Today the President of the United States said it was "possible" that reopening the economy "might" result in additional COVID-19 Deaths. No, Mr. President, it's not "possible." It's certain. There was never any chance that the US was going to be able to eliminate the virus. The US is too big, too fluid and was too unprepared to track and isolate every case early in the pandemic. Stay-at-home orders were only meant to slow the spread of the virus until we were ready to combat it more effectively (most virologists agree that too little has been done to make this possible even now). Your team of scientific experts have been explaining this to you for two months now -- so either you have not been listening, or you assume that the American people are ignorant of the truth (or would prefer to be lied to).
Mike Pence, a man so Holy that he will not be in a room alone with a woman other than his wife for fear that the succubus will drag him to Hell, just did what is arguably the most Un-Christian thing possible -- he placed his life and well-being above that of others including the sick. Pence visited the COVID ward at the famed Mayo Clinic. The clinic requires anyone -- even the very Holy Pence -- to wear a mask. Pence declined and then insisted on being photographed with a patient. Everyone else in the photo -- including the patient -- was wearing a mask. Everyone.
Yes, Yes. Fred has been away for 9 months. So, sue Fred. Wait, that's a joke -- don't sue Fred, please.
Fred, like many of you, is on lock-down over the COVID-19 pandemic, so it occurred to him that perhaps this would be a good time to work on The Frederalist Papers . . . along with a few dozen other projects he's been neglecting, so a month or more in he's finally getting to updating the FredBlog. Perhaps if things go on long enough, he will start updating more frequently. And speaking of the COVID-19 Pandemic . . .
People are looking at the COVID-19 statistics from the US and Europe and saying “why are infection rates and mortality so much higher? It must be ... “and then they recite a “logical” conclusion that there is a conspiracy of some sort.
Let Fred offer an alternative explanation: Regulations. That’s right, those awful, terrible, horrible regulations that are holding back American business and industry are the reason we and our European Brethren and Sistren and getting sicker than the rest of the world. No, not really. But regulations are the reason (or at least a big part of the reason) we appear to be getting sicker than the rest of the world. Allow Fred to explain.
In the US we have for many decades built up a considerable body of regulations dealing with the reporting, tracking and prevention of the spread of infectious diseases. Fred recently had to wade through these regulations as the apply in his own state of domicile and they are amazingly detailed and specific. His state -- and every other -- for example, is divided into regions, district and local health authorities which are all required to track and support dozens of different categories of infectious diseases. Individual healthcare providers also are required to report any suspicion that one of these public menaces is on the loose. The federal government likewise has reporting requirements -- through the CDC, a regulatory agency -- to track not just infectious diseases but all other diseases and causes of death (the states too). In Europe the rules are as stringent if not more so.
A study of 11 nations by the WHO found that at least 25,000 deaths from COVID-19 had gone unreported because of the lack of accurate record collection. That's a 14.5% increase in the current worldwide death toll . . . from just 11 countries. And if deaths are being under-counted in those countries, so are cases -- taking a conservative estimate of an 8% mortality rate, that something like an extra 300,000 cases that have gone unreported, 12% more than currently reported by the WHO as "confirmed."
So its not that we are getting sicker than the rest of the world . . . it's that we are better at compiling statistics. Now I know you are going to protest that other developed nations with multilevel bureaucracies -- say Russia and China --are equally stringent in tracking infectious diseases, and, of course, you would be correct. But here's the thing -- these countries, unlike the US and Europe (and Canada, Australia, New Zealand and a few others) don't have a strong tradition (or in most cases any tradition) of a free press and a citizenry that expects accountability from its government.
And here's the rub -- despite that tradition, there is a considerable body of evidence that a number of our leaders -- screw it, no euphemisms -- a number of GOP Governors and members of the Trump administration (and I suppose the President himself presuming he has any inkling of what is going on), are deliberately trying to obscure the full effect of the pandemic artificially low. How? By restricting access to COVID-19 tests.
You see, the regulations only require the reporting of confirmed cases of a disease. Or rather, while data is collected on suspected cases too, it does not get included in the same set of numbers that are reported in media briefings. It's the same reason there are six different measures of unemployment, but most of the time we focus only in the E-2 number. Remember how during the 2016 Campaign, despite years of positive employment growth, Trump keep claiming that the "real" unemployment number was much higher, and he was sort of telling the truth because he was talking about the E-6 number (he usually misstated even that number)? Same thing with reporting infectious diseases. Because "suspected" cases are not included in "confirmed" cases, some states have much lower infections rates than others.
While regional variances will account for some differences (for example, sparsely populated states already had a form of social distancing), the correlation between low testing rates and confirmed case rate, along with the occasional bald-faced admission from a politician, establishes that deliberate under-counting is going on. The media has not ignored this -- but neither has it given it much coverage. Perhaps this is because nationally the numbers are so appalling (during the first two weeks of April, COVID-19 was second only to heart disease in killing Americans); perhaps it is because the practice spinning the data is hardly limited to this one instance and the media just assumes that everyone knows to take what the government says with several large grains of salt (or in the case of FOX news, to be swallowed whole without question).
Yes, Friends, Fred knows it has been too long since he posted an update. In truth, the long, hot summer has left Fred bereft of energy. However, with the political season heating up, Fred feels a renewed vigor, so look for more posts and site updates soon.
In case you’re still not clear on how tariffs work, the tariff is paid by the IMPORTER, not the EXPORTER. While this hurts the exporting country by potentially reducing its exports (because its products are more expensive to buy with the tariff added), if the importer does not have a cheaper source, it will simply pass the cost along to the consumers, especially in a strong economy.
Let’s assume that this will happen to only 50% of the imports from Mexico (a very low estimate). If the first 5% tariff is implemented , this will mean $30,00,000 in price increases in Virginia. In Texas, the largest dollar-value importer of Mexican goods, it would be $450,000,000.
In many cases, long term contracts with Mexican suppliers will force importers to pay the tariff. In any case, it would take months, if not years, to replace supply chains for many goods manufactured in Mexico that are used in various construction and further manufacturing in the US. Even if contractors and factories opt to pay the tariff rather than curtail operations, it will create a drag on the economy.
Of course, the presumption is that Mexico will make some token gesture and the tariff will not be implemented. In which case, the whole thing will have been political theater. But if Mexico refuses, US consumers will either have to pay higher prices for goods imported from Mexico or go without those that cannot be imported from elsewhere. If the tariff has a negative impact on the Mexican economy, this will only increase the likelihood of economic refugees from there.
ICYMI, President Trump has a new theory about why the IRS has chosen to audit his income tax returns for, well, a lot of years, and it has nothing to do with his questionable banking practices, charitable shenanigans, and other financial peccadilloes. Nope it's all because he's a "strong Christian." Indeed, according to Trump, the IRS is rife with anti-Christian bigots who go after strong Christians. Of course, he cited no evidence of this, and its probably has not occurred to him that, being the largest set of faith denominations in the US, Christian churches benefit greatly from being tax-exempt under IRS regulations, which Fred supposes does seem like a good strategy to hide the agency's deep-seeded hated of Christians. The main problem Fred has with the President's claim is that he finds it difficult to believe that "Mr. Grab them by the Pussy, Two Corinthians, I've never felt the need to ask God's forgiveness" is such a paragon of Christianity that the IRS would target him and not, say, someone who actually attends church on a regular basis.
Well, since Fred last opined on the 2020 Democratic field, a 21st as arrived on the scene. Sen. Michael Bennet. Fred was initially going to unceremoniously consign Bennet to the trash bin established in that prior post, but decided that a ceremonious consignment was the decent thing to do. Bennet is said to be good friends with Loopy Hickenlooper -- but apparently not good enough to give his state governor an open shot at the White House. Bennet also has good democratic roots, his father having served as an aide to Hubert Humphrey and later as a mid-level wonk in the Carter administration. He's also Jewish through his mother and his brother is editorial page director at The New York Times. All that having been said, he doesn't have any real hook that will allow him to stand out in the too crowded field. Bennet is a good candidate for Secretary of Education, having been considered for the post during the Obama years.
This will be the first of what will undoubtedly be many revisions of Fred's views of the candidate seeking the office of President in the 2020 election. In this edition, Fred is taking out the trash -- that is, he is simply going to tell which of the 20 (as of this date) announced candidates are going to be taken out (like the trash) early in the process -- probably before the end of the summer of 2019. Each candidate in the list below is a "trash candidate" for the reasons given beside hie or her name. To avoid an appearance of being biased against a gender or race, Fred will list these trash candidates in alphabetical order -- which has the unhappy result of the first name on the list being a woman and a minority:
Tulsi Gabbard -- At 38, Representative Gabbard is just barley old enough to run. If she had more experience, just four terms in congress, she would still be too young. Also, she is from Hawaii, a solid Democratic State with only 4 electoral votes. Finally, whether its popular to say it or not, this Country is not ready to elect a female, Samoan American, Hindu as president.
Mike Gravel -- Phew, after that last comment, Fred is glad the next trash candidate is a white male -- and old white male -- a REALLY OLD white male. Mike Grave will . . . sorry, Mike Gravel will be 90 before the Democratic Convention. Hell, when he ran for president in 2008 his slogan was "Vote for Grandpa Mike." He can't decide if his a Democrat or a libertarian. And he thought it was cool to go to Tehran to attend a Iranian government sponsored anti-Hollywood seminar.
John Hickenlooper -- This one kinda pains Fred, 'cause he sorta likes Loopy Hickenlooper. Hey, the man took his mother to see Deep Throat and stayed to the end of the film. But, he's a term limited governor who never made headlines until he announced he was running for president and his main qualification was that he took his mother to see Deep Throat. His two elections for Governor in Colorado were squeakers ... not something you want to see if you're counting on winning your home state. Actually, Fred thinks Loopy might try to stay in through the Iowa caucuses, then drop out when he finishes lower than third.
Jay Inslee -- Another two term governor, but he never took his mom to see Deep Throat (so far as we know). Actually, Inslee has much more experience that Hickenlooper, but that is part of his problem. At 68 (turning 69 before the New Hampshire primary), Inslee lacks the youth that the Democratic electorate are seeking. Joe Biden would be out too, for the same reason, but he's got better name recognition. There's only room for one old line Democratic Liberal, with the emphasis on old, in this race, Jay.
Amy Klobuchar -- This is a tough call, because of the female candidates with congressional experience, Representative Klobuchar has the most tenure of the trash candidates. But she has less than Kirsten Gillibrand from whom she is otherwise indistinguishable.
Wayne Messam -- If you want to run for president when your the mayor of a smallish city and no one has every heard of you before, you'd better be gay. One off-season practice with the Cincinnati Bengals won't gut it.
Seth Moulton -- If you want to run for president as a three-term representative, you better have a vagina. Actually, Moulton does have his military career working for him, and if he were from a swing state, it would make me a possible VP choice. On the other hand, it was one of the first people to play the "Hitler card" against President Trump, and that is not the type of rhetoric that wins elections.
Eric Swalell -- If you want to run for president as a four-term representative, you better have a vagina. Also, don't announce your candidacy on the Stephen Colbert show. Swalell is so far off the radar, Fred accidentally left his off the list while he was compiling this post. He's from California, so no VP slot for him. Most likely he's shooting for Secretary of Education.
Marianne Williamson -- If you want to run for President and you have a vagina, you better have more of a résumé with more than a failed bid for the House of Representative, as an independent, five years ago, in which you finished fourth.
Andrew Yang -- Yang thinks the Democratic party is ready to nominate a business entrepreneur with zero political experience for president. He's wrong.
So these are the "trash candidate." This leaves Joe Biden, Cory Booker, Pete Buttigeig,
Julián Castro, John Delaney, Kirsten Gillibrand, Kamala Harris, Beto O'Rourke, Tim Ryan, Bernie Sanders and Elizabeth Warren -- 11 candidates is still way too many. Fred will try to narrow the field even more in a future post.
A Modest Proposal For preventing the Parents of Millennials of the United States from being a Burthen to Their Children or Country, and For making them Beneficial to the Publick (with apologies to Jonathan Swift)
As you have no doubt heard Medicare is about six years away from going bust and Social Security likewise will be insolvent a decade later. Accordingly, following in a great tradition of me who dare speak truth to power, Fred as decided it is time for Baby Boomers to step up and do what is needed to remedy the situation once and for all. The solution, of course, has been there, staring us in the face, for some time now, as most simple solutions have. But before revealing it, let Fred digress to remind all exactly what the problem to be solved is.
For some time now the political class has performed the most miraculous of conjuring tricks by convincing the (admittedly gullible) electorate that Social Security and Medicare are not entitlements, but contractual rights assured by the existence of private accounts consisting of payroll deductions pooled and invested in trust funds that will assure a non-ending supply of benefits. Meanwhile, these "trust funds" have existed no where but on paper kept in a musty file cabinet in a federal office building in West Virginia. (Actually, Fred is not certain that the file cabinet is musty or even still there -- but this was where the paper was kept 20 odd years ago when a story on the mythical trust fund was reported on 60 Minutes).
In truth, the massive "surpluses" generated by the payroll taxes of Baby Boomers during the last 40 years were long ago spent on other things and masking the true extent of the federal budget deficit. Remember when Bill Clinton balanced the budget? Well, in truth, he never did -- what he did was reduce the amount of money borrowed from sources outside the federal government to just less than the amount needed to service the debt. In truth, he could not have done this but for the availability of massive surpluses because the Baby Boomers were entering their peak earning years and were not yet retiring. They were all putting their shoulders to the wheel and their noses to the grindstone (ouch) and paying lots and lots of payroll taxes.
The problem of course is that the Baby Boom generation was followed by the Baby Bust generation. So now as the last of the Boomers turn 55 and the overwhelming majority of them have entered retirement, with an average of 10,000 more doing so each day, the difference between SSI/Medicare revenues and outgoes is no longer huge -- or in some recent months even positive on the revenue side for Medicare. Meanwhile, the "trust funds" that are supposed to provide for the Baby Boomers cannot be tapped unless the gubment can fund them from current general revenues, which are already close to $1,000,000,000,000 short on meeting other expenses (you read that right -- $1 TRILLION).
So what is the simply solution to this apparently insoluble "reality of the math"? Contrary to what the title of this essay might suggest, I am NOT suggesting that Millennials kill and eat their parents. That is a barbaric and cruel suggestion. What's more, being one himself, Fred can assure you that the elderly are not at all tasty. Moreover, they are laced with all sorts of pharmaceuticals, riddled with various aliments and disorders, and generally not likely to be appropriate for the vegan/keto/locavore diets of Millennials in any case.
No, the solution is much more benevolent. The Millennials should export their parents. And by export, I mean, of course, as human chattel. I foresee many benefits from a revival of the slave trade in reverse. First, as it would be most beneficial to dispose of the more affluent who place a disproportionate burden on SSI/Medicare, the trade would be overwhelming Caucasian and, thus, would serve as a much more satisfying atonement for the Africa slave trade than reparations.
Second, a thriving trade with China, which could cease to use its own population in its factories and mass construction projects, would swiftly reverse the imbalance in imports. Furthermore, Americans could take pride in the fact they were once again leading the world in factory production (albeit under the lash of their Sino masters).
Third, Millennials are forever decrying the lack of new opportunities while bemoaning that they will be the first generation to have a worse standard of living than their parents. Both complaints would vanish as the renewed slave trade would create all sorts of business opportunities, not merely for building and securing slave pens, but for designing apps for tracking runaways, following trends in the market, etc. And as for having a lower standard of living? Fogitabodit! Millennials might not all benefit from the boom -- BUT THEY WON'T BE SLAVES.
Fourth, there is no fear of a glut in the market. Baby Boomers will likely have much lower life expectancy once deprived of their Lipitor and Plavix.
Fifth, Millennials will find affordable housing in desirable locations such as Florida and Arizona, which be rapidly emptied as the trade booms.
Sixth, should supplies become scarce, GenXers will be available as new source of raw material, as will the Millennials themselves in the 2050s.
So, there you have it. A solution to, if not all, at least a fair proportion of America's ills.
Fred is constantly fascinated by people who are so certain they are right, they will simply ignore reality rather than entertain the possibility that they are wrong. The desire, the willingness, nay, the insistence on standing one's ground in the face of all credible evidence and reason to the contrary is a part of the human condition. What we now know is that this phenomenon has a cause (or rather a group of causes) called cognitive bias. These are psychological rationalizations that our minds employ to keep us from going crazy by constantly having to reevaluate reality.
From an evolutionary perspective, this makes sense. If we didn't have cognitive biases when we lived on the savanna, we would have to stop and think every time we heard a rustle in the undergrowth that sounded vaguely lion-like, "Hmm, I wonder if that could be a lion. It was a lion the time Ogg was eaten, and when Mooga was eaten too, but I suppose . . . AAAAAAAAA! Lion." Nope, better to just run away first and never ponder whether it was a lion. In fact, better to believe that it ABSOLUTELY WAS A LION AND I JUST ESCAPED CERTAIN DEATH! Never mind that Pooga and Dooga are laughing their a**es off as they watch you run away from a rabbit. It was a lion, you know it, and they are big, stupid Neanderthals!
Unfortunately, in the modern world some humans have figured out that if they can make other humans think that there is a lion in the underbrush, those humans can be made to seek protection without question whether there is a lion (or even why there would be a lion in suburbia). This is why propaganda works so well -- it plays on primal fears, most especially the fear that we will not be able to procreate.
Wait, I hear you cry, how did sex get into this? Well, it's very simple. In evolutionary terms, not getting eaten by a lion equals being desirable as a mate. More generally, having good survival instincts means being "savanna smart," and we all want our potential mates to think this is something we have and that in turn we can pass on to our children. We don't want to look like lion bait in front of She-ooga, because, in modern terms (according to Ron White) "You can't fix stupid." Thus, because we don't want to look stupid, we have put our cognitive biases to work to convince our potential mates that we aren't lion bait by reinforcing our certainty that we know better than to fall for something as painfully obvious as the truth. Fortunately, because Shee-ooga has the same cognitive biases, it often never occurs to her that our certainty does not seem to conform to reality.
Now Fred is willing to admit that he falls into the old cognitive bias trap now and again, and probably a lot more often than he realizes. Indeed, the belief that one is not susceptible to cognitive bias is recognized form of cognitive bias.
So, as a public service, Fred presents this list of cognitive bias phenomena with brief explanations. How many can you recognize in yourself?
Tribal Epistemology -- Information is evaluated based not on conformity to common standards of evidence or correspondence to a common understanding of the world, but on whether it supports the tribe’s values and goals and is vouchsafed by tribal leaders.
Dunning Kruger Effect -- The tendency for unskilled individuals to overestimate their own ability and the tendency for experts to underestimate their own ability.
Availability Cascade -- A self-reinforcing process in which a collective belief gains more and more plausibility through its increasing repetition in public discourse (or “repeat something long enough and it will become true”).
Confirmation Bias -- The tendency to search for, interpret, focus on and remember information in a way that confirms one’s preconceptions.
Backfire Effect -- The reaction to disconfirming evidence by strengthening one’s previous beliefs.
Curse of Knowledge -- When better-informed people find it extremely difficult to think about problems from the perspective of lesser-informed people (but see Dunning Kruger Effect).
Empathy Gap -- The tendency to underestimate the influence or strength of feelings, in either oneself or others.
Illusory Truth Effect -- A tendency to believe that a statement is true if it is easier to process, or if it has been stated multiple times, regardless of its actual veracity.
Irrational Escalation/Sunk Cost Fallacy --The phenomenon where people justify increased investment in a decision, based on the cumulative prior investment, despite new evidence suggesting that the decision was probably wrong.
Negativity Bias -- Psychological phenomenon by which humans have a greater recall of unpleasant memories compared with positive memories, thus reinforcing the belief that bad things happen far more often than they really do.
Normalcy Bias -- The refusal to plan for, or react to, a disaster which has never happened before.
Planning Fallacy -- The tendency to underestimate task-completion times (also known as Anti-Murphy Bias, referring to "Murphy's Law").
Semmelweis Reflex -- The tendency to reject new evidence that contradicts a paradigm. This is especially problematic in the scientific community, where dogmatic insistence on a "proven" theory often results in ridicule of the new discovery that falls outside the expected result.
Third-person Effect -- Belief that mass communicated media messages have a greater effect on others than on themselves (also know as False Immunity Bias, that is the belief that one is immune from being influenced by the media).
Parkinson’s Law of Triviality -- The tendency to give disproportionate weight to trivial issues. Also known as bikeshedding, this bias explains why an organization may avoid specialized or complex subjects, such as the design of a nuclear reactor, and instead focus on something easy to grasp or rewarding to the average participant, such as the design of an adjacent bike shed. It's also the basis for most magic tricks in which the magician distracts the audience by having them focus on a trivial, but easily followed, pattern.
False Consensus Effect -- The tendency for people to overestimate the degree to which others agree with them.