Update on Covid-19 Vaccinations

Back in early December of 2020, I expressed doubt about local states, counties and cities abilities to effectively manage Covid-19 vaccinations. That post can be viewed here. Below is an excerpt from a recent Wall Street Journal article on this effort:

The Trump administration invested heavily in rapid vaccine development, but it left the last mile of getting shots into arms to states and localities. That approach resulted in multiple, sometimes contradictory systems, and failed to ensure local sites had information about vaccine shipments that they needed to quickly administer shots.

The result: More than 16 million of the 72.4 million vaccine doses distributed by the U.S. government hadn’t been used as of Wednesday, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Yet across the country, Americans young and old are constantly refreshing their browsers and calling public-health officials as they try to nab scarce appointments, with many confused about where and when doses will be available. Some sites have had to cancel appointments when promised doses don’t arrive or when weather like recent winter storms shutter vaccination events unexpectedly. Los Angeles temporarily closed Dodger Stadium, one of the largest vaccine sites in the country, and other inoculation events last week when it ran out of supply. Meanwhile, some people find sites have extra doses they are giving away to lucky bystanders—one man was offered a dose from a store’s pharmacy while out grocery shopping.

No Party – No Problem – No Politics

In 1971, singer/songwriter John Lennon wrote and performed his iconic song called, “Imagine.” While always long on controversy, Lennon’s lyrics in this piece became an anthem of sorts for all the unrest and discourse that still grips the world today. The opening verse goes like this:

“Imagine there’s no heaven
It’s easy if you try
No hell below us
Above us only sky
Imagine all the people living for today”

No Political Parties

Imagine for a moment that there were no political parties. No Republicans. No Democrats. There would be no Speaker of the House designated by the party in power. There would be no Senate Majority Leader, only a Senate Leader.  Instead, we would have independent Congressmen and Senators serving the citizens that elected them, not beholden to party leadership. Imagine a congress comprised of independent thinkers that introduce and vote on legislation and policy with their conscience and common sense rather than blindly along party lines.

Imagine elections where candidates for public office are nominated and selected by petitions circulated amongst the electorate. Imagine elections with limits on campaign spending where all qualified candidates had equal access to campaign funds.  Imagine a system where the top five or six candidates that receive the most signatures participated in a series of televised debates. Imagine election results that required a simple majority of the vote to certify a winner. Failing to achieve a majority would require a runoff between the top two vote getters. Imagine this rule applying to the presidential election as well.

In the presidential election of 1992, Bill Clinton received 48% of the popular vote. George HW Bush received 38%. Ross Perot, running as an Independent, garnered nearly 20%, despite temporarily dropping out of the race in July. Had a runoff been conducted between Clinton and Bush, the presidential election of 1992 may have turned out differently. In the final tally, Bill Clinton received 370 electoral college votes compared to 168 for George HW Bush. Ross Perot received zero. In a runoff between Clinton and Bush, the electoral vote could have also turned out much differently with 20 percent of the Ross Perot swing votes suddenly up for grabs.

In the aftermath of the 2020 election that saw Democrats seize control of the House, Senate, and the Presidency, there has been noise within the Republican party about splintering off to form a new political party. That tactic would be political suicide and only serve to further fracture the conservative movement resulting in cementing the Democratic power grip for the foreseeable future.

If the goal of the conservative Republican party is to water down the far left agenda of the Democrats and bring it more to the center, consider a novel approach.  Imagine the effect of all Republicans suddenly declaring themselves Democrats. This act would surely sow seeds of discontent within the Democratic party and intensify debates over policies affecting the American people. Complete the process by allowing open primaries among all voters for all candidates regardless of one’s specified party affiliation. Party affiliation then, would revert to nothing more than a mere footnote on the voter registration rolls.

Steve Almond, a bestselling author which includes his book, “Bad Stories” – a literary investigation of what the hell just happened to our country, quotes in a 2018 essay: “political prejudice has become our most accepted form of bigotry.” He goes on to say, “what today’s voters see is not a candidate, or a set of policy proposals, but a party affiliation.”

If John Lennon were alive today, he might say something like, “Imagine a world and a system more focused on policy than partisan politics.” In the final verse of Lennon’s song, he says:

“You may say I’m a dreamer
But I’m not the only one
I hope some day you’ll join us
And the world will be as one”

Free Money for All

So here we are in the midst of the Democrat’s post-election after party. Executive orders drafted by the far left marionettes are piling up on poor Joe Biden’s desk. Dutifully, he signs one after another as he reads his handler’s carefully drafted commentary from the teleprompter across from his desk. Never before have we seen such blatant disregard for the legislative process as we are witnessing now. This current president that ran on a moderate platform has now been swept in as the enabler of the far left agenda.

America’s Unlimited Money Tree

The one major issue that still needs congressional approval is the much touted stimulus package bearing a price tag of $1.9 Trillion. Granted, the economy is in sour shape because of the COVID-19 pandemic and help is needed. Included within the package are $1400 direct payments to individuals making $75,000 or less, $150,000 for married couples. The idea is to top off the prior $600 payments made under the previous administration to make it $2,000.

I am having difficulty understanding why a married couple with an income of $150,000 whose employment has been unaffected needs or deserves this kind of handout. Even Kevin O’Leary, aka Mr. Wonderful agrees with me. Instead, more needs to be directed to the unemployed and under-employed that have been victimized by the pandemic and, two,  improve local vaccination distribution which has predictably been a disgraceful effort as predicted in my earlier post here.

The cost of a $1.9 Trillion package will contribute to a fiscal budget deficit projected at $2.3 Trillion for 2021 which will be added to our current national debt of $28 Trillion. No problem, say the democrats. We believe in MMT!

So, what is MMT? It stands for Modern Monetary Theory and it’s all the rage now in Washington DC. Those of sounder mind more aptly described it as “Mindless Magical Thinking.” In a nutshell, Modern Monetary Theory suggests that governments need not be concerned with fiscal deficits and balancing budgets because of their infinite ability to print money in their own currency. If you are so inclined, a more detailed and plain English definition can be found here at https://study.com/academy/lesson/modern-monetary-theory-definition-history-theorists.html.

Money, Money, Everywhere. The leading proponent of MMT, is Stephanie Kelton. She is a professor of economics and public policy at Stony Brook University and a leading expert on Modern Monetary Theory. A former Chief Economist on the U.S. Senate Budget Committee (Democratic staff), she currently advises Bernie Sanders and the likes of Alexandria-Ocasio-Cortez who look upon her as the financial guru. This opinion is shared by many of the Progressives currently in power. Ms. Kelton’s latest book, “Deficit Myth” is a good read for anyone interested in understanding MMT to form their own opinion. Me? I have read it and I view the theory as the ultimate Ponzi Scheme. Just sayin.

Governments raise money in three ways; Taxing, borrowing, and printing. According to MMT theorists, the government doesn’t need to tax in order to spend, but it does so to mainly offset inflation. Huh? Got that? Let me explain.

If the definition of inflation is too many dollars chasing too few goods, the government can simply just raise taxes as a means of confiscating our money rendering us unable to afford higher prices. Therefore, if we cannot afford to buy stuff, producers won’t produce. If producers cut production, what happens to the jobs? Think about it.

The best advice that I have heard lately goes something like this… “With America in the midst of a slow-motion collapse, we will give storage advice. Those who own the yellow metal (gold) should bury it six feet deeper.

Yes, One is the Loneliest Number

🎵 One is the Loneliest Number…

As if we needed any more evidence that 2020 was the suckiest year in a generation. Just look at the difference in my backyard orange crop in 2019 vs 2020. The only thing that could make this picture complete is if my lonely single orange were wearing a mask. It seems all of the bees that normally pollinate this tree were confined to a stay at home order by our California governor.

2019 Backyard Orange Crop

2020 Backyard Orange Crop

Georgia on My Mind

The significance of the Democratic senatorial victories in the Georgia runoff cannot be overstated. The result is a 50/50 split in the senate, with the Vice President-Elect, Kamala Harris holding the tiebreaker vote. The Senate Majority post will now revert from Mitch McConnel to Chuck Schumer. The democrats now control both the executive and legislative branches of government for the first time since the Kennedy and Johnson administrations from 1961 to 1969 – arguably, one of the most unsettling and turbulent periods in our nation’s history.

While the senatorial runoff votes were being counted and certified, a handful of Republican members of congress, egged on by Donald Trump, assembled to dispute the outcome of the presidential election based on perceived voter fraud. This event sparked heated protests among Trump supporters with thousands converging upon the Capitol grounds in mob fashion that ultimately turned violent. The police and national guardsmen were ill-equipped to handle the outbreak.

While the events of the day were despicable, there is a backstory that needs to be told regarding the media’s coverage of this. Understandably and justifiably so, the mainstream media denounced the mob-like activities and did not hesitate to blame President Trump as the instigator in chief. However, this is the same media that refused to condemn the summer riots in Portland, Los Angeles, Chicago, New York, Washington DC, just to name a few. These violent protests were mostly described as honest citizens peacefully exercising their first amendment rights. Meanwhile these “honest citizens” denigrated national monuments, torched federal buildings, assaulted police, and engaged in widespread destruction and looting of small businesses all across our country.

The left-wing democratic politicians were complicit in the mayhem as evidenced by their overt silence and refusal to condemn the violence – a group that included our now president elect, Joe Biden. But then again, we should know by now that Joe Biden just does and says what he is told by the leadership of the democratic party.

Joe Biden was installed as the democratic nominee for one reason – he was the most electable among the crop of potential nominees vying for the spot and the clear choice to defeat Donald Trump. Compared to the others, his agenda was more moderate and more likely to be embraced by voters than those espousing the socialist agendas of his rivals in the primaries. After securing the nomination, the party then moved to install Kamala Harris as his running mate. This was done to placate the far left, thus keeping the party united and their socialist agenda intact. From a tactical standpoint, it was a brilliant move. From a fairness standpoint, it was a betrayal to those that voted for him on the basis of his centrist moderate agenda professed in the democratic primary debates. Now, Kamala Harris and her radical left-wing views, is just a heartbeat away from the presidency.

Make no mistake about it. Joe Biden will not serve a full term as our president. I will not speculate as to the methods and circumstances that will lead to his removal from office and ceding that position to Kamala Harris. The democrats successes in the Georgia senate runoff have all but guaranteed the elimination of the checks and balances that preserve healthy debate within our government. Gone are the days when our elected officials voted with their conscience and on behalf of their constituents. Who can argue that now, their actions are dictated strictly along party lines without much regard or understanding of the underlying issues?  

Notwithstanding the Covid-19 pandemic, our country made unprecedented progress along the economic front during the past four years. This was achieved despite the occupation of the White House by a narcissistic president. I have been consistent throughout the Trump presidency with my views – I like the idea of Trump, but I just do not like Trump as a person. Though there were speed bumps along the way, the wheels of government continued to turn but, sadly, the outgoing administration will never receive credit for any of its positive accomplishments due to Trump’s post-election tantrums.

I am not sure who should have been elected as our 46th president, but I am sure of this. Without the possibility of meaningful constructive debate between the two legislative branches, democrats will now control the agenda for at least the next four years, much to the chagrin of the republican minority. This will lead to further fracturing and polarization of the American populace. Without a civil forum to debate and settle upon courses of action that benefit the American people, one must consider the alternate methods, none of which are pretty.

Who would have thought that an otherwise obscure event such as a senate runoff race in Georgia involving two incumbents could have sparked such a widespread change in the future of our country? So, our future can best by summed up in the lyrics of Bob Dylan’s 1964 release when he said…

Come senators, congressmen, please heed the call
Don’t stand in the doorway, don’t block up the hall
For he that gets hurt will be he who has stalled
The battle outside ragin’
Will soon shake your windows and rattle your walls
For the times they are a-changin

WJ

Bureaucratic “InAction”

December 3, 2020:

Well, great news on the Covid-19 vaccine front from Pfizer and Moderna. Now we are waiting for approval from the FDA to begin distribution. The Warp Speed program initiated under the Trump administration calls for the logistics of this distribution to be overseen by the U.S. military. I see no issue with that decision except for the final leg of distribution will be managed by state and local authorities. Therein lies the problem that I hope to be overestimating.

While other countries seem to be able to initiate national policies on critical issues and have proven somewhat adept at execution, the United States of America always struggles with this. With good intentions, our forefathers in writing our constitution, gave widespread rights to the states to implement certain key directives. Unless you have lived under a rock recently, you should notice that each state tends to interpret courses of action in line with their politics. These same inconsistencies then filter on down to the county and city level.

The result is hundreds and thousands of officials, some elected and some not, all weighing in on what they think is best for all of us, thus creating a quagmire of bureaucratic muck. This is diversity in action, a condition that is unique to our country and never anticipated by our founding fathers.

Another Political Bailout

So, the Democratic controlled house passes the latest Corona Virus stimulus bill pretty much along party lines with a vote of 208 to 199. The $3 Trillion package, while including a second round of $1200 payments to individuals, also includes $915 Billion in bailouts to the states. Like most other spending bills coming out of Congress, this too smacks of political overtones and is largely a liberal wish list masked as Corona Virus relief.

For example, the state of California officially recognizes its unfunded pension liability at between $300 to $400 Billion, the real number is closer to $850 Billion and likely to continue eroding amid the collapse of the financial markets and the current climate of near-zero interest rates. Meanwhile, California forecasts a 7 percent return in their investment portfolio model required to meet pension obligations. In the absence of achieving this rate of return, shortfalls are made up by taxpayers.

This coddling of state and local government employees has got to stop. It is no secret that the generous retirement benefits afforded this group of workers is way out of proportion to the rest of us (taxpayers). Further, why are state pension recipients receiving $1200 stimulus checks. Has their monthly pension check been compromised by the pandemic? The answer is a resounding No! Why are they not asked to share in the pain that has been inflicted on non-government retirees whose IRA’s and 401K’s have been decimated and interest earning bank accounts have been reduced to nearly zero?

Why? Because the laws are being passed by liberal democrats pandering to their voter base. Further, these lawmakers are the beneficiaries of these generous retirement policies. The Lion’s share of this stimulus money should be directed to those that need it the most – mainly unemployed private sector workers and those whose main source of income has been impacted by the pandemic rendering them unable to feed their families, pay their rent, and purchase health insurance no longer provided by their former employers.  Instead we will now send another round of $2400 payments to most married couples, many of which, are still earning their pre-Covid19 income.

Payroll Tax Nonsense

As the Trump administration struggles with the economic fallout from the Covid-19 pandemic, the latest proposal just floated by Trump and his munchkin, er, uh make that Mnuchin as in Steve Mnuchin, is a payroll tax holiday. WTF? That is the most ridiculous and misguided idea that I have ever heard of.

Please enlighten me. How will eliminating the payroll tax help the 30 Million people currently unemployed? And here is another news flash. Part of the $1.5 Trillion collected in payroll taxes goes to fund unemployment benefits.

The Lion’s share of the $1.5 Trillion annual payroll taxes collected are earmarked for Social Security and Medicare. There are credible estimates that current tax receipts will be insufficient to cover Social Security outlays by the end of 2021. Just another reason why eliminating the payroll tax is just a stupid idea.

If anything, the payroll tax should be expanded to include all earned income above the current cap of $137,700. As it is, the payroll tax is the most regressive among all taxes collected. For example, a wage earner making $75,000 a year will pay $4,650 in Social Security tax, or 6.2% of his income. His boss, on the other hand with a salary of $200,000 will pay $8239, or 4.1% of his income.

It’s just not right!

My COVID-19 Manifesto

It has been said, “Opinions are like @ssholes, because everybody has one. But after weeks of holding back throughout this whole pandemic crisis, I can no longer do so. Here is my checklist of observances and opinions that keep me awake at night.

  1. Masks.  I am sickened and outraged about the lies our government has purported upon us regarding the use of masks in the general population as an effective defense against COVID-19.  We were told that they were not necessary and that their usage should be limited to health care workers. But now that the shortage of masks for health care workers seems to have abated somewhat, we are now told that everyone should wear facial coverings. But the messaging stops short of advising use of approved N95 or common surgical masks as that would further impact the supply for health care workers and entice general hoarding even more. If anyone questions the efficacy of masks as a tool against contagious disease, look no further than Japan, South Korea, or even Hong Kong as evidence.
  1. Corona Task Force Daily Briefings. I appreciate the information presented at these briefings by the respective experts in their field. But the sideshow created daily by the stupid and politicized questions from the press from the likes of Jonathon Karl, ABC (aka The Mickey Mouse Club) and Jim Acosta, CNN (aka The Communist News Network) and Trump’s generally off -topic and incoherent responses makes me cringe.
  1. States vs Federal Government. Sprinkled throughout the Briefings discussed above, Trump likes to imply that the individual states need to solve their own problems. He chastises them for not having medical stockpiles in place to fight this pandemic. He doesn’t seem to get it that the states are stepping all over each other and the federal government to procure limited medical supplies. He responds naively that the government will simply pull back its bid if they discover that they are bidding against a state. It is just absurd to think that the federal government could manage this.  Well herein lies the reality folks. States do not have a printing press with unlimited access to dollars. Further, many states have credit ratings close to Junk while burdened with hundreds of millions of dollars of unfunded pension liabilities. California alone has over $90,000 in unfunded pension debt per household. 
  1. Universal Basic Income. Well over a year ago, I penned an article for the consideration of adopting a Universal Basic Income for all citizens and legal residents in the United States. https://wjexchange.wordpress.com/2018/07/14/the-case-for-universal-basic-income/ This initiative was the cornerstone of Andrew Yang’s bid for the Democratic nomination for President. As an unintended consequence of the COVID-19 pandemic, it looks like we now have such a measure in place. The government has pledged $1200 per month for all residents that meet the income threshold. Additionally, the federal government has agreed to top off state’s unemployment benefits by $600 per week. While I have no beef with the $600 weekly unemployment subsidy, the $1200 monthly program seems a little misguided to me. I fail to see how a married couple making a secured income up to $150,000/year should be entitled to an additional $28,800 annualized equivalent from this stimulus package ($1200 X 2 = $2400 X 12 = $28,800). Wouldn’t the national interest be better served if that money earmarked for the presumably well-off went to those at the poverty level? For the stimulus to work as intended, the grant money would be circulated back into the economy. However, it is my belief and conviction that this extra “found” money for those with secure unaffected incomes will merely be saved and not spent.
  1. Then there is the public outcry over Navy Captain Brett Cozier who was relieved of command for his letter exposing positive Corona Virus testing among crew members of the aircraft carrier, USS Roosevelt. While I am sympathetic to his intentions, I have a newsflash to share. “The U.S. Military is Not a Democracy.” The core of military readiness is discipline. Without it, you have an ineffective fighting force. To maintain discipline, you must adhere to the chain of command. Members of the military are governed by the UCMJ, Uniformed Code of Military Justice. Like it or not the UCMJ trumps individual liberties granted under the constitution or elsewhere.
  1. Now, a few words about the Food Supply Chain. This is an area that I know something about having served over 40 years in the business. Headlines abound about farmers dumping milk and eggs, and plowing fields of fresh produce. Half of the food supply is dedicated to foodservice, ie., restaurants, hotels, institutions etc. That business has virtually disappeared. It is very difficult to convert that foodservice output to retail. Among the obstacles is the conversion to packaging acceptable to retail and just gaining access to the system. Obtaining a vendor code alone, takes weeks and more. The concern now is will farmers reduce their spring planting because of the demand shift. This could create severe shortages in the summer months even if we defeat the virus.
  1. Finally, a last word about the Politics of the Time and how we work our way back to prosperity. Narratives should not be structured to fit into a blue or red box, but unfortunately that is the reality. Just listen to the opening line on the nightly news. If the latest model shows a range of 100,000 to 240,000 anticipated deaths from the pandemic, ABC news will lead with the 240,000 number to fit their politics, and not with the lower number. If the estimate is revised downward to 60,000, they will lead with the total deaths and downplay the progress of a reduced forecast. On the red side, Fox News will quote Trump boasting that the economy will come roaring back stronger than ever. That may happen and I hope it does, but it will take months or even years for that to happen. By the time it is all said and done, we will have added another 6 Trillion dollars to our deficit. There is no other way. It had to be done. But with the world awash with newly minted dollars, what will it do to the future purchasing power of our currency? I don’t claim to be smart enough with the answer.But it seems to me that we will have to grow our way out of this mess.  This means repatriating manufacturing and production back to the USA away from the likes of China particularly with pharmaceuticals and other critical goods. Automation and Artificial Intelligence must play a key role in all of this to make it happen. The chief reason for outsourcing to China has always been lower labor costs. As automation and artificial intelligence takes hold, the cost gap should narrow.  Before this crisis, the unemployment rate was around 3%. With this reboot of repatriating manufacturing and a renewed emphasis on rebuilding our infrastructure, it is doubtful that our labor force will be sufficient to handle it. While the transformation takes place, we will still need customers to purchase our increased output, so we there may still be a need for subsidies to the under employed and unemployable in this new era economy. This goes back to some version of Universal Basic Income.

 

Pharma Greed or Prudent Business Decisions

the principle that all people and institutions are subject to and accountable to law that is fairly applied and enforced; the principle of government by law. – i.e., The Rule of Law

So, what does the above definition have to do with perceived greed of the pharmaceutical companies as touted by the current crop of Democratic presidential candidates? The standard response to cheaper prices abroad for prescription drugs is that the single-payer health care systems in other countries negotiate prices with the drug manufacturers. While this is true, there is another factor that contributes to this practice.

Patent protection virtually eliminates competition for brand name drugs by would-be generic manufacturers.  In the United States, patent rights are vigorously defended and upheld. Beyond on our borders – not so much. So, as a result, drug manufacturers often opt to offer cheaper prices on brand name drugs to shield themselves against illicit production of generic versions.  Unfortunately to the detriment of U.S. consumers, disrespect for the rule of law by foreign countries often results in lower prices of the same brand name drugs overseas.