Who’ll Stop the Train, and Other Predictions for the Coming New Year

Make America apes again. One of many Trump-Orangutang memes circulating on the internet.

Well, it sure has been an exciting year, eh? Frankly, I’ve spent much of it in a state of shock and confusion, reeling from the occasional wild haymaker landed by the orangoutang currently occupying the oval office. Say what you want about President Donald J. Trump, but that monkey can punch!

He’s also one lucky primate. Who knew the Obama recovery would finally kick in once he left office? Actually, lots of people did, but no matter, because Trump’s taking all the credit now.

A certain Trumpismo pervades the financial sector, an infectious yet irrational exuberance that during Trump’s first year in office has lifted the stock market to a record number of all-time-highs and pumped national GDP above three percent three quarters in a row for the first time in decades, without Trump or the Republicans in Congress enacting a single meaningful piece of economic legislation.

That all changes this week, when Republicans pass and Trump signs into law “tax reform” that permanently cuts the corporate tax rate from 35 percent to 20 percent, offers minor, temporary tweaks to the personal income tax brackets, and eliminates Obamacare’s individual mandate penalty, a cynical move designed to destroy Obamacare that will remove millions of people from the health insurance rolls.

And guess what? Once they’ve got tax cuts for their rich corporate donors out of the way, establishment Republicans will let the mad monkey off the leash in 2018, in the hopes that he might mortally wound his own presidency without taking the Republican Party, not to mention the entire country, down with him as collateral damage.

From pulling the U.S. out of the Paris Agreement to pardoning Sheriff Joe, there’s just no telling where this monkey might go. He’s the proverbial bull in the china shop, except the china shop is the executive branch and the bull has been repeatedly pricked by establishment Republicans, Democrats and the mainstream media.

I know what you’re thinking. I’m mixing metaphors. First I said he was a monkey, then I said he was a bull. It’s no error. Trump’s a monkey-bull. No, wait. He’s a bull monkey. A money-grubbing, pussy-grabbing, raging bull monkey in a china shop astride a roaring locomotive with no conductor heading straight down the hot rails to hell.

Entering 2018, Trump has all the momentum. At this moment in time, it’s unclear who’ll stop the train.

What goes up, must come down. Or does it?

Live By The Numbers: Bitcoin and the Stock Market

I was first introduced to Bitcoin several years ago by a story subject I was interviewing, who was using the cryptocurrency to anonymously purchase psychedelic substances on the darkweb. That guy’s probably a bitcoin millionaire by now, presuming he didn’t try to short his holdings the numerous times Bitcoin’s value has caved on the way to its present five-digit-and-rising valuation.

There’s no question about it. Bitcoin’s block chain technology, which may or many not have originated with the National Security Agency, is the future of currency. It’s already proven that it can meet the three functions of money. Bitcoins can be used as a medium of exchange, for a store of value and as a unit of account. Its current speculative volatility diminishes its utility somewhat, making it difficult to say whether Bitcoin will continue to boom or bust, but the technology is here to stay.

In a certain sense, bitcoins are mined the same way the U.S. Federal Reserve creates money: out of thin air. Unlike the Fed, which prints as many dollars as it wants, there’s a limited amount of total coins that can be mined, thanks to the block chain algorithm, which makes bitcoin akin to gold as a store of value. Theoretically, there’s nothing to stop Bitcoin from reaching six figures. It’s an enormous amount of economic power for central bankers and sovereign countries to concede to a private entity, but it may not stay private for long.

Russia and China are already experimenting with cryptocurrencies linked to both gold and petroleum, in much the same way U.S. “petrodollars,” the world’s reserve currency for nearly a half-century, are linked to the price of oil set by OPEC. The United States has not responded kindly to past attempts by nations to purchase oil in anything but U.S. dollars; Iran, Iraq and Libya being prime examples. The potential for drama is high.

Whether Bitcoin turns out to be the sound money utopia long dreamed of by libertarians or a crushing corporate dystopia in which every human interaction is reduced to the mere exchange of government-issued digital credits remains to be seen, but I’m betting on dystopia.

Nowadays, we live by the numbers, enslaved to the algorithms of high-frequency hedge fund managers, who will now factor corporate tax cuts into their formulas as the Fed raises interest rates and phases out its quantitative easing program, which kept the stock market afloat during the Obama years. Can the Masters of the Universe continue to defy economic gravity?

It seems doubtful, but I’m the sort of person who watches NASCAR for the crashes, and Wall Street’s “everything bubble” is long overdue for a correction, according to many economists. If the economy goes south, it will take any good will Trump has earned outside his base with it.

Now 76, is Sen. Bernie Sanders too old to run in 2020?

Die By The Numbers: Socialism In America?

A specter haunts America, as it once haunted Europe 170 years ago: socialism, openly embraced by Sen. Bernie Sanders during the 2016 presidential primaries, whose message resonated with millions of urban, suburban and rural Americans still recovering from the last financial crisis. This large, diverse group includes late baby boomers such as myself, gen-Xers and millennials, whose lives have been disrupted by the transition to the digital economy, what’s being called the Fourth Industrial Revolution.

Tell them the economy is doing fine, and they’ll point out increasing income inequality isn’t reflected in the GDP and stock market figures, which is why the number of homeless people nationwide can increase amid all the supposed prosperity.

Tell me, Shasta County voter, which economy do you live in? The one where all boats are magically rising together as the trickle-down accumulates, or the one with wandering, mentally ill homeless people who defecate on storefronts and porches? If it’s any consolation, the folks in San Francisco face the same issues.

At any rate, it might just be Republicans who let the specter in the door for the November midterms, if in the new year they follow through with threats to cut Social Security and Medicare to balance the 15 percent tax cut they gave their corporate cronies. That’s not going to go over too well with people like the older lady who recently cut my hair in Redding.

It was the week before the Judge Roy Moore and Doug Jones showdown, “Sweet Home Alabama” was playing on the barber shop’s radio as I sat down in the chair. “Oh, we’ll be hearing a lot about Alabama this week,” I quipped. Turned out she was a Roy Moore fan. I humored her, agreeing that it’s 100 percent normal for 30-year-olds to date 14-year-olds in Alabama and that all Democrats are communists. She was all for the Republican tax plan. “What are you gonna do when they try to cut Social Security and Medicare?” I asked.

“They’d never do that,” she said, scissors whizzing away on my sidewalls. “That would be suicide.”

I chuckled to myself. I’d just written a column titled “Suicide By Trump” that basically said the exact same thing. I didn’t bother explaining to her Social Security and Medicare are socialist programs, there was no need to. Such programs are held sacrosanct by a large majority of Americans, and if Republicans turn the raging bull monkey loose to promote cuts to programs he continually promised to defend on the campaign trail, there will be a political price to pay.

Will Democrats seize the opportunity? The Sanders wing of the party appears to be ready, and recently released a detailed autopsy on 2016’s catastrophic loss that’s well worth reading. Whether Sen. Chuck Schumer and Rep. Nancy Pelosi pay any attention to it is another matter entirely.

One hopes that as the Russian collusion investigation winds down due to the fact that there’s no evidence of collusion, Democrats don’t simply switch to investigating the many allegations of sexual harassment against the president, riding the wave of the #MeToo movement. Raging bull monkeys are shameless and it won’t lead to impeachment, but it will create a sideshow distracting the Democratic base from the fact that the party’s corporate donors love those tax cuts, too.

In my dreams, Stillwater Business Park has already been sold to Amazon.

An Imaginary Conversation With Jeff Bezos

Back here at home in Shasta County, I’ve scoured the internet trying to find some major industry we can draw to the region to give the economy a real boost, but there just doesn’t seem to be very many ideas out there, anywhere, for rural America.

So I’ve been forced to use my imagination. In my latest fantasy, I’m a salesman for Stillwater Business Park, and somehow lure Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos from Seattle down to Redding, to convince him to locate Amazon’s second corporate headquarters right here in Shasta County.

Naturally, we meet in a bar, and I get Bezos drunk, so he’s blinded to the surroundings.

“Look, Mr. Bezos, “ I say, “we’re killing ourselves for Amazon out here. We could care less that the big box stores and the malls and all the little mom and pop stores are dying. I recently ordered some motorcycle tires off Amazon, instead of going down to the local shop, and they arrived on my doorstep in 22 hours flat. My UPS driver is an animal! Amazon is the greatest! You owe it to us to locate your second headquarters here.”

I’d omit mentioning the summer heat and the transient crime problem and take him on a tour of Stillwater. “All this is yours, 16 lots, free land, free electricity, free water, all the hook-ups already in place. That’s right, free. We’ll give it to you, free, $40 million in value at least, tax credits too, if only you will come.”

Sure, it’s a fantasy, we’ll never be in that league. The truly sad thing is hundreds of cities across America with much more to give away than us are currently prostituting themselves for the chance to be the chosen location.

Thus the disruption continues.

Mystery solved?

Potential Suspect In Papini Kidnapping Case?

It’s been more than a year since Mountain Gate resident and super mother-of-two Sherri Papini was kidnapped, abused for several weeks and then released, allegedly by two Latinas, who remain at large. The Shasta County Sheriff’s Office and the FBI have so far failed to identify the alleged perpetrators.

Now, there may finally be a break in the case.

Ever since enhanced sketches of the perpetrators were released several months ago, I’ve been fixated on the portrait on the right. Where have I seen that mug before? Even with the bandana, you have to admit, that’s one ugly woman. The kind of ugly you don’t forget. Then it dawned on me. That’s no woman.

It’s a man, baby.

In fact, could it be none other than noted Hollywood character actor Danny Trejo, star of Machete, Machete Kills, Machete Kills in Space and Sons of Anarchy?

I’ll leave it up to the Sheriff and the FBI, with their advanced facial recognition software, to confirm whether or not the sketch is indeed of Mr. Trejo. In the meantime, keep in mind that to some Americans, all Mexicans look alike.

(Writer’s note: The last bit is satire and by no means intended to disparage the Papinis or the ongoing investigation into Sherri’s abductors. For the record, Danny Trejo is Mexican-American.)

R.V. Scheide
R.V. Scheide has been a northern California journalist for more than 20 years. He appreciates your comments and story ideas. He can be emailed at RVScheide@anewscafe.com.
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