Russia + China = Trump in Jail?

Who would have guessed?

The 2016 election was weird in a lot of ways. Most astonishing, of course, was the way it turned out. Our relatively open election process led to Trump’s shenanigans being quite transparent after the fact. The most significant of this fiddling was Trump’s not so hidden love affair with Putin.

Not a few American voters were taken in by that, hoping that it might lead to peace in Europe.

Then, after the election, Trump went after China charging trade infractions. And, now we learn that while he was beating up publicly on Xi, he was privately begging Xi to buy more corn to help Trump with farmers in the 2020 election.

The sum and substance –almost unbelievably – is that Trump appears to have double-crossed the American people to get himself and keep himself elected. Presumably because he loves the limelight and Presidential perks—particularly Air Force One –all of which is paid for by the American people, not Trump, Inc.

Using Putin and Xi together to help Trump’s elections is reminiscent of how Poland once bobbed and weaved between Europe and Russia to keep itself independent. What the Poles did and what Russia and China do is their business. But it is OUR business to get and keep them out of our backyard!

It is a crime to even ASK for help from foreigners in our elections. The specific statute (52 USC 30121) reads, in part, “It shall be unlawful for … a person to solicit, accept or receive a contribution or donation… from a foreign national.” One need not be in office, and one need not RECEIVE the assistance – asking for it is enough to run afoul of the law.

The evidence appears to be abundantly clear that Trump has broken those laws – possibly repeatedly. Given his fondness for public housing, we should begin seriously paving the way for him to spend more time housed at taxpayers’ expense after the election.



Biden’s First 100 Days

Full of excitement and promise

Five months ahead of election day (a point at which many theorists believe voters solidify their choices), Democrats seem poised to win the White House and the Senate, while retaining control of the House. 2016 left us all chastened by our overconfidence, but the skittishness that experience induces in 2020 is exaggerated.

Biden will enter office confronting multiple and significant crises – a public health emergency likely to remain untamed well into the new year, and an economy repeatedly roiled by the virus. Done right, that work is likely all-consuming, at least in the early stages of a Biden administration.

But that doesn’t mean Biden’s mission to “restore the soul of the nation” must be set aside. The problems before us are well understood. They weren’t created by Trump, merely exploited and exacerbated by him.

To that end, Biden should task his Vice-Presidential nominee with leading a working group of policy experts, Democratic lawmakers, advocacy organizations, and others to produce legislation IN ADVANCE of the inauguration that House and Senate Democratic leaders could begin deliberating on Day One in the 117th Congress.

Biden will have clear running room to wipe the dirty slate clean and set the stage to enable America to resume its world leadership in all sectors of life.

Here is what his plan should entail:

electoral reform—review the jumble of historical reasons for the electoral college and the possibility that a President can get elected (even twice!) with less votes than their opponent. There may be good reasons why smaller states fear domination by larger states, which is why they’re overrepresented in the Senate in the first place, but those reasons cannot EVER justify having a President who loses the popular vote!

racial reform—the time has COME! There is systemic racism in lots of places, so it’s pretty clear we need systemic reform.  By all means, start with the police. The culture of “protect our own” and the police unions are a big part of the problem. Training is crucial, but so is accountability, and deadly force should never be justified except in the face of deadly threats.  Even then, we’re still only talking about one aspect of a much larger problem. We’ll need initiatives just as ambitious (and difficult) in economics, education, criminal justice, reproductive rights and many other areas.

vocational and educational reform—education needs more help — in particular vocational training, which once fueled the nation’s manufacturing greatness. It has deteriorated more than general education, which is beset by its own issues of access and equality.

–health care reform and world health—the coronavirus has brought much-needed health necessities into even sharper focus. First and foremost, anticipation of and preparation for systemic problems has to be dramatically improved. There are also issues of equity in the access to and delivery of health care services.

–restoration of global leadership—historically the US has built and maintained relationships around the world based on openness and trust. Trump has destroyed a lot of that, through a combination of ignorance, incompetence and intransigence, but the foundation is still there and can, one hopes, be rebuilt rather quickly under the leadership of an informed and trusted President.

economic, tax and private sector reform—there is a ton of vital stuff that needs attention. Deregulation under Trump has opened floodgates of abuse; the disparity between rich and poor has widened; tax burdens favor the rich and target “blue state” residents; and the three sectors that MUST work intelligently together for any real progress to be made – private, non-profit and government.

–state’s rights and sectional realignment—the lines between the Federal government and State and local government have been scrambled badly and must be sorted out immediately. There is more vital interdependence around the country that has fractured than we yet know that needs to be identified and addressed.

This is not intended to be a complete list of the ‘better way ahead’ Biden promises but it is the tip of the iceberg we should hope for as his Presidency gets underway!

Fork in a Road

If in doubt…

Can you help me? — DRIVER

Where are you headed? — BYSTANDER

I’m trying to get to nirvana.

Where is that?

Where I was headed.

Where is it near?

A place called UP.

I have heard of that, but it is hard to get there.

It keeps moving around a lot.

It is where it is meant to be.

So, all I need to do is just keep going?

You want me to tell you what you don’t know?

Of course!

Perhaps it is where you thought it was at the first of the year.

How do you know that?

I cannot know. I can only guess.

Well, what do you base your guess on?

Your guess is as good as mine – unless you have more experience.

There is no relevant experience.

Yes, but any experience is better than none.

Perhaps, but because I am driving, my experience is what matters most.

Then why are you asking all these questions? True, you hold the wheel, but be careful. Confidence in a guessing game can lead to disaster.

You just said one guess is as good as the other!

Therefore, which guess is better?

The better guess is the one with less risk. Outcomes, however, are unknowable. How does one choose?

The wisest route to nirvana is the one that leads up more than down. Wisdom and a sense of direction lie in knowing what one does not know.

Four Steps to Heaven on Earth

If only we can keep on walking…

Our current moment is both unique and momentous. You can sense it in the air – we stand precariously at a tipping point. It feels, to me, equal parts inspiring and terrifying, because the while we can sniff the outcome, it is by no means certain.

I’ve lived through more than a third of our nation’s 244-year existence. Never have we faced such an onslaught of immediate existential threats, and historical parallels that might help illuminate a path forward just are not there.

There are four pressing concerns that, effectively addressed, can provide our nation with fair sailing ahead for some time. If………

RACIAL EQUITY: The pain pouring forth in our streets over the death of George Floyd (and 1,000 others each year, according to an analysis by the Washington Post) is a tragic reminder that, as far as race is concerned, America has simply never met the promise of ideals. It’s not just “Black Lives Matter” — it’s not even exclusively about police violence. Instead, we’re waking up to the idea that systemic, institutional racism is alive and well in criminal justice, economics, education, voting rights and a host of other areas. The mainly peaceful responses to the recent protests have been encouraging, but we’ve seen the determination that emerges in the wake of tragedy dissipate before in the face of institutional viscosity and inaction. Ultimately, we must solve this problem, or it will destroy us. There is currently a whiff of change in the air, but we have to find a way to make it happen.

THE VIRUS: We now have a better handle on what works and what doesn’t. Social distancing and masks clearly have impeded the spread of the virus. But the politics of our day have somehow made masks and separation wedge issues and compelled too many states to attempt a “return to normal” prematurely. As a result, coronavirus infections are INCREASING again in more than twenty states. The risks of this cavalier approach to public health are not just more needless deaths, but additional economic turmoil as states fight regionalized outbreaks and, importantly, new conflicts around the racial disparities in infections and deaths associated with the virus. We should know more around election time in November what the virus rebounds may look like.

THE ECONOMIC RECOVERY: This will be the toughest hill we have to climb. When a bottle of wine breaks and most of the wine spills, it is possible to save what’s left in the bottle but impossible to soak up and restore the spilled wine. The stimulus-fueled stock market gains belie the depths of the collapse, and the full impact will take months to play out, likely as a series of successes and cascading failures. The lessons of the depression in the 1930s has helped us oldies more than the young’uns. We must be prepared for a quite long and ugly recovery before we have enough wine again for a couple of meals.

And, looming over everything else:

THE ELECTION: It’s almost impossible to imagine progress on ANY of these issues without first taking care of the core business of democracy. Trump’s unique blend of disinterest in his real job [vs Presidential perks] overt racism, gross incompetence and an utter lack of empathy and morality has trashed the institutions that have historically preserved and protected the union. If it’s the President’s job to steer the ship of state, we are now at sea without a rudder.

 It is not just the Presidential election. For the last 30 years, Republicans as a whole have embraced economic policies that benefit the 1%; blatantly stoked racism for political advantage; used the levers of government to suppress participation in elections; and generally sought to make government work for rich Republicans. Trump is doing a wonderful (from my perspective) job of running himself into icebergs almost daily – by all means, bringing back his daily press events would be very helpful! The Senate also seems very much in reach and most observers expect the House to remain in Democratic control

Those four steps and challenges are great, to be sure. But their simultaneous nature also offers a silver lining:

We have, before us, a singular opportunity to redefine America, to recast and rebuild the engines of society, commerce and government in a way that embraces the ideals enshrined in our founding documents. 

History is being forged in the crucible that confronts us.

How it remembers us is being determined in 2020.


A Tough, Mean and Tricky Enemy?

The more we know about the coronavirus, the more we realize that we do not and cannot know enough, at least until we reach the HERD immunity level (about 60% of the population infected), and/or we get an effective vaccine that can prevent infections, or treatments that can mitigate the mortality rate of the disease.

Conventional wisdom speaks of the advance of the virus in “waves.” Experts anticipated the initial wave (110,000 deaths and counting) being followed by a resurgence in the fall, converging with flu season. After that, perhaps, THE VACCINE would arrive and, therefore, by next winter we could be out of the woods. IPSO FACTO, stop worrying. The economy will recover; jobs will return quickly; and the economic/financial system will be back on track. That is surely what Trump needs/wants us all to believe to get him reelected. It’s also what we all hope will come to pass.

But reality is already challenging those hopes. Premature re-openings, particularly in “red” states, have led to a surge in new infections – in several states, hospitalizations are ABOVE the pace encountered in the initial wave. Overall 14 states are seeing their infection rates increase.  Warm weather, moreover, has done little to slow the spread. In short, the second “wave” is already upon us. Indeed, one Harvard scientist now projects an additional 100,000 deaths before September.

We must also bear in mind that there may never be an effective vaccine for this virus. While experts are optimistic, science isn’t based on hope, and there are simply no guarantees that the existing candidates will meet the safety and efficacy standards required to approve a vaccine. Even if we find one (or several), the logistical challenges of manufacturing, distributing and administering vaccines to a global population of 7 billion have never been encountered before, and are likely to ensure a long wait before a vaccine reaches the public.

Finally, this virus continues to mutate. So far, the changes have been insignificant, but a mutation that increases either the mortality rate or the infection rate has the ability to make the virus exponentially more dangerous than it already is – and could in one fell swoop render any vaccine ineffective.

Where does that leave the country, already reeling from a horrifying death toll and the ensuing economic collapse?

HEALTH: The best-case scenario is more of the same – face masks; social distancing; limited travel; remote work, etc. More likely, geographically-centered “spikes” in infections will cause numerous, more-limited shutdowns, with concurrent economic impacts.

JOBS: More innovation and dispersed work will become the norm for many knowledge workers; service workers, agricultural workers, and other vulnerable populations won’t have any choice but to show up at work – risking the health of themselves, loved ones and fellow employees.  Production of the ‘essentials’ will continue, with only modest, localized disruptions.

THE ECONOMY: A continuation of double-digit unemployment rates like in the 1930s is virtually certain. And we haven’t yet seen the full impact of the first wave of coronavirus. Lots more bankruptcies are likely, and low interest rates alongside very volatile public equity markets will pose a challenging investment environment, possibly for years.

In these circumstances, the priorities, from an investment perspective, must be to (a) safeguard existing assets and (b) ensure one is well-positioned to take advantage when the course of the virus and the recovery become clearer (possibly 2021), or when herd immunity takes effect – likely two to three years from now.

That requires having as much liquidity and flexibility in your asset mix as possible. There is a risk that you will get itchy and jump in too early. So, be sure you have enough flexibility, liquidity and courage to jump back in more than once!

In a world where debt instruments return close to zero, the game is more about NOT losing money than earning yield. The only serious risk would be sudden, runaway inflation, which for the next several years until the virus is long gone is not a major risk.

Bottom Line: excessive liquidity and flexibility is both the safest and most optimistic course to follow!

Surprise, Surprise!!

Good News

Having been sequestered for the last 90 days, I have seen lots more TV –CNN mainly — than ever before.

One thing has become more and more obvious amid the roiling news stories.

Every day reveals several female faces — some new, some well-known – seizing the mantle of leadership to address the public health crisis, the economic crisis, or the crisis of unarmed black men dying at the hands of police.

These outstanding women come from every corner of the USA — members of Congress, mayors, police chiefs, prosecutors, activists, artists and lawyers galore – each showing the older (white, male) guard how it should be done..

I have deliberately not named a single one of these women for the very rational reason that I would be chastised for not naming your ‘favorite.’

It does not yet look like half to me –as it will more than likely soon—but it is both amazing and thrilling to see.

It is the future and it looks VERY promising.

Joe Biden knew what he was doing when he promised to pick a woman as his running mate!!!!!

Let’s Help Get a Grip on Biden

A phrase like FDR’s ‘New Deal’ Could Help

Joe Biden has been laying out his policy ideas for many months. He has clear and strong views on health, education, jobs, trade, etc. Yet many people cannot quite pin down what Biden basically stands for.

Today he gave a superb speech on UNITY. He will surely be making more in coming weeks.

In the 1930’s, FDR’s speech writers were looking for words and phrases that captured his whole program. They consciously and deliberately sprinkled words and phrases into various speeches and other public comments to get feedback on how those words resonated. Through that process, they came upon the phrase “New Deal,” which hit home with most Americans and to this day still captures FDR’s Presidency.

As Biden’s candidacy matures it becomes clearer that some such ‘catch’ phrase could be very helpful and desirable.

As part of that process, testing the waters is necessary.

Below is a list of 10 possible ideas.

Please respond –if you are so disposed- with your top three favorites among the list in the order of your choice. Or, if you have other ideas, include them in your list of three. I will tabulate the returns –entirely anonymously—and inform both you and Biden of the results. And, I encourage you, if you like, to get in touch with the campaign on this subject.

We can all take some pleasure in helping Biden in a way different than simply signing checks.

1—True Blue

2—Truth matters

3—Nothing but the Truth

4—Age vs Beauty

5—Smart and Tough

6—A Steady Hand

7—Truth and Consequences

8— A Better Way Forward

9—Courage and Caring  

10—Let Us Breathe

What Good is Planning Ahead?

It is impossible to plan for the unknowable!

We knew it was coming. Pandemics, like many existential-level catastrophes, have been known for millennia. In fact, we know a LOT about pandemics, and even coronaviruses.  But, vaccines and treatments alike require specific knowledge of the biology of a virus, and because this one is new, there was no way to possibly be ready with either a vaccine or a mediating medicine.

What of the other threats? There are so many possibilities for our demise that it effectively is impossible to be prepared by Boy Scout standards.

We think that we “know” real risks. We spend nearly $700 billion each year, for example, to prepare for attacks from other humans – most of it thankfully wasted.

We also spend at least several hundred million dollars every year to protect against pandemics. It’s never been intended as more than a stopgap, something to buy time to ramp up production lines, develop treatments and, ultimately, manufacture and distribute a vaccine. That’s why failure to act meaningfully in February was so devastating to the current response.

So, are we destined to have to deal with an existential risk every 100 years or so?

Or, should we be assessing as many of the ‘unforeseeable’ risks as possible and at least have some preliminary plans on a shelf to be grabbed fast to at least know how to start?

What are those risks? More viruses. Galactic collisions. Dramatic increases or decreases in global temperatures. Rampant human insanity triggered by too little oxygen.

Let’s take one example to size and visualize what we are talking about.

A few thousand years ago the area of the globe we now call the Gulf of Mexico was largely a big hunk of land which one day IN AN INSTANT was hit by a large asteroid. We know quite a bit about what happened then and later. It took thousands and thousands of years. Dinosaurs gradually disappeared. And, we humans took over.

Just suppose something liked happened again with the target location being about St Louis.  Do we really want to bother for contingency plans for that?

Faced with a thousand threats, real and imagined, how do we prepare? I’d suggest as a starting point that we focus on those risks where human behavior can make a difference. So, planning for climate change? Yes. For pandemics? Absolutely!

As for wayward asteroids, the zombie apocalypse, and other readily-imagined but remote threats, why bother?

Our time as a species will most likely end at some point in the future. Knowing when might be worse than not knowing! If we give due credence to the threats we know about and understand – real, imminent, and avoidable – we may be able to at least forestall or manage that outcome for a while.

But, the exponential massive and unpredictable disasters like the Gulf of Mexico are beyond human intervention and we best not waste a lot of time and psychic energy on those disasters, which we know can happen ANY TIME.

In the meantime we should all be nicer to each other!