Saturday, March 28, 2020

Relief!



Mitch McConnell always sounds like he's grumbling, so it's hard to say just how he feels about the largest welfare program in American history.  Apparently, though, he agrees that it's necessary.  Now that McConnell has broken the ice, only a few stubborn holdouts still say "stimulus" — the word du jour is "relief."  Add the restraints on the Administration's ability to dole out corporate loans, and restraints on how that loan money can be used, and the overall tone of the bill is classic Welfare State Democratic.

Progressive Democrats wanted more, of course, but Pelosi is offering some proposals for "phase four" that might offer them more satisfaction.  If, somehow, science turns out to be right and Tr*mp turns out to be wrong (imagine that!), "phase four" will be along in short order.

How will the USofA pay for the bills it's running up at the moment?  Essentially, it won't.  The Fed is gearing up to increase the money supply with extensive, near-zero interest loans to the Treasury. It will be inflationary, but that makes the biggest losers the ones with the most money.  The Fed hasn't met its inflation target since the Great Recession, so you could say there's some catching-up to do.

By the way, I really like the idea of some workers collecting more in unemployment insurance than they earned in salary: clearly, they're people who weren't making nearly enough money to begin with.

Tuesday, March 24, 2020

Stimulus?


You can almost read the thought balloon: "People like money, so if I give them money they'll like me – and I'll be reelected!"  Toss in some corporate giveaways — the standard Republican solution to every problem — and you have the Administration's plan to "stimulate the economy."  Economic stimulus helps in a typical recession, but the current crisis is far from typical.  It's hard to go out and spend money when you're barricaded at home, and when the places you might spend it are closed.

Democrats, of course, have no aversion to giving away free money, but hope to put some limitation on how corporations can use essentially interest-free loans, hoping to avoid some of the abuses we saw in the 2008 economic crisis: using government funds for stock buybacks and absurd levels of executive compensation.  By the time you read this, there's likely to have been some sort of "compromise" negotiated.

The current plan to pay $1200 to 85% of the American people, and a bit less to another 5%.  The "stimulus" effect would be negligible.   To many higher earners, $1200 will be just a blip in the bank balance; and with so few places to spend it, most of the "stimulus" wouldn't make it into the broader economy until the pandemic is over.  For the unemployed, $1200 won't cover a month's rent.

Proposals coming out of the House, though, seem to recognize that what America needs now isn't stimulus, but relief — money individuals and small businesses need to survive the crisis.  Needless to say, there will be plenty of resistance to new "entitlements," but if you're going to give people money, it makes sense to give it to those who need it most.

Wednesday, March 11, 2020

Time to Panic?



Maybe.  Fresh from arresting an uncle and a cousin on charges of plotting a coup, MBS roiled oil markets by launching a price war against Russia, exacerbating instability in a world economy already teetering from the impact of COVID-19.  Investment houses think recession is likely.

The manufacturing sector already is in recession from Tr*mp's trade war, global supply chains are a mess, and a virus is not especially susceptible to economic interventions.  However much money is pumped into the economy, it doesn't do much good if people won't go out and spend it: so whatever fiscal stimulus Congress comes up with probably won't make much difference.  The Fed will cut rates again, but interest rates already are so low that a further cut can't have significant impact.  The truth is that firms already have plenty of cash-on-hand were they interested in expansion — but who's interested in expansion while there's a pandemic going on?

I suspect the coronavirus may have done some good for "Grandpa Joe" in yesterday's primary contests: weird "Uncle Bernie" seems far too angry to offer much comfort and reassurance.  If the viral threat persists, of course, "Mean Boy Donald" fares even worse.

Thursday, March 5, 2020

Catch-up


Our President's "deal of the century," the proposed "peace agreement" that would formalize Israel's currently de facto apartheid state, failed to deliver Israel's Parliament to his buddy Bibi; and may have helped the Arab-led Joint List win two additional seats.  Since the main disagreement between Bibi's Likud and Benny Gantz's Blue and White Party is over whether or not Bibi goes to jail, parliamentary paralysis may have been the best possible outcome at this point.

Meanwhile, in the USofA, the Democratic establishment has solidified around Joe Biden.  The push was especially evident on MSNBC, where invited guests heavily favored Biden over Sanders.  Chris Matthews may  have gone a bit overboard, though: he's losing his prime-time slot, possibly in response to complaints from MSNBC's more progressive viewers.

I still have serious doubts about Biden's "electability."  While the media tout his "improved" debate performances, he still has problems remembering his talking points, much less thinking on his feet.  I can't help thinking that his staffers are praying that ARVID-19 will damage Tr*mp enough to compensate for their candidate's many weaknesses.  Some think tank, somewhere, has to be calculating how many Americans have to die to ensure a Biden victory.

Also, although we haven't heard much about Burisma lately, it's coming.  By hook or by crook (mostly the latter), Tr*mp can count on Dan Barr to deliver in time for the presidential campaign

Rare as it may be, I feel some sympathy for Erdogan's efforts to keep another million Syrian refugees out of Turkey, which already is overburdened – and equivalent sympathy for the government of Greece, left to muddle through the refugee crisis with no real EU support.  At the same time, I understand that admitting more refugees can only further empower AfD, National Front, and other far-right parties.

Putin is having a very good week.

Tuesday, February 25, 2020

Bernie's "electability"


At this point in 2016, the consensus among the talking heads was that Donald Tr*mp could never win the Republican candidacy, much less the presidency.  Surely, they opined, Tr*mp was too extreme, too unorthodox: the nominee would be a far safer candidate.  (Remember Jeb Bush?)

What the punditry missed was that it was Tr*mp's unorthodoxy – his disregard the "rules" – that powered his candidacy.  Tr*mp was a disruptor – a norm-breaking agent of change – and change was just what many voters desperately wanted.  It was the same impulse that helped Obama win in 2008.  (The black guy just had to be different – right?)

For decades, American optimism has been in decline.  Only a third believe their children will be better off than they are, and the data indicate that the majority two-thirds are probably correct.  Over the past three years, nothing has happened to change those attitudes.  A low unemployment rate makes it easier to find a second job when your first job won't pay the bills, but that's not a recipe for life satisfaction.  In the critical Rust Belt states, Tr*mp's trade wars have reduced the number of well-paid manufacturing jobs; and insecure "gig" jobs with no benefits offer little comfort.

The face of change this time around is Bernie Sanders, and his plan for disrupting the status quo centers around redistributing wealth from the obscenely rich to the rest of us.  Granted, the USofA already may be too corrupt for that goal to be attainable, but that doesn't make the goal any less attractive to the many who feel left behind, or any less valid if we hope to salvage some of what we call "democracy" in America.

Tr*mp's own weaknesses could make him vulnerable to any potential Democratic opponent (with the possible exception of Joe Biden), but cautious incrementalism doesn't inspire voters to flock to the polls.  The real "swing voters" aren't cautious moderates; they're angry malcontents.  Like it or not, Bernie is the Democratic Party's best chance to win over those voters and take the presidency.

Sunday, February 16, 2020

Justice


I'll never forget the look of shock and horror on the young ADA's face when the grand jury I was serving on failed to endorse just one count of a multi-count indictment against a drunk who had seriously annoyed some local cops.  It was the only charge we failed to endorse among the dozens of cases brought before us that month.

I wish I could have seen the expression on William Barr's face when his prosecutors told him they couldn't win an indictment of Andrew McCabe after nearly two years of  trying — but I guess I'll have to be satisfied by his tortured efforts to explain how Our President's tweets make his job {punishing Tr*mp's enemies and rewarding his friends) "impossible."  If he was trying to salvage a scrap of self-respect, his effort was singularly unsuccessful.

"I'm not going to be bullied by anyone," the AG proclaimed.  Perhaps.  Maybe it doesn't count as bullying when you've already rolled over and played dead.

Thursday, February 6, 2020

The Romney Vote


It wasn't Mitt Romney, Republican Senator, who voted to find Tr*mp guilty of abuse of power yesterday: it was Mitt Romney, Elder of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.  Romney is serious about his role as a Mormon leader, and felt duty-bound to make a moral decision.  While "situation ethics" overwhelmed American Evangelicals as they transformed their religious movement into a political force, Mormons seem more inclined to stick with first principles.

Clearly, the LDS Church is conservative, despite some of the "socialistic" aspects of its theology; and has been reliably Republican at least since Ezra Taft Benson served in the Eisenhower administration. Nevertheless, Mormons remember their long history as outsiders in America, forced to flee from the East Coast to the Midwest to the deserts of Utah and Nevada.  Other politically conservative Christian denominations still refuse to accept them as "real" Christians – so their integration into the American mainstream remains incomplete.  Mormons remain a "minority group" in the USofA.

While Romney's vote to impeach may do him some political damage in Utah, it's hard to imagine Mormon Utah failing to re-elect him to the Senate in 2023.  Still – despite the fact that his political peril is far less than what other prodigal Republican would have encountered – his decision to vote for impeachment was courageous and worthy of admiration.

Friday, January 31, 2020

About that impeachment...


Ask ten random people why Bill Clinton was impeached, and at least nine of them will say "the blowjob."  Not many will remember that the actual impeachable offense was lying under oath. — and if he'd lied about something less newsworthy than his sleazy sexual predation, Republicans may not have made the effort.  The public was asked to make a moral judgement – but most of the public seemed willing to let him go on with his presidency.

Clearly, Clinton was guilty of abuse of power – not necessarily his political powers, just the usual power of an executive over an intern.  Democrats should have forced him to resign, but #MeToo wouldn't arrive for another eight years.  Although I'd like to believe today's Democrats would behave differently, somehow I doubt they would.

Tr*mp's abuse of power, especially his obstruction of Congress, goes far beyond anything Clinton attempted twenty-two years ago; but the Republican response follows the same pattern established by Democrats in 1998, and the outcome of his "trial" is sure to be the same.  Whether or not Tr*mp's overall moral degeneracy exceeds Clinton's is unclear: politicians necessarily are more circumspect than playboy real estate tycoons.

Meanwhile, plenty of Americans – Democrats as well as Republicans – are thinking, "They all do it."  In future administrations, that assessment very well may prove to be true.

Thursday, January 16, 2020

Warren v. Sanders


When, at their private meeting, Elizabeth Warren told Bernie Sanders that she was entering the Democratic primary, his first thought had to be "She'll split the progressive vote, and Biden will get the nomination.  How do I talk her out of this?"


One obvious albeit ill-considered argument: "I don't think a female candidate can beat Trump."  Maybe it slipped out before he had a chance to reconsider: I seriously doubt that Sanders actually believes it.  Almost a year later, it must be hard for him even to believe he said it — but, be that as it may, his denial at the debate did amount to calling Warren a liar.  (I winced.)

I was hoping for something more like this:  "I don't remember saying anything like that, but if I did, I apologize — I certainly don't believe a woman can't be elected."  Then, he could have gone on about Clinton's victory in the 2016 popular vote, et al.

Hopefully, the progressive wing of the party can get its act together in short order, because failure to do so only empowers the Democratic establishment.  Americans wanted change in 2016, and they still want it in 2020. Frankly, I have strong misgivings about Biden (much less Buttigieg) defeating Tr*mp in November.

Tuesday, January 7, 2020

Briefs


Qassim Suleimani
The Suleimani assassination would have made sense had there been reliable intelligence that it would set off a destabilizing power struggle within the Iranian government; but reliable intelligence, in either sense of the word, is not characteristic of the Tr*mp Administration.  The action's chief impact has been to put a damper on resistance to Iranian influence in Iraq.  While many attribute the killing to Our President's shoot-from-the-crotch strategic incompetence, one still wonders: How does it benefit Putin?

Mark Galli
Back in the 90s, liberals were broadly accused of practicing situation ethics: choosing to violate basic moral codes for the sake of some "greater good."  Currently, that philosophy's main adherents are conservative Christians, most of whom were outraged when Mark Galli's editorial in Christianity Today identified Tr*mp as "a near perfect example of a human being who is morally lost and confused."

Carlos Ghosn
Given the 99.9% conviction rate in Japanese courts, nobody can be surprised that somebody with the wealth and influence of Carlos Ghosn would find a way to jump bail.  Was Ghosn under-reporting his income, as charged?  Probably: it's what the super-rich do.  Does that explain why he was indicted?  Highly unlikely.

Elizabeth Warren
Clearly, the drop in contributions to the Warren campaign was a direct outcome of her waffling on "Medicare for All":  the left wing of the Democratic Party is in no mood for compromise.  Granted, some sort of compromise will be required to get any such program through Congress, but facing up to reality is never a winning strategy in electoral politics.