Sunday/ billionaires under siege

The US still has by far the most billionaires in the world (585, compared to China: 373, Germany: 123, Denmark: 6, South Africa: 6, if Elon Musk is counted in that 6).

So are billionaires to blame for income inequality? Are they, indirectly so? How does one stop a country’s economy from producing billionaires? (Probably something like a marginal tax rate of 90% above $5 million of annual income).

Anand Giridharadas (political commentator, TIME Editor at large), says this 2020 Presidential election in the United States will be a referendum on wealth and capitalism, that has gotten a little out of control/ completely out of control, in the United States of America.

My first reaction to the street sign graffiti sticker of Jeff Bezos (sticker from here in Capitol Hill in Seattle), asking ‘How many homeless people does it take to make a billionaire?’ (ugly Old English font, BTW) was .. um, that sounds like an extreme stretch of logic; a gross oversimplification of the problem of homelessness. But then I saw this statement made about San Francisco: “There are 101 homeless people per billionaire. The idea that such a problem could persist in a city with 74 billionaires is astonishing.” – Andrew Yang & Anand Giridharadas in a discussion posted by @UBI Rising on Twitter. They may have a point there.

Saturday/ (looks like) it’s Bernie

It sure looks like it’s going to be Bernie Sanders that will go up against Trump in the 2020 Presidential election, after his run-away win in Nevada’s primary on Saturday. With 60% of the votes counted there, he has 46%, and Joe Biden, Pete Buttigieg and Elizabeth Warren follow, each with less than 20% of the vote.

Now there are #PleaseNotBernie hashtags starting to appear on Twitter posts, similar to the #NeverTrump movement in 2016.

Well, about that, writes opinion columnist Ross Douthat in the New York Times:
“A world where Sanders is on track to get a clear delegate plurality in late March is probably a world where he gets a majority by May .. which means that the long game of delegate accumulation and superdelegate machination is probably irrelevant, and the only question is whether it’s possible to unite a not-Sanders vote across the first three Tuesdays in March.
To quote an ancient NeverTrump proverb: ‘Good luck with that’.”

 

Thursday/ it’s 02 20 2020

Here’s a yard sign put up by a Bloomberg supporter here in my neighborhood. I also saw ones for Bernie Sanders, Elizabeth Warren, and Mayor Pete, but none for Joe Biden or Amy Klobuchar.

There was yet another Democratic presidential primary debate last night, and Mike Bloomberg appeared on stage for the first time. Alas, he seemed ill-prepared for the incoming attacks from Senators Elizabeth Warren and Bernie Sanders (for his lavish spending of his own money on his campaign, and the toxic work environment women had to deal with in the days when he still ran his financial services company).

Does he still have a shot at the candidacy? The Nevada caucuses on Saturday should be a good indicator. Front-runner Bernie Sanders escaped mostly unscathed, Elizabeth Warren put in a strong performance, and Pete Buttigieg and Amy Klobuchar had a few heated exchanges. Joe Biden was not really engaged by the other candidates: not a good sign. It probably means that they no longer see him as a threat.

Monday/ Bernie in Washington State

I followed some of Bernie Sanders’s stump speech that he gave in the Tacoma Dome tonight. A seasoned campaigner, he has it down pat, of course: denouncing income and wealth inequality, the corporate owners of the media, and advocating for free healthcare, college education, and so on. 

‘And by now, the Democratic establishment should be getting nervous as well’, he also said. (I think they are very nervous. I like most of what he says, but I’m kind of nervous as well). As he left the stage, Neil Young’s ‘Keep On Rockin’ In The Free World (1989)‘ played.

The Wikipedia entry for the song explains its background: ‘The lyrics negatively reference the George H. W. Bush administration, then in its first month, quoting Bush’s famous ‘thousand points of light’ remark from his 1989 inaugural address and his 1988 presidential campaign promise for America to become a ‘kinder, gentler nation.’ The song also refers to Ayatollah Khomeini’s proclamation that the United States was the ‘Great Satan’ and Jesse Jackson’s 1988 campaign slogan, ‘Keep hope alive’. The song was first performed live on February 21, 1989, in Seattle with The Restless, without the band having rehearsed it’.

Thursday/ all the things that money can buy

Geld wat stom is, maak reg wat krom is. – Afrikaans saying.
Rough translation: Money that’s mute, makes right what’s blight.


I did not even mention ex-New York mayor Mike Bloomberg in the Iowa and New Hampshire Democratic primaries. He was not on the ballot there, and is still a shadow/ dark horse candidate for President.

But Bloomberg (78) is one of the wealthiest men on the planet (net worth: $60 billion). His strategy is to skip the early states, and make a splash on Super Tuesday (Mar. 3). From there, pull all the levers he can, using vast sums of money, to gain the nomination. (He is already running ads on TV and social media).

It might just work, in spite of (completely valid) objections:  Bloomberg would essentially buy the Democratic nomination with an onslaught of TV ads, social media campaigns, and out-of-pocket contributions to charities and organizations in turn for their support. (A fine line, that he knows how to toe, since that’s what he did to get elected as Mayor of New York for the third time).

The famous Bloomberg Terminal, invented and first offered in 1991 by Mike Bloomberg. It is an indispensable tool for financial services professionals (and others). Users monitor and analyze real-time financial market data and place trades on the electronic trading platform. Annual fee: $20,000. As of October 2016, there were 325,000 Bloomberg Terminal subscribers worldwide. [Picture & information from Wikipedia].
Spoiling for a fight: Trump tweeting a trademark, sneering attack on Bloomberg, and getting as much in return. ‘I have the record & the resources to defeat you. And I will’.

Tuesday/ the New Hampshire primary

The New Hampshire primary election for the 2020 Democratic nominee for President, went largely as forecasted. The top two candidates are the same ones as in Iowa (Sen. Bernie Sanders & Mayor Pete Buttigieg). Neither are from the so-called political establishment. Former Vice-President Joe Biden came in a distant 5th. Ouch.

Next up is Nevada (Feb. 22), South Carolina (Feb. 29), and a whole bunch of States on Super Tuesday, March 3.

The pundits still see 78 year-old Sanders as most likely to become the Democratic Party’s nominee, but man! is he the one to beat Trump?
Sanders has a fervent and devoted following, but in the General Election he’s going to take relentless and withering criticism for being a democratic socialist. His detractors (Republicans, Trump, corporate America) will shorten it to ‘socialist’ and paint him as an evil destroyer of the American dream.  No matter that the American dream is dead*.

*Over the last 50 years in the United States –
A child’s chance of earning more than his or her parents has plummeted from 90 to 50 percent;
Earnings by the top 1 % of Americans nearly tripled, while middle-class wages have been basically frozen for four decades, adjusting for inflation;
Self-inflicted deaths — from opioid use and other drug addictions — are at record highs;
Nearly one in five children in the US are now at risk of going hungry;
Among the 35 richest countries in the world, the US now has the highest infant mortality rate and the lowest life expectancy.
[Source: Vox.com]

Bernie Sanders during his victory speech, and the results of the New Hampshire Democratic primary election on the right. Sanders regularly boasts that he is not taking money from corporations or ‘billionaires’ (his umbrella term for rich people). He also has volunteers and supporters from his 2016 campaign that he can mobilize again, across the country –  a big advantage over newcomers such as Buttigieg.  [Source: New York Times online edition, Feb. 11, 2020].

Thursday/ more rain

It has been raining almost non-stop this week, but at least it was warm enough today to go for a walk with a raincoat & hoodie or an umbrella (50 °F/ 10 °C).

This street corner is closed with a big ‘Detour’ sign (workers  are fixing up the pavement). The ‘Republican St’ street sign is in the dirt. ‘Yes, an apt metaphor for the Republican Party’, I thought: in the dirt, taking a detour around democracy & decency.
Here’s a little dark-eyed junco (Junco hyemalis), a small grayish American sparrow. It’s hoping to find a little bit plant seed in the flower box, I’m sure.

Tuesday/ partial results are in

Get this: the company that created the mobile app responsible for the Iowa primary chaos is 1. called ‘Shadow’, and 2. is said to employ several former Hillary Clinton campaign staffers. Best Twitter response to this tweet: Delete your company. 

It’s 24 hrs later, and we have the results of 71% of the Iowa precincts.
The Buttigieg campaign holds a slight lead over the Sanders campaign.
It was not a good night for former VP Joe Biden: looks like he will end in a distant 4th place.

There was a bug in the app that precinct captains used to send in the numbers, and most of them had to call in the results by phone, with very long hold times (2+ hrs). Unbelievable. The Iowa Democratic Party has a lot of egg on its face.

It’s all but certain that this is the death knell of the caucus process in Iowa (selection by ballot, and 1-2-3 placement, instead). It is even possible that Iowa will lose its coveted first place in the primary election sequence as well.

Update Thu Feb 6: By Thu, the results of 100% of the precincts had been released, showing Buttigieg leading by a sliver (0.1%). No sooner had this happened though, when the intrepid reporters of the New York Times pointed out discrepancies between the three sets of numbers, so the vote counters may have to recanvass (recount) the votes in some precincts. Oh boy.

Wow, the young mayor Pete leads the whole pack at this point. Caucus precinct results from the Iowa Democratic Party’s primary on Monday night, with 71% reporting (1,250 of 1,765 precincts). Buttigieg has the most pledged delegates, but Sanders got more [Source: New York Times online].

Monday/ awaiting the results from Iowa

President Pete! President Pete! chanted the crowd, as ‘Mayor Pete’ was addressing them. He has a shot at it, to win the Iowa primary, but still faces formidable competition from former VP Joe Biden, and from Senators Elizabeth Warren and Bernie Sanders in the primaries of the other states.

The first of the 2020 United States presidential primary elections is taking place in Iowa tonight.

Iowa has (in my opinion) a super-complicated caucus process. On top of that, the Democratic Party has not been able to get the results out as quickly as expected by everyone. (They are planning to report out an expanded set of voter tallies, and that has evidently slowed the process down).

Anyway .. we will know eventually which of the Democratic candidates prevailed in Iowa, and may he or she go on to do well elsewhere as well. The orangutan in the White House needs to go.

Here’s a caucus scene, one of some 1,700 locations in the state of Iowa. I think this one is a high school gym. Caucus-goers show their support for a candidate by going to the candidate’s post on the floor (lots of support for Buttigieg, Sanders & Warren here; not so much for the other candidates). Candidates that do not get 15% of the total caucus-goers are considered non-viable, and their supporters have to make a second choice (or they can choose to go home). These ‘free agents’ can get lobbied by the other groups, or engage in horse-trading. ‘We will give you 5 people, in return for one state delegate’ (each location has an allotted number of state delegates). At the Iowa state level, all the delegates are then added up to determine the winner of the Iowa caucus, and the No 2, No 3 place and so on. We don’t have a person of color in there with a shot to be the Democratic candidate this year, but we have two women in contention, and wow .. what a ground-breaking campaign from first-ever gay presidential candidate Pete Buttigieg.

Sunday/ Kansas City: not in Kansas

The Kansas City Chiefs beat the San Francisco 49ers by 31-20 today, to win Super Bowl No 54.
Trump promptly tweeted out congratulations to ‘the Great State of Kansas’.
Some 11 mins later, he deleted the tweet and sent out a corrected one that congratulated the state of Missouri.

Here’s former US Senator Claire McCaskill from Missouri, calling out Trump’s mistake. I have actually done the 4 hr drive from St Louis, MO to Kansas City, MO. Kansas City sits on Missouri’s western edge, straddling the border with Kansas, but it is considered to be in Missouri, and not in Kansas.  I suppose it’s an easy mistake to make (to think it is in Kansas), but it is still a sore point with the people of Missouri.

Thursday/ another day of the Trump trial

I have not been watching the Trump impeachment trial that has been on TV since Tuesday. I have heard it all before: Trump and his co-conspirators used taxpayer money to the tune of $400 million, to pressure the Ukraine president to smear Joe Biden, so that Trump can win in November.

So Trump — now impeached — really should to be found guilty of the two articles of impeachment, and be removed from office. So say 51% of Americans. It still seems that is not going to happen, though.  The Constitution requires that two-thirds of all Senators (67 of 100), find Trump guilty and convict him on at least one article of impeachment.  The U.S. Senate has 53 Republicans.

The best one can hope for is that the Republicans pay a price for voting to keep Trump in office, in November 2020, and long after that.

Wednesday/ another debate .. yawn

A panel of opinion writers at the Times gave Elizabeth Warren the nod as the winner of the debate. Is anybody paying any attention anymore? Debate host CNN caught some flak for setting up a Sanders-Warren feud and fanning the flames, about the electability of a woman as president. (Sanders denied he said that explicitly, Warren insists that he did).

There was another Democratic debate on TV on Tuesday night. There have been too many.
If we are to believe the polls, these are the top contenders, in no particular order –
Joe Biden
Bernie Sanders
Elizabeth Warren
Pete Buttigieg
Tom Steyer
Amy Klobuchar

Joe Biden is not a good debater, but he’s still most likely to be the Democrats’ nominee to face Trump in the 2020 election. (Yes, it really does not look as if Moscow Mitch and his jellyfish caucus of Republican Senators will allow witnesses & a fair hearing to oust the criminal and immoral President of the United States in the upcoming impeachment trial in the US Senate).

Tuesday/ the Trump Ukraine Impeachment Inquiry Report

The House Intelligence Committee’s Impeachment Inquiry Report was published today, and handed to the Judiciary Committee.  President-That-Never-Should-Have-Been-President Trump is surely on his way to impeachment by the House of Representatives.

The only remaining guessing games towards that state of affairs are:
1.  How many articles of impeachment will be put forth by the Judiciary Committee, and
2.  When the House will vote on those articles (the plan is to do that before the year is out).

Here is the index of the Impeachment Inquiry Report.  It’s high crimes and misdemeanors, every step of the way.

1. The President’s Misconduct: The President Conditioned a White House Meeting and Military Aid to Ukraine on a Public Announcement of Investigations Beneficial to his Reelection Campaign
• The President’s Request for a Political Favor
• The President Removed Anti-Corruption Champion Ambassador Yovanovitch
• The President’s Hand-picked Agents Begin the Scheme
• President Trump Froze Vital Military Assistance
• The President Conditioned a White House Meeting on Investigations
• The President’s Agents Pursued a “Drug Deal”
• President Trump Pressed President Zelensky to Do a Political Favor
• The President’s Representatives Ratcheted up Pressure on the Ukrainian President
• Ukrainians Inquired about the President’s Hold on Security Assistance
• The President’s Security Assistance Hold Became Public
• The President’s Scheme Unraveled
• The President’s Chief of Staff Confirmed Aid was Conditioned on Investigations

2. The President’s Obstruction of the House of Representatives’ Impeachment Inquiry: The President Obstructed the Impeachment Inquiry by Instructing Witnesses and Agencies to Ignore Subpoenas for Documents and Testimony
• An Unprecedented Effort to Obstruct an Impeachment Inquiry
• Constitutional Authority for Congressional Oversight and Impeachment
• The President’s Categorical Refusal to Comply
• The President’s Refusal to Produce Any and All Subpoenaed Documents
• The President’s Refusal to Allow Top Aides to Testify
• The President’s Unsuccessful Attempts to Block Other Key Witnesses
• The President’s Intimidation of Witnesses

Monday/ here comes Mike Bloomberg

plu·to·crat
/ˈplo͞odəˌkrat/

noun (slightly derogatory)
a person whose power derives from their wealth, as in “If only the plutocrats can afford to run for public office, are we still a democracy?”
Similar: rich person, capitalist, tycoon, magnate, nabob, billionaire


So three-time New York City mayor Mike Bloomberg (77, net worth US $58 billion) is joining the Democratic field as a moderate candidate for President 2020. Umm. He’s late, and the race is still crowded. And do Democrats want or need a plutocrat to join the race for the Democratic nominee for President? I think not. In so many ways, America is already a plutocracy (run by rich companies and rich people, that have wa-ay too much power).

There’s another problem. Here is what Matt Yglesias of explain-the-news website Vox says:
‘The key is that in recent years, moderates who’ve successfully fended off the left wing of the Democratic Party have done so with the support of black and Latino voters, who tend to be more moderate on the whole than white Democrats. But Bloomberg’s specific political career gives him little access to this constituency and thus little hope of securing the nomination’.

I will say: Mike Bloomberg’s introductory video on his campaign website is very impressive.

Wednesday/ Sondland: no longer Trump’s amigo

Trump’s ambassador to the EU, Gordon Sondland (and one of the ‘three amigos’), came clean today in his impeachment testimony. He had to: he is dangerously close to being indicted for perjury, and as a co-conspirator for bribery in the Ukraine scandal.

In the process, he blew up several phony-baloney defenses that Trump & Republicans had tried to peddle to us so far. Yes, there was a quid pro quo (which we knew already). There was no ‘back channel’ for foreign policy – ‘everyone was in the loop’. So cabinet members such as Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, Energy Secretary Rick Perry, Trump right-hand man Rudy Giuliani, and even Vice President Mike Pence, knew what was going on.
‘We followed the President’s orders’.

Tuesday/ the billionaires under attack

The 2020 presidential candidates Elizabeth Warren & Bernie Sanders are making no secret of their disdain for out-of-control capitalism on the campaign trail. Warren in particular, is feisty about it. A recent tweet: ‘The billionaires can whine all they want. That won’t stop us from fighting for big, structural change to make our economy work for the people’.

So now the Wall Street-cheerleader channel CNBC, seems to invite a billionaire onto the set every week, and ask each what he (it’s always a he) thinks about the proposed Warren wealth tax, and the state of American capitalism, and if Fortune 500 CEOs get paid too much. The answers (in my humble opinion) are very clear and very simple. Yes, the wealthy should pay more taxes (though a wealth tax might not be be best solution). Capitalism in the USA is brutal, and leaves many, many people falling ever further behind, with no hope to ever make ends meet.  And yes, of course CEOs get paid too much (compared to the rank-and-file workers).

Billionaire Lloyd Blankfein, chairman of Goldman Sachs, on CNBC this morning. When he says he ‘fears for the US political process’ he means that in 2020 a far-left candidate might become president, and put ‘damaging policies’ in place – policies that will damage the American economy. Nary a word about the damaging policies of the Trump Administration. To name a few: 1. Trump cut taxes when the economy did not need it. In fact, the US is now adding $US 1 trillion annually to the national debt.  2. Trump interferes with the Fed Chairman doing his job and pressures him to cut interest rates. 3. Trump started a trade war with China, to which there is no end in sight.

 

P.S. I just had to look up the famous Rolling Stone magazine article about Goldman Sachs being a ‘vampire squid’ after the interview with Lloyd Blankfein. Here it is.
‘The first thing you need to know about Goldman Sachs is that it’s everywhere. The world’s most powerful investment bank is a great vampire squid wrapped around the face of humanity, relentlessly jamming its blood funnel into anything that smells like money. In fact, the history of the recent financial crisis, which doubles as a history of the rapid decline and fall of the suddenly swindled dry American empire, reads like a Who’s Who of Goldman Sachs graduates’. – Matt Taibbi, in an essay titled ‘The Great American Bubble Machine’ in Rolling Stone magazine, Apr. 5, 2010.

Wednesday/ Impeachment Hearings, Day 1

‘If this is not impeachable conduct — what is?’
– Representative Adam B. Schiff, Chairman of the House Intelligence Committee


Well, I watched the start of the public impeachment hearings of Donald J. Trump this morning, and then retired upstairs to the study with the TV left on low volume. Every time when there were some muted shouting or aggressive questioning, I knew that those were Republicans, trying to portray the testimony as unreliable hearsay.

Testifying today were:
William B. Taylor Jr., top United States diplomat in Ukraine.
George P. Kent, senior State Department official in charge of Ukraine.

The facts of the impeachment case are not in dispute. Trump’s infamous July phone call to Ukraine President Zelensky was part of a wider campaign by Trump, his administration, and Giuliani to pressure Ukraine into investigating the Bidens, which may have included Trump’s cancelling a scheduled trip to Ukraine by Vice President Mike Pence, and Trump withholding $400 million in military aid from Ukraine [Wikipedia: Trump–Ukraine scandal ].

It is such an enormous and grotesque abuse of power — given that Ukraine is a vulnerable ally, that has to defend itself against Russia. So it’s hard to see how the House will not impeach Trump. What will then happen in the Senate with Moscow Mitch in charge there, is anyone’s guess.

Schematic from the New York Times from a few weeks ago. We’re on our way to that first red box. From Wikipedia: in the Senate trial, each side has the right to call witnesses and perform cross-examinations. The House members, who are given the collective title of managers during the course of the trial, present the prosecution case, and the impeached official has the right to mount a defense with his or her own attorneys as well. Senators must also take an oath or affirmation that they will perform their duties honestly and with due diligence. The Chief Justice of the Supreme Court (John Roberts) resides over the proceedings.

Thursday/ to run, or not to run

Word is that Michael Bloomberg is (again) mulling a run for the Presidency in 2020 (as a Democrat). Several Democratic candidates have dropped out already, but the field is still historically large.

This updated chart from the New York Times came in very handy for me today.  It’s easy to forget that there are actually four Republican candidates. Will the one that is (probably) getting impeached by year-end, still run in 2020? Time will tell.

P.S. Here’s an opinion from Scott Galloway that writes under No Mercy/ No Malice:  ‘.. up until yesterday, it was looking as if 46 would be 45, Trump. The soft facism of Trump, wrapped in a good economy, would decimate the soft socialism of Elizabeth Warren. We Democrats are too polite to acknowledge the truth, as it’s politically incorrect: In 2020 America, a 78-year-old man who just had a heart attack will not be president, and, worse, neither will a woman’.