Category Archives: Blogs

The Great Reset: Elites Caring About Us?

During the week of January 25, the World Economic Forum will meet digitally for “high-level ‘Davos Dialogues’ where key global leaders will share their views on the state of the world in 2021.”

The WEF’s annual January in-person conference in Davos, Switzerland, has been postponed until May 2021.

Background

The Word Economic Forum, a non-profit foundation established in 1971 in Geneva, Switzerland, considers itself “the International Organization for Public-Private Cooperation.” Its mission is to engage “the foremost political, cultural and other leaders of society to shape global, regional and industry agendas.” It says its aim is to be impartial, global, holistic and forward looking.

WEF holds annual meetings in Davos, Switzerland. Although their Open Forum is free and “anybody can attend” (if you queue up early, since space is limited), free main events are by invitation only. Uninvited members of WEF can attend for a fee (around 480,000 Pounds Sterling or around 650,000 U.S. Dollars). Around 3,000 people typically attend, usually about 1/3 from business and the rest from government and quasi-government.

The Great Reset

WEF’s agenda for 2021will continue to be “The Great Reset”. The January 2020 meeting rebranded this long-time push for controlled globalization as response to Covid-19. The fine points of this agenda are expected in 2021. But the general platform seems to be set.

Build Back Better: Highlight of The Great Reset

“Build Back Better” is the core principle for those who believe capitalism is not working, so every aspect of our society needs to be re-shaped. Among the most ambitious plans are the following:

* Corporations must give up shareholder (owner) focus and adopt stakeholder (society as a whole) focus. The public sector must support this new focus.

* Harm to the global environment dominated the latest Global Risk Report. Therefore, both private and public sectors must take action to mitigate climate change and other environmental threats.

* New education models must equip children with skills demanded by globalization and rapid advances in technology.

* Building Back Better must include a wide-range of investments by the public sector – government spending in improved greener infrastructures as well as in human capital.

* Both private and public sectors must adapt to the Fourth Industrial Revolution.

The Fourth Industrial Revolution can be described as the advent of “cyber-physical systems” involving entirely new capabilities for people and machines … Examples include genome editing, new forms of machine intelligence, breakthrough materials and approaches to governance that rely on cryptographic methods such as the blockchain.

The Great Opportunity

Proponents of The Great Reset view Covid-19 as “a great opportunity” to implement controlled globalization guided by moral governance. Note, “governance” is the term used, not government. By way of reminder, government implies leaders elected by their constituents; while “governance” implies rules implemented by the non-elected.

Precedents

Jekyll Island and the Federal Reserve: In November of 1910 leaders of the financial world met in secret at Jekyll Island, off the coast of Georgia. The crisis that prompted the meeting was not a virus but persistent foolish investments that resulted in bank runs and general financial instability. The response was the creation of the Federal Reserve Bank, an independent institution that operates outside the control of Congress or any other elected body. Indeed the Fed provided reasonable financial stability, but unfortunately brought about undesirable results as well.

The fact that the Federal Reserve was born on Jekyll Island backed by the cream of the banking elite, it enables a debt-based economy, and it finances wars is freely acknowledged even by the Federal Reserve. End the Fed, April 25, 2018, Just Vote No

Bretton Woods and the short-lived gold-backed dollar: In 1944, the cream of the crop in the financial world met again, this time in Bretton Woods, New Hampshire. The crisis turned into opportunity was the need to plan for the reconstruction of war-torn Europe and Japan. The response was the establishment of the International Monetary Fund, the establishment of the Bank for Reconstruction and Development (now called the World Global Bank), and the creation of a totally new monetary system. The new system made the U.S. Dollar a global currency pegged to gold reserves, and all other currencies pegged to the dollar. The strong dollar allowed Europe and Japan to revive their manufacturing base by selling their goods to the U.S. Unfortunately, discipline required to maintain the dollar pegged to gold evaporated by 1971, opening the floodgates of government spending and unsustainable debt.

Now the “Public-Private” Elite Meets Again

Again people important enough to be invited to the table will meet at Davos. This time the meetings are not secret — as in Jekyll Island — or as narrowly focused — as in Bretton Woods.

This time, participants aim to shape all sectors of the global society: Manufacturing, Consumption, Digital Economy, Energy, Financial and Monetary Systems, Global Public Goods, Health and Healthcare, Investing, Media, Mobility, Technology Governance, Trade and Global Economic Interdependence, The Internet of Things, New Economy and Society.

We The Little People

Those of us nowhere near important to be invited to Davos or well off enough to pay around $600,000 to attend need to remain vigilant. When our elected officials start talking about “building back better” and reshaping institutions, we need to sift through the rhetoric and find out what it is we will eventually be voting for and how much will need to be taken out of our wallets.

Your Stimulus Check is Coming – Think No Further!

On December 27, 2020, President Donald Trump signed the Consolidated Appropriations Act of 2021 (H.R. 133), which contains in it the Coronavirus Response and Relief Supplemental Appropriations Act. This omnibus bill carries a price tag of $2.3 trillion dollars — $1.4 trillion in regular annual appropriations that keep the federal government running, and $900 billion in supplemental appropriations for Coronavirus relief.

Under this bill, a $600 check will be sent to people who made up to $75,000 in 2019. As of this writing, President Trump’s demand that Congress cut “unnecessary” expenses and increase direct payments to $2,000, might be DOA in the Senate. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell has attached a couple of powerful poison pills to the proposal (elections investigation and repeal of legal protections for social media platforms) which Democrats are unlikely to approve.

Situation Chaotic But Normal

The signing came after several weeks of haggling in Congress and four days of objections by President Trump – not an unusual situation. Legislators are under pressure to bring the bacon home to their constituents, so compromises can get lengthy. Presidents do not have line-item veto power, so they must approve or veto an entire bill.

The approve-the-whole-bill or veto-the-whole-bill process leads to pork-laden bills landing in a President’s desk.

In a video release President Trump strongly objected to “wasteful” expenditures in the Appropriations Bill. He would have preferred less “unnecessary” spending and more Coronavirus relief. However, he had to sign the whole bill in order to fund relief and fund government operations.

The Consolidated Appropriations bill occupies 5,593 minutiae-filled pages – 3,280 pages more than last year’s bill. The House Committee on Appropriations website has brief summary of the bill plus links to specific sections (called “Divisions”).

Divisions A through L are regular appropriations, Divisions M and N deal with Coronavirus Relief, and Divisions O through Z are Authorizing Matters unrelated to the funding of regular or Coronavirus appropriations.

This massive bill was delivered to Congress shortly before a vote was expected, not an unusual situation, but much worse than last years’ 24-hour reading allocation of 2,313 pages.

Focus of Coronavirus Relief

As numerous news outlets have reported, the focus of the $900 billion Coronavirus Relief is direct payments to citizens, forgivable loans to businesses, and extension of federal unemployment subsidies ($300 per week).

There are many other provisions, like: Funding of cultural and entertainment venues. A campaign to increase awareness of the safety and effectiveness of vaccines, and combat misinformation. Funding for low-income families that pay for drinking water and wastewater services.

Focus of the Annual Appropriations

The $1.4 trillion regular annual appropriations include the usual, very wide, domestic and international funding. “Very wide” means funding the average American would probably not fathom. For example:

Not less than $20 million for the recruitment and retention of women in the Afghanistan National Security Forces—twice the amount specified last year. Division C – Defense

Up to $500 million for Jordan, including not less than less than $150 million for reimbursements for enhanced border security. Division C – Defense

$116 million for the wild horse and burro program, $15 million above the fiscal year 2020 enacted level. Division G – Interior/Environment

Authorizing Matters

Here are a couple of samples of the Authorizing Matters in the Appropriations and Coronavirus Relief Bill 20121:

Establishes, within the Smithsonian Institution, the Women’s History Museum and the National Museum of the American Latino.” Division T – Smithsonian

Requires the Secretary of Energy to conduct a study on the benefits of blue hydrogen technology and how that can further enhance the deployment and adoption of carbon capture and storage.” Division Z – Energy, Title IV Carbon Management

Who Voted No

Not everyone in Congress felt pressured to concur with this bill.

In the House, 50 Republicans, 2 Democrats, and 1 Libertarian voted against the bill. The two Democrats issued strong statement explaining their vote:

Rashida Tlaib (D-Michigan) – We will be back here in a month because the suffering will have gotten much worse because there has been a lack of bold action and priorities to put people first.

Tulsi Gabbard (D-Hawaii) – $600 is a slap in the face to every American struggling due to the pandemic. You deserve better. I voted against the 5,593-page spending bill that gave billions to corporate interests, the military industrial complex & other countries, leaving crumbs for you who need help most.

In the Senate, 6 Senators, all Republicans, voted NO. They objected to the bill’s price tag in light of an already perilous national debt, the nearly 6,000 pages of complex legislation that nobody had time to read, and the process by which just a few legislators craft bills and expect automatic approval from everyone else. Here is a sample of the Senator’s frustration:

Rick Scott (R-Florida) – Once again, in classic Washington style, vital programs are attached to a massive omnibus spending bill that mortgages our kids & grandkid’s future. Therefore, I can’t support this bill.

Ron Johnson (R-Wisconsin) – The dysfunction of Washington, D.C. was on full display as Congress combined covid relief with a massive omnibus spending bill three months past the deadline and into the current fiscal year. This monstrosity was 5,593 pages long, and passed only nine hours after the Senate first saw it.

Mike Lee (R-Utah) – This process, by which members of Congress are asked to defer blindly to legislation negotiated entirely in secret by four of their colleagues, must come to an end.

And the Spending Goes On

Constituents clamor for relief – this time from the economic effects of Coronavirus response – and legislators are happy to oblige by passing massive spending bills. The idea of cutting back on non-urgent spending to allocated funds to urgent challenges is anathema to most legislators.

The U.S. national debt is $27.5 trillion, and debt to GDP is 128.9%. No matter, say the bulk of today’s legislators. What used to be a derisive accusation – making money out of thin air – is now accepted as Modern Monetary Theory. Government keeps producing money by borrowing, legislators keep spending, and the people are happily appeased. Think no further!

This Will Be A Difficult Christmas

This will be a difficult Holiday Season. So many without jobs. So many fearful. Thus, just maybe listening to “Joy to the World” or wishing family and friends (whom we are forbidden to see) a “Merry Christmas” could feel like cognitive dissonance. Just maybe, instead, this could be a good time to remember the challenges Mary and Joseph overcame just prior to Baby Jesus’ birth.

Those were great spiritual and physical challenges, the reminiscence of which could be useful regardless of whether we are celebrating Christmas, Hanukkah, Kwanzaa, the Winter Solstice, or nothing at all.

Spiritual Decisions

We all must struggle with poignant decisions at points in our lives. Accepting momentous obligations qualifies as hugely poignant.

And, behold, thou shalt conceive in thy womb, and bring forth a son, and shalt call his name Jesus …Then said Mary unto the angel, How shall this be, seeing I know not a man? Luke 1 31-34.

Mary, chaste and betrothed to Joseph, accepted her instructions, although she must have known that if Joseph cast her out, her punishment by law would be death by stoning.

Then Joseph, her husband, being a just man, and not willing to make her a public example, was minded to put her away quietly … But while he thought on these things, behold, the angel of the Lord appeared onto him in a dream …

A man of faith as well as compassion, Joseph followed the angel’s command. Not an easy task.

The Long Journey

The physical challenges Mary and Joseph prevailed close to Jesus’ birth might be as useful to remember as their spiritual ones.

And all went to be taxed, every one into his own city. 4 And Joseph also went up from Galilee, out of the city of Nazareth, into Judea, unto the city of David, which is called Bethlehem, (because he was of the house and lineage of David) 5 To be taxed with Mary his espoused wife, being great with child. Luke 2 1-5

Bethlehem is 80 – 100 miles, depending on the route, from Nazareth. It is rough, mountainous, and at the time dangerous terrain. This map shows the route (green dots on the right) Mary and Joseph would have taken, not a direct route but a safer one. The direct route would have taken them through Samarian land, hostile to Jews.

The Story of the Gift of Christmas. Lux Mundi, December 17, 1917

Strong Souls Forge On

Women heavy with child have traveled the overland trails and refugee caravans. Mary forged through as well – probably on foot, not even on a donkey.

And she brought forth her firstborn son, and wrapped him in swaddling clothes, and laid him in a manger; because there was no room for them in the inn. Luke 2:1

As the saying goes “What have you done with what you have been given” The Lord of Lords, the King of Kings, the guy who crystalized the meaning of Christianity was born in a bed of straw.

The Soul Must Feel Its Worth

There is one carol that could help if in these trying times of Covid-19 and mandates your business is failing or your children have not received proper schooling since the beginning of 2020. That is the carol that speaks of the soul feeling its worth. Here is a link to the incredible voice of Leontyne Price singling Oh Holy Night.

Walter E. Williams Told It Like It Is – RIP

Walter E. Williams, distinguished professor of Economics at George Mason University and advocate of free markets for everyone, died on December 1, 2020. With his passing, a voice raised against the devastation inflicted upon the poor by well-intentioned government policies was lost.

Professor Williams was a plain-speaking, straight-talking economist, with credibility to speak about the poor since he himself came up from the projects.

He Suffered No Fools

His 2010 autobiography Up from the Projects became the basis for a 2014 PBS documentary, Suffer No Fools. Here, as in his other 10 books and widely syndicated newspaper column, Dr. Williams enumerated good intentions that produced bad results.

The PBS documentary features a relaxed interview with Dr. Williams and some of his contemporaries. The point throughout is that government intervention aimed at equality of results, or equity, does more harm than good. Although Professor Williams was not alone in espousing this perspective, he was uniquely emphatic.

Highlights of Suffer No Fools

Here are some of the points Professor Williams makes.

* The Great Society of Lyndon Johnson led to dependence on government largess instead of dependence on individual effort.

* Expectations of equality of results through government intervention replaced efforts to excel.

* Government is like a giant drug pusher. The system encouraged the propagation of poverty pimps that make a living on the grievances of the poor.

* Dependence promotes “spiritual poverty” — more significant than economic poverty because it more readily builds a cycle of tolerance for dependence.

* Spiritual poverty is seen in communities where traditional families and dedication to education is absent.

* The market pays people what the market determines people’s skills are worth. Teens who receive “a fraudulent education” in inadequate schools and have no work experience are denied the opportunity to get their foot on the first rung of the ladder to success when government demands they get paid more than the market says their skills are worth.

* Government stifles opportunity for economic success, especially for the poor, by mandating minimum wages, expensive business licenses, taxi medallions and other draconian regulations. Government conspires with insiders to keep newcomers out.

* When young, Professor Williams identified more with the militancy of Malcom X than with the philosophy of “forgiving the enemy” of Martin Luther King. As he matured, Williams began to see that salvation from poverty fares better in the free marketplace arena than in government’s political arena.

* Great empires of the past went down the tubes doing what our society is doing now – dwelling on the political arena rather than the free market arena.

* Slavery, rape, murder are actions that violate private property, including the ownership of one’s own self. Who owns you?

Progressive Economics vs. Laissez Faire

Dr. Williams’ admonitions sound radical. Our society today is focused on government’s obligation to attain equity and social justice through regulation and mandate. Private property and individual achievement are viewed with disdain. Laissez-faire economics has been replaced by progressive economics, and true capitalism replaced by crony capitalism.

Economics is not a science but a set of beliefs. Laissez faire believes that the free market is the best arena for the creation of opportunities that lead to economic wellbeing. Economic progressives believe intervention and control produce the best results through engineered social equity.

The New Wave: Progressive Economics

Here is an example of the progressive economics that Walter Williams excoriated every chance he got – an opinion piece in the Washington Post dated November 11, 2020, written by Senator Elizabeth Warren (D-MA). Senator Warren expressed her view of how the Biden-Harris ticket unseated an incumbent President, and what the priorities for the new administration should be.

They ran on explicit plans to create new union jobs in clean energy, increase Social Security benefits, expand health care, cancel billions of dollars in student-loan debt, hold law enforcement accountable, make the wealthy pay their fair share, tackle climate change and provide for universal child care. … The lesson is clear. Bold policies to improve opportunity for all Americans are broadly popular. Voters recognize that these reforms are necessary to fix what is broken in our nation.

In progressive politics “opportunity” means government largess showered upon selected groups.

The Passing Wave of Laissez Faire

Black Washingtonians were proud of what they had created. In 1921 the Washington Bee, the city’s largest black paper, editorialized that the growth of black business in Washington, “more than anything else, marks real and prominent racial progress.” The thriving business district was a symbol of what blacks could achieve. As one longtime resident of the area put it in 1988, “If you were on U Street, you didn’t need to go anywhere else. It was all right there for you. Blacks had a society put together on this street.” …

Today, the city’s black aristocracy, like the thriving communities it created, exists mostly in memories. In its place are Washington’s new black leaders: the civil rights class that took power in the District nearly 30 years ago. As it turned out, the two groups could not coexist in Washington.” Washington’s Lost Black Aristocracy, Autumn 1996

No, the two groups could not have possibly coexisted.

After AlphaGo There Is No Stopping AI

Artificial Intelligence, in one form or another, is everywhere. We invite it into our homes and feed it on social media. Businesses that have the resources to automate, will. Every sector of the economy utilizes AI in some form.

It is nearly impossible to find an industry that is not looking to AI for improvements. AI is potentially playing a role in semiconductors, industrial applications, military and defense and everything in-between. Manufacturers hope AI will make developing products and innovation easier. Globalspace, September 6, 2019

Advances in AI

Meanwhile, AI keeps advancing in what it can do. An interesting way to observe AI’s recent trajectory is to recall the times when AI competed against human champions and won.

* IBM’s Deep Blue defeated chess grandmaster Garry Kasparov in 1997.

Chess kept Deep Blue in the realm of what computers are good at, using statistics and probabilities to determine strategy. (Popular Science, 12/26/12)

* IBM’s Watson defeated two Jeopardy! champions, Ken Jennings and Brad Rutter, in 2011.

Jeopardy! … pushed Watson into an unfamiliar world of human language and unstructured data. (Popular Science, 12/26/12)

* DeepMind’s AlphaGo program defeated go world champion Lee Sedol in 2016.

When compared with Deep Blue or with Watson, AlphaGo’s underlying algorithms are potentially more general-purpose… (Wikipedia, AlphaGo vs. Lee Sedol)

Ultimate Goal With Unknown Results

Real artificial intelligence is general-purpose. It is artificial general intelligence. AGI has the potential to perform any task that a human being can perform, not just a specialized task such as playing board games. It can teach itself by manipulating massive amounts of data. It can act based upon its own knowledge.

Here is a description of Google’s machine learning tool AutoML-Zero, published in Google AI Blog July 9, 2020:

In our case, a population is initialized with empty programs. It then evolves in repeating cycles to produce better and better learning algorithms. At each cycle, two (or more) random models compete and the most accurate model gets to be a parent. The parent clones itself to produce a child, which gets mutated. That is, the child’s code is modified in a random way, which could mean, for example, arbitrarily inserting, removing or modifying a line in the code. The mutated algorithm is then evaluated on image classification tasks.

When asked why he wanted to climb Mount Everest, George Leigh Mallory responded, “Because it’s there.” Once a goal is envisioned, there is no stopping those who will pursue its attainment, regardless of unknown collateral results. The envisioned goal in AI technology is to spread AI everywhere in ever-advanced forms.

On December 2, 2014, BBC News made headlines with remarks by theoretical physicist Stephen Hawkins and response by Cleverbot creator Rollo Carpenter.

The development of full artificial intelligence could spell the end of the human race … It would take off on its own, and re-design itself at an ever increasing rate… Humans, who are limited by slow biological evolution, couldn’t compete, and would be superseded. Hawkins

I believe we will remain in charge of the technology for a decently long time and the potential of it to solve many of the world problems will be realized.… We cannot quite know what will happen if a machine exceeds our own intelligence, so we can’t know if we’ll be infinitely helped by it, or ignored by it and sidelined, or conceivably destroyed by it. Carpenter

Recommended Segment of PBS FRONTLINE

In the Age of AI aired on FRONTLINE’s Season 2019, Episode 5, November 5. The program serves as a good overview of what AI is, what it is used for today, what effect is has had in economies, what it has done to privacy and liberty, and where it looks like AI is going.

The program’s framework is the U.S. AlphaGo’s victory over China’s go player Ke Jie, which ignited China’s quest for AI supremacy.

Here are some good take-aways offered by In the Age of AI:

There are three important developments that changed the world – the steam engine, electricity and AI — “everything else is too small.”

In the U.S. automation amplified by AI has sadly caused a lot of white and blue collar workers to lose their jobs. However, developments in technology have always done that. Former elevator operators, telephone operators, and secretaries can attest to that.

AI’s most prominent role has been in personal data gathering. Both private and public sectors depend on some form of AI’s ability to collect massive amounts of data and use it to indicate individuals’ preferences, habits, routines, etc.

China’s advances in AI have been astounding. China sees benefit in having become a surveillance state where people’s routines are in a vast database that can be used to quickly process loans or quickly scoop disruptors for purposes of re-education. The regime’s Belt and Road Initiative invests in and builds infrastructure all over the world. Included in the developments, are China’s ubiquitous surveillance cameras.

AI is the ultimate tool of wealth creation. The push for advancing AI results in aid to capital and neglect of labor, causing inequality to grow. It used to be that wages rose with productivity, but with the advent of automation, especially that augmented by AI, productivity and wages decoupled. It won’t be long before there is real clamor for distribution of wealth created by capital.

You and AI

Whether you embrace or fear artificial intelligence, AI is here to stay. In the short run you will benefit from augmented diagnostic techniques or harmed by loss of a job. In the long run your place in the universe – to your advantage or not — might be determined by a machine.

(Featured picture: Ke Jie playing AlphaGo, NPR, Google A.I. Clinches Series Against Humanity’s Last, Best Hope To Win At Go, May 25, 2017)

Question Authority No Longer

Were he alive today, 1960s counterculture icon Timothy Leary would be appalled. Leary is mostly remembered for his efforts to decriminalize psychedelic drugs. However, his principal objective was to encourage people to think for themselves, question authority, and accept the chaos that comes with “a state of vulnerable open-mindedness.”

Throughout human history, as our species has faced the frightening, terrorizing fact that we do not know who we are, or where we are going in this ocean of chaos, it has been the authorities — the political, the religious, the educational authorities — who attempted to comfort us by giving us order, rules, regulations, informing — forming in our minds — their view of reality. To think for yourself you must question authority and learn how to put yourself in a state of vulnerable open-mindedness, chaotic, confused vulnerability to inform yourself. A Notable Quote by Timothy Leary.

Today’s Battle Cry is “Obey Authority”

Instead, we crave for the comfort of authority. We want protection from vulnerability. Those standing at the ready to provide comfort and protection abound. They hold up the equivalent of the Little Red Book that tells us what to think, what to say, and what to do. They use words in ways they were not meant to be used. Science is no longer observation, inquiry and experiment, but is now absolute. They use “science” as a psychological bludgeon.

Dr. Anthony Fauci, Director of the U.S. National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, said the following in response to criticism regarding his COVID-19 guidelines:

I believe for the most part you can trust respected medical authorities … I believe I’m one of them, so I think you can trust me. But I would stick with respected medical authorities who have a track record of telling the truth, who have a track record of giving information and policy and recommendations based on scientific evidence and good data. The Guardian, July 15, 2020

One needs to question Dr. Fauci’s awareness of how drastically scientific knowledge can change. The theory of a stationary earth around which the sun revolved was once scientific truth.

What Might Timothy Leary Question Were He Alive Today?

Why is the media so focused on reporting numbers infected with COVID-19, especially when famous people are among those numbers, and not much reporting on numbers recovered?

Are COVID tests accurate? Celebrities Elon Musk and Erykah Badu recently received on the same day both positive and negative diagnosis, according to media reports.

Have U.S. state and city leaders struck a reasonable balance between lockdowns and future health in the absence of routine in-person exams, workers’ threatened livelihoods, children’s lack of proper education, deterioration of mental well being?

Even if people are willing to question, what would be a venue for those questions? The Internet is today’s soapbox. But…

…[T]he UN Secretary- General launched the United Nations Communications Response initiative to combat the spread of mis- and disinformation in April 2020. ..The Resolution also calls on international organizations to address mis- and disinformation in the digital sphere, work to prevent harmful cyber activities undermining the health response and support the provision of science-based data to the public. WHO, Managing the COVID-19 Infodemic

Social media companies have committed to regulate content in light of the pandemic.
Eliminating misinformation can help social media users gather and disseminate accurate information, helping them stay safe and reduce risk to others … A more ambitious role for social media platforms would be to boost efforts by public health authorities by, for example, upranking links to recommendations from recognised health authorities, and downranking ads for essential limited medical supplies, such as face masks, to prevent hoarding.
Building Trust While Influencing Online COVID-19 Content in the Social Media World, The Lancet, April 21, 2020.

Questioning or Obeying is a Personal Choice

Indeed, COVID-19 is a real pandemic. The current estimated COVID-19 death rate of 2.16% is not to be flippantly dismissed. However, the principal question here is whether shutting down discourse that conflicts with official WHO and CDC guidelines is beneficial.

Timothy Leary was certainly not the first to encourage questioning. Greek philosopher Socrates, for example, regarded questioning essential to critical thinking.

The art of Socratic questioning is intimately connected with critical thinking because the art of questioning is important to excellence of thought. Socrates argued for the necessity of probing individual knowledge, and acknowledging what one may not know or understand. Wikipedia, Socratic Questioning.

It is the prerogative of each individual to choose questioning and vulnerability or obedience and protection. Today, it seems the majority have chosen to “stay safe.”

Recommended: The Barrington Declaration

None of us wants to see our Grannies succumb to COVID-19, or G-d forbid, any of our children. However, our precautions need to be balanced against the “irreparable damage” lockdowns and other extreme measures are causing.

“Irreparable damage” is the correct description to what lockdowns are doing to mental health and physical well being as a result of isolation and postponement of routine treatment.

It’s like kicking the can of illness and mortality down the road.

“Irreparable damage” is the description The Great Barrington Declaration uses. The Just Vote No Blog recommends consideration of the thoughts expressed on the Barrington Declaration website. The Declaration was signed by numerous health practitioners from around the world on October 4, 2020, in the town of Great Barrington, Massachusetts. The Declaration simply recommends: focus on protecting the most vulnerable and let the rest resume their normal lives.

Here is an excerpt:

As infectious disease epidemiologists and public health scientists we have grave concerns about the damaging physical and mental health impacts of the prevailing COVID-19 policies, and recommend an approach we call Focused Protection.
Coming from both the left and right, and around the world, we have devoted our careers to protecting people. Current lockdown policies are producing devastating effects on short and long-term public health. The results (to name a few) include lower childhood vaccination rates, worsening cardiovascular disease outcomes, fewer cancer screenings and deteriorating mental health – leading to greater excess mortality in years to come, with the working class and younger members of society carrying the heaviest burden. Keeping students out of school is a grave injustice.

Keeping these measures in place until a vaccine is available will cause irreparable damage, with the underprivileged disproportionately harmed.

The Barrington Declaration mostly addresses the destructive effects of lockdowns on health. We also need to keep in mind the devastation lockdowns have wrought upon our individual liberties and our economic prosperity.

As an aside, perhaps predictably, the town of Great Barrington, Massachusetts, has declared its objection to the Declaration’s title.

Pandemics in Pictures

It is said that a picture is worth a thousand words.  These days we have thousands of words — often contradictory — about The Pandemic.  A few pictures might help. Pictured above is Jimi Hendrix at the Woodstock Music Festival August 1969.  The Hong Kong Flu 1968 – 1969 raged on as life went on.

Unprecedented Pandemic?

The Coronavirus Disease 2019, commonly known as COVID-19, was first noted December 2019.  As of September 2, 2020, estimates indicate 25.7 million inflections and 857,000 deaths worldwide.  The virus responsible for COVID-19 is SARS-CoV-2 (severe acute respiratory syndrome-coronavirus-2), the newest in a large family of coronaviruses. 

COVID-19 is indeed a pandemic. Pandemics, regardless of severity, spread quickly worldwide, as opposed to epidemics which are more local (think Ebola). But is COVID-19 “unprecedented?”

Here is a picture of some of the worst worldwide influenza pandemics. The Asian Flu lasted about one year (February 1957 to around March 1958), and killed 1.5 to 2 million people. The Hong Kong Flu also lasted around one year, and killed 1 million people.

The next picture includes characteristics like how fast a virus spreads and severity of symptoms. COVID-19 spreads easier than other similar viruses, but proportion with mild illness is high.

Or Unprecedented Overreaction With Devastating Results?

Past pandemics did not see the widespread lockdown we are experiencing with COVID-19. Therefore, past pandemics did not see the unprecedented economic meltdown we are experiencing today. Measured by GDP, the 2008 U.S. Great Recession pales in comparison. Here is a picture from Tradingeconomics.com

As of August 2020, numerous U.S. companies filed for bankruptcy protection amid lockdowns, including big brands such as Brooks Brothers, Cirque du Soleil, and Neiman Marcus. How many Mom & Pop stores that tend to hire lower-income folks have closed is hard to say.

Woodstock Anyone?

An event that characterized the 1960s was the Woodstock Music Festival. An audience of about 400,000 gathered on a dairy farm in New York state August 15-18, 1969, to watch music notables of the time like Joan Baez, Janis Joplin, and Jimi Hendrix.

Although “fact checkers” like Reuters went out of their way to explain why it is “misleading” to say Woodstock took place in the middle of the Hong Kong Flu pandemic — the event was between waves of the flu — the fact remains that Woodstock was in 1969, and the Hong Kong Flu pandemic was in 1968-1969.

Life is Making Choices

The 1960s were the days of fighting the establishment. Those were the days when young people demanded withdrawal of troops from Vietnam and troops were withdrawn. They were the days when women burned their bras in public, and rights were won. Individualism — otherwise known as “do your own thing” — reigned. In retrospect, Woodstock belonged in 1969.

Today we tow the line. We wear masks. We make our children wear masks. We are OK with going without medical checkups and teeth cleanings. We are OK with lockdowns that put our employers out of business and our families on public assistance. We do not fight back as the establishment dooms our children to sub-par education.

Life means choices.

BLM Protests and “The Moynihan Report”

Moynihan

March of 1965, Assistant Labor Secretary Daniel Patrick Moynihan printed and distributed a report he wrote titled The Negro Family:  The Case for National Action. The report made him famous. However, Moynihan forever remained embittered that what became “The Moynihan Report” was never fully understood or acted upon.

Amid today’s massive Black Lives Matter demonstrations, filled with demands for redress of past and present injustices against Black people, it might be useful to revisit The Moynihan Report. The Report’s suggested remedy will sound outdated to today’s readers, possibly because society chose to take the path Moynihan warned against.

The Moynihan Report is a well-written, well documented treatise meant to counter what Moynihan saw as the misguided policies of President Lyndon Johnson’s War on Poverty. The report presents statistical data and interprets the data with care. It is a shot across the bow: continue ignoring the potent positive role of the traditional American family and suffer the consequences.

Indeed, for anyone paying attention, the centerpiece of Johnson’s Great Society, the War on Poverty, amounted to nothing more than war on poor families.

As an aside it should be noted that Pat Moynihan spoke of dysfunctional families and poverty from personal experience. Although he enjoyed an exceptional career as counselor to Presidents, ambassador to India and the United Nations, and U.S. Senator from New York, his parents were of modest means. Ta-Nehisi Coates, in his excellent article The Black Family in the Age of Mass Incarceration, goes as far as to say that Moynihan “was the product of a broken home and a pathological family… A cultured civil servant not to the manor born…”

War on families: a legacy of slavery

The Moynihan Report notes that while slavery existed in many parts of the world, slavery in America was especially onerous. Under law and custom, slaves were chattel, not entitled to education, religious practice, manumission, and most importantly a family of their own. Such conditions rendered slaves dependent on their masters, unable even to purchase their freedom or find solace in family attachments. Moynihan felt that neither emancipation nor government-granted civil rights could erase this awful legacy.

Emancipation granted freedom, but segregation ensured inadequate education and scant opportunities for advancement. Legislation granted civil rights – those rights government chooses to grant — but did nothing to fully acknowledge that all people are endowed from birth with the unalienable rights of personal liberty and personal responsibility.

Moynihan believed that devoid of a deep sense of personal liberty and personal responsibility, many Black people failed to form strong families or focus on personal advancement.

The bifurcation of American Blacks

In all communities there are those who succeed despite soul-shattering challenges. Moynihan saw a bifurcation between a rising Black middle class and an increasingly disadvantaged Black “lower class.”

There is considerable evidence that the Negro community is in fact dividing between a stable middle class group that is steadily growing stronger and more successful, and an increasingly disorganized and disadvantaged lower class group. There are indications, for example, that the middle class Negro family puts a higher premium on family stability and the conserving of family resources than does the white middle class family.

Moynihan’s concern in his Report is with the “disadvantaged lower class” Blacks. His focus is not on poor whites, Latinos or other persons of color.

Moynihan’s remedy

His remedy for the intractable poverty and chaos Moynihan perceived was to build strong patriarchal family units, in which fathers were the primary breadwinners and mothers the primary caretakers of offspring.

The role of the family in shaping character and ability is so pervasive as to be easily overlooked. The family is the basic social unit of American life; it is the basic socializing unit. By and large, adult conduct in society is learned as a child.

A fundamental insight of psychoanalytic theory, for example, is that the child learns a way of looking at life in his early years through which all later experience is viewed and which profoundly shapes his adult conduct.

The remedy society chose

While Moynihan persistently advocated for strong family units, administrations during his time in office helped the devastation of Black families with policies that fostered dependence on public assistance, absentee fathers, and incarceration. No need for fathers to stick around when moms and children will be cared for via numerous public assistance programs. No need to worry about poor education and work opportunities when there are plenty of prisons to isolate those who turn to crime as a last resort.

And plenty of prisons we have, as noted in the Prison Policy Initiative.

For four decades, the U.S. has been engaged in a globally unprecedented experiment to make every part of its criminal justice system more expansive and more punitive. As a result, incarceration has become the nation’s default response to crime. States of Incarceration: The Global Context 2018.  June 1918.

Such response results in absent fathers or mothers, unemployment due to conviction records, and broken families. The U.S. Bureau of Prisons estimates the current prison population is 38% Black. The U.S. Black population is around 13%. The U.S. “default response to crime” does disproportionate harm to Black families.

After the Great Society troubles remain

As Daniel Patrick Moynihan predicted 55 years ago, government-granted civil rights and public assistance programs focusing on individuals rather than families would do little to improve the lot of the poor and Black. Malevolent efforts such as the war on drugs and mass incarceration further destroy economic and social mobility for the poor and Black.

Intermittently, there are uprisings prompted by particularly egregious events perpetrated against Black people. Today, protests rage throughout the U.S. and the world in response to the May 25th killing by police of George Floyd. Floyd was unarmed, the arrest that led to his killing was for an alleged non-violent incident (suspicion of purchasing cigarettes with a forged $20 bill), and the manner of his killing was barbaric (police’s knee pressing on his neck for 8 minutes and 46 seconds). George Floyd, a Black man, was one of the latest victims at the hand of police.

Protesters today and in the past demand police accountability, even police “defunding.” They demand “social justice” and “equity.” But challenges remain, even as politicians expand the traditional largess in the model of Johnson’s Great Society.

The Moynihan Report, old fashioned and outdated as it sounds, might be worth revisiting.

COBOL: Ancient But Still Issuing Your Unemployment Checks

IBM 360

In spite being 60 years old, the COBOL programming language underpins finance and administrative systems used by businesses and government agencies. COBOL (Common Business Oriented Language) has done its job just fine since it was first used in 1960, so efforts to replace it with modern languages like Python or Java have been half hearted.

Problem is COBOL-experienced programmers are now largely retired, and few younger software engineers are interested in learning COBOL or offered COBOL courses in college.

This situation presents a problem for states trying to deal with the sudden massive surge in unemployment claims due to the coronavirus lockdown and the increase in unemployment amounts mandated by the CARES Act.  Systems based on COBOL don’t have enough people to service them.

This Bloomberg article describes the immediate problem well.

The Covid-19 pandemic has exposed aging, inflexible computer systems at the heart of the U.S. economy — and a shortage of experts to fix the problem. This is slowing the government’s effort to get billions of dollars in stimulus checks to millions of newly unemployed citizens.

The $2.2 trillion CARES Act passed in late March includes a $600 weekly increase in unemployment benefits. That money won’t reach anyone until state agencies update technology systems to reflect the law and handle the flood of new applications.

But the COBOL problem has been waiting for a solution for while. Newer languages could step up to the plate and replace COBOL entirely, but nobody seems to want to undertake the risks or the substantial costs of switching.

So, COBOL remains. Businesses and government scramble for patches when a Y2K or a COVID-19 incident occurs.

Pictured above:  the IBM System/360 Model 50.  In late 1962, IBM announced that COBOL would be their primary development language.  COBOL is machine independent, so mainframe manufacturers readily adopted the language.