“Justice”? Barrett

For Better or Worse

I – like a lot of my fellow Democrats – have been squirming about the unfair and untimely confirmation of a new Supreme Court Justice just before the election, after the Senate refused to even hold a hearing on Judge Merrick Garland’s nomination just a few years back because it occurred in the SAME YEAR as a presidential election. Earlier this week, nearly 100 of her apparently loving and admiring faculty colleagues at Notre Dame begged her to defer confirmation until after the election, because proceeding would “further inflame our civic wounds, undermine confidence in the court, and deepen the divide among ordinary citizens.”

On her life record, Amy Coney Barrett appears to be more than just qualified to be a Justice of the Supreme Court, albeit one who does NOT believe in abortion, does not like Obamacare and who cannot bring herself to recuse herself in advance from a case that may quickly come before the Court about this election.

To be clear, I believe Roe v. Wade is settled law partly because the case is a clear precedent, but also because the American people have repeatedly made clear that they want it to stay that way. While she didn’t leave any dispositive hints, she did indicate that Roe is a very well-established precedent.

Similarly, I also believe Obamacare SHOULD be settled law because it is clearly the wish/will of a clear majority of Americans. Again, she didn’t leave any hints; she did make clear that she recognizes that the American people overwhelming want and need health care.

President-for-now Trump got a shot at one more Supreme Court seat when Justice Ginsburg untimely died. He clearly wants to kill Roe v Wade and Obamacare. Therefore, he presumptively found a candidate who would do his bidding. Despite that, Barrett categorically denied ever discussing any of that with anyone in the White House.

And the Republican Senate – by one vote — appears to agree with the nomination.

So, despite the warnings of her colleagues, it is likely that we will shortly have a new Justice Barrett.

I listened to the first day of her hearings and came away heartened, I think.

Barrett properly refused to answer specific questions. But, in her precise lawyerly way IN MY OPINION Barrett left me with the feeling that she would –if seated on the Court—DO MANY OF THE RIGHT THINGS.

That surprised me because she is caught between the pincers of two diametrically opposed points of view AND she repeatedly said she agreed with Justice Ginsburg not to give any indication of what she might do IF seated on the Court.

That said, her oblique statements about precedents reassured me that she takes seriously the existing policies of Congress on both women’s rights and health and would be highly unlikely to have the Court go contrary to those policies. Her view on the role of the law in the judicial process appears to be consistent that Congress sets the policies and the Court deals with the law. That’s an interesting theory, not always practiced.

And, on recusal, if a case came before the Court involving the election, she was very clear that she would give serious consideration to recusal AFTER conferring with her colleagues on the bench. That is the right way to do it and suggests to me that, again, she might do the right thing.

She would like to share Chief Justice Roberts’ veneration of the standing of THE COURT in the American system. Thus, she should weigh carefully the views of her Notre Dame colleagues to avoid at all costs politicizing the Court in any way and diminishing its standing.  

That is a tough thing for an ambitious person to do, but she could earn an even more interesting place in history and remain a highly interesting candidate (and young enough) for the next Republican president to place on the high court. Democrats might even be inclined to agree.

I am offering up my neck for you to criticize me, IF I prove to be wrong!

And, if I am right? That’s what you’re entitled to expect from me!

So, we wait and see…

REACH OUT TO YOUR NEIGHBOR

Who Loves Trump

The day after the election, each of us grateful for the outcome should find someone we know (and we all know someone) who was rooting for the other side. Our words should be simple: “I feel for you because I know how I would feel. While we do not agree, we are neighbors and we owe it to all our neighbors and ourselves to maintain decorum and stop whatever politicking we have been doing—with and to each other — for at least a year!”

Hopefully, that neighbor will reciprocate (and in my case he knows who he is and I expect he will read this).

If that doesn’t happen for you, perhaps you need to talk to other neighbors and review the options. There are plenty of ‘civilized’ ways to work through that scenario. Flat tires and broken windows are not among them.

And, we all will start after the election with some sort of story like this one.

Basically, this is a NEW OPPORTUNITY to put disagreements aside and start finding things we all can agree on – like parking–and work from there back to a world where we join together in recognition of our intermingled lives instead of living in separate universes.

Let’s face it –we all need and want a peaceful world.

We also want a predictable world.

We also want a world of opportunities—for everyone. If opportunities are to be parceled out just to the privileged, that means those who are not privileged will be understandably feel left out.

In other words, we want many of the same things, and share many of the same values, including and especially a commitment to American democracy. We SHOULD be able to get along without too much difficulty!

Consider Supreme Court Justices Scalia and Ginsburg, who became dear friends despite their strong and diametrically opposed views on the world. I wish we could have extracted the ‘stuff’ that made them friends. We really need it badly for the world today.

Our collective job now is to get back to making our world work. That starts with finding a neighbor and rediscovering your common ground.

From that simple act, it can spread wide between two oceans.

What’s Next?

Am I and My Family Going to Be OK?

The answer to that question begins with the question — what’s on your mind?

For most Americans today, their mind is occupied by three central worries: their and their family’s personal health, their economic situation and prospects in the face of an unrelenting virus, and the future course of our nation. Let’s tackle the questions most people are asking in turn.

Is it possible I will get sick? The answer must be hedged. If the President can get the virus, everyone else can too. Recent data indicate a widespread resurgence of infections, and it’s vital to remain diligent. Will I survive unscathed? Most probably yes, but there are no guarantees.

Is my job safe? This answer must also be hedged. Is my employer OK? Am I essential? Do I more than pay for myself? How quickly can the general economy recover from Covid? Meaning, it depends and cannot be answered unequivocally today.

What of the future? Will Obamacare survive and a woman’s right to control her own body? That largely depends on the outcome of the election. If Judge Barrett makes it to the Supreme Court, both are in serious doubt. However, if Biden wins the popular vote by a big enough margin, there are steps Biden and the Congress can, and probably will, take to rectify the result of Trump’s and the Senates’ hypocritical intransigence.

Will the basic operations of democracy ever get back to normal? Possibly when and if the base of 40% of Americans who find no fault in Trump begins to shrink back to a more normal size and flexible temperament. When four out of ten Americans are constantly angry at the other six people, inevitably there will be outbursts of hate and some violence. There needs to be a lot of on-the-ground work among all Americans everywhere to repair this seemingly intractable divide. Only then will we better know and trust each other. If Facebook and Twitter would encourage an amicable life instead of an angry one, we just might make a start in that direction. Instead, their persistence on seeking profits from popular anger may be today’s biggest problem.

We all keep reading about the risks that we are sliding into a new period of despotism. Is that possible and what can we do about it? Thankfully, our military leaders say repeatedly that they have NO ROLE in politics. Unfortunately, history has too many stories from the past of militaries having “no role” – until they do. Make friends with as many military officers as you can.

So how can I and my family be OK in the period ahead?

Protect yourselves, first and foremost. Treat the virus like the dangerous adversary it has proven to be, rather than a trivial inconvenience that unduly infringes personal freedom.

Then, protect — with your life, if necessary — the freedom of the press. They hold all the ultimate keys to your prisons, hospitals and food lines.

Adapt to the changing economic conditions by taking jobs –almost any jobs—that can keep you and your families off the streets with a roof over your heads and enough food on the table.

NEVER despair. If you do that, you practically ensure that the worst things you worry about will happen. Individually and collectively, this is one of the most challenging times in our young nation’s history.  I remain hopeful that the American people and the institutions that serve us can and will rise to the occasion.

Also, keep your cockeyed optimism in your pocket for your next job interview.

Optimism sells well on the job.

Go for it!

Joe: Stay in the Basement!

And run nice ads.

With less than a month until the election and millions of votes already being cast, it seems the only thing that might alter the outcome is if Joe Biden joined Donald Trump in contracting Covid-19.

Soldiers as “suckers”, $750 in taxes, and Trump’s reckless handling of Covid-19 have solidified Biden’s lead.

The late afternoon joy ride the President took – endangering the poor Secret Service officers who had no choice but to take him – is likely to further cement voter perceptions of a President wholly unequipped to make good decisions.

What then, is left for Biden to accomplish on the campaign trail that could help and not possibly hurt?

My advice therefore to Joe is: Stay in the basement — AND stay WELL.

A remote debate is possible. Be kind, calm and sympathetic.

With today’s margins, RISKS are unnecessary.

Make no promises to pardon Trump!

Name your choice for the Supreme Court — Merrick Garland?

And start to speculate on your cabinet.

You can’t do nothing, but too much could get risky.

Congratulations and luck to us all!!!

What’s At Stake?

Only Life, Liberty and the Pursuit of Happiness

Sadly, the first Presidential debate lived down to the expectations set for it. Defying physics – and the limits of human tolerance – it was “all heat, no light” for 90+ painful minutes. It is not likely to change minds, but it did bring into clearer focus the threat that lies ahead.

It seems increasingly certain that Trump will lose the election. But he’s made it clear that he does not intend to go quietly. The question is whether his lies and bluster about election fraud are meant merely as a salve to his ego (and his followers) to explain his defeat, or if he intends to fight tooth and nail to cling to power in defiance of the will of the people

There are certainly options available to Trump if he chooses the latter path. The Republican legislatures that control 8 of 9 swing states could seat Trump’s electors instead of Biden’s – claiming the popular vote can’t be trusted.   

That could, in turn, lead to a convoluted outcome in which the election ultimately goes to the House of Representatives, where each State delegation gets ONE vote. That could result in the election of Trump by the 26 State delegations with Republican majorities, even though Biden might still have a 5-10 million popular vote majority.

IF THAT IS NOT A DISTORTION OF DEMOCRACY, WHAT IS?

Whatever the course, the election is likely to end up before the Supreme Court. Trump has already made that appointment of a replacement to the late Justice Ginsburg specifically so that she might join in such a decision (presumably on his side).

If we want to avoid those risks – including the destruction of our Constitution—we must ACT NOW!

If we fail to act now, we face a likely period of widespread civil unrest across the country and conventional military intervention will be very little help or actually make things much worse.

To do that we must IMMEDIATELY get a case before the present Supreme Court to rule on the appropriateness of the President’s appointment of a 9th Justice BEFORE the election.

Though success with the present Court is far from a sure thing, it could at least delay the appointment process until after the election.

If Trump wins –in whatever, whenever way—we would be back to square one, where we are today. No better- no worse.

Our democratic system is what is at stake.

We should whatever steps and risks necessary to save what we have and protect it from future Trumps.

The way to do that is hark back to ‘a person’s word is their bond’ of my youth. And, hold Senator Lindsay Graham’s to his widely seen and heard promise on TV that the denying a vote on Merrick Garland set a precedent for today.

“I want you to use my words against me. If there’s a Republican president [elected] in 2016 and a vacancy occurs in the last year of the first term, you can say Lindsey Graham said let’s let the next president, whoever it might be, make that nomination.”

 As the Chair of the Senate Judiciary Committee he spoke with more significance than most and ‘we the people’ have a right to rely on that.

The time is ripe for Senators and State Attorneys General to bring an emergency case on that point to the Supreme Court TODAY!

The Newest SCOTUS Justice

Just might help decide her own legitimacy

Trump and the Senate are aiming to SEAT the new Justice BEFORE the election.

That just might result in a case that goes directly to the Supreme Court, with the new Justice becoming the 9th vote on her own very legitimacy. I say her because we have been told it WILL be a woman.

How is that for whacky justice?

If that does not clarify the wrongness of rushing to fill the seat before the election, perhaps nothing will.

Though the Constitution says nothing about consistency and/or hypocrisy, for two hundred years we have been pretty good at behaving the way we have always thought civilized people should behave.

Now the rough and tumble of street fights seems to be taking over.

At a minimum hopefully, in Senate hearings on the nomination a Senator should ask the nominee if she would recuse herself in any case before the Court involving herself.

That would help but not necessarily solve the problem.

The basic problem is that the Constitution did NOT contemplate political parties and their consequences. Also, the Constitutional framers never thought about timing the way we now know it. It does not take a lot of imagination to infer accurately what the framers would have thought about today’s situation.

The fact is they did not think that much about the Supreme Court at all and much of the process related to the Supreme Court was developed as time passed.

Perhaps the Supreme Court itself just might lead the way to justice in this vexing matter by refusing to SEAT the new Justice before the election!

After the election, if Trump loses, then the issues get clearer and the legal situation changes in many ways.

And, if the Dems win big – the House, Senate and White House – the Republicans should get ready for their turn of frustration, because there are a lot of things that can be done to rebalance the scales of Justice!

Jobs — Investments — Safe Havens

Up — Down — Sideways

I have spent the last 60 years working in and around the worlds of economics and finance. And, I must admit that I have no idea what is going on in that world today or why. Consider three facts:

  • fixed income markets which yield virtually no return.
  • equity markets that have been at or near all time highs in recent months.
  • labor markets with unemployment at levels unseen since the 1930s.

I have been looking everywhere for any analysis of what that brief synopsis may foretell?

Many (most) analysts stop before they start and say, ‘we can NOT forecast the future’.

No experienced, intelligent person expects any explicit forecast. But, they can and do look for help in analyzing what an array of possibilities might be, to enable them to consider, for themselves, what the future might be holding in store for them in their respective positions.

Some people say to me “it sounds like you think you may have some answers.” I don’t believe I have any answers – yet – but I am looking hard to get a better sense of the direction and magnitude of what lies ahead.

As I said in starting, the normal financial indicators, which historically worked more or less in tandem, are more out of line than they’ve been since the early 1930s.

The almost complete lack of return on all government and most corporate debt is primarily the result of the VAST increase in debt needed to keep the States, corporations and virtually all entities dependent on cash flow from falling into bankruptcy.

The equity markets are at and near all-time highs, which suggests that investors have expectations that corporate earnings will at some not too distant point grow enough to have consistently good earnings and some dividends.

The starkly shrunken labor markets foreshadow low pressure to improve wages and continuous need for support beyond standard unemployment insurance.

The first big risk is INFLATION. Typically, when these levels of debt are reached, they create a major incentive to use the power of inflation to reduce the relative impact of the debt on businesses, governments and other borrowers. It is counterintuitive that inflation reduces new borrowing costs—as long as you are not the borrower!

The second big risk is that the relatively high level of current equity values will prove no match for underlying performance, and if earnings fail to meet increasingly lofty expectations (measured by market share) stocks are likely to sink to far lower values that we’re seeing today.

The third big risk –perhaps the worst of all –combines inflation with deflation and is called stagflation. (Which means that the stagnation of no/slow growth, at the same time as inflation, leads to the worst combination—of loss of values at the same time as rapidly rising costs.)

The coming together of the three phenomenon suggests that it is possible, if NOT likely, that that we could be looking at a period ahead of inflation, bankruptcies and weak equity markets and a lot of unemployment.

Together the three big risks today are inflation/deflation/stagflation.

They very rarely occur all at the same time, but when they do, the combination can result in serious economic wreckage.

How can prudent people protect themselves from this picture of the future?

All cash is not an answer.

Gold may be a partial answer.

Critically needed land, perhaps?

And a few of the exceptional companies like Google, Amazon and Apple.

Or space itself??????? If there is any room left?

The Supreme Court

Vs. Politics

I apologize for getting my timing a bit wrong a couple of weeks ago in raising a question about RBG’s possible death right after the election. I had no knowledge of her condition then, but I knew, as did a lot of people, that it was tenuous. This turns out to be better for the election than I imagined.

Most people have strong instinctive feelings about right and wrong. Power—particularly raw political power—apparently seems less significant than fairness.

What has now happened is most likely to influence the Presidential election, in many ways to Trump’s disadvantage. Trump would have been smart to say that, as he was so confidant of his reelection, he would do the right thing and wait until after the election to deal with the Court vacancy. What he did not reckon with was the result that he inadvertently mobilized many of his more moderate opponents.

Instead, he is now ostentatiously flexing what is left of his waning Presidential muscle and insisting on making the appointment before the election and trying to force it through before the year’s end. Already two Republican Senators have announced they will not go along. It is now quite likely that despite all the noise he will not be able to force a vote, because there appear to be several more Republican Senators ready to join the opposition.

Trump’s lack of confidence in his reelection has perversely and surprisingly reenergized many more people than otherwise might have been the case. And any larger turn out absolutely benefits Joe Biden and a decisive, timely election night result.

Yes, some diehard conservatives might have been inspired by the opportunity to try to overturn Roe v Wade – but they will lose even more interest in Trump when the Senate refuses to vote on his nomination!

On balance there are many more young people, as well as people worried about preserving Obamacare and protecting reproductive rights, that Trump’s political mistake will favor even more Biden’s election.

At first glance this new prelection twist briefly seemed to add new risks to the election.

However, the most recent polling strongly suggests that RBG’s early demise has already helped the Biden election.

Thanks, and God bless RBG!

Information Evolution

Makes the Industrial Revolution Seem Trivial

The industrial revolution which began at the end of the 19th Century and has lasted until the beginning of the 21st Century fundamentally and radically changed human existence.

It made possible amazing and speedy changes in all forms of everything manmade. It made possible ‘making’ masses of cars, trucks and airplanes—to make all peoples’ lives better, cheaper and easier. It created jobs that could not have previously existed. And, most industrialized people, until very recently, thought they lived in nirvana!

Then, at the tail end of the 20th Century, the internet arrived. Since then, it has quickly evolved into a process which is attacking the very roots of the 100-year-old industrial revolution.

The internet started out innocently enough simply as a very fast communications network. The advent of the World Wide Web beginning in the 1990s made it an information repository as well as an electronic post office.

In the 20 years since, it has become an omnivorous information, data collection, propaganda, and intelligence system.

And, now we are seeing that process often loosely called ‘social media’ transforming itself under our puzzled eyes into a new system of capitalism through which our whole economic and financial process is being transformed into a totally new way of valuing and transacting everything in our lives.

There was a clear, global need, purpose, goal and planning that led to the industrial revolution.

The information evolution has been largely unplanned – an ad-hoc assemblage of technological advancements, unexpected and largely ungoverned, that have unleashed broad and dangerous new threats (foreign influence, trolls, ransomware), and created a voracious data gathering eco-system where, as Tim Cook famously said, the product is “you.”

The overall result is greater divisions – a dichotomy between the developed and underdeveloped worlds that also exists within nations themselves.

For example, the obvious split in the US between its halves and have nots, the ‘deplored’ and the ‘admired’ etc. which is tearing the USA in half—has been exacerbated by this phenomenon. 

And similar splits are apparent the world over.

So where are we, where can we go, and how do we get there? One idea may be to rescind Section 230 of the Communications Decency Act, which relieves social media and other internet services from responsibility for the content published on their platforms.

We are in ‘never/never’ land and should never have strayed so far.

We must find our way back to ‘together land’.

Together land is the only place where peace and prosperity can coexist happily and forever!!

Words that Shape and/or Shaped Elections

For Better and Worse!

Since 1960, almost every presidential election, in retrospect, was determined around a theme or idea that could be described in two or three words.

Usually that theme was established by the winning campaign, but sometimes – as with Mitt Romney’s 2012 remark that 47 percent of people are “dependent” on government and would never vote for him – candidates commit political suicide with a gaffe or slip-up that reveals an underlying truth that voters already suspected.

A quick review:

  • 1960 – New Generation
  • 1964 – The Kennedy Legacy
  • 1968 – Law and Order
  • 1972 – Watergate Break-in
  • 1976 – I’ll Never Lie to You
  • 1980 – Misery Index
  • 1984 – Morning in America
  • 1988 – Hat in a TANK
  • 1992 – New Covenant
  • 1996 – Bridge to the 21st Century
  • 2000 – Compassionate Conservatism
  • 2004 – War on Terror
  • 2008 – Hope and Change
  • 2012 – 47 Percent
  • 2016 – Deplorables

It’s hard to know, given the bountiful options, what history will record as the keywords of 2020. Here is a short list of possibilities:

  • Losers and Suckers
  • Magically Disappear
  • Very Stable Genius

If, on the other hand, the key phrase of 2020 becomes “law and order” we might be in for a long four, or eight, or 12 more years!

A note: I’m keeping a close eye on polling – both nationally and in key states. Those who are interested can see graphical summary, updated daily and including an Electoral College projection (based on current polling) at http://faw-election2020.s3-website.us-east-2.amazonaws.com/