The Deplatforming Problem

Deplatforming has become one of the weapons of choice for the command-and-control crowd that will fight to the death for your right to agree with them. Their ability to successfully deploy this strategy depends, among other things, on their ability to intimidate. Which in turn depends on the centralization of power in the hands of a small group of ideologically aligned players who, not coincidentally, are powerful players in Washington, DC.

One possible solution to this problem–and it is a problem–is to decentralize the structure of the internet. This would give consumers control over their own data and identities, and drastically reduce if not eliminate, the monopoly power Big Tech has over the dissemination of information.

Some very forward looking innovators are working to do just that at this very moment. The video below from the libertarian Reason Magazine presents a discussion of some of the issues involved.

JFB

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Why Have Woke Colleges Abandoned Admissions Tests?

When Darwin published Origin of the Species in which he presented his data in support of his theory of evolution, the Archbishop of Canterbury was said to have offered a prayer: “Dear God” he said “Please let it not be true, or at least let it not be widely known.”

The same prayer is being uttered across the land of woke in instance after instance as inconvenient facts are discovered. One example is SAT tests. See the video on college admissions tests by John Stossel below. And then ask why the woke brigades are such fans of cancel culture. To ask the question is to answer it.

JFB

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The Nanny State is Here to Help You

It was the Clinton operation in 1992 that brought us the permanent campaign. Then the financial crisis of 2008 provided the all-purpose excuse for more expansion of federal power. It was during this time that Rahm Emmanuel famously said never allow a crisis go to waste. Now the sentiment among the nation’s control freaks, otherwise known as progressives, seems to be never let a pandemic go to waste. For instance, Bloomberg Magazine, a kind of bible for Nanny Staters,  recently published an article by Andreas Kluth entitled “We Must Start Planning For a Permanent Pandemic”. It is a reaction more than vaguely reminiscent of HL Mencken’s observation that Puritans were haunted by the fear that somebody, somewhere, might be happy.

And so the rise the Dead Enders proceeds apace. Consider, a little over a year ago in January of 2020, Dr. Anthony Fauci was busy reassuring Americans that there was no need to wear masks. Now he recommends wearing double masks for what seems to be the foreseeable future, vaccination progress notwithstanding. And speaking of vaccinations, back in April of 2020 Dr. Fauci said the earliest the U.S. would get a vaccine would be 12 to 18 months. Other “experts” noted that it typically would take up to 10 years to get the FDA to approve a vaccine. 

As of today, 11 months later, about 90 million U.S. citizens have received vaccination shots. The U.S. is third in line behind Israel and the U.K. for shots-in-arms per capita. As a result, we could be on the cusp of herd immunity. We will almost certainly achieve herd immunity over the summer months. 

Europe, on the other hand, is a mess. Its vaccination programs are stalled; Italy is locked down once again, and Germany and Spain, along with Italy, are facing another wave of infections. In the meantime, Sweden, which faced intense mainstream criticism for its relatively laissez-faire policy for dealing with the virus, has fared relatively well. More about later. 

There has been considerable controversy among scholars about the effectiveness of lockdowns for protecting public health. You could be forgiven for being unaware of this by relying exclusively on the mainstream press. They have proceeded under the assumption that lockdowns are not only effective, but crucial to public health, irrespective of circumstances and implementation. 

Empirical questions remain however. For example, how has Sweden fared relative to other countries? Data collected by the EU statistics agency Eurostat suggests that, comparatively speaking,  Sweden has done rather well. In an article published by the Foundation for Economic Education (FEE), John Miltimore uses these data to take a hard look at the costs benefits at lockdowns. 

He writes: 

“Preliminary data from EU statistics agency Eurostat compiled by Reuters showed Sweden had 7.7% more deaths in 2020 than its average for the preceding four years. Countries that opted for several periods of strict lockdowns, such as Spain and Belgium, had so-called excess mortality of 18.1% and 16.2% respectively.

Twenty-one of the 30 countries with available statistics had higher excess mortality than Sweden. However, Sweden did much worse than its Nordic neighbours, with Denmark registering just 1.5% excess mortality and Finland 1.0%. Norway had no excess mortality at all in 2020.”

However, in a separate article published by FEE, Miltimore demonstrates that, for most of the pandemic, Finland and Norway adopted policies that were even less restrictive than Sweden’s

 John Carlson, Director of Sweden’s Public Health Agency sums up. “Some believed that it was possible to eliminate disease transmission by shutting down society. We did not believe that and we have been proven right.” (See the entire article here.)

It is true that U.S. cases have recently experienced an uptick after almost 3 months of rapid decline. Whether the uptick is lasting, or the result of loosening restrictions remains to be seen. So far, a causal link between restrictions and infections has been difficult to pin down. 

For example, New York and New Jersey have had some of the most stringent restrictions while Florida has been far less so, earning it lots of Bronx cheers from…New York. But look at the outcomes. New Jersey has had 274 deaths per 100K. Excluding New York City, New York State has had 169 per 100K. New York City, the epicenter of infection for a good part of 2020, had a staggering 369 deaths per 100K. The wide variation between New York City and the rest of the state strongly suggests that statewide mandates are not particularly useful.

Then there is Florida. Statewide, Florida had 154 deaths per 100K. That’s 44% less than NJ and 58% less than New York City. 

At the very least these data suggest that the severely restrictive policies many governments have adopted have not been very effective if the goal is to protect public health. Add to that the policy induced economic crash, the shutdown of schools, the rise in suicides and the deepening sense of isolation felt by many, and the policy response is now starting to look catastrophic. 

So why, given their obvious and material harms, have general lockdowns persisted as a prime policy tool despite a lack of evidence proving their efficacy?

Control. 

In fact, the entire progressive project is about control. The goal is control over the everyday lives of citizens through the centralization of power and the tools of command-and-control. Hence the assault on free speech, the hysteria over school choice and the rules, regulations and guidelines about masking, business hours, family gatherings, having people over for dinner and all the rest of it. 

The idea of a virtuous and educated citizenry is tossed out the window like so many campaign promises.  So shut up and eat you spinach.  Your betters are here to take control. 

Never let a pandemic go to waste. 

JFB

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Watch the Bond Market

It bears mentioning that not only were the grandiose goals of the Obama Administration never met, some Obama policies actually  produced results that were the opposite of those promised. Remember, for instance, that if you liked your doctor you would be able to keep your doctor? Or the promise that the cost of health insurance for the average family would decline about $2,500? 

Well we know how that worked out. Health insurance costs rose substantially, and plenty of people lost their doctors. The same story can be told about pretty much everything Obama touched. A sane person would go back and check the assumptions backing  the failed policies. 

But we are not talking about sanity. We are talking about the Biden Administration. They argue that the policy failures of the Obama Administration were not failures at all; the policies just didn’t go far enough. And the Biden Administration, we are told, has no intention of repeating that mistake. They are going to “go big” and repeat the failed policies of the Obama Administration. Except bigger. 

Hence the recently passed spending blow out, with more to come. 

Fans of the Democratic spending spree keep on insisting (1) that the U.S. economy is weak and needs stimulus and (2) the U.S. needs to spend additional huge amounts of money to get the population vaccinated against Covid-19. Further, they argue, interest rates are  exceptionally low so the cost of financing of all this spending is negligible. 

However, economic growth has been far stronger than almost anyone predicted. Going forward, Bank of America estimates growth for 2021 around 6% and 5% for 2022.  Similarly, the Fed projects GDP growth of 6.5% for 2021 with the unemployment rate dropping to 4.5%. Democrats surely know this, but in the spirit of never letting a crisis go to waste, they are going to spend every dime they can get their hands on, and then some.

While the Democrats claim this is needed stimulus, it is manifestly not so. The party simply passed a progressive policy wish list on a strict party line vote. 

Here it is also worth noting that as far as Covid relief is concerned, only about 5% of the spending is actually directed at immediate Covid relief. Not only that, the bill does not allow any states that receive federal money to reduce state and local taxes. This provision will probably be thrown out as a violation of the 10th amendment’s prohibition against the Congress commandeering state resources. Not that the U.S. Constitution holds much sway with progressives.  

What is truly interesting about all this is the reaction of the bond market. Net spending by all levels of government (federal, state, local) is going to amount to about $9 trillion this year. From February 2020 to February 2021, the national debt held by the public increased 25% rising from $17.4 trillion to $21.8 trillion. And that’s before the just passed $1.9 trillion in additional spending, all to be financed by borrowing. 

Responding to all this, the bond market has sold off substantially with some long rates tripling from their lows. The yield’s of both 10 year Treasury notes and 30 year Treasury bonds have risen more than 1 percentage point since the summer to 1.65% and 2.42% respectively. The auction of 7-year Treasury notes held on February 25, 2021 came close to failing.

If the Democrats continue with their irresponsible behavior, and all signs are that they will, it may not be Republicans they have to worry about. It may just be the bond market. If investors lose confidence in the willingness of the United States to tame its finances and control inflation, they will not be seduced by happy talk from the administration, much less the utterances of ignoramuses like Senators Elizabeth Warren and Bernie Sanders. 

Undisciplined fiscal policy, monetized by the Fed, presents the prospect of a collapsing dollar, rising inflation and soaring long-term interest rates. That’s what we experienced in the 1970s. It could happen again. 

JFB

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The Enduring Fantasy of the Moderate Democrat

Congress is poised to pass President Biden’s spectacularly misnamed $1.9 trillion Covid Relief and Recovery Act. The bill will pass on a strict party line vote. And there is nothing moderate about it. Not only does the bill contain relatively little that actually addresses Covid-19, it will almost certainly delay the recovery, or at least make it less vigorous than it might have been. 

The reason is fairly simple. The bill, which essentially represents the enactment of a progressive wish list, actually pays people not to work. For instance, by adding $300 per week to State level unemployment benefits Congress made sure that plenty of people get paid more by staying home than by going to work. 

Not only that, the package is going to be financed by the issuance of more Treasury debt which the Fed is going to buy. In effect financing will be accomplished by monetizing the debt the way they do in other advanced economies. Like Zimbabwe for instance. 

Lest anyone think this particular $1.9 trillion package of pork is either sensible or a one-shot, it is worth thinking about a few things. First, Senator Bernie Sanders (D. Rolling Stone) is now chair of the Senate Budget Committee. He has already promised an additional $2 trillion for infrastructure spending. Second, the bill provides $86 billion in relief to bail out union pension funds on the brink of insolvency, thus divorcing performance from reward. In addition, they are providing a couple of hundred billion in relief to state and local governments even though some, like California, have experienced large increases in tax collections. Third, most of the $1.9 trillion will flow to government unions, a portion of which will find its way back to the coffers of the DNC. 

Thus far over the last year the Congress has appropriated something on the order of $3.4 trillion to Covid relief. Add this latest bill and the total comes to around $5.3 trillion. To put this in perspective, Covid relief, both real and in name only, now amounts to something like 25% of US GDP. Altogether the CBO now estimates that Federal outlays for 2020 will be around 32% of US GDP, up 11 percentage points from 2019. Public debt is projected to rise to 98% of GDP in 2020 and continue to rise through 2030 at which point it is expected to rise to 109% of GDP. 

One of the arguments that the bill’s champions advance is that financing all this spending won’t be a problem. The reason often cited is that interest rates are at historic lows which makes it relatively painless to borrow. There are lots of reasons why this is simply incorrect. 

The first is that market interest rates have risen substantially since that argument was first tested out. Back in August of 2020 the 10-year Treasury note yielded about 0.5%. Since then the rate has more than tripled to slightly over 1.5%. Second, if now is such a great time to borrow, private firms and individuals should be able to take advantage of the opportunity without being crowded out by government borrowing. Third, financing projects by borrowing doesn’t make them costless. It just shifts the time when the bill has to be paid in full. 

Fourth, it is worth noting in passing that there is a great con going on here.  Basically this gargantuan spending spree is not about the acquisition if goods and services. It just represents an enormous transfer of income from disfavored constituencies to favored constituencies. That is, to put it mildly, not a productive use of capital. Finally, by expanding its balance sheet to slightly over $7 trillion to accommodate the spending blowout, the Fed is planting the seeds of an upsurge in inflation, perhaps the cruelest tax on the poor that has ever been invented. 

It bears repeating that this bill is being passed on a strict party line vote. It will not receive a single Republican vote. It will receive the votes of all Democratic Senators and all but a couple of Democratic Congressman. It is blatantly partisan and there nothing moderate about it. 

The fantasy that there are moderate Democrats is belied by their actions. And there is more to come. 

JFB

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A Sign of Hope in the Midst of Idiocy

It is unquestionably the case that we live in an era in which abject stupidity has risen to a high art form. However amid all the nonsense a sign of hope has emerged. That sign is in the recent surge in the sale of Dr. Seuss books. The #1 seller on Amazon is “The Cat in the Hat.” In fact the top 6 slots in the Amazon Best Sellers list are occupied by Dr. Seuss books.  

Why is this a cause for hope? It is because the American people en masse decided to go out and buy these books, currently under siege from the Social Justice Warriors, precisely because they are under siege. These buyers are not racist troglodytes celebrating white supremacy. They simply do not buy the argument that childrens’ books published decades ago that expressed then common sentiment should be cancelled for not measuring up to the tender sensibilities of today’s lefty activists. 

No, people want to buy Dr. Seuss books for their children. They refuse to be intimidated and they are not about to let the book burners get their way. That represents a glimmer of hope, however slim. But there remains a long, long way to go. 

Consider for instance the behavior of the bureaucrats in in ever-so-woke Loudon County in Northern Virginia.  County school administrators “… have instructed employees to disassociate Read Across America Day from Dr. Seuss’ birthday.” During “… the past couple of years… LCPS Public Information Officer Wayde Byard added that teachers dressing in Seussian garb for Read Across America Day — for instance, the Cat in the Hat’s iconic headpiece — is discouraged but “not prohibited.”

How encouraging. 

Then there is the National Education Association (NEA). The NEA partnered with Dr. Seuss Enterprises for over 20 years as part of a program to get kids to read. But then the Social Justice Warriors made an appearance and published a “study” entitled  “The Cat is Out of the Bag: Orientalism, Anti-Blackness, and White Supremacy in Dr. Seuss’s Children’s Books.” 

And guess what? Dr. Seuss is now off the reading list. And not surprisingly, President Joe Biden, whose literary history includes several instances of plagiarism, one of which got him suspended from law school, conspicuously left Dr. Seuss books out of the White House message for Read Across America Day. 

But—and here is the good news—the campaign against Dr. Seuss seems to be failing, mostly because everyday people are revolting against the high-handed stupidity (there is no other word for it) of the Social Justice keyboard warriors. 

Unfortunately, the insanity of the era is not restricted to the juvenile behavior of affluent university students who want to be protected from the world of ideas. It also includes the bureaucrats who run various public agencies. For an example, let’s turn our attention to the World Health Organization (WHO) for a moment.  

The Director-General of WHO, Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, actually said that the Covid-19 pandemic has caused more “mass trauma” than World War II. When you think about it for a moment you realize it would take a great deal of effort to come up with something to match that for idiocy. 

World War II was the deadliest military conflict in history. Estimates are that as many as 70 to 85 million people died as a result of that conflict. That amounts to about 3% of the population of the world at that time. About 50 – 55 million of the deaths were directly caused by the war. Another 20 or 30 million were the result of disease or famine. 

Six million Jews were murdered in places like Auschwitz as part of the Nazi war effort, which had as one of its goals the extermination of Jews. Some would consider that a bit traumatizing. Which is not to omit the Polish Officer brigade murdered by the Soviets in Katyn Forest. Or the surprise attack on Pearl Harbor. Or the nuclear bombings at Hiroshima and Nagasaki. Or the siege of Leningrad (now St. Petersburg) where  millions of Russian civilians were systematically starved to death by the German  Army. 

It takes a special kind of stupidity to claim that Covid -19 is more traumatic than World War II was. Just as it takes a special type of idiocy to try to cancel Dr. Seuss, or to rename Mr. Potato Head to just Potato Head in order to deny the existence of sex differences. 

Fortunately, the American people have responded by buying lots of Dr. Seuss books. And Hasbro has backed down and restored Mr. Potato Head’s rightful name. Perhaps this is the beginning of a return to sanity. There is always hope. 

JFB

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Saving the Rhinos–or Not

It is seldom remarked, although obviously true, that hostility to free markets (and freedom in general) is the driver of much of the environmental movement. That proposition is not restricted to the environmental project though. It also holds true for many fashionable causes shot through with lies that are gussied up as the search for justice. The New York Times 1619 project is a case in point.

The video below, produced by John Stossel, makes the point well. The campaign to save the Rhinos is more about shutting down free markets than saving Rhinos. Like virtually all of these campaigns the emphasis is on controlling demand. That is a prospect doomed to failure when the underlying service or commodity is valuable. For instance, 50 years of drug war failure, not to mention the prohibition experiment, provides convincing evidence of that.

On the other hand, the quest for renewable energy attacks the issue of climate change (at least in part) from the supply side. It is unfortunate that many renewable proponents continue to attack the use of fossil fuels and to try to shut down their use. But the fact that a substitute is being proposed provides a glimmer of hope that rationality will ultimately prevail.

Please take a look at the short video below.

John Stossel on Saving the Rhinos

JFB

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Senator Mitch McConnell Excoriates Donald Trump

In the aftermath of the Senate vote that acquitted former President Trump in his second impeachment trial, Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell gave a speech on the Senate floor in which he explained his vote to acquit. His rationale was procedural; he argued that the Senate lacked jurisdiction to convict because Trump is a now a private citizen and no longer President. If the Senate has the power to impeach a private citizen, which would then allow the Senate to bar that private citizen from ever holding public office in the future, the impeachment power has no limits.

That, it seems to me, is both a close call and a perfectly reasonable position.

We should also note that McConnell pointed out that the matter does not stop here. Trump is still answerable for his actions in both the criminal and civil courts.

Most important is what McConnell said about the substance of the matter. He said what is obviously true, but needed to be said by the ranking elected Republican. In fact, it should have been repeated by all the Republicans. He said that there is no question that Trump provoked the mob into a foreseeable response. In addition, Trump was both practically and morally responsible for the result, which was the storming of the capitol building on January 6.

Senator McConnell’s speech is presented in its entirety in the YouTube video below.

Senate Minority Leader McConnell.

JFB

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St. Andrew Gets Caught or Why Did it Take so Long?

Back on January 28, 2021, Letitia James, New York State Attorney General released a blistering report documenting the Cuomo administration’s undercount of nursing home deaths as a result of Covid-19. Recall that Governor Andrew Cuomo issued a directive requiring nursing homes to admit Covid infected patients into their facilities. 

Now it turns out that a top aid to the governor, one Melissa DeRosa, admitted in a conference call with Democratic lawmakers that the Cuomo administration deliberately covered up the real numbers. They did so, she confessed, to spare the Governor political accountability. It turns out the reported numbers were off by at least 50%. 

Chris Cillizza, in a piece for CNN describes this as a “stunning admission.” He goes on to write: “This is only the latest bit of evidence that suggests the Cuomo administration may not have dealt as effectively with the coronavirus pandemic as was initially believed.”

Perhaps we should begin by asking a few questions, like for instance: Who, exactly was “stunned” by the substance of the admission and why?  It was perfectly obvious to roughly everyone but the adoring press corp / fan club that the Cuomo administration has long been a combination of mendacity and incompetence. 

Then there is Andrew Cuomo himself, Man of Science. Just 2 weeks ago the NY Times reported that over the last 6 months, 9 top level health officials in NY State resigned—because of the Governor’s behavior in handling the pandemic. Those resignations included the deputy commissioner for public health in NY, the director of the bureau for communicable disease control, the medical director for epidemiology and the state epidemiologist. 

The Times quoted Mr. Cuomo as follows. “When I say ‘experts’ in air quotes, it sounds like I’m saying I don’t really trust the experts,” Gov. Andrew Cuomo said of pandemic policies. “Because I don’t.” Saint Andrew sounds positively Trumpian here, and not for the first time.  

To that, add Cillizza’s risible assertion (passive voice naturally) that Cuomo may not have been as effective as previously believed. Which begs the question, (again excepting the rubes in the press corp) who thought that Cuomo was effective in the first place?

And now just as day follows night, we have the predictable feigned outrage and calls for Cuomo’s resignation. Again the obvious question: Why? This is what the supposedly enlightened electorate voted for. Is there anybody even dimly aware of how  progressive politics actually works in practice who is truly surprised by any of this? 

New York State and New Jersey with its similarly progressive policies have been far and away the leaders in the Covid death count from the very beginning. And all the while the press deflected and focused on the supposed horror show in Florida where the designated villain, Governor Ron DeSantis did not shut everything down, Cuomo style. 

Consider the numbers. New Jersey (pop 8.9 million) the fatality-rate leader as of February 12, has a death rate of 251 per 100,000. New York (second place, pop 19.4 million) has a death rate of 231 per 100,000. Florida (pop 21.5 million) is #25 with a death rate of 132 per million, about 57% of New York’s. Now consider that the median age of Florida (state rank #5) is 42.2 and New York’s (state rank #22) median age is 39. And consider that over 20% of Florida’s population is over 65, and a clear picture begins to emerge about where policy successes and failures lie. 

It would be bad enough if this episode could be described as just that. A singular bad episode. But that is, unfortunately, not the case. A similar story can be told about the public schools, especially in the deep blue states, which are owned and operated by the teachers unions. Which in turn own the Democratic Party. 

Before this is all over, the public schools in the big cities, virtually all of which are controlled by Democratic machine politics, will have been mostly closed to in-class instruction for the better part of 2 years thanks to the teachers unions. Upper middle class parents will continue to abandon the public schools in droves and send their kids to private and parochial schools where they will actually learn. The rest will fall further behind.  

The management of big city police departments tells a similar story. Since the Black Lives Matter protests (and riots) over the summer, progressive politicians have, for the most part, supported various versions of the “defund the police” drive.  All of which has been accompanied by soaring murder rates especially in inner cities as the police back off. 

To accompany this we have the spectacle of all-white residents in well-to-do neighborhoods decorating their houses with BLM flags, knowing full well they will be protected by the police in the unlikely event they are needed. And we have upper middle class white college kids screaming “racist” at minority police officers before heading back to their fully protected dorms. 

Progressives will, of course, deflect. They will launch into a typically mindless diatribe about the “structural racism” that is really to blame. All of which is hard to take seriously since it is progressives and liberals (now virtually indistinguishable) who have been running the show for decades in the big cities where the problems are manifest. Are they implicitly confessing that liberals and progressives are irredeemably racist?

Which is not to deny that we have structural problems that should be dealt with. The root of the structural problem is…Progressivism, with its contempt for individualism and individual rights; its command-and-control authoritarianism, its preference for bureaucratic control over civil society, its baked in corruption and its inevitable adoption of cancel culture. 

That is the structural problem that must be dealt with first. The rest comes later. 

JFB

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