Driven to Rebellion

This article in the Chicago Tribune should give you some idea of the mood here in Illinois:

Despite Gov. J.B. Pritzker’s recent order to shut down indoor service at bars and restaurants in northwest Illinois due to the coronavirus, Fozzy’s Bar and Grill near Rockford was among those that stayed open.

Owner Nick Fosberg said he had to leave the doors open to keep his employees working, pay his bills and stay in business. He says the workers wear masks, and customers wear masks on their way in and out, while tables are spaced 6 feet apart, at 25% capacity.

“We’re sticking to what we were doing and being safe about it,” he said. “We’re getting a ton of support. People are happy someone finally stood up and said, ‘I’m not closing.’”

The restaurant rebellion comes as state officials report rising rates of infections and deaths of people with COVID-19, prompting the governor to impose further restrictions in Region 1 in northwest Illinois, which had a positivity rate of 11.9%. Starting Sunday, the governor set a limit there on gatherings to 10 people, and a maximum of six people per restaurant or bar table for outdoor service. Officials on Thursday also announced 4,942 new cases of COVID, and 44 deaths of people who tested positive for the virus.

Pritzker warned that if necessary, he would direct state police to issue fines for violators of the regulations, and would seek to have liquor and gambling licenses pulled.

“If we need to close down restaurants and bars or take away their liquor licenses or gaming licenses, we will do that,” he said. “Because we are heading now into a peak that is beyond potentially where we were in March and April.”

In response to the governor’s orders, the Illinois Restaurant Association warned that banning indoor service could force the permanent closing of at least 20% of restaurants statewide, costing 120,000 jobs, and driving people into private gatherings with few precautions.

That last is what I was talking about in my previous post. The evidence that restaurants are responsible for the uptick in cases is slim; there’s more evidence that they’re contracting the virus in their homes. It’s possible the governor’s mandate could actually increase the number of cases..

I doubt that this is the last defiant act we’ll see from Illinoisans or Illinois businesses.

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Tradeoffs

Since I think it has some bearing on discussions we’ve been having here, I’m going to reproduce this Wall Street Journal op-ed from Joseph A. Ladapo of UCLA’s medical school in its entirety:

A hallmark of Covid-19 pandemic policy has been the failure of political leaders and health officials to anticipate the unintended consequences of their actions. This tendency has haunted many decisions, from lockdowns that triggered enormous unemployment and increased alcohol and drug abuse, to school closures that are widening educational disparities between rich and poor families. Mask mandates may also have unintended consequences that outweigh the benefits.

First, consider how the debate has evolved and the underlying scientific evidence. Several randomized trials of community or household masking have been completed. Most have shown that wearing a mask has little or no effect on respiratory virus transmission, according to a review published earlier this year in Emerging Infectious Diseases, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s journal. In March, when Anthony Fauci said, “wearing a mask might make people feel a little bit better” but “it’s not providing the perfect protection that people think it is,” his statement reflected scientific consensus, and was consistent with the World Health Organization’s guidance.

Almost overnight, the recommendations flipped. The reason? The risk of asymptomatic transmission. Health officials said mask mandates were now not only reasonable but critical. This is a weak rationale, given that presymptomatic spread of respiratory viruses isn’t a novel phenomenon in public health. Asymptomatic cases of influenza occur in up to a third of patients, according to a 2016 report in Emerging Infectious Diseases, and even more patients had mild cases that are never diagnosed. Asymptomatic or mild cases appear to contribute more to Covid-19 transmission, but this happens in flu cases, too, though no one has called for mask mandates during flu season.

The public assumes that research performed since the beginning of the pandemic supports mask mandates. Policy makers and the media point to low-quality evidence, such as a study of Covid-19 positive hairstylists in Missouri or a Georgia summer camp with an outbreak. These anecdotes, while valuable, tell us nothing about the experience of other hairdressers or other summer camps that adopted similar or different masking practices. Also low-quality evidence: Videos of droplets spreading through air as people talk, a well-intended line of research that has stoked fears about regular human interactions.

Rather, the highest-quality evidence so far is studies like the one published in June in Health Affairs, which found that U.S. states instituting mask mandates had a 2% reduction in growth rates of Covid-19 compared with states without these mandates. Because respiratory virus spread is exponential, modest reductions can translate into large differences over time. But these shifts in trajectory are distinct from the notion that mandating masks will bring the pandemic to an end. Based on evidence around the world, it should be clear that mask mandates won’t extinguish the virus.

The most reasonable conclusion from the available scientific evidence is that community mask mandates have—at most—a small effect on the course of the pandemic. But you wouldn’t know that from watching cable news or sitting next to a mother being forced off an airplane because her small children aren’t able to keep a mask on.

While mask-wearing has often been invoked in explanations for rising or falling Covid-19 case counts, the reality is that these trends reflect a basic human need to interact with one another. Claims that low mask compliance is responsible for rising case counts are also not supported by Gallup data, which show that the percentage of Americans reporting wearing masks has been high and relatively stable since June. Health officials and political leaders have assigned mask mandates a gravity unsupported by empirical research.

On even shakier scientific ground is the promotion of mask use outdoors. One contact-tracing study identified only a single incident of outdoor transmission among 318 outbreaks. Even the Rose Garden nomination ceremony for Justice Amy Coney Barrett, which the media giddily labeled a “superspreader” event, likely wasn’t; transmission more likely occurred during indoor gatherings associated with the ceremony.

By paying outsize and scientifically unjustified attention to masking, mask mandates have the unintended consequence of delaying public acceptance of the unavoidable truth. In countries with active community transmission and no herd immunity, nothing short of inhumane lockdowns can stop the spread of Covid-19, so the most sensible and sustainable path forward is to learn to live with the virus.

Shifting focus away from mask mandates and toward the reality of respiratory viral spread will free up time and resources to protect the most vulnerable Americans. There is strong evidence that treating patients early in outpatient settings can be effective, as outlined in a recent American Journal of Medicine paper, but these treatments are underused. Identifying effective treatments for hospitalized patients with Covid-19 is essential, but preventing severe illness before hospitalization will save more lives.

Until the reality of viral spread in the U.S.—with or without mask mandates—is accepted, political leaders will continue to feel justified in keeping schools and businesses closed, robbing young people of the opportunity to invest in their futures, and restricting activities that make life worthwhile. Policy makers ought to move forward with more wisdom and sensibility to mitigate avoidable costs to human life and well-being.

In the perfect, Aristotelian theoretical world measures that provide fractional improvements should always be put in place whether they produce 2% improvements or 25% improvements because, well, those are improvements but in the the messy, complex practical world it is different and there are many more factors that must be taken into consideration. Does the downside risk of the moral hazard introduced by the measures outweigh the gains? An example of the moral hazard to which I refer would be, in the case of mask-wearing, when people engage in more risky behaviors when they’re wearing masks in the mistaken belief that they are more protective than they really are but it also includes the risks introduced by the erosion of the rule of law produced by unenforced mandates or even laws. Both qualitative and quantitative results need to be taken into account. My take, for example, on the outbreak of cases of COVID-19 among White House staff is that it was caused by mistaken over-reliance on testing as a strategy for avoiding the disease.

There is also cost-benefit to be taken into account. The only known way to avoid contracting the virus completely is total isolation. If only benefit were considered, we should all lock ourselves into our homes and not venture out until the virus had vanished. But the costs of that are simply too high—not only would the economy collapse but we would all die of starvation.

I don’t think all of this makes me a “naysayer”; I wear a mask when I’m in stores or in the common areas of the office and on many other occasions simply to set a good example. I invariably wear my masks properly and launder them after use. I also maintain a three meter social distance to the greatest degree possible and avoid social contacts other than with my wife with whom I share my residence to the greatest degree possible. But I recognize that many people are not as coldly rational or completely disciplined as I and act and propose courses of action accordingly.

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Russia’s Ongoing Chemical Weapons Program

I hadn’t heard about this. This excerpt is from Bellingcat’s report on the subject:

A year-long investigation by Bellingcat and its investigative partners The Insider and Der Spiegel, with contributing investigations from RFE/RL, has discovered evidence that Russia continued its Novichok development program long beyond the officially announced closure date. Data shows that military scientists, who were involved with the original chemical weapons program while it was still run by the Ministry of Defense, were dispersed into several research entities which continued collaborating among one another in a clandestine, distributed R&D program. While some of these institutes were integrated with the Ministry of Defense – but camouflaged their work as research into antidotes to organophosphate poisoning – other researchers moved to civilian research institutes but may have continued working, under cover of civilian research, on the continued program.

Our investigative team believes the St. Petersburg State Institute for Experimental Military Medicine of the Ministry of Defense (“GNII VM”), likely with the assistance of researchers from the Scientific Center Signal (“SC Signal”), has since 2010 taken the lead role in the continued R&D and weaponization of the Soviet-era Novichok program.

Crucially for our conclusions, we have identified evidence showing close coordination between these two institutes and a secretive sub-unit of Military Unit 29155 of Russia’s military intelligence, the GRU. This unit has previously been linked to the poisoning attempts on Emilian Gebrev in Bulgaria in 2015 as well as Sergey and Yula Skripal in the United Kingdom in 2018. Telecoms data we obtained shows that the St. Petersurg-based institute communicated intensively with members of the assassination team during the planning stage of the Skripal mission, while also communicating – at highly correlated moments – with scientists from SC Signal.

and here are the editors’ of the Washington Post’s remarks on it:

While the Chemical Weapons Convention has allowances for developing antidotes and defenses against chemical weapons, actually producing and using Novichok to poison the Skripals and Mr. Navalny are treaty violations. Recently, the European Union and Britain acted, but the Trump administration remains strangely silent about sanctions in response to the Navalny attack. Bipartisan groups of lawmakers in the House and Senate are urging a tougher response. Both the E.U. and the United States should investigate the newly identified research organizations. When the states parties to the treaty meet Nov. 30 to Dec. 4, they should consider a strong response.

I agree. These are serious violations but it’s unclear to me what steps might be taken that haven’t already been taken. The only thing I can think of is to restart chemical weapons development of our own which is no solution to the problem. I wish that the editors had expanded a bit more on what they have in mind. Will their concern continue if Biden is elected president?

I was originally driven to the article from the WaPo editorial. My first reaction to the editorial were that it was guilt by association and that Russia is not the Soviet Union but the various reports provide what appears to me to be undeniable evidence.

I have been complaining about distributed military research for years, decades I guess. It’s not just a problem within Russia. I find what I suspect to be distributed research among North Korea, Iran, and maybe other parties (Burma?) even more disturbing. Russia, at least, is still a rational actor but I’m not so sure about the outlaw regimes of the world.

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The Big Top

Can someone explain to me why dining in a completely enclosed, heated tent without exterior ventilation other than what leaks in from under the tent flaps is materially safer and less likely to promote the spread of SARS-CoV-2 then dining indoors? All over Chicagoland, particularly in the suburbs where it’s roomier, bars and restaurants are sprouting such tents. I don’t believe they’re less likely to spread the virus at all. I simply think they’re dodges around the governor’s mandates. Which remain abuses of power since the neverending continuation of his emergency powers still hasn’t been renewed by the legislature.

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Ending the Monopolies the Right Way

If the Europeans actually follow through on what Mark Scott describes at Politico:

LONDON — Europe is taking aim at the lifeblood of firms like Google and Facebook — online ads that track people around the internet.

In the latest salvo, a group of EU lawmakers backed proposals this week to phase out so-called targeted advertising when Brussels unveils an overhaul of its digital rulebook in early December.

Such a move — if supported by the European Commission — would effectively stop a firm like Google from showing web users ads based on personal profiles as they roam around the internet. In short, cutting off a key source of revenue at the heart of Big Tech’s business model.

Silicon Valley can rest easy for now. The amendment in question was not binding, and a ban on targeted ads remains fairly remote. But the vote was a shot across the bow for tech companies and publishers who also rely on such ads at a time when regulators are turning up the heat on the online ad business.

It also raises a tricky question — not just for tech companies but for everyone who relies on free internet services provided to them (think, Google Search and Instagram posts) in exchange for personal data: If we put a stop to online ads, who will pay for the internet as we know it?

it will definitely be a step in the right direction. You may notice similarities between what they are doing and what I have proposed in the past. It has been my experience that the Europeans take privacy more seriously than Americans do.

My answer to the question is who needs “the internet as we know it”? The answer is middlemen like Google and Facebook. But that’s decreasingly necessary for individuals or companies who actually produce and sell things.

Breaking up the tech monopolies won’t have the effect that rendering them unprofitable will.

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Bidens’ Foreign Business Scandals

Here’s how I see the swirl of scandals around the Bidens’ foreign business dealings. The two contrasting views are:

  1. Who cares? Joe Biden isn’t Donald Trump. That’s all that’s important. Consequently, it must all be Russian disinformation or just plain lies.
  2. Joe Biden was selling his influence.

My view is that the national political establishments of both parties are hopelessly corrupt, it won’t change after the 2020 election, and it can’t be solved short of a “clean sweep” in which the incumbents of both parties are thrown out of office and that can’t happen because of the way the two parties have things rigged in favor of incumbents. It isn’t limited to just teasing other countries or businesses to get money out of them. That pursuit of money actually overrules the national interest and has for years.

That wasn’t as important when the U. S. economy was growing vibrantly and U. S. GDP was ten times China’s. Now it’s important. It’s undermining U. S. security, its economy, and its social framework.

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Trump’s Future Foreign Policy?

In the event that President Trump is re-elected and if he follows the pattern of previous presidents, he would be likely to concentrate on foreign policy even more than during his first term. In his Wall Street Journal column Walter Russell Mead considers what that might look like:

Mr. Trump’s second term would probably be driven by a quest for “deals,” transactional bargains with other leaders, even more so than in his first term. This could be disconcerting to those around him working to create the institutional basis for a long-term approach to the rise of China and security in the Indo-Pacific. For Mr. Trump, it is all leverage, and for the right deal he will make large and unconventional concessions. China, Russia, Iran, North Korea, Venezuela: Mr. Trump’s policy is likely to be a quest for dramatic if not always substantive or enduring deals.

This has several consequences. It reinforces Mr. Trump’s relative indifference to human-rights-based diplomacy. It strengthens his preference for diplomacy between sovereign states as opposed to multilateral rule-making and intensifies his impatience with international institutions. It will lead him to continue to seek good personal relationships with even the most controversial and adversarial figures on the world stage.

A second term would be at least as chaotic as the first. This is not simply because the president is undisciplined and indifferent to process and bases his decisions on intuition more than analysis. For Mr. Trump, chaos is more than a choice or even a habit. It is a tool for keeping ultimate control in his own hands. That a presidential tweet can at any moment reverse a policy that aides have labored over for months infuriates, alienates and not infrequently humiliates his subordinates, but Mr. Trump stays in control. Keeping your associates and adversaries alike guessing is, in the president’s playbook, a tactic for success. Officials can always be replaced; power needs to be conserved.

I think that’s a pretty realistic analysis.

What if Trump loses? What is American foreign policy likely to look like under a Biden Administration? I think there would be a combination of a futile attempt at restoring the status quo ante, accompanied by sometimes conflicting pressures to formulate a strategy for dealing with a rising China, more concerns about human rights, and those pushing a “responsibility to protect”.

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The Fumigation Election

At the Washington Post, predicting a Trump defeat, NeverTrumper George Will characterizes the 2020 presidential election as a “fumigation election”:

In defeat, Trump probably will resemble another figure from American fiction — Ring Lardner’s “Alibi Ike,” the baseball player whose talent was for making excuses. Trump will probably say that if not for the pandemic, Americans would have voted their pocketbooks, which would have been bulging because of economic growth, and reelected him. Americans, however, are more complicated and civic-minded than one-dimensional economy voters. But about those pocketbooks:

The 4 percent growth Trump promised as a candidate and the 3 percent he promised as president became, pre-pandemic, 2.5 percent during his first three years, a negligible improvement over the 2.4 percent of the last three Barack Obama years. This growth was partly fueled by increased deficit spending (from 4.4 percent of gross domestic product to 6.3 percent, by the International Monetary Fund’s calculation). Bloomberg Businessweek reports, “In the first three and a half years of Trump’s presidency the U.S. Department of Labor approved 1,996 petitions [for Trade Adjustment Assistance] covering 184,888 jobs shifted overseas. During the equivalent period of President Barack Obama’s second term, 1,811 petitions were approved covering 172,336 workers.” And the Economist says:

“Recent research suggests that Mr. Trump’s tariffs destroyed more American manufacturing jobs than they created, by making imported parts more expensive and prompting other countries to retaliate by targeting American goods. Manufacturing employment barely grew in 2019. At the same time, tariffs are pushing up consumer prices by perhaps 0.5 percent, enough to reduce average real household income by nearly $1,300.”

Demographic arithmetic is also discouraging for Trump. There are more than 5 million fewer members of his core constituency — Whites without college degrees — than there were four years ago. And there are more than 13 million more minority and college-educated White eligible voters than in 2016.

In Ronald Reagan’s 1984 reelection, voters under 30 were a solidly Republican age cohort; 2020, for the fifth consecutive election, it will be the most Democratic. The Atlantic’s Ronald Brownstein believes this year’s “generational backlash” against Trump presages for Republicans a dismal decade during which two large and diverse cohorts — millennials (born between 1981 and 1996) and Generation Z (born between 1997 and 2012) — become, together, the electorate’s largest bloc in an electorate that, says Brownstein, “is beginning its most profound generational transition since the early 1980s,” when baby boomers (born between 1946 and 1964) became the largest bloc. In 2016, Trump won just 36 percent of adults under 30; Obama averaged 63 percent in two elections. Furthermore, this will be the first presidential election in which the number of millennial and Generation Z eligible voters will outnumber eligible baby boomers. Generation Z is 49 percent people of color.

Economic and demographic statistics are not, however, the only ones pertinent to next Tuesday’s probable outcome. Novelist John Updike supplied another: “A healthy male adult bore consumes each year one and a half times his own weight in other people’s patience.” This nation and its patience are exhausted.

I have no idea of what will happen in the election but from my perspective whomever occupies the Oval Office in February of next year there will still be a bad odor in the White House. It will either be Donald Trump, reinvigorated by his new election and freed from whatever restraints he felt previously or it will be Joe Biden, who can be expected to bring back the same people who were responsible for the lousy foreign policy of the past while under unrelenting pressure from the left of his own party on domestic policy.

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Juxtaposition

I think these two stories make a sad juxtaposition. The restrictions to reduce the spread of COVID-19 on businesses in Chicago are being tightened. From the Associated Press:

SPRINGFIELD, Ill. (AP) — Surging COVID-19 cases in Chicago prompted Gov. J.B. Pritzker on Tuesday to ban indoor dining and bar services and limit the number of people gathering in one place.

However, Chicago Mayor Lori Lightfoot says she isn’t sure Pritzker’s new restrictions are targeting the right people and worries that they will adversely affect the city’s economy.

The rules taking effect Friday will force diners and bar patrons outdoors and shut down service at 11 p.m. in the nation’s third-largest city. No more than 25 people may gather at one time, or fewer if that number would exceed 25% of room capacity.

“We can’t ignore what is happening around us, because without action, this could look worse than anything we saw in the spring,” Pritzker said, referring to the start of the pandemic, when health care resources were pushed to the limit because of the overwhelming number of COVID-19 cases.

In the other story a pair of sisters on Chicago’s West Side stabbed a security guard 27 times when he asked them to wear facemasks and use hand sanitizer. From Fox:

After a Chicago security guard asked two shoppers to put on coronavirus masks in his store, they allegedly punched him, pulled his hair and stabbed him more than two dozen times.

The suspects, a pair of sisters, allegedly pounced on the 32-year-old victim at Snipes on the city’s west side Sunday, after he asked them to wear masks and use hand sanitizer.

Gov. Pritzker has had unchecked dictatorial power since February. I believe that a responsible press would ask him a question. Since your recent mandates are due to an increase in cases, what have you done wrong?

I think the world has gone mad.

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The Greater Scandal

Matt Taibbi is worried that the corruption of the media is actually the worst scandal of the present:

The flow of information in the United States has become so politicized – bottlenecked by an increasingly brazen union of corporate press and tech platforms – that it’s become impossible for American audiences to see news about certain topics absent thickets of propagandistic contextualizing. Try to look up anything about Burisma, Joe Biden, or Hunter Biden in English, however, and you’re likely to be shown a pile of “fact-checks” and explainers ahead of the raw information:[…]

Other true information has been scrubbed or de-ranked, either by platforms or by a confederation of press outlets whose loyalty to the Democratic Party far now overshadows its obligations to inform.

But Fox does the same thing!

Obviously, Fox is not much better, in terms of its willingness to report negative information about Trump and Republicans, but Fox doesn’t have the reach that this emerging partnership between mass media, law enforcement, and tech platforms does. That group’s reaction to the New York Post story is formalizing a decision to abandon the media’s old true/untrue standard for a different test that involves other, more politicized questions, like provenance and editorial intent.

Republicans started complaining about the partisanship and corruption of the media during the Obama Administration and, apparently, they were right. It all just went on steroids when Trump was elected.

My views on all this are pretty simple. If we’re going to have partisan media as the UK does, we should have libel laws like the UK’s. Simple as that.

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