Gratitude: Four Steps

Amazing Grace, how sweet the sound
That saved a wretch like me
I once was lost, but now am found
Was blind but now I see.

Once I was thankless
now I am grateful.

(I was taught to give thanks but not to be thankful.)

 

My path to gratitude began with awe.
Summer morning surfing at Little Corona.
It doesn’t get any better than this.
(The water is warm but I have goosebumps.)

 

 

Next came mindfulness.
Quaker Meeting
entering the pool of silence.
Waiting for the doors to open.

One led to simplicity.
Focussing on the essential.
(Swimming naked in the pool.)

A second opened to gratitude.
I am thankful that
I am.
(Possessions do not define me.)

Life in lockdown is elemental.
Down to the bone.
Each day an opportunity for
gratitude.

What is the 2020 Democratic Message?

On Friday, May 15, House Democrats passed “the Heroes Act.” It’s a $3 trillion pandemic-relief bill, providing assistance to state and local governments, hazard pay for frontline health care workers, election protection, and many other benefits.  Dems concocted a list so long that political pundits asked: “What’s the message that Democrats are trying to send?”

“The Heroes Act” is a symptom of a larger problem: in the face of Donald Trump ranting “Covid-19 is nothing to be afraid of; it’s safe to come out now,” Democrats don’t have a coordinated response.

1. Bad Donald: Many observers have suggested that Democrats adopt a variation of “Trump is a lunatic who is ruining our country” as the Party’s mantra.  This approach is tempting because Donald keeps doing all the wrong things, in prime time. Nonetheless, I recommend that Democrats do not make “Donald bad, Joe good” their primary message.

While such an approach might stir up the deep-blue base, it’s unlikely to attract thoughtful voters who want to understand what the Democratic Party stands for.  And this message won’t sway Republicans who already know Donald is “bad” and don’t care — in fact, seem to love him more the badder he gets.

Besides, the “Trump is a lunatic” channel is already occupied by groups such as The Lincoln Project. (https://www.washingtonpost.com/video/politics/campaign-ads-2020/the-lincoln-project-mourning-in-america–campaign-2020/2020/05/05/2f99f36a-9761-4011-9b20-9258d3429f1a_video.html))  That is, by former Republicans, such as George Conway and Rick Wilson, who seem fully committed to running weekly “bad Donald” hit pieces for the next six months.

Setting aside this option leaves three obvious messaging choices: leadership AKA “Joe good;” we can do better; and (sigh) the all-too-familiar “blue marshmallow.”

2. Leadership: From here, the best Biden-oriented thrust would be to emphasize his leadership qualities.  That is, build on the fact that Joe is widely perceived as a nice guy with 50 years of experience getting things done — mostly good things, such as the 2009 economic recovery.  A Biden message example: In these difficult times, the United States needs calm seasoned leadership.  A leader to bring us together, not drive us apart.  Let’s restore decency to the White House. Vote Joe…

In other words, the Democratic leadership should not have Joe go negative, but instead let others do that.  (Specifically, they should not have Joe respond to mean Trump tweets, but let others do that.  Dems should set up a “President Tweety” war room.)  Over the next six months,  Joe should be calm, positive, and presidential.  If Trump’s dominant persona is vindictive narcissist, Joe’s should be healer-in-chief.

(This message logic suggests that Biden’s VP pick should be someone who can “lay the wood” to Donald.  Something that Amy, Elizabeth, and Kamala (and others) are very capable of doing.)

3. We can do better:  As a perennial optimist, I believe the U.S. pandemic-depression is an opportunity for a seismic positive change in American society.  For example, the pandemic has made clear the horrific problems with America’s healthcare system; the 2020 election is a good time to begin to fix these — for example, with Medicare for all.

While Joe Biden projects an image of empathic leadership, the Democratic team should broadcast a message of “the United States has to do better; we can do better.”  (I.e., “The future’s so bright, I gotta wear shades.”)

Democrats should  emphasize a handful of appealing programs.  For example, Dems want healthcare for everyone — Medicare for all.  Further, Democrats should promise meaningful employment for everyone — a massive effort to rebuild America.  And, Dems will deal with climate change — the green new deal.

I’m emphasizing handful of Democratic program proposals because the campaign emphasis should be restricted two or three.  In 2020, Democrats need to keep the message simple.  The American public is hungry for problem solutions but, in these difficult times, is easily overwhelmed.  Democrats should pick two or three program initiatives and hammer away at them: Americans need better healthcare and Democrats know how to do it…  (By the way: since the Trump campaign is all about Trump, they won’t be providing any real problem solutions.)

4. What’s the message?  Sadly, there’s a real possibility that Dems will not develop a coherent message in 2020.  There’s a real chance that Democrats will repeat the mistakes made in the 2016 Clinton campaign — go all-out wonk, promise something for everyone, and lose message contact with persuadable voters.  We can’t let this happen.

All of us, who think another four years of Trump would be disastrous, should do everything we can to ensure that the 2020 Democratic presidential campaign has a straightforward message: In these difficult times, the United States needs the calm seasoned leadership of Joe Biden. If we work together, America’s best days are yet to come.

The US Reaches the Tipping Point

The United States has reached a critical juncture in the 2020 battle against COVID-19, a “tipping point.”  This is epitomized by a small but hugely symbolic action: Donald Trump’s refusal to wear a protective mask.

In his 2000 book, “The Tipping Point: How Little Things Can Make a Big Difference,”  Malcolm Gladwell defines a “tipping point” as a moment when there’s a critical change of social perspective because a key determinant has reached critical mass.  Donald Trump’s refusal to wear a protective mask symbolizes his attitude about the pandemic: he’s quit fighting it.

1.Trump doesn’t take the pandemic seriously.  During the COVID-19 crisis, Trump has been inconsistent about many things — for example, the role of the Federal Government — but steadfast in his refusal to wear a mask.  On May 5, Donald toured an Arizona facility making N-95 protective masks but refused to don one.  (The factory had multiple signs, “masks required.”) On May 11, when Trump announced that all White House staff would wear a mask, he remarked that he would not.

Trump does not take the pandemic seriously and, therefore, is unwilling to wear a mask , social distance, or take the decisive actions most of us expect the President to take during a national crisis, such as invoking the Defense Production Act to expedite testing.

Whether or not they voted for Trump in 2016, most thoughtful Americans understand that the Coronavirus pandemic is the dominant event of this era and, therefore, deserves to be taken seriously.  Trump’s’s attitude is one of the reasons that a majority of voters disapprove of how Donald is handling the COVID-19 crisis. (57 percent)

Nonetheless, most Republicans are sticking with Trump.  (https://www.politico.com/news/2020/05/06/senate-republicans-trump-coronavirus-response-240454 )    CNN ( http://Percolating beneath the more general pandemic stress is a political divide cleaving us over the role of government, science and even truth.) observed that wearing a mask has become a red versus blue issue: “Beneath the more general pandemic stress is a political divide cleaving us over the role of government, science and even truth.”

Writing in Think, Liz Plank (https://www.nbcnews.com/think/opinion/trump-s-coronavirus-mask-standoff-reveals-dangerous-ripples-fragile-masculinity-ncna1205441 ) noted: “[Among conservatives] Trump’s decision..[to not wear a mask] is also being hailed as a man’s man portrayal of virility and valor by some of his loyal foot soldiers… as wearing a mask would be ‘a searing image of weakness’ and ‘would signal that the United States is so powerless against this invisible enemy sprung from China that even its president must cower behind a mask.'”

2.  Trump is setting a bad example for his base.  During the past two months, Trump’s approval rating has stayed around 43 percent (https://projects.fivethirtyeight.com/trump-approval-ratings/ ).  That means that more than one-third of the country trust Donald to lead the United States and, for the most part, trust his remarks about dealing with COVID-19 (even when he suggests injecting bleach ( https://www.bbc.com/news/world-us-canada-52407177).)

Therefore, at a moment when we are trying to squash a highly contagious virus, many in Trump’s base are not wearing masks, washing their hands, or maintaining social distance.  They want to open everything up because that’s what Trump has suggested.  Many of these supporters are involved in the protests against their state’s lockdown rules.  (A recent poll found that only 31 percent of Americans approve of these demonstrations (https://www.aljazeera.com/news/2020/05/majority-disapprove-coronavirus-protests-poll-200511150558609.html ).)

Early indications are that this cavalier attitude is taking a toll.  On May 13, The Guardian (https://www.theguardian.com/world/2020/may/13/new-us-coronavirus-hotspots-republican-heartland-areas ) reported that there’s a “surge” of new COVID-19 cases in the Trump heartlands (red-state towns and rural communities).

3. Trump is not thinking strategically.  Confronted with the pandemic, Trump at first flailed and then adopted a tactic of diversion — he turned his limited attention to the economy.  Late in March, Donald tweeted: “WE CANNOT LET THE CURE BE WORSE THAN THE PROBLEM ITSELF.”

Recently Trump suggested that “shelter-in-place” policies were more harmful than COVID-19.  On May 14, Trump remarked that Coronavirus testing is “overrated,” adding “When you test, you have a case. When you test, you find something is wrong with people. If we didn’t do any testing we would have very few cases.” (https://thehill.com/homenews/administration/497846-trump-says-testing-may-be-frankly-overrated )

Dealing with COVID-19 requires a complicated strategic plan that involves, among other things, securing the necessary testing resources and developing a multi-layered testing plan.  New York Times columnist Paul Krugman (https://www.nytimes.com/2020/05/11/opinion/coronavirus-depression.html) argues that we must deal with the pandemic if we are going to avert a major depression:

“[This] means crushing the curve: getting the number of infected Americans way down, then maintaining a high level of testing to quickly spot new cases, combined with contact tracing so that we can quarantine those who may have been exposed… we would have to protect all Americans with the kind of testing and tracing that is already available to people who work directly for Donald Trump but almost nobody else… Crushing the curve isn’t easy, but it’s very possible. In fact, many other countries, from South Korea to New Zealand to, believe it or not, Greece have already done it…But you do have to stay the course. And that’s what Trump and company don’t want to do.”

Writing in the Medium ( https://medium.com/@ASlavitt/the-economy-will-not-open-up-without-a-credible-plan-to-address-the-public-health-crisis-28eac8d5a425), former Obama-era Medicare, Medicaid, and ACA head, Andy Slavitt observed: “[The U.S.] had a [pandemic] strategy. Trump gave it a few weeks and then decided ‘liberate!’ Basically, he’s a quitter.”

Donald Trump has turned his back on the pandemic and is now solely focused on “opening the economy.”

Summary: At the heart of this tipping point is a profound irony: Trump won’t wear a mask because it projects an image of “weakness.”  At the same time, he’s faced with the very difficult task of responding to the pandemic and he’s quit working on the problem.  He’s abandoned his post,

If this is the new wartime, then Donald Trump is a deserter.

California’s Recovery Problem

Most of California is still under strict “shelter-in-place” guidelines. It appears as though we’ve flattened the curve and, as a result, can ease up on the “lockdown” rules that have chafed most citizens.  However, before we do this, we have a couple of big hurdles to overcome.

On April 29, Governor Newsom amplified his plan for reopening the golden state. (https://www.nytimes.com/2020/04/29/us/california-reopen-coronavirus.html )  We’re in phase one: “[G]overnment and private organizations are working to make it more consistently safe for essential workers, like grocery store employees or nurses. Those workers need more protective equipment and a more robust testing and tracing system.”  Phase two will involve opening lower-risk businesses, such as retail stores with curbside pickups, and “schools and child care facilities.”  (On May 4th Newsom, was more specific: “Under the new guidelines… bookstores, music stores, toy stores, florists, sporting goods retailers and others can reopen for pickup as early as [May 8].”)

Phase three would see reopening of higher-risk businesses “[such as] nail and hair salons, gyms, movie theaters and sports without live audiences, as well as in-person religious services.”  “Stage 4 will be the end of the state’s stay-at-home order. That will be when concerts, conventions and sports with a live crowd will be allowed to reopen.”

California is stuck moving from phase one to phase two.  It’s one thing to open lower-risk businesses and quite another to open schools and child-care facilities.  In the San Francisco Bay Area, there are six criteria that will permit this to happen (https://www.sfchronicle.com/bayarea/article/Bay-Area-has-6-criteria-for-loosening-coronavirus-15242821.php)  — these are criteria jointly developed by the six major Bay Area counties: San Francisco, San Mateo, Santa Clara, Alameda, Contra Costa, and Marin: 1. Case counts; 2. Hospital numbers; 3. Hospital Capacity; 4. Testing; 5. Contact Tracing; and 6. Personal Protective Equipment.  (Governor Newsom indicated that these criteria will be applied throughout California but he is giving individual counties discretion on the pace of reopening — for example, Los Angeles County — which has the largest number of COVID-19 cases — will proceed more slowly that the Bay Area counties.)

Case Counts: Newsom has consistently been concerned that California’s hospitals might be overwhelmed by a sudden influx of new COVID-19 cases.  Accordingly, he wants the number of new cases to stay flat, or decrease, every day for a two-week period.  At the moment, the six Bay Area counties are meeting this measure.

Hospital Counts: Not every new case of COVID-19 requires hospitalization — some new cases are mild or asymptomatic.  The six Bay Area counties have seen hospital counts slightly decline over the past 14 days.

Hospital Capacity: Governor Newsom wants to ensure that no more than 50 percent of hospital beds, in a county, are occupied by COVID-19 patients.  In fact, in the six Bay Area counties, it is believed that less than 30 percent of beds are occupied by COVID-19 patients.

Testing: The six Bay Area counties set a goal of administering 200 Coronavirus tests a day for every 100,000 residents.  So far none of these counties are meeting this objective:  San Francisco, a county of 870,000 folks is conducting about 900 tests per day.

It’s clear that the pace of testing is the biggest impediment to completing phase two — to opening schools and child-care facilities.

A recent NPR study ( https://www.npr.org/sections/health-shots/2020/05/03/849243723/californias-coronavirus-testing-still-a-frustrating-patchwork-of-haves-and-have-) examined California’s testing problem: “It’s hard to overstate how uneven the access to critical test kits remains in the nation’s largest state. Even as some Southern California counties are opening drive-through sites to make testing available to any resident who wants it, a rural northern county is testing raw sewage to determine whether the coronavirus has infiltrated its communities.  County to county, city to city — even hospital to hospital within a city — testing capacity varies widely, as does the definition of who qualifies for testing.”

But the testing situation is improving. As of May 8, California has administered 842,000 tests and for the past week, has tested an average of 30,000 per day On April 29, Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti announced that all Los Angeles residents will have access to free coronavirus testing — even those without symptoms.

Contact Tracing:  Contact tracing requires investigating every reported case of the coronavirus, identifying those who may be at risk of infection, and ensuring they are quarantined, to prevent further COVID-19 spread.(https://www.cnn.com/2020/04/27/health/contact-tracing-explainer-coronavirus/index.html)  It’s estimated that each county will need trained contact tracers at the rate of 25 per 100,000 population.  Early indications are that all the counties are very short of skilled contact tracers.  (The University of California at San Francisco has just launched a contact-tracer training program ( https://www.ucsf.edu/news/2020/05/417346/ucsf-partners-state-develop-public-health-workforce-covid-19-response).)

Personal Protective Equipment (PPE): The six Bay Area counties set a goal that each would have a 30-day supply of PPE including face masks, gloves, and gowns.  Governor Newsom is working with them to meet this goal.  In April he signed a $1 billion deal with Chinese manufacturer to obtain million of PPE units.  This is the website (https://public.tableau.com/profile/ca.open.data#!/vizhome/COVID-19CountyProfile/COVID-19CountyProfile) the Golden State provides in order to track the acquisition of PPE: this shows that million of items have been procured, including 45.9 million n-95 respirators.

Summary: California is stuck moving from phase one to phase two.  On May 8 we’re going to open lower-risk retail businesses.

Nonetheless, it will be a while before we open schools and child-care facilities.  These openings will depend upon the availability of testing — we’re getting there — and contact tracing — the critical path activity.  Opening schools and child-care facilities will also depend upon a rigorous testing protocol which has yet to be made public.  (For example, for a child-care facility: test all staff and students before opening; take everyone’s temperature every day, test staff once a week; and test students randomly.)

Governor Newsom has California moving in the right direction but it will be a while before we meet our phase two objective.  Prediction: July for child-care facilities; August for schools.

California’s Unemployment Problem

We’re in the second month of what looks to be a prolonged recession.  In this article I’ll examine how this savage economic downturn has impacted California and what will likely happen.  While the situation in California will be somewhat different from that in  your state, it is informative to consider the largest state and it should be relatively straightforward to extrapolate to your situation.

The United States has a population of 331 million and a labor force of 165 million.  The April 30th report indicated that there are 33 million unemployed (20 percent).  (On March 23, St. Louis Federal Reserve president James Bullard warned the U.S. unemployment rate could hit 30 percent in the second quarter.)

California has 40 million residents and a labor force of approximately 18 million. Between March 15 and April 18, 3.4 million Californians applied for unemployment insurance (19 percent).  According to the Public Policy Institute of California (https://www.ppic.org/blog/early-insights-on-californias-economic-downturn/?),  “The lion’s share of job loss (more than 80%) occurred in three service sectors: arts, entertainment, and recreation; accommodation and food; and ‘other services’ (a category that includes automotive repair, personal care, and dry cleaning).”  These sectors fell significantly faster than they did during the first month of the great recession — December 2007 through January 2008.  (In contrast, during the great recession, the sector experiencing the most impact was construction.)

In Sonoma County, where I live, the biggest impact has been on the “accommodation and food” sector, which has, for the most part, shut down.   (Accommodation and food is the largest industrial sector in the county; it includes hotels, motels, vacation rentals, restaurants, wine tasting rooms and brewpubs.)  Outdoor recreation has also cratered.  As a result, the unemployment rate in Sonoma County is also about 20% and will likely increase.  In my small community, we all know someone whose business has shut down or whose friend or relative has lost their job.  Looking at the Bay Area, in general, we all know someone who was working a couple of jobs, in order to make ends meet — participants in the “gig” economy.  Typically, one of those jobs is now gone — such as driving for Uber.  For those who rented out a room or “granny unit” via Airbnb, this source of income has also dried up.

The question is what to do about this job loss.  California, and Sonoma County, are in the process of slowly opening up — easing shelter-in-place restrictions in a manner that does not cause our coronavirus cases to spike.  In Sonoma County it appears the job sectors that will first reopen are residential construction and related services such as landscaping and gardening.

Sonoma County has 500,000 residents and a workforce of 211,000.  One-third of our workers are in the arts, entertainment, and recreation; accommodation and food; and ‘other services’ sectors that are predicted to bear the brunt of the COVID-19 crisis.  May 1st is the beginning of what, historically, has been a vibrant tourist season throughout the county.  Because of the pandemic, it’s not going to happen.  This is going to impact wine tasting, river rafting, music festivals, camping on the coast… all the activities that have historically been associated with a visit to “wine country.”

California has “flattened the curve” but has yet to relax most of the “shelter-in-place” rules.  In the San Francisco Bay Area, shelter-in-place will last at least until the end of May.  But on a county-by-county basis there is some relaxation of the definition of “essential” businesses; that is, those business — such as markets and pharmacies — that are deemed to be essential to public health and safety.

It’s unclear how long it will take to reopen the hardest hit sectors: arts, entertainment, and recreation; accommodation and food; and other services.  In Sonoma County, there’s no indication when the “arts, entertainment, and recreation” sector will reemerge — this summer there’s not going to be any music festivals and access to our beaches and rivers is likely to be severely restricted. “Accommodation and food” is similarly challenged — some restaurants are surviving on a “take-out” basis but others have chosen to stay shuttered or go out of business; many motels are closed  but a few have opened as temporary refuges for the homeless.  “Other services” is a big category that includes automotive repair, personal care, and dry cleaning; automotive repair is a permitted activity, as is dry cleaning; on the other hand, “personal care” services — barbers, beauticians, fitness trainers, etcetera — are moribund.

California’s Governor Newsom has proposed a program where the state would pay restaurants to prepare and deliver meals to shut-in seniors.  This will provide employment for some dormant workers.  There’s also talk of hiring folks — with little experience — to do the leg-work required for COVID-19 contact tracing.  In Sonoma County that will provide a few thousand jobs.

By June, Sonoma County is likely to have 50,000 unemployed workers, who have little hope of returning to their jobs until at least 2021.  Their lives will not return to “normal” until shelter-in-place is lifted and that won’t happen until there’s a COVID-19 vaccine (or the equivalent).

We’re entering a depression.  To help these workers, we need a massive Federal/State program on the scale of those seen during the Great Depression — the Works Progress Administration.

Trump’s Trifecta

We’re in the middle of a slow-motion catastrophe.  The consequence of disease, depression, and Donald. Here are a few thoughts about what we can do about this dire situation.

The Pandemic: The best summation of our current situation was written on April 18 by New York Times science and health reporter Donald G. McNeil Jr, “The Coronavirus in America: The Year Ahead.”  (https://www.nytimes.com/2020/04/18/health/coronavirus-america-future.html)  “In truth, it is not clear to anyone where this crisis is leading us… Exactly how the pandemic will end depends in part on medical advances still to come. It will also depend on how individual Americans behave in the interim. If we scrupulously protect ourselves and our loved ones, more of us will live. If we underestimate the virus it will find us.”

“Resolve to Save Lives, a public health advocacy group run by Dr. Thomas R. Frieden, the former director of the C.D.C., has published detailed and strict criteria for when the economy can reopen… Reopening requires declining cases for 14 days, the tracing of 90 percent of contacts, an end to health care worker infections, recuperation places for mild cases and many other hard-to-reach goals.”  Donald Trump is not willing to apply these criteria and is pushing states to reopen early.  Some Republican governors are obliging.

Donald McNeil noted: “[Recently, a science writer] analyzed Medicare and census data on age and obesity in states that recently resisted shutdowns and counties that voted Republican in 2016.  He calculated that those voters could be 30 percent more likely to die of the virus.”

McNeil does not believe that we will see a COVID-19 vaccine soon: “Dr. Fauci has repeatedly said that any effort to make a vaccine will take at least a year to 18 months…. All the experts familiar with vaccine production agreed that even that timeline was optimistic. Dr. Paul Offit, a vaccinologist at the Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia, noted that the record is four years, for the mumps vaccine.”

This is the new normal.  Until we have a vaccine — or the equivalent — we have to keep doing what we are doing despite what Donald Trump, and his lackeys, say.  We have to continue to follow the advice of health professionals and scientists: shelter-in-place, minimize social contacts, and support polices that will lead to a rapid increase in testing and, hopefully, the discovery of a vaccine.

The Economy: Because of the COVID-19 pandemic the global economy has collapsed.  There’s debate about whether we are in a recession — negative GDP growth for two quarters — or a depression — a more severe recession.  For those who are out of work, or whose savings have been destroyed, these distinctions do not matter.  What’s important is recognition that we are in a financial emergency unlike anything we have experienced.

For the unemployed who are sheltering in place, there’s a natural tendency to want to go back to work.  Donald Trump has said, “We cannot let the cure be worse than the problem itself.”  Many of his followers believe him and nurture a belief that if they go back to work they will not contract COVID-19.  (This has led to the premature opening of states such as Georgia.)

The problem with this position is that it flies in the face of grim reality: COVID-19 is a highly infectious disease with a grim mortality rate (6.9 percent worldwide).  Not everyone who contracts COVID-19 gets sick but those that do often are very sick — ask Chris Cuomo about his symptoms.  (Those who get sick suffer from Hypoxia — loss of oxygen in the body.)

Not only is COVID-19 very dangerous and contagious, but also many who get it do not develop symptoms — perhaps 14 percent or more (https://www.nejm.org/doi/full/10.1056/NEJMc2009316 ).  That means that until we get widespread testing, we will not be able to identify the silent COVID-19 carriers in our community.  (It’s not sufficient to merely take someone’s temperature to see if they are “sick” or not.)

Therefore, if folks go back to work early and do not maintain social distancing — that is difficult to do in jobs like hair stylist or massage therapist or fitness instructor — then they run the risk of spreading COVID-19 and making the situation worse.

There are no simple choices here.  As long as Trump is President, we are likely to pursue unwise economic policies.  Nobel-prize-winning economist Joseph Stiglitz (https://www.theguardian.com/business/2020/apr/22/top-economist-us-coronavirus-response-like-third-world-country-joseph-stiglitz-donald-trump?CMP=Share_iOSApp_Other ) recently observed, ““If you leave it to Donald Trump and Mitch McConnell [the Republican Senate majority leader] we will have a Great Depression. If we had the right policy structure in place we could avoid it easily.”  Stiglitz noted, “14% of the [U.S.] population [is] dependent on food stamps… the social infrastructure [can] not cope with an unemployment rate that could hit 30% in the coming months.”

What this means is that we have to both hunker down — suffer through the impact of the depression — and do everything we can to get Trump out of office (and elect a progressive Senate and House of Representatives).  Trump is making a bad situation worse.

Donald Trump:  We’re way past the point where we hoped that Trump would grow into the job.  What we see is what we’re stuck with for the next nine months.  Trump is incapable of the leadership this catastrophe requires.

It would be better if Trump retired from the scene and left the day-to-day decision making to Vice President Pence and congressional leaders.  But, of course, Trump won’t do this.  He will continue to blunder around the oval office like the proverbial bull in the china shop.

Trump is dangerous.  First we saw him deny that COVID-19 was a problem.  Then we saw him claim that his Administration had everything under control.  Next he claimed that “Anybody that wants a test [for the coronavirus] can get a test.”  Then we saw him push hydroxychloroquine as a miracle cure…

Now we’re seeing Trump try to open up the economy before it is safe to do this: “We cannot let the cure be worse than the problem itself.”  He’s actively supporting armed protestors that are trying to “liberate” states like Michigan.  He’s at the edge of fomenting civil war.

There are 270 days before Trump is out of office.  During the next 9 months he’s liable to say and do a lot of crazy things.  And no Republican will stand up to him.

What we have to do is stay cool.  And we must work as hard as we can to remove Trump, and his Republican lackeys, from office.

Newsom’s Plan for California’s Recovery

On April 14, California Governor Gavin Newsom detailed what will be required before the Golden State can begin to open up, shake off the effects of the COVID-19 pandemic. Newsom’s grim assessment stands in marked contrast to the position of Donald Trump.

While acknowledging that California has made significant progress “flattening the curve” of the pandemic, Newsom cautioned that it was premature to declare victory: “As we contemplate reopening parts of our state, we must be guided by science and data, and we must understand that things will look different than before.” (https://www.gov.ca.gov/2020/04/14/governor-newsom-outlines-six-critical-indicators-the-state-will-consider-before-modifying-the-stay-at-home-order-and-other-covid-19-interventions/ )  California currently has 28,156 Coronavirus cases and a mortality rate of 3.4 percent — compared with 5.1 percent for the U.S.

Newsom presented a six-part plan that will enable California’s leaders to determine when to begin to “dial back” the current stay-at-home order:

  • The ability to monitor and protect our communities through testing, contact tracing, isolating, and supporting those who are positive or exposed;
  • The ability to prevent infection in people who are at risk for more severe COVID-19;
  • The ability of the hospital and health systems to handle surges;
  • The ability to develop therapeutics to meet the demand;
  • The ability for businesses, schools, and child care facilities to support physical distancing; and
  • The ability to determine when to reinstitute certain measures, such as the stay-at-home orders, if necessary.

1.Testing: Throughout the United States, approximately 1 percent of the population has been tested  — 3.4 million.  California has only tested 227,600 — .5 percent.  Newsom points out the obvious: we need to do more testing.  Two questions need to be examined: “How prepared is California to test everyone who is symptomatic?” and, “Does California have the ability to identify contacts of those who are positive to reduce further transmission?”  (Of the 28,156 California COVID-19 cases, 10,146 are in Los Angeles County; where, so far, testing has been inadequate.)

2. Protecting the most vulnerable:  In California, the coronavirus has struck all sectors of the community.  Seniors and “special circumstances” populations are particularly vulnerable.  Newsom pointed out two obvious questions that need to be examined before we modify the stay-at-home order: “Are older Californians and the medically vulnerable living in their own homes supported so they can continue appropriate physical distancing?  and, Has California developed a plan to quickly identify and contain outbreaks in facilities housing older Californians, those living with disabilities, those currently incarcerated, and those with co-morbidities? ” Obviously adequate testing is a pre-requisite.  But so is additional financial support for older Californians.

3. Strengthening hospitals and health systems:  California’s hospitals/health systems are barely covering our current caseload — 25,833 active cases; there’s a statewide shortage of masks and PPE (personal protective equipment).  Newsom wants to address these shortages to make sure California has the capacity to deal with a sudden influx of coronavirus cases.  “Do we have adequate bed capacity, staff and supplies such as ventilators and masks? Can our healthcare system adequately address COVID- 19 and other critical healthcare needs?”  It’s estimated that California is short several hundred million masks.  Recently Newsom signed a deal to procure millions of masks each month. (https://calmatters.org/health/coronavirus/2020/04/california-coronavirus-mask-shortage-solution-deal-newsom/ )

4. Developing Therapeutics:  “Have we built a coalition of private, public, and academic partners to accelerate the development of therapeutics?  Have we identified potential therapeutics that have shown promise?”  When Governor Newsom speaks of therapeutics he means not only a COVID-19 vaccine but also the related antibody-blood test.

5. Strengthening the ability for businesses, schools, and child care facilities to support physical distancing: Newsom mentioned that the new California normal will likely include substantial social-distancing measures.  “Have we worked with businesses to support physical distancing practices and introduced guidelines to provide health checks when employees or the general public enter the premises?  Do we have supplies and equipment to keep the workforce and customers safe?”  Once again, an important element of this is fast reliable testing.

6. Developing the ability to determine when to reinstitute certain measures, such as the stay-at-home orders, if necessary: “Are we tracking the right data to provide us an early warning system?  Do we have the ability to quickly communicate the need to reinstate these measures?”

Several things jump out from Newsom’s presentation.  The first is that we won’t be ready to start reopening California until we have substantially more tests — we’ve only tested 227,600.  Newsom talked about ramping up testing to a level of “tens of thousands per day.”  In two weeks, he plans to report back on our progress reaching this goal.  By May 1, the Golden State should have at least tested 1 million (2.5 percent).

By May 15, California should have received it’s first big delivery of masks and PPE.  If this happens, and testing has expanded — to perhaps 10 million residents, this might be the time to begin reopening the Golden State.

The second thing Governor Newsom made clear, is that  when California reopens things will look different as.  For example, when we go to our favorite restaurant we’ll be wearing masks and be tested at the door; the restaurant is likely to configure fewer tables and have disposable menus.

The third thing that Gavin Newsom made clear is that he is an authentic leader.  Watching the April 14th Newsom speech was to be reminded how inadequate Donald Trump is.  Newsom was calmly informative — he spoke for about 30 minutes and then handed the microphone to the state’s public health officer, Sonia Angell. It was impossible to imagine Trump giving a similar presentation.

Postscript: On April 17, Donald Trump presented his recovery “plan” (https://assets.documentcloud.org/documents/6840739/Guidelines-PDF.pdf ) and punted to the states: “You’re going to call your own shots,” Trump told U.S. governors, according to an audio recording provided to the New York Times.  Trump acknowledged the importance of comprehensive testing but did not propose a national plan for rapid testing.  In California, we’r fortunate to have a governor who has stepped into this leadership breach and prepared a real plan for recovery.

Free Fall

There’s a classic routine featured in the early silent comedy films.  Action begins when a worker digs a big hole and walks away, leaving no warning sign. Next, an innocent walker falls into the hole.

The denouement takes one of three forms: In the first, the walker falls all the way through the earth and exits in China.  In the second, the walker falls onto a trampoline and bounces out of the hole.  The third outcome is when the walker falls for awhile and then lands on something such as coal car or an underground river or a (fat) policeman.

Here in California, as a result of the pandemic-inspired shelter-in-place order, we’ve fallen into a hole.  Many of us are in free fall.

I’m not afraid of falling all the way to China.  But I know people who are: restaurant workers who don’t know when they’ll get another job and can’t pay their bills.  Or gig workers…

On the other hand, I don’t expect to quickly bounce back.  We’ve been sheltering in place for three weeks and don’t know when it will end.  But I do know folks who are carrying on with their (more or less) normal jobs: government employees, healthcare workers, and folks in essential trades.

I’m going to be falling for awhile and don’t know where I will land.  Will it all end pleasantly, like swooping down the slide at a water park?  Or will I land on the COVID-19 monster that sucks the air out of our lungs?

How Long Will We Shelter In Place?

It’s disconcerting to be in a novel situation where we have no control over what’s going to happen next. That’s where we find ourselves in the midst of the Coronavirus pandemic. In California, we’ve been sheltering-in-place for two weeks and Governor Newsom indicates that it will continue “for as long as it takes.”  Here’s my prediction of how this is going to play out.

1.Shelter-in-Place isn’t going to end soon.  Life won’t return to “normal” until there is a Covid-19 vaccine.  Until there is a reliable, widely-available vaccine, most of us are going to have to live sequestered lives.  Experts, such as Dr. Anthony Fauci, tell us we won’t have a vaccine for at least a year.  (https://www.newsweek.com/coronavirus-vaccine-treatment-antiviral-speed-covid-19-1491292)  So be prepared to hunker down for an extended period.

In Sonoma County, where I live, county officials have just received the results of a detailed analysis of how effective our “shelter-in-place” program has been. (https://www.pressdemocrat.com/news/10871235-181/during-a-surge-1500-sonoma) The good news is that it seems to have made a big difference in the number of cases here (95).  The bad news is that the number of Covid-19 infections will not peak until June and then begin a gradual decline that will stretch out for 300 days — unless we have a vaccine.

2. The United States is going to be segmented into quarantine zones.  We can already see this with the news that states adjacent to New York, New Jersey, and Connecticut are restricting travel from the three states — that have about 50 percent of the U.S. Coronavirus cases.

Meanwhile, “shelter-in-place” orders vary from state to state.  That’s a particular problem in the South where the number of Coronavirus cases is exploding, particularly in Florida and Louisiana.  That suggests that certain areas of the United States will soon become so toxic that travel restrictions will be issued.  BB’s prediction: There will be four quarantine zones: the northeast; the south — including Texas; the center — Nebraska to Ohio; and the west — Colorado to California.

3. Some states will “recover” from the Coronavirus crisis before others do.  That doesn’t mean their shelter-in-place programmed will be over.  It means that these states have “flattened the curve;” for example, Washington started social distancing on March 11 (https://www.washingtonpost.com/nation/2020/04/01/lockdown-coronavirus-california-data/) and for the past week, the number of new Covid-19 cases has diminished.  Here in California, there’s a growing consensus that we have “flattened the curve,” particularly in the San Francisco Bay Area where we began aggressive social distancing on March 14.

As noted above, the Sonoma County shelter-in-place program appears to be effective but will  continue for the foreseeable future — until there’s a vaccine.  Before that happens, we’ll hit several important milestones.

Milestone I: In a major area, there are no new cases.  Obviously, it will be a good sign if there are no Coronavirus cases in your area.  Sonoma County forecasts this will happen around the end of 2020.  That won’t mean that we can abandon “shelter-in-place” but it will mean that there will be a heartening reduction in demand for hospital facilities; and we can adopt other interventions, such as aggressive contact tracing.

Milestone II: There’s a test available that permits us to identify individuals who are immune to the Coronavirus.  Several companies are working on an antibodies test: “The tests are designed to detect whether a person has developed antibodies to the COVID-19 virus, indicating that they were at one time a carrier and may have built up immunity.” (https://www.businessinsider.com/coronavirus-germany-covid-19-immunity-certificates-testing-social-distancing-lockdown-2020-3 )  “Gerard Krause, the [German] epidemiologist leading the project, [said] that people who are immune ‘could be given a type of vaccination card that, for example, allows them to be exempted from restrictions on their work.'”

An American biotech company is testing the entire community of Telluride, Colorado, to determine which of the 8000+ residents have Covid-19 antibodies.  (https://abcnews.go.com/Health/antibody-testing-colorado-town-provide-forward/story?id=69856623 )  Once again, the notion is that these residents would be exempt from the “shelter-in-place” restrictions.

Here in the Sonoma County, once we get antibodies tests, we’ll first use them to test those on the frontlines of the pandemic: healthcare professionals and first responders.  Then we’ll test other critical professionals, such as employees at nursing homes and community health centers.

Milestone III: Creation of Safe Zones.  On Monday, Donald Trump announced that 1 million citizens had been tested for Covid-19.  Given that the U.S. population is 330.5 million, that means that .3 percent of residents have been tested.  Trump said that tests were being generated at the rate of 100,000 per day. (https://www.wired.com/story/video-coronavirus-testing-in-the-us/ )  That’s woefully inadequate.  Even if the U.S. tested 1 million citizens per day, it would take more than 11 months to test us all.  (On March 29, the New York Times (https://www.nytimes.com/2020/03/28/us/testing-coronavirus-pandemic.html ) detailed the U.S. decision errors that led to this testing crisis.)

If you are in an area where there are few or no Covid-19 patients, you may wonder why folks in your area need to be tested and why you have to shelter-in-place.  The answer is that a large percentage of those infected with the Coronavirus are not symptomatic.  “As many as 25 percent of people infected with the new coronavirus may not show symptoms, the director of the [Federal] Centers for Disease Control and Prevention warns.” (https://www.nytimes.com/2020/03/31/health/coronavirus-asymptomatic-transmission.html) You, and everyone in your area, needs to be tested so you know whether you are truly safe.

Unless there’s a dramatic increase in the rate of testing, there’s no alternative but to “shelter-in-place.”  In the meantime, we can use the test kits we receive to test potential Covid-19 cases and to create safe zones.

Sonoma County has 95 Coronavirus cases.  We’ve tested 1915 individuals in a county of 500,000 residents (.38 percent) — our testing has been delayed by the unavailability of swabs.  As we receive more intact test kits, the logical way to use them — beyond testing suspected Coronavirus patients — is to first test healthcare providers, and their families, and then emergency responders, and their families.  At a certain volume of test availability, we will be able to create safe zones; for example, determine that a cluster of nursing homes is Covid-19 free.

How long will we shelter in place?  Months.  Probably as long as it takes to develop and deploy a Covid-19 vaccine.

Ready or Not, Here Comes the Recession

The U.S. economy is heading into recession. Washington politicians are trying to prevent this but a prolonged period of negative growth appears inevitable. What should we expect?

The Coronavirus pandemic has impacted the economy: the stock market (DJIA) has fallen about 7,000 points; there’s been a huge spike in unemployment claims; and economists are predicting that the U.S. economy will have negative growth for at least the next two quarters — the technical definition of recession.

Both Democrats and Republicans worry about the recession.  Congress is on the verge of passing a massive ($2 trillion) stimulus bill.

Meanwhile, Donald Trump is toying with the notion of declaring (premature) victory over the Coronavirus and broadcasting that “America is open for business.”  On March 23rd, Texas Lieutenant Governor Dan Patrick (R) argued that social distancing measures against the Coronavirus should be lifted to let Americans go back to work, even if it means older people becoming infected with the illness. “Those of us who are 70+, we’ll take care of ourselves but don’t sacrifice the country…  We all want to live with our grandchildren as long as we can. But the point is our biggest gift we give to our country and our children and our grandchildren is the legacy of our country, and right now, that is at risk.”  (https://talkingpointsmemo.com/news/texas-dan-patrick-grandparents-sacrifice-lives-coronavirus-economy )  There’s an emerging conservative stance that values stock-market gains over American lives.

Meanwhile, three factors have pushed the economy into recession: unemployment produced by the Coronavirus pandemic; collapse of the oil market; and perforation of the corporate debt bubble.

1. Unemployment resulting from the pandemic.  On March 23, St. Louis Federal Reserve president James Bullard warned that the U.S. unemployment rate could hit 30 percent in the second quarter. On March 26, the Department of Labor announced that a record 3.3 million Americans had registered for unemployment benefits (https://www.bbc.com/news/business-52050426).

Unemployment will play out differently throughout the country.  On March 25, California Governor Newsom reported that, since March 13, one million Californians had applied for unemployment insurance.  Golden State economists say the hardest hit economic sectors will be hospitality and food services, and transportation.

In terms of contribution to California’s GDP, the largest sector is “Finance, Insurance, and Real Estate;” this sector, and “Construction,” will be certainly impacted by the pandemic, and by the concomitant credit crisis. California’s “Manufacturing” and “Publication/Media” sector’s have already been affected.  (in fact, all the sector’s will be impacted with the exception of “Government” and “Health Care/Social Assistance.”)

In Sonoma County, where I live, the biggest impact has been on the “Hospitality/Food Services” sector, which has, for the most part, shut down.   (Hospitality is the largest industrial sector in the County; it includes hotels, motels, vacation rentals, restaurants, wine tasting rooms and brewpubs.)  Outdoor recreation has also cratered.  As a result, the unemployment rate in Sonoma County is likely to spike to 20% or more.  (https://www.pressdemocrat.com/business/10837277-181/job-losses-mount-in-sonoma)

In my small community, we all know someone whose business has shut down or whose friend or relative has lost their job.  Looking at the Bay Area, in general, we all know someone who was working a couple of jobs, in order to make ends meet — participants in the “gig” economy.  Typically, one of those jobs is now gone — such as driving for Uber.  For those who rented out a room or “granny unit” via Airbnb, this source of income has also dried up.

2. The collapse of the oil market.  On December 30, the price of a barrel of oil was $63.05; on March 26, the price had fallen to $21.90.  Forbes (https://www.forbes.com/sites/christopherhelman/2020/03/26/oil-headed-to-10-a-barrel-as-virus-lockdown-eradicates-fuel-demand/#28303fb26d00) reported that some analysts expect the price to fall to $10 per barrel.

This abrupt change has dramatically affected the “Energy” sector.   While this has only a slight impact on the California economy, it has major consequences for Oklahoma, Texas, Wyoming, North Dakota, Alaska, and Louisiana.  (A recent Brookings study indicated: “The most exposed metro area nationwide is the oil-and-gas town of Midland, Texas, with 42% of its workforce in high-risk industries. Other major energy producers such as Odessa and Laredo, Texas as well as Houma-Thibodaux, La. also land in the top 10 most affected.”)

In other words, in parallel with the pandemic impact on economic sectors such as Hospitality and Transportation, much of the fossil-fuel energy sector is likely to collapse.

3. The perforation of the corporate debt bubble.  Recently the Financial Times (https://www.ft.com/content/27cf0690-5c9d-11ea-b0ab-339c2307bcd4) reported:
“The shock that coronavirus has wrought on markets across the world coincides with a dangerous financial backdrop marked by spiralling global debt. According to the Institute of International Finance, a trade group, the ratio of global debt to gross domestic product hit an all-time high of over 322 per cent in the third quarter of 2019, with total debt reaching close to $253tn… A comparison of today’s circumstances with the period before the [2008] financial crisis is instructive… an important difference now is that the debt focus in the private sector is not on property and mortgage lending, but on loans to the corporate sector…  The rise is most striking in the US, where the Fed estimates that corporate debt has risen from $3.3tn before the financial crisis to $6.5tn last year.”

Corporations with excessive debt include Ford, Halliburton, Kraft-Heinz, and Macy’s.  Some banks are affected as are many corporations in the Energy sector.

What this means is that, aside from the impact of the pandemic, some U.S. companies will fail because of the collapse of the debt bubble.

Summary: On March 26, the Chairman of the Federal Reserve, Jerome Powell, said, “We may well be in a recession… The virus is going to dictate the timetable.”

On March 25, NYU Economics Professor Nouriel Roubini (https://www.theguardian.com/business/2020/mar/25/coronavirus-pandemic-has-delivered-the-fastest-deepest-economic-shock-in-history) spoke of the timetable:

“[E]very component of aggregate demand – consumption, capital spending, exports – is in unprecedented freefall… The contraction that is now under way looks to be neither V- nor U- nor L-shaped (a sharp downturn followed by stagnation). Rather, it looks like an I: a vertical line representing financial markets and the real economy plummeting….Not even during the Great Depression and the second world war did the bulk of economic activity literally shut down, as it has in China, the US and Europe today.”

Hold on tight, we’re entering rough water.

The Pandemic Election: 10 Predictions

The first U.S. Coronavirus case was reported on January 20th. Since then, 19,155 Americans have tested positive and 250 have died. There are many consequences of this pandemic but it’s sure to affect the 2020 presidential election. Here are ten predictions.

1.The Coronavirus pandemic will not be over quickly and, therefore, it will affect the conduct of the presidential election.  The Democratic convention is scheduled to open July 13th.  It seems unlikely that it will convene in its normal form.

Recently, Donald Trump stated that he expects the pandemic to go on until “July or August.”  Some experts believe it may go for a year or more — until a vaccine is developed to deal with the Coronavirus.  Therefore, it’s likely that the pandemic will be with us for, at least, the next six months and dramatically affect the conduct of the presidential election.

2. The pandemic will affect the economy.  It’s obvious that the Coronavirus pandemic will impact the economy: the stock market (DJIA) has fallen over 10,000 points; there’s been a spike in unemployment claims; and economists are predicting that the U.S. economy has slipped into a recession — with negative growth for at least the next two quarters.

To say the least, times are dire.  Americans have to fear the Coronavirus and the collapse of our economy.  (It seems the two are intertwined; the economy will not recover until the course of the pandemic is more predictable.)

Obviously, this recession will be fodder for the 2020 election.

3. All aspects of the Republican and Democratic political campaigns will be impacted by the pandemic and recession.  We’ve already seen the end of political rallies and conventional — press-the-flesh — fundraisers.

At the same time the Coronavirus crisis has deepened, Joe Biden has emerged as the presumptive Democratic candidate. In the meantime, Donald Trump is on the news each morning, playing the role of “wartime President” in the daily Coronavirus press briefing.  The question for Biden is how can he get a reasonable amount of media time.

4. The format of the political conventions will be altered.   The Democratic convention is in July and the Republican convention will occur in August.  It’s unlikely that the pandemic will have sufficiently abated to permit these event to go forward in their usual manner; no doubt there will be “virtual” conventions.

There are all sorts of logistical issues to be solved in the virtual convention format: how will votes be counted?  How will typical convention items — such as the Party platforms — be determined?

5. Some prominent politicians will be infected.  Two members of the House of Representatives have tested positive for the Coronavirus and approximately twenty others are in “self-quarantine.”  (https://www.cnn.com/2020/03/09/politics/coronavirus-lawmakers-quarantine-isolation/index.html)  At least one member of the White House staff has tested positive and others are in self-quarantine.

It’s only a matter of time before a major American political figure tests positive for the Coronavirus.  When this happens, it’s conceivable that the course of the election may be impacted.  (For example, a Senator — up for reelection — may be stricken.)

6. Congress will change the way it votes.  At the moment, Congressional votes require Senators or Representatives to come to the floor of their respective chambers.  It’s highly likely that these rules will change, permitting members of Congress to vote without leaving their regional offices.  (Obviously, this change has security consequences.)

7. Both the Biden and the Trump campaign will be impacted by the pandemic.  The crisis will particularly hurt Donald Trump (https://www.washingtonpost.com/politics/2020/03/09/3-ways-coronavirus-could-end-trumps-presidency/ ): a. The state of the economy had worked in Trump’s favor but now the economy has gone into the tank.  b. Trump has done a terrible job handling the pandemic and this will hurt him in the polls. c. The current situation emphasizes the need for an improved healthcare system and Trump has taken many actions to undermine the current healthcare system.  In addition, moving the presidential campaign into a virtual format will hurt Trump because it will deprive him of his big rallies.

On the other hand, Trump has amassed a war chest of millions of dollars intended to go after the Democratic candidate via social media.  This strategy could give Trump a huge head start over Biden.

8. Biden and Trump will definitely debate.  The first presidential debate is scheduled for September.  Before the pandemic hit, Trump was making noises that suggested he would not debate the Democratic candidate.  (https://www.nytimes.com/2019/12/12/us/politics/trump-presidential-debate-democrat.html)  Now he doesn’t have a choice.  At the moment, Real Clear Politics shows Biden with a 7.4 percent lead over Trump and, as the pandemic/recession plays out, the gap will widen.  Trump will complain about the debate format and moderator, but he will be forced to debate.

9. The debate issues will be shaped by the pandemic.  If the presidential debate were to be held today, the issues would be the economy, healthcare, and presidential leadership.  Biden would have the advantage.

10. The format of the November election will be impacted by the pandemic.  On November 3rd, it’s likely that vast swaths of the United States will still be under orders to “shelter in place.”  This means that most states will have to offer residents the choice of voting by mail.  (29 states already permit some form of voting by mail.)

Or maybe I’m wrong.  Perhaps this will all be over in a week.  In any event, we should hope for the best and prepare for the worst.  Stay safe.

Joe Biden: Pro and Con

Wow! Over a four day span, stretching from the South Carolina Democratic Primary to the conclusion of “Super Tuesday,” Joe Biden vaulted from the position of a marginal Democratic presidential candidate to the frontrunner. The 538 website now predicts that Biden has a 93 percent chance of winning the Democratic nomination.  Here’s my assessment of Biden’s pros and cons.

The latest Real Clear Politics summary of national polls shows Biden beating Trump by an average of 6.3 percent.  Nonetheless, we remember all too well that Clinton led Trump throughout a long and agonizing campaign and then lost the election, courtesy of the electoral college.  Uncle Joe can beat Trump but it’s far from certain.

Pros.  1. Electability: After the South Carolina primary, it was clear to most Democrats that the race for the nomination had narrowed to four contenders: Biden, Bloomberg, Sanders, and Warren.  Before Super Tuesday there was a massive shift towards Biden, primarily on the basis of electability; late-deciding voters preferred Joe.  (https://fivethirtyeight.com/features/what-we-know-about-the-voters-who-swung-super-tuesday-for-biden/)

Bloomberg appeared to lose favor after being savaged by Elizabeth Warren in the February 19th Democratic debate.  As for Senator Warren, she never broke into the top tier in any of the early Democratic contests — there are a lot of theories about why this was the case, but the simplest explanation is that she was the victim of sexism; most Democratic males did not take her candidacy seriously.

Given this, why did late-deciding voters break for Biden rather than Sanders?  Probably because of the Coronavirus pandemic: Democrats wanted a steady hand on the wheel and decided that, because of temperament, their choice would be Joe Biden rather than Bernie Sanders.

2. Broad Coalition:  Exit polls from the March 10th Michigan Democratic Primary, showed that Biden assembled a much broader coalition than did Sanders.  Biden carried women, African-Americans, white men (with college degree and without), and “mainstream” Democrats; Sanders strongest categories were young voters (18 to 29) and those defining themselves a “very liberal.”

3. Coattails: There is a broad perception, among Democratic voters, that Joe Biden will have stronger coattails than Bernie Sanders.  Democratic candidate Michael Bloomberg made this assertion: “Bernie Sanders would ‘jeopardize’ the re-election of 42 House Democrats in battleground districts and therefore the party’s majority rule of the chamber if the self-described Democratic socialist becomes the party’s nominee for president.”

In 2020, Democrats have to take back both the Presidency and the Senate.  If “Moscow Mitch” McConnell remains Senate Majority Leader, he will block most Democratic legislative initiatives.  From here, the contested Senate seats are: Arizona, Colorado, Georgia, Maine, and North Carolina.  (Democrats have to win four.)

Consider the situation in Arizona, where there’s a contested Senate seat now held by Republican Martha McSally — a Trump acolyte.  In the 2020 Arizona Senatorial election, she’ll be opposed by former astronaut Mark Kelly — husband of former U.S. Representative Gabby Giffords.  In 2016, Arizona narrowly went to Trump.  At the moment, Biden and Trump are even in Arizona; Trump is ahead of Sanders by seven percentage points.  (In the other states, Biden consistently outperforms Sanders in a head-to-head contest with Trump.)

Cons.  1. Mental Acuity: Biden has long had a reputation for gaffes.  (Just recently, he told a Detroit gun enthusiast that he was “full of shit.”)  Part of the problem has been that Biden tends to be longwinded, and go off script and this creates the opportunity for gaffes.  Recently, Biden’s speeches have been more disciplined.  (https://www.stamfordadvocate.com/news/article/Biden-s-shorter-speeches-give-fewer-chances-for-15118385.php )

In the general election, Trump will probably attack Biden’s mental health (https://www.theguardian.com/us-news/2020/mar/05/donald-trump-joe-biden-health-attack).  After Super Tuesday, Trump tweeted: “Then we have this crazy thing that happened on Tuesday, which [Biden] thought was Thursday, but he also said 150 million people were killed with guns and that he was running for the United States Senate. There’s something going on there.”  Look who is talking about mental health!

Biden has always been gaffe-prone.  As long as he stays on script, Uncle Joe’s mental health shouldn’t be an issue in presidential contest.

2. Insider Status: Bernie Sanders has attacked Joe Biden as the consummate Washington insider.  In 1972, at the age of 30, Biden became Delaware’s U.S. Senator and served in the Senate for the next 36 years, leaving when he became Vice President in 2009.

Of course, Sanders and Trump paint themselves as populist outsiders who intend to “drain the swamp.”  (Trump has little to show for this pledge.)

Because of the Coronavirus pandemic, most voters want a steady hand on the wheel of state and are likely to consider Biden’s long Washington experience as a plus, as an indication that he knows how to implement the programs required to deal with this emergency.

3. Track Record: Because Joe Biden has 44-year record of service, as Senator and Vice-President, he’s been involved in a lot of legislation: some good and some not so good.  For example, Sanders and Trump have attacked Biden because he voted for NAFTA.

In normal times, Biden’s track record might be a problem for him but these are not normal times.  And Donald Trump has a track record, too; a record of broken promises and bungled initiatives.  (For example, we remember Trump’s campaign promise to invest $550 Billion in America’s infrastructure.)

Bottom Line:  This has turned into a confidence and competency election.  Biden leads Trump on both of these factors.