Sunday, April 26, 2020

Where this goes, nobody knows...

The global pandemic is still evolving.  So much is unknown.  It is a perfect time for conspiracy theories, and they are rife.  In India it is about tribalism, in China it is about African immigrants who work in regional cities, and in this country it is not a large issue, but news programs highlight every little issue, and this seems to be about rallies wanting the freedom to get sick and infect others. "Free Alabama, Free Georgia"  Trump rails, contradicting his own advice of the day before.  Of course, a President who suggests that injecting Lysol cleaner into our lungs might solve cure Covid 19, "it's amazing, and in a matter of seconds you're cured" might be a bit off kilter.  But that's already old news from Thursday and the news programs would do well to drop it.

Of importance to life and work in this country, auto loans and especially leases now may become the housing loans of the major recession of 2008/2009.  Cars are our babies, new ones sustain happiness and self regard.  And this week the most lenient credit card lenders, Capital One and Discover, lowered their borrowing limits broadly.  Something is going on there.  Unemployment rates will rise.  Advertisers of all stripes are trying to adapt, "we will all come out of this stronger" said just like that or in varying ways, but closing with "Buy a Toyota, lifetime assurance" or some other brand.  An eerie note is that in our weekly local newspaper, 24 pages with a few articles, local sports, local deaths, and half devoted to real estate housing ads, there were ten advertisements for funeral homes this week, unusual.  It's dying business.

Nostalgia attack are not uncommon.  More later, well at least I hope so...

Wednesday, April 22, 2020

Beyond the coronavirus, aka Covid 19

Covid 19 is not just in the news, it is the news.  It has affected everything about the way we live, and it is a global event.  "Say something everyone does not already know John."  While at the moment it is leading to a recession and unemployment will continue to get higher, the longer term effects could be more dire.  Food lines in the U.S.A., now, isn't that dire already for many.  This brief but awkward comment is about a functioning global and national economy. 

As this develops over time, will it lead to a wealth gap that continues to widen?  Will it have an inflationary effect on everything, not just toilet paper, hand sanitizer, and lysol which appears laughable now as a passing phenomenon.  Break open your 1960's fallout shelter and see if that canned food is any good now.  Spam lives forever, that's the food and not something on the computer. Do lower airfares now, which are an amazing bargain to overseas destinations, become outrageously expensive when everything is pared back, and traveling is selectively monitored by governments. 

Leadership in this country is coming from the states, encouraged by a President who does not want to lead.  He does like to talk and be the center of attention.  There are eventually positive outcomes that can be imagined, unclear now.  Let's imagine them.  Is that a song?

Saturday, April 11, 2020

Dismantled Federal Departments now in chaos

"The Fifth Risk" by Michael Lewis was published in 2018 after having major portions excerpted by Vanity Fair and The Guardian during 2017.  The book focused on three Federal government departments, Energy, Agriculture, and Commerce, led respectively by Rick Perry, Sonny Perdue, and Wilbur Ross.  It detailed the dismantling of those departments by these Trump loyalists, and the replacement of senior civil service officials with extensive knowledge that reported to them, to be replaced by Republican party hacks who were rewarded for their loyalty, and not their expertise. At the time, there were parts of the book that were humorous, if dark humor is allowed, as the incompetence of these appointees bordered on the absurd.

At this point, it appears based on their performance, that the Education Department, Housing and Urban Development, the Labor Department, and most irreparably The State Department all suffered similar fates.  Now in this time of almost unprecedented crisis due to the corona virus global pandemic, major parts of the government are close to dysfunctional.  This is not to suggest that many of these shallow souls are not trying their best at this critical time, but the project management skills that Lewis cites as the fifth risk are simply not there.  Federal departments are rife with unqualified, disinterested, and self serving employees who until a few months ago were focused on what trips they could take, what hotels they could stay in, and where they would eat dinner.

The unwillingness of Trump to establish national mandates leaves the governors of states forced to make decisions that are viewed as political.  Most would rather not be put in that situation.  The virus respects no borders, and different protocols in adjacent states makes the United States look ludicrous to the rest of the world.  Trump has ceded U.S. leadership in Asia to China and the Middle East to Saudi Arabia and Russia, and in this crisis he provides no leadership at all, in fact while deriding other countries for some of their actions, ones that he would have done well to emulate.

What's the news here personally.  I am not sick, at least not yet, but a friend of mine has been ill for over two weeks with all of the symptoms present. For now she is totally quarantined, mild fever from time to time, chronic mild cough, constant fatigue, but hopefully "getting better".  That is what she always says, but now it seems like she really is!  In New York, just about the worst thing a person could do is go to the hospital unless there is an imminent life threatening emergency.  Hospitals are contagion zones.

Enough cheery news.  On the political front, two Democratic governors have distinguished themselves in this crisis, Andrew Cuomo of New York and Gavin Newsom of California.  If Biden for any reason falters, they are ready.  The always ambitious Cuomo gets more publicity because New York is now the world epicenter of the virus by far, but Newsom is impressive.  He took early action in California that, so far, has been effective in limiting the virus there up to this point.

More at another time...

Wednesday, April 08, 2020

A short account from a Covid 19 area

When my physical therapist arrived yesterday afternoon, he was dressed in his best clothes and not his usual outfit from the rehabilitation facility that he works in daily.  Something was up.  His mother had died early that morning at 2:30am(the logistics of that time are familiar to me from two years ago), and they had contacted their long time local funeral parlor in Brooklyn.  He was told that they could not take her, already overwhelmed with "customers".  He then called a funeral parlor near his house in central Nassau County, Long Island, and was told the they would only take her if the medical examiner confirmed that she had not died of Covid 19, aka caronavirus.  His mother was 89 and had a debilitating stroke last year, but after the required test proved negative she was accepted.  She had basically died of old age.  Nothing is simple in virus time.  Everything has changed.


Tuesday, April 07, 2020

Observations in virus time...

---The HBO series "My Brilliant Friend" is now halfway through its second season.  This is exceptional film making.  The principle players in the film, both as children and young adults, had never been actors and actresses before being chosen for their roles.  Other players were identified in the same way. They learned their roles and played them as real people, as much of their roles related to their real life experiences.  The main set, built to resemble a slum area, is realistic. Others parts of the film are in real locations, beaches and small regional towns.  If one does not share this unequivocably positive view, you must  admit that it is definitely different.  It is in Italian with subtitles, easy to follow.

---The HBO series "The Plot Against America" could have some parallels to the current day.  Each viewer can decide that on their own.  It rewrites history and shows Charles Lindbergh winning the 1940 Presidential election, defeating Franklin Roosevelt.  The heroic pilot sees no role for America in a European war, and sees the Nazis and Hitler as important to defeating the Russian Communists.  It is seen through the eyes of several families in New Jersey, both Jewish and Christian. At times, for me, it was viscerally unpleasant to watch.  Yet the film making is convincing and alarming.

---Here, in real time, so much has changed in the last month.  While this extremely volatile stock market offers significant opportunities for future gains and stupid mistakes, the economy is in serious trouble.  Unemployment is ramping up and will continue to do so.  While Congress is passing bills to alleviate the damage, the personal toll of so much change is wrenching to many.  Social distancing is a concept that can help, but many jobs are essential and families and close friends will be together.  Our President seems unhinged at times, just making stuff up and overriding medical experts.  He had a "hunch".  Yet he definitely enjoys being at the center of the action and speaking every day on televised news briefings, with a new favorite word for reporters who ask questions that he does not like, "snarky".  More to come, unfortunately, and with his base strong his poll numbers are somehow rising.  More to come...