate recipients for up to six months. How is it possible to use taxpayer money for corporate bailouts and demand that taxpayers can’t know who’s received the funds?

Finally, here’s an example where Trump is unhappily, showing leadership. He wants to suspend habeas corpus, the Constitutional right to appear before a judge after arrest, and seek release:

“The Justice Department has quietly asked Congress for the ability to ask chief judges to detain people indefinitely without trial during emergencies — part of a push for new powers that comes as the coronavirus spreads through the US.”

The DOJ is looking for broad authority, including the ability to ask chief judges to detain people and to pause court proceedings during emergencies. It would apply to:

“any statutes or rules of procedure otherwise affecting pre-arrest, post-arrest, pre-trial, trial, and post-trial procedures in criminal and juvenile proceedings and all civil process and proceedings,”

This means you could be arrested and not brought before a judge until they decide that the emergency or the civil disobedience is over. Shouldn’t we be even more careful about granting new powers to the government if we’re in a national emergency?

We can hope that the House will block this nonsense.

We should remember that the US government was founded for the very purpose of solving some rather serious problems that the individual states couldn’t handle. That role of federal leadership has worked for 230+ years, but that doesn’t work for Trump.

You should be asking why.

It seems certain that at some point, Trump will say that the states were unable to solve the virus emergency, so he’s stepping in. He’ll try to use COVID-19 to assume extraordinary emergency powers between now and the election. That’s beyond frightening.

More will die because Trump won’t lead in the fight to contain the Coronavirus. And in the background, he’s busy laying the groundwork for emergency powers.

Wake up Democrats!

It’s time to ask, what are the DC Democrats doing to block all of this?

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Monday Wake Up Call – March 16, 2020

The Daily Escape:

Blue Lakes Trailhead, near Telluride, CO – August 2018 photo by Will Colebank. See 360° view here.

Remember last Monday? Since then, we’ve had a week of body blows to both the national psyche, and the economy. Thank God that the market was closed last week. Oh, wait a minute…it was open.

Please, Trumpheads: Try not to kill us while attempting to govern! The administration is literally making a pandemic worse by once again not thinking through their policies. From the WaPo:

“Airports around the country were thrown into chaos Saturday night as workers scrambled to roll out the Trump administration’s hastily arranged health screenings for travelers returning from Europe.

Scores of anxious passengers…encountered jam-packed terminals, long lines and hours of delays as they waited to be questioned by health authorities at some of the busiest travel hubs in the US.”

Q: How do you spread a virus faster?
A. Pack a bunch of people into an airport virus screening line for six or seven hours.

This dog’s breakfast was caused by the administration’s “enhanced entry screenings”, one of Trump’s travel restrictions aimed at slowing the spread of the coronavirus within the US. Passengers on flights from more than two dozen countries in Europe were routed through 13 US airports, where workers checked their medical histories, and examined them for symptoms.

What could go wrong?

Is it a surprise that there was no advance staff coordination to assure that people could get through a crowd of suspected Coronavirus carriers reasonably quickly? It’s similar to Trump’s 2017 chaotic implementation of the Muslim travel ban that triggered confusion and protests when travelers were detained, or sent back with almost no warning from US airports.

In some airports, the immigration line for US citizens was longer than the one for non-citizens. How can intelligent people not think any of this through? It’s clear from the long lines that there was zero planning for this policy’s implementation.

Trump has failed AGAIN.

It’s likely this clusterfuck will speed disease transmission rather than not having a travel ban at all. This is another example of “we’ve gotta do something”, and they settle on an action that exacerbates the problem!

Second, what kind of crazy, messed-up world do we live in where the most reliable information about the coronavirus comes from anyone but the government? Where Rep. Devin Nunes (R-CA) tells everybody to go out to a restaurant, when the NIH’s Dr. Anthony Fauci is saying just the opposite?

Or, take Republican candidate for the Nevada Clark County School District Board of Trustees, Katie Williams. Williams is a former Ms. Nevada who was recently stripped of her title for posting political content supporting Trump on social media. She also ventured into pandemic denial when she tweeted this reply to Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez:

This is America, and I’ll do what I want” = “I’m too selfish to do anything that doesn’t benefit me.” Paul Campos puts his finger on the problem of 21st Century peak Republican asshole:

“The COVID-19 crisis is a classic collective action problem. Stopping it from overwhelming the nation’s health care system so that it causes hundreds of thousands or even millions of preventable deaths requires people to act as if society actually exists, and to recognize that the fact that they themselves may face a relatively low mortality risk is irrelevant to the much higher risk faced by the tens of millions of their fellow Americans.”

Expecting Americans in general, and Republicans in particular, to voluntarily engage in the kind of behavior that’s important for the greater good is not only unrealistic, it’s foolhardy.

Back to Williams: Can you imagine Nevada parents wanting one of the most selfish people in America on their kids’ school board?

Time to wake up America! As John Pavlovitz says:

The bill for MAGA has come due, Trump supporters.

It’s time to pay up.

The deferred invoice for you selling your souls is here….

This President didn’t create this virus,
but he ignored it,
denied it,
minimized it,
joked about it,
weaponized it,
politicized it,
exacerbated it.

To help you wake up, listen to King Crimson’s “Epitaph”, from their 2018 live album, “Radical Action”. The vocalist is Jakko Jakszyk:

Sample Lyric:

Confusion will be my epitaph
As I crawl a cracked and broken path
If we make it, we can all sit back and laugh
But I fear, tomorrow, I’ll be crying
Yes, I fear, tomorrow, I’ll be crying
Yes, I fear, tomorrow, I’ll be crying

Those who read the Wrongologist in email can view the video here.

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Monday Wake Up Call – March 9, 2020

The Daily Escape:

Zion NP sunset from Watchman Overlook, UT – 2019 photo by kaushik612

Random thoughts on Monday:

Many of us have a tough time waking up on the first Monday after Daylight Savings Time kicks in. It’s more a case of “spring forward, fall flat”. Isn’t it ridiculous that a period that’s around for only 4.5 months out of 12 months is called “Standard Time“?

Who thinks that a 70-year-old (Trump) going on TV and telling a bunch of other 70-year-olds (Fox News viewers) that the Coronavirus is no big deal because it only kills old people, is a winning message?

Wrongo would like to think Trump can’t bullshit his way through an epidemic (“The tests are perfect!”). But GW Bush managed to bullshit his way through years of war in Iraq, including refusing to let us see lots of American body bags flown back to Dover AFB on TV.

The latest body bags now contain virus victims, and we’re seeing them up close and personal. Maybe that will matter to Americans who still think Trump is doing a helluva job.

You should read this article from The Atlantic on our botched test kits. South Korea has tested 200,000+ people, but The Atlantic could only confirm 1,895 tests in the US.

The region of Lombardy in Italy has enacted a forced quarantine for around 16 million residents. A doctor in Lombardy Italy reports that 9% of cases require hospital admittance. Recall that yesterday, Wrongo said that even a 5% admittance rate would overwhelm America’s ICU bed capacity.

Your virus coping strategy may be different than this one, since you follow the news:

The AP is telling us that the White House overruled the CDC, who wanted to recommend that elderly and physically fragile Americans be advised not to fly on commercial airlines because of the Coronavirus. The administration has since suggested certain people should consider not traveling, but they have stopped short of the stronger guidance sought by the CDC.

We learned that an attendee at last week’s Conservative Political Action Conference (CPAC), which Trump also attended, has tested positive for Coronavirus. Trump and Pence spoke at the gathering, which took place two weeks ago. Secretary of State Pompeo, Health and Human Services Secretary Azar, and newly-appointed White House chief of staff Mark Meadows also attended.

This is hilarious. Will they believe their own stories, or what?

Trump’s plan is simple. Offload the crisis to Pence. Run a bus over him if it goes wrong. Take credit if it goes right. There are no steps after that.

Finally, to banish the grogginess of your first “spring ahead” work day, take a moment and watch this video panorama of the Mars landscape. It was taken between Nov. 24 and Dec. 1, 2019. It’s composed of more than 1,000 images carefully assembled over the ensuing months, and contains nearly 1.8 billion pixels of Martian landscape that look surprisingly sharp and clear:

Think how far we’ve come in our ~200,000 years of Homo sapiens existence: Our ancestors were fascinated by the bright orbs above, and here we are, seeing the geographic features of another planet in mind-boggling detail from our home/office on a magical screen thingy.

We take this all for granted, but we’ve come a very long way in Wrongo’s lifetime. Mars looks so familiar, yet at the same time, so alien. It’s hard to fathom that we’re looking at another planet.

Those who read the Wrongologist in email can view the video here.

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Monday Wake Up Call – March 2, 2020

The Daily Escape:

St. Augustine, FL – photo by Wrongo

Hot takes:

First to politics: Joe Biden rolled to a big win in South Carolina, and billionaire Tom Steyer and former mayor Pete Buttigieg both folded their tents. Some in the media say that Biden is once again the front runner, but Sanders’s win in Nevada remains significant, and he remains on track to pick up a lot of delegates in California and Texas.

The real news from South Carolina is that Biden has become the Not-Sanders candidate. For Super Tuesday, Bloomberg essentially replaces Steyer as the billionaire in the race. Super Tuesday results are less than 48 hours away, and after that, we’ll have a real idea of who really remains a viable candidate.

Second, peace in Afghanistan: After 18 years of war, we signed an agreement with the Taliban. The deal does not end the civil war, but it has placed the outcome of the conflict in the hands of the Afghan people. Heather Cox Richardson quotes Laurel Miller, the former deputy and then acting Special Representative for Afghanistan and Pakistan from 2013 to 2017 for the State Department: (emphasis by Wrongo)

 “There’s nothing new in the Joint Declaration signed in Kabul today. It reaffirms existing commitments and it re-states some of US-Taliban agreement. Its purpose is evidently political symbolism.”

She explained: It includes the Afghan government and its opposition in future discussions. It draws down US troops to 8600 people—the number who were there when Trump took office, and promises “all” will be gone within 14 months. The 8600 drawdown has long been planned. In exchange, the Taliban will “not allow any of its members, other individuals or groups, including al-Qa’ida, to use the soil of Afghanistan to threaten the security of the United States and its allies.”

Miller’s conclusion:

“The Taliban got a lot. It got its main goal—a clear timeline for US withdrawal—and fast removal of sanctions and prisoner releases. The US got the power to decide whether “vaguely-stated conditions are met, so that in reality can withdraw when it chooses—will be political not military decision.” The Afghan government didn’t get much, but “this deal wasn’t really about the Afghan government.”

Trump, America’s Man of Peace. This looks a lot like what he did in North Korea, a PR moment that resembles a deal, but turns out not to be much of a deal.

Finally, the WaPo features a new report published by the Manhattan Institute, a conservative think tank, that clearly demonstrates the disconnect between the “great” economy described by economists, and the economy experienced by regular people. This chart shows the problem:

 

From the article (emphasis by Wrongo)

“In 1985, the typical male worker could cover a family of four’s major expenditures (housing, health care, transportation, education) on 30 weeks of salary….By 2018 it took 53 weeks. Which is a problem, there being 52 weeks in a year.”

Lead study author Oren Cass (formerly Mitt Romney’s domestic policy director) calls this calculation the Cost-of-Thriving Index. It measures the median male annual salary against four major household expenditures:

  • Housing: the annual rent for a three-bedroom house in the 40th percentile of the local housing market
  • Health care: the annual premium on a typical family health insurance policy
  • Transportation: the average cost of owning and operating a car driven 15,000 miles per year
  • Education: the average cost of tuition, fees, and room and board at a four-year public college

In 1985, the typical male breadwinner could cover those costs, and still have 22 weeks of pay left for other family needs, such as food, clothing, entertainment and savings. Today, the typical salary doesn’t even cover the four basics.

They also looked at female earners. The typical woman needed to work 45 weeks to cover the four big annual expenses in 1985. Today she needs 66 weeks. The most astonishing conclusion is that it was easier for a female breadwinner to provide for her family in 1985 than it is for a lone male earner today.

Remember that the study comes from a conservative-leaning institute. Here’s Cass:

“You can have a rising GDP….but if it’s in the context of collapsing families and people no longer getting married and declining fertility rates and so on and so forth, you haven’t necessarily enhanced well-being.”

Wake up America! The GOP has undone 50 years of economic gains that produced a robust middle class and vastly more economic and social justice than the country had ever known before, or since.

They have chosen candidates whose real agenda was to assist the corporatocracy in fleecing the very people who voted for them. Their candidates ran on issues like the Second Amendment, abortion, gay marriage and immigration. And then, the GOP shifted the tax burden onto the middle class. They deregulated industry and socialized corporate losses, eliminating any downside risk for banks.

We can begin undoing these things by electing Democratic majorities in the  House and Senate in November.

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Monday Wake Up Call – February 24, 2020

The Daily Escape:

Mt. Rainier from Crystal Mountain – 2108 photo by papageorgio120

At lunch this week with a wealthy owner of a commercial construction company who is also a committed Trumper, Wrongo said that the Democratic Party could split into two parties, assuming that the Dems fail to unseat Trump in November.

That’s because neither of the two wings of the party seem likely to gain majority victories in the primary elections over the next few months. That could lead to a weak national candidate heading the ticket. The race remains static, with a progressive Democratic wing led by Sanders and Warren, and a center-right wing, comprising Bloomberg, Biden, Buttigieg and Klobuchar.

Bernie’s Nevada win indicates that he’s on a path to consistent, 30%-40% finishes in many states. The only age demographic Sanders did not win last Saturday was the 65-and-older vote. We know that the older cohort votes heavily, while younger voters historically have not. If Sanders can bring along a portion of the older demographic, while turning out the youth, he changes the delegate game, and maybe the 2020 presidential election.

On his current track, Sanders could have the delegate lead in July when the Democrats meet in Milwaukee, but since he’s winning pluralities not majorities, he’s unlikely to have the 1991 delegates needed to win the nomination on the first ballot. Depending on how large his delegate lead is, the other candidates should concede, but none of them have to.

And that means there will be a second ballot, when the dreaded Democratic Super delegates will have their say. We know that the Establishment Democrats are not Bernie fans, and they comprise the majority of the Super Delegates, so we could see a Democratic schism in July.

While Bloomberg looks like a terrible campaigner, he forces the other moderate Ds to compete with each other, because they aren’t going to get much, if any of the voters who are committed to Sanders. And they can’t compete monetarily with Bloomberg. If they all stay in the race and keep going after each other instead of Bernie, it guarantees that Bernie will get pluralities, with few opportunities for majority wins by anyone.

What will the average Democrat do when faced with a choice between Bernie the democratic socialist, and if it comes to that, the 12th richest man in the world? The Democratic Party has always been a coalition of varied interests but in July, Dems could face the choice between either concentrated ideology or concentrated wealth.

Many are concerned that Bernie or any of the center-right Dems, won’t deliver the necessary voter turnout in the fall. But the 2020 election really has two parties, the Trump and the Not-Trump Party. Who really believes that the Not-Trumpers won’t come out to vote?

The Not-Trumpers came out to vote in 2018, when there was no one at the head of the ticket. In 2018, Not-Trumpers won in suburbs, in the cities, in some conservative districts, and in liberal districts.

The Dems running as the 2018 Not-Trump Party ran women, children of refugees, men, black people, white people, gay people, and won some races with all of them. So we know that team Not-Trump will be motivated, but we don’t yet know how motivated Team Not-Socialist will be.

So the questions (that we have asked before) remain:

  • Will the Dem progressive and center-right wings coalesce on a Not-Trump candidate?
  • Will that candidate appeal to all of the Not-Trumpers?

Regardless of which Democrat is the Party’s candidate, the anti-Democrat messages from the Republicans will be unprecedented. That will scare many middle-of-the-road voters, and possibly depress turnout. Whatever the pundits’ and the party establishment’s misgivings, right now, Sanders is clearly doing something right, while the others are spinning their wheels.

Next Saturday’s South Carolina primary will show us whether a different candidate can be a serious challenger to Sanders.

A brokered convention would, and should be hotly-contested. It doesn’t necessarily have to be a bloodbath. If it is a bloodbath, that’s on the people who make it one, and they will be the people who break the Democratic Party into two distinct minority parties.

So, it’s time to wake up, Democrats! The divide(s) in the Party are clear: Older candidates vs. younger candidates. Progressive candidates vs. moderate-right candidates.

It’s time for the Party of inclusion to figure out where it’s going in 2020.

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Monday Wake Up Call – February 17, 2020

The Daily Escape:

Looking west at sunset with Merced River in foreground, Yosemite NP, CA – 2019 photo by OlafIowa

“The general culture is often stupid or evil, and would vote out God in favor of the devil if he fed them back their hate and fear in a way that made them feel righteous”  -Charles Frazier, from his book, Varina, Pgs. 328-329

We’re living in the terrible present, an unprecedented time when Trump can say “Make me!” and we can’t, although Democrats have been trying since 2016.

That we’re in the middle of a “put the oxygen mask on your democracy first” emergency is shown by all that the Trump administration has done since his impeachment acquittal. Democracy is dying right in front of us, and in broad daylight. And the people trying to kill it are making no bones about it to the rest of us.

In this primary season, people are fighting over which Democratic presidential candidate will be the best at beating Trump, but that’s the wrong question. Strategically, Democrats win if they hold the House and take back the Senate. With both Houses of Congress, Trump will be neutered, even if he wins. If the Democrat wins, and the Party holds both Houses, passing progressive legislation becomes possible.

So the real decision is which candidate will have the best coattails.

That brings us to doctrinal purity tests. Most Democrats see the purity test as a doctrinaire standard of ideological purity. In 2016, Hillary Clinton objected to Bernie Sanders’s saying in a primary debate that she didn’t measure up as a progressive. Clinton argued that according to Sanders’s criteria, even Obama wouldn’t measure up, “because he took donations from Wall Street.”

Democrats must overcome their obsession about who is the most progressive, or who isn’t progressive enough. Otherwise, the Party will go into the November fight disunited.

In a column last week, Wrongo talked about Democrats’ disunity in the presidential elections of 2000 and 2016. But we can go back to an earlier event, the campaign of George McGovern in 1972. Nixon shellacked McGovern by a 23-point margin in the popular vote, carrying 49 states.

McGovern was a progressive who called for tax reform. He proposed payroll tax-funded single-payer healthcare. He was for a form of guaranteed income called a “Demogrant” of $1,000 per year for every adult, regardless of income, as an alternative to Nixon’s complicated means-tested welfare overhaul plan. Yang’s plan is similar to McGovern’s

Many Democrats failed to support McGovern, thinking he was too liberal. After McGovern’s defeat, Democrats began running towards the center, even though “the center” has moved further and further to the right with each presidential election.

We’ll have to play hardball to defeat Trump in November. But to play hardball, one must first have balls, something Democrats haven’t shown in a very long time. It’s not surprising that despite winning the popular vote in 6 of the last 7 presidential elections, Dems have little to show for it politically.

Consider that two of the top 2020 contenders include Bernie and Bloomberg, who aren’t Democrats, and have at times, held the Party in clear contempt. Think about where we are: Biden couldn’t beat Obama or Hillary in 2008. Sanders couldn’t beat Hillary in 2016. Hillary couldn’t beat Trump.

Is it logical that either of Biden or Bernie could win in 2020?

Wrongo isn’t sold on Bloomberg. Criticisms of other candidates are as least as applicable to Bloomberg:

  • Biden and Sanders too old? Bloomberg is just as old
  • Biden too gaffe-prone? Bloomberg feasts on his own foot frequently
  • Sanders health a concern? Bloomberg also had a heart attack and the same operation to treat it
  • Sanders’s commitment to the Democratic Party? Bloomberg has actually bankrolled Republican office holders at the state and federal level
  • Biden and Klobuchar too conservative? Bloomberg is more conservative
  • Klobuchar an evil boss? Don’t read Bloomberg’s management philosophy. It’s best if you aren’t a woman

For Bloomberg, maybe it’s as Cyndi Lauper said: “Money changes everything”.

Still, after the disaster of 2016, there are people who will sit on their hands and let Trump be re-elected, rather than support a Dem they find ideologically impure.

You probably don’t remember the 1972 campaign clearly because you were too young, but 2000 wasn’t enough? 2016 wasn’t enough?

Wake up America! The best candidate is the one with the longest coattails.

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Monday Cartoon Blogging – Iowa Caucuses Edition, February 2, 2020

We had a very consequential week, followed by a consequential weekend. Sunday was both the Super Bowl and Groundhog Day. It was also a very rare eight-digit palindrome when written as 02/02/2020, the first since 11/11/1111.

We had the “deal of the century” that isn’t, and the Chiefs won the Super Bowl. But the Constitution died.

And so did Kobe Bryant and his daughter, along with seven others. It doesn’t take a basketball fan to feel shocked and saddened when a Dad and his 13-year old daughter are suddenly killed. Of course we know about Kobe Bryant, a basketball genius who, in his retirement, helped young people and championed women’s basketball. His life story was complicated, but if you think that people can work hard and redeem themselves, Kobe Bryant is your prime example:

The movie that’s always on repeat:

Peace? Or pieces?

Brexit happened, the UK is now going it alone:

Failing to call witnesses shows that the GOP’s loyalties have shifted:

Beauty is in the eye of the beholder:

Brown paper bags have replaced the MAGA hats for GOP Senators:

With Iowa voting tomorrow, it’s important to know your enemies:

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Monday Wake Up Call – January 27, 2020

The Daily Escape:

Sunrise, West End Overlook, Pittsburgh PA – photo by Kevin Simpson Photography

“The whole modern world has divided itself into Conservatives and Progressives. The business of Progressives is to go on making mistakes. The business of Conservatives is to prevent mistakes from being corrected….Thus we have two great types — the advanced person who rushes us into ruin, and the retrospective person who admires the ruins….This is called the balance, or mutual check, in our Constitution.” G.K. Chesterton

Remember that Chesterton was British, and he died in 1936.

Wrongo’s really dreading the prospect of looking down a double barreled shotgun of Biden vs. Bernie. This confession is brought on by the WaPo, who reported on its poll with ABC News:

“Nationally…the competition has moved in the direction of Biden and Sanders, with Warren, Buttigieg and others now clearly behind. Among Democrats and Democratic-leaning registered voters, Biden is favored by 32% with Sanders at 23%…In both cases, those percentages are slightly better than what each received in an October Post-ABC national poll.

Warren is currently running third but has seen a significant drop in her support nationally, falling from 23% in October to 12% in the new poll…..she is the only other candidate for the Democratic nomination in double digits.”

Here’s the placement of the rest:

  • Bloomberg: 8%
  • Yang: 7%
  • Buttigieg: 5%
  • Klobuchar: 3%

The WaPo indicates Democrats are motivated in this election. An amazing 73% said that they are certain to vote in their state’s primary or caucus, significantly higher than the 59% who said the same in January 2016. Importantly, 9 in 10 Democrats who named a candidate said that while they are enthusiastic about their choice, 53% still would consider another candidate.

Warren has slipped particularly among women, where her support fell from 26% to 12%. But while she trails Biden and Sanders as the first choice among Democratic voters, she does well when people are asked who their second choice is.

Overall, 23% name Warren as their second choice, slightly higher than either Sanders or Biden. When first and second choices are combined, Biden leads at 48%, followed by Sanders at 41%, and Warren at 35% percent. No other candidate is within 20 points of this combination.

But, this eye-catching poll is based on a very small sample. The Post-ABC poll only sampled 388 Democrats nationally. It includes 349 who are registered voters. Most important, the margin of error is ± six percentage points.

It’s also important to remember that Warren got the endorsement of the Des Moines Register, which probably means more than her earlier co-endorsement by The Times. Nate Silver notes that despite the WaPo poll, Warren is closer in Iowa:

“…the Des Moines Register endorsement tonight could actually matter. Historically, it helps the endorsee by 3 points which matters in a race where the top 4 candidates are separated by ~5 points.

https://t.co/L8iMGV5hPH— Nate Silver (@NateSilver538) January 25, 2020

It’s unlikely that 3 points would make Warren the winner of the Iowa primary, but it does seem likely to keep her above the critical 15% threshold for delegates. That would probably keep Iowa from making this a two-man (literally) race.

Wrongo doesn’t know who he’d support if it comes down to Biden vs. Bernie. Wrongo doubts that Bernie would be a good president. Would he be able to get much done? It’s easy to imagine Trump beating Bernie to death with Marxist-Socialist epithets.

Biden would probably be able to staff a professional administration. But his lack of an ambitious progressive agenda means that even if he were elected, his presidency might not amount to much either. OTOH, he may help other Democrats for House and Senate more than Bernie can. Bernie’s “Our Revolution” movement endorsed about 80 candidates in 2018, and just 6 of them were elected.

Warren seems to be a better choice than either, and it’s really depressing that she can’t get much traction with voters.

All of this means that there is a distinct possibility Trump gets reelected in a replay of 2016 no matter who is the ultimate Dem candidate. They all have serious weaknesses. Each has a core group of enthusiastic supporters, and a core group that says that candidate underwhelms them.

Can whoever is the nominee eventually become a consensus candidate?

Wake up America! A lot of people like Biden because they want the politics out of politics. They want “the people in DC to cut out the political shit, and just work together to do what’s right for the country“.

But as Chesterton said, this is just another example of our traditional American way of really wanting to keep the politics IN politics.

The Parties like things just the way they are.

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