Sunday, March 29, 2020

Jobs. Don't forget about jobs.

ABC Headline:  "Trump's push to open economy could cost lives."

The virus kills. Poverty kills. 

The tradeoff between jobs and other values is an old one. Today the virus.  The battle has split environmentalists on the left from union and non-union laborers. The battle has fueled the rural-urban divide. Prosperity is found in cities, by people working in offices, moving data around. Doing less well are people in rural areas, who used to make money extracting a resource.

This week readers of the New York Times got more sad news. Reporter Nicholas Kristoff updated his sad story of his childhood classmates in the rural coastal town of Yamhill, Oregon. The last of the five children in one family died young, this one of heroin overdose. Each of them in essence died, he writes, of poverty and despair. The economy of their small town had collapsed.

When the resource extraction industry declines--coal in some regions, minerals in others, timber in Oregon--the jobs dwindle. Then follow human pathologies. Alcoholism. Drug use. Crime.

The job loss is a tolerable cost--sometimes an invisible cost--to people who live elsewhere and visit those places to vacation or retire. How nice that the houses are so inexpensive, the streets so uncrowded. The lumber mill is now a casino, how nice. Too bad nearly all the restaurants have closed.

Among people in the relative urban area of Medford, Oregon, with a diversified economy built around medical services and government, there is a near political consensus opposing a Liquified Natural Gas Export terminal 100 miles to our west at the Port of Coos Bay. The pipeline needs to transverse a rural part of our county and that give us leverage to stop the multi-billion dollar project. It would be by far the largest taxpayer in the neighboring country, but that is them. Their their jobs, their port, their taxpayers. 

We have other interests. 

Local environmental activists stand on a principle. If we can stop natural gas from mid-continent from getting to market it is a strike against fossil fuel development. Natural gas would replace coal, but actually, thinking globally, China should be putting in solar panels and wind turbines, not importing gas. There are no fossil fuels to develop in our area and the export terminal is another county's windfall. They can be a quaint tourist town. 

Today, we have a guest post from a Coos County resident with a more nuanced view. She identifies as an environmentalist. She also sees Coos Bay, Oregon for what it is, a place struggling, whose primary economic edge is their well placed port. As Kristoff has documented, there is a cost to poverty, a human cost.

Guest Post by Sheryl Gerety


"LNG Terminal: Coos County Asks For It"

I retired to Coos Bay in 2014, where within weeks House Representative Peter De Fazio held a town hall. He wanted to talk about fishing and transportation issues; many in the audience had questions about his support for or resistance to the LNG terminal.  

There were colored T-shirts for Team LNG, with a lot of folks standing behind the rows of seats who pressed him to throw his influence into the ring. March 19, 2020 FERC (Federal Energy Commission) conditionally approved the Jordan Cove LNG export terminal and Pacific Connector Gas Pipeline.  

Since attending that meeting 6 hears ago I've been asked where I stood on the basic question: should it happen?  I've had and heard many conversations, some with City and County officials, some with private sector residents who make their livings operating and repairing tug boats, farming cranberries, running an Italian restaurant, within and without Coos County. I've learned that whether Pembina builds a pipeline connector and the LNG terminal on the Port of Coos Bay is not about exporting natural gas per se.  

The actual problem is that our port, the only deep water port between San Francisco Bay and Seattle Tacoma Puget Sound, is an outdated and significantly underused facility fighting to attract investors to power the local economy. The one potential solution arrived at after 40 years of searching for funds to maintain and expand Port services turns out to be exporting natural gas to Asia. Maybe. 

Channel dredging
As a way to imagine why coastal Oregon has had to make such a long and only partly successful project out of revitalizing it's one surviving economic engine, think of the state of Oregon as the Inca Empire. All commerce runs along the inland altiplano, the seats of culture, religion and wealth are in Cuzco, Arequipa, Quito, but not Lima.  The Incas were not a nation of seafarers and their highlands survivors' contempt for the coastal cities remains visceral to this day. Oregon's seat of government and major cities lie east of the coastal range along the I-5 corridor. The interior view of our coastal towns is that they would do well to remain isolated, quaint e.g. poor, vacation retreats for the inlanders who golf, beach comb, charter fishing boats or ply kayaks along the tide pools.  

Since the bad old 80s, when the timber industry failed, Coos County and the cities of North Bend and Coos Bay together with the Port Authority and the Coast Guard have pursued federal and state grants to rebuild a railroad spur that carries lumber from mills in Coquille, Coos Bay and North Bend to the docks for export, but also on to Eugene. TARP funds were awarded for that project.  But money to dredge the ship channel from the Charleston Bar has been in short supply as has money to build out the docks and repair the railroad bridge that crosses the Bay to the west of the McCullough Bridge on OR101. The support sought from the State House and Senate to establish a pilot wind farm off the coast hinged on building out docks to load equipment and service vessels to build the turbines hit gale force political headwinds.  

When LNG terminal talks began, the Obama administration had been promoting a scaling down of fossil fuels, eliminating the worst offender, coal, by offering natural gas as the cheaper and cleaner fuel source available immediately and useful for building out renewable energy projects. 

The local intent has been and continues to be leasing locations on the port to (now) Pembina while once again looking for off-shore wind farm ventures.  The enormous front loading required to get the port up to speed will have been helped along almost to completion for the next generation of energy sources.  

Now, with CO2 levels climbing toward a point of environmental no return, using the port as a means to a worthy end is not viewed as principled enough to pass the smell test.  It's money, after all, that is driving the decision. And what decision of any magnitude should be taken because of money?  Here, Pembina money for schools, law enforcement and city/county services pretty much stands between us and no functional government, school districts, roads and a hard won hospital. I've made many a Red Cross fire call to multi-generational households of working poor that consist of a tenant in a fifth wheel or camping trailer connected by an extension chord to a 60-100 year old house with original wiring. 

We have thousands of households maintaining this tenuous mutual life support system, and hundreds of homeless sheltering in the woods around town.  Cooking meth is still a way to make cash. It is about money, folks, and money is one currency we have that measures how well we are doing as a society.  

Saturday, March 28, 2020

Biden: Time to re-evaluate

At a time of worry, humans don't look to the nicest leader.

They look to the strongest leader.

The coronavirus changes everything. Democrats have a problem.

Joe Biden wins the category of compassion and empathy. Biden understands the pain of grief and the humiliation of the parent who loses a job. Sentimental, good guy Joe. By contrast, Trump is very comfortable looking cruel. He know who his enemies are and he wants to crush them.

Likable, approachable Joe Biden
Democrats are stuck in the past if they think this gives Biden an edge. Not anymore.

The economy is in chaos. The monetary dashboard has gone haywire because the indicators policymakers normally use aren't relevant. The economy is led by a disease, not a business cycle. Businesses are closing, people are out of work.

The politics of the nation feels chaotic, too. The rise of populism on the right grew out of ideas spoken by Barry Goldwater, made eloquent by Ronald Reagan. Government was the problem. Under Newt Gingrich's influence bipartisan cooperation was the problem as well. For government to shrink, the public needed to learn to have contempt for it, and they did.

In the aftermath of the bailout of the banks in 2008 and 2009, the public realized that the guilty wealthy had been saved by the many. It confirmed and accentuated populist discontent on the left as well. Both Trump and Sanders say the institutions of government-- from the campaigns, the election counts, the elected officials, the operations of government itself, and the media that covers it--all are biased and corrupt.

Democrats looked at Sanders, saw a proud disrupter, but one who had failed in his hope to grow the left with new voters and failed to unify Democratic voters who had been comfortable with Obama. Sanders represented risk; Biden represented calm. Democrats chose calm.

Americans had a choice: Chaotic Trump vs. Biden Normalcy.

Then the coronavirus.

Normalcy is not an option. Between economic chaos and the health fear, we are in wartime. An enemy invader haunts the streets. There is invisible death on any doorknob, grocery cart handle, dollar bill, and the air we breath. Cancel everything. Shelter.

Americans observe failed states and don't perceive their relevance, but there is a lesson In mafia controlled areas, in drug states, in battle torn areas: security comes from the barrel of a gun, not the rule of law. People seek strength. They want to ally with it and have its protection. The shared agreement--the social compact--dissolves. It is an emergency. America just voted a two trillion dollar special deficit. The old rules no longer apply.

It's a new election environment. The safe, low drama candidate is no longer possible. 

Biden is singularly unsuited for the role of wartime president. He doesn't look or sound strong because he isn't strong. He doesn't project competence. His addled gaffes aren't harmless or endearing anymore.

Trump, too, is ill-suited for the job of wartime president, but less so. Trump is patently, obviously self-centered. A wartime leader projects a singular focus on the needs of the polity he leads. Trump fails that test. He shirks blame. He shamelessly, openly craves adoration, displaying a weakness for flattery. He takes the easy road, not the responsible one. Still, Trump can argue that what is good for Trump politically and personally is good for the country.

I expect that to be a winning argument.

Can Biden grow into the role of the strong, resolute leader who communicates competence in a crisis? Maybe, but I have not seen it, either in person or on television, and I ached with desire to observe it. Biden is who he is, a nice sentimental guy, suitable for leading us back to normalcy.

But there is no normalcy. That was last month, not now. If Biden realizes it on his own, he will drop out. If not, Democrats would be wise to push him out.

Friday, March 27, 2020

Trump blames

Trump message: 

Who is at fault for the lack of supplies to deal with the virus? Someone else. 

Trump points at General Motors.

The discussion on CNBC is surprised and critical of Trump. The commentary is about GM being up and ready, the ventilators ready to be built, but that Trump and FEMA are attempting to do a late re-negotiation. Trump wants to present himself as the guy "strong-arming" GM.

This is pointless, they say, and it is an obvious attempt to shift blame to GM.

Yes, Trump is obviously shifting blame. That is the point. He is shifting blame. This works for him.

The Virus Presidency

     "Seven hundred people died in Madrid last night!"

        Jim Cramer, CNBC, Friday morning, March 27, 5:50 a.m. PDT



    "The LameStream Media is the dominant force in trying to get me to keep our Country closed as long as possible in the hope that it will be detrimental to my election success. The real people want to get back to work ASAP."

          Trump tweet, Wednesday.

The stock market just crashed, losing 35% of its value in a month.  Then for three days it rebounded half way back up.  This morning, it is falling again.

The stock market is a barometer of business and consumer confidence. It is a battle between fear and greed, between the virus spread and the virus being just an overblown Democratic hoax. Even though only a minority of Americans own significant stock investments, a majority of employers own stocks. The stock market reflects their "animal spirits," their willingness to take the risks that keep their business working.

The stock market drew Trump's alarm at the end of February. It was falling, sharply. The happy talk and reassurances persisted by people in the know--including two US Senators were selling. Trump continued happy-talk, all was well. Larry Kudlow recommended people "buy the dips." 

The stock market kept falling. Gloom. Worry. The US would be like Italy. People would die.

Donald Trump started this week with a message that the shutdown would be brief. We would re-evaluate at Easter, Trump said.  Cheerleading didn't work. 

The Fed flooded the economy with liquidity, the Congress voted massive fiscal stimulus. That worked. But the reality of the virus persists. Financial liquidity is not a cure. Yesterday the US became the country with the most known cases of the virus. 

A cheerleader can motivate, but at some point the crowd cannot help but watch the game. The virus is winning, the stock market notices.  

Trump has a dilemma. The behavior most likely to minimize the spread of the virus is the behavior most likely to damage the economy for an indeterminate time. He wants what his own experts say is the impossible: business as usual and no virus. He needs that miracle. Maybe the spread is seasonal and the cure is the Easter spring season. 

In the meantime, Trump does what he does: deflect. If there is a problem, there is a villain to look at, and it is someone else: 

     "We've done a hell of a job, nobody's done the job that we've done--and its lucky that you have this group here right now for this problem because you wouldn't even have a country left." 

He was addressing reporters at his daily corona virus press conference on Wednesday.

Trump has his story: the virus is a problem but it has been over-hyped and things are getting better all the time because what the government has done is perfect. Trump is the hero, and Democrats are secretly cheering for virus deaths and economic destruction. Therefore, in Trump's version, Democrats and their media allies are playing up the risks. "The media would like to see me do poorly in the election." 

Will that message sell? It might. His audience is receptive. Trump supporters have fully internalized the message that Democrats, liberals, Never-Trump Republicans, and the news media all dislike Trump and will accentuate the negative. Referring to the economy Trump said: 

     "Just so you understand--are you ready?--I think there are certain people that would like it not to open so quickly. I think there are certain people that would like it to do financially poorly because they think that would be very good as far as defeating me at the polls."

Reality is reality. Trump's problem is that there are two fixed points which anchor Trump's fate. The virus will spread, or it won't. And businesses can go back to work, or they can't.

If the virus spreads, the economy continues to tank.

Jim Cramer: "The numbers we are hearing in Italy and Madrid are horrifying. . . . I wish the markets would calm down." 7:10 a.m. Friday, March 27.

Thursday, March 26, 2020

Right to Life, Part Two

Heads up to Democrats:

Trump is winning on the virus issue. People want to go back to work.

Thad Guyer brings an unusual eye-witness perspective to American politics.
1. He spends a lot of time in Vietnam, where people routinely wear face masks and gloves in public. The air pollution in Saigon is intense. Vietnam has 100 million people and 150 cases.
 2. He just escaped out of Honduras on a charter flight to get Americans out and home. He heard the conversations of young people all around him. They resented the disruption to their vacation plans and work life brought by what they considered a crazy over-reaction to the virus.

 3. He understands the liberal media bubble, but he is not siloed in it. 

 4. His political orientation is leftist, and he is oriented toward a sense of responsibility of the individual to the whole. We are in this together. From his military experience and his law practice, he is confronted with the reality that sometimes people--whistleblowers--attempt to do the right thing, but their "reward" for that service is that they are crushed.

Guyer is an attorney who represents whistleblower clients, with an international practice.

Guest Post by Thad Guyer:

Bob Warren is right: People Die in War, Except this Time the Sacrifice Should be by the Elderly

I had a bad reaction to Bob Warren’s message way back on March 10 in this blog.  But now I think he is right.  

I will not be willing at some point to have the American economy and way of life thrown into a 1930’s style depression with food rationing, massive unemployment and widespread misery in exchange for protecting the longevity of a relatively small proportion of the elderly from Covid19. Nor I am willing to see the bulk of our hospitals turn away other urgent care needed by younger patients because most of the beds are all filled with elderly Covid19 victims. I think it is fair that my demographic take their chances without causing the American economy to collapse.

I was lucky to be around as Peter Sage’s dad--Robert Sage--dictated his autobiography, and then to read the final drafts. Peter's father was an archetype of the "greatest generation," born in 1919, a youth during the Depression, a soldier of prime military age in World War II. It was remarkable how this public school principal’s life had been marked by his sacrifices during that war, seeing young healthy men like him killed by the tens of thousands. Robert Sage's view was that we have to sacrifice to protect our freedom and way of life. 

Although I left the Vietnam jungles cynical toward the mission, I initially had embraced it with a similar view: The “American way of life” was worth dying for. War actually is not fought just so the majority can live. Instead, the sacrifice of the young and healthy is to die to protect a way of life, to prevent being conquered and ruled by others who don’t share our values. The philosophy is explicit: death of the few is secondary to the way of life of the many. 

I intend to fight for my longevity, but I accept it as my fight, not the sacrifice of my son’s generation. Like Robert Sage and me as soldiers, we had to prepare for being killed in the war and we need to prepare now for being killed by a pandemic. Preparation, not surrender. But this time it won’t be the young and healthily carrying to whole burden of mortality, it will be the elderly facing a maybe 1 in 10 to 1 in 5 of chance of dying by disease. As Bob Warren put it in Peter's blog on March 10:

"There is no great harm to America if a large number of people like us here get the virus and die. We are due to die very shortly anyway. It's a grim fact, but it's a fact. I've had my turn. I have no regrets about that”.

Bob Warren said he “is not depressed or eager to die”, nor am I. I am free with my social security or retirement money, as is almost everyone over age 62, to isolate myself, to keep younger people away from me, to have the supermarket deliver my food. For the few I let into my space, I insist they sanitize and wear face masks. We elderly are not being sent onto the battlefield. We are being told to isolate ourselves or else take a chance of being killed by Covid19.  

America should get back to work soon.

Right to Life

Poster circulating in leftist groups

     "How can people be so heartless

      How can people be so cruel?

      Easy to be hard.

      Easy to be cold."

               Three Dog Night, Lyrics: Easy to be Hard, 1969

Life is precious. The two parties have battle lines. A switch is underway.

Few posts in this blog created backlash and firestorm like the one by Bob Warren on March 10. 

He turns 93 in April, and he said that he recognized that people like him were old, vulnerable, and at this point mostly "dead weight." He enjoys his life and wants to continue it but said that he and other elderly people had their turn. Click: "It's time for us old people to get out of the way."

Critics of me and this blog used the words "callous, indefensible and most unmindful" and "un-analytical, selectively biased, misleading, truth opaque." The criticism came primarily from the political left: life is precious. Warren and I were disgusting ogres for even bringing up the subject.

Critics say that of course we shut down economic activity to slow the virus spread because it is the right thing to do to protect something priceless, the lives of Americans. Protecting life is the highest value.
Click: Washington Post reporter blasted

(A Washington Post reporter had the same experience as this blog, after talking to the parents of a man whose blunt tweet said that social distancing was sacrificing the young to protect the old. How dare he contact the tweeter, and worse, the parents--who frustrated the outrage by saying they agreed with their son.)

The response to the virus is partisan, and it is coming in surprising directions, given the context of the abortion issue. 

Republicans have been the party that says--on abortion--that "life is precious." A Republican litmus test requires a candidate in good GOP graces to say a fertilized egg is a human life, and abortion was murder. It's a matter of principle. Life must be respected and protected.

Meanwhile, almost all Democrats in good standing support a woman's right to decide for herself on whether to bring a conception to term. Democrats consider the woman's autonomy to be the precious thing to protect, not the potential life of the embrio. 
Marching for the unborn

Switch. In the context of the virus, Democrats are the ones talking about the preciousness of life, sounding just like Republicans on the abortion issue. Democrats argue for the primacy of compassion for the vulnerable. NY Governor Andrew Cuomo speaks of his elderly mother and says it is outrageous and offensive that people would risk the lives of people like her and rush to return to normal. 

(In an ironic twist and yet further complication, my interview subject, Bob Warren, comes from the political left, when he argues to stop spending huge resources to protect seniors. He isn't advocating for business, but rather for fairness. Each owe a duty to the whole community. People his age are gobbling more than their share of resources, thereby impoverishing the young and holding everyone back.) 

Republicans are following Trump's lead. Don't make the cure worse than the disease. Trump gave the virus a deadline, Easter. A meme circulates in conservative circles, shake hands to annoy a liberal. After all, the virus is a Democratic hoax and a blue state problem.

It is also partly the residue of Trump's early downplaying of the virus. Fox switched from scoffing at Democrats as worrywarts and hoax promoters, but the idea remains that it is in  Democrats' interest to damage Trump's economy by over-hyping the virus threat.
Republicans are coming to the economy's defense from regulation-loving, job-killing Democrats.

Cartoon circulating in left social media
The end result is a switch in the language one hears from political leaders of the two parties. Republicans are now the practical ones. "Life" is subject to a balance of values.

Meanwhile, Democrats are talking about life being precious.

Wednesday, March 25, 2020

Trump gains in popularity

Heads up to Democrats: Trump's Approval is UP. 

All good. Peace in our time.
(Trump as FDR.)

Heads up to Republicans: This won't last long. 

(Trump as Neville Chamberlain.)

Trump Approve:        49%
Trump Disapprove:   45%

Gallup reports the spike in Trump's popularity. Last week his approval was at 44% while 52% disapproved. 

The media focus is the virus, and Donald Trump is on TV every day now, looking something like the general in charge of the Coronavirus War.  

People who watch Trump on Fox and the rest of the Greater Trump media silo get a simple and better story: Trump the hero. They like Trump and always have.

Trump press conferences
What about people who see Trump on mainstream media? The meta story: don't worry, the experts are in charge. Media consumers get a decidedly mixed view. Trump looks like a rambling, somewhat clueless salesman, backed by medical experts who flank him and correct his mis-statements. That picture is not particularly damaging. By now everyone understands Trump is the front-man, with happy talk promises of seasonal fixes, of miracles, of vaccines, of cures. The real story is less that of Trump's incompetence than that experts are in charge and won't let Trump screw things up.

It is oddly reassuring.

Trump's approval numbers moved up. This is predictable. Democracies rally around their executive leaders in a crisis.

Trump has a problem. It doesn't last. Democracies like short wars, and this won't be short. People are already tired of social distancing, and losses in their 401k accounts. Voters will want someone to blame. Trump is the Neville Chamberlin of this war, the foolish, clueless, and ultimately dangerous leader.

Biden is no Winston Churchill, but he has a workaround. He has time to portray himself as the experienced leader of a young, vigorous team. He should stop appearing alone. Show the team, Joe. He has not yet done that. 

Click: 59 seconds "He Knew"
Nor does Biden does not come across as a prosecutor. He is friendly, old Joe, not a finger pointing accuser. He has a workaround here, too. He can outsource this job, and this has has started. 

Watch this ad: 

We don't know the course of the virus, but one thing that is emerging is that symptom-free people spread it, that the virus appears to linger in air for hours, and on surfaces for a week or more. This won't be a short war. The investment markets tell a similar story. The shutdown will depress business, earnings, and employment for months, not weeks. 

It's the economy, stupid, and Democrats will blame Trump. They have a story and the videotape to document it: Trump dithered and lied when he should have acted. He is the Neville Chamberlain of the virus war.

Democrats have a shot at replacing Trump, but it is no sure thing. Trump appears to believe what he says when he says it, even when it is the direct opposite of what he said weeks, days, or even moments prior. It is his superpower. He says he was the decisive leader who treated the virus like a grave problem from day one. Don't believe your eyes. Believe him now.

Trump can sell.