• Sustainable Stupidity in Hawaii

    July 18, 2021 // 3 Comments »


    Who is making the cascading series of bad decisions about tourism and why are they determined to damage the Number 2 industry in Hawaii? With over a year’s pause to review things like sustainability and overuse why are we only now having such conversations even as we drift from problem to problem?

    Tourism is a part of our islands same as the ocean and volcanos. It won’t go away, should not go away if we wish for people to have jobs, and properly managed creates little pollution and lots of revenue alongside a lot of jobs, from restaurant servers to corporate executives. Let’s look at how that has worked out in the hands of incompetent leadership.

    -Hawaii is the only state still with COVID entrance requirements. Their ever-changing nature has created confusion in the marketplace. It is easier for visitors to go somewhere else. The crisis has passed yet Hawaii’s government alone clings to its emergency powers.

    -Once in Hawaii, the visitor is subject to the last remaining set of comprehensive restrictions, also ever-changing. Rules on masks and gatherings fall into 42 different categories and run dozens and dozens of pages. There are separate rules for botanical gardens and bowling alleys. No one can follow them all, and so visitors are assaulted with constant and often conflicting pleas to cooperate. Even the mayor of Honolulu admits they are unenforceable.

    -The ever-changing rules on how many people may gather indoors/outdoor are a death sentence to big-money tourism such as weddings, Asian group tours, and conventions. These need to be planned months or even years in advance, and can in one decision brings hundreds of visitors in. What planner is ready to trust Hawaii to have the same rules in place a year from now (Delta variant!) as today?

    -Same for other events planners. Concert promoters looking to fill arenas once again said Tier 5 does not do much for them. Rick Bartalini, the promoter who recently brought Mariah Carey and Diana Ross to the Blaisdell said, “Tier 5 is not a realistic solution to reopen the large scale event industry in the state of Hawaii.”

    -The latest rules, which appear to require restaurants to verify vaccination status before seating guests, are so ridiculous major restaurants are simply (finally) refusing to comply. They protest turning their hosts into “cops” and scaring away customers. Never mind the ridiculousness of demanding a minimum wage server check to see if a COVID test was the proper molecular type before reading the day’s specials. Coupled with the labor shortage which makes reservations hard to get, why would a visitor want to try a night out?

    -Why would a visitor want to try a night out when bars are still required to stop serving at midnight (is COVID more active after dark?!?) super fun beach vacation, guys.

    -In their arrogance, leaders of the state House and Senate said the summer surge in tourists shows that Hawaii no longer needs to be marketed as a tourist destination. They then fundamentally changed the Hawaii Tourism Authority’s funding and left its future uncertain. While Hawaii may be the only product in history which requires no advertising, competitor New York City launched a $30 million “NYC Reawakens” tourism campaign. Florida has numerous advertising campaigns underway, including a $2 million one focused on Orlando alone.

    -COVID restrictions saw tourism disappear, and car rental companies sold off their inventory such that visitors can’t find a car, and the news is running features on people renting U-Hauls to visit the North Shore. A rental car company fails to renew a car registration? The HPD tickets the tourist who rented it so they can tell their friends at home how to expect to be treated.

    -Uber and Lyft sent their prices skyrocketing. Local people stepped up and started renting out their own vehicles to solve the shortage and make visitors happy. The state’s move? Tax the new business to death, same as AirBnB, in hopes of protecting the old brick and mortar firms who have fewer customers anyway because of the government’s COVID shenanigans. If that play seems familiar, it was a version of the one used to sink the SuperFerry and push intra-island travel money into the airlines’ hands. Or the one which quickly ended Lime’s electric scooters, which remain popular as a traffic solution across the country, just somehow not in Hawaii.

    -How to get to your hotel from the airport? Well, the HART will be completed in approximately… never. The Bus does not allow luggage. So as in most third world airports the tired traveler starts his journey being overcharged for a taxi or car.

    -Hawaii has never been a budget destination, but taxes and costs for visitors keep climbing, and will reach a point where they consider other options. For visitors settling into a traditional hotel room, there’s a 10.25% Occupancy/Transient Accommodation Tax, followed by the 4.712% State Tax. Most places now stack on a “resort fee” of $35-50, plus usurious parking fees of $30-40 a night. The state’s move post-COVID? Grab more of the existing hotel tax for itself, and allow the counties to add on their own 3% tax. The final price for a room can easily double for guests.

    -Meanwhile, because of COVID and at those prices, most hotels won’t change the towels or bed sheets during a stay. Then wait until visitors find out must-see Hanauma Bay is now $25 a person plus $10 parking if they can even pry a reservation away from the tour companies. Diamond Head is headed the same way.

    -The operations manager for Roberts Hawaii, the agency hired by the state to handle Safe Travels screening and verify documents summed up Hawaii’s image today, saying “People gonna vent, aggravated, not prepared, in shock after spending so much money. People got to accept these changes, it is challenge, it is a challenge to come to Hawaii.”

    We’re seeing now the influx of visitors due to pent up demand. What happens next? Nobody knows when it will all become just too much and visitors will go elsewhere,  but Hawaii seems determined to push the boundaries. Hawaii County Mayor Mitch Roth worries. “We’re going to add another tax to our tourists and actually that’s a gamble whether the tourists are going to come back.”

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    Copyright © 2020. All rights reserved. The views expressed here are solely those of the author(s) in their private capacity.

    Posted in Economy, Other Ideas

    Hawaii Held Hostage

    // 1 Comment »

    We are being held hostage to a number. Hawaii is the last and only state with COVID entry requirements. Hawaii is the last and only state with broad COVID rules for fully vaccinated people. Hawaii is the last state and only state with emergency powers still granted its governor. Our economy is dependent on a series of one-time Federal handouts and our unemployment is among the nation’s highest. Our freedom is being held hostage by Governor Ige to an arbitrary number.

    Ige is holding to vaccinating 70% of Hawaii residents before dropping the majority of the state’s COVID-related restrictions. That number is wholly arbitrary and backed by no science. There is nothing to say 70 matters more than 65 or 89. In addition, the number employs a sleight-of-hand; since the governor insists it must be 70% of the total population, not the population eligible for the vaccine, the actual count is going to have to be much higher. With young children ineligible for the vaccine, we are actually talking about 70% of a subset of the population.

    Left entirely out of the clown car calculus is that 5% of the community already has COVID immunity because they contracted and survived the virus.

    The other sleight-of-hand is most people who want to be vaccinated already are, around 58%. Supply of the vaccine is plentiful. Anyone who wants it can walk in to clinics, Longs, pop-up sites, and the like. All the corny incentives — free food, airplane miles, admission to the zoo — have run their course. The pace of vaccinations has fallen 75% since early May, according to Hawaii Department of Health figures. The CDC predicts the rest of America, now open for business and a full life, won’t reach 70% until sometime next year. We may be stuck below 70% indefinitely.

    That in turn lead Ige to extend his emergency powers, which were set to expire August 6. He also said he will maintain the state’s indoor mask mandate, despite guidance issued a month ago by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention saying vaccinated people no longer need to wear masks in the vast majority of settings.

    It seems of little interest that in the midst of all this Honolulu dropped 42 spots on a popular “Best Places to Live” ranking. US News & World Report tallied the city’s ranking crashing to 113 out of 150 of the most populous metro areas in the country. The biggest factors are our COVID-battered economy and high unemployment rate. Honolulu also ranked poorly in value, quality of life, and net migration, i.e., people are leaving.

    When I brought up this fall to a highly unscientifically gathered group of local people who would listen to me at a coffee shop, their response was universal. Great, they said, tell outsiders to stay away. Tell tourists they’re not wanted. Maybe some of the rich mainlanders driving up home prices will move out, too. “Aloha” now seems better translated as insular and frightened of the outside world than anything welcoming.

    Outside of the business community people in Hawaii seem just fine with COVID-excuse restrictions extending deep into the future. They shortsightedly like the idea people may not want to visit here, live here, or stay here. People have become rescue dogs.

    COVID tapped into something deep and dark inside of many islanders, a fear of outsiders dating back to Captain Cook, and has turned too many of us into a nation of Momos. Momo is my rescue dog. She jumps at noises and shivers uncontrollably when I pull my belt from my pants at night. She invents new fears all the time — out of nowhere today it was a spray can rattle; last week it was the coffee machine beep. Momo never gets back to normal. She is terrified of strangers and does not even enjoy her walks. Best for her to get the business over with within sight of our front door to get back inside that much faster.

    I don’t think most dogs are self-aware enough for suicide, but Momo might be. Before we got the right kind of leash, she would slip off and dart into traffic. There were some close calls. For a dog afraid of everything, she has no fear of being run over. So you tell me, because one definition of suicide seems to fit: fearing the consequences of living more than those of dying.

    Momo knows there are bears in the woods. But her fears have gotten the better of her and she can’t separate the real dangers from the rustle of leaves in the wind. Soon enough, the grass near the woods has gotten too close and before you know it’s better to just stay on the couch, alongside the rest of Hawaii.

    We reprogrammed into one big Crisis News Network, with every story reported with a flashlight held under the announcer’s chin. It seemed as though we needed to be the victim, a nation of special needs people who all have to board first. And don’t forget how overprotected we want to be, wiping down the gym like we’re prepping for surgery, reading the daily COVID count each morning before coffee, dressing like bad cosplayers with ineffectual soggy cloth masks. This fetish of imagined fears doesn’t stop reality so much as it leaves us poorly prepared to deal with it.

    Our leaders seem content to hold us hostage to our fears for their own purposes. For many of us, however, it is time for a change. What are you afraid of?

     

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    Copyright © 2020. All rights reserved. The views expressed here are solely those of the author(s) in their private capacity.

    Posted in Economy, Other Ideas

    Tale of Three Travel Destinations (Florida, NYC, Hawaii)

    July 4, 2021 // 2 Comments »


    As a fairly new resident of Hawaii, I bring an outsider’s perspective, and maybe a bit of uninvited advice. If Hawaii wants to regain its place as a popular tourist destination, it needs to think more like someone from Ohio than Oahu.

    Asian travel is at a standstill, and will be for some time. Should someone from Japan decide to visit our beautiful islands, in addition to our COVID requirements, upon returning home he would face a 14 day quarantine, a two-week ban on using public transportation, and location tracking via cell phone from his own government. If he breaks quarantine, among other penalties his name would be made public as someone “contributing to the spread of infection.” You would have to really, really love poi to build all that into a vacation.

    That brings us back to our potential Ohio traveler as he weighs his vacation options. He did the right thing and got double-vaccinated right away, and has been happily living and working without a mask for months. The pandemic as we still practice it here ended for most Americans months ago.

    Florida looks good to our traveler. Florida dropped all of its COVID restrictions about a year ago, and appears to have survived two Spring Breaks and beyond. Visitors can enter the state without testing, vaccination checks, or threats of quarantine. Disney, et al, are welcoming guests. Cruises look like they are about to restart. Instead of fretting, the governor is hosting a conference in September to bring together tourism professionals, advertising agencies, and state leaders to build on opportunities. They’re looking at $95 billion in revenues from tourism, the good stuff: people drive or fly in, use few governmental resources, and leave behind money. It is a sweet investment, as every $1 put into their tourism promotion agency, Visit Florida, yields a $3.27 return to taxpayers. Visitors save every Florida household more than $1,500 a year on state and local taxes. Florida gets it.

    New York City was ground zero once again, the hardest hit COVID site. The city faced some of the nation’s worst COVID management, slamming the door shut on what was a tourism industry that created  400,000 jobs and $70 billion in economic activity pre-pandemic. But slowly the place awoke to discover it was not Judgment Day 2020, but summer 2021. Visitors can enter without testing, vaccination checks, or threats of quarantine. As of mid-June, almost all COVID restrictions were dropped, and the Governor announced the state of emergency was over. Broadway is reopening with Bruce Springsteen, the Garden with the Foo Fighters, and the city is running a $30 million “NYC Reawakens” tourism campaign funded by stimulus money. After a year of some very bad decision making, the pols seem now to get it. Even the neo-socialist mayor says “building a recovery for all of us means welcoming tourists back.”

     

    Hawaii stands alone among the 50 states simply refusing to admit the pandemic is over. Hawaii alone requires not only COVID testing for unvaccinated visitors, but a complex regime of “trusted partners” who in the end administer the same tests through the same national labs as the untrusted partners. Let’s hope some of them are within a day’s drive of would-be tourists. Until a snap decision changed the rules as of July 8, Hawaii stood alone in treating those vaccinated in Hawaii differently from those vaccinated outside of Hawaii. It was always easier for dogs; as of today you can import a dog into Hawaii with an out-of-state rabies vaccine but not a tourist with an out-of-state COVID vaccine.

    The funny things is the only thing Hawaii worries about in human travelers is COVID. It neither tests for nor asks for proof of vaccination for yellow fever, malaria, ebola, AIDS, polio, Hepatitis A, B or C, leprosy, dengue fever, or hundreds of other diseases more problematic to the general population than COVID. And of course there is no science saying something magical happens at 70% local vaccination levels that does not happen at 69% or 59%. They’re just arbitrary numbers to create the illusion of control to provincial voters.

    Hawaii also seems unaware tourists need to plan vacations well ahead of time. The ever-changing guidance out of the Governor’s office drove people away. Imagine our Ohio tourist approaching his boss a month ago for time off: “Hey boss, can I have my two weeks when Hawaii hits 70%? It might be August, might be December, or they may alter the rules again, so we can stay chill on the dates, right?” That’s one traveler; if you are booking group tours, forget about it and go to Disney. The Governor’s waiting until late June to acknowledge vaccinated people don’t get COVID just wrote off a second summer season.

    If our Ohio visitor dips into the local news he sees the Governor and the Lieutenant Governor arguing publically over what the new rules should be. He sees Hawaii is looking to defund its own tourism promotion authority and still can’t get its light rail running.

    He reads unwelcoming, almost contemptuous Op-Eds wondering if too many tourists are spoiling things for the locals. He is unlikely to feel welcome with the Third World-like two-tiered pricing regime at popular sites. He sees articles about people sent home from the airport over an innocent Safe Travels mistake, stories suggesting he’ll need to rent a U-Haul as no cars are available, $120 Uber rides in from the airport, taxes going up on accomodations alongside already usurious “resort fees,” and bars and restaurants capped at limited capacity so it could be Zippy’s again for dinner. Hope word reached Ohio reservations are required for Hanauma Bay, and good luck scoring them.

    All this accompanied by the Jugend mask patrols, scolding anyone from ABC to CVS who is not wearing a mask, vaccinated or not. Sound like a vacation to you? The July 8 changes are welcome, but are in the end too little too late.

     

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    Copyright © 2020. All rights reserved. The views expressed here are solely those of the author(s) in their private capacity.

    Posted in Economy, Other Ideas

    Aloha New York (or, Escape from New York)

    June 12, 2021 // 11 Comments »


    It’s always the little things that tell the story. For me and New York, it is the dog poop.

    I keep wanting to love this city but it keeps fighting back. I finally realized it became an abusive relationship and it was time to leave. I no longer live there. My adult kids and quite a few of my neighbors bailed out months ago.

    The final straw was everywhere underfoot. I lived in a “nice” neighborhood. The fact that we so easily accept that we have nice and bad neighborhoods butted up against each other is part of the problem, too. But my neighborhood was nice, mostly residential, with a lot of pets. There was dog poop everywhere such that you learned to look down as you walked and developed a kind of skip and slide move to quickly reroute. You saw the brown skid marks where someone did not nail their landing.

    We had human excrement, too. A nice neighborhood means “good” edible garbage for the leagues of Third World homeless who live off our trash. A lot of people tend to throw out their recyclable cans instead of taking them to the recycle point for coins. The spud boy variety homeless who graze these streets can often scrounge up a few bucks in cans each night. Then they have to poop and there are no public toilets. After corporate Starbucks ordered all its stores to make restrooms available to customers and others, many in sketchy areas just locked up their toilets and stuck on a sign saying “Out of Order.”

    But I can’t blame the dogs for us leveling down. The issue is with the people walking those dogs who decision by decision choose not to pick up the crap. Every day so many neighbors decide not to pick up, leaving it for the people they live near to deal with. “I only care about me,” there is no better summation of why I left New York.

     

    But alongside the little things are of course the big ones. New York is a failed experiment. Massive public housing estates were built up the east side and northern end of Manhattan, as well as in the outer boroughs, starting in the 1950s. What was once seen as an expedient to get people back on their feet (alongside food stamps and the other A-Z of social welfare) morphed into inter-generational poverty, generations of people who have never really worked and exist on the taxes of those who do. Knowledge of how to best exploit these systems is passed on the way a father might once have passed on his skills as a carpenter to a son.

    Though the causes are complex, the reality is very simple. Poverty lines, like most of the city geographically, are sharply racial in division. People proudly claim New Yorkers speak 70 some languages, but in truth not often with each other. Broadly NYC is one of the most racially diverse places in America, but people live close but not together. Everyone knows where the white-black-brown lines are, usually by street (96th Street near me is a marker) but sometimes by housing complex.

    Even the magnificent Central Park is racially divided. Check real estate prices at the southern end of the Park, the so-called Billionaires Row, versus the northern end where the Park is capped by liquor stores with bars on the windows and walkup tenements poor people have been swapping out since 1900. Chinatown and Greektown sound fun for tourists, but nobody is comfortable admitting we also have Hebrew Village, Caucasianland, and Blacktown.

    The underlying financial system is unsustainable, far too few people (less now with COVID flight) paying too many taxes to support indefinitely too many others. The wealthy still enjoy NYC as long as they stay in their own layer, living hundreds of feet above the city, taking advantage of cheap labor for their needs, and scuttling to cultural events in towncars like cockroaches when the kitchen light flips on. They don’t live in NY, they float above it. Many play at liberalism, supporting the cause of the day espoused by the Daily Show and donating to PBS, but they really have no way to care. They literally do not even see what is happening around them.

    New York had great pizza, enough to have America’s only professional pizza tour guide (though the city has fallen to a disgraceful third place nationally for pizza.) Amazing bagels. Shopping to die for, the museums, the energy. Broadway. But the list of what one has to put up with on a usual and customary basis to access all that grows worryingly longer, even without factoring in COVID. Street crime. Homelessness. A deteriorating public transportation system that gets more expensive to use proportionally as it gets less pleasant to use.

    Take a non-rush hour bus ride and you will almost certainly be forced to navigate someone with mental illness. A police force that has either pretty much given up doing anything more than keeping the combatants apart or is a racist invading army, depending on where you think. I love a great slice of pizza, but I also got beat up on my own block in what the cops said was some sort of gang initiation and I was damn lucky not to get seriously hurt.

    Add in the black slush lagoons that form on every street corner after a heavy snow as the plowed snow accumulates in vast heaps. The co-op apartment system where each building is like a mini-Vatican with its own rules and eccentricities. Some of the highest taxes in the country. Creaky infrastructure that leaks water, steam, gas, and electricity, sometimes all at once, to blend with the street gravy of the homeless.

    And what is the city government focused on? Doing away with the rigorous entrance exams at its elite high schools in hopes of balancing them racially. And of course defunding the police and realigning pronouns. The inmates are literally in charge; NYC did away with bail in favor of catch-and-release in most cases.

    That NYC’s problems exist in some form in other cities across America is nothing to be proud of. Rather, the prevalence is symbolic of America’s stubborn and globally unique insistence on not providing universal healthcare, of maintaining a tax-stock-economic system which brews economic inequality,  not controlling its immigration, and of not creating infrastructure jobs to bust poverty. The focus remains on NYC in part because of the city’s constant bleating that it is the greatest in the world.

     

    New York has never in its history pretended to be a warm and fuzzy place. It has always challenged its residents to accept a certain amount of guff in return for the shoulder tab “New Yorker.” But the line between that and watching people suffer in the streets is one now for me too far. I’m not alone; people are neither moving in to the city nor staying. A realtor friend in Florida says every phone call these days is from someone in Boston, Chicago, New York or the like. “They ask about schools,” he said. In the last year over 33,000 New Yorkers moved to Florida, a 32 percent increase from the same period the prior year. A drop in the bucket some may say until they realize about that same number of high earners pay 40 percent of the taxes in the city. Florida has no income tax.

    If I sound frustrated, like I should be doing a Jeep commercial for next year’s Super Bowl, it’s because I am. I was born here in New York, and have seen these up and down cycles before. This one seems like it will stick for a awhile. That’s enough right there. But this round, driven by a near completely terrible series of COVID decisions, is so clearly man-made. Most of it did not need to happen but it did. Living through it, I can’t say it made me a better man, a happier man, a more caring man. I don’t like what it did to me. Us.

    New York, like other large cities in the U.S. fails to understand what was done to it via COVID is no temporary change, even if some of the tourists dribble back in. No one will blow a whistle or yell “cut” and everything resets to March 2020. A profound change occurred in America. For the first time in history, where one lives and where one works have been decoupled. New York City no longer holds the record for most billionaires resident. That’s in Beijing now.

    I’ll miss some of the hustle, as well as the symphony of overheard interactions which end with “And f*ck you, too!” And I know New York will be back in some form post-COVID, but it will need in the interim to have a hard conversation with itself along the way. Playground for the rich? Island prison for the poor? Stumbling social experiment while the towers literally deteriorate around us all? As that famous song goes, “it’s up to you New York, Neeeeew Yoooork!” Just do it without me.

     

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    Copyright © 2020. All rights reserved. The views expressed here are solely those of the author(s) in their private capacity.

    Posted in Economy, Other Ideas

    The Case that U.S. Paid for the Work in Wuhan Which Created COVID

    June 5, 2021 // 7 Comments »


    It reads like science fiction but it is very real. The work which likely created COVID-19 was paid for by the United States. Research which could create a bioweapon — genetically engineering the highest possible infectivity for human cells — was subcontracted to the Chinese government. And thanks to a series of cover-ups, we are unlikely to ever know the full truth. The people who lost loved ones, lost their jobs, who fell into despair under societal restrictions, deserve better.

    There are two origin stories for COVID-19. One is that it emerged naturally, evolving from a bat virus to infect humans. The other is COVID-19 was genetically created by China’s Wuhan Institute of Virology via gain of function research funded by the U.S. The virus then escaped into the world. That year you spent at home, those loved ones who died, might have been our own fault. The point is more than assigning guilt; understanding the true origin of the pandemic is critical to preventing it from happening again, as well as as a guide to future gain of function research. It is hard to overstate the importance of this; our lives depend on it.

     

    The first bioscientist to take a serious look at the origins of the virus raised the possibility it had been manipulated by humans, not nature. The Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists went on to ask directly “Did people or nature open Pandora’s Box at Wuhan?” and goes on to make a strong case it was us.

    It starts with EcoHealth Alliance of New York. For 20 years they have routinely created viruses more dangerous than those that exist in nature. In favor of what common sense would immediately see as a bioweapon capable of destroying the human race, some scientists argue by getting ahead of nature they could predict and prevent “spillovers” of viruses from animal hosts to humans. Like something out of Jurassic Park, this is known as gain of function research, genetic manipulation to “improve” nature. Such work already allowed scientists to recreate the 1918 flu virus, to show how the almost extinct polio virus can be synthesized from its published DNA sequence, and introduce a smallpox gene into a related virus.

    Some of that work was done at the Wuhan Institute of Virology, teamed with researchers at the University of North Carolina. Specifically, they focused on enhancing the ability of bat viruses to attack humans. In November 2015 they together created a manufactured virus that was once dangerous only to bats now able to infect the cells of the human airway.

    The key Chinese researcher in this work at Wuhan Institute of Virology, known as the “Bat Lady,” specialized further, engineering coronaviruses to attack human cells. Her research was funded by the Obama administration’s National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, a part of the National Institutes of Health. The NIH initially assigned those grants to an American company, EcoHealth, who subcontracted the work to Wuhan. To be clear: the work which likely created COVID-19 was paid for by the United States. Research which along with its medical potential could create a bioweapon was subcontracted to the Chinese government by an American company.

    The Wuhan lab was already a nexus of attention pre-pandemic. The Bat Lady had previously traveled to Mozambique in September 2019 to give a controversial presentation on bat coronaviruses. Outcry quickly led Wuhan to pull their virus database offline following the trip. The Chinese government still refuses to provide any of its raw data, safety logs or lab records. Another Wuhan scientist was forced to leave a Canadian university for shipping deadly viruses, including ebola, back to China. The lab also allegedly tried to steal intellectual property regarding remdesivir, a class of antiviral medications used to treat COVID-19 prior to the vaccine. No small connection, the editorial board of the Bat Lady’s virology journal includes members of the Chinese military.

    There is also the question of safety at the Wuhan lab. As early as 2018 Wuhan alarmed U.S. State Department inspectors who visited it. “The new lab has a serious shortage of appropriately trained technicians and investigators needed to safely operate this high-containment laboratory,” the inspectors wrote. They warned the lab’s work on “bat coronaviruses and their potential human transmission represented a risk of a new SARS-like pandemic.” Though they had higher security facilities, the Chinese were working in mostly BSL2-level safety conditions which were far too lax to contain a virus like COVID-19.

     

    The other origin theory, natural emergence, never has had any evidence to support it. The Bulletin states “This was surprising because both the SARS1 and MERS viruses [related to COVID-19] had left copious traces in the environment. The intermediary host species of SARS1 was identified within four months of the epidemic outbreak, and the host of MERS within nine months.”

    Yet some 15 months after the COVID-19 pandemic began, Chinese researchers had failed to find either the original bat population, or the intermediate species to which COVID-19 might have jumped, or any serological evidence that any Chinese population, including that of Wuhan, had ever been exposed to the virus prior to late 2019. Natural emergence remained a conjecture which had gained not a shred of supporting evidence in over a year. In just one example of that lack of evidence, the search in China for the natural origin of the virus included testing more than 80,000 different animals from across dozens of Chinese provinces. Not a single case of COVID-19 in nature was found. Chinese researchers did primordial cases in people from Wuhan with no link to that infamous wet market China claims sold an infected bat eaten by Patient One.

    So why has the natural origin theory persisted in the face of no evidence? One of the strongest shows of support for the natural theory was a letter from dozens of scientists published in early 2020 in the British medical journal Lancet. The letter had actually been organized and written not by the scientists, but by Peter Daszak, president of the EcoHealth the grantee who subcontracted with Wuhan, though his involvement was not disclosed at the time. If the virus had indeed escaped from research they funded, EcoHealth would be potentially liable, as of course would the American government. Ecohealth went on to plant never-challenged stories in the MSM labeling anyone who thought Wuhan was to blame as a conspiracy crank.

    Meanwhile, a Chinese-affiliated scientific journal at the University of Massachusetts Medical School commissioned commentary to refute that COVID-19 originated in the Wuhan lab, the same position held by the Chinese government. Mirroring the American media, the journal called anything to the contrary “speculations, rumors, and conspiracy theories.” Chinese officials also objected elsewhere to any name, such as the Wuhan Flu, linking the virus to China.

    In addition to these cover-up efforts, there were those of Dr. Anthony Fauci. In answer to Senator Rand Paul, Fauci stated “you are entirely and completely incorrect — that the NIH has not ever and does not now fund gain-of-function research in the Wuhan Institute of Virology.” He appears to have committed perjury, as Fauci now admits “there’s no way of guaranteeing” American taxpayer money routed to Wuhan virology didn’t fund gain-of-function research. Fauci has also reversed himself completely in saying he is not convinced COVID developed naturally. The Senate passed a Rand Paul-sponsored amendment banning funding of gain of function research in China.

     

    The cover-up was aided in every possible way by the media. Though in 2021 The Wall Street Journal reported three researchers the Wuhan Institute of Virology became “sick enough in November 2019 [a month before the first “public” cases] with COVID-19-like symptoms that they sought hospital care, according to a previously undisclosed U.S. intelligence report,” they along with their peers showed little curiosity a year earlier.

    One important word in the Journal’s sentence is undisclosed. What they mean is the media did not know about the report, but the U.S. government did. When the president tried to talk to the American people about his now-prescient decision to shut down travel from China in early 2020, he knew about the intel report. As in most cases involving intelligence, the president had to act on the information, and inform the public, without without giving away sources and methods. No thinking person today can claim the move to shut down travel was a mistake.

    The media, however, had other priorities, especially the task of defeating Donald Trump. They immediately slammed the decision as racist, and promoted the Chinese government’s evidence-free explanation the Wuhan lab had no connection with the pandemic.

    A WaPo headline read “Experts debunk fringe theory linking China’s coronavirus to weapons research” and a separate story said believing the Chinese had anything to do with creating COVID was as credible as the Soviet Union in 1985 accusing the CIA of manufacturing AIDS. “Senator Tom Cotton Repeats Fringe Theory of Coronavirus Origins,” said the New York Times in February 2020, adding “Scientists have dismissed suggestions that the Chinese government was behind the outbreak.” The Times’ article, however, did not quote or name any of the supposed scientists. Then there was a hagiographic bio piece on the Bat Lady. Later, Time named her one of the 100 most influential people of 2020, claiming her “scientific accomplishments and foresight are exactly what we need if we want to stop more coronaviruses.”

    It is only now, months into the safety of the Biden administration, that the media is willing to take a peek inside Pandora’s Box. Politifact walked back its slam dunk “fact check” China had nothing to do with it, and Facebook announced it would no longer censor posts claiming the virus was man-made. Yet despite the deaths of millions of people, Washington still has little interest into the origin story. The Biden administration shut down a State Department investigation in March of this year, claiming the work was politically motivated. Under pressure Biden later asked for his own investigation from the intelligence community, which will by definition produce a paper of ambiguous findings, concluding happily none of the scenarios can be confidently ruled in or ruled out.

     

    There will be no smoking gun. The people who know the truth, the Chinese government and Ecohealth, have already been caught lying. Gain of function research does not leave a physical marker to prove origin. To date, there is no evidence COVID-19 was of a natural origin. There is much to show it was not. To argue any other way requires an expert understanding of terms like furin site, RBM, RaTG13, and spike protein, not Google.

    We do know Wuhan conducted gain of function research aimed at doing what COVID-19 does, making a virus originally not dangerous to humans into a super-infector designed to spread quickly while resisting then-existing cures and vaccines. We know the Patient One cases of the virus were in Wuhan. We know researchers at the lab were infected in November 2019. We know safety standards at the lab were insufficient to contain the virus. In a murder case this would be enough to show means, motive, and method beyond a reasonable doubt.

    We know the basic gain of function research at the lab was funded by the United States. We know we were lied to about this.

    We also know despite the global importance of the story, investigations never mind curiosity were non-existent in the media. They instead promoted the cover-up stories produced by Ecohealth, the WHO, and the Chinese government. The media shut out dissenting opinions by labeling them as conspiracy fodder, even mocking the co-discoverer of HIV and Nobel Prize winner for suggesting non-natural origins.

    We are unlikely to definitively ever know the origin of COVID-19, and politicians and pundits will make the most of the ambiguity.  But as the wise man said, cut through all the lies and there it is, right in front of you.

     

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    Copyright © 2020. All rights reserved. The views expressed here are solely those of the author(s) in their private capacity.

    Posted in Economy, Other Ideas

    COVID, Learned Helplessness, and Control

    May 22, 2021 // Comments Off on COVID, Learned Helplessness, and Control

     

    In the post-vaccination era, why don’t people remove their masks? Learned helplessness, employed as a control tool.

    Learned helplessness is well-documented. It takes place when an individual believes he continuously faces a negative, uncontrollable situation and stops trying to improve his circumstances, even when he has the ability to do so. Discovering the loss of control elicits a passive reaction to a harmful situation. Psychologists call this a maladaptive response, characterized by avoidance of challenges and the collapse of problem-solving when obstacles arise. You give up trying to fight back.

    An example may help: you must keep up with ever-changing mask and other hygiene theatre rules, many of which make no sense (mask in the gym, but not the pool; mask when going to the restaurant toilet but not at your table, NYC hotels are closed while Vegas casinos are open, Disney California closed while Disney Florida was open) and comply. You could push back, but you have been made afraid at a core level (forget about yourself rascal, you’re going to kill grandma if you don’t do what we say) and so you just give in. Once upon a time we were told a vaccine would end it all, yet the restrictions remain largely in place. You’re left believing nothing will fix this. Helpless to resist, you comply “out of an abundance of caution.”

    American psychologists Martin Seligman and Steven Maier created the term “learned helplessness” in 1967. They were studying animal behavior by delivering electric shocks to dogs (it was a simpler time.) Dogs who learned they couldn’t escape the shock simply stopped trying, even after the scientists removed a barrier and the dog could have jumped away.

    Learned helplessness has three main features: a passive response to trauma, not believing that trauma can be controlled, and stress.

    Example: you are being stalked by a killer disease which often has no outward symptoms. There is nothing you can do but hide inside and buy things from Amazon. The government failed to stop the virus initially, failed to warn you, failed to supply ventilators and PPE gear, and failed to produce a vaccine quick enough. You may die. You may kill your family members along the way. You have lost your job by government decree and are forced to survive on unemployment and odd stimulus check, manufactured dependence. It is all very real: WebMD saw a 251 percent increase in searches for anxiety this April.

    Americans, with their cult-like devotion to victimhood, are primed for learned helplessness. Your problems are because you’re a POC, or fat, or on some spectrum. You are not responsible, can’t fix something so systemic, and best do what you are told.

    The way out is to allow people to make decisions and choices on their own. This therapy is used with victims of learned helplessness such as hostages. During their confinement all the important decisions of their life, and most of the minor ones, were made by their captors. Upon release, many hostages fear things as simple as a meal choice and need to be coaxed out of helplessness one micro-choice at a time.

    Example: you cannot choose where to stand, so follow the marks on the floor. Ignore the research saying three feet apart is as useful/useless as six feet apart. Don’t think about why the rules are the same inside a narrow hallway and outside in the fresh air but don’t apply at all on airplanes.

    Kin to learned helplessness are enforcers. Suddenly your waitress transitions from someone serving you into someone ordering you to wear a mask, sit alone, eat outside, etc. Flight attendants morph from delivering drinks to holding the power to have security haul you to jail for unmasking when not actively eating. Companies once run by entrepreneurs are today controlled by the harassment stalking undead from HR. We’ve become a republic of hall monitors. And there it is. The wrong people are in charge.

    One of the better examples of learned helplessness is One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest, a great book made into an impressive movie starring a lean Jack Nicholson. Nurse Ratched cows a group of mentally ill men into complete learned helplessness, encouraging them to rat each other out for small offenses, and to follow her every order no matter how absurd. The kicker comes near the end when we learn all of the men (except Nicholson) are free to leave the hospital at any time. They just… can’t.

    It is amazing how fast people stepped into the Nurse Ratched roll. Within moments of COVID’s arrival in the national conscience, officials like California’s Gavin Newsom, and New York’s power bottom twins Andrew Cuomo and Bill De Blasio raced to assume dictatorial emergency powers. They spent not one moment assessing the impact of their decisions to lock down against the effects of the lockdown. They ignored information questioning the value of lockdown. They turned topsy-turvy the idea in a free society the burden of proof is on those who would restrict freedom and not on those who resist such restrictions.

    They were aided in manufacturing learned helplessness by the most sophisticated propaganda operation ever created. Already engorged with the coin of three years of fake news, the legacy media saw the value of a new crisis toward their two real goals: make as much money as possible garnering clicks, and defeating Donald Trump. Previous shows, Russiagate with a hat tip to 9/11 when Americans demanded fewer freedoms to feel safer, illustrated the way. On a 24/7 basis America were injected: you are helpless and Donald “COVID” Trump will kill you. Your only hope is to comply fully with the people at CNN who are administering the electric shocks.

    Truth is useless to propagandists, actually a threat. Look at what turned out to be false (in addition to Russiagate): we never ran out of ventilators or PPE or nurses or ICU beds or morgues. Masks were not really needed outdoors. We did in fact develop a vaccine, several in fact, in less than a year. Almost everyone who died was elderly or had serious comorbidities but we salivated over “new case numbers” as the primary metric anyway because they went up so much faster. When people questioned the real world view against the media portrayal, they were told about “asymptomatic COVID” or shunned as hoaxers. Everyone makes mistakes. But just as with Russiagate, all the media mistakes swung one way.

    It worked. Condo boards boarded up their gyms. Restaurants forced diners to eat outside in the rain. Entire industries, such as tourism and hospitality, disappeared overnight. New groups were shoved into poverty and unemployment. Children were denied education, criminals released from jails. People were told not to hug their loved ones. Saving Grandma meant she died untouched in a hospital room. The government denied you the chance to say one final goodbye to the person who raised you and you didn’t fight back? Now that’s control.

    Every time a bit of dissenting information popped up — Florida opening its beaches for Spring Break, for example — the media rushed in to declare everyone was gonna die. Texas was declared dead, South Dakota was declared dead, and Americans believed it all even when reports of survivors started drifting out of Disney World. Learned helplessness is hard to unlearn. One Harvard professor explains our brains evolved to encode fear so well, it’s hard to turn off.

    Americans are not comfortable accepting their lives being manipulated at this level, the way for example many Russians assume it to be so. We tend to dismiss such things as conspiracy theories and make an Oliver Stone joke. But ask yourself how many of the temporary security and surveillance measures enacted after 9/11 are still controlling our lives almost 20 years later. Is the terror threat still so real the FBI needs to monitor our social media in bulk? Was it ever?

    Nothing here is to say vaccines don’t work, or are themselves dangerous. That’s another debate. This is about the politics of mass control. Add up the “doesn’t really make sense but we do it anyway” COVID rules and try to make sense of them. Why would otherwise smart leaders implement such rules, for example in New York’s case, purposely impoverishing a city or seeking to defund the police in the midst of triple digit rises in crime? Every time your answer is “it just doesn’t make sense” consider a scenario beyond coincidence where it would make sense however out there that might be. It might be the most important thing you can do.

    Then look out the window. Remember “10 days to flatten the curve?” With no voting or debate, a system based on a medical procedure capable of controlling our travel, which businesses we can visit, which hotels we can stay in, what jobs we can hold, what education we can access, at which point it is no more “voluntary” than breathing, was put into place. We no longer need to ask what is happening. The real question is always why.

     

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    Copyright © 2020. All rights reserved. The views expressed here are solely those of the author(s) in their private capacity.

    Posted in Economy, Other Ideas

    COVID Runs the 9/11 Playbook (Against You)(Again)

    April 10, 2021 // 1 Comment »

    After fanning COVID panic for a year, Democratic newsletter Salon admits it was all for partisan purposes: “Americans have been sucked into an all-or-nothing approach, with your choice of all or nothing depending largely on your partisan identity.”

    Salon continues “Trump’s rejection of sensible precautions caused many of his political opponents to run hard in the opposite direction, embracing the lockdowns as if they were a point of personal virtue and inherent good, instead of a temporary and deeply unpleasant measure necessary to contain the virus. Worse, liberals were so protective of lockdowns that even sensible criticisms were ignored, and liberals often acted like, well, cops. They often appeared more interested in lecturing people rather than empowering them through education. There was a lot of social media shaming for any social activity, no matter how safe it was. And in behaving this way, a lot of well-intentioned people made the pandemic much worse.”

    The Hill came to the same conclusion, confessing recently “Lockdowns don’t work: Remember 15 days to slow the spread? Well, since those fateful words were uttered, we have had a year of various efforts to slow down a virus that has an infection fatality rate of less than one percent. And what we have learned is that viruses are gonna virus. California, the United Kingdom, Florida and Sweden show the futility of lockdowns.” The Hill adds “The media is complicit in furthering the Panic… how you could die tomorrow, from a virus that kills virtually nobody healthy under the age of 70.”

    A study found no correlation between NYC subway ridership and COVID spikes. In other words, few people got sick riding in a poorly-ventilated metal tube with strangers, masked and unmasked, an admission that many of the so-called lifesaving precautions were mostly health theatre, rituals based on fear. It was easier to order people to stay home than to see if the woods really had bears in them.

    NY Magazine, after a year of scare stories about scary COVID variants taking over the world, now is running articles headlined “Maybe the Variants Aren’t So Scary After All.”

    The Atlantic wrote a year into the pandemic “Traditional and social media have been caught up in a cycle of shaming—made worse by being so unscientific and misguided.” They point out the nonsense of the response: “Cities closed parks even as they kept open indoor dining and gyms. Berkeley and the University of Massachusetts banned students from taking even solitary walks… pictures of people outdoors without masks draw reprimands, insults, and confident predictions of super-spreading—and yet few note when super-spreading fails to follow.”

    All but the most serf-like now know the response was partisan, on purpose. We know lockdowns have little effect on transmission even as they devaste people economically and psychologically. The response by government, unscientific and misguided, was encouraged by a media that correlated suffering with virtue, and pain with progress. The draconian measures taken were somewhere between merely ineffective and worse than the disease. If only somehow we could have known this a year ago and used it as a guide toward more prudent, focused, and balanced responses.

    If only we’d been able to see the disease wasn’t the hoax, the response was.

     

    As America reprogrammed into one big Crisis News Network, with every story reported with a flashlight held under the announcer’s chin, I first wrote on March 5, 2020 how COVID fear was being used to manipulate people. I said the reaction to the virus will result in long term damage to the nation well beyond the health effects of the virus. I wrote on March 10, 2020 how many of the same COVID-era tricks to create fear to drive policy were used when AIDS broke into the mainstream. On March 26, 2020 I explained how the same playbook (terrify the American people for partisan goals) was run on us after 9/11. I wrote a second article on how the “cure” of lockdown was going to be worse than the disease on March 31.

    I’m not bragging. The information was as obvious as you wanted it to be. For example, in October 2020 a group of infectious disease epidemiologists wrote the Great Barrington Declaration, laying out”grave concerns about the damaging physical and mental health impacts of prevailing COVID policies” such as sweeping lockdowns. They were largely ignored, though US News found time to call them arrogant and recklessness in calling for “focused protection.” The nation was as intolerant of COVID dissent as it was of anti-war dissent in 2001.

    The playbook run against Americans with COVID (and 9/11, and AIDS, and…) goes back as far as 1984, the book, not the year. Orwell envisioned the need for a massive Ministry of Truth to create a state of fear among Americans, and then manipulate that fear into specific support and policy. In fact in 2020 all it took was an initial handful of deaths, some of what Orwell labeled prolefeed — worthless entertainment for the masses about whether calling COVID “Chinese flu” was racism — and a dash of sky-is-falling articles that piled on to existing anti-Trump night terrors.
    The goal is always to make fear of something the problem and then empowering government becomes the solution. You have to give things up for a safe society. It just is no longer practical to try to have freedom and security, you will have to choose. If you don’t wear a mask, you’re selfish; you’ve committed a crime against society. You purposely have endangered your masked, compliant neighbors. Substitute in “terrorism” if you like at this point.
    Fear is a powerful a tool for manipulation. It rubs raw on the fight or flight part of our lizard brain, especially when you involve family members as potential spreaders who want to kill grandma or as victims (grandma again.) Fear is also self-reinforcing. We feel embarrassed when we’ve been fooled into over-reacting, like when our friend made us jump, springing from his hiding place at a party. So after you sold off your stocks at a huge loss in March 2020 fearing a global depression that never came, you were ready with self-reinforcing gab instead of admitting fear drove you into a dumb financial decision. “Well, at least I had peace of mind” said many trying to justify a needless 30 percent capital loss.
    Fear of the virus can be shaped into fear Trump would find a way via incompetence to kill us all somehow. That made it easier to believe he would seriously suggest you inject bleach. The MSM told us the vaccines, the scientific answer to the virus, were being rushed through, that Trump would manipulate the approval process for political gain and release dangerous untested drugs. The MSM throttled the black community with racist claims about the vaccine, invoking the 1943 syphilis experiments during last year’s Summer of Racism. Of course none of the media admit blame for today’s resistance to the vaccine.
    The COVID fear playbook is nearly identical to the post-9/11 playbook, though kudos to those Bush officials who pulled it off in 2001 without the help of social media and only 3,000 dead. They turned Americans into such fearful creatures they stopped traveling, signed off on multiple wars, a torture regime, and the effective end of privacy in American life. We were conditioned to new precedents of control over personal decisions, civil life, freedom of movement and assembly, whole city lockdowns, education, and an increasing role for government and the military in health care. We became trained that when we saw something, we said something. Not unlike our modern mask patrols, rent-a-cops, and Karens demanding everyone stay back six feet, driven by things such as the Washington Post, which wrote “Every viewer who trusts the words of Earhardt or Hannity could well become a walking, breathing, droplet-spewing threat to the public.”

    It will be hard for people to let go of their fear; folks will be wearing masks for a long time because there is no end game. We learned that when lockdowns went from until the curve flattens to until the vaccine until, well, forever. Secretary of State Antony Blinken said  “Unless and until everyone in the world is vaccinated, then no one is really fully safe, because if the virus is out there and continuing to proliferate, it’s also going to be mutating.” COVID fear mongering will be around as long as it is a political asset and gone before it becomes a political liability.

    Too many good people died of COVID. Many of us have a personal tale of a friend or loved one. The news is still so full of COVID porn you’d think they were trying to convince us of something. But as we grieve equally all deaths, we must understand death was not invented in 2020. Hospitals are sadly full of people dying painfully every day. COVID deaths will soon enough be down to a mere fraction of the current count. Deaths from heart attacks, cancer, and car wrecks will not. We just won’t talk about them and we certainly won’t blame one political party over another for them.

    But if drama is indeed a currency in the pandemic, let me spend some. I have physically visited with my relatives and hugged them for the past year. Not only are we all still COVID-free, we have the honor of saying the government did not tell us how to live and love each other. It was Orwell himself who wrote “They’re afraid of love, ’cause love makes a world they can’t control.”

    Remember that for the next time. No government should be allowed to create a world of fear and isolation for its citizens, and no citizen should willingly demand that from a government.

     

     

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    Copyright © 2020. All rights reserved. The views expressed here are solely those of the author(s) in their private capacity.

    Posted in Economy, Other Ideas

    Is Everyone in Texas Dead Yet? (Why I Rarely Wear a Mask)

    March 19, 2021 // 1 Comment »


    Texas governor Greg Abbott announced residents will no longer be required to wear face masks and encouraged businesses to reopen at full capacity. Some 15 other states — Alaska, Arizona, Florida, Georgia, Idaho, Iowa, Mississippi, Missouri, Montana, Nebraska, North Dakota, Oklahoma, South Carolina, South Dakota, and Tennessee — also do not have mask orders in place. Still more states have thrown off almost all restrictions.

    Criticism of the Texas decision (there are not enough votes in the other states to warrant much criticism) was swift.  Joe “Unity” Biden called the unmasking the result of Neanderthal thinking. No less than photogenic loser Beto O’Rourke said the unmandate is a “death warrant” and “Abbott is killing the people of Texas.”

    We’ve seen this all before. About a year ago when Florida reopened its beaches for Spring Break everyone was gonna die. The Republican convention was to be a superspreader event, as was the Super Bowl, and some motorcycle rally (here’s a complete list of all superspreader events to include dinner parties for five.) Each new variant of the virus is the end of us, each expansion of dining options a death sentence. Everyone is gonna die. Except they don’t. It works the other way, too. Places proclaimed the Gold Standard for COVID precautions end up with their own upticks. The numbers from place to place should be as dramatically different as the measures implemented and they are not.

    As for Texas, the problem is again everyone there and in those other unmasked states is not dead. And in states with the most draconian rules and lockdowns (looking at you New York) people are still dying in healthy numbers. This all used to be the former president’s fault, but inconveniently more than one-fifth of all the COVID-19 deaths occurred since Biden took office. New York leads the nation in virus hospitalizations per one million people. If it were a country, New York would have been the worst performing country in the world at handling COVID, and that’s despite NY’s fraudulent undercounting. In late November, right before New York’s winter spike, Governor Cuo­mo trumpeted mask compliance was 98 percent. Seven out of 10 states with the highest number of COVID deaths per capita have mask mandates. California, formerly an example of the positive impacts of viral fascism, had among the worst winters in the world.

    A year’s worth of data (science!) from the four largest states shows lockdowns had little effect other than to drive taxpayers out. Making the pro-lockdown argument even weaker was that the same thing happened with several heavy lockdown nations (most notably the UK) suffering at least as badly, if not worse, than everyone else did. We’re left with something that too many people refuse to consider: it is possible lockdowns and masks have very little effect on COVID. Waves come and go, seemingly independent of what we do or don’t do. Nature finds a way.

     

    I’ve conducted my own sort-of research. In the last year, one of my relatives who is a medical professional was exposed to COVID. She tests negative regularly. I see her in person whenever I can, hug her, we eat together unmasked as a baby’s behind.  And we live in NYC, ground zero, again, this time for COVID. I use public transportation.  Until when the company was forced to shut down by the government, in my day job I worked with people from all over, including enough Chinese from China to fill a Seuss book. In the last few months I was hospitalized twice (heart, not COVID) and saw doctors as an outpatient multiple times.  I went to the gym until it the government closed it. I ate in restaurants and shopped until the government closed them. I stayed in a hotel and drove a rental car in two different states. I attended what the media would have called a superspreader event if it hadn’t been organized by Democrats. I wear a mask only when the hassle factor from the scolds, Karens, and COVID cops rises to the point I can’t get whatever I’m doing done.

    I took two long airplane trips. No one had any idea if anyone was infected because the only check was a questionnaire and a temp with no medical training with a temp gun. Waiting a few minutes to board we were aggressively kept six feet apart (while the A/C and ventilation was moving air six feet away toward me) before sitting down for hours zero feet apart. Once at altitude, we were encouraged to spread out but only within our paid for cabin; the nearly empty business and first class sections stayed nearly empty and we all concentrated in the same cabin and used the same toilets. Drinks and then meals were served to the whole cabin at once, meaning everyone removed their masks to breathe recycled air in and out for the same 40 minutes. In the scrum to get off the plane we were literally pressed against each other. I haven’t heard from the airline through its contact notification system that anyone got sick.

    The experience was not that different from using the NYC subway, which never shut down throughout the COVID emergency. But there was no need; a recent study shows riding in a poorly ventilated metal tube with often unmasked strangers and no social distancing demonstrated no correlation between NYC subway ridership and COVID spikes. If you weren’t going to get sick that way, you are not going to get sick in most others. The lifesaving precautions were mostly health theatre, stopping infections that never were going to happen the same as TSA stopped terror acts that never existed outside some kid’s Facebook.

    My experience of not dying from COVID is not unique. It is shared by some 327,500,000 Americans.

    Someone will post a quickly Googled document saying all this is wrong. Maybe. But it seems the questions around the value of masks and lockdowns are worth at least some discussion instead of being dismissed as Neanderthal. Follow the science we are told, even as the decisions which control our lives are made by self-serving politicians and not scientists. We have 50 different “solutions” to the same problem. They can’t all be correct, yet we assume one variety is and the other is not, even when faced with contrary data.

     

    Live TV tickers count COVID deaths. Yet we ignore the deadly psychological effect the “solutions” have on our society. While there exists room for discussion on some topics, here’s one that is both indisputable and unconscionable: kids are dying because of what we are doing.

    Suicide is now the second-leading cause of death for those ages 10 to 24. Since the pandemic began, the CDC reports the proportion of pediatric emergency room visits for mental health increased 31 percent. Reasons include isolation from friends and family, and the effects of parental stress and economic hardship. Government for the most part controls those factors, making conditions worse for children while providing ambiguous protection against the virus. Schools in many areas have been closed for a year, even though the political guidance finally matches what doctors have long been saying: if schools follow basic public health precautions, there is very low spread of COVID.

    A peer-reviewed study found “social distance and security measures have affected the relationship among people and their perception of empathy toward others.” That science (!) concludes “a careful evaluation of the potential benefits of the quarantine is needed, taking into account the high psychological costs.” The WHO found “economic and social disruption caused by the pandemic is devastating, with tens of millions of people are at risk of falling into extreme poverty.” In the United States, that poverty risk is fully government-made, based on sweeping non-science based decisions to unemploy people by decree, and make them subject to surviving on unemployment payouts and stimulus check handouts. As for the future, the National Institutes of Health warns “the impact of long-term school closure is yet to be seen.” The American Academy of Pediatrics and Children’s Hospital Association acknowledges “an escalating crisis.” Other studies speak of a “lost generation.” Domestic violence is up. Drug overdoses are up. Crime is up. Academic performance has tanked. Our elderly die alone, unvisitable, in solitary confinement.

    Our nation has been suckered into ignoring a tormenting real public mental health crisis in favor of slapped together efforts at social distancing based on as much political as scientific factors (the mayor of NYC is more concerned about “racial equity” in locating vaccination centers then in how many shots can be administered.) False heroes and villains are created to buttress the argument. No one is allowed to seek the calculus, the balance, of prudent protections versus recognizing the cure is worse than the disease. We are literally destroying our society believing we are saving it. Too many are convinced there is zero doubt there is a significant positive result from taking away basic freedoms.

    It’s troubling when people decide I must be making a political statement, or am a QAnon member, unmasked. You wear a mask, or hang garlic on your belt if you wish. I’ll get vaccinated when politicians make it easier to get an appointment than front row Springsteen tickets. I do not want to die this year. I don’t want to kill you. But I keep thinking critically and asking questions at a time when I fear too many have either stopped.

    COVID solutions and lockdowns have not lead to limits on death. They have tanked the economy and brutalized the people. There is a lot more going on here than inconvenience over wearing a mask. The answers, rationale thinking and vaccinations, are elusive.

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    Copyright © 2020. All rights reserved. The views expressed here are solely those of the author(s) in their private capacity.

    Posted in Economy, Other Ideas

    Running Biden vs. Governing Biden (Pick One)

    March 6, 2021 // Comments Off on Running Biden vs. Governing Biden (Pick One)


    Joe Biden and the Democrats did OK getting elected. When do they plan to start the governing part?

    Everyone was supposed to calm down once Uncle Joe took office. Good old Joe. CNN got it, running an article about how Joe plays Mario Kart with the grandkids, has a nice non-dumpster wood fire in the Oval Office, and goes to bed early. Politico ran a hard-biting piece on how “the first couple’s romantic gestures aren’t just genuine — they’re restorative.” Mr. Rogers with some PDA. A lot of familiar people are in the cabinet and mid-level positions. It’s almost as if it is 2016 again. Safe, happy 2016. But better, as we now also have Kamala (remember her, the first ever this-and-that vice president?)

    It’s nice. But the governing part is off to a slow start. Congress has been busy, albeit with another failed impeachment trial (counting Russiagate/Mueller, let’s call it impeachment shot in the dark III) of a guy who is not even president anymore, with a 9/11 style commission apparently to follow. At his Senate hearing the nominee for Attorney General was goaded into agreeing to some sort of additional investigation. “Hold him accountable” people say. Well, he lost the election, that’s pretty accountable. And why not — hearings are scheduled for the Postmaster General, whose days in the job are numbered, about why maybe some mail-in ballots might have been delivered late on accidental purpose five months ago.

    Trump nostalgia? No, keep fear alive seems to be the driver. For the first time in history the Capitol has a non-scalable fence enclosing it, and the Kapitol Kops are asking that the barbed wire stay in place until September “while authorities work to track down threats.” The National Guard is on near-permanent assignment (cost to date $480 million) on the Hill for no apparent reason other than to give directions to a few lost tourists. Political theatre, re-election stunts. A waste of time when the clock is running so hard against us.

    Because if we accept the Democratic/MSM campaign premise Trump nearly destroyed America, then this is a time of great urgency, life or death stuff. Things need fixing. But not that you’d know watching Biden and his Democratic Congress run the partisan table while the real problems sit like grandma in a Cuomo nursing home.

     

    Let’s see what the Democrats, in full control of Congress, are really up to. They haven’t been in such a position of power since 2008 during First Obama, and they know it. Their solution to fix America? Stamp out the opposition ahead of the 2022 midterms.

    Start with a mess ‘o politically driven Executive Orders canceling Trump. No more Muslim ban! Yea, except nobody can travel anyway because of COVID. Except of course everybody along the Mexican border with hazy asylum claims, whom Biden is fast tracking into America. Business travel from Europe, hmmm, dangerous, but anyone living in a tent outside El Paso, bienvenido.

    So it’s no surprise the first major legislation the Democratic Congress is to take up is an amnesty to transform the 11 million illegal immigrants who have collected in the U.S. since the last amnesty into 11 million new Democrats, er, citizens, within eight years (i.e., the next next presidential election but it may not matter because climate czar John “Muppet Lurch” Kerry says we only have 9 years left to live) The bill includes $4 billion to boost economic development in Latin American countries, which are not in the unemployed United States. Viva!

    Elsewhere the House wants reparations for slavery ended 150 years ago because that will fix everything on TV. The military has been restocked with transpeople. In another game-changing Executive Order, Biden revoked Trump’s E.O. creating an apprenticeship program paid for by industry to be replaced by one paid for by the Federal government which will favor the unions Dems need to be re-elected. President Biden has shown real concern for the people of Texas, hit by natural disaster, by ignoring them. The Dems in general are no longer demanding Ted Cruz leave the state forever but return to it to stop the blizzards. Outside of the halls of Congress, Democrats are trying to cancel conservative media from major cable providers.

    But the real hot button issue is finding a way an Executive Order can wipe out trillions of dollars of student loan debt without any thought to the broader economic consequences of such a decision and without reforming the way higher education is funded going forward. Because giving out free temporary debt relief is a primary function of government, some clause or amendment they talked about in civics class the day everybody faked being sick to go to the KISS concert. The Dems haven’t (yet) gone as far as nominating the corpse of Ruth Bader Ginsburg back to the bench but keep an eye on the news.

     

    What about America’s real issues? Stuff like COVID vaccine availability, the economic and social effect of lockdowns (San Francisco kids are committing suicide at an alarming rate, in New York as well, but at least they’re not in cages), unemployment (millions of people are forbidden from earning a living by their government), maybe the crumbling infrastructure. Or lockdown-driven drug overdoses, with deaths 3x those from COVID in San Francisco. The solution so far? Not school openings, because the Dems owe the teachers unions big time for their votes. Most of Biden’s proposed $1.9 trillion Coronavirus Relief Bill has little to do with public health; only 1 percent is allotted to the vaccine. Biden even said after whooping COVID, he is going after cancer. But for now here’s $1400 bucks, knock yourselves out, buy Gamestop.

    Remember foreign policy? Joe said recently “diplomacy is back” so, well, OK then. Iran still needs tending to and says we’re moving too slow. Russia must be up to something. Word is China is a big dealio. Anything? Bueller? All we’ve gotten so far is a non-decision to not follow through on Trump’s troop withdrawals from Afghanistan and elsewhere along the failed path of the Global War of Terror. We all know we do have Susan Rice’s next bright idea to look forward to. One hears Libya needs re-liberating.

    Everyone knows it is possible to walk and chew gum at the same time. The problem is the Dems have chosen to only do one, not attempt both.

     

    On the other hand, think about how this might play in the midterms. Obama made the mistake of actually trying to take his election momentum and control of Congress and turn it into history making health care reform. He ended up losing his majority and producing a new half-baked health care system to augment the old half-baked system while creating a political football for all to play with.

    Not so for the Biden Democratic party. Their goal is paying off electoral votes while finding ways to make January 6 a 2022 top line issue for voters. That what running looks like, creating a narrative, not governing.

    “For four years, all that’s been in the news is Trump. The next four years, I want to make sure all the news is the American people. I’m tired of talking about Trump,” Biden said during a campaign appearance at a CNN town hall tongue bath, albeit a month into his term as president not candidate. But while Biden takes pains to refer to Trump as “the former guy” or “the previous administration” the attention Trump gets from Congress and the media, coupled with Biden’s lack of action, keeps the whole machine in campaign mode and that always requires a villian, an opponent, and that’s Trump. Dems want to run against Trump whether he is or is not ever again a candidate.

    We need more than that, you even told us so Joe. Remember during the campaign, Joe, when you promised to “crush” the virus the day you took office? We’re quarantining until our skin becomes translucent for lack of sunlight. Our national symbol is Karen telling someone they need to wear a yellow hazmat suit to Safeway or they’ll have her kid’s blood on their hands. An America with its schools closed, its people out of work due to government decree, its worker’s economy weezing, its faith in itself low, an America where no one believes anything is true anymore and the president is just puddling along playing Mario Kart while settling political debts? Joe, you’ve been in office for six weeks, close to half of those all-important First 100 Days you talked about during the campaign.

    Like about half the country, I didn’t vote for Biden, but like all of the country I live here. Unlike some Democrats, who for example realized lockdowns were a useful tool in destroying the economy that was leading to Trump’s re-election, I do not want to see further suffering for partisan gain. If a Democrat can solve some of our problems, I celebrate that. So get started. Fix something. We’re bleeding out here, Joe.

     

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    Posted in Economy, Other Ideas

    Trump, A Man in Full

    January 22, 2021 // 2 Comments »

    Twitterless, Donald Trump will soon disappear into obscurity or some commentator job, basically about the same. It will be for the fullness of history to judge his term, but it is certain the summation will be it was four years of lies and barely Constitutional actions that have forever dented America’s democracy. Lies and actions by Democrats and the media, of course. For Trump himself, history will show he accomplished little and personally mattered in the grander sweep even less.

    Trump’s term began with the Dem’s lie he was not legitimately elected. Though it was all swept away when Trump challenged the results in 2020, in 2016 the Democratic Party and MSM were embroiled in a whole of society effort to stop the Electoral College from making Trump the official winner (disbelievers, Google “faithless electors 2016” and note the fever over the technically meaningless popular vote) Another push was made to prevent Trump from taking office under the Emoluments clause. The actors described their own efforts as patriotic, life saving.
     
    The media told us with certainty the stock market would never recover. We’d be at war with North Korea, Iran, Venezuela, maybe China. NATO would collapse. Putin would run the U.S. via blackmailing Trump because Trump had been a Russian agent since the 1980s. Trump judges would dismantle the rule of law, end same sex marriage, and make abortions illegal. White nationalists would control our cities. Everyone in Puerto Rico was doomed.
    None of that happened. It was all made up. Every bit of it fiction.
     
    Depending on your political stance, some “bad” things did happen. But they were stopped by courts (Trump’s plan to end DACA, his own election challenges) prevented by Congress (Trump’s plan to ease sanctions on Russia), undermined by the Deep State (Trump’s plans to withdraw U.S. forces from Syria), throttled by the press (Trump’s continuation of the Obama child-separation policy), or corrected by civil servants (coronavirus misinformation.) Far from any authoritarian, when his executive orders were declared unconstitutional, Trump revised them to fit judicial requirements, as with the “Muslim ban.” Behind the chorus of whining from CNN and NPR, no one was jailed for criticizing Trump, let alone killed (Obama still solidly holds the record for the use of the Espionage Act to stifle sources and journalists.) By failing to understand how to work the levers of government, nearly everything Trump did was by executive decree and can be turned around on day one by Joe Biden the same way. Trump’s supposed fascistic acts were purely performative.
    Yet despite his repeated failings as a would-be dictator, false apocalyptic spiraling was applied to everything Trump touched. The Kavanaugh kid who was a slug in high school decades ago became a gang rapist whose purpose was to overturn Roe v. Wade while helping Hitler stay in power. A new standard was invented on the fly by the same people who worried about the rule of law, so instead of “innocent until proven guilty” it became “credible accusation,” adjudicated by online mobs. A narrative based on no facts whatsoever was created that somewhere in Trump’s taxes, undiscovered by the IRS all these years, was a 1099 form “Misc Espionage Work, Russia.”
    Russiagate was the peak. Democrats paid someone from British intelligence to make up bad things about Trump. American intelligence then used what they knew was a work of fiction as an excuse to spy for real dirt on Americans in the Trump campaign, lying to the FISA court along the way. It was an outrageous Constitutional violation and a direct act of interference by the intel community in a democratic election, as if this was Honduras or Guatemala. When even that illegal spying turned up nothing, the whole thing spoon-fed to the MSM, who ran the table with three years of outright falsehoods. 
    But COVID! The Democratic Party, et al, created one of the most successful information operations in history, convincing a large number of Americans they must fear for their lives and they must blame Donald Trump. The success here dwarfed the failure of Russiagate, though was equally untethered to facts.

    COVID was a global event. U.S. deaths (91 per 100,000 people) for example, are lower than in Belgium (158), Italy (107), Spain (102), Britain (97), and Argentina (92), none of which were presided over by Donald Trump. It seemed hard to point a finger based on those numbers, so the finger was pointed at mask shortages, ventilator shortages, hospital shortages, racism, and Republican-run superspreader events. The vaccine which was going to take years to develop instead took months. We never needed the Navy hospital ships. We never needed the hospital tent facilities set up in Central Park. We never needed the mass graves. We never ran out of ventilators.

    The irony is that if anything in the last four years might have opened the door to a more authoritarian president it could have been COVID. Trump, had he really had authoritarianism in mind, could have federalized the National Guard to secure hospitals (or whatever fiction the public would have accepted, and in March of last year they would have accepted pretty much anything.) He could have created some sort of WPA-like body to decide nationally who could work and who could not. He could have demanded censorship to “prevent panic.” It was all on the table, and Trump did none of it. Not exactly Kim Jong Un-level material.

    What the media wanted so badly to be the capstone event of the last four years, the Charge of the Rednecks against the Capitol Building, was not. A mob out of control at worst, with the usual weak performance by the Kapital Kops, amounted to nothing. America awoke the next morning to find it was not Judgment Day, merely morning. No tanks on the White House lawn. Not even a cop car burned.
    The event was goonish, embarrassing, but in the end about as historical meaningful as a floor brawl in the Taiwanese legislature. For it to be a coup, insurrection, etc., it would have needed a path toward accomplishing a change of government. There never was any. Joe Biden was always going to be president. All the mob accomplished was a meaningless few hours’ delay in that happening. Trump’s actions vacillated between bizarre and shameful, his tone pathetic, but it was almost all just meaningless words no one will remember; nothing stuck and he’s gone. No civil war. Hardly Weimar material. As the fat kid in Jojo Rabbit said, “Not a good time for Nazis.”

    So what did happen? Trump is the first president since WWII not to start a new war. U.S. military fatalities during the Obama term were 1,912. Trump’s number to date is only 123. ISIS is gone. He was the first president in some 20 years to conduct active diplomacy with North Korea. For the first time in a quarter-century, Arab nations normalized relations with Israel, the Abraham Accords. Actually quite a bit of diplomacy from a guy popularly credited with destroying it. Record stock market highs. Trump appointed 227 conservative judges, more than a quarter of the total, including three to the Supreme Court.

    Some things did change under Trump. The media gave up any pretense of objectivity, and the majority of Americans welcomed it. They came to imagine tearing down some old statues or seeing a gay couple in a Target ad were real social progress. Public shaming by a mob — canceling — became a fine way to deal with thought crimes. Humiliation and name calling took the place of commentary. Terms of Service replaced the 1A. Corporate censorship of people and ideas is firmly now the norm, welcomed by a large number of Americans.

    Those left of center developed striking political amnesia. After decades of complaining about police brutality, they wanted more of it when directed at conservatives at the Capitol. They want censorship, against Trump, against ideas they disagree with, against whatever “hate speech” is defined as today. They want corporate speech police. They want a president who has voted for and helped run wars for the last ten years. They demanded new anti-democratic standards, Because Trump means any means is allowed if it justifies the end. They believed accusations of mental illness against a sitting president by doctors who never met him, a tried Soviet and Maoist tactic, are part of legitimate political discourse. Nancy Pelosi was still invoking this days before Biden’s inauguration, screeching for a resignation, the 25th Amendment, outright impeachment — something! — a bit of vengeance blithely supported by far too many Americans. Third World moves, bro.

    Those ideas, the rejection of democratic ideals and any politics but your own, won. The Trump era changed America but it is hard to argue it was for the better.

     

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    Posted in Economy, Other Ideas

    You’ll Vote Next Time with Amazon Prime Points

    January 3, 2021 // 2 Comments »

    I learned the facts of life from a drunk uncle. He was not an American, and worked in international construction in Asia, mostly Japan and Hong Kong. We were lost in cheap booze at a wedding and he started asking me about how things worked in America. I had just started working for the State Department and he specifically wanted to know how I handled being bribed. How much for a visa? To get someone an appointment at the embassy? I was naive. I wasn’t doing those things, wouldn’t know how.

    He explained his main job was to bribe people. He even had a joke to go with — my hands are dirtier than the guys who dig our foundations. Over the course of many tiny glasses of some awful clear Asian liquor I learned every yard of concrete poured required money to gangsters who controlled unions, politicians who controlled permits and inspections, cops who would or would not close down a street to speed things up, and to suppliers for better prices. It went on and on. A fact of life he said. You get used to it. You expect it.

    I asked him if, all jokes aside, he indeed felt dirty. It does change your way of looking at things, he said. Nothing is what it seems, you come to realize someone is pulling the strings behind everything and it usually isn’t you. Uncle never heard of George Carlin, who once said “it’s a big club but you’re not in it.” The odd official just doing his job for his salary is a rube, too stupid to bother with. You feel embarrassed for him. Even worse, the guy who says no for moral reasons. You’re just trying to put some extra money in his hands. You learn, uncle slurred, to trust nothing. Everything is available for a price. That politician on TV? The company just dropped off a nice check to his “charity.” Or maybe arranged for him to have some female company on a business trip. Everything was for sale. Play by the rules? Those were the rules. You’ll get used to it, I was assured.

    The first bribe I ever paid was to an Indonesian immigration officer, who noticed some small defect on my passport and was going to reject me. Of course, he said, it could be settled between us. With a fine. Off to the side. In cash. Have a nice day. It was all of US$20 to save my family vacation but I felt filthy, cheated, a chump. But I learned the rules. Living in New York, we rarely use the term bribe. We do use the term tip, and call it what you want it is as required to get through the day as oxygen. A table at a pre-Covid restaurant. A last minute anything. A friendlier handling by a doorman. Timely attention to fix-it requests. Servicepeople often won’t charge you sales tax if you pay in cash. My, um, friend, used to pay a lot of money for better hotel rooms until he learned $20 at check in with a friendly “anything you can do” to the clerk often got him the same thing at a third of the price. You get used to it. You get trained to accept it. What, you still paying retail, bro?

    I used to think it was all small stuff, like that, maybe with the odd mafia king bribing a judge with real money or something else movie-worthy. In America we were ultimately… fair, right? But things started to add up. We have our petty corruption like anywhere, but our souls are filthy on a much larger scale. America goes big or it goes home.

    Things like the Clinton Foundation accepting donations from the Saudis to help with women’s empowerment, an issue of course dear to the heart of the Kingdom. When it looked like his wife was going to be president Bill made six-figure speeches to businesses seeking influence within the U.S. government, earning $50 million during his wife’s term as secretary of pay-for-play state. The humbly named Bill, Hillary and Chelsea Global Foundation, now mostly out of business, was at its peak a two billion dollar financial dangle. It spent in 2013 the same amount of money on travel expenses for Bill and his family as it did on charitable grants. The media, big Clinton fans, told us we should be used to it, accept. Hey, Nixon was so much worse.

    Trump refused to be very specific about who his charity donates to. We know its off-shoot, the Eric Trump charity, donated to a wine industry association, a plastic surgeon gifting nose jobs to kids, and an artist who painted a portrait of Donald Trump. Trump-owned golf resorts received $880,000 for hosting Trump charity events. Reports show Trump donated money from his foundation to conservative influencers ahead of his presidential bid, effectively using funds intended for charity to support his own political ambitions. Anybody think his, or the Clintons’, donors didn’t know what they were buying?

    As vice president, with his wife Jill teaching at a community college, the couple reported a combined income of $396,000 in 2016. But since leaving the Obama White House, Joe and Jill made more than $15 million. In fact, as his prospects for election improved, Joe and his wife made nearly twice as much in one year as they did in the previous 19 years combined. Joe scored $10 million alone for a book no one read, Promise Me, Dad, roughly 10 times what his first book pulled in. Jill was paid more than $3 million for her book, Where the Light Enters, in 2018, by the same publisher. As soon as he left the Obama administration, Joe set up a tax dodge called an S Corporation that among other things donated money back to his own political PAC.

    For all the wrong reasons about half the nation got very twisted over Trump corruption and actively avoided notcing the Clintons and Bidens to the point of covering their ears and singing NYANYANAYNYA.

    But even all that money, measured in Epsteins (a unit of measure of influence buying I just made up) is petty cash now in America. The real corruption scales. The New York Times was startled to learn pre-COVID America’s 614 billionaires were worth a combined $2.95 trillion. As the Dow hit record highs this month, there are now 650 billionaires and their combined wealth is close to $4 trillion.

    In the COVID-driven economic crisis American billionaires’ wealth grew. Where’d all their new money come from? You, paying interest up to the Lord of Manor. For example, Dan Gilbert, chair of Quicken Loans, was worth $7 billion in March; he now has $43 billion. It takes a lot of poor people taking out expensive loans to sustain that amount of wealth at the top. Listen for the sucking sound as the cash moves.

    But it is wrong to think about money in dollars. That’s how small-timer grifters like doormen, waiters, and the Clintons, Trumps, and Bidens think. The real rich understand wealth as power. Basically, the power to shape and control society and government to ensure they make and keep more money for more power until someday they Have. It. All. The 400 richest Americans already own 64 percent of the country’s wealth. You dream of an upgrade to Business class, they own the jet.

    Now to talk about conspiracy theories is to imply something “different” happened, that the system did not work as usual and as intended; for example, instead of an election the president was assassinated to change of who was in charge. The term conspiracy has kind of a bad feel to it. So let’s not call whatever happened this autumn to elect Joe Biden a conspiracy. But here is what happened, see if you have a better word.

    The corporate media owned by that .01% spent four years attacking Trump. Working as a single organism fused to the Democratic party as its host, they tried to bundle Trump into a SuperMax as a literal Russian agent. When that failed they ginned up an impeachment with more holes in it than a bad joke about Stormy Daniels. The same media then pivoted to defense when it mattered most, sending information about Hunter Biden that would have changed the election down the memory hole, and policing social media to Joe’s advantage. Corporate pharma, also owned by the same people, held back announcement of Covid vaccines until just after the election. Once again the intel community, tightly bound with big tech, did its part leaking and concealing information as needed; for example, they worked to discredit the Hunter Biden story by calling it Russian disinfo. Donations are handy, but money that actually controls information is gold.

    Earlier in the contest “something” happened (it was just a coincidence two promising candidates, Buttigieg and Kohlbacher, dropped out nearly simultaneously just ahead of the South Carolina vote Biden desperately needed to end Bernie) again in Democratic primaries that started with some of the most progressive candidates since Henry Wallace to instead push a politician known as the Senator from Mastercard into the White House. Biden of course promptly returned the favors by filling his Cabinet with the same old thinkers corporate America liked from the Obama years. A highlight is Janet Yellen at Treasury, who helped run the massive corporate bailout that created the .01 percent out of the one percent after the Great Recession. No wonder Biden told donors “nothing would fundamentally change” for the wealthy when he’s in charge.

    If you are only figuring this out now you are way too far behind to really matter. A tiny percentage of Americans own, control, and benefit from most everything; call it one percent but a large number of the one percent are just slugs and remoras (hedge fund managers, corporate lawyers, etc.) who feed off the crumbs left by the .01 percent You know a handful of the real rich names — Bezos, Gates, Buffet — but only because they own public facing companies. Most of the others prefer less public lives while they control the public. And silly you, you worried that it was the Russians who stole the election. Here’s 20 bucks, go be quiet somewhere now.

     

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    Posted in Economy, Other Ideas

    New York Dies for Your Sins

    July 25, 2020 // 5 Comments »


    With Elderly Caucasian Joe Biden as the Democratic candidate, November 3 will be less about the Rise of Progressive politics than the noise of the last four years would have you believe. But while the media shine of AOC and her kind winds down, progressive thought will find at least a petri dish to fester in in a Biden administration, and perhaps even a second media wind if Trump wins.

    Since it’s not going away, seeing what would happen if progressives escape the lab and go really viral is important. For that case study, welcome to COVID-laced New York, baby.

     

    COVID is supposed to be, finally, Trump’s white whale, the thing that will bring him down after he wriggled out from under the Russians and the Ukrainians and Stormy. Unlike the made-up thousands not killed by the hurricane in Puerto Rico, these were going to be real. Not enough ventilators! Not enough tests! Mass graves in Central Park! And it is all Trump’s fault. (see “Donald Trump is the Most Successful Bio-Terrorist in Human History.”) That set the stage for Governor Andrew Cuomo and Mayor Bill de Blasio to craft a response far more political than medical. New York today is a laboratory for what happens when progressive ideology combined with political opportunism displaces reality.

    But first a quick reality check: For every death in this global epidemic, it is critical to remember the virus did not strike masses down in the streets like the Black Plague, and did not create hideous sores like the AIDS epidemic of the 1980s that tore through this city to the point where one hospital was informally called Fort Apache. It is unlikely to infect a third of the world’s population like the Spanish Flu. In fact, it looks like an overwhelming number of those infected never even know they have it, surprised by an antibody test months later. Most infected people do not pass on the virus. The hospitals never overflowed and the military was never needed. As of July 12 New York had zero virus deaths for the first time since the pandemic started even as the lockdown continued. But keeping the emphasis on “cases” and not conclusions keeps the fear alive.

     

    But enough of reality, we’re talking progressivism here. That lockdown has left New York economically devastated, mired in “the worst economic calamity since the 1970s, when it nearly went bankrupt.” The unemployment rate nears 20 percent, a figure not seen since the Great Depression (nationwide unemployment averages 11 percent; in NYC during the 2008 recession it was about 10 percent.) By decree, policy described as a “pause” in March to allow medical facilities to ramp up morphed into a semi-permanent state to keep things bad ahead of the election. While de Blasio authorized nail salons to reopen, he’s kept the city’s core sectors, the stuff that symbolizes New York to the world — Broadway, tourism, conventions, restaurants, hotels, and museums — shut, sacrifices to The Cause. The newly unemployed then strain food banks and soup kitchens. Look what Trump wrought!

    So people are leaving. More than 10,000 Manhattan apartments were listed for rent in June, an 85 percent increase over last year. The super wealthy neighborhoods have seen 40 percent migration out. The biggest outward migration is from the once economically strongest neighbors of midtown and the Upper East Side. Enough rich New Yorkers have left that it is affecting the census. That mirrors the outflow of population in the 1970s which decimated the city’s tax base and lead to landlords torching buildings to collect the insurance because they could not collect rent.

    So in 2020 it matters that 25 percent of New York tenants have not paid their rent since March. These overdue payments have left 39 percent of landlords unable to pay property taxes. A new NY law prohibiting landlords from evicting tenants facing pandemic-related financial hardships will help on the micro level while contributing to the destruction of the greater economy which of course will eventually devastate everyone. Progressive zeal will create an economic tide to sink all boats.

    The mayor, who by decree threw his city out of work, also banned large gatherings through September. He did however say Black Lives Matter protests would be allowed, claiming “the demonstrators’ calls for social justice were too important to stop.” The mayor himself, maskless, took time off to help paint “Black Lives Matter” on Fifth Avenue in front of Trump Tower. The central thoroughfare in Manhattan was then closed to traffic to let the paint dry. De Blasio stated (inaccurately) “black people built Fifth Avenue” so it was all quite appropriate. Some are more equal than others; the mayor criticized Trump for putting politics first in coronavirus response.

    De Blasio is also allowing an “occupation” to continue at City Hall, where several dozens of people, a mix of activists and the homeless (attracted by donated food) live in makeshift tents. It stinks, a throbbing health hazard island of human feces and drugs and food scraps even before you get to the COVID part but the city allows them even as, until recently, it sent goons to chase unwoke citizens in twos and threes from playgrounds. About half the occupying people had no masks. A woman asked my preferred pronouns while behind her a half-naked homeless man screamed. A reporter was assaulted. A few cops stood in front of a graffitied courthouse and laughed, at some part of all of it, I did not ask which. Maybe they just like graffiti; it is back across New York to add color to the chaos.

    So what are cops doing? The former police commissioner criticized city and state leaders for abandoning cops (de Blasio pushed through a $1.5 billion cut to the NYPD on BLM demand) and for helping create a “crime virus” to go along with the coronavirus. Amid defunding elite NYPD units in spite of a 205 percent rise in shootings this year, so many NYPD officers are applying for retirement the department has been forced to slow-walk and otherwise limit applications to get out. One of the most recent shootings was a one-year-old caught in gang crossfire; a 12-year-old was shot separately the same night. Meanwhile, the state legislature is proposing a new law to hold cops personally responsible for any liability occurred on duty. New York City made the use of certain restraints by cops a criminal act. Here’s video of a thug who was not arrested using one of the same illegal restraints on a cop.

    De Blasio and Cuomo found other ways to have both fewer cops and more criminals. New York state recently eliminated bail for many misdemeanors and minor felonies, claiming alongside BLM it was unfair to POC without resources to pay. Adding to the criminal population, Mayor de Blasio supported the release of some 2,500 prisoners from Rikers Island due to concerns over the spread of the coronavirus there. At least 250 of those released have been re-arrested 450 times, meaning some have been re-arrested more than once. Since they cannot be held for bail, most of those re-arrested are returned to the street almost immediately under Governor Cuomo’s fairness policy.

    The next battleground will be the schools. With only weeks to go in summer, the mayor announced the nation’s largest public school system will reopen with an unspecified mix of in-person and online classes. Teachers say crucial questions about how schools will stay clean, keep students healthy, and run active shooter drills while maintaining social distancing have not been answered. There have been no directives on how to handle online classes, no published best practices, not much of anything. Quality of education, like quality of life, is not on the agenda.

    One certainty is that New Yorkers will have fewer options — 26 Catholic schools will not reopen due to low enrollment and financial issues. That affects more than religion. Many of those schools represent the only neighborhood alternative to the failing public system. Closures will drive middle class flight.

    And there’s always something more. With indoor restaurant dining prohibited, many places are setting up ad hoc tables and sidewalk tents outside. In addition to adding to the third world Hooverville atmosphere, all that food has brought out the rats, who are attacking patrons.

     

    There is no sense we will ever end this. It’s easy to criticize places that have moved too fast but they had the right underlying idea: we can’t live like this forever. People need to work, not just for money (but they need the money) but to have purpose. So much of what has been done in the name of justice feels more like punishment, suck on this bigots! racial score settling under the guise of social justice.

    A lot of people are just sitting around like the Joad family waiting for something to happen. Thing is, we’re not sure what we are waiting for. The lockdown in March was, we were told, to flatten the virus curve. We did that. COVID hospitalizations and actual deaths in NYC are at their lowest levels since March. But the lockdown is still here and nobody seems to know when to declare victory — is the end point zero new cases before we can re-open Broadway? A vaccine? We just wait, the days hot, thick, and liquid. De Blasio and Cuomo are waiting, too, but for November 3 to free us. No need for a continuing crisis after Biden wins.

    But maybe the New York case study will serve as a different turning point in the election. Imagine enough purple voters who look at New York and become frightened of what the Left will do with unrestricted power in Washington. They want to work. They want their kids in school. They might just hold their nose and vote Trump.

     

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    Copyright © 2020. All rights reserved. The views expressed here are solely those of the author(s) in their private capacity.

    Posted in Economy, Other Ideas

    The Search for Heroes

    June 13, 2020 // 9 Comments »

     

    These are your new heroes: people who invoke the grace of Dr. King to label riots as lawful protests, looting as reparations. To be fair, most of that labeling is not by the thugs themselves, but by the media who elevate them to hero status hoping once again this will bring Trump down. Citing the freedom fighters in the streets, former labor secretary Robert Reich proclaimed “Trump’s presidency is over.”

    Not quite yet. So the MSM report on fires outside the White House with a wink; maybe they’ll burn the place down. The Trump family taking shelter in their bunker was met with articles calling the president a coward for not facing down the mob shouting “Get off my lawn!” The implied hope was there — if we can’t impeach him, maybe we can just have someone kill him. They will deny it, but the media encouraged violence. They hoped for it, they egged it on. “Destroying property which can be replaced is not violence,” NYT’s Nikole Hannah-Jones said. “I think any reasonable person would say we shouldn’t be destroying other people’s property. But these are not reasonable times.”

     

    Meanwhile the media met the prospect of the military’s arrival on mixed ground. The big story was not the standard “order will be restored but my God at what price?!?” but that Trump had “declared war on the American people.” Though 58 percent of voters support the deployment of the military to respond to protests, with only 30 percent opposing, the web is awash in uninformed fear mongering over martial law, posse comitatus, the Insurrection Act, and whatever else a Wikipedia search churns up.

    But underlying was a subtext: you know, maybe a military coup, maybe via martial law, would be OK. We’ve heard that actually for four years, with hopes expressed one of the ex-military men in the White House, maybe Mad Dog, John Kelly, or H.R. McMaster would hero up and assume control. If not directly, then maybe by running the country as the patriot behind the throne. Upon General Mattis’ departure, the The New York Times asked “Who will protect America now?” juxtaposing the warrior-monk with the Commander-in-Cheeto.

    The search for Trump-smiting heroes has strayed far from anyone deserving the title even as the qualification for the job remained hilariously low. Felon Michael Avenatti was a contender, anal porn star Stormy Daniels, and felon Michael Cohen, too. Along the way James Comey, John Brennan, Michael Hayden, Christopher Steele, and James Clapper were all given some hero time, and of course the run by Robert Mueller as Savior-in-Chief. There was the anonymous whistleblower and a handful of State Department drones at the impeachment hearings whose names are so long forgotten they might as well have been anonymous. Even the virus was given the chance at hero status if it would have been horrible enough to end this presidency.

    There were also the mini-heroes like Colin Kaepernick or the women’s soccer team, whose minor protests were turned into national moments by the MSM. They do keep trying for relevancy; pink haired soccer starlet Megan Rapinoe is threatening to run for some office, and joined other minor celebs in signing a petition to defund police forces. Kaepernick started a defense fund for protesters, quoting Malcolm X to warn “Concerning nonviolence, it is criminal to teach a man not to defend himself when he is the constant victim of brutal attacks.”

     

    The hero-seeking media partnered them with every Democratic black candidate of any type or plain white woman who could check boxes (single mom, lesbian, HIV+, veteran, etc.) The high point of this low point was reached with AOC and her Squad, whose only real accomplishments have been relentless self-promotion and helping push Nancy Pelosi into an impeachment process that squandered the Blue Wave.

    But rioters as the new heroes? That’s who is left? No one wants bad cops, and every day America suffers for its original sin of slavery and 200 year failure to find repentance. The only answer the country seems to have come up with is to allow rioters to run amuck every few years to let the pressure reset. Pick your favorite — the TV version following Rodney King, the blast from Ferguson, or something old school from the 1970s out of Watts or the Bronx.

    In New York City we face an 8 pm everyone-off-the streets curfew, the first in 75 years (the COVID lockdown is also concurrently still in effect.) But the protests continue, with several hundred people last night closing down streets adjacent to my apartment building. Many stores in this part of America’s richest city had already been boarded up; the men putting up the plywood coming in from white working class neighborhoods in nearby Queens said to me they’re grateful for the work post-COVID, “but if I ever have to do this for my own neighborhood some mf is gonna suffer.”

     

    The protesters themselves were about two-thirds white, uniformly in their mid-to-late twenties. People wearing Bernie t-shirts outnumbered those still practicing social distancing by about 6:1. Everyone who would tell me where they lived said Brooklyn but if you live here you would have already guessed that. The blacks in the group appeared to be joining spontaneously from the surrounding public housing blocks and not mingling. Their chants weren’t the organized ones of the white kids, mostly “f*ck the police” accompanied by gang signs or middle fingers, just rage cleansed of politics.

    None of the black protesters would speak to me, but the white protesters wouldn’t stop. They knew media and my notebook drew them like shadows to a lamp. Asked what they wanted, everyone had their lines down — it was justice and peace — but no one really had an answer to how this demonstration would help create those things. What law could Congress pass to fix any of this? Raising awareness seemed to be the closest anyone could get.

     

    Some apartments in the area have hired private security, those beefy guys you usually see checking IDs at night clubs. One hotel employee said his five-star place had former SEALS at the door. Two NYPD helicopters were overhead for almost two hours, top cover Baghdad-style, watching the rooftops. People living nearby are angry and afraid, and such people will defend themselves, and that will be a terrible, terrible thing. It seems leaders on all sides are setting us against each other and we are embracing that as a new way of life. When was your last pleasant but intense political discussion with friends?

    It was hard to connect the odd collection of images and impressions from the street with a new theme among the righteous but uneducated on social media. They seem to think burning a Target is the modern equivalent of the American Revolution against the British. I listened to the Hamilton score twice now, and even read the Klassic Komics version of Federalist Papers, and can’t find anywhere the American side whined about the British being too rough. Instead, they understood a revolution meant risking their lives, their honor, and their sacred fortunes. Denied representation under an undemocratic system, they fought.

    The Founders took to the streets with none of the protections of the Bill of Rights. It was only after they won those early heroes created a Bill of Rights. It came as a package deal, because the Founders wanted to create a society where peaceful change was written into the law and so another bloody revolution was something their children would not have to undertake.

    That fundamental message was missed by the Democratic Party of Fairfax, Virginia. They tweeted (now deleted but the sentiment is widely shared) “Riots are an integral part of this country’s march towards progress.” No. Riots are not a vehicle for political change in a democracy. They are the antithesis of democratic change, change by force with no desire for compromise.

    It was only a week ago people said protests against government (specifically COVID restrictions) were wrong and dangerous, we should listen to the authorities, and were glad the cops were out there enforcing social distancing and masking. The people I saw at yesterday’s protest looked a lot like the people hissing at me in Whole Foods for not wearing a mask. They likely believe the 1A protects their protests but not those of the rednecks at the statehouse. To them every offense is a lynching, every day the apocalypse, every Tweet another final blow to democracy, every misunderstanding another example of systematic racism if not sexism, every non-white non-male non-straight American another victim.

    Once you understand how shallow and and tiresome and hypocritical such views are you will understand the 2016 election, and in about 150 very long days from now, the 2020 election. No heroes, or Russians for that matter, necessary.
      

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    Copyright © 2020. All rights reserved. The views expressed here are solely those of the author(s) in their private capacity.

    Posted in Economy, Other Ideas

    The Neverending Trump Story

    June 6, 2020 // 5 Comments »


     
    If you get to the end of this and think all it’s doing is defending Trump, you’ve missed the point.

    For the first time in months there is no front page COVID story. The replacement is the police killing in Minneapolis and chaos everywhere else. But the repurposing is familiar: blame Trump for the tragedy to defeat him in November.

    For months there were ran charts and tickers of COVID infections, deaths, missing ventilators, anything countable that made things look bad. When the stock market was hemorrhaging money those numbers were in red up front. Today, if it’s COVID info you seek, look for it where it started, before it was rebooted from Wuhan’s Virus to Trump’s Virus, back in the business section. Somebody else’s blood is going to have to rescue Biden.

     

    The precipitating news peg is the death of another black man at the hands of another white cop under another set of dubious circumstances. If 100,000 COVID deaths can’t shake your faith in Trump, maybe one more of these will. In the eyes of the media, it is of course all Trump’s fault. The problem with that is former Minneapolis police officer Derek Chauvin, now charged with murder in the death of George Floyd, previously shot one suspect, was involved in the fatal shooting of another, and received at least 17 complaints during his nearly two decades with the department.

    Nobody prosecuted him for any of that, including never-gonna-be-VP Amy Klobuchar, as a county prosecutor. Klobuchar also did not criminally charge other cops in the more than two dozen officer-involved fatalities during her time as prosecutor. She punted those decisions to a grand jury. Current Minnesota Attorney General Keith Ellison, who was a lawyer and state legislator when Klobuchar was prosecutor, defended Klobuchar’s record as “a practice that was common at the time.” That’s another way of saying systematic.

    One person Klobuchar systematically declined to prosecute was today’s villian Derek Chauvin. In 2006 he was one of six officers who shot Wayne Reyes after Reyes aimed a shotgun at police after stabbing two people. Small world. And that’s before anyone looks again at Biden’s own record on these things, from Cornpop on forward.

    See, this week happened before. George Bush had Rodney King. Under Bill Clinton it was Amadou Diallo shot 41 times, remembered in the Springsteen song American Skin (41 Shots). For George W. Bush, it was Sean Bell. Eric Garner was strangled by police during the Obama term, alongside the Michael Brown shooting in Ferguson, Missouri.

    Barack Obama said what happened last week in Minnesota “shouldn’t be normal in 2020 America” when in fact it has been normal for some time now, including under his watch. After the police killing of Freddie Gray in Baltimore, Maryland in 2015, Obama called the protesters “criminals.” Oops. But the media has him covered now; Vox jumped in this round with “being a former president is different. Now that he is out of office, Obama is more free to try to lead the social change his candidacy once promised.” Change? Leadership? Obama’s Justice Department did not prosecute Eric Gardner’s killer. Obama’s Justice Department did not prosecute Michael Brown’s killer. So today there is still no justice, no peace. Blame Trump.

    If that Minnesota cop was a violent racist, he certainly didn’t take the red pill from Trump’s hand, not with two decades of personal complaints and two decades of signature national violence and two decades of prosecutorial somnolence behind him. Remind us again, who was the black Democratic president of the United States during most of that time? Who was his black Democratic attorney general? And someone is trying to use racism in 2020 to take down Trump?

    Wait, breaking news! Trump is threatening to kill Americans! In what the New York Times characterized as “an overtly violent ultimatum to protesters,” Trump tweeted the phrase “When the looting starts, the shooting starts” and threatened to deploy the National Guard to Minneapolis.

    Now of course the Times knows but didn’t let on to the rubes it knows that it is very, very close to impossible for the president to federalize the National Guard for domestic law enforcement (we slogged through the explanations two years ago in another faux-panic Trump was going to order the Guard to enforce immigration laws.) The Guard generally answers to its state governor, and in the case of Minnesota, Governor Walz already called for full mobilization. It was just a tweet, carrying the weight of a feather. So it’s fitting the punishment is a tagged violation of Twitter rules and not impeachment this time.

     

    The problem with COVID as the Trump Killer was the wrong people ended up dying, and not enough of them. Had the early predictions of millions of deaths sweeping across the nation had any truth in them, that would be hard to ignore. Had the early predictions of COVID zombies using their last strength to fight  over the remaining ventilators come to pass, that would have landed a knockout punch.

    COVID also killed the wrong people. One can imagine Democratic strategists shouting “Find me some white cheerleaders in Wisconsin who will never realize their dreams, dammit!” Instead, the dead were a majority poor and black, with about half of all COVID deaths in the U.S. in ravaged and neglected parts of the New York City area no one really cared much about before all this. You can see some of those areas on TV today, filled with protesters fighting cops. A few efforts at trying to tie COVID into a greater tapestry of economic inequality didn’t get very far; nobody had much concern for Amazon warehouse workers when they themselves were out of work and waiting on packages of Nutter Butters.

    COVID was fundamentally a crisis of economic inequality; the bodies in New York City are the proof. If it was a failure of leadership, then that failure must be traced back some 50 years, and has less to do with a lack of PPE in 2020 than it does with a lack of national healthcare and a living wage contact traced from Nixon to whoever the next guy turns out to be, because both candidates have promised to do nothing new enough to fix those things.

    It is sad and cruel and horrible to say no one cared in the end enough for the virus to beat Trump but that is what happened. Remember it in a few weeks when the news has forgotten George Floyd.

    The failure of Trump not failing as a leader during COVID, or with police violence, follows a long string of similar stuff, beginning even before his inauguration. For three years we were told the president was literally a Kremlin agent doing Putin’s business out of the Oval Office based on blackmail. Then there was something about the Ukraine that rose to the level of actual impeachment that is still hard to explain and seemed to implicate Biden as much as Trump. Trump will kill us all was a meme Democrats threw against the wall multiple times, with various North Korean and Iranian wars and of course the virus. And now, forget all that. It’s racism, stupid.

     

    Former cop Derek Chauvin didn’t wait for Trump to send out a tweet, or even take office, before becoming violent. He’d been at that for two decades. The systematic racism in Minnesota has roots deep into (d/D)emocratic governance, and wasn’t enabled by a few tweets. This is the same answer for the virus; the economic inequality which drove the virus in places like New York City has very little to do with Trump or his supposed lack of leadership, same as it had nothing to do with the made-up ventilator shortage. It is no surprise in 2020 two leading causes of death among the poor and black are police shooting and COVID.

    These things run deep within our society. How obvious does it need to be, it’s not Him, it is Us. The media trying to bundle the latest crisis up and slap a “Trump” label on it, like before with Russia, Ukraine, war, and COVID, will do little to hurt his election chances, and do much to make it clear everyone continues to look the other way. If it is just a Trump problem (or a he’s on Twitter problem), it lives and dies with Trump, whenever that is. That assures us following Biden or Trump this year, or Donald Duck in 2024, there will be another virus which reapers through the poor, and long before then another street killing in a place that should be as far away as Minnesota.

    If all we do is play politics with tragedy that’s all we’ll ever do toward resolving tragedy. Resolution lies in looking forward to seeking fundamental solutions over looking backward to assign blame. People in the comments below will claim this is defending Trump. That is as wrong as it is irrelevant. If anyone thinks more violence is the answer, or that this will elect Biden, or that his administration will change things, you’re missing the most important point: the revolution has been televised. You’ve watched it already, you just don’t realize which side won.

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    Copyright © 2020. All rights reserved. The views expressed here are solely those of the author(s) in their private capacity.

    Posted in Economy, Other Ideas