The Cold Calculations of Here and Now

No one is more eager than we are for the country to get back to something like normal, as this stay-at-home-with-nowhere-to-go social distancing stuff is already driving us quite stir crazy, but we can’t share President Donald Trump’s optimism that he’ll be able to announce all is well and we can all come out of hiding and get back to business as usual by Easter. Easter is just 19 days off, and current trends suggest that by then the coronavirus will be exponentially more widespread than it is now.
Even so, Trump is ignoring the advice of the government’s most expert epidemiologists and hoping that churches will be packed on Easter and everyone will be back at work the next day. He figures Easter is well past the 15-day period he’s been hoping will suffice since he started taking the coronavirus seriously, and adds that Easter is a very important day to him. Trump is what we weekly worshippers sometimes call a “Chreaster,” meaning the sort of Christian who only attends services at Christmastime and on Easter, so we’ll not question the sincerity of his religiosity.
We do suspect, however, that Trump also has other motivations. Shutting down bars and restaurants and theaters and sports and travel and large gatherings while having everyone stay at home is disastrously bad for business, including Trump’s still wholly-owned businesses, as stock market indexes and unemployments claims clearly demonstrate, and Trump had hoped to run for reelection by boasting to the large gatherings at his campaign rallies about the record stock market highs and unemployment lows he had until the coronavirus came along. Continuing the current caution for weeks or even months past Easter might well spare an untold number of deaths, but there might well be severe economic repercussions to prolonging the status quo, and Trump now repeatedly argues that “We cannot let the disease be worse than the cure.”
Trump seems to have learned the phrase from a fellow who appeared on Fox News the night before Trump started using it, and much of the Trump-friendly media are already repeating it to bolster an argument that is coldly calculating yet deserving of careful consideration. An economic cataclysm might very well cause as many deaths and as much human misery as any pandemic, the argument goes, and those costs must be weighed against whatever deaths and misery that might be spared by everyone staying home until the crisis has passed. We weigh the benefits of automobile travel against the bigger-than-coronavirus number of deaths and human misery it causes every year, after all, and as a society have decided in favor of automobile travel, and in times of war and pestilence civilization our society have coldly and calculatingly made all sorts of similarly difficult decisions.
Texas Lieutenant Governor Dan Patrick, who is also chairman of Trump’s Texas reelection campaign, says he’d be willing to risk dying of coronavirus if it meant his grandchildren could inherit Trump’s robust economy, and many of Trump’s supporters seem just as committed to the argument. Still, we don’t find it entirely convincing.
The coldly calculating types can go right ahead and accuse us of being too warm-heated and wimpy, but we weigh heavily the lives lost and human misery that might very well occur if the current precautions are prematurely lifted. We can’t deny the economic repercussions of more prolonged precautions, which are already apparent and painful to everyone, but we’re looking beyond the next news cycle and election day and wondering how the economy might fare after a cataclysmic plague. Yesterday the stock markets reacted to the possibility of a big deficit-spending stimulus package getting passed with the biggest day on Wall Street since 1933, and although that was one of the darkest years of the Great Depression it suggests that big government might once again muddle us through death and human misery as we stay at home and watch out for the old folks.
Trump has a different perspective, though, and from his cold and calculating way of looking at things Easter might well be the best time for the miraculous rebirth of the Trump economy. For now most of the mounting deaths of the coronavirus are predictably in populous urban states that Trump wouldn’t have won in any case, so he can blame their Democratic governments for the death toll, and the minority of the national population in the electoral majority of the states he won last time around are staying at home with nowhere to go despite low local infection and mortality rates and becoming quite stir crazy. Depending on the death tolls and economic data between now and November, which are hard to foresee, it might just work.
For now Trump seems to be discounting the advice of America’s most expert epidemiologists, who have clearly annoyed him with their televised differences of opinion, and is trusting the gut instincts he prides himself on, which has resulted in several casino bankruptcies and numerous other failed businesses and marriages, but has always somehow left him coming out ahead. There’s no telling how it works out for America and the rest of the world, or how the sooner-or-later election between the damned Republican and the damned Democratsis resolved, but we’re holding out hope for ourselves and our families and friends and all of you and yours, no matter what side you take.

— Bud Norman

The Big News That’s Not Entirely About Coronavirus

The coronavirus craziness continues, with the Kansas governor shutting down all the public schools for the rest of the year and President Donald Trump wanting to send everyone in the country a check for a thousand dollars, but Tuesday at least gave us something else to write about. There’s still plenty of politics to be played, although for now the race for the Democratic Party’s presidential nomination looks to be over.
Despite everything there were three more state primaries on Tuesday — it was supposed to be four, but Ohio decided to put it off until summer — and front-running former Vice President Joe Biden won them all by landslide-to-comfortable margins, so after Biden’s big wins on “Super Tuesday” that pretty much knocks self-described socialist and last-man-standing Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders out of the race. Biden won big in the populous and delegate-rich states of Illinois and Florida, where Sanders also fared badly last time around against former First Lady and Senator and Secretary of State and presumptive First Woman President “Crooked Hillary Clinton, and the upcoming states don’t look any more promising for Sanders, who didn’t offer any comment on the results.
Even in the age of the coronavirus, and perhaps especially so, that’s worth noting.
Which we figure is bad news for Trump, who so feared Biden’s nomination that he got himself impeached trying to extort dirt from a foreign ally about Biden’s son. Better by far to run against “Crazy” Bernie Sanders and his pie-in-the-sky utopian promises, which make Trump and his own oversold and thus-far underdelivered promises seem relatively sane.
Biden is a boring and often inarticulate fellow, and over a political career that stretches back to the administration of President Richard Nixon he’s not done much for either good or bad. Come November the electorate might well find that an attractive alternative to the undeniably entertaining yet even more inarticulate Trump, whose bull-in-a-China-shop approach to governance so far seems to have exacerbated this coronavirus craziness. Trump is now offering thousand-dollar checks to every American, and billion-dollar bailouts to various big-bucks industries to keep the economy afloat, which his Republican base probably won’t mind, but by November he’ll have a lot of explaining to do to the rest of the country, and Biden will have been out of power and utterly blameless for any of it. He’ll be able to point out that Obama created an agency within the National Security Council to deal with pandemics, and Trump sent it packing, and that none of the pandemics that occurred during the Obama administration led to schools and bars and other essential businesses shutting down.
At this point pretty much the whole country is in a panic about the coronavirus and no one seems more panicked the the President of the United States, and we expect that will last until at least next November’s Election Day, which we cautiously hold out hope will happen. We can’t see any happy ending, but we’ll also hold out hope for the least worst outcome, whatever that is.

— Bud Norman

Go Ahead and Panic

The National Basketball Association has indefinitely suspended the rest of its regular season, and the National Collegiate Athletic Association won’t allow any fans to attend its men’s or women’s “March Madness” post season basketball games, so we’re starting to take this coronavirus pandemic seriously. Universally beloved movie star Tom Hanks and his wife have reportedly tested positive for the disease, so apparently no one is safe.
President Donald Trump went on prime time television from the Oval Office on Wednesday to reassure the public that there’s no need for panic, but he also announced he’s banning any travel from European countries for the next 30 days and is preparing to deficit spend billions propping up a suddenly ailing economy, so you can draw your own conclusions based on how much you trust his self-proclaimed very stable genius. From what we’ve seen of it over the past three years, we’re inclined to panic.
Trump was loudly sniffing at the end of every sentence, but he’d been doing that long before anyone had heard of a coronavirus, so we’re not bothered by that, even if Trump has come in contact with with several people who are self-quarantining themselves after coming into contact with people who have contracted the virus. We’re more bothered that Trump fired all of his National Security Council’s experts on global pandemics when he came into office, spent the first weeks of the pandemic claiming it was yet another hoax concocted by his political opponents to make him look bad, so far failed to deliver on a promise of testing for everybody, and has urged people to keep going to work and coming to his campaign rallies even if they have reason to believe they’ve contracted the virus.
Even before anyone ever heard of a coronavirus Trump was eager to restrict any interaction between America and the rest of the world, and the travel restrictions he’s imposed in the wake of the pandemic might well prove sound public policy, but it’s not good for either the global nor the intertwined American economies. Trump has declared himself pleased that Americans will stay in America and spend their dollars here, but as a luxury hotel mogul he should know that America gets more from international travel it spends, and that when basketball games and music festivals and intrastate business meetings and domestic airline flights and cruise ship bookings are being cancelled and supply chains are being interrupted there will be serious economic repercussions.
All the smart money is already panicked about it, with all the major stock exchanges down by 20 points over the last weeks into what is now officially Bear Market territory, after a remarkable 11-year run of Bull Markets, which any Republican will have to admit is eight years longer than Trump has been in office. Trump is urging the Federal Reserve Board to further lower interest rates, which are already pretty much zero, and to keep up the “quantitative easing” of freshly printed money that Republican used to decry, which now have the 2- and 10- and 20- and even the 100-year bond yields at pretty much zero, and is promising to add a few few puny billions of dollars to the nation’s latest $1 trillion dollar deficit to offset all the economic carnage. We’ll find out today and in the coming days how the smart money reacts to that.
Shortly before Trump’s address to the nation, director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases Dr. Anthony Fauci, who seems to know even more about this coronavirus thing than than Trump, warned a House oversight committee that “Things will get worse.”

In any case we’ll hope for the best. We won’t being showing up at anyone’s campaign rallies, as no one seems to know what to do about this, but we will try to show up at the West Douglas Church of Christ and Kirby’s Beer Store, and maybe even watch all the great basketball on our computer or some local tavern’s television. If we’re lucky, life will go on.

— Bud Norman

A Dreary Monday Followed By Yet Another Super Tuesday

Pretty much everyone we encountered on Monday asked how we’re doing, as the friendly folks here in Wichita tend to do, and we were able to cheekily answer that we’re faring better than the stock markets. Most of the people we met got the dark humor in our reply, as they’d heard the news that Monday was an historically bad day on Wall Street.
All three of the major American exchanges suffered at least a 7 percent drop, which comes after a few weeks of alarming declines, and all the smart money on the rest of the world’s markets seems similarly panicked, with no apparent good news on the horizon to turn things around in the near future. The main reason for the dive is the steadily spreading coronavirus pandemic, which has thus far killed only a tiny fraction of the world’s population but already cancelled big events and shut down schools and disrupted global supply chains and currently has most of Italy in quarantine. The markets are also worried that oil prices are plummeting on falling demand and a dispute between Organization of Petroleum Exporting Countries Russia and Saudi Arabia, which can’t agree on an ideal price to fix.
Neither of these developments can be credibly blamed on President Donald Trump, but so far the smart money isn’t betting that he has any solutions. Trump has thus far argued the coronavirus threat is overblown, based on his hunches and natural ability to grasp the science of epidemiology because he had a “super-genius” uncle who taught physics at the Massachussets Institute of Technology, but by Monday he was proposing a slew of government programs and “stimulus” measures redolent of President Barack Obama to prop up the economy just in case. The Federal Reserve Board is on the brink of offering zero interest loans and already printing more money to make up for the trillion dollars of deficit spending by the government, the bond markets are offering pretty much zero return on long or short-term yields, Trump is “tweeting” demands they go even further, and we can well understand why the smart money isn’t reassured.
The worries about the plummeting oil markets are harder to understand. We’re old enough to remember when the OPEC cartel’s price-gouging was the global economy’s biggest worry, and won’t mind a bit if the local gasoline prices fall below $2 a gallon as expected, but it does seem to be a troubling sign for the rest of the global economy. Trump will surely be conflicted about it, as he’s good friends with both the Russian and Saudi dictators and would love to take credit for cheap gasoline, but nothing he might say or do about it is likely to stabilize any of the markets.
Today is another big Tuesday in the Democratic presidential primary races, and the smart money is betting that former Obama-era Vice President Joe Biden will knock self-described socialist and Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders out of the race, but that won’t help much. The stock markets had a rare good day when Biden took the lead over Sanders after last week’s “Super Tuesday,” but no one’s betting that Biden has all the answers.
It’s all quite desultory, but for now we can tell anyone who asks that we have no symptoms of the coronavirus and are feeling somewhat healthier than the stock markets. Here’s hoping that all of our dear readers are faring at least as well, and that we all make it through.

— Bud Norman

The Coronavirus and the Real Reason to Be Very, Very Afraid

President Donald Trump has put Vice President Mike Pence in charge of America’s response to the now-pandemic coronavirus problem, and we hope the world’s stock markets will be reassured that at least it’s not presidential son-in-law Jared Kushner running the show. There are new cases of the Chinese-born disease showing up in France and Brazil and here in the United States as well as South Korea and Japan and Italy and Iran, and the disease-fighting sector of the American government has been decimated by budget cuts and staff defections over the past three years, but the Dow Jones only dropped a hundred or so points on Wednesday, so for the moment there’s no real reason to panic.
Trump now argues that the real reason for the six-plus percentage drop in the stock markets this week is all the damn Democrats running for president, and we must admit there might be something to that. The current front-runner in the Democratic race is self-described socialist and Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders, whose loony-left policies would probably have a more destructively virulent effect on the stock markets than even the coronavirus, and even the most relatively sane and centrist Democrats still in contention are unlikely to inspire any bull markets.
One of many problems with Trump’s argument, however, is its implicit acknowledgement that the smart money is already hedging its bets that any one of those damn Democrats has a chance of beating him in the next presidential election. They’ll all have plenty of arguments against Trump, including his anti-establishment burn-it-down decimation of the government’s disease-fighting apparatus, which is the kind of bone-headed mistake that even the looniest left of the anti-establishment yet government-loving Democratic party would never make. If this coronavirus problem and its stock market woes continues to Election Day despite the best efforts of Pence, even the damndest of the damn Democrats will have the advantage on the issue.
At this point we’re cautiously hopeful that humankind somehow survives the coronavirus, and that America’s free markets will continue to prosper in a scarily global worldwide economy, and that it all ends for the best, whatever that might be.

— Bud Norman

These Scary Times

Having survived the swine flu and the bird flu and AIDS and SARs and the Ebola virus and all the other pandemics that were supposed to wipe out humankind, we’ve been feeling pretty cocky about our chances of surviving this newfangled coronavirus. After what happened on Wall Street on Monday, however, we’re at less a wee bit nervous.
News that the coronavirus has spread from China to South Korea, Iran and Italy renewed concerns that it will further disrupt the international trade system and the many gazillions of money that it generates, which has already seen much global several business with the gargantuan Chinese economy brought to a screeching halt. The Dow Jones Industrial Average dropped a jaw-dropping 1031 points, which is a jaw-dropping 3.6 percent, and the Standard & Poor and NASDAQ suffered even worse percentage losses, and for now all the smart money seems scared.
Aside from the already horrific death toll and severe economic consequences from the coronavirus, there are also political implications. President Donald Trump can’t plausibly be blamed for the coronavirus and the resulting stock markets, but he always implausibly claimed full credit for all the impressive stock market gains during his administration and has thus tied his political fortunes to the latest indexes. Decisive presidential leadership is called for, but at this point there’s not much Trump or any possible president might do.
The White House has requested congress to pass a $1.8 billion emergency spending bill to bring the total of spending on the coronavirus to $2.5 billion, which is a good idea that will probably win bipartisan approval, but by Washington standards that’s a relatively puny amount of money to throw at a problem of this size. There are many very smart people in America’s scientific community, but for now the smart money is betting that they won’t have this problem solved by election day, which seems a smart bet to us.
Trump is also calling on the Federal Reserve and the rest of the world’s central banks to reassure the world markets with a fresh infusion of that sweet opium of newly-printed cash, but at this point there’s not much more they can do. Several of the world’s biggest economies are offering below zero interest rates, which is every bit as stupid as it sounds, and despite what Trump has called the best American economy ever the Federal Reserve has been setting interest rates historically close to zero and the budget deficit is over a trillion dollars. A debt-ridden America and the rest of the debt-ridden world are ill-prepared to deal with one of those occasional Black Swan events, as the smarty-pants economists call it.
Which is not to say that any of those damned Democrats running for the presidency have any solutions. Self-described socialist and current Democratic front-runner Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders will have a a harder time paying for his all his trillions of dollars of spending on all of America’s problems if there’s an economic downturn. The relatively sane and centrist Democratic candidates also don’t have any answers, and we frankly admit that neither nor do we few remaining NeverTrump Republicans,
Pretty much everyone anti-Trump will get their digs in, though. Trump has taken his usual position against foreigners entering the country, but some very quarantined cases of the virus have come in, and Trump’s skepticism about fancy pants scientists seems to have decimated the government agencies charged with dealing with pandemics. Trump has questioned the scientific community’s assessments of global climate change and the quality of America’s air and water and the cancerous effects of wind turbines, and he’ll probably soon ask you to believe that he knows more about the coronavirus than anyone.
Even so, we expect to eventually die from something other than the coronavirus, and to survive whatever political and economic upheavals it might bring. Which is not to say it will be a happy ending for anybody.

— Bud Norman

Another St. Valentine’s Day Massacre

The horrific mass shooting at Parkland, Florida’s Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School on Wednesday, which left at least 17 dead and at least another score injured, was the 18th school shooting in America in this young year by the American Broadcasting Company’s count. The Cable News Network counts it as only the 12th mass school shooting in the past month-and-a-half, but everyone seems to have lost count of how many there have been in the past few decades, not to mention all the mass shootings at gay night clubs and country-and-western concerts and post-game celebrations and other non-school events, and by now it’s almost numbingly routine.
Respectful mention must always be made, but it’s increasingly hard to think of anything new to say. At this point most of the media don’t bother to rerun all the familiar arguments for and against further gun control measures, or the similarly complicated arguments about dealing with the apparent pandemic of mental illness in America. One of the right wing talk radio talkers took a day off from blaming the “deep state” Democrats and Republicans for the whole “Russia thing” and instead railed against the bleeding heart public education types who don’t post armed guards in every school, which we have to admit is a reasonable suggestion, but the rest of the media coverage had a depressing feel of deja vu.
We have nothing new to say, just the same old heartfelt offer of thoughts and prayers. We well understand how insufficient and stale that sounds to an impatient secular society, but note that our impatient secular society has nothing more fresh and satisfying to offer. As long as we’re all at least talking about it, though, we’ll hold out prayerful hope that the conversation might lead us to some mutually agreed upon and at least slightly ameliorative solution to what everyone agrees is an intolerable problem.
The important thing is that we not come to regard it as normal and therefor tolerable. Human beings in general and Americans in particular have that unfortunate tendency. The left did it to the point that President Donald Trump was elected, now the the right is just as busily devoted to defining deviancy down, and the cynical center is more convinced than ever that both sides were a scam all along and there’s nothing to be done about it.. Which makes it hard to confront the uncomfortable but undeniable fact that an extraordinary and heartbreaking number of our nation’s ¬†children get shot down in their schools by mid-February.

— Bud Norman