Posts Tagged ‘economy’

WHAT NOW IN A DIVIDED AMERICA?

November 7, 2020

It’s over—sort of. What have we learned? Right now there’s a lot of smoke indicating election fraud but pending fire. It’s clear that state election laws regarding monitoring were ignored in some blue cities. It’s clear that it’s odd that Biden’s margins in those cities were high compared to other blue cities such as New York and Miami making them suspicious statistical anomalies. It’s less clear if the claims are true that Biden had a vertical overnight climb in votes in certain contested locales with hundreds of thousands of ballots appearing overnight only in his name (the Tweets supporting this have been deleted, no surprise there). It’s also not clear if the amount of voter fraud did reach, or can be proven to have reached levels that fall into the margin of error that would invalidate a Biden victory. I predict that after the dust of the litigation settles, the court(s) will not invalidate the election. A Biden presidency will be seen by many on the Right and some on the Left as illegitimate, just as many Democrats felt about the Trump presidency, although with perhaps more than manufactured reasons for the allegation.

I’d posited that the election would be a referendum on the current state of our values. The good news is that we haven’t lost America, yet. We’re an evenly divided nation. Regarding values, we may even be faring better when one accounts for those who’ve simply been duped. This is reflected in the unexpected small Republicans gain in the House and the small (hopefully) retained majority in the Senate,with some voters splitting their tickets. It is also noteworthy that Trump gained votes in the black and Latino communities. Enough Democrats turned were turned off by the sharp lurch leftward of the party that they wanted to limit its power, underscored by the reported dissension within the party ranks following the election results.

Biden now has a binary choice. He can move to a more moderate position, like Bill Clinton did, or he can continue to support the far left positions he’s been espousing and incorporating into his platform (before Harris takes over). With a Republican majority in the Senate, the more radical path will be made more difficult, requiring robust use of the “pen and phone.”A lot of damage can be done with executive orders, as we’ve seen. However, in the post-Trump era of conservative judicial appointments, these executive decrees will hopefully be checked by equally robust litigation. If the Democrats continue to acquiesce to radical left demands I think they will continue to bleed members. A road back to a former detente is possible, but if the policies and cultural shifts remain on the present trajectory, I see at best a bifid country with leftist and conservative businesses, social media, and schools, an unsustainable situation. At worst, I see violence or secession.

On the pandemic front, I see no change. The people will continue to mask and socially isolate as they see fit, the virus will do what it does despite our efforts, and a vaccine will hopefully suppress or eradicate it in time. Biden may choose to exhort the states to lock down again. If so, the economy will suffer. The schools will probably reopen now that the election is over. I can’t predict if the alarmism will increase (since fear is a useful political tool to support power) or decrease to support the beneficence and efficacy of the new, non-Trump president. In any case, as the pandemic resolves, Biden and team will surely take full credit.

On the economic front, both parties overspend, but the Democrats extol and double down on the practice as a perceived “solution” while simultaneously favoring government over the private sector in terms of taxation and regulation, so we can expect the vigorous recovery we’re experiencing to be blunted or critically wounded.

On the foreign affairs front, Obama’s former Defense Secretary Robert Gates said of Biden, “I think he has been wrong on nearly every major foreign policy and national security issue over the past four decades.” Biden has followed a policy of appeasement toward Iran; if he returns to that I expect to see destabilization in the region. The “October surprise” of the Biden corruption with respect to China sounds political and conspiratorial. But when you look at the facts and the primary data being used to support them, the concern that Biden might be compromised is very real (and a friend who attended at least one meeting that included Hunter Biden confirmed this to me). Had the full electorate had the benefit of clear, unbiased reporting, I believe the presidential outcome would have been different. Now it’s unclear if the investigation will just be buried, like with Hillary, or will come back to bury him, like Nixon.

The election results show America isn’t gone, but divided. We’re a big enough country for differences; in fact, they’re our strength, and keep us centered, when not commandeered by extreme elements. The road back to equilibrium, if possible, could be peaceful, violent or a dead end. Stay tuned.

AN OPEN LETTER TO THE UNDECIDED

July 6, 2020

Dear Voter:

A very small group of American citizens will be determining the fate of the nation in 4 months. You are one of them. This is not hyperbole. The signs of a terrible rent in the fabric of our society are everywhere. The Democrats have decided to go with the far left version of America, that of a systemically racist nation, built on the backs of slaves, rotten at its core, and in need of fundamental change. The Republicans, weakly in my opinion, support the notion of a sinful past overcome on the back of a nation built on the principles of God-given rights, equal opportunity for all, and a limited government of, by and for a people entitled to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.

As concerning as the riots, statue disfiguration and destruction, killings, and isolation, with the consent of the governing, by activists of a portion of a major American city are, I see signs of things even more disturbing. This is not tantamount to the Awakening in the ‘60s and is not a “one-off” or a blip, but a sea change. There has been wholesale acceptance of the Democrat narrative by the major corporations, the most recent evidence being the removal by Nike, long a fan of the far left, of all products with the Redskins logo, until the team name is changed. As Ben Shapiro, a conservative commentator points out, conservative thought is now counter-culture. Some of you may think this is good. But as corporate actions indicate, this is just a warning shot of the power about to be exerted over your lives. The cultural shift is not limited to race relations. A new video shows BLM marchers protesting; not decrying police brutality, but Israel, as child-killers. But the most disturbing indicator to me is the story of Mark and Patricia McCloskey, the armed St. Luis, MO couple that received national attention for defending their home from angry BLM protesters that entered a private, gated community, possibly forcefully (narratives vary). Fortunately, no shots were fired. The Left’s take on the incident sarcastically complains that it doesn’t matter that the protesters were heading to the Mayor’s house, what matters is that the McCloskeys were afraid— a “boo-hoo” criticism coming, ironically, from a member of the group that invented the idea of feelings over facts and “safe spaces.” Interviews with McCloskey suggest the event was not the benign encounter portrayed by left-leaning sources, and the couple appear to be credible, their account buttressed by the chilling aftermath of multiple death threats, an unreturned 911 call, and multiple private security firms refusing to provide service to the frightened couple. One even recommended that they abandon their home and leave it to be burned. Regardless of your personal take on the incident, what is clear is that the appeasement of violence and abdication of responsibility by our elected officials in concert with the withdrawal of the police (in the wake of their unwarranted wholesale demonization), has led to a mindset that will only lead to more of the same, and eventual injury and death.

I know the Republicans are weak. I know Trump can often be boorish, non-presidential, egotistical, and has a history of sexual immorality. I know you’ve heard ad nauseum the far left descriptions, adopted by the activist media as gospel, of Trump being a racist Nazi myogynist who is mentally incompetent. If you’re undecided, it means you haven’t completely bought the hyperbole. At this stage of devolution, I don’t know that Trump, or anyone for that matter, can patch the social rent, or even the ailing, COVID-ridden economy. I do know that changing leadership to a party that has adopted a far left agenda that is dividing the country with a narrative that is demonstrably false, and is catalyzing the burning down of the country both literally and figuratively, will only hasten its demise. Changing from a president who has proven track record of energizing the economy to one that will assuredly adopt the failed economic policies of more aggressive and wanton spending and taxing at a time of maximal financial distress is like following lemmings over a cliff.

So I ask you to look closely at what is unfolding, and realize that none of us is immune. I implore you to hold your nose if you must and give the current leadership 4 more years. We may still hemorrhage, with an uncertain prognosis, but it’s better than a head shot, and maybe we’ll buy enough time to locate a tourniquet in the interim.

Or, to buy a gun.

Sincerely,

A truly frightened conservative

PERCEPTION AND TRUMP’S CHANCES IN A POST-COVID WORLD

April 30, 2020

A left-leaning friend (yes, some still talk to me) sent me an article citing the evidence that Trump is sun-downing politically. It references the polls that almost universally favor Biden over Trump in the upcoming election, and the real possibility of a spill-over of fortunes to the Senate. While polls (like climate and COVID models) can be completely misleading (witness the 2016 election), the ubiquity of the results raises real questions as to whether the president, and the Republican party, can remain in power.

As is always the case, perception, rather than reality, will rule the day. There’s no question that Trump himself, with the help of derangement-fueled media bias, has sorely, and potentially fatally damaged his chances. It appears that the more he’s in front of the camera, the more opportunity for a faux pas. But let’s look at both sides of the issue.

In the pre-COVID world Trump was able to offset his missteps, while frequent, with large, well-attended rallies populated by enthusiastic fans (the 30% alluded to in my prior rant) which also aided in generating campaign funds, and, according to some political pundits, served to convert a silent cadre of independents. This, of course, no longer exists. Trump’s attempt to get the daily pressers to do double duty, as informer/leader-in-chief and campaigner, seems to have backfired. The main selling point of his campaign, the ballooning economy, has deflated with a prick of the corona virus. So right now it’s Trump versus Trump, and Trump is losing. The question is, will the American public be able to see past this to the other side? The opponent, Biden, is older, has demonstrated on multiple occasions signs of early cognitive failure, likely dementia, and has tracked so far left he’s not close to the man he was. There are allegations of sexual impropriety that will likely never be proved, and will be suppressed by the “mainstream” media but highlighted by the Trump campaign. Ditto for improprieties related to Ukraine and his son Hunter. He is supported by a party that not only engages in policies that favor big government, more regulations, and more debt and are demonstrably antithetical to the business community, while extolling these policies as solutions. The Republican party engages in these same policies, to a lesser extent, while decrying them, and succeeded in at least reducing regulations under the Trump administration.

I’ve never been of the mind that our fiscal trajectory is sustainable, even pre-COVID and post-Trump. I felt his interventions were necessary but insufficient to right the ship, and the robust surge in our economic fortunes would peter, kind of like the course of the virus itself. You don’t assure long-term economic prosperity by buying it with ever-increasing debt and promises of unmet entitlements left to future generations to sort out, if possible. To me, it appeared that the economy was a sick patient given the appearance of robust health with the use of adrenaline and steroids. The idea of fiscal austerity as being essential to continued liberty, a cornerstone of our Founding Fathers’ principles, had fallen by the wayside. Now, on top of all this we have the stress of an acute infection, real and metaphorical as it relates to the economy, piling unprecedented acute debt on the chronic. In the past, we dealt with this by manipulating interest rates, printing money, borrowing, and taxes. Now, interest rates are already low, money is being printed during a contracting rather than an expanding economy, we’ve already borrowed more than we should, much from our enemy, China, and the engine for generating taxes, fueled by rampant and now anemic consumerism, is sputtering now and for an indefinite future. Meanwhile, untold numbers of people who supported the boom with their buying are without sufficient cash reserves for an emergency, or their retirement nest egg, much less wholesale consumerism.

I don’t know that leaders of either party are up to the task of dealing with this crisis, but the choice is clear: Does the country want to change leadership on the basis of an act of God that is decimating the economy, from a man and a party that has demonstrated the ability to rejuvenate the economy at least in the short term, to a man and a party that, based on their expressed policy preferences, can only accelerate economic decline? It will depend on external events but also on how Biden is perceived, if and when the wraps are taken off him. I can’t imagine he’ll do well in a face-to-face debate; expect the Democrats to try and limit his exposure. It also depends on how many more missteps Trump makes, and the course of the virus and economy, both not presently working in his favor. And it depends on how effectively the media can paint Trump as evil, stupid, and racist, with many of these aspersions already “baked in the cake,” as it were.

Perception is everything.

COVID-19: WHERE DO WE STAND NOW?

April 27, 2020

It’s been a time of daily bad news, daily pressers with presidential blather, and distracting back-and-forth that misses the mark, culminating in a moratorium by the president (after a well-intentioned but mind-numbingly ignorant remark about COVID treatment he later tried to characterize as “sarcastic”) at the behest of his advisors (if that’s a thing). To understand where we’re at, we have to look back on the path we’ve trodden. A few voices began to sound an alarm in January, perhaps a little earlier. The most paranoid of the experts warned of a potential catastrophe. Most of us paid minimal attention to an apparent distant threat; we’d seen it before. Life went on as usual. Subsequently, the president pooh-poohed the threat as trivial. No one, right or left, seemed to care much, with even his opponents recommending unfettered socialization and the avoidance of “xenophobia.” A short time later, still minimizing the threat, Trump nevertheless closed immigration to Chinese nationals, then Europe. As expected, his opponents decried the moves. Trump, unable to stage campaign rallies, and now in the midst of a global crisis, decided that daily briefings were in order, and used them for dual purpose: to inform the public and to campaign, by extolling his performance. As usual, it was a mixed bag. He did some things right, some things not so right, and exaggerated, misspoke and at times lied, as all politicians do, but in the typical immature and hyperbolic Trumpian fashion. The “mainstream media,” heavily left-leaning and a mirror of Trump, presented some reasonably critical questions but also frequently felt compelled to bait him, as usual. Trump, as usual trolled them back. Business as usual is not good during an existential threat. The TDS on both sides increased exponentially, along with the virus.

Trump, never one to learn from his political missteps, more recently began downplaying the probability of a second wave of infection, at odds with some of his medical advisors. My opinion, for what it’s worth, is that he’d been intentionally promoting a doggedly optimistic viewpoint, both for perceived morale-boosting and for personal/political gain, and, as usual, overplayed his hand. However, it’s important to never lose sight of the fact that experts, while clearly more expert than Trump with regard to medical matters, are often wrong (and have thus far promoted inadequate but improving models that overestimated the damage). It’s also important to recognize that there is little cost to the doomsayer: If correct, they’re in an “I told you so” position, and if wrong, they can seek refuge in a “Thank God, you can never be too cautious” bunker. On the other hand, the optimist is sticking his neck out if things go south. It’s also easy, though intellectually dishonest, to hide behind an “if even one life is saved…” rubric, as demonstrated daily by NY Governor Cuomo.

An adult must look at all the variables and risk when determining policy. This means not only how many additional lives might be lost by loosening restrictions (a rough guess, at best), but what the damage will be with continued extreme social distancing and economic near-standstill. People forget (or never recognized) that, despite an apparently booming economy, there was an ailing patient on steroids underneath. Unfettered and growing debt, papered over by printing, borrowing, and rampant consumerism at the expense of saving, with ongoing unpaid-for entitlements pushed forward to future generations, were a third rail that neither side, left or right, would touch. Now, on top of that we’re piling a huge additional debt. What’s worse, we’re doing it in an environment where there’s little hope for short- or intermediate-term tax generation to alleviate it. If the virus disappeared tomorrow, there would still be indeterminate delays in the economic recovery related to ongoing social distancing and natural human fears that will impact sectors of the economy for months or years, and some likely forever. So, in my mind, the reasonable position is that the recession is already baked-in. The only question is whether we can avoid another Great Depression.

This is a rather gloomy forecast, and while doomsaying, as I mentioned, is always a safer bet, it does not win friends (unless you’re invested in the climate change issue, but that’s another story). People want to seek out people who give them hope, and (believable) optimism. In fairness, there are still a lot of people (Congressman Dan Crenshaw is one I heard recently) who believe we’ll have a vigorous bounce-back). I, however, can only offer a glimmer: If, perhaps, we stop focusing on every inane thing the president and the press say, step back and look at the big picture, and adjust policy accordingly, we may be able to keep the Great Recession from deepening to a depression. A depression isn’t just about money and Wall Street. It’d about quality of life, purpose, and the lives all over the globe that will certainly be lost if we retreat to the economic state of the 1960s or earlier. It behooves us to attempt to eschew becoming one ot the 30% that defend Trump at all costs, the 30% that attack him no matter what he says and does, and hang out with the remaining 40%, likely the only adults left in the room.

Our lives depend on it.

THE ONGOING BATTLE RE LIVES VERSUS LIVELIHOOD

April 20, 2020

I’ve been forwarded material decrying the reaction to COVID as a political “hoax,” with deleterious outcomes far below that predicted by the models and reportage aimed at magnifying the risk, in the name of consolidating power and undermining Trump. I think we need to turn a sober eye on these accusations.

It is true the models were poor, and in retrospect, the evidence is suggesting that the response was more overreaching than warranted. It is also true that some politicos have used the crisis to exercise unbridled and sometimes unwarranted power (the Michigan governor being the most recent and extreme example of this). It’s also true the media has hyped the situation by showing the most extreme examples (which catch the most eyeballs), but this is always the case. The left is using the pandemic to try to unseat Trump (big surprise) just as they’ve been using every incident, big or small, real or unreal, since he took office. Do I believe this is an “evil genius” attempt to consolidate power? No, I don’t.

First, I don’t think the people we elect to harass…I mean govern us are any smarter, in the aggregate, than the rest of us. Seeing the devastation in Italy and Spain, and then in New York, it doesn’t surprise me that alarm ruled the day amidst visions of a “worst case scenario” and supportive, though now known to be poorly predictive, models. Underreacting would also cost much more than overreacting politically, and potentially in terms of lives lost (although if the economy flounders badly and long enough, the cure may indeed turn out to be worse than the disease). Just as I don’t feel Trump is either a moron or playing 3-D chess, I don’t think the progressives are playing a long game in which pursuing policies that further cripple the economy as the route to new found power or their vaunted “transformation” of America, though I have no doubt they’ll continue to use the economic fallout to their political advantage if they can (“never let a good disaster go to waste”).

One of the theories for California’s more benign course in this pandemic than places like New York despite its being a destination for Chinese nationals is hidden herd immunity from earlier exposure. There are some reports of and undiagnosed flu-like illness having made the rounds sometime in November or December. This theory is yet to be proved. However, we should keep in mind that California and other parts of the country that have done relatively well thus far may have benefited from the rather extreme social isolation. I know, it’s said that the models have already factored that in and still grossly overestimated the carnage. I’m not a statistician, but what if the models failed because they underestimated the positive effects of social isolation?

As a retired physician, reading the first-person accounts of nurses and doctors in the hardest hit hospitals, it’s hard for me to conclude that this is “just another flu.” I think the potential for a larger disaster loomed great with the knowledge we had at the outset, and I don’t fault the overreaction as many now perceive it, in hindsight. Still, if we don’t rapidly adjust our policies in the light of more recent knowledge and prevent a major economic disaster (if even possible at this point), I’m not willing to be as forgiving. I also don’t forgive the lack of preparation, on both the state and federal levels, past and present, for an eventuality that was clearly predictable.

Lastly, the crisis is not over yet, and there will certainly be many future opportunities to shine and to fail. I guess we’ll find out what we’re made of.

TIME TO OPEN

April 17, 2020

Mark Levin blusters. Those of you familiar with his daily conservative radio show know he really gets into it. On his more recently debuted weekly Sunday television show, he’s a sedate, calm interviewer, but he’s a different man when left to pontificating on his AM radio soapbox. While I agree with much, though not all, of what he says (after all, he’s smarter than me and has a background in constitutional law), he made an especially astute observation today during one of his rants. He pointed out that the states are behaving in a “have my cake and eat it too” fashion (my take). For example, the governors indignantly proclaim that they have the right to determine if and when to open the economy whenever they perceive Trump to be overreaching. However, they are quick to whine if they feel they aren’t getting enough money fast enough from the federal government. On top of this, they’re in a no-lose situation: If things are going well, they take credit (as does Trump). If things are going badly, they blame the federal government’s (read: Trump’s) intransigence. There’s enough blame for lack of preparation to go around, but in a crisis of national proportions, it’s easier to see the flaws in the federal government by a people less and less inclined to view the nation as a federation. I fear this centralization of thought will pollute the planning for economic recovery.

Trump just met with the governors this week to lay out a 3-part plan for reopening the economy, and has rightfully hinted that it will have to be regionalized to reflect the status of the medical threat in each area. I’m worried the approach won’t be granular enough. As is often said, the virus knows no state boundaries, and any successful effort will have to be implemented at the community level. The initial announcement plays at least lip-service to this idea, but color me dubious.

Ideally, a roll-out would be guided by antibody testing to minimize risk, but my opinion is that, at this point, each week of lock-down translates to many weeks or months of economic malaise, with the severity increasing exponentially. I doubt there is time for an absolutely safe, zero or near-zero risk approach, without disproportionately increasing the risk related to fiscal collapse. This implies a willingness to accept a component of medical risk, which is reasonable, if not mandatory in a time of war. Is this callous? I don’t think so. During WW II people willingly risked their lives to combat the greater risk of unacceptable tyranny. Every day, we accept risks as part of daily living, including driving, weighed against the alternative. Dr. Oz just walked back a statement about opening schools, citing an expert who estimated “only” a 2-3 percent increase in death toll. No rational person favors more death, but the toll in misery and death by lengthy delays to try and assure a “safe” return are real, difficult to compute, and often largely ignored in the course of virtue-signaling. It is also important to point out that the correlation between extreme social isolation as a tool and the death rates are murky, at best (note Sweden and Florida, for example).

I expect, if done sensibly, that the areas with the lowest prevalence of infection that is trending downward will be opened first in a multicentric fashion; it’s already been announced we’ll continue to employ an appropriate component of social distancing, with plans to retrench in the event of recurrent spikes. In all cases, older citizens, especially those with medical comorbidities, will be encouraged to maintain a stricter level of quarantine, to be lifted when new case volume and widespread antibody testing is available. Contact tracking has also been cited as a useful tool, but I doubt it will be possible to do effectively in larger, more complex metropolitan areas.

It remains to be seen if the powers that be, often motivated by arrogance, politics, and power, are able to relinquish enough of it to enable local communities to implement a rational and much needed resurgence. What do you think?

TRUMP AND COVID: GOOD JOB OR BAD?

April 14, 2020

The campaign battle, such as it is, has boiled down to one issue: Is Trump managing the crisis well? If you’re a Trump-hater (see my prior rant about TDS) then he’s doing a horrible job, is an incompetent, bumbling fool, and should be impeached, tarred-and-feathered, and run out of town. If you’re a pro-Trump apologist, he’s a man who took early action, is following the advice of medical experts, and is able to take the larger view, which includes the economy. As always, the truth lies somewhere in the fog-enveloped middle. Also as always, the search for the truth involves seeking out the facts.

What we know is that in early February the president discounted the virus as a serious threat, citing at the time the low number of US cases. We know on February 2nd he banned immigration of foreign nationals who had been in China the prior 14 days. We know that Dr. Fauci and other medical authorities initially expressed skepticism of the value of this intervention before coming on board. We know advisors produced a list of possible interventions by the third week of February that included closures and more extreme social isolation, but these were not adopted by the president until mid-March. We know supplies of masks and PPE were inadequate (and there were perceived mechanical ventilator shortages) and despite enlisting the private sector and a very rapid ramp-up of production, sites were still complaining of insufficient equipment. We know that prior and current federal and state administrations did not replenish depleted stores of medical equipment. We know that deployment of testing was slow, and initially delayed by CDC rules (which antedated Trump) that were not flexible enough to manage a pandemic. We know that the president, while generally following the recommendations of his advisors, repeatedly misspoke or lied (depending on what side of the aisle you reside), exaggerated, and reacted with thin-skinned vitriol to criticism deemed as all politically motivated, as well as firing individuals he felt were suspect. We know that the pandemic has taken a horrible toll, especially in the hardest-hit regions such as New York, New Jersey, Michigan, Louisiana, and Washington, but that the estimates from the pandemic models grossly exaggerated the carnage and that the medical systems in these areas have been sorely stressed but not overrun, as they had been overseas, most notably in Italy and Spain.

In assessing the president’s performance, first, it’s important to remember that our country is organized as a federation with a federal government intended to be an adjunctive source of leadership/guidance in a crisis, with the states taking the lead. One could reasonably argue that since the current crisis is unique, being multicentric and national in scope, a heavier federal hand is appropriate, but my concern is that we’ve gotten so used to a bloated, intrusive federal government that too heavy a power shift may become permanent, rather than temporary. Second, I don’t share the illusion that a different leader, of either party, would have shut down the entire US economy 2 weeks earlier with the state of knowledge and the level of infection we observed at that time. And, ironically, had Trump done so and succeeded in squelching the pandemic’s damage, inevitably the resulting economic damage would have been cited as due to “overreaction” and “poor judgment” by opponents and allies alike. Third, we are extremely bad at processing and reacting to anything that progresses exponentially, as we tend to think linearly. As an example, when trying to extrapolate changes related to technological advancement (which has just entered its exponential growth phase), experts and laypeople routinely underestimate the changes. In this vein, pundits negatively opining on the response of the private sector to this calamity, in the setting of ongoing shortages, are likely unfairly rating a prodigious effort in the face of an exponentially growing threat that makes days of delay seem like a week, or a month.

We have to make a concerted effort, difficult as it is and made harder by the reportage we use to get our data, to remove politics and ideology from the decision-making process. In other words, we need more “adults in the room.” I know, Trump’s antics don’t help, but I do believe he’s making a sober attempt, despite the smokescreen of his words, to tread that fine line between medical and economic disaster. He’s openly stated that choosing when to reopen the economy is the hardest decision of his life, and he’s right.

Taking all the above into account, my preliminary estimate is that Trump has done a fair, but not a poor or excellent job. “Preliminary” because, in truth, the final verdict will not be out until we’ve gotten to the other side of this. And it will reflect a summation of the damage from the virus and a battered economy. We probably won’t be able to finally assess the medical effects of this pandemic for a year or more, depending on factors such as potential viral mutation, herd immunity, and second or multiple waves. We won’t be able to assess the economic damage (barring the hoped-for “V-shaped” recovery) for much longer, with recession lasting months to years or, worst case scenario, a depression lasting years or longer. So ultimately the history books will assign a grade for President Trump. Whether you hate, tolerate, or love him, it’s in all our best interests that he succeed. I pray that God’s hand is guiding him, and that everyone finds the strength and emotional support to face the travails that are coming.

ON LIVES, DOLLARS, AND THE UNSEEN ENEMY

March 27, 2020

I’d like to expand on the matter of wisdom touched upon in my last rant, about the anti-sage, Nancy Pelosi. Like COVID-19, foolishness can be highly contagious and even more deadly. Unfortunately, this, too, has no cure.

Appropriately, the issue of how and when to reopen the economy has surfaced of late, and of course, there are at least 2 sides to the issue. Despite the likely over-optimistic wish of our president to be back in business by Easter (he has little control of his id when a keyboard or microphone is around, which is often, but fortunately his actions don’t usually follow his words during these not-so-infrequent lapses), sober analysis suggests the turn-around won’t be quite so expeditious. Nevertheless, planning for our economic future is not only appropriate, but mandatory.

Even a profound crisis cannot squelch the need for virtue-signaling, especially on the left. As soon as the president and various other media talking head brought up the possibility of loosening the lock-down, even at the risk of losing lives, the screaming started. The mayor of NYC proclaimed his mother was more important than the holy dollar, or something to that effect. Twitter-heads screeched about the numbskulls wanting to place Wall Street and stock prices above human lives. They all missed the point, but that is, as usual in these quarters, of secondary importance to proclaiming one’s superior virtue.

So what is the point? First, the longer the lock-down persists, the longer and more severe the aftermath, moving from likelihood of a severe recession lasting months to another, and possibly unprecedented Great Depression, lasting years or decades. Most of us have lived in unheard of prosperity during our lifetimes. I still recall the mindset of my grandmother, who experienced the Great Depression, and it possessed her for her entire life. The U.S. economy is a critical piece of the fiscal engine that powers the world. If we fail, the next Great Depression will be global event. The rich will be less rich, the middle class will disappear, the poor will become destitute. And with increased poverty comes less freedom, more illness, and more death. So it’s not just “stock prices” and “greedy corporations” we’re talking about. It’s important we get this right. Too much caution on the health side and too little on the economic side has real consequences. And it is arrogant to assume that the cure might not be worse than the disease, as the president stated. It is equally arrogant to think that any one of us can read the tea leaves well enough to know the precise path. But as responsible leaders, and citizens, we must have the conversation, no matter what the virtue-signalers throw at us.

As a senior citizen and high risk potential victim (hey, I’m finally a victim!), I’m going to propose the following (Trump, please note):

Stage I recovery: Reopen business to low risk workers and patrons with enhanced measures for social isolation (perhaps 60% occupancy?}. High risk individuals should remain quarantined or have special hours (like now) with even stricter isolation.

Stage II recovery: Business as normal for low risk individuals. High risk should continue to limit interaction and special hours will be maintained.

Stage III recovery: Everyone’s out of the cage.

The timing of each would be fluid and determined by the viral curve demonstrated in the affected region, and most importantly and optimally informed by population-based antibody testing which will signal the susceptibility and contagiousness of the “liberated.” Secondary spikes would be treated accordingly. It is a reasonable argument that this approach risks the up-front cost of some increased illness and mortality relative to a more prolonged and aggressive isolation. And it’s undeniable that a small percentage of the lost, precious lives will be young, relatively healthy people. But untold numbers of lives could be saved down the line.

So each of us has to decide how we view the relative risk to see where we fall in the argument, although the powers-that-be will be making the final decision. Times of war require courage. Consider that those that are proposing a more dangerous approach on the health side to mitigate the loss on the economic front may not be motivated by callousness, greed or foolishness, but courage and willingness to sacrifice. And in times of war, like this, courage is more valuable than toilet paper.

PELOSI QUEEN OF FOOLS

March 24, 2020

It seemed, for a fleeting moment, the U.S. Congress, in a singular moment of extreme crisis and a rare moment of unity, would expeditiously pass an emergency measure to staunch the hemorrhaging of our beleaguered economy at the hands of COVID-19. Yeah, right.

At the eleventh hour, Americans were saved from the jaws of victory (or at least, detente) by the Speaker of the House, Nancy Pelosi. Honestly, when does foolishness morph into evil? Rather than get bogged down by musings on such philosophical matters, we need, instead, to focus on America 2.0, which is coming after this crisis. We need to decide if it’s going to be a version with or without the likes of Pelosi and others of her ilk.

Make no mistake, no emergency bill issued from the hallowed halls of Washington will be without major flaws. Artificially floating the boat-in-a-bathtub of our economy by plugging the drain with tissue paper will only work for so long; but time is money, as they say (to re-work an old adage). What that entails is attempting to keep the patients, in the fiscal sense this means the American businesses, alive long enough to assure as quick a post-apocalyptic recovery as possible. By keeping businesses alive, we are serving the workers. I would have thought this to be inherently apparent. However, in the distorted progressive view of rulers like Pelosi, the Senate bill is an attempt to aid the evil businesses at the expense of the worker, and to allow the government to provide a slush fund to favor the ones it chooses.

There is no question that with government control, the risk for corruption and mismanagement exists. But following the Democratic suggestion of increasing unemployment to full salaries for 4-6 months without any means to pay for it except expanding the debt or printing greenbacks shows a profound lack of understanding of even basic economics. While I don’t favor the government (via the Treasury) deciding on who gets the zero-interest loans, I like even less the idea of government micro-managing companies in exchange for granting those loans, in terms of how they should be run or how many employees they need to run them It’s a recipe for disaster. I favor the approach proposed by Ben Shapiro of funneling the loans through the banking system so it can decide how to best allocate them.

We cannot completely abolish corruption, incompetence, and mismanagement (essential human flaws). But I can promise you that a sure-fire way to maximize it is to allow the federal government to tinker with more variables in our complex economy. Wisdom in a leader involves recognizing the arrogance of assuming he or she knows more than the marketplace. Invariably, tweaking one variable has unintended and sometimes widespread and unforeseen impacts on the others, even by the so-called “experts” ( most recent case in point, 2008). And the foolishness is not limited to one side of the aisle. The Republicans, have as well been progressive in terms of government metastasis and overspending. The difference is that the Right at least gives lip service to limited government and fiscal responsibility, slowing the fiscal irresponsibility creep, while the Left, at best, believes it can use the club of government to control and “purify” the economy and pursues this with alacrity. At worst, they see it as a tool to buy votes and power (to be fair, both sides are guilty of this, the Right more through crony capitalism). True liberals and conservatives both have a difficult road with neither party demonstrating a plethora of wisdom, although the Democrats are an order of magnitude worse (hence my migration to conservative thought decades ago). Nancy Pelosi epitomizes the worst of the Left, hewing to the old maxim, “Never let a good crisis go to waste.”

So, Nancy, workers and businesses are inextricably linked, both in terms of their fiscal health and survival. Take off the astigmatic progressive Trump derangement syndrome-coated lenses for a moment and see the real world, before you help unravel it.

Apocalypse in the Wings—Hint: It’s Not Zombies

January 23, 2017

The turns of history predict we’re approaching a Crisis in the next 5-15 years. There are many candidates proposed. If you were to watch popular television, it’s gluttonous zombies. If you’re PC, it’s global warming, repackaged as climate change. If you’re a historian, war and/or economic collapse rate high on your list. If your leanings are more to the celestial, it’s that pesky rogue asteroid or a well-aimed electromagnetic pulse (EMP) flaring from the sun. They’re all plausible speculations (well, maybe not the perambulating re-vivified carcasses), but let’s examine them in the light of reason.

War and economic collapse certainly occupy the 1 and 2 slots, in either order. The Middle East is a hotbed, we’re doing our best to fight, in as limited a fashion as possible, the neo-Nazi neo-Caliphate, and we’re printing money and borrowing cash as breathlessly as we can to keep up with our insatiable urge to create a more utopian society and bolster a standard of living we always seem to be just one or two paces behind (if only ancient Rome had had the Federal Reserve!).

If these weren’t enough, we’ve got the specter of global cooling to deal with (oops!; that was the 1970s). There is evidence that we’ve had progressive warming of the planet, AKA climate change. Some of my more expert acquaintances on the subject tell me that longer term evidence on past climate patterns does not jive with the short term temperature records used to define the trend. Other analyses suggest that many scientists who support the concept of global warming don’t necessarily feel the evidence supports the level of short-term risk trumpeted in the media. But the mainstream warns that such views are tantamount to denying the Holocaust. Accepting as fact that we’re into a long term warming trend, and the cause an increase in atmospheric CO2, the second proclaimed non-controversy is that mankind is the culprit. Assuming this too as fact, we must deal with (or ignore, which is safer in this political climate, pun intended) the issue that some experts have calculated that if we were to impose all the carbon restrictions the world has proposed in recent edicts, it would have a miniscule effect on the trend, but a major impact on the world economy. So, in my cataclysmic conjecture, that brings us back to economic collapse. No matter where the truth lies, we can all agree that reducing carbon emissions and levels of associated pollution isn’t a bad idea. The solutions, I believe, will come not from arbitrarily imposed carbon restrictions but from technology, which I expect to be the source of abundant, reduced-carbon and carbon-free energy much sooner than people think. Unfortunately, as I will point out, this technology boon or boom comes at the cost of one of our greatest threats. So, for your edification and convenience, I provide the true and incontrovertible risk assessment for the next Apocalypse (drum roll, please):

  • 1/2. War (including cyber warfare and man-made EMP attacks)
  • 1/2. Economic collapse.
  • 3. Artificial intelligence.
  • 4. EMP from the sun.
  • 5. Climate change (of the hot variety)
  • 6. Asteroid collision.
  • 7. The Walking Dead.

AI as number 3, you ask? Too much scifi in my entertainment diet, right? Scoff if you will. It’s true that science fiction has given about the same emphasis to numbers 3 and 7, trivializing  and desensitizing us to the former. That has been a tragic mistake. Because number 3 is very real, and coming at us like a freight train (or, more apropos, a hurtling asteroid).

I strongly recommend viewing Sam Harris’s brief but excellent TED talk on the subject here, then rejoin me at your leisure (if we’re all still here) for additional thoughts on the matter.