Where Is Joe Biden?

by Lawrence Davidson 

May 2, 2020 

Part I—The Where Is Biden Question

Do you remember that classic puzzle bookWhere’s Waldo? It was first marketed in 1987 and placed Waldo, a tiny, oddly dressed, twenty-something figure amidst hundreds of other ordinary folks. The challenge was to find him in the crowd. Today the Waldo puzzle is still out there but, because in the latest version he is wearing a mask and practicing social distancing, he is not so hard to find. 

The Where’s Waldo? puzzle has recently lent its iconic title to a different question: “Where’s Joe Biden?” Because Biden is the prospective Democratic presidential nominee, this question denotes more than a puzzle game. Some argue that, despite the present contagious environment, Joe Biden should be a lot more visible than at present. Why so?

Well, it might be true that our present Republican president, the all too easy to find Donald Trump, is in the process of self-destructing. But given the often fickle state of mind of the American voter, the Democrats would be ill advised to just rely on the Republicans to defeat themselves. 

Part II—So Just Where is Joe Biden?

Thanks to an in-depth article in the New York Times (NYT), we do in fact know where Joe is. He is presently hunkered down at his home in Wilmington, Delaware—involuntarily cloistered in the basement due to the Covid-19 pandemic. However, according to the NYT, Biden is not just twiddling his thumbs. 

Joe Biden is in an information-gathering mode. He has daily briefings via conference calls with chief aids and other advisers. The daily topics are invariably the state of the national economy; the state of the national health; and electoral strategy “seeking to map out the fall campaign and a potential administration.” Occupying only an occasional subject of discussion is the category of foreign policy. 

In the process, Biden seems to be presenting the picture of a sober elder statesman to be contrasted with the present erratic occupant of the White House. Whether the cloistered elder statesman image will cut it in an agitated age of pandemic, economic collapse, and global warming is something that is worrying a lot of Democrats. 

There can, of course, be no campaigning although Biden has experimented with virtual town halls and round tables). Unlike Trump, Biden hasn’t got a bully pulpit. Nor has he figured out how to replicate what can be called the Governor Cuomo phenomenon of drawing almost daily media attention to himself by the sheer public mastery of his circumstances. So, the Democratic leadership, never the most imaginative of pacesetters, seems to be content with casting a low-key virtual image.

There is another factor that keeps Biden secluded. The last thing the party leaders want is for the 77-year-old Biden to get sick (“rare outside visitors don masks and gloves as a safety measure”). A Corvid-crippled Joe would probably bring a Bernie Sanders candidacy back to center stage.

Part III—A Man for Our Time?

It appears that behind the scenes, Joe Biden is not optimistic about the nation’s near future, even if he wins the November election. “Before Mr. Biden entered his state of near-quarantine, he was telling associates that he feared the onset of a national catastrophe” in the form of  “another Great Depression.” This contrasts sharply with Donald Trump’s prediction that the economy will soon “come roaring back.” If the precipitous movement towards reopening the economy under Trump’s leadership backfires and triggers a national reinfection, Biden’s concern will prove much closer to the truth. Under such circumstances, he may very well win the presidency even if he never leaves his basement. 

And then what? Can Joe Biden be a man for our time? Can he be the leader who saves us all in this crises-ridden hour? Considering Biden’s political record, one has a hard time imagining this. 

There is a recently published (January 2020) book entitled Joe Biden, Yesterday’s Man. Written by Branko Marcetic, an investigative reporter and staff writer for Jacobin magazine, the book lays out Biden’s political biography. It argues that Biden’s political sensibility is that of a 1970s suburbanite. He sees his base as being a white middle class that has, in truth, shrunk and turned to the right. That process has, on occasion, led him to turn to the right (he has a record of sharp reversals on positions when subjected to heavy pressure). He has no problem taking corporate money (he told donors that with a Biden presidency “nothing fundamental will change for them”), and is the friend of many powerful lobbies. Biden is a politician whose lifelong self-image is that of a great conciliator—someone who believes he can work with all groups. In the 1970s, he cut political deals with segregationists in Congress so as to “get things done.” As Marcetic shows, what Biden got done at that time was putting a stop to busing as a method of desegregation. Biden seems to think he can now work with the Trump Republicans as well. Finally, as we will see below, he embraces most of the nation’s immoral foreign policy.

As it stands now, Biden’s ambition does not go any further than a naive desire to take the nation back to the time before Trump—“make it [America] like it used to be”. Two things can be said about this ambition. First, unfortunately, historical times cannot simply be reversed. Second, to limit your goal in this fashion means you fail to realize that “like it used to be” perforce embodies the problems that led to the “time of Trump” in the first place. Thus, Biden’s present thinking can only provide superficial and ultimately unsatisfactory answers to challenges facing both the U.S. and the world beyond. 

Part IV—Then there is Foreign Policy

Biden and his present advisers “largely embrace the core principles that have driven U.S. foreign policy for decades,” namely, the U.S. must lead the world, spread pseudo democracy, be loyal to its allies, etc. Here Biden is most often “yesterday’s man.”

Israel: Biden has been a loyal friend of Israel even during the tensions that arose when he was vice president under Obama. He has known Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu for 30 years and considers him a good friend. As vice president, Biden once told Uzi Arad, one of Netanyahu’s advisers, “Just remember that I am your best fucking friend here.” 

If this holds true, what can one really expect from Biden the president? It would come as a surprise if Biden reversed Trump’s over-the-top embrace of the Zionist state. He has already said that, as president, he would not move the U.S. embassy out of Jerusalem. Even in the face of astronomical U.S. debt, Biden probably will still insist on giving billions of dollars to a Zionist state that, on multiple counts, stands in stark violation of international law.

Venezuela: It would appear that Biden would have little trouble following up on the Trump administration’s promotion of a rightist coup in Venezuela. For all intents and purposes he has backed Trump’s aggression in this arena and, of course, done so in the name of democracy.  

Iran: Biden says he continues to support the 2015 nuclear deal Obama helped negotiate with Iran—the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA). However, he does so from the stereotypical American view that Iran continues to be “a destabilizing factor in the Middle East.” As president, he claims that he will rejoin the agreement. This would certainly be a positive move, but don’t be surprised if the Iranians are a bit suspicious of Biden—after all, they too know his political biography.  

Part V—Conclusion

A conciliatory, mediocre leader, who has shown little ability to resist the will of lobbies and donors, might find greatness when forced to face novel challenges. But that does not happen very often, and from all we do know about Joe Biden, the odds are against him blossoming in this fashion. 

If elected, Biden will face three immediate challenges: (1) a nation struggling to overcome plague, (2) an economy in deep recession, and (3) a world climatically self-destructing (Biden’s record on climate change is “sketchy). According to the NYT, Joe Biden,secluded in his basement, is trying to prepare himself to meet these challenges. However—and here is the key factor—he is doing so as the machine politician he has always been—and that one-dimensionality will certainly help define the results. Trump might well be dethroned, but there will be no new and better world emerging under Joe Biden. When all is said and done, perhaps things will become less bad.

10 Signs the U.S. Is Heading for a Depression

By Mike Whitney

Global Research, April 03, 2020

1– Unemployment is off-the-charts

Thursday’s jobless claims leave no doubt that the country is in the grips of another severe recession. More than 6.6 million Americans filed for unemployment insurance in the last week. That number exceeds the gloomiest prediction of more than 40 economists and pushes the two-week total to an eye-watering 10 million claims.

According to CNBC:

“Those at the lower end of the wage scale have been especially hard-hit during a crisis that has seen businesses either cut staff outright or at best freeze any new hiring until there’s more visibility about how efforts to contain the coronavirus will work.

“We’ve lived through the recession and 9/11. What we’re seeing with this decline is actually worse than both of those events,” said Irina Novoselsky, CEO of online jobs marketplace CareerBuilder.” (CNBC)

According to New York Magazine:

“Economists at the Federal Reserve Bank of St. Louis projected Monday that job losses from the coronavirus recession would reach 47 million and push America’s unemployment rate to 32.1 percent — more than 7 points higher than its Great Depression–era peak.”

2– Service Sector has been walloped by the virus

Services account for 70% of the US economy, but presently the sector is in meltdown. According to the analysts at Wolf Street: “Employment contracted sharply and hours were reduced for those still employed. “The employment index plunged from +6.1 to -23.8, also the lowest level on record…

Retailers got whacked. The Retail Sales Index of the Texas Retail Outlook Survey collapsed from the already beaten-down level of -2.5 in February to an epic all-time low of -82.6 in March… (Also) the general business activity index collapsed from the beaten down level of -5.0 to a historic low of -84.2….

Comments from retail executives were somber:… “Most of our business has gone to zero except for essential locations such as hospitals, military bases and prisons… We are contemplating at this moment sending most employees home while our owners determine whether they can afford to pay reduced salaries and cover benefits for a short period while we see if things improve or worsen” (Wolf Street)

3– Economic carnage extends across sectors

Business Insider: “Recession risks are rising as coronavirus spreads around the world…The crisis will clobber airlines, shipping, hotels, and restaurants…

“Sectors reliant on trade and the free movement of people are most exposed,” said Benjamin Nelson, a Moody’s vice president and co-author of the report.

Carmakers, gaming, and retail will be hit hard by supply chain disruptions, the analysts said…

“A lengthy outbreak would affect economic activity for longer, leading to heightened recessionary dynamics and a more significant demand shock,” Moody’s said. “A sustained pullback in consumption would hurt corporate earnings, prompt layoffs, and weigh on consumer sentiment.”(Business Insider)

Car sales have also dropped dramatically in the last two weeks. On Wednesday, Hyundai reported that sales had seen a decline of 43 percent for March compared to the same period in 2019. That’s a drop from 61,177 vehicles in March 2019 to just 35,118 during the same month in 2020. All other car manufacturers are experiencing similar weakness in demand.

4– The Bloodbath on Wall Street continues

U.S. shares sold off again on Wednesday for the third time in four days wiping out most of last week’s bear market rally. The SandP 500 dipped 114 points while the Dow Jones lopped-off nearly 973 points by the end of the session. Analysts now believe that last week’s 20% surge was a temporary reaction to Trump’s multi-trillion dollar fiscal plan. By a 9 to 1 margin, investors are now betting that stocks have further to fall.

“Investor pessimism today is as bad as it has been,” said Dennis DeBusschere of Evercore ISI. “All estimates of when this will end are being pushed out…”

Before the outbreak of the virus, traders believed that low rates, liquidity injections and easy credit would keep stocks on a permanent upward trajectory. But the daily deluge of bad news coupled with an economy that is in freefall has undermined confidence in the Central Bank sending stocks into a tailspin. The Dow closed Wednesday at 20,943, which is three times higher than its March 9, 2009 low of 6,547. Stocks still have further to fall.

5– Struggling consumers can no longer carry the US economyAnother US Great Recession Coming?

An article at The Medium explains how the composition of the workforce has changed since the 2008 financial crisis. Gig workers make up are a significant part of the workforce, but they do not have the protections or benefits of most wage earners. These independent contractors will impacted the most by the sudden downturn in the economy. Their ability to consume will also weaken the post-crisis recovery and lead to slower growth. Check out this short excerpt from A crippling collapse in consumer spending is coming:

“From restaurant workers, caterers, and Uber drivers to office and hotel cleaning staff to event venue staff to people supplementing earnings with AirBnB revenue, income is cratering across the country for hourly and gig workers. And most have little to no financial cushion…

Thirty-six percent of U.S. workers are now involved in the gig economy…. Most gig and hourly workers are walking a financial tightrope. They will not be able to afford even a short-term hit to their earnings. It will mean a further spike in auto loan and credit-card delinquencies. It will mean a spike in healthcare-driven bankruptcies. It will mean unpaid rent. And it will mean consumer spending will plummet…. A sudden shock to gig and hourly-worker earnings will have seismic implications for the economic and political future of the U.S….

More than 15.5 million Americans work in restaurants. Of those workers, roughly 3 million live in poverty….Unpaid rent will eventually lead to landlord defaults… Consumer spending now accounts for roughly 70% of the U.S. economy. Reportedly, government stimulus may not reach consumers until the end of April. Gig and hourly workers need help now.” (“A crippling collapse in consumer spending is coming”, The Medium)

How many of these gig workers will fall through the cracks, lose their apartments or rental units, and wind up on the streets, homeless and destitute?

6– Americans continue to stockpile food

According to the Wall Street Journal: “In the past two weeks, Americans have hoarded food as restaurants close their dining rooms and more are told to stay home from work and school. General Mills, which makes Cheerios cereal, Yoplait yogurt and Progresso soup, on Wednesday said retailers in North America and Europe are purchasing more of its products and its factories are running at near capacity to meet the demand….(WSJ)

“Consumers across the globe are still loading their pantries — and the economic fallout from the virus is just starting...

“You could see wartime rationing, price controls and domestic stockpiling,” said Ann Berg, an independent consultant and veteran agricultural trader.” (Bloomberg)

CNBC: “Psychologists ..weigh in on why our brains push us to panic buy — even when authorities are assuring the public there’s no need to. According to Paul Marsden, a consumer psychologist at the University of the Arts London,…

“It’s about ‘taking back control’ in a world where you feel out of control…When people are stressed their reason is hampered, so they look at what other people are doing. If others are stockpiling it leads you to engage in the same behavior. People see photos of empty shelves and regardless of whether it’s rational it sends a signal to them that it’s the thing to do….” (CNBC)

7– Most Americans have no savings

From Yahoo Finance:

Saving money continues to be a challenge for Americans….

Since 2015, GOBankingRates has asked Americans how much they have in savings. Each year, the survey results have shown that a majority of adults don’t even have $1,000 in a savings account…

This year, GOBankingRates asked more than 5,000 adults, “How much money do you have saved in your savings account?” Respondents could choose from one of seven options:

The survey found that 58 percent of respondents had less than $1,000 saved.

“It’s always concerning when a large part of the population is seemingly living paycheck to paycheck because when unexpected personal or financial hardships occur, it can be challenging to recover without adequate savings,” Jason Thacker, head of consumer deposits and payments at TD Bank, said.” (“58% of Americans Have Less Than $1,000 in Savings, Survey Finds”, Yahoo Finance)

8– Household debt is at an all-time high

From CNBC: “Household debt surged in 2019, marking the biggest annual increase since just before the financial crisis, according to the New York Federal Reserve.

Total household debt balances rose by $601 billion last year, topping $14 trillion for the first time, according to a new report by the Fed branch. The last time the growth was that large was 2007, when household debt rose by just over $1 trillion....

“The data also show that transitions into delinquency among credit card borrowers have steadily risen since 2016, notably among younger borrowers,” Wilbert Van Der Klaauw, senior vice president at the New York Fed, said in a statement.” (“Household debt jumps the most in 12 years, Federal Reserve report says”, CNBC)

9 — Many businesses might not survive long enough to get stimulus

Many businesses shut their doors either for a lack of customers or on orders from state or local governments as emergency declarations began rolling across the country in mid-March,. Yet it could be weeks more before the business loans, bigger unemployment checks and direct payments to individuals from the stimulus plan flow into the economy.

Small businesses account for almost half of U.S. private employment. A complete collapse of even some of those enterprises not only would dash the dreams of entrepreneurs and threaten the livelihoods of many, it risks sapping the power of an eventual economic rebound as the financial distress ripples through to landlords, vendors and lenders.

Already, 50,000 retail stores have shut in just over a week across the country, putting more than 600,000 workers on furlough, according to data compiled by Bloomberg.

The National Federation of Independent Business, had a record 13,000 people register for a webinar it hosted Monday on the stimulus plan and financial resources….After the webinar ended, more than 900 emails flooded in, she said, with business owners asking: “Am I going to have anything left? Will I be evicted? Will I have to file for bankruptcy? Will I be able to reopen?”

“The emails almost make me want to cry,” Milito added. “What I’m hearing from members is fear, uncertainty and almost heartbreak.” (“Stimulus May Come Too Late for U.S. Businesses Already Stretched”, Bloomberg)

10– Food banks are seeing a sudden, sharp rise in demand

This is from Newsday:

“Emergency food programs are bracing for a wave of new recipients in the coming weeks as more Long Islanders are expected to lose their jobs, get furloughed or have work hours and wages reduced. At the same time, volunteers — many of them at high risk of contracting the virus — are staying home to protect themselves and needy people from getting sick.

Compounding the problem is a crippled national supply chain that delays food deliveries by weeks.

“It’s a perfect storm of tragedy on top of each other,” said Jean Kelly, executive director of the Interfaith Nutrition Network, a Hempstead soup kitchen. “Everything that could go wrong is going wrong.”

Soup kitchens and pantries in many communities closed temporarily in recent weeks to protect volunteers or because sponsoring agencies, such as houses of worship and nonprofits, also shut their doors.

“The reason they’re closed is they don’t really have an infrastructure of people to work there….The majority of the food pantries are operated by volunteers. The average age is in their 70s. They’re fearful of contracting the coronavirus.” (“Demand at LI food pantries rise as volunteers and food supplies fall”, Newsday)

Final Note from an article titled: “Americans Are Worried About The Coronavirus. They’re Even More Worried About The Economy”

“An overwhelming majority of Americans are really concerned about the economy. … A Morning Consult poll conducted between March 20 and March 22 found that 90 percent of Americans said they were “very” or “somewhat” concerned that the coronavirus would impact the economy…Americans are also worried about job security — 49 percent said they were worried about losing their job, according to an Economist/YouGov survey conducted between March 22 and March 24.” (FiveThirtyEight)

Not surprisingly, some polls suggest that “more Americans are worried about the effect of the coronavirus on the economy than about their own health.” I would include myself in that group, which is why I hope that President Trump expands his economics team by adding more experienced, top-notch economists who can help him navigate this unprecedented and potentially-catastrophic crisis. This isn’t the time for the B Team (Kudlow, Mnuchin) to making decisions that will impact the entire country.

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This article was originally published on The Unz Review.

Mike Whitney is a frequent contributor to Global Research.

Featured image is from ShutterstockThe original source of this article is Global ResearchCopyright © Mike Whitney, Global Research, 2020

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