Saturday, February 29, 2020

Is the Big Crash Finally Here? Maybe

Pundits are arguing that the Coronavirus is crashing the market.  Maybe not.

The market has dropped dramatically in recent days - is this the big crash we've been expecting?  After a decade-long bull market, have the bears come out of hibernation?  Should we be worried?  Should we have been prepared for this inevitability?   The answer to the last question is an unqualified YES.

While the press likes simple stories with easy-to-follow narratives and easily identifiable "bad guys" reality is far more nuanced.  Yes, the Coronavirus might have been a trigger of a sell-off, but the fundamentals, which I have been harping on for over a year, are what is really driving things.   It isn't just lower earnings, companies going bankrupt, companies mired in debt, consumers mired in debt, sales slackening, tariff pains, Brexit, hyper-low interest rates, but a combination of all of that and more.   The market was running on fumes before the Coronavirus.   Every car company on the planet was projecting slower sales in 2020.   Orders for durable goods were retracting.  Several countries were already in recession.  It wasn't hard to see that something was going on.

And like a super-saturated solution of sugar and water, if you tap the glass, suddenly the sugar falls out of solution.  All it takes for that to happen is some triggering event.  So yes, the Coronavirus was a trigger.  No, it was not the cause.

But should we be worried? Maybe - if you just bought a boatload of stocks last week because the shouting guy told you to.  You are doubly screwed if you need that money in the next few weeks or months.  If you have a diversified portfolio, maybe less so.   You have to look at the long game.

The chart above is the DJIA for February 28th.  Not much to be gleened from this - it is just random noise - which we'll get back to, later.  But what about the last five days?  It looks a little scarier:

Wow!  Look at that drop!  No wonder the shouting guy is wetting his pants!  Maybe I should sell my stocks - after they went down in value.  Oh wait, I got out of the market last year.   No worries.  But what about the last six months?

Oh shit!  Head for the lifeboats!  The Titanic is sinking!  All hope is lost!  We're all going to die!  Arrrrgh!

Well, it is true we are all going to die - eventually.  Get used to that.  And markets will crash on occasion, but they inevitably recover - hopefully within your lifetime or timeframe of investing.  If we look at the larger picture, oddly enough, you get back to noise:

Not only is the drop of the last few days imperceptible as random noise on the signal, much of the gains over the last two years are pretty imperceptible as well.  It all depends on what start and end points you use in your analysis.  If you're Motley Fool, you always use 1930 as your start point when arguing that the stock market has always gone up - because 1929 would skew that statistic quite a bit (it wasn't until after the war that the market finally recovered to pre-crash levels).

Should you be worried about the market?   Well, if you've been paying attention, you've been expecting this sort of thing.  If you are a raging true-believer who listened to the shouting guy, odds are, you are leveraged to the hilt, invested in a few long-shot deals, and will likely be properly fucked in days to come.

I got out of stocks entirely last year, because at age 60, I need the money to live on.   The risk of making more money in stocks was too great - and the benefit too little - for my timeline of investing.  I needed the money today, and tomorrow to spend.  Hoping to make a little bit in the market over 12 months made little sense.  In fact, my portfolio, if left in those stocks, would have gone up in 2019 an then come back down to less than where it was when I cashed out.   So in effect, I lost nothing - no "opportunity" by residing in cash.

Mark still has his mutual funds, and no doubt, they will look ugly in the next few months.  But his timeline of investing is five years behind mine - his funds will recover by the time we need that money - which may be ten years from now or more - if we're lucky.

During the last crash of 2008 - which people don't remember or claimed never happened (or if they do remember, blame on Obama) I saw people in their 70's freaking out because they were totally invested in stocks at an age when they should have been in safe harbors.   Many still had mortgages that they could no longer afford to pay.   They leveraged themselves to the hilt, based on advice from "investment counselors" who said to stay in debt while investing at the same time - the "coffin corner" I talked about before.

Back in 2008, I still had mortgage debt, credit card debts, and even student loan debts.  I was also invested in stocks.  I realized this was not a safe place to be - leveraged in debt while investing in things that could (and did) go down to zero in value.  I was lucky - others lost everything.   But today, I can weather the storm more easily - I have zero debt, a house that is paid-for, and cash in the bank.   Yes, there are still risks - the bank could go bankrupt, and I could lose a lot of my net worth.   But compared to 2008, I am in a far better place.

The question is, anyone who survived the 2008 debacle should be better prepared for the next one, right?  Or is 12 years longer than human financial memory?

Americans Have No Idea How Their Government Works

Most Americans haven't a clue how their government actually functions.

I mentioned in passing in a previous post that most Americans think that when a Congressman introduces a bill that means it's automatically a law.  And the way the press reports these bills, you might understand why - they report as if the bill was already law, and only in the last paragraph will they admit the bill will not pass the House or Senate, or survive a Presidential Veto.   In fact, the bill will never make it out of Committee.  Apparently they didn't watch Schoolhouse Rock

Politicians count on this. They propose legislation which has no chance of passing, only because it generates headlines and gets people to think that the Congressman is fighting for their rights, when in fact he's just making futile gestures that mean absolutely nothing.  Both AOC and Colonel Sanders are very good at this sort of thing.  Sanders hasn't accomplished anything after decades at office, other than have a post office named after somebody. 

Similarly when Court decisions come down, most Americans think this is the final word on the matter, when usually it's anything but. In a recent case the ninth circuit struck down some of Trump's immigration policies and one member of the SPLC said this was the final decision - as they put it, "Full Stop."
"The court has finally affirmed what we always knew to be the case, that the provision on which the government is relying does not apply to asylum-seekers. Full stop," Melissa Crow, senior supervising attorney at the SPLC’s Immigrant Justice Project, told NBC News.
But of course it isn't. There's one more stop on the road, and that's at the Supreme Court.  And the Supreme Court will likely overturn the 9th circuit's opinion in this matter.  And the folks at the Southern Poverty Law Center know this full well - that all of their efforts will be for nothing.  But like any organization, they have to survive and show they are making good use of their client's money.  So they tout this "win" even though they know deep down the stacked Supreme Court will likely overturn it, if not merely modify it somewhat.   A win in the 9th Circuit is hardly a "Full Stop" but merely a pause.   That sentence is not finished just yet

There are 12 Federal Circuit Appeals Courts that hear appeals from various district courts within their circuit. There's a 13th Court, the Court of Appeals for the Federal Circuit, which hears appeals in Patent cases, which was important to me.  They also hear cases involving maritime law and federal employment rights but who gives a shit about that.  All that matters is Patents, of course.

But getting back to our discussion, the 9th circuit has been notoriously liberal in the past.  In fact, in law school, you'd get laughed at if you cited case law from California State Courts or from the 9th Circuit.   It wasn't "controlling law" on the other States or Circuits, and often the 9th Circuit was overturned on appeal to the Supreme Court, which is particularly true today.

Even the 9th Circuit may lose its reputation as a liberal bastion.  Trump has been appointing judges at a rapid clip - after the Senate denied Obama the opportunity.   Even the 9th Circuit is seeing an influx of young, conservative Judges.   Young Judges are important, as they are appointed for life.  Traditionally, Judges and Justices who were appointed to the Federal bench had some senior credentials, and a "lifetime appointment" usually meant twenty years, tops.   Today, we see Judges being appointed who seem barely out of diapers, much less law school.

This is the real impact of the Trump administration.   Long after Trump is gone (and with his health, he is one heart attack away from oblivion) the Judicial system he has crafted will live on.  And this may be particularly true for the Supreme Court.   As a reader recently noted:
In terms of the Supreme Court, President Trump might get three nominations in the next term, assuming he gets a second term:

Justice Ginsburg, noted oldster that had pancreatic cancer. The survival rate for that is nil.....she is 87.

Justice Sotomayor, Type 1 diabetes. Practically no one with type 1 ever live past 60....she is 65.

Justice Breyer: in his early 80's.
The court is presently stacked 5-4.  Imagine it stacked 8-1.  It would be decades before Democrats could appoint enough liberal justices (or even neutral ones!) to swing the tide very much.  We can only hope that with the lifetime appointment, that the "conservative" justices appointed today will mellow with time - as they seem have done in the past.

Friday, February 28, 2020

"Food Waste"

Who is organizing this "food waste" campaign?
Gee, that looks tasty!

As I noted in a previous posting, one technique that President Trump and Republicans in general have been using to attack their opponents, is not to go after their weaknesses but rather their strengths. Both George W. Bush and Donald Trump have spotty records when it comes to their military service. Bush at least served in the Air National Guard, Trump got a deferment for a bone spur.

Both ran for office going up against decorated war heroes. Bush, through his proxies, discredited John Kerry's war service by calling into question his heroism. Trump did as similar thing to John McCain, famously claiming "I prefer heroes that weren't captured."

It is an interesting technique, but if you have your back against the wall, it's really your only option. If you can raise enough questions and create enough of a smokescreen, people will start to wonder if the war hero really was a coward.

The Russians and other opponents of the United States also use similar techniques to tear down our country.  Rather than try to go head-to-head with us comparing our economy to theirs, they take our pluses and turn them into minuses.  Because let's face it, if you compare life in America to life in Russia, Russia will always come up short.

America is the wealthiest country in the world, and provides a higher standard of living for more people than any other country on the planet. You might argue that some Scandinavian country has a better social safety net, but in terms of supporting hundreds of millions of people at a middle-class level of comfort, the United States leads the world. We are a land of plenty, and even the poorest person the United States would be considered wealthy by world standards.  As I've noted time and time again, the biggest health issue we have among the poor is obesity.

To be poor in America means having a crappy car.   A "poor" person in America generally has a place to live, and a kitchen with an oven, refrigerator, and a microwave.  They have a television, a smartphone, and likely air conditioning as well.  To be poor in Africa means not to have eaten in several days.   We have to put our "problems" in perspective.

So systematically, our opponents in the world have been tearing down our country, not by attacking our weaknesses, but our strengths. The very nature of our wealth is being attacked. And the abundance and plenty of our agricultural system which feeds not only the United States but much of the world, is criticized as being wasteful.

This is, of course, ridiculous. No one wastes good food, simply because it has value, and thus no one in their right mind throws valuable things away. The mythology spread online is that people are throwing away food for no good reason.  Activists are pushing this agenda and have even succeed in passing laws in Paris that restaurants are not allowed to throw away food.  The restaurant's solution to this problem is to pack up leftovers, American-style in Styrofoam clamshells and hand them the patrons, who then throw them away at home.  Taking home food from a restaurant is gross and potentially unsafe.  Just order less food.  Split an entree.  Eat at home.

Food safety is very important.  Eating tainted food will make you sick and can possibly even kill you. Thus, when food goes bad you throw it away.  Similarly, food left on somebody's plate should not be reused because this could spread diseases, something particularly relevant in recent months with the spread of the Coronavirus.

Restaurants do not willingly throw away good food. If there are leftover vegetables and meat that is still edible, the chef will use them to make a soup.  If there is a surplus of a particular food item in the kitchen, that becomes tomorrow's lunch special.  So long as the food is edible and enjoyable and saleable a restaurant will sell it. Once the food is spoiled or rotten it'll be thrown away. This is not waste.

Grocery stores do the same thing. You may find a convenient to go to the grocery store and buy a little plastic container filled with diced fruit. You may think they're cutting up fruit for your convenience, but what they're actually doing is going through and cutting out good pieces of fruit from watermelons and pineapples and what not, that have started to go bad, and putting it in containers and selling it. The bad portions of the pineapple or watermelon are thrown away. They pick the good grapes from a bunch, and throw the bad ones away. In this way, they can salvage something from food that otherwise could not be sold.

These are just two examples of how restaurants and grocery stores do not waste food. If food is good and salable, it will be sold.  Food that is bad will be thrown away.  And the decision on whether to throw away food should be left to the restaurant or grocery store - and the health department - not to politicians or "activists" who have no clue about food safety.

But for some reason, some people will have none of this. They're convinced that restaurants and food stores are throwing away edible food for no reason whatsoever. And yes, sometimes this does happen, but for a good reason.  But again, given that we have the fattest homeless people in the world, it's not like anybody is starving. There are so many social programs, food stamps, food banks or other safety nets, there is no reason anybody in the United States should be hungry unless they are putting their mind to it.
The real question, in my mind, is why is this such an issue now? Our food distribution system hasn't changed one iota in the last 50 years, except perhaps to decrease waste through computerized ordering systems, which can track demand and trends and anticipate customer needs. Who is behind this "Food Waste" narrative? And who are the useful idiots taking up this banner?

I recounted before how when Mark ran a gourmet food store, they had leftover bread at the end of the day. They tried to give this bread to a homeless shelter but the homeless shelter had to serve a certain number of clients every day and thus wanted a fixed number of identical loaves delivered everyday by a certain time.  Five or ten assorted loaves of artisanal bread would not work in their kitchens. And as one of the administrators of the homeless shelter noted, the food has to be uniform lest the clients - as they call him - would fight over the fact that one person a cherry danish and the other got a cheese danish.  Beggars, it seems, can be choosers.

Handing out leftover food to homeless people who came to the back door seemed like another answer, at first, until they started lining up at the loading dock, which interfered with the operation of the business and drove away customers.  The "bug light" scenario raises its ugly head.  There really is no easy solution here.

Why not give leftover food to employees?  That is problematic as well.  Once employees find out that any "leftover" food may be taken home at the end of the night, they squirrel away prime perishables in the walk-in cooler, and later on "discover" them at the end of the night.   "No sense letting this go to waste!" they say, "I'll take it home!"   It is akin to when Mark worked at Williams Sonoma.  They used to sell scratch and dent items to employees for a dollar or two.  So Shelia would intentionally scratch a $350 Kitchen Aid mixer so she could buy it for a buck or two (and tell all her friends how "smart" she was to do so).    You wonder why they are closing so many stores, eh?

Yes, there is "waste" in any industrial process or retail environment, and there's really not much you can do about it.  Believe me, the companies that are making and selling products have every incentive to cut waste to a minimum as it cuts into their bottom line. The grocery business is a cutthroat business and profit margins are measured in the low-single digits. If you're making 1% to 2% selling millions of dollars worth of groceries, you're damn lucky.  The restaurant business isn't much better.

In a way, it is akin to a letter written to Dear Abby many years ago where somebody complained that the local shoe store was throwing away unsold shoes and slicing through the soles with a sharp knife to make sure they couldn't be worn. They felt this was an outrage, as the shoes could be used to shod the homeless. But the problem for the shoe store is, if they throw away the shoes, people dig them out of the dumpster and bring them back and ask for a refund.  So many stores today offer a "lifetime money back guarantee" and they found out was when they throw "perfectly good" but unsalable shoes in the dumpster, people would take them back and ask for a refund or store credit.

They are unsalable as they are out of style, and the labor in packing up and shipping the shoes back to the distributor is more than one would get back from the distributor as the wholesale cost of the shoes. Thus, the most economical thing to do is throw them away.  Booksellers do the same thing with paperbacks - they tear off the cover of unsold books and mail them back - throwing away a "perfectly good" paperback as a result.  Wasteful?  Perhaps, but not as wasteful as mailing books back and forth.  Of course the most economical thing to do is to not order books or shoes you know won't sell.  And today, with computerized ordering systems, this is become less and less of a problem.

The real question, in my mind, is why is this such an issue now?  Our food distribution system hasn't changed one iota in the last 50 years, except perhaps to decrease waste through computerized ordering systems, which can track demand and trends and anticipate customer needs.   Who is behind this "Food Waste" narrative?  And who are the useful idiots taking up this banner?   I leave it to you to figure out the obvious answer.  Just follow the trail of breadcrumbs - unless you think that is "food waste" as well.

Regardless of whether you're outraged or not by the fact that shoe store sliced up the old shoes, you have to bear in mind that it is their shoes to slice up.   If you believe in freedom, then you have to believe in the freedom of people to do as they wish with their own possessions.  Once we start telling people they can't destroy shoes that they own or throw away food they think is spoiled, we start going down a long road toward tyranny.

Because there are plenty of other wasteful and stupid decisions that people make on a daily basis that really should be forbidden, if you think about it.  When the young man in the ghetto decides to spend most of his disposable income, renting a set of cheaply made Chinese 22-inch rims to put on his $1,500 car, he's making a really poor life choice. We should stop him from doing this by outlawing rent-to-own wheel rim places - right?  Or maybe the redneck getting $5000 in tattoos should have to pay off his credit card debt first?   Do we want to interfere in people's lives to do what we think is best for them? 

Maybe not. Freedom includes the right to make bad choices in life. If we tried to choose for other people, then people no longer are free. And this goes for the local restaurant or food store or shoe store. Once we start telling them how to run their business and what they can and cannot throw away, they are no longer free.

It is one thing to tell someone they can't throw toxic waste into the river - when that river is something that everyone else enjoys and needs to use - or perhaps even drinks water from. Your freedom is indeed limited when it intersects the freedoms of other people.

But throwing away food?  How is that harming other people?  Particularly in a country where people are grossly overweight, even the poor.  If we start telling people what they can and cannot do with their own food, then what we're saying is that food is no longer their property, but belongs to the State.

Yes, there are laws against serving tainted or bad food - again your freedoms are limited to the extent the intersect with other people's freedoms.  You can't go around selling tainted food that would end up harming or killing people. But oddly enough that's what these food waste warriors want us to do -  endanger our own food supply by encouraging reuse of bad food.

Back to the main topic, who exactly is behind this "food waste" movement?  It is an interesting thing.  In addition to the law passed in Paris, I see comments all the time online about this.  Recently a reader sent me a link to a series of videos by someone who sounded somewhat Australian. I don't know if they're Australian or not because their YouTube channel had no listing of their name or nationality or any background about them.   Most people are eager to tout their name and credentials in the "About Me" section of their YouTube channel.  But instead, there was nothing but a vague description about how they were doing videos on "economics." I suspected it might be Russian disinformation.  In the comments section accompanying the video about economics United States was a plethora of comments about "food waste" and how awful the United States is, because we waste food. I strongly suspect the Russian Internet Research Agency is at work here.  Well, that, and a whole host of useful idiots.

It is like people who want to ban plastic bags and straws because of the "Pacific Garbage Patch".   Noble intentions, to be sure, but 90+% of the trash there is old fishing gear and plastic waste from Asia, India,and Micronesia.  It ain't us, but certain people want us to feel bad about our prosperity by making it out to be we are polluting the oceans, while at the same time giving themselves a free pass.  China, too, is behind much of this disinformation.  China is the largest polluter of the land, sea, and air in the world - but we give them a pass on our climate treaties because they are an "underdeveloped nation" - right!

This sort of disinformation is a two-pronged attack. First, they get Americans to feel bad about their own country and their own bountiful resources. And to those reading from other countries, it builds up a sense of resentment, if they are in fact hungry and they see people in America have more than enough food. But overall, I think it's just another example of trying to spread ennui and discontent and just make people feel bad about their own country.

Of course, the idea that we should not waste food is an old one.  When I was a child my parents would say that we should always eat our green beans because there were children starving in India. As smart-ass little kids would say, "why don't we mail the green beans to India?"  And while it may have been a smart-ass thing to say, there was a nugget of truth in it.  The food that is so-called being "wasted" in United States cannot realistically be reused to feed people even in our home country much less in other lands.  So the whole issue is moot.

My stepmother went down this path, as she abhorred food waste. Of course, she grew up in the depression, so maybe that influenced her outlook. On more than one occasion I saw her take food out of the trash and eat it because it was "going to go to waste."  One day she bought a piece of ham and she said it was too salty to eat, so she spent an hour driving all over Denver try to find a homeless shelter that would take it. I didn't understand that - if it was too salty to eat why would you want to give it to a homeless person? Don't they deserve edible food as well? And we're not talking about a big piece of ham, but something like about 1/4 to 1/2 pound - barely enough to make a sandwich.

She had good intentions, to be sure. There's an old saying the road to hell is paved with good intentions.  And I think a lot of this food wasting nonsense is based on good intentions - and is a path that leads straight to hell.  Maybe the French can pass laws telling people what they can do with their food - although I think in such a food-centric country it seems an anathema to do so.  But here in the United States we have very strong views about property rights and freedom.  If we start telling people how they can and cannot dispose of their own property, or how they can use it, even if it doesn't directly affect others, will be in for a world of woe.

And who would that favor?    Yea, him.

Wednesday, February 26, 2020

Republicans Have a Plan, Democrats Don't Have a Clue

Republicans are winning because they've executed a carefully laid plan over the last decade or more. Democrats are losing because they have not coalesced into a unified force.

The disorganization demonstrated by the Democratic party seems to indicate that Donald Trump will be re-elected for another four years, whether we like it or not. Bernie Sanders is the ultimate useful idiot. I have no doubt he really believes in his socialist values and thinks that Fidel Castro and Nicol├ís Maduro are great leaders and that we should adopt the Venezuelan, Nicaraguan, and Cuban economic models for our country.  After all - the education!  (Oddly enough, people the world over flock to America to get an education.  I wonder how many flock to Cuba?).

I have no doubt that foreign forces as well as Republicans, are promoting his candidacy. Republicans have come out of the closet in South Carolina which has open primaries. They're advocating for Republican voters to vote in the Democratic primary and vote for Sanders, the spoiler candidate. Republicans have canceled the Republican primary in that State and Donald Trump is assured the nomination. So there's no point in Republicans wasting their vote, they might as well jam up the system.  That is one problem with open primaries is that it allows people to make disruptive votes just to cripple the other side.  The problem with closed primaries, is that they favor fringe candidates.

Even if Sanders were to win, the Republicans have cemented their position of power. They have a majority in the Supreme Court and may obtain yet another seat very shortly. They've dominated the Federal courts with their appointees, even in the famous liberal ninth circuit in San Francisco.  The justice department is fast-tracking appeals of any decisions that overturn Trump Administration policies. The Supreme Court has reversed those decisions, thus giving Trump a free hand to do as he pleases.

This is not something that happened overnight, but is the result of many years of planning. Republicans have been building a base in the States, dominating one state legislature after another, obtaining one governorship after another. It is the States that determine the redistricting for Representatives and thus can gerrymander districts to their advantage.  Democrats, of course, decry this, but gerrymander on their own, when given the opportunity.  Oh, and by the way, the conservative Supreme Court has held gerrymandering is constitutional.

The key to running the government in the United States is to control the Senate and the presidency. Yes, it would be nice to control both Houses, the Presidency, and the Courts. But as history has shown even if you dominate the House Representatives, it's really hard to get legislation through there as people in your own party want their own piece of pork in exchange for their vote.  Once you have the Senate and the Presidency, you have the Courts as well, and the House of Representatives is really irrelevant.

So what the Republicans have done is dominated the Senate, which means they can appoint judges. These in turn rubber-stamp Presidential orders and the Presidency is becoming increasingly more powerful.  Trump has accomplished the most of his agenda and not through legislation, but through Presidential directive.

The House of Representatives, as the recent impeachment inquiry illustrates, is pretty much irrelevant and powerless. Even if they could get together enough votes to pass legislation, it's assured that nothing will go through the Senate without their approval and certainly not meet the 2/3 standard to override a Trump veto.  Democrats, however, love a good protest vote, and they can let "AOC" pontificate all day long - it makes no difference.  It is just venting frustration.   It is not real power in any way, shape, or form.

And yet no one is talking about this. The Republicans have basically locked up power and control of our government for at least a decade to come, and all the Democratic candidates can talk about is whether to or forgive someone's student loans or make college free.  These are hardly the really pressing issues of the day.

They promise to tear down the wall, or abolish ICE, but both of these proposals don't really have a lot of support with the voters.  Moreover, they're not likely to ever see the light of day. Unless the Democrats can take both the House and the Senate, and an astounding number of Federal Judges  and Justices decide to retire at once, they will not retake control of the federal government for at least a decade or two.

The Democrats have been blindsided in this regard. They have been so focused on taking the presidency, putting Hillary in power, and now Bernie Sanders, they forget the government is more than just who is President. You need to build a power base from the bottom up in order to control the government.

Even assuming Bernie Sanders or any of the Democrats win the presidency, unless they can win the Senate, it's unlikely that much will get done.  Judicial appointments will be held up and the radical legislation that Bernie Sanders proposers will never get out of committee.  In other words, whoever is elected President, if they're a Democrat will be a very ineffective president.   Republicans will see to that.  Jimmy Carter went through this - Obama did, too.

It's the nature of the beast, yet Democrats fail to see this.  Or perhaps they do.  I've said it before and I'll say it again: I think they intentionally want to lose this time around.  Incumbent presidents tend to get reelected and they realize this.  Bill Clinton's election was really a fluke - if you look back at it, there's really no reason George Bush shouldn't have been re-elected other than he was not very charismatic.

So maybe that is the battle plan.  They let someone like Sanders get the nomination and he goes on to lose gloriously in the fall.  People didn't realize that radicalism isn't the answer and moreover the organization at the street-level is more important than who's in the White House.  Once the Democrats can build up power base in the State Legislators and Governorships, then can take control of redistricting for House races.   But if they don't have a majority in the Senate, and it really doesn't matter who's President.

But all of that is at least ten years down the road. It'll be a long, slow, slog through the mud to get there.  But maybe disabusing the current crop of voters of these pie-in-the-sky notions is the first step in that process.

So, onward to glorious defeat!   Every Democratic Candidate will get a participation award, handed out by Ms. AOC herself!   And Democrats can all feel good about ourselves for being morally right, but strategically wrong.


Losing is not winning.  I don't care how many Betos you've got.

Tuesday, February 25, 2020

Shouting Into The Wind

You can try to pass on what little you've learned in life to the next generation.  They ain't listening.  We weren't either!

A recent opinion piece in USA Today makes the interesting analogy between the 1968 and 1972 elections and the 2016 and 2020 elections.  In 1968, Nixon narrowly beat Humphrey - a middle-of-the-road Democrat who, like Hillary, didn't inspire voters too much.   In reaction to that, for the 1972 election, far-left McGovern was nominated, and lost in a landslide to the re-election of Nixon in 1972.

The author points out that he passionately believed in McGovern and radical social change.  He felt that incremental changes and improvements were a "cop out" and nothing short of revolution was required.   The day after the election, he was shattered.

He hopes this example will illuminate today's young Sanders supporters - that radical change might sound fine and all, but it doesn't win elections.   And in elections, second place is nothing (well, it used to be - you got to be Vice-President, but we've moved beyond that).   There are no "participation awards" in politics.

He makes an interesting point, but he is shouting into the wind.   Because if he recalls his enthusiasm for McGovern in 1972, he might also recall that when McGovern lost, he didn't suddenly become a pragmatist.  It took many years of aging and maturity.   In fact, the impeachment of Nixon didn't help much.  We lurched from Nixonian politics to Jimmy Carter, who proved to be ineffective in the job.  So once again, we lurched rightward, to Reagan and Bush, before a pragmatic centrist Democrat finally was elected when Bill Clinton took office.   Today, young Democrats think his name is a dirty word - and that of his wife as well.

We could have had so much, but some folks, wanting all-or-nothing, settled for nothing.

Yes, when I was a kid, I went against the social norms of my peers and supported McGovern - even though I was six years shy of voting age.   It seemed like the thing to do at the time.   And it amazed me that not only did he lose, but he lost by such a large margin.   Turns out, a lot of Americans weren't really pining for massive social change.   Turns out, they were pretty happy with the things the way they were, but wanted criminals put in jail and their tax dollars spent more wisely (and tax rates cut, of course).   The hippies and yippies didn't inspire them, they were frightened by them.

It didn't happen overnight, but the radicals became less radical over time.  Some even went far-right, such as Jerry Rubin.   Once you buy into the system, you realize it isn't such a bad system, and "don't rock the boat" replaces "up against the wall!"

Today's Sanders supporters are tomorrow's Republicans - or at the very least, conservative Democrats.   In about ten years, most of them will have paid off their student loans - and the idea of "student loan forgiveness" will seem more and more alien to them.   After all, they struggled and scrimped to pay off these debts, why should others get a free ride? 

And once they get that first good paying job (which will happen, to most of them, over time) and they see how much is missing from their paycheck for taxes (one-third or more) they might change their mind about government giveaways.

Like I said before, today's police protester is one-stolen-bicycle away from becoming a law-and-order voter.   When you have nothing, "stick it to the man!" sounds like a rational battle plan.  But when you struggle to even accumulate a tiny bit of wealth - and it is taken from you by thieves - you start to wonder whether all this left-wing thinking isn't a lot of hogwash.

Feeling sorry for criminals and other irresponsible people (such as Bernie Sanders - who is heavily in debt and still living "paycheck to paycheck" on a six-figure income) starts to become less and less appealing.

It happens - not to all of us, but most of us.    Sure, there are plenty of people who still claim to be far-left into their old age.  But you scratch the surface and their views are pretty centrist, when you get down to it.   And as soon as the black people leave the room, they tell stories making fun of "African-American" sounding names.   I've seen this firsthand, on more than one occasion.   I'll bet even Bernie does it.

So while I admire this fellow for writing this Op-ed piece pointing out the similarities between the two election cycles - nearly 50 years apart - I doubt it will do much good.  As he put it:
I’m telling my story because, as philosopher George Santayana said, "Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it."
But what he fails to understand is, history repeats itself an awful lot.   People don't learn from the past, which is why they are condemned to repeat it.  Hence, we have today, basement Nazis.   You would think we woulda learned by now about that, eh?

History will repeat itself, despite our best efforts to avoid it.

Driving Straight Through

First responders from the Midway Fire Department survey the scene of a fatal accident on Interstate 95, which claimed the lives of multiple people, early Sunday morning in Liberty County, Ga.

Driving all night or for more than a few hours a day is not only dangerous, it is bad for your health.

We know a lot more about human physiology than we did only a few years back.   As people have taken longer and longer airline flights, we realize that sitting for hours on end is really bad for your health.  Blood clots can form in your legs, and these can travel to your brain and give you a stroke.   It just isn't healthy.

We live in snowbird country - at least for the time being.  A lot of our friends have a place "up North" they go to every Summer to escape the Georgia heat.   Many, in their 60's, 70's, and even 80's, try to drive "straight through" - 10 to 14 hours or more - at highway speeds.   Some break this up into a two-day trip, but many don't even do that.   They spend the better part of a day seated in a car, driving 5-10 miles per hour over the speed limit, weaving in and out of traffic, trying to "make time" to get home.

We see a lot of people doing this on I-95 - with out-of-State plates - on their way as part of the snowbird migration, or on their way to Disney (or some other Florida vacation) and back.   Many drive late into the night as well.   They are tired and worn out, and often everyone in the car is asleep except the driver - who might not be far away from sleep themselves.

It is a recipe for disaster.

Sunday morning - in the early hours - there was a collision on I-95.  A 77-year-old Florida man went the wrong way on I-95 and plowed into another SUV with a family of five aboard, head-on, at speed.  A closing speed of at least 140 miles per hour.   Everyone died.

Of course, everyone will be wondering why a 77-year-old went the wrong way on the Interstate.  But apparently it happens more than you think, and they are very deadly accidents, due to the closing speeds involved.  And they are hard to avoid, as your reaction times are halved.

But my question was this:  Why was a 77-year-old driving in the early hours of the morning in the first place?  Sunday morning (i.e., Saturday night after the bars close) is a horrific time to be driving.  According to initial reports, the man was not "impaired" (i.e., drunk) but the real danger is that a lot of other people are.   I would simply avoid driving at that time of night, on that night in particular.

And why was the family from Virginia driving at two in the morning on a Sunday?  What could possibly possess them to be on the road at that ungodly hour?

No one knows the reasons just yet, but I suspect both drivers were trying to "make time" by driving "straight through" with tragic results.

When I was at GMI, some of the other students would do this - get a bunch of people in a car and drive "straight through" to Florida to go on "Spring Break".   I could never afford it.   They would take turns driving while others snored in the back seat.   It sounds like a swell idea, but it can end in tragedy as the driver succumbs to sleep themselves.

I get it that a young family from Virginia might need to "get back" after vacation, to get the kids back to school and to get back to work on Monday.   That doesn't make it a good idea, but at least I understand the motivation.   But a 77-year-old?   Why is he driving after midnight?   Why is he driving at night at all?   Night vision is the first thing to go, and the joke among the widows on Old People's Island is that if you can snag a husband who can drive at night, it is worthwhile, even if you have to have sex with him once in a while.

When you are retired, there is no job to get back to, no kids to get to school.  There is no hurry - and yet we meet a lot of old people who drive "straight through" to their destinations, often spending ten hours or more behind the wheel every day.   We ask them if they ever stopped in any of the States between here and there - and they haven't.  As far as they are concerned, the Carolina's, Virginia, and even Pennsylvania are just places to gas up and get fast-food.

We tell them - in vain - that there are places to see between "here and there" that are worth stopping for.  And it is a lot easier to drive a couple-hundred miles a day and enjoy the scenery and see the sights.   "But you'll never make time that way!" they cry, as if they have an urgent appointment - other than with the grim reaper - to make.

One friend told me that they had to hurry back because they had a doctor's appointment - as if such appointments could not be scheduled a week later, or they could not leave a week earlier.   This mentality of "have to get there, fast!" is so ingrained, they cannot see any other way.

It is, in a way, like my experience with the Blue Ridge Parkway.   When I was younger and had a "job" I could not figure it out.   35 mph - no way to "make time!"  We had jobs to get back to, places to be!   And maybe that is an excuse when you are younger, but as I got older, I realized the journey is its own reward and when I retired, well, there was no excuse to go rushing off.

We drove to Alaska two years ago and went back to Vancouver last year to pick up the camper.   "You drove all the way to Alaska?" one asks in wonderment.   "How many days did that take?" asks another, "Like five or six, right?"   Well, more like five or six weeks, as we travel only about 200 miles a day.   We stop often and see things - tourist traps, railroad museums, airplane museums, local wineries, distilleries, breweries, musical attractions, the world's largest ball of twine - whatever.  Why rush things?

And no, we aren't doing 75 mph, weaving in and out of traffic, with a trailer - as we see so many others doing.   Driving fast, at the raw edge of control, inches away from disaster, is no way to relax.  It raises your blood pressure and heart rate, while your body remains almost motionless.  It is a recipe for a heart attack - if the blood clots don't get you first.

We used to take the Auto-train from Lorton, Virgina to Sanford, Florida.   It might not be faster, but it is a lot more fun.  And while it costs more money, a private room (they even have family rooms) is quite comfortable.   Bring a bottle of wine with you and watch the countryside go by as you nod off after dinner.   Wake up the next morning, and they're already unloading your car.

The journey is the reward.   But so few see it that way - they see the journey as an unpleasant task to be completed as quickly as possible - living in the future:
While driving into town the other day, I realized that aggressive driving is another example of living in the future. In Central New York, a depressed area, people tend to drive aggressively and tailgate excessively - often in the worst sort of run-down cars. Even if you are doing the speed limit, someone will ride your bumper as if to say "Come on, enough already, I want to GET THERE!" 
And that is just the point. In their minds, they are already at their destination. The trivial act of traveling from point A to point B is just some mundane repetitive task that should be disposed of as quickly as possible. They are already thinking about what they will be doing once they reach their destination and are not living in the now. 
And, as you might expect, they get in a lot of car accidents, not just from tailgating or speeding, either. They are often not thinking about their immediate surroundings, but rather of where they are going. So they don't see the deer by the side of the road, or the child crossing the intersection, or the stop sign dead ahead.
In their minds, they are already home, and the annoying present is something to be endured on the race to the eventual graveyard.

Sadly, this mentality often means getting there earlier than expected.

Saturday, February 22, 2020

Why Putin Wants Bernie

Bernie Sanders will be easy to defeat in the Fall.  But why does Putin want Trump?

We all know about Putin's interference in the 2016 election - and how nuanced it was.  I saw it firsthand on Reddit - which I used to peruse back then.  The subreddit r/the_donald was full of trolls who upvoted "memes" about Trump and caused general mayhem in other subreddits.  They started the whole, "If it isn't Bernie, I'll vote for Trump!" thing, making it sound like their positions on the issues are similar.

Today, no mention of Trump on the front page of Reddit - it's all about Bernie Bros - or as we call them, The Russian Internet Research Agency.   They are promoting Bernie on social media - often not directly, but in a nuanced way - leaving snarky comments, upvoting certain things, encouraging useful idiots, and so on and so forth.  Some people deny this is happening, as they don't see badly phrased postings in Russian English lauding Sanders - they are far more subtle than that.

Our own government security agencies have reported that Russia interfered in 2016 to favor Trump, and in 2020 to favor Sanders - which indirectly favors Trump.   But why would Putin want Trump?   After three years, he hasn't lifted sanctions against Russia, and indeed new sanctions have been levied against the Russian oil company Rosneft, which is to say, sanctions against Russia, which is to say, sanctions against Putin.  Putin is Russia, and everything in it.  He is the richest man in the world, by some accounts - others have mere billions, he owns a country.

So why would he favor Trump?    Well it isn't so much they like Trump, but they dislike the alternatives more.   Hillary Clinton and traditional centrist Democrats (and the traditional Republicans we used to have, but seem to have evaporated lately) were in favor of a policy of "engagement" in the world - projecting power through the use of diplomacy, foreign aid, and of course, the military.   Trump has promoted a more isolationist view - withdrawing troops from Syria and pretty much leaving the battlefield to Russia and Assad.   Trump also hasn't raised too much of a fuss about the annexing of the Crimea, or Russia's general mayhem in Ukraine.  In fact, Trump has used the Ukraine as something of a whipping boy - alleging all sorts of conspiracies hatched by his predecessors.   You've read about this, no doubt.

So Trump is the lesser of two evils.  And in a second term, when Trump has nothing to lose (and by then the economy will have fallen into recession) maybe Trump will lift sanctions and let Russia invade the Ukraine, which seems inevitable, unless someone stands up to Putin.   And Trump isn't that guy.

Putin's worst nightmare is Biden - the traditional centrist Democrat who would "engage" the world in his foreign policy and no doubt make things difficult for the Russians.  More sanctions, more interventions, and of course, more support for the Ukraine.  Putin would rather see America weak and divided, and Trump is doing a great job of pitting Americans against each other - and getting Americans to turn inward and think in isolationist terms.   "America First" is a policy of retreat.

So why support Sanders?   Well, I think they have done the math on this and realize Americans won't vote for a Socialist or Communist.  It is not that Russians like Communism - they tried that, and it left a bad taste in their mouth.   They know full well it doesn't work, which is why they have retreated to a tsarist State, with a new tsar-for-life, Vladimir Putin.   So it isn't a matter of Commie-loving-Commie, but the knowlege that Sanders will lose.

Sanders claims to be winning, and the press is making a big deal as we speak about how the Nevada caucuses will "cement his front-runner status!" - although technically, that crown would go to Pete Buttigieg, who is one delegate ahead of Sanders in the race.  I am so glad the media is neutral on these things and doesn't cheerlead for one candidate over another.   The reality is, of course, in that poll after poll, Americans don't put Sanders as their number one choice for the Democratic ticket, and in a face-off with Trump, he is arguably the weakest candidate.   While he may have "won" in New Hampshire and come in a close second in Iowa, three-quarters of the voters in both States selected "Not Sanders" and more specifically, two-thirds selected "Centrist Democrat" - not socialism.

The New York Times let one slip by the Political Correctness Police and published an article bringing up some inconvenient truths about Sanders.  These are the sort of things that are fodder for attack ads in the Fall when the general election gets going - Trump will have a field day.   People forget he honeymooned in the Soviet Union and proclaimed admiration for their Communist State - one that slaughtered more people than Hitler.   He also has lauded the government of Venezuela and said that America should adopt similar policies.  His wife bankrupted a university - and was the subject of an FBI investigation.   Then there is the little issue of wanting the nomination of a party he steadfastly refuses to join.   Will he still be an "Independent" when elected President?   Just asking.

And that's just the tip of the iceberg.  No doubt others will dig up more dirt on him, for example, how his personal financial life is a trainwreck of debt, and how he has never held any job other than government employee (talk about an insider - that's all he's done in life!).  And that's the real issue, too.  Bernie Sanders has been a failure at everything he has tried to do in life.  Think about it.  He was a crappy carpenter by all accounts, which is why he got into politics.  Left-leaning Vermont elected him, knowing that he was likely to vote with the Democratic caucus, and thus they could be idiosyncratic and practical at the same time.

But in his long career in the Senate, Bernie Sanders can't really point to any real accomplishment, other than as a seat-warmer and semi-reliable vote for the Democratic caucus.
While a member of Congress, Sanders sponsored 15 concurrent resolutions and 15 Senate resolutions, two of which passed, one on veterans' policy and the other designating 1 Marble Street in Fair Haven, Vermont, the "Matthew Lyon Post Office Building". 
That's not much of a track record.  The only thing he can point to in his years in the Senate was his being a "vocal critic" which is to say, he did really nothing but make a lot of noise - which is about what he would do as President - as even Democrats would not go along with his socialist agenda.

Like I said, he voted with Democrats most of the time, but the one time he didn't - well, five times actually, was with regard to background checks for gun purchases:
In 1993, Sanders voted against the Brady Bill, which mandated federal background checks when buying guns and imposed a waiting period on firearm purchasers in the United States; the bill passed by a vote of 238–187.  He voted against the bill four more times in the 1990s, explaining his Vermont constituents (high on hunting, low on homicide) saw waiting-period mandates as more appropriately a state than federal matter.
Wait, what?  I mean, WHAT THE EVER-LOVING FUCK???   The one hot-button issue among Democrats these days - these days of mass-shootings every week to the point we don't even care anymore - is maybe enacting some teeny tiny way to perhaps keep firearms out of the hands of convicted felons and insane people by performing an instant background check - a law, by the way, that the firearms industry has learned to live with for the last couple of decades.

And yet, the far-left lauds him as some sort of uber-liberal, instead of the unreliable vote that he is.

All of this is fodder for attack ads in the fall.  And it will be more than enough to re-elect Trump, in fact, I suspect by a landslide.   Trump barely squeaked by the electoral college last time around - and lost the popular vote.  He would sure like to have a Nixon-like landslide re-election this time around.

Last time around, Hillary won 45% of the vote here in Georgia.  That's in spitting distance of winning, and I suspect if she had been any other centrist Democrat the Democrats might have won.  But she was a divisive character, and many folks just blindly hated her.  Even the people who voted for her (myself included) were not exactly enthusiastic about the whole deal.  It was "Well, it's her or Trump - and Trump is insane!"

This time around, I doubt Georgia will be in play - or Florida, the Carolinas, or even Virginia, which had become a "Blue State"in the last two elections.   Blue, but not Communist-Red.   Trump will handily take Pennsylvania, Ohio, Michigan, and Wisconsin, and perhaps even Minnesota.   People just aren't ready for a Socialist President no less one that is so utterly incompetent and has such wild ideas.

Make no mistake about it - what Sanders is proposing are sweeping changes to the very nature of our country.   Medicare-for-all might or might not be a good idea, the problem is, the health insurance companies have deep pockets and are not about to go quietly into the night.   What's more, it seems he wants to throw out Obamacare just at the point where it seems to be working.  Rates are going down, as are costs, for the first time.   Maybe we could tweak what we already have, instead of once again, throwing out everything and starting over from scratch.

As a result, I doubt most - if any - of his platform will ever pass Congress.  Student loan forgiveness, free college, medicare-for-all, and whatever other giveaways he wants to hand out will probably fall flat in the House and Senate.  And in the mid-term elections, I suspect he would lose both houses to the Republicans - as is typical of most Presidencies, but especially so with him, as people will become alarmed.

But the point is moot - Sanders isn't likely to win.   Putin wants Sanders the nominee so that Trump can tear him down (Trump and the army of Trump Trolls, half of which are Russians).   Once the conventions are over, the front page of Reddit will be all Trump postings upvoted and brigaded to try to influence public opinion, even very slightly.  And slightly is all it takes, as we saw in the 2016 election, to move one or two States from column A to column B.  Some internet rumors and fake news, and half the people out there will change their mind.

Doubt me?  Then explain why Bloomberg is polling as well as he is, based entirely on Internet ads.

UPDATE:  It's all over folks!  According to the Times and the Post, Sanders has "cemented" his lead and his position as "front runner" - so you might as well not bother voting!  I am sure glad the two left-leaning newspapers in the USA are fair and impartial when it comes to these elections.

You need 1991 delegates to get the nomination.  Sanders has 34.  "Not Sanders" has 42.   But hey, that's close enough, right?   Democracy is over-rated.  Let's have the newspapers call this one for us!

As this chart illustrates clearly, the election is all but over!