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

A Pandemic In An Election Year

The coronavirus arrived in the United States during an election year, which is quite inconvenient for American democracy.
Nine states have primary elections scheduled in April, but they’ll likely be postponed indefinitely, and there’s a chance both parties will have to postpone their nominating conventions. We’re hopeful there will be a general election as scheduled, even if it’s by mail or internet or some other sure-to-be-controversial method, but it will be an election like no other.
Former Vice President Joe Biden has a clear lead in the Democratic primary race and seems a sure bet to soon clinch the nomination, but last remaining rival Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders hasn’t dropped out and nothing’s certain. Neither candidate is currently able to hold rallies or do other traditional campaigning, and both are finding it hard to get any coverage from media that have little time or space for anything other than coronavirus news. Whatever arguments they might make for themselves are largely unheard, and important issues that will likely survive the coronavirus are not being debated.
President Donald Trump has already clinched the Republican nomination, and although he can’t hold the campaign rallies he so dearly loves he has no trouble getting media coverage, but that’s not necessarily to his benefit. Even by November he probably won’t be able to run as planned on boasts about record stock market highs and unemployment lows, there are valid criticisms of his response to the coronavirus crisis, and he’ll find it hard to plausibly pin any of the blame on either Biden or Sanders.
Much depends on how the coronavirus and the economy play out between now and November, which is still far off, but we don’t expect the country will be tired of winning, and that it will be an acrimonious election.

— Bud Norman

The Good, the Bad, and the Coronavirus

The coronavirus has reduced to us keeping in touch with family and friends as best we can through the modern miracle of Facebook, which is not satisfying but at least better than nothing. Several of our musician friends have been streaming live concerts from their living rooms or basements or the otherwise empty Kirby’s Beer Store, a very fetching woman of our acquaintance has posted videos of herself reading aloud from a favorite novel, other friends are offering to deliver food and toilet paper and other essential items to the porches of those in need, and many more are posting much-appreciated messages of hope and encouragement.
Some of the people we encounter on Facebook are still in denial about the threat, and acrimoniously respond to anyone who dares criticize anything about President Donald Trump’s undeniably slow and inadequate and oftentimes irresponsibly dishonest response. Our guess is that a few of them are among those stripping the local grocery stores’s shelves bare by hoarding more than they’ll need with no regard for the pressing needs of others. Elsewhere in the news, we read of people trying to profit from this catastrophe at the great expense of others.
At the top of this list we’ll point an accusing finger at Republican North Carolina Sen. Richard Burr and Republican George Sen. Kelly Loeffler, who sold large amounts of stock markets after getting early intelligence briefings that warned of the dire economic effects of the coronavirus even as they assured their constituents there was nothing to worry about. Oklahoma Republican Sen. James Inhofe and California Democratic Sen. Diane Feinstein also sold a lot of stock around the same time, but both claim it was done by the people managing their portfolios in a blind trust, both have invited ethics committee investigations to verify that, and neither were peddling happy talk to the public.
Burr was caught on tape telling a gathering of big-bucks donors early on that hard times were coming around again, Loeffler’s financial disclosures reveal that after a big sell-off in soon-to-be-hard-hit industries she put a lot of money in a telecommuting company that’s one of the few likely to benefit from an at-home economy, and even at Fox News some very conservatives voices are calling for both Republicans to resign and faces charges on insider trading.
Partisanship and petty political squabbling has thus far been immune to the coronavirus. When asked about the four accused senators at a daily press briefing where he’s supposed to be reassuring the public about the government’s response, Trump chided the reporter for not mentioning Feinstein, the only Democrat among them, and vouched for the character of all four, but especially the Republicans. Republican Utah Sen. Mitt Romney is a frequent critic and the only Republican senator to vote for Trump’s conviction on an impeachment article, and when he was informed by a reporter that Romney was in self-quarantine Trump’s voice dripped with sarcasm as he said “Oh, that’s too bad.” Trump also uses the briefings to disparage the reporters who are providing the public with more accurate information than he presents, which is so often quickly contradicted by the federal government’s best health care experts, but the hard-core fans among our Facebook friends seem to love it.
We have Democratic friends who are as bad, and hope to use the virus to resurrect self-described socialist and Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders’ quixotic presidential campaign, and blame everything on the capitalist system that was chugging along well enough until recently, and largely created all the science and commerce and the governmental and social institutions that we still hope will help get us all through this. History will likely record that Trump did some things right and a lot of things wrong during this pandemic, assuming there will be history, and for now we’d prefer that everyone be more objective and civic-minded.
Despite everything all of the federal government is still meeting and telecommuting to come up with some multi-trillion dollar bailout and stimulus deficit-spending bill to slow the economy’s rapid slide into the abyss, and although almost everyone agrees that desperate measures are required there’s the usual partisan disagreement and petty political squabbling about what it should be. The Democrats instinctively want to subsidize the workers, while as is their wont the Republicans want to sustain the businesses that employ those workers, and as usual everyone is looking out for the constituents in their districts and states.
There must be some reasonably sufficient compromise that might do some good, we’d like to think, but it won’t be easy in a time when a pandemic panic has exacerbated all the partisanship and petty political squabbling. Even so, we’re heeding the encouraging messages we find from our friends on Facebook and holding out hope in America and the rest of humanity.
Sooner or later you’ll have to leave the house and drive on inexpensive gasoline to the store for beer and other essential items, where some brave clerk will dare come face-to-face with you to make the sale. If not you might have some brave nurse in a days old face mask provide you care for whatever ails you, or have some other brave soul deliver what’s needed to your door, and in most cases you’ll have no idea if they’re a damned Democrat or a damned Republican, or how they’ll vote in the next election, if that happens.
In any case, we urge you to be kind and grateful and friendly to anyone you encounter in virtual reality or actual reality these dark days, as we’re all going to need one another. At an earlier dark time in our nation’s history a wiser and more eloquent Republican President Abraham Lincoln urged that “We are not enemies, but friends. We must not be enemies. Though passion may have strained, it must not break our bonds of affection. The mystic chords of memory will swell when again touched, as they surely will be, by the better angels of our nature.”

— Bud Norman

On the Only Subject at Hand

Try as we might, we simply can’t find anything in the news to write about other than the rapidly spreading coronavirus. Pretty much everyone we run into as we continue to get out and about brings it up, and there’s at this point there’s no avoiding the topic.
Most folks in this hoops-crazy state like to talk sports, especially during “March Madness,” but the coronavirus cancelled both collegiate and professional basketball and will delay baseball and has temporarily shut down sports. Pop culture usually provides something salacious to talk, but right now the entertainment news is all about beloved movie star Tom Hanks and his lovely wife coming down with coronavirus and all the late television comedians doing their jokes about President Donald Trump without studio audiences to laugh along.
The coronavirus is pretty much all that matters for now in the economic news, which has lately been quite awful. The sports industry and school districts are shutting down, and music festivals and business meetings are being cancelled, and entire cities and countries are being quarantined. and travel bans are being imposed, and globalist supply chains are being interrupted, which is not good for the global economy or your favorite hometown business. Stock markets are plummeting, the Federal Reserve Board and the central banks of the other major global economic players are all slashing interest rates to zero and beyond and printing up more money to assuage the markets, and everything indicates that now is the time to panic.
Which of course makes the coronavirus the biggest political story of each passing day, which of course is bad news for Trump. He’s done his best to downplay the coronavirus as no big deal that would soon be forgotten, and even dismissed it as yet another “hoax” to torpedo his presidency, but now that he’s talking about massive government bailouts and travel bans from most of continental Europe he’s conceding that the coronavirus is a pretty big deal, and so far his proposals have not stopped the economic carnage nor quelled a public panic.
None of the damned Democrats seem to have any better ideas, but having been mostly out of power during two of the past three years they can’t be credibly blamed for the current mess, and they have plenty of talking points. According to the consensus opinion of America’s leading experts on this sort of thing, including some who are still on board with the federal government, the country is doing a woeful job of testing its citizens for the disease, and is therefore unable to do other things the country might do if it knew where the corona virus was popping up. Travel bans might be a painful necessity at the moment, but Trump’s European travel band doesn’t extend to Ireland and the United Kingdom, where there have been confirmed cases of coronavirus, and anyone in continental Europe could easily fly to the UK and then to the United States, so the damned Democrats are entitled to wonder if that has anything to do with Trump’s failing golf resorts in those countries.
For now the Democratic nominee seems likely to be former Vice President Joe Biden, rather than self-described socialist Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders, and we figure that’s also bad news for Trump. Biden is a very boring fellow, which a wary country might well long for come November, but Sanders is kooky enough that Trump might persuade a wary country he could be more destructive than the coronavirus. Biden was vice president during the administration of President Barack Obama, and you can way what you want about his slow-growth policies — we had plenty to say about it at the time — but they did take over shortly after an economic catastrophe and were in charge during eight of those 11 years of Bull Markets that went into Bear Market territory during Trump’s administration. Biden will also have plenty to say about how Trump fired the National Security Council’s pandemic response that the Obama administration had created.
We don’t give much credit to either Obama or Trump for the long run of the Bull Market, but rather credit the ingenuity and resilience of free Americans operating in a free market, trading freely with all the free people of the world. Here’s hoping that not only survives this coronavirus, but also the likes of Trump and Biden, and that there’s something else to talk about.

— 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

In the Age of the Coronavirus

The coronavirus seems to be steadily spreading around the world, and the panic about it is spreading even faster. Large events are being cancelled, vacations are being postponed, employees of major businesses are being asked to work at home, cruise ships are being held at sea, and stock markets around the world are tanking.
Even here in Kansas, where there has so far been no reported cases of coronavirus, some people are already taking precautions. They’re being extra careful to cover their mouths when coughing or squeezing, which is the polite thing to do even in the best of circumstances, and some are resorting to more extreme measures. Some folks we know are even washing their hands a few dozen times a day and singing “Happy Birthday” twice while doing so to make sure they’re there at it for the recommended 20 seconds, which used to be considered a severe symptom of Obsessive Compulsive Disorder but is now merely good hygiene. Although we try our best to be hygienic we probably won’t take up the habit until our neighbors start getting infected, as we’d feel damned silly otherwise.
Humans everywhere are also advised to avoid rubbing their eyes or otherwise touching their faces, but that’s an instinctively human habit that will be hard to break. These days we’re constantly slapping our foreheads and scratching our chins and rubbing our eyes as we read the news, and all these stories about the coronavirus don’t help.
Otherwise, we have few serious problems with the new protocols of the coronavirus. We’ve never been the touchy-feely types, and are uncomfortable with hugs even at a family reunion, and we only allow a person to touch our faces in very special circumstances after they’ve been thoroughly vetted, and we consider a respectful nod a sufficiently respectful greeting in most social interactions, so the new no human-to-human contact rules are fine by us. So far we’ve proudly never failed to shake a stranger’s hand, but if the new rules forbid it, so be it.
President Donald Trump has tried to reassure the nation by saying that all the experts are wrong and his “hunch” that everything will soon be fine is right, but that kind of crazy talk only seems to have increased the panic. The stock markets had a good day after the “Super Tuesday” Democratic fueled hope that self-described socialist and Vermont Sen. Bernie won’t be the next president, but on Thursday they were once again slumping on news of the spreading coronavirus. The stock markets are betting that neither Trump nor for-now presumptive Democratic nominee Joe Biden have a cure for this latest pandemic and its resulting panic, and we figure they’re probably right.
We’ll probably be slapping our foreheads and scratching our chins and rubbing our eyes as we watch it all play out, but we’ll hope for the best.

— Bud Norman

Sanders vs. Trump vs. “The Establishment”

One encounters all sorts of people here in Wichita, and over the years we’ve acquired a dizzyingly diverse group of friends. We have friendships with men and women of all colors and sexual orientations and sports team preferences and political opinions. We’re friends with some fervid supporters of President Donald Trump and some equally fervid advocates for self-described socialist and potential Democratic rival Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders, and we have noticed they seem to have a lot in in common.
Both are true believers in their hero’s infallibility, and both are inclined to believe in conspiracy theories that some nebulous and nefarious “establishment” is out to prevent them from making everything right. Both believe that most of the mainstream media are in on it, too.
Trump has lately been “tweeting” to Sanders’ supporters that they’re right to be paranoid, as he knows all too well how nefarious that nebulous “establishment” and mainstream media can be in stopping a revolutionary movement, and it’s a smart move. Sanders’ most fervid supporters won’t vote for Trump in any circumstance, but from our barroom conversations with the Sandersistas they might well wind up voting for the Green Party or Socialist Party or Communist Party or not voting at all if the damned Democrats don’t nominate their guy, even if that means another four years of Trump.
From our seats here on the political sidelines we’re nostalgically yearning for a bygone era in our lifetimes when there actually was an “establishment” and a mainstream media to enforce the time-honored norms of civil discourse and international relations that mostly maintained America’s and the rest of the world’s peace and prosperity. The dirty hippies and the rest of the damn Democrats started the whole “anti-establishment” crusade, and thus set off a “sexual revolution” and a general distrust of time-honored institutions and mores in general, and in the last election a proudly libertine and “anti-establishment” Republican won on an Electoral College victory on a promise to burn it all down.
At this moment the frontrunner in the Democratic primary race is Biden, a relatively sane and centrist by-Democratic-standards, and the Super Tuesday victories he scored to put him in the lead for now, which has our Sanders-loving panicked. Biden was was helped when fellow centrists South Bend, Indiana, Mayor Pete Buttigieg and Minnesota Sen. Amy Klobuchar dropped out and endorsed Biden’s candidacy, all of the media reported on Biden’s big night, which of course fuels all the conspiracy theories about “the establishment,” with Trump telling a rally crowd that there was surely some illegal quid pro quo involved.
As we see it Biden won the lion’s share of the “Super Tuesday” vote from rank-and-file Democrats, however, as the elite “establishment” doesn’t have nearly enough to account for the lopsided results, and people don’t really pay that much attention to what’s left of the mainstream media. Most Democratic voters apparently bought Biden’s pitch that he’d go back to the days of the President Barack Obama administration.
All of our Trump-loving friends remember that as the dark age of socialist dystopia, and our Sanders-loving recall it as the era when the nebulous and nefarious “establishment” kept Obama from fulling his promise to fundamentally transform America into to a socialist utopia. We were very critical of the slow recovery from the Great Recession that Obama inherited, but after the Republicans won back the House in the mid-terms and slowed the deficit spending the economy started progressing slightly better in the last three years of the Obama administration than it has in the first three years of the Trump administration.
Trump would clearly prefer to run against Sanders, having invited impeachment by attempting to extort dirt from the Ukrainians about Biden. After Sanders and his kooky left ideas suffered a huge defeat on “Super Tuesday” the stock markets all rallied from a severe coronavirus slump, which signals some support for Biden’s Obama era policies, but at least Trump can hope to divide the Democrats and suppress the sizable Sanders vote. Which just might work.
However it turns out, we’ll hope that some sort of establishment maintains the norms that have so far mostly worked.

— Bud Norman

Declaring Victory and Coming Home

The story went largely unnoticed, what with the coronavirus and the Democratic primary race and the latest celebrity scandals, but President Donald Trump has announced an end within 14 months to the longest war America ever fought.
American troops have been fighting in Afghanistan since shortly after the deadly terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, yet it’s gone largely unnoticed. The war was launched with bipartisan support and widespread public approval, as Afghanistan’s sternly Islamic Taliban government was giving sanctuary to the al-Qaeda terror group that had so viciously attacked America, and a relative handful of badass Special Forces quickly toppled the Taliban government with help from some formidable Islamic but anti-Taliban Afghan militias that American intelligence agencies had wisely built a relationship with. Casualties were relatively low by the brutal standards of war, elections were held for a new government, and over 19 long years of propping up that government the troop deployments were relatively light and casualties were relatively low by war standards. There were mass shootings in places all across America that were deadlier, so it wasn’t front page news.
A war in Iraq that was less clearly tied to the Sept. 11 attacks proved far more controversial, and Afghanistan became the “good war” that even the most peacenik Democratic politicians didn’t dare criticize. The Iraq war started with the “shock and awe” of the full might of America’s military quickly toppling the dictatorship of Saddam Hussein, then holding elections for a new government, but propping up that attempt at democracy in the Islamic world turned out to be costlier than expected, and even after a “surge” of American forces largely pacified the country the effort was widely unpopular.
President Barack Obama supported the war in Afghanistan but ran on his from-the-start opposition to the Iraq War, and after sending more troops to Iraq he kept a campaign promise in 2011 by withdrawing all forces from the country. A rise of such radical Islamist groups as the Islamic State soon followed in the region, and troops were sent back to various countries in the region to fight against that. Trump has now claimed victory in that fight, because the Islamic State has lost its territory even if it retains its terrorism capabilities, and he’s happily ceding the region to the Russians and Iranians. He’s declaring victory in Afghanistan, too, as he agrees to a deal that seems likely to put the Taliban back in charge of the country.
According to the deal the Taliban promises a cease-fire with the Afghan government that has so far been propped up by the American military, and that even if does wind up in charge again it won’t have anything to do with with the likes of al-Qaeda. There’s no reason to believe this, and much reason to doubt it, but Trump is keeping a campaign promise to end America’s endless Middle East wars, and he’s already calling it the best deal ever. He’s also said that if the Taliban reneges we’ll be back with shock and awe like nobody has ever seen, and even if he loses to any old Democrat that’s what we expect will eventually happen.
At this point both parties want America to withdraw from its leading role in global affairs, and it’s harder than ever to make the case for these seemingly endless wars. We’re well past draft age and don’t have any moral standard to say this, but even after so many years we think there’s something to be said for American resolve. The radical Islamist portion of the Islamic world has been decimated by a couple of unpopular wars and such unpopular legislation as the Patriot Act, and despite public opinion we’d like to keep up the good fight.

— 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

The Damned Democrats’ Debate

The six candidates who still have a plausible shot at winning the Democratic party’s presidential nomination had a debate Wednesday night in Nevada, which is having one of those weird caucus rituals on Saturday, and it was a raucous affair. All of the contenders spent so much bashing one another they had little time left to bash President Donald Trump, who surely enjoyed the show.
According to the latest polls ┬áthe clear frontrunner in the race is Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders, a self-described socialist and the darling of the loony left portion of the Democratic party, which is plenty big enough to give a him a 32 point plurality in the crowded field, with fellow loony lefty Massachusetts Sen. Elizabeth Warren fading into fourth at 12 percent. Former Vice President and former frontrunner Joe Biden, who is courting the party’s relatively sane centrists, is in second with 16 percent, but that’s barely ahead of the 14 percent by billionaire media mogul and former New York City mayor Michael Bloomberg, who is courting the same votes. South Bend, Ind., Mayor Pete Buttigieg and Minnesota Sen. Amy Klobuchar have 8 and 7 percent respectively, which also come from the relatively sane centrist faction.
All of which led to Wednesday’s brass knuckle free-for-all, with the relatively sane centrists attacking one another as well as the loony left contenders, and the loony left contenders also firing in every direction. As best as we can score the bout, Bloomberg got by far the worst of it.
Bloomberg skipped the opening contests in Iowa and New Hampshire, and has carefully avoided any public appearances or interviews with the media, so his recent rapid rise in the polls is entirely due to the $50 million of his own money that he’s poured into national advertising on radio and television and the internet, and one big question was how he’d fare on his first debate stage since his mayoral campaigns. Not vey well, as it turns out.
Everyone in the Democratic party and most of the independents they’ll need to win in November have by now had their fill of New York City billionaires, so all the other candidates gleefully piled on. Warren blasted Bloomberg’s longstanding reputation for saying outrageously things in public and the numerous lawsuits brought by women against his company for fostering a hostile workplace and having women bound by nondisclosure agreements, which seems to be what New York City billionaires do, and Warren succinctly summarized his response as “Well, I’ve been nice to some women.”
Klobuchar criticized Bloomberg’s failure to release his tax returns, another one of those thing New York City billionaires seem to do, and although he promised he’d get around to it soon his explanation for the delay only emphasized that he’s suspiciously rich. Sanders whole platform is anti-billionaires in general, so he further demonized Bloomberg to his fans. Others on both the left and center criticized the “stop and frisk” policing policies aimed mostly at minorities that Bloomberg championed as New York mayor, and although Bloomberg has fulsomely apologized for it that probably won’t do him much good in the largely-Latino Nevada caucus or the majority-black South Carolina primary that’s coming up next.
Everyone but Warren argued that Sanders’ self-described socialism might render him unelectable in a country that’s still mostly center-right, and was forced by the centrists to defend the economic feasibility of his pie-in-the-sky health care proposals, but Bloomberg drew a gasp an then boos when he accused Sanders of being a communist. The 78-year-old Sanders recently suffered a heart attack and was roundly criticized for failing to keep a promise to release his full medical records, and he offered the same explanation that Trump did about his undeniably grueling campaign schedule, but he didn’t seem on his game.</div div style=”text-indent:20px;”>Biden went largely unscathed, but the lack of attacks seemed to emphasize his slow decline into irrelevance, which will rapidly accelerate if he doesn’t do very well in Nevada and then South Carolina, and he still not much of a campaigner and didn’t do much on Wednesday to turn things around. That’s good news for Buttigieg and Klobuchar, who could now overtake both Biden and Bloomberg for those relatively sane centrist Democratic voters. Buttigieg criticized Klobuchar for failing to remember the name of the Mexican president during a recent interview, but she admitted to the understandable momentary lack of memory and made Buttigieg look rather pedantic. On the whole, we think she got the better of it.
Sanders has run afoul of the hotel and casino and restaurant workers union that is largely Latino and a huge chunk of the Nevada caucus-goers, who don’t like his plan to take away their hard-earned health benefits package as part of his single-payer “Medicare for all” plan, which gives the relatively sane centrists a chance at a much-needed win. As bad as Bloomberg was in his first public appearance he probably won’t be the beneficiary, no matter how much money he spends, and we expect Biden to continue underperforming, so that’s an opportunity for either Buttigieg or Klobuchar.
Buttigieg is openly homosexual, and although that didn’t matter to the voters in Iowa and New Hampshire and doesn’t offend our old-fashioned sensibilities any more than Trump’s tawdry sexual history, the largely Latino voters in Nevada and the black majority of voters in South Carolina might not be so open-minded, and even in this day and age it eventually will raise unavoidable questions about his electability, a sanely centrist with impressive military experience though he might be. Which is good news for Klobuchar, a happily married heterosexual woman and mother who has won every race she’s ever run even in Minnesota’s most Republican districts, and can brag of the bills she’s written that got passed and signed even in this polarized age, and she doesn’t want to take away anyone’s private health insurance.
As we scored the free-for-all cage match Klobuchar had a pretty good night, which is the only bad news of the evening for Trump. Eventually Warren will drop out and her 12 percent will join Sanders’ 32 percent, but if Klobuchar is the last relatively sane centrist standing she could have 45 percent of the party on her side, and even more if the Democrats decide that their socialist utopia can wait another four years and beating Trump is the party’s top priority. Trump will come up with some taunting nickname to tar Klobuchar as a loony leftist, and he won’t be able to resist making some outrageously sexist comment about her less-than-beauty-queen looks, but that won’t endear him to the educated suburban Republican women he have left the party in droves over the past three years, and we think she’d be a formidable foe. She also punches back, and she’s pretty darned good at it.
There are still 48 states and all those territories to go, though, and a big chunk of the Democrat party is clearly intent on leaping off that loony left cliff, so we’ll see how it turns out. The scariest part is that even the looniest left Democratic nominee could come up with a bigger plurality in this polarized nation than Trump.

— Bud Norman