Category Archives: Political

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.

Bernie Sanders: Pro and Con

It appears that Bernie Sanders will win the Democratic Nomination — the 538 website rates his chances as “1 in 2.” Bernie is not my favorite candidate; nonetheless, if he wins the Democratic nomination, I’ll work hard for him. Here’s my assessment of Bernie’s strengths and weaknesses.

The latest Real Clear Politics summary of national polls shows Sanders beating Trump by an average of 4.7 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.  Bernie can beat Trump but it’s far from certain.  (https://www.washingtonpost.com/politics/2020/02/24/who-would-win-trump-sanders-election/)

Sanders’ strengths:  1. Enthusiasm.  If you’ve followed the 2020 Democratic nomination process, you’ve probably noticed that Bernie Sanders’ followers are the most enthusiastic.  There are a lot of reasons for this, but Sanders’ rallies have the most energy.

It isn’t always the case that follower enthusiasm translates into get-out-the-vote energy, but it is a major consideration; in my experience, 2008 Obama election workers were more enthusiastic than 2016 Clinton workers.  Enthusiasm is an important factor because, at the moment, Democratic voters, in general, are more enthusiastic than Republican voters.  (https://www.reuters.com/article/us-usa-election-enthusiasm-exclusive/exclusive-ahead-of-2020-election-a-blue-wave-is-rising-in-the-cities-polling-analysis-shows-idUSKBN20D1EG )

Imagine two campaign rallies in Ohio: one for Trump and the other for the Democratic nominee.  Only a Bernie rally would match the enthusiasm at the Trump rally.  This makes sense because both candidates rile up their audience with a populist, “blow up the establishment” message.

2. Broad Coalition: Bernie appears to be able to build the broad coalition that Democrats have been yearning for.  The Nevada Democratic caucus exit polls (https://www.washingtonpost.com/graphics/politics/entrance-polls-2020-nevada-caucuses/) indicate that Sanders carried most Demographic groups; for example, all age groups except those voters aged 65 and over.  (Sanders carried 29 percent of White-non Hispanic voters and 51 percent of Hispanic voters.)

A lot of concerns that we might have had about  Bernie’s ability to build a broad coalition have been assuaged in the last couple of weeks.  His core message resonates with all segments of he Democratic Party  — although he needs to do more to reach out to women who were once ardent Hillary supporters.  (Bernie’s core message is “the system is rigged:” “Bernie has fought tirelessly for working families, focusing on the shrinking middle class and growing gap between the rich and everyone else.”)

3. Swing State Strength:  Hillary Clinton lost in 2016 because she faltered in critical swing states: Michigan, Pennsylvania, and Wiscconsin.  According to Real Clear Politics, in Michigan, Sanders leads Trump by 5.3 percent; in Pennsylvania, Sanders leads Trump by 3 percent; and in Wisconsin, Trump leads Sanders by 1 percent.  (BTW: In the last Ohio poll, Sanders was ahead of Trump; they’re tied in Florida.)

Sanders’ weaknesses: 1. Socialist label: Bernie describes himself as a “Democratic Socialist.”  This has given pundits a huge opportunity to criticize him.  Many mainstream-media talking heads have declared that because of his socialist label, Sanders will never beat Trump.  I’m not convinced that the socialist label will make that much of a difference.

First, Sanders isn’t really a socialist.  New York Times columnist, Paul Krugman, observed: “The thing is, Bernie Sanders isn’t actually a socialist in any normal sense of the term. He doesn’t want to nationalize our major industries and replace markets with central planning; he has expressed admiration, not for Venezuela, but for Denmark. He’s basically what Europeans would call a social democrat — and social democracies like Denmark are, in fact, quite nice places to live, with societies that are, if anything, freer than our own.”

Second, there will be two kinds of 2020 campaign ads: vitriol and substance.  The Republican vitriol ads will call Bernie a socialist and predict dire consequences.  The Democratic vitriol ads will call Trump a pathological liar and a Russian asset.  If you already like Trump you will vote for him regardless of the negative ads; if you don’t like Trump, you’re unlikely to vote for him regardless of what they say about Bernie.

Nonetheless, a recent academic study published in Vox (https://www.vox.com/policy-and-politics/2020/2/25/21152538/bernie-sanders-electability-president-moderates-data ) suggests that a Sanders’ candidacy would be problematic: “Our survey data reveals voters of all parties moving to Trump if Sanders is nominated, a liability papered over by young voters who claim they would be inspired to vote by Sanders alone.”

2. Weak Coattails:  The main reason Democratic pundits are worried about Bernie is because they fear that a “Democratic Socialist” will hurt “down ballot” Democratic candidates.  Democratic candidate Michael Bloomberg has 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, Kansas, 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.  Would Bernie Sanders help or hurt Mark Kelly?

I think that having Bernie as the 2020 Democratic nominee will help improve Arizona voter turnout and that will help Mark Kelly.  Republicans will run negative ads targeting Bernie and Democrats will run negative ads targeting Trump; those will cancel out.

The Nevada exit polls indicated that the most important issues were: health care, climate change, and income inequality. If these are the most important issues in (neighboring) Arizona, Sanders will help Mark Kelly  because Bernie is much stronger on these issues than is Trump.  (Actually Trump isn’t strong on any issue other than the “economy” and, at the moment, this is teetering because of the impact of the coronavirus.)

I believe that Bernie will help down-ballot Democratic senatorial candidates in Arizona, Colorado, and Maine.  I’m not sure about Georgia, Kansas, and North Carolina.

3. Temperament: Like Trump, Bernie offers his own brand of charisma.  That attracts loyal followers but masks his irascibility.  He really is crochety Uncle Bernie.

Writing in the New York Times ( https://www.nytimes.com/2020/02/26/opinion/bernie-sanders.html?referringSource=articleShare), Frank Bruni observes: “[Bernie Sanders] isn’t and has never been popular with his Democratic colleagues in the Senate… I know that because I’ve heard some of those colleagues talk about him, describing him as arrogant, uncooperative, unyielding, even mean.”

Summary: Maybe the 2020 election will come down to “our S.O.B. versus their S.O.B.”  Personally, I’d hoped that the Democratic candidate would be someone who could make progress on healing the nation.  Perhaps that’s too much to hope for.

Evaluating the Democratic Candidates

We’re heading towards March 3rd, “Super Tuesday,” and the race for the Democratic presidential nomination remains competitive.  A field of 29 candidates has been winnowed to eight: Joe Biden, Mike Bloomberg, Peter Buttigieg, Tulsi Gabbard, Amy Klobuchar, Bernie Sanders, Tom Steyer, and Elizabeth Warren.  Here’s my evaluation  of the Democratic survivors.

The February 10th Qunnipiac poll (https://poll.qu.edu/national/release-detail?ReleaseID=3655 ) provided us with fresh insight on the state of the Democratic race: “[Bernie] Sanders gets 25 percent of the vote among Democratic voters and independent voters who lean Democratic, while [Joe] Biden gets 17 percent, former New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg receives 15 percent, Senator Elizabeth Warren gets 14 percent, former South Bend Mayor Pete Buttigieg receives 10 percent, and Senator Amy Klobuchar gets 4 percent. No other candidate tops 2 percent.” In other words, heading into Super Tuesday, there are six viable contenders: Bernie, Biden, Bloomberg, Warren, Buttigieg, and Klobuchar.  Tulsi Gabbard and Tom Steyer appear to have fallen far behind.

In evaluating the top six candidates, I’m using four different criteria: (1) who has the best chance of defeating Donald Trump; (2) who does the most to strengthens the overall Democratic ticket; (3) who has the best perspective on “renewing” the presidency, and (4) who champions the best policies.

Who would beat Trump: No matter which of these six candidates is picked to oppose Trump, most Democrats will vote for them.  The February 10th Quinnipiac poll reported: “Among all registered voters, Democratic candidates lead President Trump in general election matchups by between 4 and 9 percentage points: Bloomberg tops Trump 51 – 42 percent;  Sanders defeats Trump 51 – 43 percent;  Biden beats Trump 50 – 43 percent;  Klobuchar defeats Trump 49 – 43 percent;  Warren wins narrowly over Trump 48 – 44 percent; [and] Buttigieg is also slightly ahead of Trump 47 – 43 percent.”

Quinnipiac provides no insight into what fuels these differences, but here are a couple of suggestions: the ultimate 2020 campaign can either be a referendum solely about Trump or it can be a “Which candidate is the least worse” such as the 2016 contest between Clinton and Trump.  If the contest becomes a Trump referendum, then it will focus on Trump’s handling of the economy.  (Quinnipiac noted: “Voters approve 54 – 42 percent of [Trump’s] handling of the economy.”) In that contest, Bloomberg would be the best Democratic candidate to attack Trump’s “stewardship” of the economy.

Of course there will be mudslinging, but in a Trump referendum contest: Bloomberg gets the best mark of 3; Warren and Klobuchar get 2; and the others score 1.

There’s another way to look at the question of who can beat Trump: who would be best to counter the Trump-campaign disinformation juggernaut?  (It’s rumored that Trump has raised $1 billion to campaign via Facebook, Twitter, and similar social-media outlets.(https://www.theatlantic.com/magazine/archive/2020/03/the-2020-disinformation-war/605530/ ))  The only Democratic candidate that has a shot countering this is Bloomberg.  So he gets a bonus point.

Who Strengthens the Overall Democratic Ticket:  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.  So the question is: who will be the best candidate to organize Democrats to make sure they win across the board?

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.  Which 2020 presidential candidate would have the best chance of turning Arizona blue and helping Mark Kelly win the Senate seat?  From here, it would seem that Biden, Bloomberg, and Klobuchar would do the best job, because they are centrist candidates.  Possibly Pete Buttigieg but he is not well known in Arizona.  Because of their brand of liberalism, Sanders and Warren would not play as well.

We can carry this analysis through all the states with a contested Senatorial contest: Alabama, Arizona, Colorado, Georgia, Kansas, Maine, and North Carolina.

Here’s my ranking of the candidates on this vector: (3) Bloomberg, Biden, Klobuchar, (2) Buttigieg, and (1) Sanders and Warren.

Who renews the presidency: It goes without saying that Donald Trump has divided the nation and demeaned the Presidency.  (Even Trump voters don’t like his behavior; they have chosen to ignore his Tweets and manic outbursts.)

Which Democratic candidate would be the best choice to unite the nation, bring dignity back to the White House and civility back to the halls of Congress?  At one time, I thought this perspective favored Joe Biden.  Now I would add Bloomberg, Buttigieg, and Klobuchar.

Another way to parse this factor is to ask: Which of these six candidates is likely to get the most votes from folks who do not traditionally vote Democrat?  I’d say this is Bloomberg, Klobuchar, Buttigieg, and Biden.

Who champions the best policies:  Indivisible (https://scorecard.indivisible.org ) rated the candidates’ policy platforms.  Based on that, Warren and Sanders get a 3, Buttigieg a 2, and Klobuchar, Bloomberg, and Biden a 1.  (Mike Bloomberg didn’t get rated by Indivisible but his policies are very similar to those of Amy Klobuchar.)

While the Democratic primaries may be policy oriented, I suspect that the general election will have a more narrow focus: Trump’s “leadership;” the economy; global climate change; health care; and immigration.  All of the top six Democratic candidates are a strong alternative to Trump.  Nonetheless, Bloomberg would do better on the economy.

Summary: Based on the BB rating system, Mike Bloomberg gets an 11, Amy Klobuchar gets a 9, Peter Buttigieg, Joe Biden, and Elizabeth Warren are tied with 8, and Bernie Sanders has 7.  (This rating is heavily skewed by my perception that Bloomberg and Klobuchar would do the  most for the overall Democratic ticket.)

So what should we expect after Super Tuesday?  I believe that on March 4th we will have a three candidate race: Bloomberg, Buttigieg, and Sanders.  I like Amy Klobuchar but I don’t believe that she has the financial support required to compete effectively on Super Tuesday.  I think that Joe Biden and Elizabeth Warren once had a shot but, for whatever reason, have not garnered enough votes.  After March 3rd, I predict a three-man race.

What I Learned at the Dog Park

I didn’t attend the February 3rd Iowa Democratic Caucuses, but I did hold my own version of the caucus at our neighborhood dog park. The results are probably as accurate as those from Iowa: Biden lost, Bernie and Buttigieg tied for first place, and there’s an opening for Bloomberg.

I live in West Sonoma County — roughly 60 miles above San Francisco.  Most days I take my Australian Shepherd to a well-equipped dog park.  While my Aussie plays, I talk to a regular group of dog owners about dogs, life, and politics.

There’s one golden rule of dog-park behavior: take care of your dog — clean up after him/her and don’t let them abuse other dogs.  If you meet this standard then you are accepted.  And, your political opinion is tolerated.

There may be a Trump supporter among this crew, but they’ve never come out.  Over the past couple of years I’ve noticed that the dog-park crew are overwhelmingly Democrats.  Some of them admit that in the 2016 presidential election they could not bring themselves to vote for Hillary Clinton, but they did not vote for Donald Trump; they either didn’t mark their ballot or voted for Jill Stein.

After the results of the Iowa caucuses were in, I queried the dog-park crew about what they thought the results meant.  Here’s what I learned:

1.Any Democratic candidate is better than Trump but some Democratic candidates are better than others.  (By the way: I never heard anyone say, “If Bernie doesn’t get the nomination, I’m not going to vote” — words that my stepson says he’s heard from His “Burning Man” friends.)

2. Some folks really don’t like Bernie Sanders.  He got the most negative comments of any of the Democratic contenders.  But that doesn’t mean these dog-park denizens won’t vote for Bernie in a contest against Trump.

3. There’s no candidate that elicits universal praise.  Most of the dog-park women like Elizabeth Warren but they are not “disciples” — they don’t have the fervor that we saw, from some women, when Hillary Clinton ran.

4. My homies don’t like Trump because of his poor character.  Sure, they don’t agree with many of his policies — such as his denial of global climate change — but this isn’t what’s driving their political behavior.  The dog-park crew can’t stand Trump as a person.  They cite his lying, intolerance, adversarial approach — “my way or the highway,” and all-around ineptitude.

5. For the dog-park denizens, this election is much more about character than policy.  While from a policy perspective there is a liberal group and a moderate group of candidates, their ultimate choice for the Democratic candidate will be based upon their assessment of who would have the best chance of beating Trump — and bringing dignity back to the oval office.

6. Everyone was surprised that Pete Buttigieg did so well in the Iowa caucuses.  (Buttigieg and Sanders tied for first place.)  The dog-park crew likes Mayor Pete but they don’t know that much about him.  Some wondered if a gay man can beat Trump.

7. No one was surprised that Joe Biden did not win.  People like Joe but they don’t believe he is strong enough to beat Trump.

8. There was mild surprise that Elizabeth Warren came in third.  The dog-park women have Elizabeth as their first choice.  Some men feel that Elizabeth reminds them of a school teacher, who lectured them.

9. I observed that the Iowa result might provide an opening for Michael Bloomberg — who was not on the ballot in Iowa but will be on the ballot for the March 3rd California primary election.  When I made this suggestion, nearly everyone around said, “I’d vote for Bloomberg.”

10. Most of the dog-park crew expect there will be a contentious Democratic Presidential convention in mid-July.

Summary: From this perspective, it looks like the race for the Democratic nomination has narrowed to Buttigieg, Sanders, Warren, and Bloomberg.  For the record, Buttigieg and Warren have dogs; Bloomberg and Sanders don’t.

This is the Way It Ends, Not with a Bang but a Whimper

When I learned that Senate Republicans had blocked witness testimony for the Impeachment Trial, I was reminded of the concluding line from T.S. Eliot’s 1925 poem, “The Hollow Men:” “This is the way the world ends, not with a bang but a whimper.” I wasn’t surprised that Republicans voted to let Trump off the hook; I was surprised that their coverup was so brazen.

Throughout the Impeachment Trial, I have been hoping that some Republican would take the moral high ground and recognize Donald Trump’s perfidy.  It’s not like Trump was accused of a sexual indiscretion, and then lying about it; Trump was accused of jeopardizing national security for political gain, and then obstructing the investigation.  This is a big deal, a clear impeachable offense, and it’s depressing that Republicans do not acknowledge this.

In the end there were 49 votes to allow additional testimony, and 51 votes against.  Two crucial Republican “swing” votes, Lamar Alexander and Lisa Murkowski, voted with the majority.  They both grabbed onto political “escape outlets” that had been proffered by the Trump’s legal team.

Tennessee Senator Alexander said ( https://www.cnn.com/2020/01/30/politics/lamar-alexander-impeachment-witnesses-vote/index.html):

I worked with other senators to make sure that we have the right to ask for more documents and witnesses, but there is no need for more evidence to prove something that has already been proven and that does not meet the United States Constitution’s high bar for an impeachable offense… It was inappropriate for the president to ask a foreign leader to investigate his political opponent and to withhold United States aid to encourage that investigation. When elected officials inappropriately interfere with such investigations, it undermines the principle of equal justice under the law. But the Constitution does not give the Senate the power to remove the president from office and ban him from this year’s ballot simply for actions that are inappropriate.”

In other words, Alexander had made up his mind and saw no need for additional evidence.   Rather than describe Donald Trump’s action as “unlawful,” Alexander deemed them “inappropriate.”  Wow.

Alaska Senator Murkowski said (https://www.cnn.com/2020/01/31/politics/murkowski-impeachment-vote-statement/index.html):

The House chose to send articles of impeachment that are rushed and flawed. I carefully considered the need for additional witnesses and documents, to cure the shortcomings of its process, but ultimately decided that I will vote against considering motions to subpoena… Given the partisan nature of this impeachment from the very beginning and throughout, I have come to the conclusion that there will be no fair trial in the Senate. I don’t believe the continuation of this process will change anything.”

Trump’s legal team offered wavering Republican Senators two escape outlets:  Lamar Alexander took the first, arguing that Trump did something wrong but it was not impeachable.  Lisa Murkowski took the second escape route, arguing that the process was so flawed that it was not possible to have a fair Senate trial and, for that reason, no further testimony was needed. (“This is how it ends, not with a bang but a whimper.”)

Next week, the Senate will “acquit” Donald Trump.

Observing Donald Trump over the past 4 years, we’ve learned he’s an escape artist. Time and again, when we thought damning evidence would bring Trump down, he’s skated away. (It’s one of the reasons his behavior is so outrageous; Trump believes he can get away with anything.)  House Speaker Nancy Pelosi resisted starting impeachment proceedings because she was afraid they would fail and Trump would be emboldened.  Then came the whistleblower complaint and Pelosi had no choice but to launch an impeachment initiative.  Next week, The Impeachment Trial will end.  What will the consequences be?

Trump may be emboldened but we still have John Bolton to hear from.  On  January 26th, the New York Times (https://www.nytimes.com/2020/01/26/us/politics/trump-bolton-book-ukraine.html) revealed: “President Trump told his national security adviser in August that he wanted to continue freezing $391 million in security assistance to Ukraine until officials there helped with investigations into Democrats including the Bidens, according to an unpublished manuscript by the former adviser, John R. Bolton.”

Remember that Donald Trump has long asserted that his (now) famous July 25th phonemail with Ukrainian President Zelensky was “perfect” and “there was no quid pro quo.” (“Unclassified Memorandum of Telephone Conversation” between Donald Trump and Ukrainian President Zelensky (https://www.politico.com/story/2019/09/25/trump-ukraine-phone-call-transcript-text-pdf-1510770 ).)  For most of us, one phrase sticks out: In return for the promise of U.S. assistance, Trump requested, “I would like you do us a favor,” and asked Zelensky to investigate Joe and Hunter Biden.  Trump’s defense team asserted that this phrase was innocent and Trump did not intend to tie a Biden investigation to the provision of military assistance.  Bolton can refute this.  Bolton apparently had a conversation with Trump where Trump said there was a quid pro quo,  That’s a big deal.

But beyond this, the Republican Senators have thwarted the will of the American people.  On January 28th, Quinnipiac (https://www.cnn.com/2020/01/28/politics/quinnipiac-impeachment-poll-witnesses/index.html ) reported: “Three-quarters of registered voters think witnesses should be allowed to testify in the Senate impeachment trial...This includes 49% of Republicans who think witnesses should be allowed to testify, 75% of independents and 95% of Democrats.”  Most voters wanted to hear more evidence but Republican Senators blocked this.

Ultimately, if voters feel cheated, they will take out their ire on Republican Senators who are vulnerable in the 2020 election: Collins (Maine), Ernst (Iowa), Gardiner (Colorado), Loeffler (Georgia), McSally (Arizona), Perdue (Georgia), Tillis (North Carolina), and possibly McConnell (Kentucky).  If voters feel the Senate Impeachment trial was a coverup, then on November 3rd the American public can express their anger by voting out these Senators, and Donald Trump.

Voters can choose to end this dreadful episode with a bang, not a whimper.

Defending Donald Trump

As Donald Trump’s Senate impeachment trial began on January 16th, many of us wondered how Trump’s legal team would respond to the serious accusations contained in the two articles of impeachment. It didn’t take long to realize that these lawyers serve as an extension of Trump; they are responding in the manner we have come to expect from Trump whenever he is confronted with his misdeeds.

Trump is accused of (1) abuse of power and (2) obstruction of Congress.  The abuse of power charge concerns Trump’s conduct with regards to Ukraine:  “President Trump solicited the interference of a foreign government, Ukraine, in the 2020 United States presidential election. He did so through a scheme or course of conduct that included soliciting the government of Ukraine to publicly announce investigations that would benefit his re-election, harm the election prospects of a political opponent, and influence the 2020 United States presidential election to his advantage. President Trump also sought to pressure the government of Ukraine to take these steps by conditioning official United States government acts of significant value to Ukraine on its public announcement of the investigations.

The obstruction of Congress charge concern’s Trump’s unprecedented “stonewalling” of the House of Representatives inquiry:  “Donald J Trump has directed the unprecedented, categorical and indiscriminate defiance of subpoenas issued by the House of Representatives pursuant to its sole power of impeachment.

These are serious charges — much more serious than those charges levied against Bill Clinton, twenty years ago — and deserve serious consideration.  Therefore, it’s reasonable to expect Trump’s legal team to behave professionally.  That’s not happening.

Rather than defend Donald Trump in the conventional manner, Trump’s attorneys have chosen to act as an extension of Trump — to engage in the abrasive and devious behavior that has characterized Trump’s political career.   This behavior has four components.

1. AVOIDANCE: Trump’s attorneys are not directly responding to the accusations.  That is, rather than respond to the accusation that Trump sought to manipulate Ukraine for his own political advantage, Trump’s attorneys respond that Trump’s (notorious) phone call with Ukrainian President Zelensky was “perfect” and then change the subject.

Trump’s lawyers responded to the the articles of impeachment with a 109 page brief (https://www.justsecurity.org/wp-content/uploads/2020/01/ukraine-clearinghouse-Trial-Memorandum-of-President-Donald-J.-Trump-january-20-2020.pdf) that is much more emotional than factual.  In a blistering analysis (https://www.justsecurity.org/68181/four-fundamental-flaws-in-president-trumps-impeachment-trial-memo/) legal scholar Michael Gerhardt stated: “It would take more than 109 pages to correct all of the document’s fallacies and incorrect statements of law and fact… [it is] more of a political screed than a legal document deserving of respect and serious consideration by senators, the public, historians, and constitutional scholars.”

Gerhardt observed that the Trump brief, rather than rely upon reasoned analysis, resorts to “bluster:” “[Thereby] proving the old adage that, ‘If you have the facts on your side, pound the facts. If you have the law on your side, pound the law. If you have neither on your side, pound the table.'”

2. ATTACK: Rather than respond directly to the accusations, Trump — and his attorneys — attack those who formulated them.  As Democrats presented evidence on the abuse-of-power charge, Trump — and his Republican allies — hurled abuse at them (https://www.washingtonpost.com/politics/democrats-scale-back-language-as-trump-and-gop-press-ahead-with-attacks-on-senate-impeachment-trial/2020/01/22/792f642e-3d55-11ea-8872-5df698785a4e_story.html? ).  “The Republican barrage was led by Trump himself, who in Davos, Switzerland, called the top House managers ‘sleazebags’ while denouncing his impeachment as a ‘hoax’ and ‘disgrace’ to his presidency.”

The Trump legal brief began: “The Articles of Impeachment now before the Senate are an affront to the Constitution and to our democratic institutions. The Articles themselves—and the rigged process that brought them here—are a brazenly political act by House Democrats that must be rejected. They debase the grave power of impeachment and disdain the solemn responsibility that power entails… The process that brought the articles here violated every precedent and every principle of fairness followed in impeachment inquiries for more than 150 years.”

3. LIE: Unfortunately, Trump and his lawyers have chosen to lie about many aspects of the impeachment accusations.  Michael Gerhardt noted, “The [Trump legal team] Memorandum is replete with misrepresentations and false statements of fact. For example, it reiterates the canard that the whistleblower’s report is a ‘false account.’ There was nothing false about it. It was corroborated by virtually every witness who testified before the House Intelligence Committee, and so much the worse for the President that the people testifying against him were not Democrats but people he had appointed himself. It does not just strain credulity but decimates it to maintain that everyone who has testified under oath in these hearings is somehow lying while only the President is telling the truth.”

4. MISREPRESENT THE CONSTITUTION:  Finally, Trump and his legal team have not responded to the articles of impeachment with reasoned legal arguments but, instead, with variations on the theme: Trump is above the law.

Michael Gerhardt observed, “The Memorandum is replete with misrepresentations and false claims about the law and about impeachment practices and procedures as well. For example, the Memorandum repeatedly complains that the House did not afford the president ‘due process.’ Throughout the House’s impeachment proceedings, Republicans proclaimed ‘due process’ was a problem. Yet, the very same Republicans who made this complaint were invited to or participated in the closed door depositions the President is now complaining about… The President had these safeguards, and more, throughout the House proceedings. He was given a surplus of fair process (including being invited to attend the testimony of constitutional law scholars and even have his counsel question them), but he turned the opportunities down. Importantly, the President was also given the explicit opportunity… to have his counsel present for hearings and object to the admission of testimony and evidence when that information was submitted to the House Judiciary Committee by the House Intelligence Committee witnesses.”

Summary:  In Congressman Adam Schiff’s brilliant closing remarks at the January 23rd Senate Impeachment trial (https://www.rev.com/blog/transcripts/adam-schiff-closing-argument-transcript-thursday-impeachment-trial), he adopted the solemn theme “right matters.”  “If the truth doesn’t matter, we’re lost. [The] Framers couldn’t protect us from ourselves, if right and truth don’t matter. And you know that what [Donald Trump] did was not right.. And you know you can’t trust this President to do what’s right for this country. You can trust he will do what’s right for Donald Trump.”

Sadly, for Donald Trump’s defenders, right doesn’t matter.

2000-2019: What Hath The Internet Wrought?

While I usually write about politics, I’m also interested in technology.  And, of course, technology is political. So here are a few observations about the social and political impact of the Internet in the first twenty years of the twenty-first century.

THE INTERNET turned fifty in October.  The modern era of the Internet began in 1989 with the invention of the “world-wide web” and the first web browser.  The past twenty years has seen rapid deployment of the Internet throughout the world — although in some locations, such as central Africa, it’s difficult to read your email without a satellite phone.

The vast expansion of the Internet has impacted all aspects of our lives, from our daily personal rituals to the conduct of our businesses.  It’s been facilitated by the develpment of high-speed telecommunication networks, LTE (long-term evolution) — mostly 4G in the U.S.  And by the advent of the PDA (personal data assistant) and e-commerce (electronic commerce).

DOMESTIC INNOVATION:  It’s hard to believe, but twenty years ago, none of us sat in bed in the morning, checking our cellphones for email or text messages or Facebook posts.  The fact we can do this is due to several developments.

Ipod, Iphone, Ipad: The Ipod launched in 2001, followed by the iPhone in 2007, and the iPad in 2010.  Of course, cellphones have been used for forty years.  But the modern era, the “smart” phone, began with the delivery of the iPhone in 2007.  This was the first phone that allowed you to make voice calls, send text messages, read your email, and surf the web.

Multiple factors contributed to the ubiquity of the PDA.  Communications companies built national LTE networks.  And, beginning in 1992, there was a rapid deployment of wireless network technology — WiFi.

Of course, it’s very convenient to be able to have a full range of communications on your phone.  But there are social consequences.  Email has been around since the advent of the Internet and came into widespread use in the 70s.  That was when social observers first noted that people will say things in an email that they would not say in a text.

There’s no doubt that over the past 20 years there’s been a “coarsening” of social dialogue.  The Internet has promoted worldwide rapid communication, but it’s also made it more likely that citizens will fire off thoughtless hostile comments.

Social Networks:  In 2004 Facebook was launched at Harvard; in 2006 it became generally available.  (That same year, Twitter came out.)  Social networks are now part of the American social landscape.  (Millions of Americans wait for the next Trump tweet.)

We can debate about whether this is good or bad.  There’s no doubt that the social networks have both contributed to the coarsening of social dialogue and increased the amount of “fake news.”  (Millions of people now get their news via Facebook.)

Hacking:  With the rapid expanse in the use of the Internet there’s been a corresponding increase in computer crime of all sorts.  Most of us have had experiences with various sorts of hackers: stolen (digital) credits cards, viruses or worms…. There’s a lot of wealth on the Internet and its ubiquity has spurred a new breed of thieves.  It’s estimated that there is one hacker attack “every 39 seconds.”(https://hostingtribunal.com/blog/hacking-statistics/#gref)

BUSINESS INNOVATION:  At the same time that the rapid deployment of the Internet has facilitated personal communication,  new Internet tools have been a boon to business.

E-Commerce: 1995 saw the formation of both Amazon and eBay.  (Shortly thereafter Paypal was formed.)  These companies made it possible to purchase a wide variety of new and used goods without having to travel to a “bricks-and-mortar” store.  Soon the public’s buying habits had dramatically shifted.

Streaming: Although there were earlier music streaming services, the first significant service was iTunes in 2001.  A comparable service for videos was provided by YouTube in 2005.  Although Amazon had been selling books over the Internet since 1995, it was not until 2007 that it introduced the Kindle and the notion of the eBook — streaming books, magazines, and other documents.

In 1997 Netflix was formed to facilitate renting DVDs over the internet.  In 2010 it refocussed and began delivering DVD content as streaming media. (In 2012 it also began delivering original content.)

New forms of Service Delivery: Entrepreneurs noted that where you could deliver goods via the Internet you should also be able to deliver services.  This led to the 2008 launch of Airbnb followed by ride-sharing services such as Uber and Lyft, and freelance labor exchanges such as Taskrabbit.

Cloud Computing:  Although the notion of “cloud computing” — the on-demand use of shared computers and data storage — had been discussed since 1996, it first became widely available via a 2006 Amazon offering.  What this means is that businesses, of various sizes, do not have to have their own dedicated computer facilities; they can purchase these resources from Amazon, or the like, as they need them.  (Nor do these business have to have other specialized facilities such as accounting, human resources, and marketing; they can also be purchased from companies such as Salesforce.)

Personalization:  As e-commerce developed, massive amounts of consumer data were collected.  This has permitted vendors, such as Amazon, to personalize offers to their customers; that led to messages such as, “based on your recent purchases, we recommend the following products…” Personalization expanded beyond e-commerce to news services that began delivering tailored messages and articles.

Microtargeting: Since 2004, U.S. political parties have used a form of personalization, “micro targeting,” to tailor political messages to specific audiences.  (In 2016, this practice included information obtained via Facebook.)

SUMMARY:  By any measure, the Internet is a gigantic resource (https://www.livescience.com/54094-how-big-is-the-internet.html)

“According to Cisco’s Visual Networking Index initiative, the Internet is now in the “zettabyte era.” A zettabyte equals 1 sextillion bytes, or 1,000 exabytes. By the end of 2016, global Internet traffic will reach 1.1 zettabytes per year, according to Cisco, and by 2019, global traffic is expected to hit 2 zettabytes per year…. According to Cisco’s research, 8,000 petabytes per month of IP traffic was dedicated to video in 2015, compared with about 3,000 petabytes per month for Web, email and data transfer. (A petabyte is a million gigabytes or 2^50 bytes.)”

There are more than 100,000 e-commerce sites with significant revenue.

But big is not synonymous with good.  The Internet is a gigantic resource that is available — at least in rudimentary form — all over the world.  But it is not necessarily a trustworthy resource.

in 2020, Internet users do not have to be “techies;” they do not have to a deep technical understanding of how the Internet works and where Internet data comes from.  But these users do have to be skeptics because they are being bombarded with misleading information; and they do have to be wary because their privacy is under daily attack.   Sadly many Internet users are not skeptical or wary and, therefore, they are subject to manipulation on a scale not seen before.

It’s not surprising that Trump’s base — with a disproportionate number of uneducated white men — has proven easy to manipulate.  Daily, they are bombarded with Trump tweets and false news from related Internet sources.  The formation of the Trump cult is one of the unsavory side affects of the massive deployment of the internet.

Who’s Afraid of Michael Moore?

At otherwise jolly holiday parties, my political friends couldn’t stop talking about Michael Moore’s prediction that Donald Trump would win in 2020. (Remember, Michael predicted Trump would prevail in 2016.)  How worried should we be?

Michael Moore made his prediction in a December 26th conversation with Amy Goodman (https://www.democracynow.org/2019/12/26/michael_moore_donald_trump_impeachment ):

“I believe whoever the Democrat is next year is going to win by 4 to 5 million popular votes. There’s no question in my mind that people who stayed home, who sat on the bench, they’re going to pour out, in California, New York… The problem is, is that [Trump] will — if the vote were today, I believe, he would win the electoral states that he would need, because, living out there, I will tell you, his level of support has not gone down one inch. In fact, I’d say it’s even more rabid than it was before, because they’re afraid now.”

Moore explained to Goodman that he believes the reason 2016 Democratic presidential candidate  Hillary Clinton lost to Donald Trump was because, in states like Michigan, she did not generate enthusiasm among rank-and-file Democrats.  In 2020, Moore is afraid that Democrats will lose again if they repeat the Clinton “mistake.”

The good news is, again, number one, never forget, there’s more of us than there are of them. The majority of the American people agree with us. Seventy percent of the voters next year are women, people of color and young adults… So, what we have to do is we have to make sure we don’t give them another Hillary Clinton to vote for. 

Michael Moore is a smart guy.  What he is saying is that if, in 2020, Democrats nominate a Hillary-clone then they’ll lose again because Trump will carry the midwest and, therefore, win the electoral vote.  This is an important argument that has three components: 1. Hillary Clinton lost the 2016 election because Democrats in critical states, such as Michigan, didn’t vote for her.  2. Moore believes the 2020 “centrist” Dems, such as Biden, Buttigieg, and Klobuchar, are bound  to be as unpopular as Clinton.  3. In 2020 the other political dynamics will be the same as they were in 2016.  That is, Trump will probably carry the Independents.  Furthermore, Moore believes Trump will probably win the same “red” states and the Dems will probably win the same “blue’ states and therefore, the race will come down to the same handful of states such as Michigan.  Let’s examine each of these contentions.

1.Hillary lost swing states because registered Democrats didn’t vote for her.  The 2016 election post-mortem suggested that Clinton lost the electoral college because she underperformed in three states and lost them by a total of 77,759 votes. Trump won Pennsylvania by 44,307 votes (0.7 of a percentage point), Wisconsin by 22,748 votes (0.7 of a point) and Michigan by 10,704 votes (0.2 of a point).

Michigan: Trump had 2,279543 voters (47.50%) and Clinton had 2,268,839 voters (47.27%).  Two other candidates, Gary Johnson and Jill Stein had 223,499 voters (4.66%).  So it’s likely that some Democrats who didn’t like Clinton, chose instead to vote for Johnson or Stein.

The CNN exit polls indicated that while there were more potential Michigan Democratic voters than Republican, only 88 percent of Dems voted for Clinton versus 90 percent for Trump.

Wisconsin was similar to Michigan: Trump had 1,405,284 voters (47.22%) and Clinton had 1,382,536 voters (46.45%) , while Johnson and Stein had 137,746 voters (4.62%).  Once again it was likely that some Democrats that didn’t like Clinton voted for Johnson or Stein.

Pennsylvania results indicated that Trump had 2,970,733 voters (48.18%) and Clinton had 2,926,441 voters (47.46%).  Johnson and Stein had 196,656 (3.19%).

The CNN Pennsylvania exit polls were similar to Michigan.  There were more Democratic voters (42%) than Republican (39%) but only 87% of Dems stayed with Clinton versus 89% that stuck with Trump.

Conclusion: In these key states, Michael Moore is right when he states that Clinton lost because her base didn’t stick with her.  But it’s an oversimplification, because Moore ignores the decisive role played by Independents — Trump carried the Independents in each state.  (By the way, the national exit polls indicated that Trump carried Independents — 20 percent of the electorate — 48% versus 41% for Clinton.)

2. The 2020 “centrist” Dems, such as Biden, Buttigieg, and Klobuchar, are bound  to be as unpopular as Clinton.  Michael Moore believes that 2020 Dems are about to make the same mistake they did in 2016 and nominate an unpopular candidate — leading to a “hold your nose” election where Trump will prevail. The most recent polling data doesn’t support this.  538 (https://fivethirtyeight.com/features/the-democratic-presidential-candidates-are-becoming-less-popular/ ) notes that Trump is by far the most unpopular candidate (47.8% “very unfavorable” rating).

Among the Democratic candidates: Joe Biden had a 31.4% “very unfavorable” rating, while Bernie Sanders had a 34.4% rating and Elizabeth Warren 34.2%.

Conclusion: Michael Moore seems to be off in his assertion that the 2020 centrist Democratic candidates  will be as unpopular as Hillary Clinton.

3. In 2020, Michael Moore assumes the other political dynamics will be the same as they were in 2016.  There are  actually two parts to this assertion; the first is that Trump will, once again, carry Independent voters.  This doesn’t seem to be the case.

The latest Gallup poll shows that Trump’s approval rating is 42 percent with Independents.  This is consistent with the 2018 election results where Democratic candidates “took 55 percent of independents compared to just 41 percent for Republican candidates.” (https://thehill.com/opinion/campaign/475607-independent-voters-will-make-donald-trump-a-one-term-president)  A recent The Hill article observed: “A recent Reuters/Ipsos survey found that 62 percent of independents ‘disapprove of the way Donald Trump is handling his job as president.’ ”

This shift in the sentiment of independent voters seems to indicate that, in 2020, Independents will prefer the Democratic presidential candidates over Trump.  There isn’t a lot of polling on this, but a November Washington Post/ABC News poll (https://www.washingtonpost.com/politics/trump-trails-democratic-rivals-in-national-survey-as-independents-move-away/2019/11/04/) showed that among Independent voters: Biden led Trump by 56% to 39%.

The second Moore assertion is that the 2020 election map will look the same as it did in 2016.  That is, the coasts will go to the Democratic presidential candidate, the south and heartland will go to Trump and the election will be decided by a small number of states, such as Michigan, Pennsylvania, and Wisconsin.

Many Democratic strategists don’t agree with Moore’s perspective; they think many more states will be in play.  Seven states have been mentioned as possible Democratic targets.

Arizona: In 2016. Trump won Arizona with 48.1% (Clinton got 44.6%).  However, the state is inexorably swinging towards the Democrats.  In 2018, Democratic Senator Krysten Sinema replaced (outgoing) Republican Jeff Flake.  Recent polls show that Trump’s popularity is waning; Real Clear Politics indicates that he and Joe Biden are tied in the Arizona polls.  (Explanation: I’m using Joe Biden as the potential Democratic candidate because — in these seven states — Biden has the best poll numbers versus Trump.)

Florida:  In 2016, Trump won Florida with 48.6% (Clinton got 47.4%).  As we know, this is a volatile state.  At the moment, Joe Biden leads Trump by a 2 percent margin.

Georgia:  In 2016, Trump won Georgia with 50.4%.  We know this state is difficult to peg because of historic Republican-instigated voter suppression.  Nonetheless, at the moment, Joe Biden leads Trump by 8 percent.

Iowa:  In 2016, Trump won Iowa with 51.1%.  In the latest polls, Trump leads Biden by approximately 2 percent.

North Carolina:  In 2016, Trump won North Carolina with 49.8%.  At the moment, Biden leads Trump by 3 percent.

Ohio: In 2016, Trump won Ohio by 51.3%.  In the latest poll, Biden leads Trump by 6 percent.

Texas:  In 2016, Trump won Texas by 52.2%.  In the latest polls, Trump and Biden are even.

Conclusion:  Michael Moore is predicting that Donald Trump will again win in 2020 because (1) Democrats will nominate an unpopular candidate — Moore, who is a Bernie Sanders supporter, believes that Joe Biden will prove to be as unpopular as Hillary Clinton.  (2) Moore’s second assertion is that Democrats will again lose Michigan, Pennsylvania, and Wisconsin.  At the moment, Biden (and other Democratic candidates) are ahead of Trump in these three states. (3) Moore’s third assertion is that, in 2020, Independent voters will break for Trump.  Once again, this doesn’t seem to be the case.  (4) Finally, Michael Moore believes that the 2020 electoral map will be the same as it was in 2016.  Once again, this is questionable.  At the moment, Democratic candidates — particularly Joe Biden — seem to be extremely competitive in seven states that Trump carried in 2016.

I’m not saying that Trump will definitely lose in 2020.  I’m saying the situation looks different than it did in 2016 and Dems should have “guarded optimism.”  At the moment, several Democratic candidates — notably Joe Biden — have a good shot at defeating Trump.

2019: Ten things to be Thankful For

2019 has been a dark year.  Americans have spent much of the year under the grim shadow cast by mad emperor Trump. Nonetheless, there is much to be thankful for. Here are ten reasons to be grateful.

1.Nancy Pelosi: Twelve months ago, when it was clear that the Democrats had won a substantial majority in the House of Representatives, some pundits suggested that it was time for Nancy Pelosi to move on — someone else should become Speaker of the House.

What a mistake that would have been!  During 2019, Pelosi has been the primary leader of the Democratic Party, effectively leading the House Democrats through the treacherous impeachment landscape — and simultaneously overseeing the passage of more than 400 major pieces of legislation.  At the end of the year House Democrats impeached Donald Trump, setting the stage for a historic 2020 trial.  Thank you, Nancy Pelosi.

2. Increased awareness of Global Climate Change.  Because of her vocal leadership on climate change, Greta Thunberg was named Time Magazine’s person of the year (https://time.com/person-of-the-year-2019-greta-thunberg/).  But it wasn’t only Greta that spread the word; all over the world, celebrities and politicians stepped up to make the public aware that climate change is an existential threat.  As a result, 2019 polls indicate that 75 percent of Americans believe that humans fuel climate change and a strong majority regard it as a crisis.  Thank you, Greta Thunberg, Bill McKibben, and the many other climate change leaders.

3. Fire Season has ended.   Because of climate change, California had an extended, deadly fire season.  During the Kincade fire, my community had to evacuate and go without electricity for six days.  Fortunately, most of us escaped the mammoth fire.

We’re thankful that fire season is over.  (And that we have since had normal rainfall.)  And we’re grateful for the extraordinary efforts of our emergency-service providers.

4. The Democratic Presidential Candidates.  So far, Democrats have had 28 politicians announce they would compete for the 2020 Democratic presidential nomination.  At the moment, 15 are still in the competition that begins with the February 3rd Iowa caucuses.

The good news is that these candidates offer a full-spectrum of opinions regarding how to move the United States forward.  The bad news is that it’s not obvious who would offer the best chance of defeating Donald Trump.  Nonetheless, in a year dominated by Trump’s shadow, each of these candidates offered glimmers of hope.

5. The Whistleblower(s).  At the beginning of the year, Democrats believed that the Mueller report — into Russian interference in the 2016 election — would bring to the light the treachery of the Trump campaign.  Instead, the report confused Americans; rather than unite us in recognition of Trump’s perfidy, the Mueller report heightened the polarization. Many Democrats fell into a funk.

Then, in September, we learned that a whistleblower had filed a report with the Director of National Intelligence regarding a bizarre phone call between Donald Trump and Ukrainian President Zelensky.  In this call, Trump offers a bribe to Zelensky — military aid in return for compromising information on Democratic presidential candidate Joe Biden.  As a result of the whistleblower’s complaint, House Democrats began an investigation into Trump’s actions that eventually resulted in two articles of impeachment: abuse of power and obstruction of Congress.

Thanks to the whistleblower and the others who are providing detailed information about Trump’s treachery.  And thanks to the investigative journalists that continue to tell the truth about what goes on in Trump’s White House.

6. Reporters and Aid-workers at the Southern Border.  The heinous Trump Administration “family- separation” policy began in 2018 and has continued to this date.  In January of 2019, the White House admitted that they had separated more children than had previously been reported and they did not have an adequate tracking system in place.  (At the end of the year, whistleblowers reported that almost 70,000 children had been detained.)

Throughout 2019, reporters and aide-workers have been at the border, chronicling the consequences of the family-separation policy and — whenever possible — providing comfort to the children and their families.  Thank you aide-workers who minister to the suffering.  (And thank you to activists everywhere.)

7. The New Democrats in the 2019 House of Representatives.  In January, Democrats welcomed 59 new members to the House — their most diverse class ever.  The most notable of these new congresswomen was Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez.  We can say a lot about AOC but most importantly, she, and her associates  brought a breath of fresh air to the Democratic Party.  Thank you, AOC and associates, for shaking up the Dems.

8. Democracy Advocates.  Even though much of the world has been under the shadow of Donald Trump, and other totalitarian leaders, there have continued to be political actions by advocates for Democracy. In Hong Kong.  Russia.  Iraq.  Even Saudi Arabia.

We’re grateful for all those who stood up for Democracy.  Hold on, in 2020 we’ve got your back.

9. Nature.  In 2019  my family completed our move to the country.  What a blessing!  No matter how dreadful the state of U.S. politics, taking a walk among the Redwoods always cheers me up.

10. Music. In hard times like these, music is my go-to source of comfort: Miles Davis, Bruce Springsteen, Muddy Waters, Johnny Cash…

2020 brought the wonderful Ken Burns “Country Music” documentary series.  And the stories of how music transformed the impoverished lives of the Carter Family, Johnny Cash, Dolly Parton, and many others.  “Country Music” was a reminder of the rejuvenating power of the music of the American people.  And, a reminder that, even in these dark times, there is more that unites us than divides us.