What a time to be writing an April newsletter! We've picked up a few new readers since last year, so before we jump in here, just a quick reminder that April is the month we let our tinfoil hat flag fly. In previous years, we've looked at The War on Cash, the Looming Pension Crisis, and the Magical Groupthink necessary for our economic system.
In a spooky bit of foresight, last April's newsletter asked you, dear reader, to "put 1984 back on top of your summer reading list". If you didn't, do yourself a favor and definitely put it on your quarantine reading list, because we are there.
What do Machiavelli, Churchill, Rahm Emanuel, and the Washington Post all have in common? This newsletter. This month we'll look at the intersection of the phrases "Never let a good crisis go to waste" (Machiavelli/Churchill/Emanuel) and "Democracy dies in darkness" (WP). Because what we have right now in this country is a very good crisis and a whole lot of darkness. This will be a link-heavy newsletter, as we attempt to shine a light on various things that are actually happening. We leave it up to you to make your own connections and follow the rabbit hole as deep as you'd like.
To start with the innocuous and get you thinking, consider: why has there been a 3.4-oz limit on liquids through TSA checkpoints if it's now okay to have a 12-oz bottle of hand sanitizer?
More philosophically, why do we have an overcrowded prison system with "low-risk", "nonviolent offenders" that can just be released back into society?
Before we really dive in, we came across some information about the Italian COVID-19 mortality rate (10%+!) that we wanted to share. Yes, it's true that Italy as a country has the second-oldest population (after Japan). Yes, it's true that smoking is prevalent across Italy (and most of Europe). Yes, that's a bad combination for a severe, acute respiratory illness.
But, it also turns out that Italy, for one, has some leeway in marking cause of death. Per Professor Walter Ricciardi (scientific advisor to Italy's Minister of Health) in this article by The Telegraph (UK): "The way in which we code deaths in our country is very generous in the sense that all the people who die in hospitals with the coronavirus are deemed to be dying of the coronavirus."
Got that? Anybody who happened to die with the coronavirus is marked as having died of the coronavirus. More from Professor Ricciardi: "On re-evaluation by the National Institute of Health, only 12 per cent of death certificates have shown direct causality from coronavirus".
Let's dive further into the numbers, from the Italian National Institute of Health's own report as of April 2. Clinical charts were analyzed for a sample (n = 1,102) of patients diagnosed with COVID-19 who died in the hospital. Of that sample, the following conditions were also present:
A full 50% of the sample size presented with at least three (3!) of those underlying conditions. The number of COVID-19 deaths with zero underlying conditions in the sample was about 6%.
A 10% mortality rate is a scary number. Much scarier than 1.2% (12% direct causality of 10% mortality). Coincidentally, the fear response is a very powerful tool for behavior modification, whether you're trying to get people to buy your product (which we've discussed before), or just get more power for yourself as a government.
Got your red pill ready? Good, let's go.
Who Judges Elective?
Let's look at the ban on elective surgeries. Should you perhaps postpone your face lift to save a bed/mask/anaesthesiologist for a COVID-19 patient? Sure, that can make sense. But look at where governments are taking it - the states of Texas and Oklahoma have banned abortions, citing the elective surgery ban. Leave to the side for one second any personal feelings on what can be a hot-button issue, and instead try to see that for what it is: government (in this case state governments) using a crisis to grab power away from the people.
Or, consider a less-contentious case: anecdotally, we know of someone who is pregnant right now. It is not her first pregnancy. She has a weakened cervix, and so with each pregnancy she has needed a cerclage, to basically ensure the baby doesn't just fall out prematurely. For reference, cerclage is essentially sewing the cervix shut and is performed around weeks 14-16 of pregnancy. The sutures are then removed around weeks 36-38 before a normal labor and delivery.
Except not. Because apparently cerclage is coded as an elective procedure in our healthcare system, and is currently banned, at least by some states or hospital networks. So this person just has to...hang in there? Try to carry a baby to term knowing full well that any day it could just come out premature without warning? That's not right.
Elective C-sections are being cancelled (full-term ones). IVF treatments are being stopped, even if you're in the middle of one. Spouses/partners/support people are being banned from delivery rooms and death beds. If you're suspected of having COVID-19, the CDC is recommending a 14-day mother/newborn quarantine in separate isolation rooms. Breastfeeding may be off the table, despite no evidence of the virus in milk. Tubal ligations or IUDs after discharge are also being banned as elective.
How many people does this affect? Well, somewhere in the ballpark of 3.8 million babies are born in the US in a given year, so let's call it 316,000 per month, or 475,000 from mid-March to the current lockdown expiration of April 30.
China or USA?
Possibly the single biggest threat to civil liberties is censorship, as it is the primary means those in power use to maintain control. Look at China. Or any of your authoritarian regimes, really. And it is starting to run wild here in the US.
There has always been censorship, in the form of "official government narrative" that turns out to be a complete fabrication decades down the road when classified documents are unsealed or you get some brilliant investigative journalism. Gulf of Tonkin, MK Ultra, Bay of Pigs, Watergate, Weapons of Mass Destruction, Benghazi, etc. You get the idea.
It has become a much more serious problem in the US recently since "fake news" became a thing. All of a sudden, the various media outlets have taken it upon themselves to be arbiters and curators of truth. This has also always existed to a certain extent in your "traditional" news outlets just due to choices of what stories to cover and what angle to put on them - CNN and FOX do not report things in the same way. But that is a far cry from Facebook and Google and Twitter controlling access to information. It was a sad day for freedom when these companies caved to Congressional pressure over "The Russians Are Coming!".
Tangentially, we find it interesting how censorship over "fake news" is usually entirely political in nature. If you question the official narrative, you are barred/banned/hidden in order that..the gullible masses are protected from your nefarious brainwashing? And yet, you could fill a (very wrong) encyclopedia with the amount of Flat Earth information out there.
ZeroHedge got permanently banned from Twitter in late Jan for this article that questioned whether the coronavirus came from the Wuhan Level 4 BioLab instead of the open air market, given publicly available information about the researchers in said lab and their work on - wait for it - bat coronaviruses. Fast forward two months, and now David Ignatius of the Washington Post is out with an opinion piece along those same lines.
What changed, you might ask? Timing. January 29th was two days before Trump banned foreign nationals who had been in China within the previous two weeks. The WHO was still advocating for open borders internationally and hadn't even declared a global health emergency. You were three days before the first death outside of China and one month before the first death in America. Seattle was still 6 weeks (!) away from closing public schools and banning large gatherings.
But now here we are two months later and perhaps it is politically advantageous to be antagonistic towards China, so yet another ban-worthy "conspiracy theory" gets to be considered as truth.
In China, one of the earliest warnings about a new illness came from a doctor in an online chat room. The doctor was reprimanded and forced to sign a police document stating that the post was illegal. The "new illness" was the coronavirus. In Washington State, an ER physician was fired for speaking out about the conditions they're seeing. Same for a nurse in Chicago. Hospital systems are threatening doctors and nurses for speaking out. Even the Navy fired one of their captains for writing a letter requesting aid for the outbreak aboard his ship.
It's a dangerous path we're on when the only way you can distinguish between China and the US in an article on censorship is the name of the city.
What else is the State (used in the Orwellian sense) trying to grab? Well, the Department of Justice is trying to give itself some new powers: indefinite detention without trial, for one. Pausing the statute of limitations during and for one year after a declared national emergency. And then there's this gem:
Top judges would be able to suspend court proceedings applicable to "any statues or rules of procedure otherwise affecting pre-arrest, post-arrest, pre-trial, trial, and post-trial procedures in criminal and juvenile proceedings and all civil process and proceedings".
Pre-arrest? Like probable cause? Like unlawful search and seizure? Like warrants? That is terrifying. What's next after the Space Force, a Thought Police force?
Well, actually...Bellevue, Washington has an app for you to report on your neighbors who are exercising their constitutional rights, or "not staying at home". The mayor of LA has said - direct quote - "snitches get rewards". Report your neighbor here!
One Job To Do
To be clear: advocating against oppressive, fear-based power grabs by governments in the face of an "invisible enemy" does not mean advocating for a do-nothing-acquire-herd-immunity approach. In our view, the Federal government has basically two jobs to do here: 1) educate and inform the public; and 2) support the States in their healthcare needs. Germany seems to be doing a good job of this. Sweden seems to be an interesting case as well, in that schools, restaurants, and cafes are still open. Their government is relying on the common sense of its citizens, which is like a breath of fresh air to our libertarian paternalism proclivities that are currently being suffocated under constitutionally questionable quarantines, shelter-in-place orders, and curfews.
The US? Pretty epic failure any way you look at it.
We listened-in last week to a conference call with the New Hampshire Emergency Services Unit and the Commissioner of the Department of Health and Human Services. One of the questions that got asked was about New Hampshire's readiness vis-à-vis supplies of PPE. The answer was (paraphrasing slightly, so not a direct quotation): Every State has an emergency preparedness plan, and for years the States have been directed to rely on the National stockpile in times of crisis. Now that it's a time of crisis, New Hampshire has been getting about 20% of their requisition orders filled, and the federal government just edited the wording to say "it's on the states".
Anecdotally, from what Governor Cuomo says, it seems New York is in a similar position with respect to assistance from the Federal government. Which leaves State bureaucracies trying to figure out how to source product internationally and distribute it domestically. Which they are terrible at doing in the best of times, never mind during an actual health crisis, and never mind that they are all now competing against each other.
This is an abject failure of the federal government. Do you (government) seriously not understand why mask orders might go from 10,000 to 300,000 during a highly contagious respiratory disease outbreak that is overextending an already broken healthcare system at all levels? Or maybe it's that NYC has to put in an order for 300,000 just to get its 10,000 filled.
Also, the Senate hasn't been in session for 10 days and counting at this point. Not kidding. Check the official Congressional Record. How does that happen? You (government) have one job to do. You have 10 million people unemployed in the last two weeks and you're...not working. Well, that must mean you did an absolute bang up job on the last piece of legislation you passed, the 883-page, pork-filled CARES Act.
Let's check in on some of the provisions of the CARES Act:
Small businesses account for about 70% of the jobs in this country. One of the cornerstones of the CARES Act is the $350B or so in small business loans called the Paycheck Protection Program, which officially opened a couple days ago. But wait! There's a catch. You apply for the loans through a bank (because the government can't organize a program fast enough), but each bank has different requirements - in almost all cases an existing business checking account with the bank as of February 15 and in many circumstances an existing loan with the bank as of Feb 15 as well! Oh, also, that $350B is first-come first-served and is expected to be about 3x oversubscribed. Well done.
On the individual front, apparently the two weeks of lockdown in March is worth $1,200 to individuals who make up to $75,000 a year. That equates to $15/hr...or $1.36/hr if you account for the up to 20 weeks it may take to receive the check. And nevermind the lost wages for the month of April (and counting).
But the House of Representatives got $25M to cover salaries and expenses, because...they lost their jobs? No, that's not it. They had to lay off staffers because they were closed for being nonessential? Nope, not it either. Must be just because. (That $25M works out to $57,471 per representative, for those curious). Oh wait! Maybe it's because they were feeling left out from the insider trading profits earned by some senators, most notably and blatantly Sens. Loeffler and Burr.
Economically, this one's tough. There is no clear-cut policy response to shutting down an over-leveraged economy. Bankruptcy is a key component of the capitalist system and by either a) forcing bankruptcy on whichever industries you (government) choose to not bail out for whatever political expediency or b) bailing out everyone and effectively nationalizing the economy, we don't think anyone fully understands yet the ripples that will be propagating from this for years to come. We're not really exaggerating when we talk about moving into a new economic theory regime. In a future newsletter, we'll likely take a look at some of the implications of an MMT framework on state governments, but - spoiler alert - we don't think it looks too good if you're a fan of federalism.
Socially, this question is just sad. Tin foil hat on, we're seeing attacks on potentially the first, second, fourth, fifth, sixth, seventh, eight, and tenth amendments. What's next? Being asked to quarter the National Guard to enforce curfews? The fact that it's not unimaginable that the third amendment (perennial winner of the "most irrelevant Right" in the Bill of Rights contest) might come in to play should make you want to cry.
Tin foil hat off, have you been to a restaurant in the last two (or three, depending on where in the country you are) weeks for take out, and they've got most of the restaurant blocked off somehow so you stand in a socially distant line waiting for your food? Have you ever looked around the restaurant and thought, if they just blocked off every other table, this place could be functionally open and functionally socially distant? Or that small retail stores could do the same while also staying under the 10-person gathering guidelines?
Or - just spitballing here - maybe you could have gatherings of (gasp!) 25-50 in a socially distant way in restaurants and retail stores without killing everybody you see?
The choice between a national lockdown (no thank you Dr. Fauci and Bill Gates) and millions dead is a false choice. It's a shame we don't have a government that understands that and is willing to stand in the grey in-between. It's mind-boggling that the government still can't manage to do the one thing it can actually do - and needs to do - to help its people (source and provide needed medical assistance). It's disheartening to see such rampant government self-interest over leadership. And it's terrifying to see our civil liberties disappearing before our very eyes. Government of the people, by the people, for the people? More like above, abey, and afore.
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