I’ve seen a lot of doubting Dr. Anthony Fauci on my social media feeds over the last few days. I mean, A LOT.
Look, I have my differences with Dr. Fauci. As anyone who follows me on Twitter or Facebook is well aware, I’ve (uselessly) advocated for the Swedish model for battling the novel coronavirus, SARS-CoV-2, or COVID-19. I’ve doubted the models, because I thought the models were going to be woefully incapable of predicting anything given the paltry and inaccurate data they were being fed. And guess who else thought the models were going to be terribly, horribly, awfully inaccurate?
Dr. Anthony Fauci. Yep, he’s been quoted more than once as saying that there wasn’t enough data to rely on the models for making policy decisions.
The difference between Dr. Fauci and me is our preferred approach to dealing with the insufficient data. I prefer some caution, but generally keeping life going as normal as possible to minimize the long-term risks to society from an economic collapse. Dr. Fauci prefers to prioritize short-term risk mitigation and letting the economists and sociologists deal with the long-term effects.
That’s it. That’s all it is – a difference of opinion as to which approach is better. History will be the judge as to which approach is better, eventually. After all, we’re still debating which approach was best in combating the original SAR virus a generation ago.
I do not attribute Dr. Fauci’s motivations to anything nefarious. He is not a secret Bilderberger looking to destroy society so that his wealthy buddies can take over everything. He is not a closet Bernie Bro looking to force the government to implement socialism on the down-low. He is not a member of the deep state hoping that the more the administration stumbles, the easier it will be for Joe Biden to sneak into the Oval Office.
He is a very cautious doctor. Nothing more, nothing less, and he’s acting as any very cautious doctor would. You can disagree with him. But assigning some weird conspiracy theory to him isn’t warranted.
I spent the past two weeks worrying aloud that I thought literally slamming the door on the US economic engine was nearsighted, silly and an idiotic move. Sadly, the economic news over the last 72 hours exceeded even my worst projections – along with those of almost every economist. Most figured the US economy would teeter at around 6 or 6.5% unemployment through April, with growth shrinking by about 10% for Q2 after zero growth in Q1. Instead, we now know that we’ve already bled almost 10 million jobs and the unemployment rate has already zoomed to 9.5 or 10%. We also know the economy contracted by about 0.8% in Q1. Along with those (now rosy) projections about how the economy was doing in March, we can also expect the similarly anticipated “V-shaped” recession is about as unattainable as the Ark of the Covenant.
I could sit here and angrily type my frustration that the government decided to shut everything down in the middle of the best economy I had experienced since I was in my mid-20s. (Trust me, I’m tempted!) But as my grandmother loved to say, “There’s no sense crying about the spilled milk. Better to get a mop and clean it up.” So how do we clean up the mess we created?
When I first started writing this yesterday, I planned on including lots of charts and tables, relying on data to drive my points home. But nothing seemed to grab my attention. Then I remembered something when I first started in sales all those decades ago. People rarely make decisions based on data. Oh, we all love to pretend we do. We convince ourselves that we are supremely rational beings. Reality is different: we are emotional creatures first and foremost. When confronted with a decision, even the most clear and concise arguments will get overwhelmed by our strongest emotions: love, hate and fear.
Last week, I wrote “How many people will end up dying from COVID-19 vs. how many people will die from starvation and other diseases of poverty if the economy slips into another massive depression?” That is still the question we should be focused on. People are afraid. They’re afraid of dying. They’re afraid of their parents dying, they’re afraid of their children dying, they’re afraid of their spouses dying. But the narrative spun by both the media and the punditry is that because of COVID-19, the deaths we fear are more immediate. They’ve taken everyone’s fear of death and added the element of immediacy, and then told us the only way to eliminate the immediacy is to wall ourselves off in our homes.
This is as much a political crisis as it is a medical and economic one. As much as the media is distrusted these days (and for good reason), it’s important to note that they are getting their cues from the political class. When the governor of New York is on television daily, declaring he needs tens of thousands of non-existent ventilators or else people are going to start dying in the streets, we sit up and take notice. When the governor of Pennsylvania takes to the airwaves to declare that this is the gravest crisis we have ever faced, people heed his words. When the President of the United States begins a daily briefing by reciting the litany of the dead, we are left with the impression that our lives are about to be snuffed out.
Now, imagine if our political leaders were to go back to the original premise of “which is worse: the deaths that will result from an economic depression plus COVID-19, or just the deaths from COVID-19?” Well, then we still understand the immediate effects of COVID-19, but we’re also asked to consider the long-term effects. Why? Because unless we’re completely irrational our psyche is now forced to realize this is a life-and-death decision no matter which way we decide. People, maybe even people we love, maybe even ourselves, will die. The only question then becomes how to balance the equation so that as few people die as possible.
It’s rare that a moral question can be summed up with an equation, but this one can:
Cnm ⸫ Cm+D
Where C stands for deaths from COVID-19, D for deaths from an economic depression, and m for mediation. What is the relation between those three factors? How do we mitigate the number of deaths in each scenario, and at what point does Cm+D cross to become less than Cnm?
(Sorry. The old data guy couldn’t resist throwing mathematics into the pot.)
We know our current approach is definitely going to result in D, and we also know the human toll of D – in famine, malnutrition, abuse, and exposure – will be dreadful. Here’s what else we’re finding out: countries that shut down even further than the US and then tried to “return to normal” – like China, South Korea and Singapore – have had recurrences of COVID-19 that are even worse than their initial outbreaks. So does that combination mean we’re just screwed? We can’t restart and try to to return to normal without killing more people, and we can’t stay in our current stance without killing more people?
No. Not at all.
The key is we can reopen our businesses, pray they return to solvency and that replacements for those that disappeared come alive quickly, but with a couple of caveats.
- First, we need to understand that normal has changed. Medical science has shown that coronaviruses are, in general, highly mutable: that is, they make up for the fact they are not difficult to destroy by mutating, often quickly, meaning most treatments are not terribly effective. It’s why the “flu shot” is rarely more than 50% effective, and why nobody has yet come up with a cure for the common cold. The mediation efforts we put in place now are likely to remain with us for a long, long time.
- Second, those most at risk from COVID-19 should be isolated from the rest of the population as much as practicable. If you have bad lungs or a compromised immune system, you should stay at home as much as possible. When they fall ill and require hospitalization, they should be moved to separate wards from the remainder of the population.
- Third, the nature of white-collar work should change. I understand many jobs require you to be onsite in order to perform your tasks. Most white-collar work does not. I never understood the resistance to telecommuting; I was doing it 15 years ago and hardly ever “went to the office” for the last 6 years of my career. I think most companies are now realizing that the phobias they had about telecommuting were not well founded and having already put in place the systems that allow remote work, will stick with the model going forward.
- Fourth, the nature of school should change. Just as white-collar workers don’t need to be in a cubicle to do their job, students needn’t be tied to a desk in a building to successfully learn. Yes, there are details that would need to be worked out so far as socialization goes. Yes, it might impose a secondary hardship on families that think both parents need to work. But in an era when school districts across the country are spending billions on trying to maintain crumbling school buildings, buildings often inadequate to meet current needs, continuing with teleschool only makes sense.
Finally, our society needs to accept that some portion of the population will contract the COVID-19 disease each year. It is the nature of the virus. Every time I hear a politician, doctor or commentator talk about “defeating coronavirus,” I cringe. It’s not that eradicating the virus isn’t a worthy goal. It is, however, ridiculous to set that condition as a benchmark for returning to living.
This will probably be the hardest adaptation for our society to make. After all the hype, the shutdowns, and the panic, the idea that this is a new reality – one with yet another dangerous disease – in our midst will be difficult for many to accept. We like to think man is invincible and master of his environment. The idea that nature sometimes refuses to be tamed is a concept that we haven’t truly dealt with for nearly a century.
But if we don’t, we will have destroyed the economy that powers modern civilization. And we will have forgotten that most important of American traits: liberty. A free people do not willingly chain themselves and they are not willingly chained. It’s time we remembered that which makes us strongest and unique, and put those principles into action.
Isn’t that a refreshing scene? There’s nothing quite so calming as a tropical island, with gentle surf caressing a sun swept beach while warm breezes sway the palm fronds in a relaxing rhythm. If you squint carefully, you can almost see the natives roasting a swordfish over a crackling fire and smell the heady aroma of fresh island vegetables.
The island also represents what the medical community wants for America. They want us all to hunker down in our homes in hopes of extinguishing the Wuhan Flu, much as we would be isolated and alone on a South Pacific isle. Numerous government leaders have taken them up on this advice. Sadly, they haven’t given each of us our own tropical paradise. While they aren’t actually calling it an enforced quarantine, the lack of the correct verbiage doesn’t make it any less so. If you think otherwise, try leaving your house after 8pm.
Of course, we’re just starting to deal with the fearmongering that resulted in mass panic, and nearly mass hysteria. The national economy is virtually shut down. The stock market almost collapsed,with losses not seen in nearly a half century. Nobody is certain of the damage done, but estimates range as high as perhaps a 40% reduction in GDP and 30% unemployment, numbers not seen since the Great Depression. Social structures have been irrevocably altered, in ways we cannot begin to understand. The very nature of work has been altered, with more white-collar employees working remotely than ever before. When we do get back to work, to school; when the centers of culture and learning do reopen, we have no idea how the changes that were suddenly thrust upon us will reverberate in the future.
The biggest problem with all of this is that the data about this disease is profoundly unreliable. It has been said there are lies, damned lies and statistics and no common experience drives home that truism more than the current situation. From the beginning, statisticians and epidemiologists were dealing with incomplete (and even falsified) data from China, India, Italy and South Korea. As a result, modeling – which government leaders relied on to predict how deadly the COVID-19 pandemic would be to the general population – has been terribly inaccurate. The noted epidemiologist John Ioannidis recently remarked that “the fatality rate could plausibly lie between one in 100 and one in 2,000 cases.” Mind you, he is merely referring to death rate for those who are infected. Nobody has yet put forward a reliable model for the infection rate, because the data simply doesn’t exist. This is a problem that was anticipated. On March 17, Ioannidis wrote, “we lack reliable evidence on how many people have been infected with SARS-CoV-2 or who continue to become infected. Better information is needed to guide decisions and actions of monumental significance and to monitor their impact.“
“But,” you say, “what about the rapid rise in cases in the United States I keep seeing on the evening news?” Ah, a fair question. Consider: since the United States started testing, it took us 17 days to administer the first 100,000 tests. It took another 11 days to administer the next 100,000. It has taken only 5 days to administer the last 320,000 tests. At current rates, the United States will be testing over 1 million people per week by mid-April. As the number of tests administered increases exponentially, the number of confirmed cases will also increase exponentially. The key evidence to look at is whether the number of positive cases is increasing at the same rate as the number of tests – and that answer is a resounding no. While tests have increased at a logarithmic rate, the increase in positive tests has followed a gentler curve, suggesting that the infection and lethality rates are lower than first anticipated.
One other note on testing: we have only been testing people showing symptoms. Yet the positive test rate is only about 15% of those tested for COVID-19. This is because what the media refers to as the “coronavirus” is actually a mutated form of the same virus that causes the common cold, multiple strains of influenza, SARS and MERS. Those are all corona viruses. As a result, the symptoms of COVID-19 fall into the same generalities as those other diseases: cough, fever, fatigue. That only feeds into the panic, especially as those are also symptoms of hay fever – and large swaths of the nation are entering spring allergy season.
For a doctor, the choice facing the nation is an easy one. They are worried about immediacy, and their immediate concern is to keep everyone alive and healthy. So recommending that everyone stay hunkered down in our houses and apartments is an easy choice. But for the rest of us, the choice is far from being simple. The president, and all 50 governors, have to weigh the importance of preserving lives now vs. the effects of leaving the economy in a downward spiral. How many people will end up dying from COVID-19 vs. how many people will die from starvation and other diseases of poverty if the economy slips into another massive depression? We can roughly extrapolate from available data that around 130,000 people will die from this disease. We cannot make even a haphazard guess about what the death toll from an economic depression that last months or even years might be, because while we know one is inevitable on our current course, we don’t know any of the particulars. We can’t. We’re not fortune tellers.
Without solid data, it is an impossible question to answer. Yet we’re all answering it, from the President to loudmouth Joey you normally meet at the corner tavern. The problem is, both of them – and everyone else – doesn’t really know, no matter what they tell you.
Will this virus be bad for the country? It already is. Will a deflated economy be bad for the country? It already is. But making everything worse is fear and panic. We can’t keep ourselves walled off forever, living in fear of everyone who sneezes. The federal government, between emergency fiscal expenditures and monetary expansion from the Federal Reserve, has already expanded national debt by nearly $8 trillion. That’s about 40% of last year’s GDP, and perhaps 65% of this year’s GDP. In short, that is an unsustainable degree of expenditure. We cannot afford to allow fear to panic us into cowardice, and we cannot afford to to allow fear to bankrupt the nation.
FDR once said “we have nothing to fear but fear itself.” It’s time for the panic to end, and for America to prove that FDR knew what he was talking about.
Over the past few days, mainstream media outlets have had their tongues wagging over the firing of the former Secretary of the Navy, Richard Spencer. “Oh, NO!” they all cry. “Trump has gone too far this time. How dare he interfere with the good order of the military!”
This is almost a repeat of the lionization of Lt. Col. Alexander Vindman, the Army officer who testified that Trump didn’t break any laws but pushed a policy he thoroughly disagreed with. That, to the Lords of Daytime Talk and Morning Joe, is an impeachable offense in and of itself. Why, how dare anyone impugn the opinion of an Army lieutenant colonel!
The media is flabbergasted that rank-and-file military and veterans support the President over these two paragons of military virtue. (Yes, that is a facetious comment, before you ask). The reason is simple and goes to something else the media and their liberal cohort cannot seem to fathom. Every person in the military, regardless of branch or the era in which they served, understands the President is the Commander in Chief. That’s not just an honorary title: his orders are the absolute highest authority. Unless he gives an order that is blatantly illegal, it is the duty of everyone in the military to carry out those orders. Period. No exceptions, no “but why,” no nothing except salute and carry on. If you’re of high enough rank and disagree on a policy basis, then you resign your commission and return to civilian life. If you aren’t of high enough rank, you can voice your disagreement to your superior officer but you still carry out the order.
The media cannot fathom this basic fact. For all their lavish praise on Spencer, the simple fact is he disregarded a direct order from both the Secretary of Defense and the President and was planning on moving ahead to remove a decorated SEAL from their ranks because the government couldn’t successfully court martial him on drummed up charges. It was a fit of pique that led to his decision to ignore the order to stand down, a thought that the President didn’t know what he was doing, an inability to comprehend that the President is, regardless of prior service, the Commander in Chief. For all his blather about how the President not understanding good order within the ranks, the reality is Spencer is the one who ignored the first principle of good order: that no matter how noxious the order may be personally, if it is a legal order from a superior, you obey.
This inability of the media to accept this fact stems from one place – their unwillingness to acknowledge that Donald J. Trump is the rightful President of the United States. Had these same military personnel acted the same way during the previous administration, the same media talkers that profess their undying admiration for Richard Spencer and Alexander Vindman would be demanding they be sent to Ft. Leavenworth for the next 20 years. So don’t be fooled by the media cabal, America. Just as with the Russia hoax and every other nonsense “scandal” that’s come along over the past three years, they are willing to condone all sorts of legally questionable behavior provided it might damage the President.
With all the impeachment insanity going on in Washington (by the way, don’t pretend I didn’t warn you this was what the 2018 midterms were really about) and the President’s predilection for tweeting from the hip, it was virtually preordained that he would tweet something that could get him in deep doo-doo.
To wit: I do not think the phone call with the Ukrainian president contained anything impeachable. Asking an incoming head-of-state to look into the potentially corrupt dealings of American nationals, and to work with American law enforcement on several open investigations, is not illegal. If anything, had the person whose son got a cushy no-show job in a notably corrupt country been named Koch, I guarantee the Democrats would have been all over that like a fly on stink. Nor was placing the transcript of the call on a secure server illegal. Previous administrations also compartmentalized access to Presidential call transcripts – and given all the leaking in the first six months of the administration, it was certainly a prudent decision. Finally, given the questions regarding the as yet unnamed whistleblowers political motivations (which are grave and threaten the entire inquiry), a delay in reporting to Congress was similarly prudent.
Had it been, say, President Obama who undertook any of the above actions, the media and Congress would have shrugged and moved on with their days.
But it was President Trump, the man whom Democrats have been trying to impeach for nearly three years. They tried to claim he was a Russian agent, but that fell apart when the Mueller Report was released. They tried to claim he obstructed justice, but that was so blatantly false that nobody except the most partisan of partisans believed it. Now they’re trying to say he improperly asked (or pressured, they change hourly) a foreign government to investigate a political opponent. Again, examining the facts destroys that accusation rather easily.
Like Bill Clinton 20 years ago, what will do Trump in won’t be the reason the inquiry was opened. They nailed Bill on a technicality, essentially punishing him for being too clever by half and not being able to keep his mouth shut. Trump, likewise, tends to think he’s untouchable. Bill thought he could say anything and get away with it. Trump thinks he can tweet anything and get away with it.
The reality is that once the long knives come out for you, you need to be extremely careful with what you put into the public domain. If cancel culture is willing to go insane over a third-rate actor, they’ll be that much more likely to go nuts over the number one object of their derision. As much as pundits love to tell us America isn’t Twitter (and really, it isn’t), the fact is Twitter does drive news cycles. Feeding that machine with quotes that can land you in real legal jeopardy is not the smartest move you can make.
Which is why I’m asking someone in President Trump’s orbit to grab his phone, change his twitter password and then smash his phone. We know he can’t (or won’t) apply a filter to what he tweets. The danger of him tweeting something that he might consider innocuous that proves to be far more damaging is quite real. Just this past weekend, he sent out two tweets that certainly came right up to the line of crossing the impeachable speech threshold. This was the first:
This one may be the more damaging of the two, although the media seems to not understand why. The US Constitution protects the speech of Senators and Representatives under Article 1, Section 6, what we commonly call the “Speech and Debate Clause.”
…for any Speech or Debate in either House, [Senators and Representatives] shall not be questioned in any other Place.US Constitution, Article I, Section 6, Clause 1
It would be a stretch, but a Congress determined to impeach the President could very well hit Trump with an Article describing this as engaging in publicly unconstitutional behavior. Remember, the law is malleable, and as shown in Gravel (1972) Congressmembers may read into the official record anything they want – even very bad parodies of the President.
The other tweet that walked right up to the line of impeachable speech was this one:
This has quickly been called the “Civil War” tweet by the media and their Democrat masters. Yes, that is certainly not something any President should be voicing publicly. But the danger to Trump personally is that this tweet can be construed as actively courting insurrection. And as we should all remember from our lessons about John Brown, openly courting insurrection is treason. It would mean reading intent into the tweet that (hopefully!) isn’t there, but again… Impeachment in the United States has often been about stretching legal definitions to fit the purpose.
So, please. Don… Ivanka… Jared… Someone, anyone, grab the Presidential Twitter generator and lock it down before he does cross the line.
By now, you’re probably sick and tired of hearing about Robert Mueller. You’ve had your fill of talk about conspiracies and obstruction and Russians and FISA warrants and fake dossiers and impeachment and all the rest of it. But this is ridiculously important stuff, regardless of how tiresome it all is.
We’ve reached a point where Americans as a whole, regardless of political affiliation, do not just distrust our public officials. We disdain them. In most American’s eyes, the people running the government are incompetent boobs. When they aren’t corrupt, they’re of such terrible ability they cannot do the jobs they’ve been given. Bob Mueller had a chance during his farewell announcement to begin dispelling that belief and put a brick into the foundation of public trust.
Instead, he threw up a rock slide that might well ruin the government’s ability to effectively govern.
I doubt St. Bob went into that investigation determined to let the facts fall where they may. He is a career prosecutor, after all, and prosecutors don’t make their bones by exonerating the subjects of their probes. Ideally they would, but this is the real world where prosecutors get promoted based on how many people they put behind bars. Therefore, the idea that he wouldn’t exonerate the subject of the highest profile probe of his career isn’t surprising.
While the law may prevent a sitting president from being indicted, a special prosecutor’s job is to recommend impeachment if the facts demonstrate illegality by the president. Thus, Leon Jaworski and Ken Starr both made such a recommendation as part of their final reports. That Mueller didn’t, and won’t even recommend it as a private citizen, says scads about how damning the evidence is. Does it prove Trump is an egocentric person with poor morals and little grasp of criminal law or ethics? Yes, but we all knew that well before the ’16 election. Character defects don’t rise to the level of impeachable offenses. At least, I hope not, or every president going forward will be subjected to Congress’ version of an anal probe.
So, here we are. Yet another government official has failed to do their job. I’ll let others debate if the reason is because Mueller is corrupt or inept (I’ve seen convincing arguments for both). His cowardice leaves us that much closer to the end of the Republic. Yes, I said cowardice, for when his nation needed him most; needed him to do his job and tell us if the President committed an impeachable offense, he balked. He refused to answer.
He alluded that maybe he did. Or maybe he didn’t. St. Bob doesn’t know, despite previously being the nation’s highest law enforcement officer. Imagine if the local DA came out with a statement that said, “We can’t prove Little Donnie stole the car, but we can’t disprove it, either. So I’m asking the town council to make Little Donnie prove his innocence over an 18 month televised spectacle.” Because that’s what Mueller did.
St. Bob’s cowardice has removed the last piece of bedrock from the Nation’s foundation. It is his decision to turn one the most basic principles of liberty, that you’re innocent until proven guilty, on it’s head. That decision, which effectively bypassed the 5th and 7th amendments, will chip away further at any belief that our government can do anything effectively.
So, good job , Bob. You didn’t do your job, but you sure as hell jobbed the country.
I’ve been sitting here, replaying yesterday morning’s events over in my mind. I’ve been trying to figure out what particular sort of insanity affects the Democratic Party. I mean, let’s face it. If ever there were a Republican President you would think Democrats could have a good working relationship with, it would be a guy who spent more than 40 years being a loyal, card-carrying Democrat. You would think it would be the Republican who fully embraces the concept of Big Government Doing Big Things.
You would certainly think negotiations over spending another $2 trillion on domestic spending wouldn’t be contentious. Yet… Here we are.
The Democrats are so obsessed with forcing this particular President from office that they have induced a near total paralysis on governance. Bills languish. The budget is left unattended. Honest, responsible oversight of government agencies is abandoned for sham investigations and soundbite laden grillings of Cabinet officers.
The overarching question surrounding all of the drama of the last 2+ years is WHY? WHY are they so obsessed with desperately trying to find some sort of criminal offense? WHY are they so obsessed with blocking every proposal, even ones these same legislators supported in the past? WHY are they so obsessed with blowing every little rumor into a “constitutional crisis” that they’ve elevated people they once shunned (Michael Avenatti, Jeff Flake, James Comey, etc.) into national spokespeople for the DNC? WHY are they so obsessed with denying him any sort of triumph they were willing to resort to character assassination of a Supreme Court justice?
There are a few plausible answers to the question.
- Donald Trump had the temerity to run against Saint Hillary – and won: This possibility immediately rises to the top of the list. Democrats fully anticipated that Hillary Clinton was going to be elected as the 45th President of the United States. They had practically ordered a crown for her. To ensure that Hillary made it, they cleared the primary field of anyone they anticipated might actually challenge her in 2016. Yes, Bernie Sanders put up a spirited fight. But the DNC and Democrat establishment had almost no control over Bernie, and then they strong-armed him into supporting her before their convention. They spoon fed her debate questions, engaged in some shady campaign financing, and did everything they could to push her over the finish line. Then, despite every pundit and opinion poll, Donald Trump swooped in on election night and “stole” her coronation.
- Donald Trump represents those Gawd awful, backwards, deplorable people who bitterly cling to their guns and religion: Look, it isn’t a big secret that the country’s essential divide isn’t between “haves” and “have-nots.” It isn’t between liberals and conservatives. It is that, perhaps, we are the most geographically divided since before the Civil War. There are the “Coastal Elites” and “Flyover Country,” and politically, culturally and economically, those regions are quickly becoming separate nations within a country. Democrats tend to populate the nation of Coastal Elite and Republicans, Flyover Country. Democrats were certain that Barack Obama’s two terms marked the demise of the despised Bitter Clingers in Flyover Country. Then Donald Trump not only returned the Bitter Clingers of Flyover Country to prominence, but showed the Democrats that there are a quite a few Deplorables living in their midst. The Democrats are still reeling from that revelation.
- Donald Trump is the only non-politician who knows where everyone in DC’s skeletons are buried: The only thing that really scares a Washington insider is the realization that someone who isn’t one of them, but has done tons of business with them, is now going to assume the reins of power. Everyone knows Donald Trump has done some shady business in the past. He made his fortune developing real estate in New York and Atlantic City, after all. Likewise, everyone knows 99.9% of those in Washington are corrupt. The reason major scandals didn’t rock the Capital over the last 40 years is that everyone always knew where everyone hid the bodies. Now, we have a President where virtually nobody knows where he’s hid his skeletons – but whose team knows where all the DC power players have theirs hidden. The realization that at any time, he can drop the political equivalent of a nuclear bomb on the governing establishment and they cannot reply in kind has them frightened and angry. Just like any other frightened, angry animal who’s been cornered, they’re lashing out.
- All of the above: This one makes the most sense. Any of the previous three possibilities would explain a certain level of partisan vitriol, but nothing on the scale we’re witnessing. But destroying their dreams of having a woman president that epitomizes everything Democrats believe in culturally and politically, and who was so much one of them they could trace here DC roots back the Nixon investigations, by upending their world view and forcing them to deal with a part of the population they would rather enslave and by holding a virtual sword of Damocles over everything Washington, Donald Trump has earned their undying, distorted, absolute hatred.
So, how do the rest of us combat this? By getting out next November and doing the one thing we can: voting for Donald J. Trump and every down ballot Republican. No, it won’t make the Democrats any less crazy. One of the things you can’t do with a demented person (or political party) is force them to confront their delusions. But you can deny them the ability to act on them. That, my friends, is what we must do.
In case you were off enjoying yourself this past weekend (or dodging tornadoes in Kansas), this tweet from Rep. Justin Amash (R-MI) set the political world on fire:
You can read the full thread on Twitter and I suggest you do just that, rather than listen to the dozens of talking heads that populate the airwaves. They have quickly assumed their usual fighting stances. For the Trumpsters, Amash is a traitor to the cause, giving cover to the most corrupt deep state coup in history. To the Resistance, Amash is a hero, speaking the truth about the most corrupt administration since King George III.
Further down in his thread, Amash hints at this response to his conclusions:
Indeed, when you read the full thread, it doesn’t take a great deal of imagination to understand why Amash reached the conclusions he did. To his reasoning, Barr is covering for presidential misdeeds out of partisan fervor. Whether those misdeeds are, in fact, “high crimes and misdemeanors” is not the matter for debate. Rather, it is that they reveal a pattern of “otherwise dishonorable conduct.”
Anyone who has paid attention to Justin Amash’s career shouldn’t be surprised by any of this. He has always been the most reluctant of Republicans; a man who hoped to bring the GOP closer to his libertarian inclinations than the conservative bent of the party when he was first elected to Congress. Based on his past, this was the only conclusion Amash could come to that is consistent to his principles.
While I disagree with his conclusion, I have to respect the man for being true to who he is. I heard one of those talking heads say something to the effect of Amash is angling to switch to being a Democrat, as he has a primary challenger and wants to avoid a primary election fight. While nothing in politics would surprise me these days, that would come close. Amash is a small “l” libertarian. While many of his views are not in step with the typical GOP voter, the idea he is more aligned to the party of Big Government is ludicrous.
I would argue that while some find his views on some subjects seem to be political contrivances, they are anything but. It’s just that as a libertarian, his political views are not easy to pigeonhole. In this case, he takes umbrage with the fact that there is a subset of the body politic that deifies President Trump. Amash sees danger with this, in that such fealty to an individual can cause that subset to willingly overlook corrupt practices by a Chief Executive. But such slavish devotion to a sitting President is not an impeachable offense of that President. If it were, then there are at least a dozen past Presidents who were worthy of impeachment, from Obama, through Reagan, Kennedy, FDR and so on, all the way back to Washington. Amash correctly identifies a problem with politics, in that elections are rarely more than popularity contests of personalities. His solution, however, would paralyze our system of government every time the opposition party assumes control of the House of Representatives.
Regardless of how misguided he might be on this issue, I can’t help but wish we had more politicians who were true to their ideals. Yes, it has put Justin Amash outside the political mainstream. But if that is the only offense you can take with him, then he’s doing a better job than 95% of those in the House today.
By now, you’re certainly aware President Trump raised the tariffs the US government charges on a wide range of Chinese goods. This came primarily as a result of Chinese recalcitrance in the most recent trade negotiation.
Certainly, you’re familiar with the free trade arguments against tariffs. Generally speaking, these arguments are correct. A tariff raises the cost of those goods for the importing distributor. Those increased coast are then passed on to the consumer. Not only that, but in states that charge sales tax, the increased price that comes from the tariff also results in a higher sales tax. So the net effect is not unlike a VAT, a tax that gets compounded at various stages and eventually adds up to much higher costs for the consumer.
Think of it this way: Maytag imports a $300 washing machine from China. The new 25% tariff increases that COG to $375. Maytag, in order to sustain it’s business, sells it to Lowe’s with a 10% mark-up, so Lowe’s cost for the washing machine is $412.50. Lowe’s the sells it the consumer with the standard 25% markup found on retail hard goods, so it costs you $515 to purchase it. Only that isn’t your final cost. The state charges 6.5% sales tax, so your final purchase price comes to $548.48 – of which $108.48 is taxes.
That’s a $69.23 increase in cost to you, of which $49.23 is in taxes. Or if you prefer, that 25% tariff actually resulted in a 83% increase in the amount of tax you paid on your brand new washing machine.
So, increasing tariffs is obviously increasing the burden to the consumer. It is even a more regressive form of taxation than an ordinary sales tax. Because it is charged at the point of import, there is a downstream effect of cumulative price increases, until the final price for the consumer is artificially increased to the point of near unaffordability. So, there can be no doubt that in a nation that relies on consumer spending for economic growth, increasing tariffs is going to result in a downturn in at least the rate of growth.
So why would we slide back into a mercantilist trade policy, when global prosperity has demonstrated that reducing trade barriers has lifted everyone’s standard of iving?
According to the President, it is a result of an ever expanding trade deficit with China. Frankly, that is hardly a problem. It is a result of the fact that Chinese workers earn less than their American counterparts, that property and building costs are lower and there are fewer regulatory hurdles to running a factory. Tariffs might reduce the trade deficit slightly, but they won’t send companies fleeing China for the beautiful environs of Akron. It might make a few move to someplace like Vietnam or Indonesia. So what then, do we raise tariffs on imports from those countries, too?
Our real trade problem as regards the People’s Republic of China is not a deficit of goods. Rather, it is their own mercantilist policies that require technology transfers and encourage software piracy. The question becomes, are tariffs the right weapon to deploy to combat those policies?
Probably not. For starters, the basic memory chip devised by the American company Intel is the gold standard in solid state memory, But the Qualcomm copy is nearly as good and about half the price. If you’re unfamiliar with these little pieces of silicon, they can be found in everything from your $9.99 alarm clock to your $65,000 Mercedes. Qualcomm exports those chips to companies all around the world. Trying to target Qualcomm RAM and ROM chips with punitive tariffs would, quite literally, mean raising tariffs on thousands of products coming from all around the world.
Add into that headache that Qualcomm doesn’t just build those chips in China. They also build them here, in a factory in San Diego, as well some 28 other countries. Trying to track where each chip was built, where it was sent, and whether that particular chip was then imported into the US is impossible. And this is just one product from one company.
So, tariffs are an ineffective tool when dealing with China’s policy of enforced technology theft. Are there any other tools at our disposal? Well, there is the WTO, but it has proven effectively useless in handling the problem. There is diplomacy, but gathering enough nations together willing to take on these policies has proven almost impossible. Even the TPP, championed by the Obama administration and thankfully scrapped by the Trump admin, ignored the problem outright.
So what’s left? As much as I hate to say it, it might be simply barring any American technology company from doing any business in China whatsoever. I’m certain that adopting that particular stance would draw howls from not only the tech companies but a host of other interests. Additionally, it’s naive to think China wouldn’t retaliate in some fashion, perhaps by doing something as extreme as charging an export fee on any goods headed to the US.
It would mark one hell of an escalation in what has been, to now, a pretty mild trade war. As much as I hate the idea of imposing such rigid barriers to trade, the reality is that China has for decades been getting away with a very mercantilist approach to technology. It might be time to fight fire with fire.
There’s been a slowly stirring undercurrent in the world of social media for some time – the outright banning of some people, or the even more insidious “shadow bans’ others have experienced. This received even more attention last week when Facebook announced it was removing several prominent accounts. The reason those accounts were removed wasn’t for any reason other than the things they posted offended the politically correct zeitgeist.
“First they came for the socialists, and I did not speak out—because I was not a socialist.Martin Niemoeller
“Then they came for the trade unionists, and I did not speak out— because I was not a trade unionist.
“Then they came for the Jews, and I did not speak out—because I was not a Jew.
“Then they came for me—and there was no one left to speak for me.”
I have nothing in common with Louis Farrakhan, Paul Joseph Watson or Alex Jones. Farrakhan is a virulent anti-semite, Jones a crackpot conspiracy theorist and Watson a social media muckraker. The views of Farrakhan and Jones are abhorrent to me. As for Watson, I doubt the man has ever had an original thought. His principle thought crime seems to be that he amplifies some of the most ridiculous and salacious content to be found on the internet.
But even if you disagree with Farrakhan’s contention that Jews are the root of all evil, with Jones belief that Sandy Hook was a government plot, or with Watson’s desire to monetize the PizzaGate nonsense, you should still be concerned with Silicon Valley’s determination that somehow their opinions are less deserving to be aired than say, Alyssa Milano’s endless screeds about the world ending unless we adopt full-blown SJW socialism. Why? See the quote referenced above.
I doubt there are few beliefs that are more ingrained into our collective soul as the belief in the freedom of speech. Notice I did not say freedom of the press, which today seems to be some pundits preferred alternative to allowing the rabble to speak their minds. The first amendment of our Constitution places freedom of speech ahead of freedom of the press. We’ve accepted (somewhat begrudgingly) that there are some very limited restrictions on that freedom. You can’t run into a crowded theater and yell “Fire” if there isn’t a fire. You can’t knowingly disparage a private citizen in public, seeking to to ruin their lives, without facing potential civil and criminal charges. But that’s about it. Otherwise, our society says if you feel the need to say something, you get to say something.
Throughout our history, our nation has gone to extreme lengths to ensure we can say what we want, when we want. This protection has extended to all forms of speech. Be it Nazi’s marching in Skokie, IL or artists defacing religious symbols, we’ve let speech that offended our collective sensibilities stand. We let these things be, because we understood taking away one man’s (or group’s) freedom of speech is taking it away from all of us.
I fully understand the hesitation in enforcing these standards on the social media giants. I realize they are private companies and under current law, exempt from regulation over what content they carry and to whom they transmit that content. The libertarian in me wishes that this could remain the case.
Early on in American life, the concept of the “soapbox” was created. This was the ability of any person to grab a literal soapbox, head down to the town square, stand atop said soapbox and shout their fool head off about whatever subject prompted them to want to shout their fool head off. We don’t have town squares anymore, at least not in the sense of a public space that we all pass through at least once a day, and maybe stop for a while to chat with friends, do some window shopping, read the news, and so on.
But do you know what we’ve created as the modern equivalent of a public space that we all pass through at least once a day, and maybe stop for a while to chat with friends, do some window shopping, read the news, and so on? Yep. Social media.
From early on in American life, a person with a message they considered important enough to get out into the public sphere could pay a printer to print up a few thousand copies of a pamphlet. If one printer wouldn’t do it, there were others who would. Some of the greatest political treatises of the young country were created in this way. Thomas Paine’s Common Sense may be the famous of these, but right through the late 20th century the political pamphlet was an essential method of getting your views widely distributed. (I still have a copy of one I had researched for an old college paper, entitled “How to Get Rich! Written for Poor Men, and Young Beginners of Life, by their Affectionate Friend Uncle Ben, Who Was Once in Both These Conditions, but is Now in Neither” that was written in 1871).
Today, while that method might still be available, it has neither the immediacy nor reach of social media.
As mentioned, I understand the reluctance of conservatives to change the nature of social media companies to prevent them from censoring content. Were they, in fact, truly content independent information funnels I would agree with that assessment. But anyone who’s observed their censorious actions over the past 36 months has to have realized by now that they are neither independent nor true information pipes. Their political biases show strongly in their actions. Not that I have a problem with political bias in publication. After all, there is a reason I read both the Daily Beast and the Daily Caller: I know before I ever open either site, the stories I read will have a certain political slant. But if the social media platforms we all use only have one political slant, isn’t that a dangerous form of censorship? Is that not unlike our forebears deciding only certain views could be aired from atop that soapbox?
Another of the arguments I’ve heard is that since these are free services, we are not paying customers and therefore have no say over how they run their businesses. This is about as poorly informed an argument as you could make. As has come to light ever since the Cambridge Analytica fiasco was exposed a year ago is that while we may not pay a monthly fee to the social media juggernauts, that is only because they have something far more valuable of ours. They have the ability to sell our information, our likes, our dislikes, our friends, where we’ve traveled, even our entertainment preferences, to the highest bidder. Or to multiple bidders, if they choose. It’s all right there in those EULA’s nobody ever reads before clicking “ok.” I would tell anyone who says they don’t pay a social media company any sort of fee they’re not only wrong – they paid them tens of thousands of dollars before they created their first post. In fact, you could say I pay several publishers (social media) to print and distribute my modern pamphlet (this blog).
Finally, there is the argument that we do not regulate any other media company in such a manner. The Washington Post, for instance, is free to only air virulent anti-Trump opinions. But therein lies the rub: are companies like Facebook and Twitter only media content companies, existing to compete with other media content companies? Or are they more like akin to media distribution companies, which are prohibited from excluding content (with certain narrow exceptions)?
First, let’s examine the real-world business of social media. Yes, there are competitors to Facebook and Twitter. But those two companies account for over 80% of global traffic. After all, the key to being a “social” media company is the social part. The entire business is predicated on being a near monopoly. You go there because your friends, acquaintances and family are there. Sure, I could get together with a couple of friends, raise a few billion dollars and try to start my own social media company. But unless I could compel people to move en masse from Facebook or Twitter to my platform, I would either be out of business (or if I had developed enough “cool” features, swallowed by one of them).
Next, let’s look at their own mission statements. Facebook aims to, “Give people the power to build community and bring the world closer together.” What Twitter wants “is to give everyone the power to create and share ideas and information instantly without barriers.” Remember our Town Square analogy? It looks as though both social media giants are fully on board with that concept, in word if not in deed.
And that, my friends, should be enough to nail this down. By their own mission statements, these are not media creation companies. They are media distribution companies. Therefore, they should be classified as such – and their censorship should end immediately.
The alternative is wonder which of us will be the socialist, the unionist and the Jew to some future philosopher.