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Conservatives Wanted to Kill the Federal Government. They Succeeded.

map with portraits

You’re welcome, America!

 

If nothing else, the Covid-19 crisis has made glaringly plain just how hollow America’s claims to being the “best country in the world” have become. We now have a federal government that has gone from outright denial and misinformation to floundering incompetence, directed by a president who still won’t declare a national stay-at-home order to slow a pandemic that by best-case estimates will kill more Americans that died in Korea, Vietnam, Iraq, and Afghanistan combined. If the “best case” doesn’t happen, it could well kill more Americans than World War II.

So we get a daily spectacle on TV of desperate hospital personnel wearing garbage bags for protection and pleading for masks so they don’t have to keep reusing the few they have and risking their own lives. Of refrigerator trucks lined up at hospital to load bodies of the dead because morgues and mortuaries are full. Of New York Governor Cuomo telling us frankly that his state’s hospitals will be overwhelmed in a week or so. And of Trump and Pence giving us lies and happy talk that there are plenty of medical supplies and equipment and testing kits out there, even though the evidence is plain as day that if they do exist, they’re not getting to where they’re needed.

US inability to respond to this crisis effectively didn’t just happen by accident. It is the logical result of decades of conservative efforts to shrink the federal government until it “can be drowned in a bathtub” and denigrate government in general while promoting privatization and assumption of government functions by for-profit enterprises. And here we are with an federal government that sees its role as a “back-up” for overwhelmed state and local authorities and is reduced to begging companies like Ford and GM to retool to make medical equipment that isn’t being produced in the US anymore. And delivering such material obtained in China at government expense to private companies who then sell it at inflated prices to the top bidder, because they “don’t want to disrupt the supply chain.”

We have been left with a federal government leadership that ignored warnings about possible pandemics and failed to prepare mobilization plans or to stockpile adequate emergency equipment or hospital capacity to deal with such a crisis because spending on that wouldn’t be cost-effective, and believed the private capitalist market would immediately spring in to action to handle a crisis far better than government. Turns out it doesn’t quite work that way.

It is obvious that a consolidated procurement agency for now-scarce medical equipment is needed in order to avoid the price-gouging and competitive bidding for these items by all the states individually (and indeed by governments around the world), but that is anathema to the ideology of this regime so it doesn’t happen. Instead we have the government spending public money to fly critical medical supplies from China and delivering it to private for-profit brokers who then control where it goes according to who is willing to pay the most. The opportunities for corruption are truly mindblowing.

Current business practices are based on just-in-time supply chains, which collapse when entire economies are shut down and transportation is disrupted. In such emergencies, government intervention is critical to mobilize what is still functional and distribute supplies rationally where needed, but if you don’t believe government should to that, then chaos ensues, as we now see.

Conservative ideology also is the reason why the US, unlike every other advanced country in the world, lacks a universal healthcare system. As we all know, there remain large gaps in our patchwork coverage which leave millions of Americans without health coverage in the best of times. This administration and the entire Republican party has labored ceaselessly to peel back Obamacare and right now is pursuing a case to the Supreme Court that, if successful, will destroy the ACA completely, depriving the millions of people now covered by its protection. That would be bad enough in normal times, but when people are being laid off suddenly in unprecedented numbers during a deadly pandemic, this is a recipe for an even greater disaster. Because, for most people, health insurance is contingent on their employment, when there are massive layoffs, as is happening now, the number of people who find themselves suddenly without coverage is skyrocketing, meaning that many will face a deadly disease without any assurance of medical care. But universal health care would be socialism!

But perhaps most insidious is the decades-long propaganda campaign by conservatives to convince Americans that government itself is, at best, incompetent and, at worst, intent on destroying their freedom. From Ronald Reagan to Newt Gingrich to the Tea Party to Donald Trump, that is the message they have ceaselessly hammered into the national consciousness, and it has stuck to the point that even progressive Democrats have had to tack rightward to adjust. The strategy of Republicans in or out of power has always been to starve federal agencies they didn’t like (which was virtually all of them that didn’t involve the military or law enforcement) of funds, thereby making it harder and harder to fulfill their functions successfully. Then along came Trump who took this to its logical extreme by appointing as heads of federal agencies people whose agenda was to subvert the very mission of the agencies they led. The purpose was to undermine confidence in government itself by insuring that it could not do the job people expected it to do. And now we see the result.

The question is what lessons the American public will draw from this growing disaster. Will 100,000 or 200,000 or 500,000 deaths convince Americans that Trump bears major responsibility for the needless magnitude of the carnage and vote him out of office? Or will they buy his message and allow him to consolidate power and become the tyrant he aspires to be? History suggests that it could go either way. In 1932 America chose Franklin Roosevelt, while Germany went for Adolf Hitler. Which country are we in 2020?

 

 

The Malign Neglect of Ron DeSantis

I-95 backup

Back-up at Florida-Georgia line after governor ordered roadblocks for incoming traffic.

As I am writing this, Florida officially has 5,472 confirmed Covid-19 cases. When the new numbers come out this afternoon, the number will be close to 6,000 or maybe higher. Miami-Dade County alone has 1,632 confirmed cases, and Broward County (Ft. Lauderdale) has 1,152. The positive hit rate for the testing that has been done is just under 10% of everyone who has been tested so far. Florida now ranks 4th in the number of cases, and is on track to surpass California in a day or so. We are the new coronavirus hot spot. 

But Governor Ron DeSantis has yet to order a state-wide shutdown of businesses and school closures or stay-at-home order. Today his big announcement was a safer-at-home advisory for the four big counties in South Florida from Palm Beach to the Keys that have ALREADY had even more stringent measures in place for more than 10 days. In other words, this is nothing but an empty gesture to make it appear that he’s doing something.

Local governments in South Florida and other big cities like Tampa and Orlando have had to make the hard–and often unpopular–decisions to close businesses and keep people at home.  The city of Miami Beach shut down hotels, bars, and restaurants week before last at the height of the Spring Break crowd. Miami-Dade and Broward also closed all beaches and parks, marinas, etc. as well as all non-essential businesses. All non-residents were ordered to leave the Keys last week, and US-1 is blocked for all non-residents.

But DeSantis still hasn’t ordered all other beaches throughout the state to close down, leaving many on the Gulf coast and northern Florida crowded with drunk college kids there to party on Spring Break–leading to shocking images shown all over the country on news media.

DeSantis’s most decisive–and stupifyingly incomprehensible–order was to proclaim that anyone arriving in Florida from the New York area would have to put themselves into quarantine for 2 weeks. Of course, this is completely unenforceable. His next move was to impose roadblocks at the state line on I-95 and I-10 on incoming traffic. This was so state troopers could issue (essentially non-enforceable) orders to people arriving from New York, New Jersey, Connecticut, and Louisiana. The roadblocks, of course, backed up traffic for miles on these major arteries.

DeSantis’s thoroughly Trumpian logic would be that the contagion is being brought in by  outsiders, even though the state already ranks near the top in terms of active Covid-19 cases and the disease is mostly being spread by community transmission. The political motivations aren’t hard to see here. DeSantis is telling his voting base that the problem is just with those wicked people from the Northeast or in South Florida (which is regarded by most people in the rest of the state as virtually a foreign country), and that they can just go on about their business while those sources of contagion are isolated. Of course, this is utter nonsense, but South Florida votes heavily Democratic and the fact that the local economy there is being devastated by shut-downs won’t hurt DeSantis’s popularity. And he can look as if he’s taking action.

Meanwhile, several large cruise ships with Covid-19 cases aboard are stuck dead in the water because they are not allowed to dock at Florida ports. The Zaandam, owned by the Holland-America Line (a subsidiary of Carnival Cruise Lines, headquartered in Miami) now has 4 dead people on board, and roughly 20% of the 1000 passengers and crew have symptoms or have been diagnosed with Covid-19. DeSantis told Fox News on March 30 that he does not want to have the ship disembark in Florida. “We cannot afford to have people who are not even Floridians dumped into South Florida using up those valuable resources…We view this as a big big problem and we do not want to see people dumped in Southern Florida right now.” Apparently, he’s perfectly willing to have more passengers and crew die on board without medical help.

DeSantis just blocked a well-respected reporter from the Miami Herald and Tampa Bay Times from entry into his daily virus press conference in Tallahassee. Evidently, he didn’t like the criticism he was getting from those publications.

It’s also worth noting that DeSantis, like his predecessor now-Senator Rick Scott, has blocked the extension of Medicaid to low income Floridians under Obamacare. So if they get sick, basically they’re on their own.

It may not be too long before DeSantis’s insouciance about anti-pandemic measures outside of the big metropolitan areas starts to backfire as the virus spreads to his small-town, evangelical, and elderly base. Some churches are still holding large services even in places where gatherings have been limited to 10 or fewer. They evidently think they will be protected by the power of prayer.

But will DeSantis pay a political price for his irresponsibility? Perhaps not. When you’re in a cult, you just believe.

 

Trump’s Payroll Tax Scam

Payroll tax tweet

Trump is doubling down on eliminating the payroll tax (which funds Social Security) this year. Or maybe longer, as he has hinted.

This is a stupid idea for several reasons and is actually a stealth attack on Social Security, the crippling of which has been a conservative Republican goal for decades.

First, the payroll tax is collected only if you are earning wages. If you can’t work and aren’t getting paid, then you won’t be paying the tax anyway. Therefore it is of NO help to people who lose their pay because of the virus.

It would also eliminate employer’s share of the payroll tax, which is roughly equal to the employee’s share. Trump’s proposal would eliminate the tax on all workers, not just those who have lost their income (who, as previously noted, wouldn’t be paying it anyway.) Therefore, it would be a huge windfall for corporations, but would do little or nothing for workers directly affected by the virus. But it might–temporarily–stem the fall of the stock market, which until now has been Trump’s biggest boast.

The only rational argument for this measure is that it would be a stimulus to the economy, but it is an extremely blunt and untargeted instrument for that. There are many other ways to do this, if it becomes necessary, without the collateral damage to Social Security.

This isn’t the first time that Trump has floated this idea. He proposed it in 2017 as part of his tax “reform”–the one that has already swelled the deficit by more than $1 trillion. It was a bad idea then, and thankfully went nowhere.

Trumpsters are trying their usual “Obama-did-it” argument, and as usual it’s not exactly true. In 2010, in the midst of the Great Recession and still very high unemployment, Obama made a deal with Congress to cut the employee portion of the tax from 6.2% to 4.2% temporarily. The employer contribution was unchanged. The amount of the reduction was reimbursed to Social Security from general revenue, and the full tax was restored two years later. The deal was heavily criticized at the time as it set a precedent for fooling with Social Security funding to deal with a general economic crisis, but the Obama administration accepted this as a Faustian bargain in order to get a larger stimulus for the ailing economy.  That is not what we are facing now, and what Trump proposes is to eliminate the tax–and thereby its revenue stream for Social Security–entirely.

Conservatives have been trying to kill Social Security for decades. They know it’s an extremely popular program, so they can’t attack it directly. Their strategy has been to hack away at it piecemeal, most importantly by undermining its financial basis and thereby creating doubts in the minds of younger Americans who are still working that they will ever get benefits when they retire. One way to do this is to eliminate the dedicated revenue stream provided by the payroll tax to Social Security, which then would have to be funded from general tax revenue, which is much easier to manipulate politically. 

That’s exactly what this is–a sneak attack to eliminate up to $1 trillion in Social Security funding, which will then be used as an argument for cutting benefits.

Call your congressman and senator and tell them that you don’t like this!

The Fox and Hedgehog Primary

fox and hedgehog

“The fox knows many things, but the hedgehog knows one big thing.”

That aphorism, attributed to the ancient Greek poet Archilochus, has been cited by scholars since Erasmus to classify people according to how they think. It’s an amusing exercise, but the problem is that no one can agree on what it actually means, and when applied to specifics it dissolves into ambiguity. Sort of like this Democratic primary.

Democratic voters are hedgehogs* when it comes to the Big Thing for this election: We want to get rid of Trump. But when it comes to how to do that, we become foxes, scurrying after a hundred different theories on who can win.

As for the remaining candidates, presentationally Bernie is more hedgehog–prickly and, to some, oddly adorable–while Joe is definitely more foxy. But strategically, it’s the opposite. Bernie doesn’t just want to get rid of Trump, he wants to start a revolution in American political and economic life, while Joe really only wants a restoration of the Obama regime. No wonder people are conflicted and confused.

Count me among them. Now that my preferred candidate, Elizabeth Warren, has dropped out, I’m trying to decide who to vote for in the Florida primary and am not really happy with either of the choices. I realize that my vote is almost totally symbolic and is likely to matter to no one but me, but the decision still feels morally important.

My problem is that I believe the country desperately needs the kind of progressive reforms that Warren articulated so clearly, but I don’t believe that Bernie will be able to make them happen. Give Bernie full credit for bringing these issues to the forefront of the campaign, but I see him primarily as an effective critic and movement leader, rather than an effective politician who can get his program enacted if he gets elected.

Conversely, Biden seems to have no program at all, other than restoring what Obama did and Trump destroyed. There are worse things than that, of course. Joe is running on a smile and a shoeshine and Obama’s reflected charisma. He’s likable, and that counts for a lot in politics, but I find him uninspiring and often cringe-worthy. Then there’s the fake Ukraine scandal, which the Party of Trump is clearly gearing up to deploy again, which indicates that they think it will have an impact. Who knows?

So who can get elected in November? No one really knows. As far as the polls go, for what they’re worth, it seems pretty much a toss-up on who could beat Trump. Bernie’s vaunted army of enthusiastic younger voters hasn’t really turned up at the polls, which seriously weakens his theory of how to win. A lot of down-ballot Democrats are afraid of having him on the ballot. On the other hand, African-American voters turned out in big numbers for Biden, and their support and turnout is absolutely critical for Democrats to win. That looks like a point for Biden.

Ultimately it comes down to who, overall, do you think would be the better president, given the cards that we have dealt ourselves. Unless something major happens in the next eleven days, that means I’m probably going to mark my ballot for Biden.

I guess that makes me a hedgehog.

* For Americans unfamiliar with hedgehogs, they are supercute European relatives of the porcupine. 

Elián and Bernie

elian gonzalez

Sometime seemingly small events have major consequences.

On November 21, 1999, a divorced young mother named Elizabeth Brotons Rodríguez fled Cuba in a small boat, along with her almost 6-year-old son Elián Gonzalez and twelve other people. The boat’s engine failed, and it drifted in the Gulf Stream for days, until it was sighted by an American fishing boat. By then, 10 of those on the boat had died, including Elizabeth, but Elián survived. INS released Elián to his paternal great-uncle, Lázaro González, in Miami. He and other relatives in Miami’s Cuban community were determined to keep him in the US. Thus began a protracted custody battle between Elián’s father, back in Cuba, and his Miami relatives, who enlisted the support of the South Florida Cuban community and their political connections in Florida and Washington, DC.

The courts eventually ruled in favor of Elián’s father, but the decision was bitterly denounced in Miami. Bill Clinton’s Attorney General, Janet Reno, ordered Elián’s return and set a deadline of April 13, 2000, but the Miami relatives defied the order. The standoff got increasingly heated, and on April 20 Reno ordered Elián’s removal by force from his great-uncle’s home.  Before dawn on April 22, a large armed team of Border Patrol agents forcibly entered the house and, in an indelibly ugly scene, snatched Elián away. He was then returned to his father in Cuba.

That likely cost Al Gore Florida’s electoral votes in November 2000, and made George W. Bush the President of the United States.

It’s hard to overstate the anger Elián’s forced repatriation engendered in Miami.  It clearly set back decades of Democratic efforts to claw back support in the Cuban-American community. One may legitimately believe that returning Elián to his father was the right thing to do, but the political consequences are hard to dispute.

In 1996, Bill Clinton got 57.2% of the vote in Miami-Dade County. In 2000, Al Gore got only 52.5%. You might recall that Bush was leading Gore by a mere 537 votes in Florida when the Supreme Court stopped the recount, thereby awarding Florida’s electoral votes to Bush.

Flash forward 20 years to Bernie Sanders’ February 23 interview on 60 Minutes, in which he said: “We’re very opposed to the authoritarian nature of Cuba, but, you know, it’s unfair to simply say everything is bad, you know? When Fidel Castro came into office, you know what he did? He had a massive literacy program. Is that a bad thing? Even though Fidel Castro did it?”

You might argue, based on a close reading of his statement, that Bernie was not defending Castro, but it’s safe to say very few Cuban-Americans (or Venezualan-Americans) will hear it that way. The message they’re hearing is that Bernie Sanders thinks Castro’s Cuba really isn’t so bad.

The reaction in South Florida was swift and sharply negative. It has been all over the local TV news. Miami Herald columnist Fabiola Santiago (who, as she points out, is a registered Democrat) published a scathing response entitled “I Went to School in Cuba under Castro. Here’s What It’s Like, Bernie Sanders“. In the Spanish-language El Nuevo Herald, Andrés Oppenheimer wrote: “La afirmación de Sanders sobre Cuba es tan estúpida como decir que la Rusia de Stalin produjo grandes bailarines a pesar de sus asesinatos masivos, o que la Alemania nazi construyó las mejores carreteras del país y redujo la tasa de criminalidad, a pesar de sus campos de concentración.” (“Sanders’ statement about Cuba is just as stupid as saying that Stalin’s Russia produced great dancers despite his massive killings, or that Nazi Germany built the best highways and reduced the crime rate, in spite of its concentration camps.”)

Oppenheimer ends his column thus: “En resumen, los demócratas pueden despedirse del crucial estado de la Florida, y tal vez de otros, si eligen a Sanders como su candidato. Sería un suicidio político, y un regalo para Trump, el peor presidente de la historia reciente de Estados Unidos.” (“In summary, Democrats can say goodbye to the crucial state of Florida, and perhaps others, if they select Sanders as their candidate. It would be political suicide, and a gift to Trump, the worst president in the recent history of the United States.”) These are not the words of Trump supporters, and I don’t believe this is going away. The attack ads write themselves.

The Miami-Dade Democratic Party was so alarmed that they immediately issued a statement strongly denouncing the Castro regime.

If Bernie Sanders becomes the Democrat’s candidate, I think Oppenheimer is right: We can kiss Florida’s 29 electoral votes goodbye. Florida is the most important tossup state and has more electoral weight than any state except California and Texas, both of which are essentially decided. The mythical “Blue Wall” no longer exists, and Democrats cannot afford to concede Florida. Recent statewide elections here have been decided by the thinnest of margins, which means that if Democrats lose even a small percentage of Latino votes or if turnout drops off, then Florida will surely go to Trump.

The Democratic nomination is still a long way from decided, and no one really knows who can beat Trump. But Bernie’s dumbass remarks have made it all but certain that he would not win Florida in November if he’s the candidate.

Remember Elián Gonzalez!

 

 

Department of Injustice

barr and trump

Generations of Americans have known from bitter experience what it’s like when the law isn’t there to protect you, but rather is used to suppress you. Throughout most of US history,  for African-Americans the idea of equal protection under the law was an ironic joke that simply didn’t apply to them. Even during the last half century, when things at last began to improve, arbitrary and capricious law enforcement has remained one of the most powerful weapons deployed to prevent black people from full and equal participation in American society. The same applies to Latinos, Asians, and–above all–native Americans.

For the most part, white people in this country have had no similar experiences. A relative few were persecuted unjustly during the Red Scare after WWI and again during McCarthy’s commie hunts in the early 50s. Perhaps the closest analog has been the use of the law in targeting gays, but even there it was possible for most people to avoid running afoul of the law by staying in the closet or on the downlow.

Now, I think some white people are beginning to feel a chill of fear that for the first time in their lifetimes, the law could be used systematically as an instrument of oppression against them–this time not based on race, but for political opposition. Or not even for that, but simply for disloyalty and lèse majesté against Donald Trump.

I don’t mean to imply that what is happening now in any way approaches the systematic denial of rights and outright terrorism applied for centuries to African-Americans and other people of color. Yet.

But watching William Barr’s Department of Justice act in obedience to Trump’s explicit or implicit direction, just how sure do you feel now that those anti-Trump Facebook posts, or tweets, or blogs that you’ve been putting out there on the Internet will never be used against you? It has happened in many countries of the world. Why should the US be immune?

What is happening now at main DOJ remains only partially visible to the public, but we can see enough to be legitimately alarmed. Trump is telling Barr–directly or indirectly–what he wants done on cases that involve his supporters or his purported enemies, and Barr shows every indication that he is complying. Trump tweets and Barr hops to it. Indeed, Trump is now openly calling himself the nation’s chief law enforcement officer.

Last spring, at Trump’s insistence, Barr launched an investigation into the origins of the Mueller probe, designed explicitly to expose it as a Democrat-led plot against Trump. Investigations have been directed against key FBI officials like James Comey and Andrew McCabe, as well as others. Barr’s very public “rebuke” that Trump’s tweets make it difficult to do his job, appears to be merely a complaint that the tweets reveal precisely what he’s doing and why.  He has shown no reluctance to carry out directives to recommend reduced sentences for convicted Trumpians like Roger Stone and Michael Flynn.

As of September 2019, there were no less than 10 federal investigations dealing with Trump’s businesses and political activities.  It’s now unclear if these are still active or have become dormant or simply ended. Barr, of course, is in a position to kill any of them or transfer them to another venue where they are less likely ever to come to fruition. There are now some disturbing signs that this may be happening. On February 17, DOJ sent out a memo stating that decisions on all “matters relating to Ukraine, including the opening of any new investigations or the expansion of existing ones” would be transferred from the famously independent Southern District of New York to the rival Eastern District in Brooklyn. The memo adds that “any widening or expansion of existing matters should require prior consultation” with the Deputy Attorney General in main DOJ or the US Attorney in Brooklyn.

Among these matters “relating to Ukraine” are the activities of Rudy Giuliani and his associates Lev Parnas and Igor Fruman, who are currently under indictment. What this means exactly is uncertain, but it is very unusual and quite suspicious, especially in light of everything else happening at DOJ.

There is an obvious pattern here, even more blatant since the Senate voted not to convict Trump, who has retaliated against everyone who testified to Congress–and even people who didn’t. On February 19, Trump forced the resignation of the Pentagon policy official, John Rood, whose certification of Ukraine freed the military aid that Trump had withheld. At the same time, he is reveling in his power of the pardon, which he wields in a grossly symbolic way: a racist Arizona sheriff, a war criminal, a Wall Street mogul convicted of tax evasion and securities fraud, a corrupt New York City police commissioner, a corrupt former Democratic governor, a Texas construction firm owner who donated $200,000 to Trump election campaign and is pals with Don Jr., a former Bush aide convicted of perjury and obstruction of justice, a software executive who hacked into a rival’s computer, etc. The message here is that none of this stuff is really wrong. And of course, they all had connections in TrumpWorld. And they’re mostly rich and white.

The simple lesson is that if you oppose Trump he will go after you, but if you remain loyal and silent he might let you out of jail. So far, he has not pardoned any of his erstwhile henchmen convicted as a result of the Mueller probe, but it’s a pretty good bet that at least some will get sprung after November 3, if not before.

Trump has removed the pardon process from the office in DOJ that had reviewed cases, and put it in the hands of a group in the White House led by Jared Kushner and Pam Bondi. As the Washington Post pointed out, “as attorney general of Florida, Bondi once took an illegal $25,000 contribution from Trump’s foundation for her PAC and then dropped an investigation into Trump University.”

Trump has always used the legal system to try to crush small contractors and others who he stiffed in his businesses and who couldn’t afford the legal fees to oppose him in litigation. Why would anyone expect him to act differently when he has the awesome power of federal law enforcement in his pocket?

The fact that more than 2,000 former justice department officials have called for Barr to resign should be more than enough to convince us of the seriousness of the problem. These are not people inclined to hysteria or to making gratuitous accusations.

Are you in good hands?

In Search of the Unicorn (or the Perfect Candidate)

unicorn

Feeling stressed out about who to support in the Democratic primary? Join the club.

Let’s face it: There is no perfect candidate. They all have drawbacks. No one really knows who can beat Trump. But we have to choose.

So here’s my advice, for what it’s worth: Vote for the one who best represents your values and the kind of country you want to live in. Your individual primary vote is not going to determine the outcome in November, especially if we all set aside our preferences and vote for whoever gets the Democratic nomination. But it will help set the course for the Democratic party and perhaps the country as a whole.

Having said that, I intend to vote for Elizabeth Warren in the Florida primary, not because I think she’s likely to win, but because I like what she stands for. Of all the candidates, I think she has the clearest vision of what’s wrong with this country and what it will take to fix it. She knows the nuts and bolts of our dysfunctional federal government better than anyone else, and actually has specific ideas about how to renovate it, not just slogans. What she’s proposing is radical only because it stands out from the intellectual desert of present-day politics.

The main thing holding her back is just being a woman in a misogynist culture. She lacks the physical and vocal gravitas that we seem to want in our politicians, which she compensates for by sheer determination. Her wonkiness appeals to people like me, but may be a drawback to many others. She’s genuine and approachable, but maybe doesn’t seem really fun. I think she may remind people of their fifth-grade teacher who wouldn’t let them go out to recess until they’d finished their lessons. But better than anyone else in the race, perhaps even Sanders, she understands the threat that toxic, unfettered capitalism represents to our democracy and our future.

I have written previously about my reservations about Bernie Sanders, so I won’t rehearse all that again. He seems to have momentum right now, though his “wins” in Iowa and New Hampshire weren’t all that impressive. If he doesn’t become the clear front-runner by the end of March, we may be heading for a disastrously contentious convention. His “outsider” status could turn out to be both an asset and a liability, and the volatility of his supporters could blow up the convention if they decide the party establishment has cheated him. I give him full credit for focusing attention on economic and social inequality, but I don’t see that he has much of a program for doing something about it.

I was as surprised as anyone by Pete Buttigieg‘s showing in Iowa and New Hampshire. It’s thrilling to have a viable gay presidential candidate, especially one who is so clearly intelligent and talks in paragraphs, though I sometimes lose the substantive thread in the elegance of his language. I’m still a bit mystified by his appeal to older voters, but it certainly has something to do with how utterly mainstream he appears–except for, well, you know… I’m bothered by his rather limited experience and his youth as well as some pretty recent missteps as mayor, and the general fuzziness of his platform. But he clearly has star potential. I just don’t think this year is going to be it for him.

I’m not feeling Amy Klobuchar. Her main talking point is that she has passed more bills than any Democrat in the Senate. Okay, but what are the bills? In the current congress, she is a sponsor or co-sponsor of 80-something bills, resolutions, or amendments. Not one of the bills has passed the senate, let alone become law. She has gotten a few resolutions adopted, but they are for anodyne things like “National Stalking Awareness Month”. Bills that she sponsored that got passed and signed in previous congresses mostly seem to be related to crime prevention or victim rights–things that Republicans tend to like. One was to create a position for a human trafficking coordinator for the US Department of Transportation. As worthy as those bills may be, they are, shall we say, unexciting and pretty non-controversial. As for as the rest of her message, to me it boils down to “don’t rock the boat”.

Then there’s Joe Biden. Sigh. Who knows, maybe South Carolina will revive his campaign, but he seems to be mainly running on nostalgia for pre-Nixon politics and the shadow of Barack Obama. Certainly he’s decent and likable, but to me lately he just seems old and tired. His trump card (pardon the pun) was his supposed electability, but if he doesn’t have that, it’s hard to see what’s left.

Finally, there’s Michael Bloomberg, the elephant in the room. I know a lot of people are looking at him as the plutocrat ex machina sent to save us from Trump by throwing his unimaginable piles of money into the race. But that’s exactly my problem with him. He has already burned through more than $300,000,000 for TV and internet ads, and he can maintain that rate indefinitely. Is the solution to our most fundamental problem–economic and social inequality–to elect a man who is so inconceivably rich that he literally can’t spend his money fast enough? I personally find it offensive. Maybe he’s the best one to slug it out with Trump, but for it all to come down to a contest between two billionaires (or maybe a real one and a pretend one) just seems a grotesque encapsulation of our failing democracy.

Would we be making a Faustian bargain? I hope that’s not the only choice left.