Thursday, August 27, 2020

Rioter, rioter, go away

News from the trenches of the New York Times:

Voters are beginning to become alarmed by the wide-scale rioting in several cities and have begun to notice that the cities with the worst problems are run by Democrats.  Poll numbers are thus swinging to the Republicans and away from Democrats.  Even Chris Cuomo and Don Lemon have started to notice, and they, too, have become alarmed and are suggesting that it's time for the riots to stop lest they damage Joe Biden's chances of unseating Donald Trump.

This presents an intriguing problem for Biden who has already promised to get the domestic situation under control if elected in November.  The problem is this: if Biden (or the Democrats generally) issue a call for the rioters to behave themselves, one of two things will happen.  Either the riots will stop, or the riots will continue.

If the riots continue, it makes Biden's promise to calm the troubled waters seem hollow.  If the riots stop, it labels the rioters as Democratic partisans and the Democratic party as the likely source of the unrest that has caused billons (with a 'B') of dollars worth of damage to probable Democratic strongholds.  One path confirms Trump's charge that the Democrats are America-haters, while the other marks them as ineffective braggarts.

I wouldn't want to be in either one of those shoes.

Sunday, July 12, 2020

Out Of Our Shackles

If the day should ever come (may Heaven avert it!) when the affections of the people of these States shall be alienated from each other,...  the bands of political associations will not long hold together parties no longer attracted by the magnetism of conciliated interests and kindly sympathies;  and far better will it be for the people of the disunited states to part in friendship from each other, than to be held together by constraint.

-- John Quincy Adams

John Quincy Adams was not alone in voicing such secessionist sentiments, either.  Alexis deTocqueville also thought it a good idea along with Sec'y of State Timothy Pickering (F-MA) and President James Buchanan (F-PA).

Some will protest that the issue of 'secession' was settled long ago.  That's not true.  What was settled in 1865 was the question of whether an agricultural economy without an industrial economy in partnership can hold its own against such a partnership.  The answer was that it could not.  The Confederacy decided to 'go it alone' and the Union objected to being left without a ready source of cotton, rice, and okra.  The Union got its way, thanks to their industrialized economy.  Might makes right.

Big government supporters then and now were and are very much against the idea of government growing smaller as by the departure of states, but lately the worm appears to be turning.  Upset over the election of a President they wouldn't have chosen (and, in fact, didn't), California has been making secessionist noises recently.  It's a fact that California's economy absolutely dwarfs the economy of the Confederacy, so they certainly could survive (at least in the short run) without being a part of the current union, and it is very unlikely that this President would react as negatively to their departure as did Abraham Lincoln.  In fact, it's probably true that a large portion of the electorate left behind would actually cheer the new nation onward.

Should we object to a CalExit?  I think it is becoming more apparent with each passing day that, as Mike Vanderboegh once observed, the United States is now one country occupied by two distinct people.  That wouldn't be a problem if both of those two distinct peoples were tolerant of each other, but that's not the case.  In fact, it's blindingly obvious that one faction considers the other to be sub-human and unworthy of any consideration.  This group, the intolerant, accost members of the other group at restaurants and disturb their peaceful enjoyment of a meal they haven't prepared themselves.  They do not simply boycott the 'others', they actively thwart the others' enjoyment of rights they themselves insist upon.  Rights for me but not for thee.  When those 'others' are invited by their supporters to speak on college campuses, for instance, they often find themselves blockaded and unable to even enter the venue.  When they do actually gain entrance and try to speak, they are often hooted and heckled by the 'intolerants' in the audience who — it must be said — are not present to hear the speaker but rather to prevent the speaker from being heard — by anyone.  Surprisingly, the intolerants are not receiving the same treatment from those 'others' who, by and large, tolerate the intolerants.

In case it isn't obvious, the intolerants are without notable exception so-called 'progressive leftists', and their targets are, also without notable exception, so-called conservatives.  The left isn't prepared to extend even the basics of common courtesy to a group they see as 'the enemy'.  In other words, we are at war.  We just haven't started shooting each other yet.  If and when the shooting starts, progressive leftists are going to be unpleasantly surprised to discover that conservatives are better armed and are all too willing to shoot back.

One would have to be an absolute moron to think that a peaceful secession would not be better than that.  Maybe it's time for us to seriously consider secession as a solution to the unrest we see every night on the 6:00 o'clock news.


Sunday, June 7, 2020

What shall we do about our police?

Riots in several major cities across the nation are making plain to one and all that the national tolerance for the occasional physical excesses of our police forces has come to a sudden halt.  In New York City and several other places, police vehicles have been pelted with Molotov Cocktails and many wind up turned turtle and burned beyond recovery.  Multiple police officers have been shot and killed.  Crowds of bystanders no longer stand by idly while police arrest suspects.  In Minneapolis MN and in Buffalo NY, police have been fired and charged with felonies for assaulting citizens.

Antifa and BLM have been accused of stirring protesters and turning them into rioters.  Sections of several downtowns, usually in minority neighborhoods, have been decimated by arson.  The Left generally praises and/or excuses the excesses of the rioters in contrast to the opprobrium slathered on the police and municipal leaders.  The Right tsk-tsks over the generally over-the-top police reaction but reserves their strongest condemnations for the looters and rioters.  Neither is providing much in the way of 'solutions'.

Well, is there a solution?  Without a doubt, anything that would serve to mitigate police violence would have to do so by imposing real accountability on police departments.  That means 'negative reinforcement', and that means making police misconduct painful.  Currently, when a citizen sues the police department and wins, the settlement is paid from city funds.  That is, it's paid-for by the taxpayers of the city.  The police feel no pain from that punishment.  All the pain is directed at the taxpayers.  That doesn't work.  We've seen that it doesn't work.  If it worked, police brutality would no longer be an issue.  We need a different answer.

The path suggested by several commentators is to pay such judgements from police pension funds.  This has the benefit that all cops are penalized for the misbehavior of the so-called 'bad apples'.  Essentially, it outsources enforcement of departmental ethics policies to everyone in uniform.  Would that work?  Maybe.  There may be a better answer.

It has been suggested that all government employees (at every level) with arrest power should be mandated to carry personal liability insurance.  Police unions wield tremendous political power and it's possible that the 'pension option' could be thwarted in the next contract.  It's much harder for the unions to lean on Prudential or Allstate, and those insurance companies will have a vested interest in rating police officers on their 'risk'.  A 'risky' officer will find the insurance premium rising in lockstep with the insurers perceived liability.  The best the unions will be able to do in response is to negotiate an 'insurance allowance', but such contracts apply to every member equally.  Sure, an officer might get $300/year to cover the cost of insurance, but Officer Friendly may find that the policy only costs $265, putting $35 back into the family budget, whereas Officer McSteroid has to come up with another $400 to cover the $700 premium, and if his behavior doesn't improve, before too long he'll need a second job just to maintain the required level of insurance.

Nowadays, when an officer is (finally!) fired for misconduct, it often just means a transfer to a different city or county or state and a change of uniform.  Tabula rasa, baby!  Not so if Officer McSteroid still has to maintain a current policy.  State Farm knows his name and his reputation and shares that information with Allstate and Prudential.  There's no escape from the database.

Too bad we can't do that for Congressmen.

Saturday, May 30, 2020

Corona recap

States are beginning, slowly, to re-open from the Moo Goo Gai Panic and we're seeing some lightly-reported lessons.

  • We've suspected that CV19 is wildly contagious, but we're now discovering that it's only wildly contagious in certain circumstances, viz. close contact with a symptomatic infected person over an extended time frame;  some (like the New England Journal of Medicine) are suggesting upwards of 10 minutes is required for transmission.

  • asymptomatic infected persons appear to not be carriers of CV19.

  • casual contact, even with an individual exhibiting symptoms, presents nearly no danger of infection.

  • N95 masks, touted as the gold standard for PPE, trap particles with a minimum size of 0.3 microns (E-6);  the diameter of the CV19 virus is 80 nanometers (E-9), about 1/4 the minimum size an N95 mask will collect.

  • mask use, therefore, provides close to zero protection for ordinary people going about their ordinary business.  They only protect against droplet infection when someone coughs into your face or sprays blood on you — which is why medical professionals use them on the job.  For you shopping for groceries?  Fundamentally useless, but perhaps comforting.

  • To die from CV19, you first have to catch it, then be part of a susceptible population, someone whose immune system won't successfully fight it off, and then have some co-morbidity (obesity, diabetes, heart disease, immunosuppressed, etc.).  If your immune system is working and you're in reasonable health otherwise, yes, you're going to catch it eventually, but you won't die from it.

None of this is meant to deter you from wearing a mask, even a cloth mask that is nowhere near as useful as an N95 mask, if you feel that it makes people around you more comfortable.  Just understand that it isn't really providing any measurable benefit.

Second, states that started reopening early, around May 4, are not showing indications of increasing hospitalization.  There's some confusion here because the news media bleats about "increase in cases" and lets you draw the (incorrect) conclusion that CV19 is resurgent.  The (reported) increase is typically an increase in individuals reported as infected after being tested, not 'individuals complaining about symptoms and/or being admitted for treatment'.  Most people who become infected with CV19 show no symptoms (asymptomatic), and perhaps don't even know they have it until they get tested and...  surprise!  Eventually everyone will be positive for CV19, but with a death rate in the neighborhood of 0.03%, look for the real death-from-CV19 number to come out around 100,000 — which is approximately what happens in flu season.  All those deaths where a mugging victim was discovered on post-mortem to have CV19 don't count.

It appears FDR was right: the only thing we have to fear is fear itself.

Wednesday, May 13, 2020

Bailouts and IRAs

In less than a month, the government has added $5T to our national debt.  They did it by printing money.  It's backed by nothing.  There can only be one result from that: inflation.  "Big deal!" I just heard someone say.  Yes, indeed, a very big deal, especially if you've already retired.

Washington is spending enough money that its effect will be felt almost immediately.  There are already reports of retail price increases for food.  What this means is that over the next few months and years, virtually everything you want to purchase is going to cost substantially more than it does right now.

If you're a workin' stiff, you can campaign for a wage increase on the grounds that your employer is charging more for whatever your employer sells/provides, but if you're retired:

  • you're on Social Security and you're probably not going to get an increase in that,
  • you have an IRA with a certain balance, and that balance isn't going to be adjusted upward,
  • the stock market is presently in the basement.

That $3,500 cruise you had planned for next Summer?  It'll be $4,000.  For every $7 you were planning to spend, you now have to plan on spending $8.  To put it another way, if you had $400G put aside for your retirement, somebody in Washington just stole $50G.  The balance in the account doesn't change; only its purchasing power does.

Now, if you happen to be one of those fortunate people who are the beneficiaries of the bulk of that $5T bailout, you can grab your pot of gold and put it where it will generate some more wealth for you.  If you're Joe Sixpack, you're shit out of luck.  Better luck next time.

And the reason for all that extra spending?  It's to combat the ill-effects of COVID-19.  The Kennedy Center needs money to help them get past the enforced shutdown, and Planned Parenthood seems to be... well, to be honest, I don't know what they're doing to battle COVID-19, but it's important enough for them to rate $35B.  In fact, almost none of that spending will actually help the man in the street... excuse me, the man forced to quarantine at home.

The real problem here is that all those people who just got the shaft from the financial wizards in Congress will go to the polls in November and re-elect the very same people who just stole 13% of everything the voters had saved, because "Hey, I got a check for $1,200!"  They saw that; they didn't see their retirement savings shrink by 1/7th.

Thursday, April 30, 2020

Sean Hannity is a f*****g moron

Back on December 9th, 2011, I suggested that Sean Hannity was an idiot.  I was wrong.  I admit it.  Sean Hannity is a fucking moron.  There's just no polite way to say that.

I rarely watch 'Hannity' even though I regularly follow Tucker Carlson and Laura Ingraham whose programs bracket Hannity.  Tonight I let myself be lured in because of the recent revelations of FBI malfeasance regarding General Michael Flynn and the Hannity teaser that he would have additional information on that topic.  And what does Hannity lead off with?  "I wear this FBI pin to honor the 99% of honorable FBI agents who protect yada yada yada..."

Is it possible that anyone can be that stupid?  If 99% of FBI agents were as honorable as Hannity, in his blind belief in 'American exceptionalism', supposes, there would be whistleblowers galore offering documentary evidence of institutional corruption throughout the United States Department of Justice.

But there aren't.

Quod erat demonstrandum.

Hannity is a fucking moron, and he gave us the evidence voluntarily.

Tuesday, April 28, 2020

Overreacting to COVID-19

You always have to have a plan, but it doesn't always have to be the same plan.

When we first heard about Coronavirus, COVID-19, the reports were sketchy and the number of cases was small.  "Small" in statistics equates to "unreliable", so we should have heavily discounted the initial speculations of a 6% fatality rate.  "6%' is a scary number.  It's 1-out-of-16.  In this country, 6% is 20 million dead Americans.  People panicked.  The country went into quarantine in an attempt to slow the spread of the disease.

As the number of cases grew, the conclusions drawn grew more reliable.  Soon we revised the fatality rate down to 3%.  That's still 10 million dead Americans, but it was based on testing increasing numbers of people who were exhibiting symptoms.  People without symptoms were assumed (!!) to be uninfected.  They weren't being tested because test kits were scarce.

Something else was becoming obvious: almost everyone who died from COVID-19 had other underlying issues, what are called "co-morbidities".  Yes, they died from COVID-19, but they might not have died if they weren't obese, diabetic, had heart disease, or something else that turned them into a fragile patient.

As test kits became available, people without symptoms began to be tested and we discovered something startling.  Huge numbers of people were showing positive test results, and they were asymptomatic.  They had already contracted COVID-19 and shrugged it off.

The federal government, in an effort to get good data, offered states a little bonus to compensate them for the extra work they had to do collecting COVID-19 statistics.  Effectively, the feds were paying the states for reporting COVID-19 cases.  Guess what happens?  Mr. Jones dies after being mugged, and on 'post' he's discovered to be positive for COVID-19.  Presto-chango!  He's a COVID-19 death.  Suddenly, there's a huge bump in the fatality rate.  The reported fatality rate can't be relied upon because it may be artificially inflated.  It's almost certainly lower than reported.  What does this tell us?

  • COVID-19 is ferociously contagious.  You almost can't escape it.  If you don't catch it in April, you'll pick it up in May.
  • COVID-19 is not very deadly.  The latest estimates of the fatality rate are down in the 0.03% range, 3-in-10,000.  That's still 100,000 dead Americans, but that's a long way away from 20 million.
  • Your greatest chance of catching it occurs indoors.  Fresh air and sunlight are hazardous to the virus and suppress its transmission, and thus are healthy for potential hosts (us).

Some countries, notably Sweden, have taken the attitude that COVID-19 is going to have to run its course, and their numbers (cases-per-capita, deaths-per-capita) are not noticeably different than ours.  Given this, what of our reaction to the pandemic?

  • Unless you or a loved one is in an at-risk population, staying indoors too much is a bad idea.  It spreads the virus.  Efforts to keep people out of places like parks and beaches is exactly the wrong thing to do.
  • Even if you are in an at-risk population, sunlight and fresh air are probably good for you.
  • 'Social distancing' probably doesn't work.  Almost certainly, it isn't doing what we hope it's doing.
  • Shutting down the economy and disemploying so many people was stupid and irresponsible.
  • The experts think everything is working well, and we should keep doing this until we're all destitute.

You always have to have a plan, but it doesn't always have to be the same plan.