Chaos and Bad Energy

Some wag on Wall Street once said that the day after a massive sell-off the markets will recover, even if there’s no fundamental or structural or technical reason they should – “If dropped from a sufficient height, even a dead cat will bounce.”

Share prices will bounce back, at least for a day, or at least for the first hour or two of trading. That always happens. It’s the bargain-hunters buying everything in sight now that it’s suddenly cheaper, driving prices back up. That’s the Dead Cat Bounce. And then sometimes that doesn’t happen. The dead cat doesn’t bounce. Then it’s time to worry:

The stock rout related to coronavirus fears continued Tuesday with the Dow Jones Industrial Average losing nearly 900 points, adding to Monday’s 1,000-point plunge. The S&P 500′s two-day loss of 6.3% was the largest for the benchmark since August 2015.

Obama was president at the time. Trump is president at this time. Trump has become Obama. Trump will be furious. Trump is furious:

Trump has devoted the majority of his public statements to slamming Democrats or complaining about the criminal justice system. But he has not publicly engaged much about the coronavirus, other than to play down what he believes the impact will be on the United States. Privately, Trump has become furious about the stock market’s slide, according to two people familiar with the president’s thinking, who spoke on the condition of anonymity to share internal details.

Everyone in the administration and all the hosts on Fox News are supposed to say this is nothing, but no, they’re out there spooking the markets, making him look like Obama, or worse. This has to stop! People have to watch what they say! The wrong words could ruin everything!

Everything was already ruined. It did seem like a massive pandemic and the worldwide economic collapse were becoming more and more certain, and that meant that it was time for another Democratic debate, because that would have nothing to do with anything:

The Democratic presidential candidates delivered a barrage of criticism against their party’s emerging front-runner, Senator Bernie Sanders, at a debate on Tuesday night, casting him as a divisive figure with unrealistic ideas, even as they continued to batter the billionaire centrist Michael R. Bloomberg for his extreme wealth, his record on policing and his alleged behavior toward women.

Mr. Sanders, in his first debate since a smashing victory in the Nevada caucuses last weekend, cut a combative but perhaps not a commanding figure, firmly defending his left-wing agenda on subjects like health care and foreign policy against attacks from all sides. The forum plunged repeatedly into an unsightly spectacle of flailing hands and raised voices, and even outright chaos, with candidates talking over one another and the moderators struggling and failing at times to direct an orderly argument.

All of this seemed petty at the end of the world, but some things had to be said:

Mr. Sanders said little that seemed intended to ease the concerns of Democrats who do not share his views or who worry that they could be politically damaging to the party, and the debate underscored a set of vulnerabilities that are likely to shadow him for as long as the race lasts, and perhaps into the general election.

In one striking exchange, Mr. Sanders addressed his record of praising some accomplishments of the Castro government in Cuba by intensifying his denunciations of past American foreign policy, invoking what he called malign intervention in countries like Chile and Iran.

Wait! He’s not supposed to say that! Everyone knows we’re the good guys. How can anyone who says such things win the presidency? But then there’s Grandpa Joe:

Mr. Biden’s determined focus on South Carolina was apparent from the early moments of the debate. He vowed to win the state outright; delivered a lengthy attack on Tom Steyer, a billionaire investor who has spent freely there to woo black voters away from Mr. Biden; and,   in the final minutes of the forum, abruptly pledged to appoint a black woman to the Supreme Court.

And when Mr. Sanders invoked former President Barack Obama, arguing that he had gone no further in praising the Cuban system than Mr. Obama did during a visit there, Mr. Biden took issue with that characterization and indicated he had discussed it recently with Mr. Obama himself. Indeed, Mr. Biden and Mr. Obama spoke on Tuesday before the debate, a person briefed on the conversation said.

“I never say anything about my private conversations with him,” Mr. Biden said. “But the fact of the matter is, he, in fact, does not, did not, has never embraced an authoritarian regime and does not now.”

Who cares? Obama opened limited diplomatic relations with Cuba again, with a bit of trade and tourism too. Maybe we could work something out. Trump ended all that. We’d have nothing to do with the Cubans or with Cuba, ever. That’ll teach them a lesson. But the Cubans always shrug. And anyone watching the Democratic debate shrugged too. Why this? Why now?

But there was this:

For the first time, Mr. Sanders, a Vermont liberal, also drew pointed criticism from his fellow progressive, Senator Elizabeth Warren of Massachusetts: After spending 14 months as a candidate avoiding direct confrontation with Mr. Sanders, Ms. Warren opened the debate by questioning his record of policy achievements and presenting herself as a candidate who shared his ideas but “would make a better president.”

Josh Marshall found that interesting:

I tend to see all of this through the prism of who can beat Trump and who can build the largest political coalition. But when I think about who would likely be the best President in terms of actually using the levers of the presidency, I think Warren would be the best. It’s the mix of her deep grasp of policy and – something that is talked about much less – a deep understanding of the intricacies of how the federal bureaucracy works. Over her dozen years at the highest level of American politics she’s demonstrated that again and again.

That is something to consider, but that hardly mattered:

It was not clear by the end of the debate that any one opponent stood apart from the pack as the most successful rival to Mr. Sanders, and time is running short for anyone to do so. If Mr. Biden is counting on a surge of support from black voters in South Carolina this weekend to propel him back into contention nationally, the rest of the pack has an even less certain path forward. They are charting a coast-to-coast scramble for delegates, a scramble that has left once-surging candidates, like former Mayor Pete Buttigieg of South Bend, Ind., and Senator Amy Klobuchar of Minnesota, falling back on a range of guerrilla tactics to stay competitive.

So that meant this:

Mr. Buttigieg warned that nominating Mr. Sanders would not only cost Democrats their chance to capture the White House, but also jeopardize their majority in the House and their chance of taking the Senate.

Pointing to the congressional Democrats elected in 2018, Mr. Buttigieg told Mr. Sanders, “They are running away from your platform as fast as they possibly can.”

Mr. Bloomberg joined in, saying of Mr. Sanders: “Can anybody in this room imagine moderate Republicans going over and voting for him?”

As he has done throughout the campaign, Mr. Sanders dismissed the warning about his ability to win over moderates by pivoting to what he views as strength: his largely untested ambition to drive up voter turnout among constituencies that already lean toward the Democratic Party.

“If you want to beat Trump,” he said, “what you’re going to need is an unprecedented grass-roots movement of black and white and Latino, Native American and Asian, people who are standing up and fighting for justice.”

And then Biden, perhaps panicked by that, finally attacked:

Mr. Biden, fighting for survival in the state on which he has staked his candidacy, delivered perhaps the most searing critique of Mr. Sanders, invoking the 2015 massacre at Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church here in Charleston to confront Mr. Sanders for his mixed record on guns.

“Nine people shot dead by a white supremacist,” Mr. Biden said, then rebuked Mr. Sanders for his past opposition to waiting periods for gun purchasers: “I’m not saying he’s responsible for the nine deaths, but that man would not have been able to get that weapon if the waiting period had been what I suggest.”

The former vice president demonstrated more vigor than at many of the previous debates, when he often seemed somnolent. He sprinkled local references into his comments, sought to interject even when he was not called on and complained when he felt he was not given enough time.

In short, he got righteous and then he whined, and it didn’t matter, none of it mattered:

Mr. Sanders acknowledged that he had taken stances on guns in the past that he later came to regret. And he responded forcefully to an attack by Mr. Bloomberg claiming that the Russian government was seeking to buoy Mr. Sanders’s campaign, citing Mr. Bloomberg’s past laudatory remarks about President Xi Jinping of China.

Addressing the Russian head of government, Mr. Sanders declared, “Hey Mr. Putin, if I’m president of the United States, trust me, you’re not going to interfere.”

Most of all, Mr. Sanders insisted from start to finish that, contrary to the claims of his Democratic critics, his ideas were far from “radical,” and pointed abroad for evidence that even his most ambitious proposal – “Medicare for all” – is a mainstream idea in many other countries.

So, what did any of this settle? Josh Marshall says not much:

The moderators managed to tsk-tsk the candidates without actually controlling the time or keeping people on point. Many of the questions were trivial, meant to trip up rather than illuminate or simply gross. Asking the two Jewish candidates about whether to move the US Embassy in Israel back to Tel Aviv was a good example of that. Asking Amy Klobuchar whether she’d bar US citizens from returning to the US to prevent the spread of Coronavirus was both dumb and trivial: a question meant to put a candidate on the spot for purely theatrical reasons…

It felt like all the contenders finally understood the true terms of the contest and had been given one last two hour chance to level the attacks they wished they’d starting leveling three months ago. The mix of antic questions and desperate attacks made it feel like two hours packed with chaos and bad energy.

But there was no reason to expect anything else:

Debates only matter inasmuch as they affect the outcome of the race. The rest is just theater criticism about canned answers and yelling. The big question in this primary battle is whether Bernie Sanders builds on his momentum coming out of the first three contests and goes on to a string of victories in Super Tuesday which make it hard for any other candidate to overtake him.

That scares Thomas Friedman and he puts that this way:

If this election turns out to be just between a self-proclaimed socialist and an undiagnosed sociopath, we will be in a terrible, terrible place as a country. How do we prevent that?

He answers his own question with a fantasy which assumes either Biden or Bloomberg is the Democratic nominee and one of them or the other says this:

“I want people to know that if I am the Democratic nominee these will be my cabinet choices – my team of rivals. I want Amy Klobuchar as my vice president. Her decency, experience and moderation will be greatly appreciated across America and particularly in the Midwest. I want Mike Bloomberg (or Bernie Sanders) as my secretary of the Treasury. Our plans for addressing income inequality are actually not that far apart, and if we can blend them together it will be great for the country and reassure markets. I want Joe Biden as my secretary of state. No one in our party knows the world better or has more credibility with our allies than Joe. I will ask Elizabeth Warren to serve as health and human services secretary. No one could bring more energy and intellect to the task of expanding health care for more Americans than Senator Warren.”

But wait, there’s more:

“I want Kamala Harris for attorney general. She has the toughness and integrity needed to clean up the corrupt mess Donald Trump has created in our Justice Department. I would like Mayor Pete as homeland security secretary; his intelligence and military background would make him a quick study in that job. I would like Tom Steyer to head a new cabinet position: secretary of national infrastructure. We’re going to rebuild America, not just build a wall on the border with Mexico. And I am asking Cory Booker, the former mayor of Newark, to become secretary of housing and urban development. Who would bring more passion to the task of revitalizing our inner cities than Cory?”

But wait, there’s even more:

“I am asking Mitt Romney to be my commerce secretary. He is the best person to promote American business and technology abroad — and it is vital that the public understands that my government will be representing all Americans, including Republicans. I would like Andrew Yang to be energy secretary, overseeing our nuclear stockpile and renewable energy innovation. He’d be awesome… and I am asking Representative Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez to serve as our U.N. ambassador. Can you imagine how our international standing would improve with youth worldwide with her representing next-gen America?”

And so on and so forth. Friedman is full of ideas, or full of something, but his point is this:

If Bernie or Bloomberg or whoever emerges to head the Democratic ticket brings together such a team of rivals, I am confident it will defeat Trump in a landslide. But if progressives think they can win without the moderates – or the moderates without the progressives – they are crazy. And they’d be taking a huge risk with the future of the country by trying.

All they have to do is get along and selflessly cooperate, and of course he didn’t see that same debate that Dana Milbank saw:

On the stage in Charleston, S.C., Tuesday night stood one candidate who is running to be president – and six people running against the guy who is running to be president.

One by one, the Democratic candidates took shots at the self-described socialist who is suddenly the front-runner for the party’s presidential nomination.

“If you think the last four years has been chaotic, divisive, toxic, exhausting, imagine spending the better part of 2020 with Bernie Sanders versus Donald Trump,” said former South Bend, Ind., mayor Pete Buttigieg.

“Russia is helping you get elected,” former New York mayor Mike Bloomberg told Sanders, “so you will lose to [Trump].”

Businessman Tom Steyer told Sanders, “The answer is not for the government to take over the private sector.”

Former vice president Joe Biden pointed out that Sanders voted against an assault-weapons ban and in 2012 said “we should primary Barack Obama.”

Sen. Elizabeth Warren (Mass.) declared that she “would make a better president than Bernie.”

And Sen. Amy Klobuchar (Minn.) informed Sanders that his “math does not add up” and that “we should pay attention to where the voters of this country are, Bernie.”

Sanders scoffed, smirked, grimaced and glowered. “Not true!” he interjected, and “categorically incorrect!” He shook his head and waved his hand dismissively. “I’m hearing my name mentioned a little bit tonight – I wonder why,” the front-runner said.

He was doing just fine, and others were not:

Warren took every opportunity to hammer away at Bloomberg, even using a question about Chinese manufacturing to denounce Bloomberg for failing to release his tax returns. She also invoked an allegation, denied by Bloomberg, that he once had told a pregnant employee to “kill it.”

The audience booed.

“If we spend the next four months tearing our party apart, we’re going to watch Donald Trump spend the next four years tearing our country apart,” Klobuchar warned.

She’s right. The winner of Tuesay night’s debate was Trump.

Milbank was not impressed, and real life was going on elsewhere:

Federal health officials urged the public Tuesday to prepare for the “inevitable” spread of the coronavirus within the United States, escalating warnings about a growing threat from the virus to Americans’ everyday lives.

In fact, this is end-of-the-world stuff:

The warnings from officials with the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the National Institutes of Health and other agencies, contrasted sharply with assessments from President Trump and other White House officials, who have largely dismissed concerns about the virus.

The mixed messages continued Tuesday as dire warnings issued to senators and reporters early in the day gave way to a more positive assessment, after the Dow Jones industrial average plunged 3.4 percent, bringing the two-day loss to more than 1,900 points — the worst in two years.

“We believe the immediate risk here in the United States remains low, and we’re working hard to keep that risk low,” Anne Schuchat, the CDC’s principal deputy director, said during a hastily convened afternoon news briefing.

Earlier in the day, CDC officials and others expressed greater urgency.

“Ultimately, we expect we will see community spread in the United States. It’s not a question of if this will happen, but when this will happen, and how many people in this country will have severe illnesses,” Nancy Messonnier, the director of the National Center for Immunization and Respiratory Diseases at the CDC, said during the morning briefing with reporters.

This is bad. This isn’t that bad. Yes, it is. No, it isn’t. This was a mess:

Health leaders voiced similar warnings in a closed-door briefing Tuesday morning for senators. Sen. Patty Murray (D-Wash.) said officials had cautioned them that there was a “very strong chance of an extremely serious outbreak of the coronavirus here in the United States.”

Even top GOP lawmakers struggled to explain the inconsistent messages coming from the government.

“I can’t comment on what the White House has been saying on this because the people who work for the White House are not saying that,” said Sen. Roy Blunt (R-Mo.).

What? The Democrats made more sense, but the situation is this:

Businesses need to consider replacing in-person meetings with telework, Messonnier said. School authorities should consider ways to limit face-to-face contact, such as dividing students into smaller groups, using Internet-based learning or even closing schools. Local officials should consider modifying, postponing or canceling large gatherings. Hospitals should consider ways to triage patients who do not need urgent care and recommend that patients delay surgery that isn’t absolutely necessary.

Perhaps the nation, and the world, will grind to a halt. Perhaps the Democrats should talk about that. Chaos and bad energy aren’t particularly useful at the moment.

About Alan

The editor is a former systems manager for a large California-based HMO, and a former senior systems manager for Northrop, Hughes-Raytheon, Computer Sciences Corporation, Perot Systems and other such organizations. One position was managing the financial and payroll systems for a large hospital chain. And somewhere in there was a two-year stint in Canada running the systems shop at a General Motors locomotive factory - in London, Ontario. That explains Canadian matters scattered through these pages. Otherwise, think large-scale HR, payroll, financial and manufacturing systems. A résumé is available if you wish. The editor has a graduate degree in Eighteenth-Century British Literature from Duke University where he was a National Woodrow Wilson Fellow, and taught English and music in upstate New York in the seventies, and then in the early eighties moved to California and left teaching. The editor currently resides in Hollywood California, a block north of the Sunset Strip.
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