Context Matters!

Preventing global food security crisis under COVID-19 emergency ...

By Mike Cronin

There are some folks who seem to think that because COVID-19 cases and death rates are roughly similar to the annual flu, that we are blowing the disease out of proportion or dismissing it.  While there is some out-of-proportion fear-mongering AND some unwarranted dismissiveness going on, and while COVID-19 may indeed turn out to be of similar menace level as the annual flu, the flu is still there. COVID-19 is happening ON TOP OF the flu, not instead of it, and there is no vaccine yet. That’s why there is genuine concern over the number of hospital beds and respirators, and that’s why COVID-19 can’t be easily dismissed.

Concurrently, panic-pushers, America haters, and political opportunists are giddily touting that the US now has the most reported cases of COVID-19.  There are a few things they are omitting:

The US has the most REPORTED cases. What about UN-reported cases? Do you think all of the countries not as transparent or as capable as the US really have lower case numbers and lower infection rates?

China has nearly five times the population of the US, and most Chinese citizens live in dense urban sprawl. The Communist party would have us believe China had a peak of only ~80,000 cases. Do you really think the disease is done there, or that the Communist government is reporting accurate numbers?

Do you think Iran or Russia even know how many cases they have, let alone are reporting accurate numbers?

Our reported cases have recently exceeded Italy’s (105K cases vs 85K). But Italy has roughly one-fifth the population of the US.  In other words, Italy has fewer absolute cases, but their infection rate is over four times higher than ours. (Infection rate = cases/population. Italy = 85K vs 60M or 0.14%. US = 105K vs 325M, or 0.032%). Worse, the COVID-19 death rate in Italy is almost 10 times higher! (10.5% in Italy vs 1.6% in the US.) https://www.cebm.net/covid-19/global-covid-19-case-fatality-rates/

So, what’s the upshot?

The truth is in the middle:

  • As ever, news outlets are trying to sell airtime to advertisers. They do that by getting ratings. Breathless coverage and ominous alerts will induce alarm, and that will keep the ratings higher than dispassionate, in-context reportage.
  • COVID-19 is a slow-moving natural disaster that is affecting the entire planet – but it’s not the worst such thing that could happen. It won’t wipe us all out, not by a long shot; but we do need to address it.
  • Absolute numbers of reported cases don’t tell the story very well. Infection rates and death rates are better indicators.
  • Criticizing anyone for what has already happened won’t solve the crisis – but it may be a fun diversion!
  • Social distancing and attending to surface and hand hygiene are effective in slowing the spread of disease, but it rankles and induces fear to be commanded by government to all but shut down the economy.
  • Our politicians would all do well to remember that the USA was born when our Founders penned the most eloquent “F*ck You!” ever written in response to too much government intrusion (the Declaration of Independence).  Americans are not the most obedient lot in normal times, and just now there is an up-welling of  F*ck You brewing. Politicians must tread very carefully indeed.

We are going through some scary times, but the fundamentals of our geography and the political system our Founders instituted will have us come out of this thing in better shape than any other country.  Stay strong.

Corona-nomics

By Mike Cronin

Have you decided to hate on the folks who hoarded toilet paper and are now selling it for $5.00 a roll? DeBeers did that with diamonds about 80 years ago, then followed it up with decades of shrewd market manipulation and marketing. We bought the diamonds with nary a peep.

Have you decided to hate stores that are “price gouging?”  The stores that aren’t gouging are out of everything you want.  Maybe if stores were allowed to set prices based on supply and demand without incurring uninformed moral outrage, the hoarders wouldn’t have been so keen to hoard, and now there would be more of everything available for the rest of us.

Do you think having the government step in to ration things would be a better solution?  Or maybe just takeover everything? The Soviet Union did that. The Soviets didn’t have some empty shelves during a short crisis; they had virtually empty stores for ~80 years.

Think the government should bail out companies and spend trillions to stop the stock market slide and “stimulate the economy?”  If the value of something goes way up when it’s scarce, like TP for $5 a roll, what happens to the value of a thing, such as the dollar, when it becomes ridiculously abundant?

Let me know when you get your $1000 check from the government.  I might have some toilet paper for sale.

A Little Truth Bomb

Image result for Truth Bomb

By Mike Cronin

Our public education system has done little to truly educate our public. Since the Department of Education was signed into existence 44 years ago, and after spending a trillion dollars or so, test scores have remained roughly flat and educational rankings have stayed middling compared to other developed and developing nations. This is abysmal news – if the goal is truly to educate the populace.

But what if genuine education is not the goal?

Our primary and secondary education systems are always referred to as “free,” yet they have cost Americans something like $1 trillion over 44 years (just at the Federal level). Indeed, we spend more money per-pupil than any almost any other country. Our FREE, $1 Trillion, among-the-most-expensive-in-the-world system is mediocre at best, worthless at worst – to you.

When college is free, it will also be mediocre-to-worthless – to you.

When healthcare is free, it will also be mediocre-to-worthless – to you.

When generations of Americans have been taught how and what to think by the state (for example, that the one of the world’s most expensive education systems is somehow “free”) from preschool age to the Ph.D. level, and when Americans’ lives depend on the state “giving” healthcare (provided by graduates of the mediocre-to-abysmal, “free,” expensive school system), then such systems will have proven quite valuable to the elites who run the state – they will have given the elites control over you.

Destruction from Within (and from Without)

Image result for America tearing itself apart

By Mike Cronin

President Lincoln once said: “At what point then is the approach of danger to be expected? I answer, if it ever reach us, it must spring up amongst us. It cannot come from abroad. If destruction be our lot, we must ourselves be its author and finisher. As a nation of freemen, we must live through all time, or die by suicide.”

That’s not quite catchy enough for meme culture, so it was “massaged” by netizens into a more digestible tidbit: “America will never be destroyed from the outside. If we lose our freedoms it will be because we have destroyed ourselves from within.”

So now there is talk of Russia interfering with our presidential politics again. The difference: This time Russia is supposedly seeking to help Bernie Sanders, currently the front-running Democrat, AND President Trump.  You might be wondering which side has it wrong – after all, Russia wouldn’t support opposing candidates, would they?

They might indeed.  Russia can’t defeat us conventionally, and there would be nothing to rule over if we nuke each other. If you are Russia, how can you get what you want with the mighty USA always in the way?  How can supporting both sides of the presidential power struggle be of any benefit?  If they are doing it, it’s probably because it helps us to destroy ourselves from within. Joseph Stalin and Nikita Khrushchev both openly proclaimed that destroying us from within was on the table.

Destroying America from within is probably the favored strategy for any enemy or competitor of the US. Since the US has the most powerful military, most powerful economy, and controls the global commons, asymmetric strategies are all that’s left to enemies or competitors.  Where we are united, turn us against ourselves.  Where we are divided, drive the wedge in further. Where we have moral weakness, stoke it.  Use memes, fake news, cyber intrusions, donations, corrupt business deals, blackmail, identity politics and the like to taint our politicians, influence our media, corrupt our institutions, and keep us bickering among ourselves. That way, we won’t have as much energy to spare watching and worrying about what the Russians or any other bad actors are up to. And if the US has another Civil War, or has a wave of successions and breaks up into several smaller countries?  So much the better.

The Russians have a name for this doctrine. They call it Reflexive Control.  In the ancient Chinese volume, The Book of Qi, an essay called “The 36 Stratagems” refers to it as “Let the enemy’s own spy sow discord in the enemy camp.

The moral: Whenever you feel like we are coming apart at the seams over Trump, immigration policy, gun rights, free speech abortion, LGBTQ issues, race, religion, wealth and income gaps, and so on, just know that Russia, China, Iran, Islamic Fundamentalists, and/or other enemies and competitors have the motivation to keep stoking the flames.

Trial and Error

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By Mike Cronin

The Senate trial of President Trump is fertile ground for misinformation and disinformation. We can’t fix the politics here, but at least we can examine the battlefield and the likely outcome. While the proceeding is a “trial,” it’s as much political theater as it is a legal hearing. Certainly, it does not operate under the same rules and standards as a criminal trial:

  1. The judge (Supreme Court Chief Justice John Roberts) may bang the gavel and make initial rulings on evidence and witnesses, but he has little or no standing to make final rulings on case law, facts, objections, and so forth. He is basically reduced to facilitating. His presence is essentially ceremonial. The Senate is “borrowing” the prestige of the court.
  2. The alleged offenses don’t necessarily have to be violations of any specific US Code. The House of Representatives can attempt to align almost any charge as a “misdemeanor” in order to meet the constitutional standard for impeachment:  “Treason, Bribery, and High Crimes and Misdemeanors.” In effect, this is what the House did by charging the president with “Abuse of Power” and “Obstruction of Congress.”
  3. By the same token, the Senate can acquit the president on the grounds that the charges in the Articles of Impeachment are not Treason, Bribery, High Crimes, or Misdemeanors, or indeed crimes at all, and thus are not impeachable offenses. As of press time, all indications are that this is what will occur.
  4. The Standards of Evidence are whatever the Senate agrees they are. Witnesses can be called, or not, according to the whim of the Senate. (Indeed, the Senate did not call witnesses.)
  5. The standard for conviction is not “proof beyond reasonable doubt,” or even “the preponderance of the evidence.” It is whatever 2/3rds of the Senate says it is.
  6. Jurors at trial are supposed to be impartial. However, Senate Jurors don’t don’t take the same oath us regular folks take to sit on a jury. The Senators’ oath says the following (emphasis added): 

“Do you solemnly swear that in all things appertaining to the trial of the impeachment of Donald John Trump, president of the United States, now pending, you will do impartial justice according to the Constitution and laws, so help you god?” 

Jurors for cases in a US District Court take an oath to decide the case “upon the law and the evidence.”

Senators are compelled to “do impartial justice according to the Constitution and laws.”  Note that they are not precisely compelled to actually be impartial about the facts, the evidence, the the defendant, or the allegations, only about doing “justice.” You might think that the distinction is hair-splitting. You might even be right – but meticulous adherence to the exact meaning of words and phrases – hair splitting – is the bread-and-butter of lawyers, no? 

So what does that bode for the trial?

The safe bet is that 100 Senators will split into two camps as to what “do impartial justice according to Constitution and laws” means. One camp will see “doing justice to the Constitution and laws” as “requiring strict interpretation of the standards for impeachment,” while the other side will interpret “doing justice” to mean something more along the lines of “disposing of something offensive.” 

In other words: All but a handful of Republican Senate Jurors will vote to acquit the president. They will justify their action by asserting the Speaker of the House initiated the impeachment investigation without consent of the full House, which alone has sole authority to conduct impeachment proceedings; and that the House did not follow its own rules during the impeachment investigation, did not provide the president with due process, and failed to even allege the president committed actual, citable violations of US Code, let alone prove he committed impeachable offenses. Meanwhile, all of the Democrat Senators and perhaps the aforementioned handful of Republicans, will vote to convict, justifying that decision with their belief that the president is an offense who deserves to be convicted of something, and that the allegations in the Articles of Impeachment were impeachable and were already adequately “proven” by witness testimony in the House investigation. The votes to convict are highly unlikely to meet the required threshold of 66 (2/3rds of the Senate), so the president is all but sure to be acquitted.

Pie from the Sky?

By Mike Cronin

In the video linked above, CBS uses an actual pie to show casual passers-by how wealth is unequally distributed in America. Predictably, the answer is stark. The wealthiest people have virtually all of the pie, and the poorest have no pie and are in debt. But CBS’s model neglects to address a few crucial points, and thus is just another beat in the long history of wealth envy.

  1. Whose pie is it? CBS lumps all of the household wealth in the US (almost $100 trillion dollars) into one pie in their model, as if all the wealth in this country belongs to everyone in the country. Thus they sneak in the idea that an unequal “distribution” of pie is automatically an unfair “distribution” of pie.
  2. Where does the pie come from? Was it just “distributed” unfairly in a spray of sparkle dust by a magic pie fairy in the sky? Was it stolen? Who from? The poorest never have any pie, so it didn’t come from them. So where?

The envy mongers don’t want you to understand the truth: There isn’t one communal pie being “distributed” unfairly. Pie has to be made. The people who have all the pie have it because they made it.  It’s their pie, not mine or yours. It has not been “distributed” unfairly, because it hasn’t been “distributed” at all! Another, less important factor CBS neglected to mention: People generally move “up the pie scale” as their careers progress, because they learn how to make pie!

If CBS (whose anchors and owners are among the pie makers!) wants to reduce the wealth gap, perhaps they should expose and work to close the unequal distribution of pie-making know-how. But they won’t, because they make their own pie by encouraging envy.

Things that Make you go Hmmm.

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By Mike Cronin

Recycling reduces waste and saves energy! How much energy do we save by making and distributing twice as many plastic bins and running twice as many diesel-guzzling, CO2-spewing, traffic-increasing, infrastructure-damaging collection trucks?

Zero emission vehicles have no tailpipes. They have smoke stacks and cooling towers. They emit CO2 remotely – from the power plant that generated the electricity to charge them, and from the heavy mining equipment used to extract the rare earths and other metals needed to produce their batteries. There’s no such thing as a free lunch.

Donald Trump needed Congressional permission to attack Soleimani, and he didn’t get it!  How much Congressional permission did any previous president have to get to attack fleeting opportunity, high-value terrorist targets?

If a woman is drunk, she cannot consent to sex, on account of her judgement is impaired. Ergo, a man that has sex with her while she is in such a state is guilty of sexual assault or rape, even if he, too, is drunk.  Why is impaired judgement a compounding factor of victimhood for a woman, but not exculpatory for a man? Why does inebriation constitute inability to consent to sex, but endeavoring to become inebriated carry no onus?

An exercise in double-speak: The Constitution compels Congress to fund a military. It is silent about funding retirements and health care. Yet, somehow, defense spending is considered part of the “discretionary” budget, while Social Security, Medicare, Medicaid, and a few other programs comprise the “mandatory,” or “non-discretionary” budget.  It’s accurate enough to say the Constitution is silent on how much is to be spent on the military, so the amount is discretionary, but the basic requirement to fund it is not.  The so-called “mandatory” budget items have no such sanction.

How far back do you think we have been involved in the Islamic world of North Africa and the Middle East?  The first Gulf War? The 1986 raid on Libya? The 1979 Iran Hostage crisis?  Supporting the overthrow of the Iranian Prime Minister in the 1950s and supporting the Shah until he was overthrown? What if I told you our involvement goes back almost to the founding? In 1801, President Thomas Jefferson sent the fledgling US Navy to protect US mercantile shipping from the Barbary Pirates in the Mediterranean.  The Barbary Pirates were the “naval forces” of client states of the Ottoman empire (e.g. Tripoli, as in “…to the shores of Tripoli” referenced in the Marine Corps Hymn). From the perspective of more than a few Muslims in the region, Americans are simply modern Crusaders who have been meddling in their affairs for centuries.

It’s not that Simple

 

This photo released by the Iraqi Prime Minister Press Office shows a burning vehicle at the Baghdad International Airport following an airstrike, in Baghdad, Iraq, early Friday, Jan. 3, 2020. The Pentagon said Thursday that the U.S. military has killed Gen. Qassem Soleimani, the head of Iran’s elite Quds Force, at the direction of President Donald Trump. (Iraqi Prime Minister Press Office via AP)

By Mike Cronin

True to form, American opinion on the Soleimani strike is splitting along ideological lines. The left is aghast, and the right is fist-pumping. It’s not that simple.

Hawks would have us believe that invading Iran would be like rolling over Iraq in Desert Storm. It would not. Iran’s military is no match for ours, but Iran’s terrain mitigates their military disadvantage. Where Iraq was a wide-open desert, Iran is a “Mountain Fortress.” A ground war there would be more difficult than anything our military has faced since Korea.

Doves would have us be shocked and appalled that President Trump ordered the bombing of the Iranian Quds Force commander. We’re supposed to be fearful of Iranian retaliation. We’re supposed to see the situation as Trump taking a page from Bill Clinton by ordering a military strike to shift attention from the impeachment debacle.

We’re not supposed to remember that Bill Clinton’s “wag the dog” attack was an ineffectual swat at murky enemies, while Trump’s attack dealt a major blow to a long-established, recognizeable foe.

The left doesn’t want us to note that the Quds Force has been fighting a war via proxies against the US and Israel practically since the Iranian Revolution got up and running and became the Islamic Republic.

The right doesn’t want us to remember our own proxy activity against Iran, such as the US initially backing Saddam Hussein, who used chemical weapons against Iran in his 1980s war.

The right would rather we not be reminded that the 1979 Hostage Crisis and general enmity of the Islamic Republic government stemmed from the US overthrowing the democratically elected Iranian Prime Minister in the 50s and supporting the Shah, who was no angel.

The left would rather we not remember that the fear at the time was Iran would go Communist and become a Soviet client state – with the ability to choke off oil shipments from the Persian Gulf.

The Islamic Republic government should have noticed we’ve been withdrawing from the Middle East and let the withdrawal continue without attacking us via proxies. Who benefits from having us remain entangled in that web? Trump? Russia? China? Israel? Corporations? All of them?

 

You Don’t Have to Talk Turkey Today!

 

By Mike Cronin

Are you dreading Thanksgiving dinner for fear conversation will turn to politics and/or ideology and lead to acrimony?  Perhaps we can steer the conversation in interesting yet non-acrimonious directions. Here are some prompts:

Whether we are liberal Democrats or conservative Republicans, or centrist moderates, or fringe Libertarians or Greens, maybe we can all at least agree that we live in the best time in human history, and in the best location on the planet. For example:

Absolute poverty has been reduced by more than half world-wide. More than half of the world’s 7 billion-plus people are now in the middle class.

Thanks to technology, the average American today has a more luxurious life than the elites of 100 years ago. Our biggest health problems are caused by abundance, not scarcity!

The part of North America we call the United States has more navigable waterways than the rest of the world combined. Much of these waterways overlay the central US – the largest contiguous piece of arable land on the planet.  Thus, our country has had a wealth-generation engine built in almost from the start: a vast region of agricultural and industrial productivity with an integral low-cost transportation network.

Generally speaking, we live under the rule of law, the highest of which is expressly designed to protect our inherent rights.  We certainly have differences of opinion, and we often object to what our elected representatives and other “thought leaders” do and say – yet we can still have the debate. When the traditional fora for doing so, such as college campuses and media panel shows, stop offering balanced debate space, new structures, such as the “Intellectual Dark Web,” rise to replace them.  We have a system and culture that, paraphrasing Milton Friedman, makes it possible for people who hate each other to do business and live in the same proximity without killing each other. (Yes, it happens sometimes anyways, but it’s not the rule, and it’s not tolerated).

We draw closer and closer to the day a fusion reactor finally puts out more energy than it consumes.  At that point, the single greatest barrier to the problem of providing clean, cheap energy will be conquered.  Until that day, we have enough resources, including now-profitable shale oil, to be energy-independent – in fact, we will very soon be a net exporter of energy.

Illegal immigration is a hot topic, but legal immigration is one of America’s “secret weapons.” While many of the world’s leading economies experience declining birth rates and aging populations as wealth rises and the middle class grows, a continuous stream of immigrants to our shores help to pad our birth rates and refresh our talent pools.

Happy Thanksgiving everyone!

War Wears On

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Today marks the 100th anniversary of the end of World War I.  Wouldn’t it be nice if we could celebrate the end of all war?  I’d love it if my day job ceased to exist because war became a thing of the past.  Of course, that’s not going to happen any time soon. There are too many groups with irreconcilable differences and different valuations of human life. And let’s face it, war is good for business.  Even if we discount the obvious, such as the war against ISIS, or the threat of war against North Korea, China, or Russia, our politicians like a good war to keep the gravy flowing.  If there isn’t one handy, they’ll make a problem into a pseudo-war in order to generate a little fervor: The War on Poverty. The War on Obesity.

When I’m feeling cynical, I find it too easy to believe that our politicians actually create problems in order to give the appearance of solving them. The solutions never seem to end the problem, only “combat” it.  We are supposed to keep reelecting the politicians so they can keep perpetuating working on the problem. For example:

The “War on Drugs.”  It’s arguably worse for the country than the drugs themselves. Let’s compare:

Legalized Drugs

The War on Drugs

Some people become addicted to harmful substances Some people become addicted to harmful substances
Addicts immiserate themselves and those close to them Addicts immiserate themselves and those close to them
  Drug prohibition causes prices to skyrocket, incentivizing organized crime
  Gangs take over urban ghettos, immiserating entire communities
  Turf battles yield higher gun violence & homicide rates. More misery
  Many addicts must turn to crime to obtain funds to afford their drug – yet more property and violent crime, often with guns, sometimes including homicide. More misery
  No taxes are collected on drug sales
  More police are required
  Police must become more militarized in order to do their jobs – and get killed in the line of duty more often, immiserating their friends and families
  Courts get clogged with possession cases
  Prisons get clogged with non-violent offenders. America tops list of incarceration rate among developed countries. Overcrowded prisons – here and abroad, harden convicts instead of rehabilitate them. More misery
  Cartels form in source countries and often outgun the local and national government – and/or they corrupt same. Homicide rates soar, immiserating the country
  Illicit trafficking networks multiply in transit zones – drugs, weapons, people, & money get moved “underground.”   More misery
  Illegal immigration and other border crime issues multiply. More misery
  Politicians take a “tough” stance and promise to increase funds to “win” the war on drugs – with better equipped and/or more police, stronger sentencing laws, more prisons, asset forfeiture laws (which violate the 4th Amendment), gun laws (which violate the 2nd Amendment AND disarm the innocent), border walls, surveillance states, and so on – year after year, election after election.

I don’t have any desire to use drugs for recreation, and I don’t want my kids or other loved one to use them, either.  But making the drugs illegal has done nothing to reduce the chances of that happening. The chance that my kids will be exposed to drugs still exists, but now it’s in the shadows. I have fiends and family in law enforcement – I don’t want them harmed in no-knock raids, or shot by a panicking addict. I work for the Air Force.  I’ve met and worked with fellow Airmen from Latin American air forces.  I’d much rather partner with them to help disaster victims that to learn they’ve been killed by cartels.  Perhaps the best way to end the War on Drugs is to stop fighting it.