The Biden-Harris Wave

In 1936, Frankline Delano Roosevelt won his second presidential election, garnering 60.8 percent of the popular vote. Until now, that was the largest margin of victory in any presidential contest. But Joe Biden has a chance of defeating Donald Trump by a similar percentage.

Coming out of the Republican National Convention, Trump is at the peak of his popularity.  Trump will steadily drive away voters until his base remains — slightly under 40 percent.

Consider this: 68 percent of Americans believe the country is headed in the wrong direction (https://www.realclearpolitics.com/epolls/other/direction_of_country-902.html).  Biden has an overall lead of 7.3 percent in the polls (https://projects.fivethirtyeight.com/polls/president-general/national/ ).  Trump remains unfavorable (43 percent approve versus 52 percent disapprove).  Meanwhile Biden has a net favorable rating (46 percent favorable versus 40 percent unfavorable).  (https://abcnews.go.com/Politics/trumps-favorability-perceptions-covid-19-response-stagnate-post/story?id=72705268) (By the way: Kamala Harris is viewed more favorably than Mike Pence.)

The latest Economist forecast gives Biden 88 percent chance of winning the electoral college (https://projects.economist.com/us-2020-forecast/president ).

Trump is campaigning with a multiple disadvantages.  He’s in poor health.  Donald is no longer the outsider, the novelty.  He does not have an unpopular opponent.  Furthermore, Trump has to account for four simultaneous crises, happening on his watch: the COVID-19 pandemic, the economic recession, racial injustice, and global climate change.  In the next 60 days these crises are not going away.

1.COVID-19 pandemic: The RNC treated the pandemic as if it was a crisis that had been solved. Unfortunately, It hasn’t been solved and is likely to get worse when flu season starts in October. By November 3rd, 250,000 Americans will have died from the virus.  Trump can’t wish this away and most voters blame him for the crisis.  (The latest ABC News/Ipsos poll found: “A clear majority of Americans (63%) disapprove of Trump’s oversight of the public health crisis — a steady trend since early July.”)

2. Economic recession: Republicans act as if the economy is growing but last quarter it shrank at a rate of 32.9 percent.  Trump pretends we are in a V-shaped recovery but it’s actually a K-shaped recovery where only the richest 1 percent are benefitting.  Republicans don’t appear to care about the millions who are losing their unemployment benefits or facing eviction. As the weeks go by, and Trump presents no plan to deal with the recession, increasing numbers of voters will be angry.

Most voters feel the economy is in bad shape.   The New York Times reports: “Most polls now find Americans are evenly split on whether they approve of [Trump’s] handling of the issue.  Gallup, for example, found Mr. Trump enjoyed a 48 percent approval rating on the economy this month, down from 63 percent in January.” (https://www.nytimes.com/2020/08/24/us/politics/trump-economy.html )

3. Racial Injustice: Trump does not believe that Black Lives Matter and  refuses to acknowledge the tragic death of George Floyd and the maiming of Jacob Blake.  This attitude will cause him to lose support in the Black community.  Trump is betting that going all out on “law and order” will sway most white voters; it won’t.  (By the way: the ABC News/Ipsos poll found that 62 percent of respondents believed the shooting of Jacob Blake was: “A sign of broader problems in the treatment of African Americans by police.”)  The latest Quinnipiac poll found: “Fifty percent of likely voters say having Donald Trump as president of the United States makes them feel less safe, while 35 percent say it makes them feel more safe.”

4. Climate Change: On night three of the GOP convention, a major hurricane slammed into Louisiana, while wildfires torched the west.  Trump refuses to acknowledge climate change as we’re heading into what promises to be a ferocious hurricane season.

Trump has failed.  He will fall further behind in the polls because he is playing a losing hand.

On November 3rd, voters have a chance to not only defeat Donald Trump but to dramatically change the face of American politics.  Here are 5 key states where  this can happen:

Arizona: What was once a reliably red state has become “purple.”  Recent polls have Joe Biden ahead of Donald Trump.

Arizona has one Democratic Senator (Sinema).  Five of nine congressional districts are represented by Democrats.  In 2020, the incumbent Republican Senator (McSally) is challenged by an outstanding Democratic candidate (Kelly).  In addition, Arizona Congressional District 6, represented by a Republican (Schweikert) is challenged by a strong Democrat (Tipirneni).

In addition, Democrats have a good shot at taking over the Arizona legislature:  Currently, Republicans enjoy a 31-19 advantage in the Arizona House and a 17-13 advantage in the Senate.  (The Republican governor is up for reelection in 2022.)

Georgia: Another “red” state that has become purple.  Recent polls have Joe Biden ahead of Donald Trump.

Georgia has two Republican Senators up for reelection: Perdue and Loeffler.  Perdue is in a tight race with Democrat Jon Ossoff.  Loeffler is in a complicated race that may pit her against either a Republican (Collins) or Democrat (Warnock).  Five of fourteen Congressional districts are represented by Democrats.  However, one Republican district (GA 7) is open and a Democrat (Bourdeaux) is favored to win.

Flipping the legislature is a long shot.  The Georgia Senate has 56 seats: 35 Republican and 21 Democratic.  The Georgia House has 180 seats: 105 Republican, 75 Democratic.  Nonetheless,  Democrats think they have a shot.  (The Republican governor is up for reelection in 2022; there are rumors that Democrat Stacey Abrams will run for this seat.)

Montana: In 2016, in Montana, Donald Trump defeated Hillary Clinton by 20 points.  In 2020, in the latest Montana poll, Trump leads Biden by 4 points.  That’s not to say that Montana will suddenly become “blue” but it does illustrate that it’s in play.  And, there are three close races.

Montana’s Republican Senator (Daines) is being challenged by Democrat Steve Bullock — the race is a tossup.  Montana’s single House seat is in play; Democrat Kathleen Williams appears to hold a slight lead.  Montana’s State House is also in play;  Republican Gianforte holds a slight lead over Democrat Cooney.

North Carolina:  A legitimately “purple” state.  Recent polls have Joe Biden slightly ahead of Donald Trump.

North Carolina’s Republican Senator (Tillis) is being challenged by Democrat Cal Cunningham — Cunningham holds a slight edge.  The existing Democratic Governor (Cooper) holds a substantial lead over his Republican challenger.  There are two open congressional seats that could go to Democrats: NC 2 (Ross) and NC6 (Manning).

Democrats forced North Carolina to be redistricted.  As a result, control of the state legislature is in sight.  Demos need to win five seats in the state senate and 6 seats in the house.

Texas: What was once a reliably red state has become “purple.”  Recent polls have Joe Biden tied with Donald Trump.

There’s a Senate seat in play but the Republican incumbent (Cornyn) seems to have a comfortable lead over challenger (Hegar).  There are 36 congressional seats: Democrats hold thirteen of these.  Four additional seats are in play: TX 21 (Davis), TX 22 (Kulkarni), TX 23 (Ortiz-Jones), and TX 24 (Valenzuela).

Democrats also have a fighting chance to take control of the Texas Legislature.

Summary: Supporters of Joe Biden are scared.  They’re afraid that Donald Trump will steal the election.  They’re afraid that Trump will do something awful.  (Newsflash: Donald will do something awful but it won’t be enough.)

We can’t let our fear paralyze us.  We must do everything we possibly can to defeat Donald Trump.

We must unite to seize a historic opportunity.  Donald Trump is a threat to Democracy.  Each day, more and more voters understand this.  The tide is running in favor of Joe Biden, and Democrats in general.  We must do everything we can to take advantage of this moment.

Can’t Feel At Home

“This world is not my home I’m just-a-passing through
My treasures are laid up somewhere beyond the blue
The angels beckon me from Heaven’s open door
And I can’t feel at home in this world anymore.”
Carter Family

Trapped in an MC Escher  parking garage
careening around
searching for
a way out

DRAFT Nextdoor Ad
Elderly couple seeking refuge
no coronavirus
no climate change

2020 Republican Convention: 10 Takeaways

One week after the Democratic convention came the Republican gathering. If the underlying theme of the Dems convention was “Unity: we are in this together,” the underlying theme of the GOP conclave was “Only Trump can save us.” An early speaker described Trumps as the “bodyguard of Western civilization” It was in all regards the Trump show. There were 10 takeaways.

10. Conventional Convention: As compared to the Democratic convention, which was a technological tour-de-force, the GOP convention was your usual convention —  without an audience for the preliminary speakers. (Nonetheless, several speakers — notably Kimberly Guilfoyle and Donald Trump Jr — felt obliged to shout as if they could not otherwise be heard over crowd noise.)

Starting on the second night, the headliners spoke before an audience: Melania Trump, Mike Pence, and Donald Trump.  On the fourth night, the grand finale featured Trump speaking to at least 1500 on the South Lawn of the White House.

9. No Platform: The Republican National Committee said the reason the party has no new platform is the COVID-19 pandemic, which necessitated a scaled-back convention.  In other words, Trump is the platform.

Question: What do Republicans stand for?  Answer: Four more years of Trump.  And unabashed cultural conservatism: “law and order,” “anti (all) forms of abortion,” “school choice” (money for Christian schools), and defense of “your second amendment rights.”

8. The Pandemic is over: After blaming COVID-19 for the diminished convention, Republicans largely ignored the pandemic.  They praised Trump’s initial response to what he called, “the China virus.”  There was no mention of the 6 million Americans who have been infected with the coronavirus and no acknowledgment of the 185,000 deaths.  On Tuesday night, presidential economic adviser Larry Kudlow referred to the pandemic in the past tense: “It was awful. Health and economic impacts were tragic. Hardship and heartbreak were everywhere. But presidential leadership came swiftly and effectively with an extraordinary rescue for health and safety to successfully fight the Covid virus.”

Republicans have no plan to deal with the pandemic.  And, no plan to equitably distribute the COVID-19 vaccine, whenever it arrives.

7. Democrats are the problem: Rather than talk about the obvious national problems — coronavirus pandemic, economic recession, racial injustice, and global climate change –Republican warned that Biden was actually the return of Fidel Castro; the GOP said he would usher in anarchy, socialism, and (perhaps) communism. Kimberly Guilfoyle claimed  “[Democrats] want to destroy this country and everything that we have fought for and hold dear. They want to steal your liberty, your freedom.”  Donald Trump, Junior, amplified this: “[Democrats are] attacking the very principles on which our nation was founded: freedom of thought, freedom of speech, freedom of religion, the rule of law.”

Mike Pence called Biden, “a Trojan horse for a radical left,” adding, “Joe Biden would double down on the very policies that are leading to unsafe streets and violence in America’s cities.”  Donald Trump called Biden, “the destroyer” and claimed “you won’t be safe in Joe Biden’s America.”

6. It’s Difficult to Humanize Trump: Although Republicans paid more attention to Joe Biden than they did to Donald Trump, they did make a few feeble efforts to to humanize Trump.  Several members of Congress — Jim Jordan, Rand Paul — noted nice things Trump had done for their family members.  Trump’s daughters, Tiffany and Ivanka, asked viewers to “[make] judgment based on results, not rhetoric.”

Melania Trump said: “We all know Donald Trump makes no secret about how he feels about things. Whether you like it or not, you always know what he’s thinking… He wants nothing more than for the country to prosper and he doesn’t waste time playing politics.”  No one described Trump as “a nice guy” or “my friend” or even “a decent human being.”

5. Republicans set a bad example.  Through day one and two, Republicans showed four videos of Trump meeting with various groups.  In none of these gatherings did Trump or the participants wear masks; neither did the practice social distancing.  On day two, Melania Trump gave a speech, in the White House Rose Garden, to approximately 100 guests.  Melania, and Donald, did not wear masks; nor did the vast majority of the observers.  The audience was not properly dispersed.  On day three, Mike Pence gave a speech, at Fort McHenry, before approximately 150 guests.  Pence, Donald Trump, and the guests did not wear masks and were not properly dispersed.  On day four, Donald Trump gave a speech, at the White House South Lawn, to approximately 1500 guests.  None wore masks; the guests were packed together like a regular rally.  (It was a “super-spreader” event.)

Republicans are acting as if the pandemic is over.  They are setting a dangerous example for their constituents.

4. The White House became a prop: Breaking with tradition, on night one Donald Trump used the White House as a prop, filming two videos — conversations with the President — in White House conference rooms.  On night two, Donald Trump used the White House for three events: first he used an office as the background to his pardon of a convicted bank robber.  Next, Trump used a conference room to hold a naturalization ceremony  with the assistance of the White House marine guard.  Later on night two, Trump used the White House rose garden as the setting for a speech by Melania Trump.  On night four, Trump used the White House south lawn for his acceptance speech.

These actions violated the Hatch Act of 1939.  Trump was breaking the law in plain sight. (MSNBC anchor, Nicolle Wallace, referred to these actions as “the audacity of the grift.”)

3. Melania Trump: On convention night two, Melania Trump gave a speech in the White House rose garden.   It was low key, compared to the other speeches, and notable because she expressed sympathy for those Americans who have suffered from COVID-19: “I want to acknowledge the fact that since March, our lives have changed drastically. The invisible enemy, Covid-19, swept across our beautiful country and impacted all of us. My deepest sympathy goes out to all of you who have lost a loved one and my prayers are with those who are ill or suffering. I know many people are anxious and some feel helpless. I want you to know you are not alone.”  This was remarkable because previously the pandemic had either been ignored or treated as if it was a past event.

Melania also made a notable pitch for civility: “I urge people to come together in a civil manner so we can work and live up to our standard American ideals.”

2.  Donald Trump:  Speaking from the South Lawn of the White House, Trump delivered a long speech — 69 minutes — read from a teleprompter and punctuate with cheers and applause.  For Trump, it was an unusually flat effort.

The speech had three parts.  Trump talked about his accomplishments, peppering the list with distortions and falsehoods.  (Rachel Maddow delivered an epic factcheck of Trump’s list (https://www.msnbc.com/msnbc/watch/maddow-corrects-litany-of-falsehoods-in-marathon-trump-rnc-speech-90768453569 ).)

Second, Trump lambasted his opponent: “Biden’s record is shameful.” “Joe Biden’s plan is a surrender to the virus.” “Joe Biden’s agenda is made in China.” “Joe Biden is a Trojan Horse for socialism.”

Third, Trump talked ever so briefly, about his plans for a second term: miraculously end the pandemic, cut taxes and regulations, create millions of jobs, and keep America safe.

1. The missing Republican Agenda: America is confronted with four crises: the COVID-19 pandemic, the economic recession, racial injustice, and global climate change.  In the 2020 Democratic convention, these crises were addressed.  In the 2020 Republican convention, these crises were largely avoided.

COVID-19 pandemic: The GOP treated the pandemic as if it was a crisis that had been solved. In their public events they did not insist on masks or proper social distancing.  Trump promised a vaccine by the end of the year. Trump expressed no sympathy for the 6 million COVID-19 victims or the 185,000 deaths.  (By the way: by November 3rd, 250,000 Americans will have died from the virus.)

Economic recession: Republicans refused to acknowledge the 40 million Americans who are unemployed.  They act as if the economy is growing but last quarter it shrank at a rate of 32.9 percent.  They pretend we are in a V-shaped recovery but it’s actually a K-shaped recovery where only the richest 1 percent are benefitting.  Republicans don’t appear to care about the millions who are losing their unemployment benefits or facing eviction. Trump’s only plan was to cut taxes,

Racial Injustice: Republicans condemn Black Lives Matter.  They refused to acknowledge the tragic death of George Floyd and the maiming of Jacob Blake.  They deny the reality of systemic racism — on night one, Nikki Haley said, “America is not a racist country.”  After that, Republicans ignored racism and focused on “rioters and looters.” Trump said America was beset by “rioters and looters and Democrats call them peaceful protestors.”

Climate Change: Remember that?  On night three of the GOP convention, a major hurricane slammed into Louisiana, while wildfires torched the west.  But no Republican speaker mentioned climate change.

Summary: The 2016 Trump campaign theme was “Make America great again.”  Mike Pence has suggested the 2020 theme should be, “Make America great again, again.”  (Really.)  But it’s clear that Republicans believe their 2020 theme should be: “Donald Trump will keep us safe.”

On November 3rd, there will be a clear choice: Democrats believe in “E Pluribus Unum.”  Republicans believe, “In Donald we trust.”

The Last Judgement

CHOOSE ONE
When we die
A. we don’t know what happens
B. there’s a judgement;
you may or may not pass muster
(The celestial lottery
“Come on Red 17”
)
C. there’s a judgement;
you pass if you’re a “real” Christian
( A member of the theological country club)
D. there’s a judgement;
you pass based upon your
“good works” track record
(The great accounting
“Sorry Charlie, you’re short 30 points.”
)

Prefer option A
however
have a nostalgic attraction to the
“good works” school.

Have I done everything I can
to make the world a better place
?”

Be a good steward
(details pending)

2020 Democratic Convention: 10 Takeaways

The 2020 Democratic convention is over. Given the difficult circumstances, it might have been a disaster. Instead it was very successful. Here are 10 takeaways:

10. Better than expected. Political conventions are typically overrated. Too many speeches. Manufactured controversy. Too many talking heads.

This year’s Democratic convention was all “virtual” and, therefore, more immediate. Overall, it had a better flow than any convention I’ve watched. Each of the four nights worked.  There were many interesting cameos and powerful songs.  Kudos to the organizers.  Let’s make this the model for all Democratic conventions.

9. Compelling themes. Throughout the four nights there was a coordinated emphasis on several meta-themes: Family: Joe Biden and Kamala Harris spoke of their families and emphasized the importance of protecting American families. Dignity: each person has worth and deserves a shot at the American dream; everyone needs access to healthcare, housing, education, and a decent job. Overcoming adversity: Biden has overcome the death of his first wife and their little daughter and, later the death of his son. Harris has overcome the burden of being a black woman, born of immigrant parents, in America. Unity/Working together/E Pluribus Unum: Biden and Harris and most speakers spoke of the importance of recreating a culture where Americans work together to overcome these tough times: pandemic, recession, and systemic racism. Love: Biden’s personal story emphasized his deep faith and his capacity to reach out with love to everyday people (as well as political adversaries).

8. Diversity: Harris said that she and Biden want to rebuild the “beloved community.” The dominant theme was: “Democrats are the Party of diversity. (Republicans are the Party of rich white men.)” More than any previous Democratic convention the speakers were diverse by color, gender, age, and physical condition (ALS activist, Ady Barkin, spoke from his wheelchair).

7. Powerful women. On the first three nights of the convention, women got the most airtime (Michelle Obama, Jill Biden, Kamala Harris). It wasn’t tokenism. It’s clear that women have a lot of power in the Democratic Party. (By the way: each night’s program was narrated by a woman.)

6. Joe Biden is a nice guy. The convention organizers went out of their way to tell Biden’s story. To emphasize his working-class roots. To portray his faith. To depict how he overcame adversity. And, to illustrate his capacity for empathy; his ability to get-along with people from the elevator-operator who nominated him to the late Senator John McCain (and many other Republicans). [There was a clear contrast: Donald Trump is not a nice guy and he does not get along with folks, particularly anyone who is not a Trump supporter.)

Best Biden supporter cameo: Fifteen-year-old Brayden Harrington who spoke about Joe Biden helping Brayden to overcome his stutter.

5.The Roll Call. In a typical convention, one of the most boring segments is the delegation roll call. “The great state of Wisconsin, the cheese state, cast 26 ballots for Governor Al Smith…” This year, due to the pandemic, each delegation filmed a video to cast their votes for president. So there were 57 brief videos from every part of the country including American Samoa, Puerto Rico, Washington DC, and Rhode Island (the “calamari state”). Again, this emphasized the diversity of the Party.  It was heartwarming.

4. Kamala Harris: No pressure, but in her acceptance speech, Kamala Harris had to introduce herself to a large segment of American voters, illustrate that she is  moderate Democrat — and not some radical firebrand, and demonstrate that she is capable of running the big show if something happens to Biden.  She did this.

Kamala Harris was articulate and compelling.  Her speech had many memorable lines but two that stuck out: “I know a predator when I see one.”  [A not so subtle reference to Donald Trump – who describes her as “a nasty woman.”] And, “There is no vaccine for racism. We have got to do the work”

3. Michelle Obama: Michelle is the most beloved woman in America but she’s not a politician.  (Doesn’t want to be a politician.)  So, she doesn’t give that many political speeches.  Nonetheless, Her keynote address on the convention’s opening night was a “wowser”.

Most memorable line: “Donald Trump is the wrong president for our country. He has had more than enough time to prove that he can do the job, but he is clearly in over his head. He cannot meet this moment. He simply cannot be who we need him to be for us. It is what it is.” [Emphasis added]

2.Barack Obama. Barack Obama is the best political orator of our era. Normally, on a list like this, he would be number one. Nonetheless, his somber convention address was a classic: “I did hope, for the sake of our country, that Donald Trump might show some interest in taking the job seriously; that he might come to feel the weight of the office. … But he never did…
Donald Trump hasn’t grown into the job because he can’t. And the consequences of that failure are severe.” [Emphasis added]

1. Joe Biden: Over the years, I’ve seen Joe Biden give many speeches.  His 2020 acceptance speech was his best.  It wasn’t just the best speech in terms of the content, it was the best speech in terms of delivery.  It showed us his program, his values, and his heart.  It was a fitting end to a strong convention.  (By the way: Biden’s speech should nullify the Republican claim that Biden is not mentally up to the job of President.)

Best lines: “The current president has cloaked America in darkness for much too long. Too much anger. Too much fear. Too much division. Here and now, I give you my word — if you entrust me with the presidency, I will draw on the best of us, not the worst. I will be an ally of the light, not the darkness. . . . We will choose hope over fear, facts over fiction, fairness over privilege.” “You know, I’ve always believed you can define America in one word: possibilities. The defining feature of America: Everything is possible.”

Strong speech.  Strong convention.  I feel hopeful.

Another Tipping Point

On August 8th, Donald Trump’s 2020 presidential campaign reached a critical juncture in the struggle to stabilize the U.S. economy.  Faced with an epic financial crisis, Trump had a leadership opportunity, a chance to bring Republicans and Democrats together to develop a realistic recovery plan.  Instead Trump opted for a political stunt, signing four faux “executive orders.”  It was a “tipping point.”

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.  For a long time, Trump’s political strength has been his perceived handling of the economy.  Now he’s lost that.

The Economy:  In June, the U.S. officially entered a recession (https://www.cnbc.com/2020/06/09/the-us-is-officially-in-a-recession-will-it-become-a-depression.html).  In the first quarter the real GDP decreased by 5 percent and in the second quarter it decreased by a whopping 32.9 percent — the worst plunge ever recorded.

The current unemployment rate is 12.1 percent but that doesn’t count Americans who have given up looking for work.  To get back to where we were before the pandemic, the U.S. economy has to add 30 million jobs.

The Washington Post (https://www.washingtonpost.com/business/2020/08/13/recession-is-over-rich-working-class-is-far-recovered/?) detailed a new labor study that says the U.S. is in the midst of a “K-shaped” recovery: “As much of the economy has moved to work-from-home mode, the shift has mainly benefited college-educated employees who do most of their work on computers.”  Workers whose wages are over $32/hour have seen jobs increase.  All other workers have seen employment decrease: “Employment is still 20 percent below pre-pandemic levels for workers earning under $14 an hour, and 16 percent down for those making $14 to $20 an hour.”

Donald Trump doesn’t understand this.  He does not have a plan to deal with this recession. The latest Quinnipiac poll indicates that only 44% of people approve of the way Trump is handling the U.S. economy.  To date, it’s his lowest rating — on this parameter.

The Democratic Stimulus Response: To understand where we are now, it’s useful to reconstruct how we got to this point.  On May 15th, the Democratically-controlled House of Representatives passed HR 6800, the Health and Economic Recovery Omnibus Emergency Solutions or “Heroes” Act.  This includes:
1. $1.13 trillion of emergency supplemental appropriations to federal agencies, as well as economic assistance to governments at the state, local, tribal and territorial levels.
2. $485 billion in safety net spending, including the expansion of unemployment benefits, increased Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) benefits, increased funding for utilities payments and job training for low-income individuals, and a 25% increase in aid to disabled veterans.
3. $435 billion for additional rebates, which would include an additional $1200 stimulus check per individual.
4. $382 billion for health care, which would include reimbursing health care providers for lost revenue, covering the COBRA premium costs for employees laid off between March 2020 and January 2021, increasing funding for testing and contact tracing, eliminating cost-sharing for coronavirus treatment, and increasing funding for health agencies and centers.
5. $290 billion to support small businesses and employee retention, with modifications to the Paycheck Protection Program. This would expand employee retention credit, provide credits for employer expenses, extend and expand paid leave (such as paid sick days, family and medical leave), and provide a 90% income credit for self-employed individuals.
6. $290 billion to reduce income taxes.
7. $191 billion for student loan relief and funding for higher education.
8. $202 billion for housing-related costs and expenses, including the establishment of a emergency rental assistance fund and a homeowner’s assistance fund. Some eviction and foreclosure moratoriums would be expanded as well, being extended for up to another year and expanding the moratorium to cover all renters and homeowners rather than specific cases as previously done in the CARES Act.
9. $190 billion for hazard pay for essential workers.
10. $32 billion for communication systems (such as the U.S. Postal Service), $48 billion for pensions and retirement relief, $31 billion for agricultural spending, and $25 billion for limited business loss deductions.

The HEROES act allocated $3.4 trillion for relief from the pain caused by the pandemic.  The bill wasn’t perfect, but it provided a good starting point for discussions with Republican legislators.

The May Republican Response: After the HEROES bill passed the House, President Trump and Senate Majority Leader McConnell declared it “dead on arrival” at the Senate.  Republicans proposed a “pause” before they considered an additional stimulus package:  Sen. McConnell remarked, “I don’t think we have yet felt the urgency of acting immediately,” and a White House spokesmen noted the administration had “a little bit of a luxury to watch and see” before further action on the economy and public health.

At the time — late May — the official Republican position was that the pandemic was winding down and the economy was ramping up.  (During the next 60 days, Donald Trump played golf 15 times.)

The July Republican Response: In mid-July Republican Senators finally began to work on a response to the HEROES act.  Even though they started with a modest proposal they were divided.  (The initial Republican proposal included a second round of stimulus checks, a reduction to the federal jobless benefits, funding for schools and universities to reopen, more money for the Paycheck Protection Program and liability protections for businesses, hospitals and education institutions operating amid the pandemic.)  Unfortunately, roughly half the Republican Senators had become deficit hawks and resisted any further stimulus action because they bemoaned increasing the Federal deficit.

McConnell and company punted to the White House.

The Trump Administration response: On July 20th, the Trump Administration began negotiating with Democrats on a response to the HEROES bill.  Trump assigned Treasury Secretary Mnuchin and White House Chief of Staff Mark Meadows.  (Senate Majority leader McConnell was not involved because his caucus is split; Donald Trump was not involved because he does not talk to House Speaker Nancy Pelosi — Trump last spoke to Pelosi on October 16, 2019.)

The negotiations went on  for two weeks but did not result in a compromise bill.  There are many differences between the Democratic and Republican positions but the foremost two are the size of the unemployment benefits and economic assistance to governments at the state, local, tribal and territorial levels.  Republicans favor lower benefits because they believe that the current level of benefit, $600 per week, “disincentivizes” workers from returning to their jobs — that is, the Trump position is that workers are staying home because they are lazy rather than the obvious: either it’s not safe for them to return to work or their jobs have disappeared.  Trump: “There was difficulty with the $600 number because it really was a disincentive.” (Salon reports that well-connected conservative groups, like the Chamber of Commerce and Club for Growth, lobbied to slash the unemployment benefit (https://www.salon.com/2020/08/07/right-wing-groups-took-millions-in-pandemic-aid–and-spent-millions-lobbying-for-unemployment-cuts/ )).

Republicans do not want to provide economic assistance to state and local governments because they consider them to be poorly run. (Trump: “What [Democrats] really want is bailout money for states that are run by Democrat governors and mayors, and that have been run very badly for many, many years — and many decades, in fact.”)

Trump’s “Executive Orders”: On August 8th, Donald Trump responded to the HEROES bill with four sham “executive orders.”
1. Unemployment benefits:  Trump reduced benefits to $300 a week for a brief period.  (The $44 billion in new funds—whose reapportionment is constitutionally murky, at best—will run out in around a month.)
2. Student Loan Payments:Trump deferred these payments until the end of the year,
3. Eviction Ban. This order doesn’t actually ban evictions; Trump settled for asking officials to “consider” whether a ban is even needed. The executive order provides no financial support for the 30-40 million renters currently at risk of eviction. Instead, it instructs administration officials to see if they can locate additional money to help out.
4. In addition: Trump delayed collecting payroll taxes (which fund Social Security and Medicare) from workers making under $104,000 per year.Although some workers would see their paychecks temporarily increase under the second executive order, they’ll still owe that extra money back at the end of the year barring congressional action.

Feedback:  Republican Senator Ben Sasse blasted Trump’s action, “The pen-and-phone theory of executive lawmaking is unconstitutional slop.  President Obama did not have the power to unilaterally rewrite immigration law with DACA, and President Trump does not have the power to unilaterally rewrite the payroll tax law.” [Emphasis added]

Summary: The website 538 (https://fivethirtyeight.com/features/what-economists-fear-will-happen-without-more-unemployment-aid/) predicts dire consequences if $600 in federal unemployment aid isn’t renewed by September 1st: “decline in personal consumption, increased food insecurity, a wave of evictions, and more job losses.”

We are at a tipping point .  Trump did not respond to the HEROES bill; he tried to stage a photo op and failed.  Republican legislators don’t have a response to the HEROES act.  America needs another stimulus bill and the Republicans can’t get their act together.

On Trump’s watch, the recession will turn into a depression.  Americans won’t forget.

Abandonment Issues

Belle the puppy
bonded with us
caterwauls my exit
bemoans abandonment

Burnett infants
clung to my legs
pleaded and wailed
“Daddy don’t go”

Divorce trauma
“No one loves me”
fell into the pit
confronted abandonment

Kathy kvetches
“You’re not connected”
advertises intimacy
fears isolation

Shelter-in-place
stalked by COVID
buffered from family
simulates abandonment

Commandante Trump
lies and bullies
crumples democracy
promotes abandonment

Trump’s Trifecta: Update

Three months ago, I wrote: “We’re in the middle of a slow-motion catastrophe.  The consequence of disease, depression, and Donald.”  Sadly, U.S. conditions have gotten worse.  The latest GALLUP POLL indicates, “[only] 13% of U.S. adults are satisfied with the state of the nation.”

The Pandemic: Late in April, the U.S. had 1 million coronavirus cases (and 56,000 deaths).  Now we have 5 million cases (and 163,000 deaths).
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.” [Emphasis added]

Donald Trump has not been willing to apply these criteria.  Instead he has asserted that the pandemic is not serious and pushed for an immediate reopening.

Trump has not provided the leadership required to deal with this tragedy.  He has shown no remorse for our 163,000 deaths: “it is what it is.”  Writing in Mother Jones, David Corn observed: “Since the start of this epidemic, Trump has gushed out a series of idiotic and false remarks: The virus is no big deal. It will go away. This is a hoax. We will have a national testing program within days. We will have a vaccine within months. Try hydroxychloroquine. Maybe injecting bleach will help. Case numbers are high because of testing. I take no responsibility. I’ve been right all along. We’ve done an amazing job.”

Given Trump’s inadequate response, it comes as no surprise that most voters give him low marks on the health crisis.  According to the 538 website (https://projects.fivethirtyeight.com/coronavirus-polls/ ) only 37.7 percent of Americans approve of how Trump has handled the pandemic.

The Economy: In June, the U.S. officially entered a recession (https://www.cnbc.com/2020/06/09/the-us-is-officially-in-a-recession-will-it-become-a-depression.html).  In the first quarter the real GDP decreased by 5 percent and in the second quarter it decreased by a whopping 32.9 percent — the worst plunge ever recorded. “The second-quarter cliff in economic activity was driven by a drop-off in consumer spending, which appeared as a 34.6% drop in the personal consumption metric in Thursday’s report… Consumer spending comprises about two-thirds of the US economy, and prior to the pandemic had been the main engine of economic growth.” (https://finance.yahoo.com/news/q2-gdp-us-economy-coronavirus-pandemic-consumer-171558880.html )  Consumer sentiment has also fallen off a cliff.  (https://www.visualcapitalist.com/economic-impact-of-covid-h1-2020/)

The current unemployment rate is 12.1 percent — down from 19.7 percent in April.  The unemployment rate is the largest since it sunk to 25.6 percent at the depths of the Great Depression. To get back to where we were before the pandemic, the U.S. economy has to add 30 million jobs. ( https://www.cnbc.com/2020/06/29/nearly-half-the-us-population-is-without-a-job-showing-how-far-the-labor-recovery-has-to-go.html)

Which workers are laid off depends upon where you live.  Here in Sonoma County, in northern California, there are more than 40,000 furloughed workers: primarily hospitality jobs, agricultural work, and retail occupations.  Most workers won’t regain full employment until the economy can safely reopen.  It’s unclear when this can happen.

Donald Trump doesn’t have a plan to deal with this recession. The latest Quinnipiac poll indicates that only 44% of people approve of the way Trump is handling the U.S. economy. (By the way, Trump plans to spend this weekend playing golf.)

At this writing, Congressional Democrats and Republicans cannot agree on the form of a new stimulus bill.

Meanwhile, there’s a historic disconnect between consumer perception of the economy and the Wall Street Indices — such as the Dow Jones Industrial Average.  (https://www.visualcapitalist.com/understanding-the-disconnect-between-consumers-and-the-stock-market/)  Two factors have contributed to this: first, the DJIA is skewed (weighted) towards information technology technology companies such as Apple, Microsoft, Google, Amazon, and Facebook — companies that have done well in the pandemic.  Second, stock prices are being supported by the Federal Reserve.  In any event, the relatively robust state of the stock indices presents a distorted view of the economy.

Donald Trump:  Trump is incapable of the leadership this catastrophe requires.

On August 3rd, Trump was interviewed by Jonathan Swan — an Australian journalist who works for Axios.  (https://www.rev.com/blog/transcripts/donald-trump-interview-transcript-with-axios-on-hbo )  It’s difficult to watch this interview and not be deeply disturbed by Trump’s performance.  For example,

“Trump [The pandemic is] under control.
Jonathan Swan: How? 1,000 Americans are dying a day.
Trump: They are dying. That’s true. And it is what it is.”

The interview indicates that Trump has no understanding of how serious the pandemic is and no idea of what to do about the situation.

“Trump: And there are those that say you can test too much. You do know that.
Jonathan Swan: Who says that?
Trump: Oh, just read the manuals, read the books.”

More frightening than Trump’s ignorance is his lack of remorse for those who have died or been seriously harmed by COVID-19.

According to the 538 website, only 41.3 percent of voters approve of the job that Donald Trump is doing.

So we’re in a difficult situation: the pandemic continues without an end in sight; the economy has fallen into a deep recession; and Donald Trump is falling apart — if anything, he’s making matters worse.

Hold on tight.  We’re heading for rough waters.

Stuff


“You can’t take it with you.”
Surprised
Kathy’s late cousin George.
His Hillsborough house was a
testament to
stuff.
George loved model airplanes
in every room
half-assembled projects
belt sander
saw
assorted tools
glue
paint.
George believed in bulk buying.
We removed
200 cans of pop
100 rolls of toilet paper
14 gallons of Roundup
11 jars of mustard
8 boxes of “Rice-a-Roni”
and MORE.

I fight my battle with
stuff.
Sold LPs
CDs took their place.
Donated novels
art books line my shelves.
Downsized from two homes to a
storage locker filled with
stuff.

Quakers aspire to
simplicity.
Friends believe that a person’s spiritual life and character
are more important than
the quantity of goods he possesses
.”

Eschew
stuff.

Sleep Disorder

Awake
dark bedroom
quiet house
warm bed

“Neurons, start your engines.”
The tasks pass the reviewing stand
row one:
. need idea for this week’s poem
. finish song with David
. call  vet about Milou’s paw
row two:
. modify FSO website
. balance Schwab account
. call electrician about 30amp connection
row three:
. mow lower meadow
. schedule tree work
. answer John’s email
chores fly by the reviewing stand
like eucalyptus leaves in the Santana wind.

“Maybe I won’t be able to go back to sleep.”
3:20 am
drink water
try to get comfortable
“You know, this isn’t good for your health.”
My critic awakes
“You ate too much, last night.
You know you can’t eat dessert.”

Heart pounds
“You’ve been lucky, so far.
Your luck is running out.”

Chest tightens
“How will Kathy cope, when you are in the hospital?”
eyes open
a shaft of moonlight graces the far wall.

The puppy snorts.
“Maybe I’ll have to take Belle out to pee.”
She calms.
“I’m lucky to have Kathy
and the dogs.
Lucky to live here.
lucky for my family.
Lucky for a lot of things.”

My blessings fall down like rose petals
caressing me to sleep.

Malignant Trumpware

The United States is beset by two viruses: COVID-19, which is highly contagious and causes respiratory distress; and Donald Trump – a form of malware, which is also contagious and causes acute psychological damage. COVID-19 symptoms include fever, cough, fatigue, shortness of breath, and loss of smell and taste; some cases progress to acute respiratory distress syndrome and 3.5 percent result in death. Trumpware causes massive loss of judgement; some cases progress to cult-like behavior and, in a small percentage, a willingness to grant Trump dictatorial power.

There is no known antidote to COVID-19.  We’re all trying to avoid contracting it by preventative actions such as washing our hands often, avoiding close contact when outside our homes — maintaining a protective distance of six feet, and covering our mouths and noses with cloth face covers.

There is an antidote to Trumpware; it’s the presidential election on November 3rd.  Nonetheless, in the next 100 days, there are steps you can take to avoid being contaminated by the Trump social virus.  The first is to understand it.

Malicious software –malware — has been around since at least 1988.  It is software designed to intentionally damage elements of a computer network.

Donald Trump has been around since 1946, but it can been argued that his malware career began in 1988 with the opening of the “Trump Taj Mahal” casino in Atlantic city.

The initial malware — computer viruses and worms — were primarily cruel pranks; such as forcing obscene material on someone’s home screen.  Since 2003 the majority of malware has been more malicious, designed to take control of a computer environment for illicit purposes: spying, damage, or ransom.   (Ransomware takes control of an environment and will not relinquish control until a fee is paid.)

From 1988 until 2003, Donald Trump was not taken seriously; he was, in effect, a cruel prank.  Since 2003, and the advent of The Apprentice, Trump has become more malicious.  In 2016, Trumpware assumed its modern forms.

In some voters, a Trumpware infection is relatively benign.  It takes control of the right frontal lobe and causes loss of rational decision making.  For example, devout Christians begin to believe that Trump is one of them; that he was “chosen by God” to represent their cause.  As another example, formerly principled conservatives adopt the stance that the ends justify the means: “I don’t like Trump personally, or his tweets, but I love his policies.”  Or “fiscally conservative” Republicans look the other way while the Trump Administration increases the federal deficit ($864 billion for 2020) and runs up the national debt (currently $20.5 trillion).

Unfortunately, in some voters, Trumpware takes on a more malicious form: cultware.  Trump has boasted, “I could stand in the middle of 5th Avenue and shoot somebody and I wouldn’t lose voters.”  For a significant percentage of Republicans, this is true.  For these voters, Trump can do no wrong.  Members of the Trump cult reject suggestions that he is unfit for office and cling to the notion that Donald will magically provide them with a big slice of the American dream.  (Some believe that, in the process, Trump will have to “blow up” Washington; in essence, destroy the U.S. institutions that have served Americans for the last 250 years.)

The extreme behavior of members of the Trump cult has fostered the ransomware version of Trumpware: Trump and his supporters threaten, “Give us what we want or we will bring down American democracy.”  Trump demeans civility and encourages violent behavior at this rallies.  He threatens the November 3rd elections by advocating various forms of voter suppression.  He sends paramilitary forces to disrupt peaceful demonstrations.

Computer ransomware takes control of an environment and will not relinquish control until a fee is paid.  Trump has control of the White House and is holding it for ransom.

Gotta Come Out

“One night I was layin’ down
I heard mama and papa talkin’
I heard papa tell mama
‘let that boy boogie-woogie

It’s in him and it got to come out.'”
John Lee Hooker, “Boogie Chillen”

Music was always inside me
singing “Onward Christian Soldiers” with my grandmother
church choirs
L.A. pop radio (overlaid with my lyrics)
school choirs.
But the full expression of my own music was
stopped up.

In 1955
an epiphany
The Johnny Otis: Rhythm and Blues Hit Parade

My musical landscape shifted
from Bing Crosby to Bo Diddley.
A thousand new suns:
Clovers, Drifters, Flamingoes, Temptations,
Hank Ballard, Jerry Butler, Sam Cooke, Joe Turner,
Ray Charles,
Lowell Fulson, Little Walter, Muddy Waters, Howlin’ Wolf,
John Coltrane, Miles Davis, Dave Brubeck, Thelonious Monk…

I began to dance and
music inhabited all of body.

Thank you
Johnny Otis
for activating my
boogie woogie.