COVID and the Progressive Mindset

Now as we begin the third year of the COVID pandemic we can begin to evaluate public policy responses to it.  Which is the polite way of saying that it is well past time to sift through the public policy wreckage and ask what went wrong and why. 

Let us consider masking and vaccine mandates. For three years, compliments of the CDC, the public has been given changing and conflicting guidance on the efficacy and advisability of wearing masks to prevent the spread of COVID-19 in its various iterations. For instance, at the beginning of the outbreak, the CDC argued against wearing masks saying that they were ineffective. In an e-mail obtained by a Freedom of Information Act request and subsequently published by Buzzfeed, CDC Director Anthony Fauci wrote the following:

“The typical mask you buy in the drug store is not really effective in keeping out virus, which is small enough to pass through material. It might, however, provide some slight benefit in keep out gross droplets if someone coughs or sneezes on you.”

By April of 2020, Fauci had changed his tune. Now the CDC recommended that people wear face coverings “in public settings when around people outside their household, especially when social distancing measures are difficult to maintain.”

By August of 2021, the new CDC Director Rochelle Walensky reiterated the call for universal indoor masking, including vaccinated Americans. 

At a White House VOVID-19 briefing Dr. Walensky said (correctly) that  “Our vaccines did exactly what they were supposed to do: prevent severe disease, hospitalization, and death.” She also said that “… masks will protect you and your family.” Later, on another occasion she said “We do encourage all Americans to wear a well-fitting mask to protect themselves and prevent the spread of COVID 19”.

Note what is going on here. First, there is the CDC claim that we are dealing with “a pandemic of the unvaccinated”. That is clearly not the case. With the introduction of the Omicron variant the number of breakthrough cases is so large that the claim has been obliterated. (To be fair, the Omicron variant had yet to be discovered when the CDC characterized the pandemic as being restricted to the unvaccinated). Second, the CDC has been moving the goal posts. They begin by claiming that vaccination in all but a few cases prevents infection. When that turns out not to be true they shift to arguing (correctly) that the vaccines are extraordinarily effective at preventing severe disease and death. 

But then we have the next assertion, a favorite of President Biden’s, which is that since vaccinated people do not get infected (false) they can not transmit the virus to others (also false).  Which leads to some interesting policy questions. (1) If vaccinated people can’t transmit the virus why are they required to mask? (2) What is the evidence that masking is really effective anyway?

The rationale for a masking requirement is that it helps prevent the transmission of the virus to innocent third parties—a negative externality in the parlance of public policy. So the initial questions are these: (1) what is the evidence that masking effectively prevents COVID-19 transmission; (2) what, if any, are the benefits of masking and do they outweigh the costs; and (3) why the necessity of coercion?  

Whether masking provides any benefits at all is a highly contested proposition. There are for instance, studies that provide some evidence of lower levels of infection among groups people who wore face masks versus those who did not. The problem is that the claims asserting effectiveness in reducing virus transmission generally refer to infecting other people, not the mask wearer. If wearing a mask protects the wearer, there should be no need for coercion. 

Further, the question of protection is crucially dependent on the type of mask, how it fits and the consistency with which it is worn. As a practical matter we are talking about adults in their everyday lives, not lab rats. It is unlikely that they are going to suit up to the CDC’s satisfaction for any length of time. On wearing cloth masks, for instance, Leana Wen a medical analyst for CNN, who also happens to be a vigorous supporter of coercive measures says this.  “Don’t wear a cloth mask…Cloth masks are little more than facial decorations. There’s no place for them in light of omicron.”

So sure, if you walk around town triple-masked, you may be less likely to be a virus spreader. And if you make a habit of wearing a hazmat suit, you are probably well-protected. But so what? As a practical matter that is not going to happen. Just like 5-year olds sitting in socially distanced grammar schools are not going to keep on wearing well-fitted N95 masks for hours on end. And the fact is that children are very unlikely to become infected and symptomatic anyway. For all we know, children may be getting infected by the score without getting sick, thereby building up natural immunity. 

Which brings us to the question of vaccine mandates. If vaccinated people are incapable of transmitting the virus, it makes no sense to require them to wear masks. But vaccinated people are in fact capable of transmitting the virus. That fact alone obliterates the case for vaccine mandates.  If you want to be protected against severe disease and death from COVID (and you should) then get vaccinated.

The unvaxxed may be taking foolish risks, but they themselves bear the consequences. Society as a whole is not threatened significantly more by the unvaxxed than the vaxxed. And not to put too fine a point in it, the CDC is essentially admitting that a zero COVID strategy is simply not possible. The disease is going to run its course and it will become endemic.

Nevertheless, the unvaccinated are being treated more and more like lepers with each passing day. Ezekiel Emmanuel President Biden’s bioethics advisor, advocates for denying unemployment benefits to workers who are fired for refusing to be vaccinated. So how widespread is this type of attitude? 

A recent poll found that 59% of Democratic voters would favor a policy that would confine people to their homes except for emergencies if they refuse to get vaccinated. 48% of of Democratic voters said they thought federal and state governments should be be able to fine or imprison individuals who publicly question the efficacy of vaccines. 45% of Democrats would favor governments to require the same to be temporarily housed in designated facilities or locations. 47% of Democrats polled favored digital tracking of those refusing vaccination to ensure they are either quarantined or socially distancing. Astonishingly, 29% of Democrats would support temporarily removing parental custody of children if the parents refuse vaccination. By far, Democrats favored harsh compliance measures over Independents and Republicans. Poll details are here. 

If the unvaccinated are mostly a danger only to themselves, or they don’t pose a risk to others materially greater than the vaxxed population, then why are they being treated like this? Fear mongering by progressives and their pals in the media account for most of the hysteria. But then, what is the point of all the fear mongering? 

The goal is social control and the transformation of American society away from individual freedom, property rights and liberal market capitalism. Instead progressives wish to substitute collectivist state control with governance by benign “experts” who always get it right. 

Except that even if all the experts were benign souls (and they are not) they face the problem of incomplete information. As Hayek demonstrated, they would never have enough information to make the right decisions. The eventual collapse of planned economies everywhere from the Soviet Union to Mozambique to Venezuela provides irrefutable evidence of this. 

Human nature being what it is, central planning leads to authoritarian state control if it is not forcefully resisted. Fortunately, the American political system with its checks and balances, has for the most part successfully resisted the progressive trap. Partly because of this, progressives have been very busy trying to dismantle those institutions that protect Americans’ freedom to choose.  

Progressivism should be vigorously resisted, in favor of the classical liberalism of the American Founding. Authoritarianism is not confined to the Right. As the Left has recently demonstrated, it is perfectly willing to trample on due process, norms and an independent judiciary to achieve its goals. They will almost certainly be booted out come this November. Replacing them with Donald Trump, should he choose to run, would just be more of the same. 

It will be a difficult task to resurrect classical liberalism to meet the myriad of challenges we face. But we have done it before, and we can do it again. 

JFB

Democracy Hanging in the Balance…Really?

Does President Joe Biden actually believe that absent trashing the legislative filibuster and passing the misnamed Voting Rights Bill, that democracy in America is headed for extinction? Similarly, does Donald J. Trump really believe that the 2020 Presidential election was stolen from him by the nefarious forces of the left?

If either, or both of them truly believe what is by any reasonable measure plain old nonsense, then they are fools, and delusional ones at that. Let’s be clear here. They are not fools because they believe either (or both) of these claims. It’s the other way around. They believe these claims because they are fools. 

And self-interested fools at that. Or at least self-interested in the manner of adolescents who are unable to think beyond the whims of their peer groups. Which is why 15 year-olds, generally speaking, may not legally buy alcohol or get a drivers license.  

Unfortunately we gave the keys to the car along with a glass of whiskey to Donald Trump in 2016 and repeated the error via Joe Biden in 2020. 

Partly as a result, America faces daunting challenges. And the current occupant of the White House, by aligning himself with his party’s progressives, is doing his level best to make things worse. Consider for instance, the exploding crime rate. It is clearly related to the progressive effort to reign in police and redefine crime as a symptom of “structural racism”. 

Or the ongoing rise in inflation that clocked in at 7% year over year just this morning. That’s the inflation that was supposed to be temporary—just like mask wearing was supposed to be temporary back in March of 2020. Then there are the school closings, a policy response utterly lacking in scientific merit,  engineered by the teachers unions who are busy indoctrinating (or at least try to indoctrinate) grammar school children in the finer points of “anti-racism” and transgender ideology. 

Offsetting these factors are foreign policy successes like the chaotic withdrawal from Afghanistan that saw people desperately  hanging on to departing planes before falling to their deaths. Not to mention the hundreds of Americans left behind, still trying to get out. Or the thousands of green card holders abandoned to their fate. 

Which goes a long way toward explaining why Vladimir Putin feels confidant massing 100,000 Russian troops on Ukraine’s border. And why Xi Jinping has been so aggressive stomping on Hong Kong’s pro-democracy movement and threatening Taiwan. And why Turkey, a NATO member state, has acquired Russian S-400 missiles designed to bring down NATO war planes. And why North Korea recently tested what it claims is a hypersonic missile. And why Saudi Arabia is building ballistic missiles with China’s help. And why Germany is proceeding with the Nord-2 pipeline from Russia despite US objections. 

In short, American power is no longer feared around the globe. 

And so in a desperate attempt to change the subject, Joe Biden, a party hack, and not very bright one at that, has decided to salvage the clown show that is his presidency by claiming that he and the Democrats are all that stand between democracy and darkness. How do we know this? Because he said so in his Atlanta speech yesterday. 

Quoth Mr. Biden:

“Will we choose democracy over autocracy, light over shadow, justice over injustice? I know where I stand. I will not yield. I will not flinch. I will defend your right to vote and our democracy against all enemies foreign and domestic. And so the question is where will the institution of the United States Senate stand?”

Leaving aside the juvenile rhetoric, it is clear that Mr. Biden is urging that the Senate jettison the legislative filibuster so it can pass a progressive wish list designed to create and maintain a progressive hegemony over America’s governing institutions. The immediate target is the legislative filibuster that Mr. “I-know-where-I-stand” stoutly defended for 50 years. 

“Do you want to be on the side of Dr. King or George Wallace?” Mr. Biden asked in his speech. That is the same Mr. Biden who in days past was busy trying to win the favor of the very same George Wallace and his segregationist buddies. For instance, when Biden was campaigning in Alabama in 1987 for his first run at the Democratic presidential nomination he bragged about receiving an award from Wallace in 1973. (The mere fact that he was probably lying about it, makes it even worse.) He also boasted that his home state Delaware was on the South’s side in the Civil War. 

And then there was Strom Thurmond the racist Dixiecrat turned Republican who was one of Biden’s pals. Thurmond once said “there’s not enough troops in the army to force the Southern people to break down segregation and admit the negro race into our theaters, into our swimming pools, into our homes, and into our churches.” Thurmond specifically asked that Biden speak at his funeral, which of course Biden did when he eulogized him in July of 2003. 

Other Senate pals of Joe Biden included segregationists like Jim Eastland  (D-MI) a mentor of his, and Herman Talmadge (D-GA). With his buddy J. Willam Fulbright, Biden got a twofer; Fulbright was both an anti-semite and a segregationist. 

So please, spare us the sanctimony. Biden is just a party hack who will say anything, no matter how absurd, to get himself elected. He is arguably different from Donald J. Trump in that Trump is not a party hack—he is an equal opportunity narcissist who will say anything no matter how wildly implausible—Stop the Steal, for instance,—to keep himself in the spotlight and in power. 

Fortunately, it is beginning to look like both of these guys are headed for the ash heap of history. Trump’s January 6 rioters are starting to settle into the jail cells they so richly earned. And Trump himself appears to be losing sway among elected Republicans and the base voters silly enough to believe him. Perhaps the Republican Party will begin to gravitate toward sanity, but the jury is still out on that one.   

The Democrats will almost certainly be shellacked in November. They could easily lose 50 seats in the House and with them their small majority. If there is a wave election, which looks increasingly likely, they will lose the Senate as well. There is nothing like a solid trouncing to bring a party to reacquaint itself with reality. 

In 2023 both parties are going to have to think long and hard about growing up. The one that grows up first will win in 2024. 

JFB

Protecting Democracy

Nikole Hannah-Jones appeared on “Meet the Press” on Sunday and said that she “…did not understand this idea that parents should decide what’s being taught” in schools. She then went on to say “I’m not a professional educator. I don’t have a degree in social studies or science. We send our children to school because we want them to be taught by people who have an expertise in the subject area.”

Nikole Hannah-Jones

About a month before she dismissed the idea of parents having a say over their children’s education she was interviewed by the Associated Press, during the course of which she had this to say. “I think we have to ask ourselves … the narrators, the storytellers, the journalists: Are we ringing the alarm in the right way? Are we doing our jobs to try to uphold our democracy?”

So let’s make sure we are clear about the bait-and-switch that is going on here. Hannah-Jones, currently a tenured professor at Howard University, claims she is not a professional educator. The reasonable question to ask then is: what is she doing as as tenured faculty member of Howard University? After all she recently accepted an appointment to the newly created Knight Chair in Race and Journalism. Her duties include founding the Center for Journalism and Democracy, which according the the New York Times will “…train and support aspiring reporters in investigative skills and analytical expertise.”

So with a straight face Hannah-Jones pretends to lack expertise in academia, even though she is a tenured professor and her responsibilities include developing curricula. Just as she marketed curricula based on her 1619 Project. And, as it turns out she will be instructing journalism students in investigative skills and analytical expertise. And as the founder of the Center for Journalism and Democracy she will presumably be training students on how journalism and democracy intersect. 

The funny thing about all this is that in Hannah-Jones’s version of Democracy the parents who fund the public schools, vote in school board elections, go to the PTA meetings and volunteer their time aren’t suppose to have a say in their children’s education. It should be left to the “experts”. Those are the same experts whose achievements include getting almost 25% of inner city students to be able to read proficeintly at their grade level. 

Democracy in the world of Hannah-Jones and like-minded progressives works just fine if you vote the right way. On the other hand, choice and true accountability are to be avoided at all costs. Which is to say it is not democracy at all. It is the soft totalitarianism of the administrative state. Which gets harder as time goes on, if left unopposed. 

But of course, they have the best of intentions. It’s just that the results never seem to pan out right. 

JFB

SCOTUS Hears the Vaccine Mandate Case

On December 4, 2020 at an event in Wilmington Delaware President elect Biden was asked if he thought that COVUD vaccines should be mandatory. 

He replied “No, I don’t think it should be mandatory. I wouldn’t demand it to be mandatory,” … “But I would do everything in my power—just like I don’t think masks have to be made mandatory nationwide—I’ll do everything in my power as President of United States to encourage people to do the right thing and, when they do it, demonstrate that it matters.”

Well, here we are a year later and lo and behold, we are faced with a mandatory vaccine mandate. One whose legality was immediately challenged in the courts, and which finally wound its way into yesterday’s  Supreme Court hearing. 

After the hearing there was near universal agreement among the commentariat that the 6 conservative justices displayed a fair degree of skepticism about the legality of the mandate. One of the liberals, Justice Sotomayer, was a thorough disgrace and acted as a cheerleader for the Biden Administration, which was defending its mandate.  More about that later, but first a little background. 

As Omicron variant cases spike we are increasingly told that COVID has become a “pandemic of the unvaccinated”. This is simply not true. What is true is that vaccination provides a solid defense against severe disease. However, while vaccination is less likely to prevent infection than it was in the more recent past, vaccinated persons are still (thus far) less likely to be infected at all. But that could change since it is early in the Omicron cycle.

Two graphs published by NY State tell the story. The first compares daily case rates by vaccination status from May 3 of 2021 to December 27 of 2021. The second compares hospitalization rates, which implicitly measures vaccine effectiveness against severe disease. 

Daily Case Rates
Daily Hospital Admissions

The data make 2 things clear. The first is that the rate of “breakthrough” infections has soared with the introduction of the Omicron variant. The second is that the unvaccinated are still far more likely to be infected—and hospitalized—than the vaccinated. For example, recent data suggest that unvaccinated people may be 10 to 15 times more likely to be hospitalized. 

(Note: These data are only suggestive. In some cases, specifically Denmark and Ontario, Canada, data amassed so far indicate that vaccinated people have a higher case rate than the unvaccinated.)

Another consideration with respect to “breakthrough” infections is that vaccinated people can still transmit the infection. However, at this time the data suggest that vaccinated people are less likely to transmit the virus. See the CDC on transmission by unvaccinated persons.

So what does all this have to do with the Supreme Court? The question is whether and to what extent the Biden Administration has the legal authority to impose its vaccine mandate on private employers and therefore implicitly on their employees. 

The Biden Administration issued its rule through the Occupational Health and Safety Administration (OSHA) on an “emergency” basis. There are a lot of problems with this, not the least of which is that the President lacks constitutional authority to force people to undergo an intrusive medical procedure. (The argument that as a precondition to attend school the States may require vaccinations against things like measles is irrelevant to the current case. The police power is in the hands of the States, not the federal government). 

That is why the rule was issued as an emergency order through OSHA using the pretext that it was designed to protect workers. But a vaccine mandate strays far from OSHA’s statutory authority. Among other things, an emergency ruling triggers a 3 pronged test, all of which the order fails to meet. 

  1. The mandate is supposed to be necessary, which is to say indispensable for dealing with the emergency at hand. Well, OSHA hasn’t demonstrated that there is in fact an emergency, or that the mandate would deal with it. In February of 2021 OSHA announced an emergency rule requiring vaccinations. It didn’t get around to releasing its standards for vaccination and testing for 8 months—until November of 2021, to be effective in January 2, 2022. Some emergency. 
  2. OSHA is supposed to establish that there is a grave danger. Not only did they not do that, OSHA itself says that unvaccinated 18 to 20 year-olds have the same risk as vaccinated 50 to 64 year-olds. 
  3. OSHA’s authority does not extend outside the workplace. For example, it is one thing to require workers to wear protective clothing in a factory building. It is something else again to require workers to do something that affects their well being outside the workplace, but doesn’t affect fellow workers. 

For a more detailed discussion see Andrew McCarthy at National Review here.

In addition, the Wall Street Journal has published an op-ed by Luc Montagmier and Jed Rubenfeld that argues that the Court should send the mandate back for further review since the Omicron variant, and thus its efficacy, had yet to be discovered when the mandates were issued.

Quite simply, it is becoming more and more clear that the vaccine mandate is just another lawless power grab by the administrative state. 

What is especially disconcerting is Justice Sotomayer’s willingness to treat unvaccinated people as second class citizens—at best. From the transcript of the hearing: 

“JUSTICE SOTOMAYOR: So what’s the difference between this and telling employers, where sparks are flying in the workplace, your workers have to be — wear a mask?

MR. KELLER: When sparks are flying in the workplace, that’s presumably because there’s a machine that’s unique to that workplace. That is the —

JUSTICE SOTOMAYOR: Why is the human being not like a machine if it’s spewing a virus, blood-borne viruses? Are you questioning Congress’s power or desire that OSHA do this? It already in 1991 told OSHA to issue regulations with respect to Hep C and B.”

(Emphasis added). 

So the Justice is incapable of distinguishing a human being from a machine. Interesting, that. 

One should also expect that a Supreme Court Justice would be familiar with a statute or regulation that she cites. The regulation in question, apparently unbeknownst to Justice Sotomayer, specifically addresses requirements for dealing with Hepatitis, thus obliterating her argument for using the broad language of the authorizing statute to find some agency authority for issuing the mandate. And, oh yes. COVID, unlike Hepatitis, is not blood borne.

There should be little doubt that people who decide against getting vaccinated are taking a huge and probably foolish risk with their health and safety. But it is not clear that in so doing they pose a clear and present danger to others, either in the workplace or outside of it. But the constant and ongoing power grabs by the administrative state do pose a serious threat to American liberties. Let’s hope the Court begins to put a halt to it. 

JFB

“But Donald Trump…”

But Donald Trump…

The instant progressive rejoinder to almost any criticism of Joe Biden’s shambolic presidency is “But Donald Trump…”. Which in turn is followed up by a litany of accusations about Mr. Trump’s conduct in office. Many of these accusations are unquestionably correct. Trump was, and is, appallingly ignorant about—well pretty much everything. And he routinely lied about pretty much everything as well. 

But through it all there were some policy successes, some important.  The rapid development of COVID vaccines is a notable one. The signing of the Abraham accords is another. The reduction in tax rates and the appointment of 3 originalists to the Supreme Court should be counted as well. But none of the constructive things Trump did strayed very far from what used to be called Republican orthodoxy. 

The two questions Republicans need to ask themselves are these: (1) were the costs of the Trump presidency worth the benefits, and (2) what is the path forward? Those are the questions the party has to sort out by 2024. Although it is virtually certain that the Republicans will re-capture the House, and possibly the Senate in 2022, such a result would simply represent a typical “throw the bums out” mid-term reaction against the party on power. It will not reflect a Republican governing philosophy simply because they don’t have one, or at least haven’t annunciated one this side of sanity. 

While the Republicans lack even a semblance of coherence, the Democratic leadership has enforced a brutal consistency across the party. Elected Democratic office holders and activists are passionate and committed believers who are pretty much wrong about almost everything. Since a good many of them are facing tough re-election fights, they are finally waking up to the fact that the party’s approach has been thoroughly rejected by the vast majority of independents and Republicans, not to mention a substantial minority of registered Democrats. 

Hence the “But Donald Trump…” dodge designed to rally the base and remind suburbanites what they revolted against. But it is a dodge not least because it implies that all questions are at root binary. One answer is to embrace Donald Trump in full; the other is to embrace progressive politics. That formulation is simply nonsensical. 

More importantly, the “But Donald Trump…” motif is an exercise in turning off any semblance of critical thinking in favor of cartoonish framing of policy issues. In the minds of committed partisans, every question implicitly becomes one of comparing two (and only two) possible outcomes. The first is the End-of-Democracy presided over by Donald Trump and a coterie of White Supremicists. The alternate is a just and progressive society informed by science and reason, governed by all-knowing and benign experts. 

With respect to the (alleged) pending extinction of democracy it is worth reflecting on what the term democracy is supposed to mean. For instance, the Washington Post, which has made a habit of publishing Democratic talking points and referring to it as journalism first began running the slogan “Democracy Dies in Darkness” on its front page in February of 2017, shortly after Donald Trump took the oath of office. 

It is a slogan that perfectly captures the mindlessness of the zeitgeist. Dean Baquet, executive editor of the New York Times, commented rather insightfully, that the slogan “sounds like the next Batman movie”. As to its meaning, well, who knows? All we can deduce is that its focus group inspired virtue signaling has been enthusiastically embraced by proponents of right-think.

But what does the term democracy really mean, or more to the point, what is the proper definition when used correctly? First, what it does not mean is that temporary majorities just get their way on any and all matters by the simple expedient of controlling 50% of the vote plus 1. Or to put it more bluntly, mob rule is not democracy. 

Second, Democracy spelled with a capital D is part of a process—but only a part—whose purpose is to protect liberty. Other factors that come into play are the rule of law, norms, culture, values, a separation of powers, property rights, free markets and a legal system independent of politics. 

Here is where it gets interesting. Interesting because those factors and values are part and parcel of classical liberalism but antithetical to progressivism. Consider for instance that classical liberalism is concerned with individuals and their natural-law rights and obligations. Progressivism on the other hand, is concerned with (ever shifting) group rights and outcomes. Consequently laws that are neutral on their face have to be evaluated with respect to their distributional impact on favored and disfavored groups. Which is to say, it encourages legal rent seeking.

By the language of the 14th amendment all Americans are supposed to enjoy equal protection of the laws. (Technically a better statement of equal protection is found in the Privileges and Immunities Clause of Article IV. Not only is it is direct; it avoids the clash between the administration of equal rights legislation and the Bill of Rights). 

Leaving aside the technicalities, the question remains, are all U.S. citizens equal under laws that are neutral on their face?  Obviously not. The new segregationists, otherwise known as social justice warriors, proponents of affirmative action, woke activists etc, favor actions by the administrative state specifically designed to achieve desired racial, ethnic and gender based outcomes in things like college admissions, the acquisition of broadcast licenses and access to capital. Hardly equal protection.

Or how about what progressives insist on referring to as “reproductive rights?” The way the law is currently interpreted, women, compliments of the so-called living constitution, have a court manufactured right to abort their unborn children without so much as a second thought about the father of the about to be extinguished child. Much less the child. However impolitic it is to mention it, women don’t get pregnant by themselves, a fact the law seems to think is irrelevant. 

How about the administration of vaccines? It may be foolish in the extreme to refuse vaccination, but that doesn’t necessarily give the federal government, which lacks the police power reserved to the states, the right to impose vaccination mandates. 

Not only are the unvaccinated treated like second-class citizens, they are rapidly approaching the point where they will be denied the possibility of earning a living or traveling in public unless for a state sanctioned activity. Remember during the lockdowns that social justice demonstrations were just fine, but going to church wasn’t? Even now, the unvaccinated are treated like lepers even thought the vaccinated can infect others as well. It is increasingly clear that the chief benefit of vaccination is not that it prevents infection, although it may reduce the odds; it is that vaccination mitigates the severity of potential infection.  

And while we are on the subject of unequal treatment, let’s not forget that the right to bodily autonomy (see abortion above) suddenly goes right out the window when it comes to vaccination. It seems that bodily autonomy only counts for abortion. Progressives seem intent on acquiring the power to make a person’s life and livelihood dependent on the whims of administrative agencies. Run by non-political experts of course. 

And how about those political norms that Donald Trump routinely violated? Progressives certainly wouldn’t do that. Or would they?

Well, the Biden Administration with an able assist from AG Merrick Garland and the Teachers Unions decided to start treating parents who objected to the indoctrination of their children as potential terrorists. 

Or the Biden Administration’s take  on the legality of vaccine mandates. After the 5th circuit  Court of Appeals blocked Biden’s order, the administration decided to carry on anyway hoping to buy time to accomplish its objectives despite the Court’s observation that “the petitions give cause to believe there are grave statutory and constitutional issues with the Mandate.” And not to put too fine a point on it, the Biden Administration issued the order through the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) citing an emergency, but didn’t get around to specifying rules for a solid three months after the supposed emergency was declared. 

Then there is the Biden Administration’s flatly illegal extension of the eviction moratorium issued through, of all places through the CDC. It should be noted that the eviction moratorium was first started by that constitutional scholar, Donald Trump. And let’s not leave out the filibuster that the progressives are trying to dismantle as they continue their penchant for changing the rules when they can’t otherwise get their way. 

Let’s not forget the Great Gerrymandering Scare of 2022. It now turns out that, despite previous claims of the pending End-of-Democracy as we know it due to Republican Gerrymandering, it is Democrats who may very well benefit from redistricting as a result of the 2022 census–and wait for it–Gerrymandering. All of a sudden the dire threat seems to have receded in press coverage. (Then again, when the Democrats do it, it’s redistricting; when the Republicans do it, it becomes diabolical and racist Gerrymandering.)

I could go on, but I won’t. Suffice it to say that as the facts change, the Red and Blue teams do not change with them; they merely adjust their arguments (if they do even that) to accomplish their pre-ordained political goals. Facts are utterly irrelevant to their policy arguments.  

And first among the progressive arguments is “But Donald Trump…” which serves to turn off the brain (a necessary pre-condition of progressivism) and allow the faithful to believe what they wish to believe despite actual conditions here on planet Earth.  And let’s not leave out the Republicans. Their first argument is: I am not a Democrat. Which may be enough to get them elected in 2022, but not in 2024. Just like Biden’s argument: I am not Donald Trump was enough to get him elected in 2020 as a caretaker, but not to actually govern as anything more than that. That is a lesson he is starting to learn the hard way.

JFB

Don’t Know Much about History…

James Flynn of Cambridge University is probably the world’s leading authority on IQ. For example, he is widely recognized as the  discoverer of the “Flynn Effect”, the increase in IQ scores that occurs over time. The fascinating video below is Professor Flynn delivering a TED talk about the subject, how the Flynn effect came to be, and some of the implications of it. 

One factor that is particularly interesting is the way he traces changes in IQ from the world of the concrete to the world of abstraction. Among the important ideas he posits is that the modern world, (let’s say post 1900 or certainly post WW1) is one in which abstractions and therefore counterfactuals are taken seriously. Which is why ignorance of both history and of other cultures (rampant in the West especially among the young) should be cause for concern. 

The 22 minute video, shown below, is well worth a watch. 

James Flynn on “The Flynn Effect”.

JFB 

Rand Paul and John Stossel

Most politicians speak in bumper sticker slogans. As a result, it isn’t very often that a politician shows up who is conversant in political philosophy, economics and public policy. Then again Senator Rand Paul (R – KY), an intelligent and thoughtful man, is not a typical politician. 

Senator Paul, an ophthalmologist and politician, has strong libertarian leanings. Straightforward about his convictions, you won’t find him resorting to bland Senate speak to avoid discussion of contentious issues. Which is one reason why he enrages his detractors who would rather silence differences of opinion. Especially ones that are well thought out, which his tend to be. 

Recently Paul sat down for a half-hour interview with John Stossel to discuss socialism, inflation, mandates and his book “The Case Against Socialism”. The interview, shown below, is well worth watching. 

JFB

John Stossel Interviews Rand Paul

Progressive Collapse

The chaos that is the defining feature of the Biden presidency is not the result of one man’s incompetence. Nor,  by itself, is it the consequence of his intellectual shallowness, advanced age, cognitive dissonance or general mediocrity, though all of these factors have played a role. 

The chaos is the result of Biden’s choice to align himself with the progressive wing of his party. And since the party has pretty much been captured in toto by said progressives, group think reigns supreme. Consider the reaction to Senator Joe Manchin’s refusal (thus far) to buckle under and support the “Build Back Better” bill. 

The headline in the Washington Post sums up the story: “Democratic bitterness, rage follow Manchin’s ‘no’ on Biden bill.” According to the Post, Representative Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-NY) accused Manchin of a ”betrayal of working families across the country… and an egregious breach of the trust of the president.”

After accusing Manchin of being a liar, White House Press Secretary Jen Psaki went on to say “Senator Manchin will have to explain to those families paying $1,000 a month for insulin why they need to keep paying that, instead of $35 for that vital medicine. He will have to explain to the nearly two million women who would get the affordable day care they need to return to work why he opposes a plan to get them the help they need. Maybe Senator Manchin can explain to the millions of children who have been lifted out of poverty, in part due to the Child Tax Credit, why he wants to end a program that is helping achieve this milestone—we cannot.”

For his part, Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer, looking over his shoulder at a potential primary challenge in 2022 by Squad leader AOC, announced that the Build Back Better Bill would be subject to a vote on the Senate floor. Schumer is taking this extraordinary step even though the bill has no chance of passing and will damage the prospects of Senators in swing states in the upcoming mid-terms. Then again, Senator Bernie Sanders (I. Rolling Stone) demanded the vote. 

Senator Sanders reportedly said “…that Manchin should have to vote publicly and that he would “have a lot of explaining to do to the people of West Virginia” about his opposition. So it appears that Senators Sanders and Schumer along with AOC actually believe that Manchin, a fellow Democrat (which by the way Sanders, the self declared democratic socialist is not) will be punished by West Virginia’s voters. This, even though Donald Trump carried the state by 40 points in 2020, and recent polling indicates that upwards of 70% of West Virginians oppose the bill. 

Meanwhile, not to be outdone, Speaker Nancy Pelosi weighed in by saying “Well, we never give up,” Pelosi said. “This will happen, it must happen, and we will do it as soon as we can. There are conversations that are ongoing, but we cannot walk away from this commitment. The Build Back Better [Act] is about transforming our society.”

It has apparently not occurred to Pelosi et.al. that the American public is not at all interested in “transforming our society”. What the American public wants is stable prices, good schools, safe streets and reasonably competent public administration. The Democrats, have delivered none of these. 

In fact, progressive policy, with a large assist from Republican Federal Reserve Chair Jay Powell, has set off an explosion of inflation that shows no signs of abating. Parents across the country are protesting the take-over of the public schools by woke activists while school test scores (where they still have tests) continue to deteriorate rapidly. And the murder rate in big cities has skyrocketed 30% year-over-year, a record. And we haven’t even broached foreign policy. 

The reason for the chaos is the underlying (and preposterous) progressive conceit that not only can the administrative state micro-manage a dynamic free-market economy and local institutions; it can also do so competently and efficiently.  Which is to imply that bureaucrats know better than you how you should live your life. And they have the regulations to do the trick. 

Except that all they have created is economic and social destruction. The one major policy success of the last few years is the astonishingly rapid discovery and deployment of vaccines to fight the COVID pandemic. And that success was brought to you compliments of those creatures of the free-market, the drug companies. 

JFB

The Willful Blindness of Progressives

In a prepared remarks delivered at the White House on November 23 2021 President Biden made the following statement.

“We’ve made historic progress over the last 10 months.  Unemployment is down to 4.6 percent two years faster than everyone expected.  When we started at this job, it was over 14 percent.”

Except, as the graph below illustrates, the unemployment rate was 6.7% the month that Biden was elected. It was 6.3% when he took the oath of office, and it was already headed rapidly downward. And somehow or other the fact checkers were amazingly quiet about the President of the United States falsely claiming that the unemployment rate was more than double what it actually was. In prepared remarks on White House stationary no less. 

It’s not like this episode is an anomaly. The White House and its progressive allies, including those in the press, routinely mischaracterize events—when they are not simply inventing them. Consider Afghanistan. In an interview with George Stephanopoulos, Biden insisted that his military advisors had not counseled him to keep a residual force of 2,500 soldiers in the country. But Joint Chiefs Chair General Milley and General Frank McKenzie, in testimony before the Senate Armed Forces Committee said that they had advised the President to keep a small troop presence there. Who do you suppose is telling the truth? And who is prevaricating?

In the event the United States did not simply withdraw its forces; the United States surrendered to the Taliban. And now tens of millions of Afghanis are facing starvation as the country collapses. Some are now reportedly selling their daughters as child brides so they can buy enough food to survive. 

The Biden Administration, actually Biden himself, has called his surrender (they call it evacuation) a success. As MSNBC reports it, “One day after the final U.S. planes roared out of an Afghanistan lost to the Taliban, the embattled president said the exit marked an “extraordinary success.” And he framed his polarizing decision to leave as not merely strategically prudent, but part of a vital philosophical shift in American foreign policy.”

And what exactly is that “vital philosophical shift” in American foreign policy? Well, he’ll have to get back to you on that. In the meantime though, there are still about 1,000 Americans stranded in Afghanistan looking to get out. Not to mention about 14,000 Green Card holders. And Russia is amassing forces on Ukraine’s border and the Chinese Air Force is violating Taiwan’s air space. This apparently counts as foreign policy success in Biden world.  

And then there is the inflation problem. At first Biden & Co denied it. Then they said it would be temporary. Then they decided that it was a priority and that they “take action”. And what would that action be?

Well, surprisingly enough it’s the usual progressive grab bag of economic illiteracy. For instance, Biden ordered the federal bureaucracy to investigate price manipulation by the oil companies. Then the Biden Administration decided to address supply chain problems—problems that are partly due to the demands of progressive ideology. 

The main ports in the U.S. (and the only ones capable of handling the largest container ships) do not operate 24/ 7 as they do in Asia. Why? Because of union work rules designed to protect what Biden insists on calling “good union jobs”. U.S. ports are so outclassed in world competitive terms that in the 2020 “Container Port Performance Index” not one ranked in the top 50. A recent review ranked Long Beach and LA near the bottom of 351 ports, and below the ports in Tanzania and Kenya. 

And what has the Biden Administration done about that? Well, they asked the FTC to investigate supply chain problems and they threw more subsidies at the unions. 

The same type of policy disaster has beset the public school system, which seems more intent on keeping schools closed at the behest of the teacher’s unions than it is interested in actually teaching kids something. Or allowing parents to have a say in what their kids are learning. On the other hand, plenty of parochial schools stayed open during the pandemic without significant incident. And they appear to be picking up enrollment. (See this article).

The above is but a small portion of a very long list of spectacular progressive policy failures; in fact it is difficult to think of measurable progressive policy successes. Which raises the question, why is it that progressives who constantly invoke  science are apparently immune to its findings? Over time, top quality social science policy research studies by leading scholars have demolished the most cherished myths of progressive policy makers. These scholars include Milton Friedman, James Buchanan, James Q Wilson, Gary Becker, Fredrick Hayek, Patrick Moynihan, Thomas Sowell, Charles Murray and Glenn Loury to name a few.  

And what has the response of progressives been? There have been three. Response # 1 is willful blindness. Response #2 is the ritual recital of the sacred phrase “But Trump…”as if that solves everything, or anything. Response #3 is Cancelation. Like good little McCarthyites, they have simply sought to silence those who disagree or whose prior writings are suspect. In this they are very much like…Trump. 

But it’s all to preserve democracy, of course.

JFB