In his inaugural address, FDR bellowed the phrase, “…the only thing we have to fear is fear itself!” Viewed critically, it was a nonsensical utterance. But everyone knew what he meant so it went over well. And there was validity in the point. Sadly, Roosevelt would spent the next 9 years exploiting that same fear and exacerbating the depression he was addressing here. And that is instructive for today.
After Dunkirk, Churchill said, “Wars are not won by evacuations.”
Are we at war? That is not a rhetorical question. We have been hearing for several weeks now that we are at war with a virus. If the government, state and federal, are serious then we are losing this war – badly- and needlessly.
And what of our fears? We have been conditioned, far too easily, to live our lives based entirely on our fears. I would argue that fear is being amplified beyond reason more every day.
So I’ll ask again, are we at war?
How did we fight WWII? Did we try every way conceivable to avoid battle because someone might get hurt or even die? Was there a rush to gather our troops into the barracks, encouraging them to find ways to entertain themselves as means of achieving victory?
I know what you are thinking. Don’t even try it. You see where I am going and you are about to tell me the soldiers in our present scenario are first responders and essential businesses. They must fight on the beaches, landing grounds, hills and streets, etc. It is our job to stay home. That is how we beat Corona.
You are wrong if that is how you see our present situation. This is a multi-theater war, just like WWII. We have the medical theater. That runs the gambit from standing 6 feet from each other, to those first responders doing their job, to keeping the ventilators going. It is an all-hands evolution. It also requires staying home WHEN YOU ARE SICK.
It is here we have already lost the opening battles of the war. This is our Pearl Harbor and early North Africa. At the bidding of the political class we have abandoned the field to the enemy. I will demonstrate how all the theaters of this conflict are intertwined in later pieces. But for now, for us to have ANY chance of coming out of this healthy we have to adapt a war mentality.
Are we at war? Or is the war on Covid 19 just a shitty metaphor like the “war” on drugs or the “war” on poverty. Because I have to tell you those “wars” are an insult to anyone who has actually fought in a war. Those wars were lost because they were not fought. We declared the war and surrendered immediately. In both cases we subsidized the “enemy” and gave away the victory. Why are we doing this again?
We, all of the able-bodied, are the front line troops. ALL OF US. So just remaining on the medical front for now, we need to adapt the age-old attitude that has often brought about victory. You MUST decide that you already have the virus. You might as well. You most likely had it, have it or will have it when we finally stand up and start to really fight. It is ever less likely that you’ll die from it but the possibility MUST be accepted….IF we are at war.
Or we can continue to take counsel of our fears, sitting in our barracks looking at funny Facebook posts and passing thoughts and prayers back and forth to each other. This is NOT courage. And WARS require courage.
I believe we are at war. We are losing this war. It is time to see all the fronts we are fighting on clearly. There are many. And it is time to fight.
I am going to beg you to think critically for just a few minutes here. Of course, that is the goal every time a political writer toils, but on this subject critical thought has been missing across the board for two months.
One of the most socially crippling aspects of the COVID-19 fiasco has been that the talking heads on TV and elsewhere have long since run out of things to talk about. So they started making things up to say and then sought out commentators to advance the fantasies.
I’ll give you a couple examples. We all knew we had a pandemic on our hands as of late February. The newsies knew it too. But an official pandemic has set parameters to meet before being declared. The most important of which is how many countries are impacted. Once that threshold is met pointy-headed committees like the World Health Organization (WHO) declare the “pandemic”.
On that day all the news cycles were reporting the declaration as if it were more alarming than what we were already dealing with. And they succeeded in convincing YOU that this was important. That was just the newsies keeping the chatter alive and trying to keep your eyes locked on their outlet. If you are living through an epidemic it means NOTHING to you if officials call it an epidemic or a pandemic. To you it is the same thing.
Also, an illness is not made more dangerous by calling it a pandemic. It’s still the same germ. If a malady that made everyone’s eyes watery for two days swept the nation, you’d have an epidemic. If it crossed enough borders, you’d have a pandemic. The latter designation does not make watery eyes more scary or important.
But the newsies gasped and convinced most of you that My god, it’s worse than we thought! It’s a PANDEMIC!!!
Will we ever be the same?!?!
For the last week we have listened to the talking heads breathlessly trying to define a new normal. I have watched as they repeatedly asked guests whether we will emerge from this event unable to relate to each other as we have in the past.
Tell me, Mister Pretend Expert, will we ever be able to gather in restaurants or at sporting events again? Will we ever hug grandma without KILLING her? Blah, blah, blah.
Sadly, while human nature will win out as it ALWAYS does, I suspect the jackasses in the media may well have created a vast new cadre of “germaphobes” that never would have existed without their Chicken Little commentary. In today’s me-me-me society we will face a few years of some people thinking they have a moral right to scold or even attack people who will be trying to go about their normal business.
You’ll also see people trying to sue any venue they can blame in the event they contract Corona. Jackpot justice just opened a whole, new market sector.
If you are a woodworker you will not want the quarantine end. Just kidding…sort of.
The Mao Microbe experience has shown, even more than the housing crash, how easy it is to convince people to do or accept stupid things without so much as a whimper.
As I said previously, far more than the realities of the pandemic, market makers are reacting to how WE are REACTING, and a great deal to the STUPID things being said by the talking heads. If we had kept our wits about us from the outset, if the media had not filled every news cycle with ONLY news about the virus, the markets would have surely gone down, but likely not nearly as much. But markets are now driven by computers programmed to cull headlines, key phrases and even images to trigger trades. Every time the market bakes in a new reality and appears to stabilize or even go up a bit, some empty-headed hand-wringer finds a new way of restating how the world is about to end. Computers and the more weak-kneed investors then react to the new pithy phrases being generated and prices drop again.
Believe me or don’t. It’s your 401K.
Cleaning ourselves into a future sickbed
Not 30 minutes has gone by in the last month where you haven’t been admonished to use hand sanitizer. This situation is not what hand sanitizer was designed for. The stuff MAY kill the Red Death that you MIGHT have gotten from the grocery store cart. But it WILL kill healthy microbes that you need to sustain good health. We may find that some of those very microbes would have helped protect us from things like…the Red Death.
Don’t take my word for it. Look it up. Hand sanitizer was designed to clean your hands OCCASSIONALLY when soap and water are not available. By using the stuff several times a day you are likely damaging your overall immune system. More on that in a bit.
The answer to protecting yourself at the stores [including the liquor store…isn’t that a riot?] is latex or nitrile gloves. Hell, house cleaning gloves would do fine too. When you get home chuck them or clean them with a diluted bleach rinse and use them again.
But quit trying to sterilize your fingers every half hour!
More on immunity
I will make this one guarantee. You will be exposed to COVID-19, period. Sooner or later, whether you actually get sick or not, you WILL contract the virus. There is no way around it. No matter how cautious you are, you will be directly exposed.
Think about that in this context. Part of maintaining our immunities is constant exposure to microbes, both familiar and unfamiliar. The familiar would be what we experience every day with coworkers, social groups and family. Take away that exposure, even for a short time and we start to lose some of our tribal immunities.
Just how much diminished this will be is incalculable. But shutting ourselves away FOR MONTHS we will absolutely test whatever that value may be. My money is on far more bad than good.
As for the unfamiliar… by building and maintaining our ammo belt of immunities, we keep ourselves healthier overall and are thereby better equipped to face unfamiliar microbes. This improves our chances of not being sickened by the unfamiliar or not being as seriously sickened. It doesn’t work with all germs, but we all know that trying to live a sterile life WILL make you sick. Playing in the dirt is generally healthier.
Further, going to work, maybe going bowling or playing basketball, going for a swim at the YMCA may be the only activity some of us get. Many of us live on the ragged edge of fitness. I know I do. It is a lead-pipe-cinch that we can’t go on sitting at home. When the ruling class mandates, or when reasonable people just tire of the drama, we will return to society.
The longer it takes, the more weakened we will all be in facing this “Xi TB” along with the Flu, colds, sinus problems, stomach viruses, etc., once we emerge from our hibernation. 90% of you were better off facing the virus a month ago than you are right now.
There will be a treatment protocol for the Red Death quite soon. A vaccine will follow in record time. But we can’t wait that long before accepting the risk and getting back to real life. I say that as a member of the at risk population.
Call your boss. Say you are ready to get back in the fight. If you are a boss trust your employees to look after their own interests as you will yours.
Politicians will continue to carpet bomb us with shit money, giving you the illusion that you are “getting” something. What you are getting is a further devaluation of your economy. By helping you get to the other end of this thing with no gaps [done because they know few of you saved a dime for a rainy day] they have simply piled on more debt and worthless cash, all of which will have to be flushed out of the system. And how will they do that later? Why, more give-aways and more government programs, of course. Our response to the housing crash was the worst precedent we ever set for dealing with nation-wide challenges. It would not have happened if the voting public had the first notion as to how stupid the mass bailouts were. And here we are again.
In a year or two, hospitals will have truckloads of ventilators in storage. Smart bean counters will tell administrators they need to sell them off to other hospitals and other countries at pennies on the dollar because storing them is wasteful. Mark my words. This WILL happen. You will watch it happen or not even notice. Then the first hospital caught flat-footed in a large scale emergency will be crying to mommy government to bail them out again. Socialized medicine crackpots will say, “See? This is why we need mommy government to pay for EVERYTHING.”
Venues that try to open with what TV idiots are calling the new normal; social distaining, hyper cleaning and the like, will go under. The ones who just open their doors and say come on in will be just fine.
And so will we…for the most part.
This is my only book so far. I have others in the pipe but will not pursue them without an agent. Know anybody? This one is more of a political stream of consciousness with hard-nosed recommendations and a bit of history and humor.
Update: 11/7/19 The tariff circus drags on. China continues to play the US like a fiddle. With every “deadline” China simply makes obviously empty promises and gets the date to slide further right. Today we hear we have a the framework on terms to be negotiated and a venue. And we are told that we won’t get the “big” deal this time around. (big shock, right?) Instead we will get a promise from China to buy more stuff – AGAIN! And that will be called a deal. (Pass the fig leafs) As I have said in many places: When all this is over, we will ALL end up very much where we were when it started. TARIFFS DON’T WORK. AND THEY CERTAINLY DON’T WORK AGAINST TOTALITARIAN STATES!!! Only real free trade works across the board. But there isn’t one politician with the sack to actually discuss real free trade.
At the moment, that doesn’t even exist in this country!
The markets have closed down 800+. And no, it still isn’t the Hong Kong riots that caused the drop. That is just another symptom.
In Hong Kong, as with all drawn-out protests by youth, a Lord of the Flies mentality has set in. Agitators in their little corners of the conflict are fighting for the conch by attacking police and trying to be the toughest boy scout. This will cause them to lose public support and has doomed their fight. China wins. Of course they were always going to. They won’t let ANYTHING change because of this protest. The government is not civilized and they don’t preside over a democracy.
One cop showed incredible restraint when cornered by several attackers using sticks to beat him, quite badly. He drew his weapon but didn’t fire it. If it had been me, there would be dead kids at the Hong Kong airport. That’s one GOOD cop.
But back to the real problem at hand.
Who are tariffs good for? Certainly not consumers. And they don’t help suppliers of goods not protected. As I stated in my January article, they only help the specific industries being protected, allowing them to RAISE prices with less competition, but only for a short time. Then everyone looses.
Who dresses your bar?
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Thanks to this ridiculous tariff scheme we STILL have silly scenarios like this one: There are tariffs on materials used to make bicycles but no tariffs on bicycles. So U.S. manufacturers of bicycles, already hampered by higher labor costs here, now must pay more for materials and parts. The result? Foreign bike manufacturers, including Chinese companies have an even greater advantage in our market. Come Christmas all the “buy American” slogans in the world will not put an American-made bike under the tree in this country. And the tariff scheme is riddled with this stupidity, as if just launching this campaign wasn’t stupid enough.
So who pulled Trump’s chain?
I don’t know who in the administration stroked Trump’s ego well enough to put him on this idiotic tariff bender, but I’d like to strangle them. We had just emerged from an abysmal 8 years of little of no growth and had just a bit of traction under out feet (even Europe was growing for the first time in a decade) when it was all wiped out with this one impetuous and utterly ill-conceived act.
Yes, many players on the world stage are corrupt and still charge tariffs to please their cronies. Hell, Europe has been enjoying tariffs we allowed since after WWII to give them a shot at recovery. And we completely dominated the world’s economy for 75 years. Europe didn’t become a dominant power. Still, tariffs are an insult to free trade and should have been done away with. But how? With US tariffs? Hardly.
In our last episode a victorious Rocky (the US economy), still injured from his rematch with Creed, is being forced to fight Clubber Lang, Tommy Gunn and Ivan Drago (trading partners) at the same time. Mickey (Trump) said it was for Rocky’s own good (national security).
At the outset, Rocky seemed to be standing his ground. Gunn (Mexico and Canada) didn’t have the stomach for a fight and knew it wasn’t in his best interest. He immediately threw in the towel because Mickey was willing to renegotiate NAFTA. It was a smart move. He leaves the ring, not a hair out of place.
But problems remain.
Lang (Europe) puts up more of a fight. He throws lots of punches at the US economy and calls Mickey a bully but then slips in a few concessions, some of them really good (like zero tariffs on cars – our biggest obstacle). Where Lang might be inclined to turn on Drago (China) in the overall fight and stand with Rocky, he can’t. Every time he tries to step in, Mickey tells Rocky to punch him on the face. Mickey says he doesn’t want parody with Lang, he wants a complete advantage. Instead of taking 80% and turning Lang against Drago, Mickey chooses to post childish and insulting tweets about Lang, pissing him off and reinvigorating him.
Despite a groin injury (zero, and even negative economic growth) Lang persists in the fight. While he isn’t as much of a threat, his continued presence in the ring makes Rocky’s real challenge more difficult. And with each punch he gets weaker, so even if Lang (Europe) does eventually try to turn on Drago, he will be too weak to help.
Drago (China’s economy) is huge, everyone says his economy is weak and he can’t stand up to a trade fight with the US. But he has something the Rocky doesn’t have. His corner is a totalitarian police state. The corner will not suffer if Drago takes hits, even severe ones. Drago’s fans will. But they will endure what they are told to endure and they will like it.
It won’t end well.
You see, ultimately, that is where controlled economies must end up. You can’t control economics like you are planning a birthday party, although idiots who call themselves economists and politicians try every day. But you can oppress people. The more control exerted over the economy, the greater the oppression must be. I give you Free College for All, The Green New Deal and Tax the Hell Out of the Rich as examples.
Where will this end? It remains to be seen. But it won’t end well. Serious and unnecessary damage has been done and it will take a while to unwind.
Leaving the ring for the real world, we have two options to fix this and move on:
Real free trade
Demanding tariff-free trade among all our trading partners
I’ll address number 2 first.
U.S. Dominated Trade
We can start by country or by region or with all our trading partners at once. Congress passes a law that states by a date certain there will be no tariffs anywhere in trading with the United States. We send you our Spaghetti-o’s, you send us your kumquats. They are sold to our respective consumers unencumbered by tariffs. If you keep or create tariffs, you have sold your last kumquat in the US. Subsidies would have be eliminated at the same time as they are just the B side of the same 45, created to thwart competition.1
This is preferable to the existing fight and the pre-existing status quo. However, it isn’t really free trade. If trade takes place under the auspices of the US government, like it as we may, it isn’t free. Making a product and gaining market share at home or abroad is up to the companies who wish to trade, not the government!
And, oh, by the way, try to wrestle sugar or corn subsidies from the political whores on Capitol Hill or the cronies they protect. They’ll tell you the economy is too complex and you just don’t understand why we have to take the bribes we take to help market sectors. Poor, ignorant you.
Number 1, above, is actually the real answer. Free trade. Really free.
Sadly for the dupes who think the government is obligated to get your rubber dogshit into novelty stores in Poland, this scenario pretty much resembles the situation we have right now, based on how ignorant other trading partners remain.
If you, unlike most politicians and career government workers, have brains and vision, you understand that having rich trading partners is better than having poor ones. So rule number one for healthy trade is don’t impoverish your customers. You are not obliged to prop them up, but you don’t kick the stool out from under them either.
Further, if Heinz wants to sell ketchup in Germany and pay a hefty tariff to do so, that is none of the U.S. Government’s business. That is 100% up to Heinz and the board of directors. It is up to that company if they wish to move into a market where they are made artificially less competitive based on price. If they didn’t think they could use the popularity of their brand and quality of their product to make money in that market, they wouldn’t send their stuff there to begin with. And if Berliners wish to pay more for ketchup or pay tax money to their own ketchup companies in the form of subsidies, that is their concern ONLY.
Naturally, if Heinz finds a political whore who will go and fight and threaten the Germans or initiate tariffs here, I suspect Heinz would make huge campaign contributions and pay tens of thousands of dollars for speeches to be made by the whore in return. But that doesn’t make it right.
The lesser of two evils? Meh, Maybe.
I support choice number 2 over the status quo. But I know choice number 1 is the best long-term answer to all of this. I hold out absolutely no hope that ANY of our politicians have the guts to start the process by winding down our existing market protections to undeserving cronies. And I also despair at Trump’s lack of intellectual curiosity on the matter.
How bloody it gets depends on how long people insist on being stupid. But when it all finally shakes out we will all be financially weaker and pretty much the same place we were relative to the rest of the world when this all started.
So, Rocky is screwed on this one. We all are. But don’t worry. You’re screwed on lots of other ways as well. Maybe next time we’ll revisit how Facebook, Google (and politicians that are supposedly “taking on the tech giants”) are playing all of you for total suckers