Thursday, January 21, 2021

We are deep into a climate crisis age of extinction. Read all about it from a reliable news source.

One certain effect of climate change is the accelerated extinction of plant and animal species.

As Wikipedia explains: "A species is extinct when the last existing member dies. Extinction therefore becomes a certainty when there are no surviving individuals that can reproduce and create a new generation. A species may become functionally extinct when only a handful of individuals survive, which cannot reproduce due to poor health, age, sparse distribution over a large range, a lack of individuals of both sexes (in sexually reproducing species), or other reasons."

Homo sapiens sapiens, aka humans, are animals, of course. Since more than 99% of all species that ever lived on Earth, amounting to over five billion species,  have become extinct, it is reasonable to expect that humans will become extinct.

Still, many of us are troubled by the fact that humans are the cause of the current rapid climate change that has accelerated the extinction of plant and animal species creating a condition known as "mass extinction." 

A 1998 survey of biologists conducted by New York's American Museum of Natural History supported the prediction that up to 20% of all living populations could become extinct within 20 years, seven years from now. It appears that prediction will be exceeded.

In a 2020 study Vertebrates on the brink as indicators of biological annihilation and the sixth mass extinction it was noted that a study of 29,400 species of terrestrial vertebrates found that the human-caused sixth mass extinction is likely accelerating, emphasizing the "extreme urgency of taking massive global actions to save humanity’s crucial life-support systems."

For those who may be interested, The Guardian, a non-profit British newspaper founded in 1821, has a grant-supported project - The Age of Extinction - focused on biodiversity highlighting the crisis represented by huge losses of animal, insect, bird and plant life around the world, exploring innovations attempting to slow these losses.

The Guardian is free (you may but need not donate). They do report on other news. In terms of its political orientation, it is left of center. And it is true that British, and American, and Chinese, and whatever national governments and private corporations have determined to delay significant action regarding climate change.

But now that Donald Trump is no longer President, perhaps more will find things like the problem of preventing the end of human life interesting.

This writer certainly recommends it as an alternative to Twitter, et al.

Wednesday, January 20, 2021

What happens when the much vaunted "center" of a "new world order" withdraws creating a vacuum


In human history all dominate cultures have fallen. In the past decade many have been writing that the world leadership by the U.S. has declined or even collapsed. It's complicated, but also true in the sense that the United States is no longer the "center" of a "new world order."


New World Order

As historically used, the term "new world order" refers to a leadership transition in collective efforts to identify, understand, and/or address global problems that go beyond the capacity of the peoples of individual nation-states to solve. The term was used at the end of both World War I and II with the United States appearing to be the hope for the world. 

European culture, with an emphasis on Great Britain's empire, was the center of a new world order as the United States evolved. The U.S. in the second half of the 20th Century assumed that "center" mantle. At the very time that the U.S. seemed to have assured its place with the fall of the Soviet Union, in fact it turns out it was the end of the Eurocentric world.

The term "new world order" was most recently used at the end of the Cold War.

After the election March 11, 1985, of Mikhail Gorbachev to the position of General Secretary of the Communist Party of the Soviet Union, the process of dissolution of the Soviet Union was begun. Prior to that time, the United States and the Soviet Union dominated the world order. In five years, the change was clear as noted by U.S. President George H. W. Bush:

We stand today at a unique and extraordinary moment. The crisis in the Persian Gulf, as grave as it is, also offers a rare opportunity to move toward an historic period of cooperation. Out of these troubled times, our fifth objective—a new world order—can emerge: a new era—freer from the threat of terror, stronger in the pursuit of justice, and more secure in the quest for peace. An era in which the nations of the world, East and West, North and South, can prosper and live in harmony. A hundred generations have searched for this elusive path to peace, while a thousand wars raged across the span of human endeavor. Today that new world is struggling to be born, a world quite different from the one we've known. A world where the rule of law supplants the rule of the jungle. A world in which nations recognize the shared responsibility for freedom and justice. A world where the strong respect the rights of the weak.

    - President George H.W. Bush, September 11, 1990, Address Before a Joint Session of Congress

Unfortunately, Bush was a bit ahead of the curve thinking there would be a future of peace, freedom and justice as he did not recognize the shadow cast by the self-centered arrogance endemic to the American people. The historical period of 1918-1922 should have represented a warning that just as the U.S. effectively abandoned the League of Nations ultimately causing WWII, there was little chance the the American political scene would shift to support a unanimous unselfish group leadership role.

The irony should not be lost that Bush's speech was given 11 years to the day before his son as President would face what we know as 9/11 leading to a another two decades of war initiated by the United States.

In fact, beginning in 1980 the U.S. electorate shifted politically back to the post-WWI Republican capitalist greed era by electing Ronald Reagan. Reagan clearly stated his philosophy in 1964 while campaigning for Barry Goldwater in  his famous speech, "A Time for Choosing":

The Founding Fathers knew a government can't control the economy without controlling people. And they knew when a government sets out to do that, it must use force and coercion to achieve its purpose. So we have come to a time for choosing ... You and I are told we must choose between a left or right, but I suggest there is no such thing as a left or right. There is only an up or down. Up to man's age-old dream—the maximum of individual freedom consistent with order—or down to the ant heap of totalitarianism.

The Clinton and Obama Presidencies remained focused on maintaining the wealth of the American 1% through corporate support in the international arena.

The high risk factor ignored was that most of the world's population was located outside the U.S. and half the U.S. population was becoming uneasy with the decline in their share, small as it was, in the growing wealth.

That led to the election of Donald Trump, a millionaire who touted a populist-image aimed at the gullible half of the U.S. population that had grown uneasy with the decline in their share. Trump pulled the U.S. out of international financial and other agreements which pretty much ended the world's love for American democracy.

The truth is that world power was centered on European economic power in the 19th Century and on U.S. economic power in the 20th Century.

Today in terms of economic power, the focus is rapidly shifting away from the 20th Century inherited European-American North Atlantic focus bequested to the U.S. by Britain. 

Recent events have assured an Asian-Pacific focus with expanding African and European participation, all through international agreements. This is no accident. The world's population is roughly 7.8 billion with 4.6 billion living in Asia,  2.82 billion of whom live in China and India. Africa has another 1.4 billion. So far, another 250 million folks in Pacific Rim nations Australia, Canada, Chile, Mexico, New Zealand, and Peru have signed on.

While the United States coped with Trumpist shifts away from internationalism, Great Britain withdrew from the European Union and is now just beginning to discover the negative economic effects of Brexit.

Are we prepared for this? To date the only President born in a Pacific Coast state, Richard Nixon, is also the only President to have made any significant positive move in our history to recognize the importance of Asia.

Yes, Donald Trump left office creating internal turmoil in his wake. The electorate did anoint Joe Biden to replace him. But in terms of creating a role for the U.S. in a new world order, Biden faces major problems as (1) a significant bloc of the U.S. electorate opposes economic participation in world organizations and (2) most of the world's nations, in reaction to Trump, effectively have moved on leaving the U.S. as just one more player in world affairs, and not a very reliable one at that.

Those two facts alone represent major hurdles for the U.S. But they aren't even where the focus must be right now.


The Pandemic, Climate Change, and Cyberspace Vulnerability

President Joe Biden assumes office at the beginning of the third decade of the Second Millennium A.D. facing a world that easily can be distinguished from the 20th Century world.

Biden and humanity are confronting the immediate problems of...

  • a pandemic from a new disease, 
  • climate change, and 
  • sophisticated cyberattacks within a new theater of war called cyberspace, 

...all of which involve a leadership failure of the United States as a political entity during the first two decades of the Millennium.

Regarding the Covid-19 Pandemic, in the U.S. we have had 24,000,000+ cases and 400,000+ deaths in a year. 

Is this a real problem? For comparison in 2020, an estimated 1,806,590 new cases of cancer will have been diagnosed and 606,520 people will die from cancer. Regarding the flu, for which we have vaccines, annually in the last decade we have had between 9 million - 45 million illnesses, between 140,000 - 810,000 hospitalizations and between 12,000 - 61,000 deaths.

In terms of behavioral deaths, there were 36,096 fatalities in motor vehicle accidents and 15,292 people were fatally shot in 2019.

We should have been on top of the Covid-19 pandemic in January 2020 basically isolating the United States from the world and recommending everyone else do it also. But that is just not our way, ultimately letting us know that some day we will suffer major losses setting us back economically a century or more. But as we all know that will happen to someone else.

Based on available data, it is reasonable to expect recurrent Covid-19 epidemics as strains mutate. Other than the obvious impact on individuals, this has significantly altered our economy. But as seen from the statistics above, we've decided to coexist with disease and related economic impacts.

Regarding the second major U.S. policy failure impacting the economy, Climate Change, by 1960 research was telling us we had a problem as explained in Wikipedia:

By the late 1950s, more scientists were arguing that carbon dioxide emissions could be a problem, with some projecting in 1959 that CO2 would rise 25% by the year 2000, with potentially "radical" effects on climate. In the centennial of the American oil industry in 1959, organized by the American Petroleum Institute and the Columbia Graduate School of Business, Edward Teller said "It has been calculated that a temperature rise corresponding to a 10 per cent increase in carbon dioxide will be sufficient to melt the icecap and submerge New York. [....] At present the carbon dioxide in the atmosphere has risen by 2 per cent over normal. By 1970, it will be perhaps 4 per cent, by 1980, 8 per cent, by 1990, 16 per cent if we keep on with our exponential rise in the use of purely conventional fuels.". In 1960 Charles David Keeling demonstrated that the level of CO2 in the atmosphere was in fact rising. Concern mounted year by year along with the rise of the "Keeling Curve" of atmospheric CO2.

In terms of political awareness, we can point to Al Gore. In 1976, after joining the United States House of Representatives, Al Gore held the first congressional hearings on the climate change, and co-sponsored hearings on toxic waste and global warming. 

As explained in a previous post, Gore's subsequent presentation, movie, and book about Global Warming is entitled rather ironically "An Inconvenient Truth" precisely because as explained by Greta Thunberg "at a deep level, the language of climate denialism is tied up with a form of masculine identity predicated on modern industrial capitalism." The basic truth of the situation is economically very inconvenient and therefore politically very inconvenient. The American electoral system, not the majority of voters, defeated Al Gore for President in 2000 partly, or mostly, for that reason.

Simply, 1960 was 60 years ago. It is too late to avoid many climate catastrophes. As explained in a recent article:

    “The scale of the threats to the biosphere and all its lifeforms – including humanity – is in fact so great that it is difficult to grasp for even well-informed experts,” they write in a report in Frontiers in Conservation Science which references more than 150 studies detailing the world’s major environmental challenges.
    The delay between destruction of the natural world and the impacts of these actions means people do not recognise how vast the problem is, the paper argues. “[The] mainstream is having difficulty grasping the magnitude of this loss, despite the steady erosion of the fabric of human civilisation.”

Nonetheless, Joe Biden has indicated a significant shift towards addressing climate change which offers some hope.

The third major U.S. economic policy failure is Cyberspace Vulnerability. Several facts need to be understood:

  • "Cyberspace" has numerous meanings within the world of the arts, but ultimately came to reference a widespread, interconnected digital technology associated with the internet which has no single centralized governance in either technological implementation or policies for access and usage that began in the 1960s with the Advanced Research Projects Agency (ARPA) of the United States Department of Defense funded research into time-sharing of computers; in other words, it was created by the United States DOD.
  • In 2013 Edward Snowden released a bunch of information about what the NSA was doing as noted in an extensive article in The Guardian (if you haven't read it you should); simply the U.S. was engaging in far reaching clandestine cyber espionage the disclosure of which resulted in a furor among U.S. allies, but did not actually restrict NSA activities, leaving the United States government as the largest single organization on Earth invading the privacy of individual human beings, individual businesses, and foreign governments, both within an international scope and within the United States.
  • Because in the 1980's internet development was turned over to the private sector, clandestine spying is rampant; specific to politics you might remember the name Cambridge Analytica in relationship to both privacy invasion and Russian interference issues related to the election of Donald Trump because the company was paid at least $650,000 for voter data analysis and digital video; however, American corporate cyberspace spying has led to the establishment of  similar clandestine programs which have allowed both public and private sector interference in American affairs.

In summary American Cyberspace Vulnerability is entirely the fault of American worship of greed and power. Unlike nuclear weapons, no effective international restrictions exist today to protect cyberspace nor can they be instituted. 

Instead, the incoming Biden Administration must determine what, if any, data should be sealed from outside access and then figure out how to make that happen given the widespread existence within "the cloud" of elements of critical data.

In the meantime, we know that the ability to mess with elections is out there. But we also know that the ability of nations to shut down and damage utilities such as electricity, gas, and communications in other nations is a reality.

It is no small irony that most "smart" phones, including all critical components, are manufactured in Asia. This is also true of most electronics. It is the world a greedy United States created thumbing its nose at government. It will not be easy to undo.


The Next Eight Decades

Consider the following very recent observation:

    Most great empires, Arnold Toynbee once argued, end by committing suicide rather than being murdered.
    But with their exceptionalism and profound myopia, Americans think they are exempt from history’s merciless fate. They won’t be. There are four areas in which Americans have reigned supreme from the second half of the last century: the military, the capitalist financial system, medicine and disease control, and democratic institutions.
    In every one of them, signs of decay and decline abound.

The article the above quote is from should be read by all Americans. Unfortunately, it will be read by nearly none.

It is highly unlikely that the United States will be the "center" of a "new world order." It may turn out that George H.W. Bush was right when he said 30 years ago:

Today that new world is struggling to be born, a world quite different from the one we've known. A world where the rule of law supplants the rule of the jungle. A world in which nations recognize the shared responsibility for freedom and justice. A world where the strong respect the rights of the weak.

It could be humans will make the necessary decisions creating such a world. But the nature of that world will rest in the heads and hearts of those who over the next 80 years consider is the nature of freedom and justice and what should be the focus of attention. In that context the U.S. ended up with 80±-year-old political leaders. Aren't we the generation who created the mess we're in? Well, not exactly!

The only appointed high official to serve a full four years in the Trump years, 57-year-old Mike Pompeo, was appointed by Trump as Director of the Central Intelligence Agency in January 2017 and promoted to secretary of state in March 2018 after Trump fired Rex Tillerson who reportedly called Trump a moron.  

Pompeo appears to have successfully completed the early 21st Century redefining of China as an enemy of American capitalism. As noted here in 2019 Pompeo is a Koch Brothers believer (as is Mike Pence):

There is no question that the Koch conservative right sees China as the one serious threat to unfettered capitalism and Pompeo has worked diligently to focus American military and foreign policy on that enemy. It's relatively simple equation - capitalism and communism are arch enemies. 

Confronted with Pompeo's Koch viewpoint, China's President Xi has refocused China's military on the very real U.S. threat while continuing to move forward with China's long term economic plans.

Make no mistake about it, freedom and justice are not defined by the Chinese in any way similar to American definitions. On the other hand, China is preparing its 14th Five Year Plan and 2035 Vision, a key marker of Xi’s national rejuvenation project to build a "prosperous, strong, democratic, culturally advanced, harmonious, and beautiful" modern socialist country by 2049. The core goal is to give the nation's people freedom from economic worry.

The Koch oil company empire notwithstanding, what do 340 million Americans living in a politically divided country that has a 250 year history really think about 1.44 billion Chinese living in a country that has a 4000 year history of centralized rule? Are there any thoughts about China planning an economy for it's children and grandchildren?

And, of course, what exactly is the national plan for mediating the impact of climate change on the American people?

This is the beginning of Joe Biden's term. It's quite a challenge.

Tuesday, January 5, 2021

Welcome to the second year of Covid-19 in which new, more dangerous variants are already here




As noted here in March 2020, the first confirmed case of Covid-19 was in November 2019. The second Covid-19 year began in November 2020. 

In mid-December the first vaccines were released for use. Folks became hopeful or paranoid, the latter because vaccines are based on science which is apparently is witchcraft. Well, not if it produces cars, tvs, smart phones, but if it is about health its witchcraft because human lifespans have shortened decades since the Dark Ages.

Unfortunately just as vaccines were being released, two far more contagious mutant strains of Covid-19 were discovered, one in Britain and one in South Africa.

Among the many things we didn't know is that a more contagious strain is more dangerous than a more deadly strain as explained here:

    ...Consider an example put forth by Adam Kucharski, a professor at the London School of Hygiene & Tropical Medicine who focuses on mathematical analyses of infectious-disease outbreaks. Kucharski compares a 50 percent increase in virus lethality to a 50 percent increase in virus transmissibility. Take a virus reproduction rate of about 1.1 and an infection fatality risk of 0.8 percent and imagine 10,000 active infections—a plausible scenario for many European cities, as Kucharski notes. As things stand, with those numbers, we’d expect 129 deaths in a month. If the fatality rate increased by 50 percent, that would lead to 193 deaths. In contrast, a 50 percent increase in transmissibility would lead to a whopping 978 deaths in just one month—assuming, in both scenarios, a six-day infection-generation time.
    ...The initial estimates from the data suggest that this variant could be about 50 to 70 percent more transmissible than regular COVID-19. To make matters thornier, we aren’t yet exactly sure why it’s more transmissible, though reasonable theories are already being tested. This variant, now called B.1.1.7, has “an unusually large number of genetic changes, particularly in the spike protein,” which is how the virus gains entry into our cells. The new variant may be better at eluding our immune response and replicating, or be able to better bind to locations in our body more conducive to infecting others, but that is all speculative for the moment.

That explanation triggered in my mind an immediate explanation of what was going on in this graph of California's runaway hospitalizations and daily death numbers (click here to see a larger version):


While humanity is still learning about the new variants, both of which are in the United States, what we do know is framed in an article:

    The new coronavirus strain that emerged in South Africa is even more problematic than a mutated form that prompted new lockdowns across much of the U.K., health authorities said on Monday.
    “I’m incredibly worried about the South African variant,” U.K. Health Secretary Matt Hancock said on BBC radio Monday, citing a conversation over the Christmas holiday with his counterpart in South Africa. “One of the reasons they know they’ve got a problem is because, like us, they have an excellent genomic scientific capability to be able to study the details of the virus. And it is even more of a problem than the U.K. new variant.”
    The South African variant is driving a surge of infections in the country, and like the U.K. strain, it appears to be more infectious than previous mutations. Still, there’s no evidence yet that the Covid-19 vaccines approved so far won’t work against the new strains.

Oh good. There's no evidence yet...

In the U.S. our genomic scientific capability is mostly on a par with the poorest third world countries because we can't imagine spending money on things for which there is "no evidence yet."

California recently learned that the British variant is here, perhaps even widespread but we need a few more weeks. So far I haven't seen any evidence yet that the South African variant is here.

Unfortunately, some initial evidence indicates that the South African variant may not be as responsive to the vaccines, but we don't have any evidence yet.

What we do know is that the South African variant does appear to be infecting more young people without pre-existing conditions who are becoming severely ill.  But we don't have any evidence yet.

The main thing here in the second year is that we have to get our businesses open and our kids back to school....

In the meantime, to the right is a convenient calendar for tracking the second year!

Saturday, December 19, 2020

Musings from a fading surveillance state of mind

Many, if not most, of the posts in this blog are long. They are not reflective of the myriad of thoughts that randomly come about because of the odd world we live in.

Still many musings come to mind as this 'free range old guy' surveils the intense flow of words and data streaming through the internet in the 21st Century.

Much of the time I am astounded, even aghast, at the "misinformation" that is passed from one source to another, be it from a news media source or a random individual on social media.

This regularly updated post will contain musings from my surveillance state of mind.


The American Way: They talk, we don't listen - December 19, 2020


RAINA MACINTYRE, Head of the Biosecurity Research Programme and Professor of Global Biosecurity at the Kirby Institute, University of New South Wales, Australia:

In terms of what Australia did well, the decision to close international borders in mid-March stands out, particularly after the WHO consistently and from early on said border closures were not necessary.

In the first wave, the majority of Covid-19 cases in Australia were return travellers, and we had voluntary home quarantine that was regularly being breached – so the decision to use hotel quarantine was also implemented, which has been another important measure.

We saw the epidemic peak and start to fall exactly two weeks after the borders were closed. This allowed us to control the pandemic within our borders, even the second wave in the state of Victoria in July.

The mistake made there was the failure to recognise the need for public health surge capacity, particularly the need to swiftly trace thousands of contacts, even though Australia did well with increasing intensive care unit and ventilator capacity by more than 100 per cent in March.

Sadly, that lesson does not seem to have been learned – in the state’s latest budget announcement there was no funding for expanding public health workforce capacity. I do not think this lesson is well understood anywhere, but some states have better-resourced health systems than others.

It is very good news that we have effective vaccines, and many more in development. With a vaccine of 90 per cent efficacy, we would need about 70 per cent of the population vaccinated to achieve herd immunity and stop transmission.

At this stage, with no trial data on children, vaccines will initially only be for people 18 years and over, which means the majority of adults will need to be vaccinated if no children are vaccinated to achieve 70 per cent coverage – and that is unlikely.

We also have no national goal for herd immunity at this stage, which is a concern. I believe we should be aiming for herd immunity and planning accordingly.

So it is likely if the status quo remains, vaccination coverage will rise slowly and may reach 30-50 per cent over a period of a year or much longer, and we will be living with Covid-19 for a long time. If, however, we aim for herd immunity and do our best to get enough high-efficacy vaccines, we could eliminate the disease.

Low-income countries will probably end up getting the Oxford-AstraZeneca vaccine, which showed 62 per cent efficacy in its most recent trial, as high-income countries will scramble for high-efficacy vaccines.

This means transmission of Covid-19 will continue in low-income countries that either cannot vaccinate enough people or have a lower-efficacy vaccine, and hotspots of the disease will remain in the world for some time to come.

The high levels of vaccine hesitancy in the US means it is unlikely to achieve high enough vaccination rates for herd immunity any time soon.

One thing that surprised me in 2020 was the utter failure of many Western democracies to control Covid-19. There has been a rather patronising attitude in the West – reflected in measures such as the Global Health Security Index – that only fragile states and low-income countries will do badly in a pandemic.

What we saw was the opposite, which proves that money, technical know-how and scientific knowledge do not guarantee good pandemic control. Culture and leadership matter too. Cultures which are more civic-minded and obedient of public health orders have done better. In that way, Australia is more like many Asian countries than the US or Britain.

We tend to trust the government and do what they say. We have seen the dire outcomes of poor leadership in the US, where leaders have peddled unscientific theories, miracle cures and actively discouraged good public health management, while basic public health measures such as masks and vaccines have been politicised.

A final point, as someone who has worked in the pandemic field for 28 years, is that I believe we have seen a gradual hijacking of pandemic planning and expert groups around the world since the 2009 swine flu pandemic by people without the requisite qualifications or knowledge of public health epidemic control.

When people with some relevant knowledge in infectious diseases but no understanding of epidemic control fill these expert committees, it’s a bit like putting an air traffic controller in charge of flying the plane.

This has resulted in unscientific theories and poor management being pushed in many countries by supposed expert groups – such as the herd immunity by natural infection theory, which seems to have started in Britain. Just like aviation, health is a vast field.

But in infectious diseases there are many different areas of expertise. Like aviation, each area is equally critical, but if you have one doing the job of the other, accidents will happen.

From an interview in an article Coronavirus vaccines will save 2021? Not so fast, here’s what the experts think, not published in the United States.


When Wishful Thinking Envelops Voters - December 7, 2020

In the South China Morning Post headline today, December 7, on the anniversary of the attack on Pearl Harbor in 1941, we are told: China’s US, Australia trade continues to grow in record-breaking month despite ongoing geopolitical spats: Record-breaking Chinese export data saw exports to sparring partners Australia and the United States grow strongly in November year on year; China’s surplus with the United States surged to the highest point of Donald Trump’s four-year presidency, despite his vow to eradicate it.

And, ironically, since Trump took office the Chinese have negotiated with Australia, Brunei, Cambodia, Indonesia, Japan, Laos, Malaysia, Myanmar, New Zealand, Philippines, Singapore, South Korea, Thailand, and Vietnam to create a significant Pacific-Southeast Asian trade alliance known as RCEP signed on November 15.

In the meantime, last Thursday a CNBC article reported Biden could rebuild trade deal with Asia-Pacific to counter China's dominance, says think tank

Uh...well...as explained in the post here December 2, in today's political reality, a significant minority accepts its beliefs from the likes of sportscasters and reality show hosts.

The Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership (RCEP) signed in November 2020 was introduced nine years earlier as a concept in 2011 during the 19th ASEAN Summit. The original proposal for the Trans-Pacific Partnership was made in 2008 with the final agreement stalled by the U.S. disinformation machine eight years later in 2016

The U.S. cannot compete when we need 8+ years of informed participation in complex economic negotiations.

Too much wishful thinking goes on in the minds of voters. A certain chill is felt when current failures in international relations are reported on the anniversary of Pearl Harbor. Or maybe it's just me.


California's Racism: A Different History - July 8, 2020

Reports indicate that 832 anti-Asian hate incidents in California have been reported in three months of the Covid-19 pandemic.

In the midst of the national Black Lives Matter revolution, Californians need to remember that our state's population is about 39% Hispanic and 15% Asian while only 6% Black and 37% non-Hispanic white. Blacks and whites together make up only 43% of our population.

As noted in previous posts 28 members of my high school class were born in the American concentration camps to which their Japanese-heritage parents were shipped off to by the U.S. government in WWII. Prior to that we had the 1892 - 1940 Chinese Exclusion Act, the only U.S. law ever to prevent immigration and naturalization on the basis of race.

In California we have a complex multi-racial history that dates back to the mid-16th Century.


Covid-19. What happens when voluminous words offer little meaning within reality - June 8, 2020

Sometimes just observing without offering ill-informed and uninformed opinion is best. On the last day we ventured off our property, March 13, 2020, a George Mason University Ph.D. candidate in computer science, Adam Elkus, offered a post in his blog. The following is from that post, though a bit reorganized with some minor language structure changes and omissions. I can only hope should he be made aware of this that he will forgive my temerity:

    Managing public health and disease was one of the core tasks that helped build the legitimacy of industrial era government in the 19th and 20th centuries.
    By the beginning of the 21st Century, civil servants responsible for those tasks had become too burdened by the need to perform political face-work and bureaucratic red tape to properly pursue this endeavor. It is a sign that Western society cares more about declining trust in institutions than what institutions have substantively done to deserve trust.
    Which is where our virus comes in. It is incredible that something so small, so insignificant, and aggressively stupid as COVID-19 could be upending the world right now. But it is doing so. Scientists and philosophers debate whether viruses are even properly counted among the living. As tiny as it is, the virus has the power to inflict significant human harm. It reproduces, it kills, and those it does not kill it may nonetheless leave with lasting injuries.
    But the virus has another power, a power that makes it uniquely dangerous to Western society. It does not think, it does not feel, and it lies totally outside the elaborate social nuances humans have carved out through patterns of communication, representation, and discourse. And this, above all else, makes it a lethal adversary for the West. It has exposed how much of Western society – but American society in particular – is permeated with influential people who have deluded themselves into thinking that their ability to manipulate words, images, and sounds gives them the ability to control reality itself.
    They implicitly or explicitly assume that by attaching labels and names to things, they can control them. They implicitly or explicitly behave as if control over narrative is control over the things narrative is attached to. The virus therefore was a problem of psychology before it was a problem of microbiology, because people did not have the “right” attitudes and words for something that in and of itself was incapable of having attitudes or making words. And from the President on down, politicians behaved (and are still behaving) as if it was something that could be spun or narrativized away.
    There were endless attempts early on to compare the virus to a less-threatening entity, the flu or even the common cold. In doing so, institutional actors tried to take something new and uncertain and fit it into a tame pre-existing mental model that they preferred. Acknowledging the virus as a creature of fate – of fortuna – would be to admit that it could collapse the elaborate machinery for making narrative and reveal the narrative-makers as utterly impotent.
    There is no one “problem” because watching so many things fail in real time makes it obvious that the failure is diverse and cumulative. We could talk about the primacy of advertising or something closely related to it in shaping our political and media environment. We could go on to examine how decaying legacy institutions projected their own sickness and incompetence onto their rivals rather than living up to their responsibilities. And we could debate the various dueling theories of social and institutional decay that have been bandied about since 2015-2016.
    The virus is a very simple creature, unburdened by all of this discursive weight. To the extent it can be said to have desires and needs, they are very humble. It exists, and the only thing it wants is targets.


Three months of healthy, wise seclusion in rural California during the 2020 Covid-19 pandemic - June 5, 2020

Being old and cautious in the time of Covid-19 makes one aware of certain ambiguous or even unreliable news stories.

Today we saw stories about new guidelines by the World Health Organization (WHO) stating that old people should wear medical masks. Assuming that the stories were unreliable or failed to reflect ambiguity typical for medical guidelines, we downloaded the new guidelines.

What the new guidelines state is that in circumstances where other protective measures such as social distancing may be compromised "medical masks could be used by older people, immunocompromised patients and people with comorbidities."

Uh...why the word "could" not "should."

It will soon be three months, 13 weeks, 91 days since the last time we left our property. On March 13, 2020, we made a trip to the store to buy some groceries. Since then as with most older people, we have been in seclusion which resolves any confusion about WHO or CDC or local county guidelines.

We use the term "seclusion" when people who for purposes of health, safety, privacy, or peace and quiet are in a place sheltered or screened from general activity involving limited human or social interaction from outside the location. It does not refer a "reclusive" person withdrawn from society, shut out of the world, like a hermit.

In our case, we see the delivery folks regularly - our postal delivery person, our Instacart shopper, our Schwan's guy, and folks from UPS, FedEx, OnTrac, etc. Not every day, but several times a week.

We had been concerned we might have to go out shopping where, as we see in news video and pictures, social distancing gets compromised. We could have worn simple fabric masks which now appear would have been a bit of a compromise. But the delivery folks eliminated the shopping problem.

In addition to groceries from Safeway literally shopped for us by the Instacart shopper and frozen foods every two weeks from the Schwan's guy, during the pandemic we were able to get much of what we wanted from Amazon, BevMo!, Omaha Steaks, Wolferman's, Harry & David, etc. And we have them set every package down maintaining social distancing.

On the other hand, some typical old folks regular outings like going to the doctor, dentist and our old dog's vet have been delayed.

It is the 21st Century, so we can see through online sources what's going on and interact with people. We talk with family on the phone. Heck, we even Zoomed a couple of times. (Yeah, "to zoom" is a new verb.)

Life could be worse, a lot worse....


Epidemics and spring flowers were an expectation of American life for people prior to 1960 - May 27, 2020

Americans have enjoyed the blossoms of spring since Colonial times. Today spring flowers still bring us pleasure even here in our yard such as those in the picture to the left. Americans from Colonial times on also experienced deadly epidemics such as what we are experiencing today.

The death of relatives and friends from contagious (infectious) diseases was a common experience in Colonial times as it was in the decades, centuries, and millenniums prior to the end of WWII.

Consider Philadelphia. Yellow Fever made its first appearance in America in 1668, in Philadelphia. In 1793 it reappeared in that city of 50,000 people, killing about 10% of the population, while another 40% fled.

Then there was 1918. The Spanish Flu first hit Philadelphia, through the Philadelphia Navy Yard, on September 19, 1918, from sailors who were returning from WWI Europe. The City had decided to raise money for the war effort by holding a parade. While parts of the U.S. had already put rules in place regarding the Spanish Flu, Philadelphia held the parade. It was patriotic and who would allow themselves to appear weak. More than 200,000 Philadelphians (probably including some fat guys who brought their rifles) flocked to see the parade. At the time, it was the largest parade in Philadelphia's history. The parade raised more than $600 million for the war efforts.

Twenty-four hours after the parade had ended, 118 Philadelphians were described as coming down with "a mysterious, deadly influenza." Two days later, Dr. Wilmer Krusen concluded that the Spanish flu was now present in the civilian population. One day after this announcement, every bed in Philadelphia's 31 hospitals was filled. One week later, 4,500 Philadelphians were declared dead of the Spanish flu and 47,000 people were infected. No memorial to the more than 17,000 Philadelphians that were killed by the Spanish flu exists in the city of Philadelphia today. The Center for Disease Control's Division of Global Migration and Quarantine uses the Philadelphia Liberty Loans Parade as an example of how not handle a pandemic.

The chart below indicates how the generation break looked with regard to experiencing epidemics, before Covid-19.

In fact, until the eradication of polio from vaccines, Americans in generations born before the early 1950's remember what the fear of an epidemic felt like. (Yes, that is ignoring AIDS which mostly affected a generally disdained portion of the population, ignoring Ebola which mostly affected parts of the world the vast majority of Americans cannot seem to find on a map, and ignoring for whatever reason the annual flu epidemics which kill tens of thousands even though we have vaccines.)


So China is hiding information regarding Covid-19 which is why Trump's people are so ignorant ill-informed  - May 26, 2020

Recently I was surveilling several stories in the news about the first human trial in China on a possible Covid-19 vaccine that offers some promise. It's as iffy as vaccines prematurely publicized in Europe and the United States.

Until now I haven't commented on all the untruths about China hiding from Donald Trump information about the virus. Here are a few stories that appeared in the news in December and early January. I realize these were not formal communiques nor informal notes from the Chinese President Xi to Donald Trump. But I took a look at these stories when they appeared. One has to wonder if there is anyone in the top 20 or so aides to Trump who read the news about anything that isn't perceived as information that would make them personally rich and famous.

What is clear from these stories is that more than adequate information about the spread of Covid-19 in China was available in early January to permit a U.S. government not totally focused on making rich people richer and reelecting Trump to mobilize for a pandemic.

Published:  December 31, 2019, 2:35pm South China Morning Post Hong Kong takes emergency measures as mystery ‘pneumonia’ infects dozens in China’s Wuhan city
Published:  January 4, 2020, 12:10 am Bloomberg China Pneumonia Outbreak Spurs WHO Action as Mystery Lingers
Published:  January 5, 2020, 1:33pm South China Morning Post China says Wuhan pneumonia not Sars, but virus remains unidentified, more people hospitalised
Published:  January 7, 2020 Macau News Government says steps in place to respond to ‘Wuhan virus’
Published:  January 8, 2020, 8:00pm Focus Taiwan CDC lists mysterious Wuhan virus as serious communicable disease
Published:  January 9, 2020, 12:51pm South China Morning Post Wuhan pneumonia: what we know about the new virus and how you can stop yourself getting sick
Published:  January 9, 2020 Journal Cretien Un coronavirus de type nouveau provoque la pneumonie virale à Wuhan
Published:  January 10, 2020 Al Jazeera/Reuters China reports first death from mysterious outbreak in Wuhan
Published:  January 11, 2020, 3:00pm Science Chinese researchers reveal draft genome of virus implicated in Wuhan pneumonia outbreak


About Amazon and Jeff Bezos - May 23, 2020

Over the past several years I've noticed incessant attacks on Amazon and its founder, Jeff Bezos. My first observation is that they aren't the same thing. Donald Trump and followers attack him because he owns (and basically saved from bankruptcy) The Washington Post which editorially has opposed Trump. As the owner, Bezos has ultimate authority over the editorial content. But those aren't the attacks I'm puzzled over.

Jeff really doesn't need defending. As long as someone who attacks him has read the Wikipedia entry on Jeffrey Preston Bezos né Jorgensen, presumably the critic has decided what is and is not important about the man. I assume that most of the attacks comes from a generic hate for billionaires.

What is most bemusing is how much wealth the press says he has - he apparently is headed towards being a trillionaire according to reports. Like a lot of headline news, at best that is based on a series assumptions only someone financially naive would make.

If one considers the chart to the right, you discover some curious comparative information about Amazon, Google, and Facebook.

Amazon has the highest revenue. Of course, it sells real, tangible goods to people which neither Google nor Facebook do. It's 2019 earnings per share were less than half of Google, but over three times that of Facebook. It's Stockholders Equity, the value an accountant calculates as the investor's value, is the lowest of the three.

But it's Market Cap on the Friday before Memorial Day was the highest of the three at $1.2 trillion. Market Cap is, of course, a meaningless figure since it is based on the last sale price per share for the day. Nonetheless, it is the number the news media says the companies are worth, despite the fact that on Tuesday morning following Memorial Day those prices could double or drop 75%.

"Market Cap" is a number that appeared with the Nasdaq, a stock exchange oriented to the tech world where gamblers invest in startups which fail at a rate of 99 out of 100. But that 1 success...wow!

When the news talks about Bezos wealth, keep in mind it is the Market Cap they are talking about. And also keep in mind that Amazon's earnings per share is less than 1% of its May 22 closing price of $2,436 while Costco's $8.52 annual earnings per share is nearly 3% of its closing price of $302.43.

See also Fact: Donald Trump hates Jeff Bezos. Is anything you read and "know" about Amazon.com Inc. true?

Thursday, December 17, 2020

If you think the resistance to, the downright refusal to, mask-up and social distance to protect fellow Americans is un-American, history says your wrong

    What is the student but a lover courting a fickle mistress who ever eludes his grasp?  - William Osler

One truth about being a student of human history is that no truth is fixed in meaning but rather changes over time. Human behavior can only be assessed in the context of events which frequently are the outcome of the behavior of other humans. Assigning meaning to history is thus at best speculative as we are likely to discover new evidence creating new context. And, of course, what we see as evidence offered may only be what we prefer to see.

The year 2020 will be regarded as historically significant. As noted in The Economist Only the world wars have rivalled covid-19 for news coverage which was determined after comparing the mention of key words in their own editions beginning in 1843 and the New York Times beginning in 1851. But while the word "war” appeared in 53% of The Economist articles in 1915 and 54% in 1941 and 39% of New York Times articles in 1918 and 37% in 1942, the words "Covid-19" or "coronavirus" has appeared in the The Economist and the New York Times in 47% and 46% of the articles respectively this calendar year including January and February.

The two world wars and the Spanish flu of 1918, along with numerous famines and genocides, resulted in far more deaths. Within the United States in WWII daily life was disrupted by numerous regulations such as the ration stamp requirement for food. restrictions on the purchase of tires and gasoline, and the temporary end of all civilian automobile sales. Air Raid Wardens were appointed and tasked ensuring that communities were pitch black at night to avoid becoming bombing targets, assuring that people responded to air raid drill sirens, and preparing for the prospect of a toxic gas attack.

But unlike today, Americans in WWII embraced their patriotism and conformed without complaint. Yeah, right. Ironically in June of just last year, well before we ever heard of Covid-19, Politico Magazine in How World War II Almost Broke American Politics let us know:

...During the war, the country remained beset by racial and ethnic animosities that pitted Protestants against Catholics, Catholics against Jews and white Americans against people of color. Partisan rancor posed a steep barrier to the extreme measures that mobilization required: mass taxation, rationing, wage and price fixing, conscription, and surveillance. The business community sharply resisted the shift from civilian to military production. Organized labor loudly demanded its share of wartime prosperity. Even as the country fell in line with this vast expansion of state authority, outwardly uniting behind the war effort, discord boiled just beneath the surface, revealing itself in violent homefront outbursts and acid displays of political demagoguery.

Lest you think this just wasn't an accurate memory of Americans, 10 years earlier Wired magazine published Dec. 1, 1942: Mandatory Gas Rationing, Lots of Whining noting:

1942: Nearly a year after the Japanese raid on Pearl Harbor that brought the United States fully into World War II, the Americans get around to imposing nationwide gasoline rationing

A fuel shortage was not the problem. America had plenty of that. What it lacked was rubber. Both the Army and Navy were in desperate need of rubber for the war effort.

Mandatory gasoline rationing had been in effect in the eastern United States since May 1942, but a voluntary program in other parts of the country had proven unsuccessful.

The Baruch Rubber Report, presented to President Franklin Roosevelt on Sept. 1, 1942, concluded that the United States was "a have-not nation" when it came to rubber. Meeting the military's enormous needs would be nearly impossible if the civilians at home didn't cut out nonessential driving to conserve on tire wear.

The best way to achieve that was to make it more difficult for people to use their cars. And the best way to do that was to limit the amount of gasoline an individual could purchase.

Proving it could remain obstinate even in the face of a national crisis, Congress balked at imposing nationwide gas rationing. Forcing Americans to curtail their driving would be bad for business, many legislators argued. They evidently feared voter backlash more than they did Hitler or Hirohito.

They pushed for a delay at the very least, but FDR would have none of it. Backed by government procurement agencies and military leaders, the president ordered gasoline rationing to begin on Dec. 1 and to last "the duration."

Thus, Americans soon became acquainted with the ration card, which had to be presented on every trip to the filling station. To be out of ration stamps was to be out of luck.

Drivers who used their cars for work that was deemed essential to the war effort were classified differently and received additional stamps. There were five classifications:

  ● Class A drivers were allowed only 3 gallons of gasoline per week.
  ● Class B drivers (factory workers, traveling salesmen) received 8 gallons per week.
  ● Class C drivers included essential war workers, police, doctors and letter carriers.
  ● Class T included all truck drivers.
  ● Class X was reserved for politicians and other "important people."

The last three classifications were not subject to the restrictions.

The griping didn't stop, not in Congress and not on Main Street, USA....

Neither of the writers could have anticipated the Covid-19 pandemic along with the complete failure of the Trump Administration to tackle the instantly unpopular task of protecting the lives of American citizens. But those writers likely weren't surprised. They could have easily imagined the kind of resistance to not killing other Americans we have seen.

And if you think that is harsh, keep in mind that a lack of resources put WWII American soldiers - the husbands, sons, grandsons, brothers and boyfriends of grumbling members of Congress and citizens on Main Street - at extreme risk.

Welcome to historical American culture.

Wednesday, December 9, 2020

Why must competitors be considered enemies? Changing the rules in the 21st Century is a must.

Americans need to find language that doesn't encourage a rise in enmity when a competitor succeeds. That is a 20th Century attitude that resulted in wars.

This year's annual 2020 Asia Summit sponsored by the Milken Institute is being held in partnership with the Monetary Authority of Singapore and run alongside the Singapore FinTech Festival. It is a unique opportunity to embrace the possibilities of a Pacific-Southeast Asian partnership in the world.

It shouldn't have come as a surprise that at the beginning 83-year-old wealthy investor and Donald Trump's Secretary of Commerce Wilbur Ross would at the beginning set up a negative theme by saying “China continues to be both the largest potential market and the principal military and economic threat in the region,” noting that the Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership (RCEP) signed last month by China and 14 other Asia-Pacific countries will not tackle what the U.S. has declared to be the “most sensitive issues” in trade - subsidies to state-owned companies, protection of intellectual property and equal market access.

Over two hours later in a session titled The United States in 2021 and Beyond Bob Corker, former Republican United States Senator from Tennessee from 2007 to 2019, noted that the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) was a “missed opportunity. Obviously politics got a hold of the issue in 2016 and it was a missed opportunity for our country to really put a lot of pressure against some of the things that China was doing, and to have an alliance that would have made a significant difference."

The relevant portion of a longer post is offered below to explain what is happening.


China's Crucial Win in World Trade

China clearly has has offered a 21st Century non-military challenge to U.S. economic strength with a crucial win in world trade, along with a manufacturing focus shift inward.

This must be viewed in the context of China's relative success at suppressing Covid-19 outbreaks. China's one-party unitary national government can impose mandatory lockdowns, testing, and vaccination more effectively than in an undisciplined multiparty federation such as the United States.

China's one-party unitary national government can, and has, turned inward to promote its own consumer economy with the context of the 14th Five-Year Plan and the 2035 Vision to be taken up by the Party Congress next year. Consider this news story:

    President Xi Jinping called on the nation in May to rely more on domestic demand for future growth – dubbing it a dual circulation strategy – and his directive requires significant changes in both internal supply and demand.
    “The pandemic has made it difficult for us to sell abroad, but we do feel as though Chinese customers are less … enthusiastic for foreign brands, especially mid-level products,” said a sales manager at a fashion jewellery brand with shops all over the country.
    “Frankly, it may be becoming fashionable and more politically correct to make and consume good-quality Chinese goods,” he added, asking not to be identified.
    That sentiment seems to be felt by a growing number of Chinese export manufacturers, some of whom say they have started shifting investments to the domestic market even as their exports have seen a huge resurgence recently.
    Orders have been returning to China as other producing countries are still being ravaged by the pandemic, but manufacturers know the trend is most likely unsustainable.

However, China's one-party unitary national government can, and has, turned toward the Pacific-Southeast Asia to join with Australia, Brunei, Cambodia, Indonesia, Japan, Laos, Malaysia, Myanmar, New Zealand, Philippines, Singapore, South Korea, Thailand, and Vietnam to create the Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership (RCEP). The RCEP, signed November 15, includes almost one-third of the world’s population and about one-third of its gross domestic product. It is the first ever free trade agreement between China, Japan and South Korea – Asia’s largest, second-largest and fourth-largest economies. It's goal is to progressively lower tariffs and aims to counter protectionism, increase investment and allow more free movement of goods.

Brunei, Vietnam, Laos, Cambodia, Thailand, Myanmar, Malaysia, Singapore, Indonesia and the Philippines are members of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) trade group. It was announced December 1 that the European Union has joined with the ASEAN group in a strategic partnership to "stand up for safe and open trade routes and a free and fair trade" according to German Foreign Minister Heiko Maas after a virtual meeting with his EU and ASEAN counterparts. "Together, we represent more than a billion people and almost 25 per cent of global economic power," noted Maas.

Then, to the surprise of many, President Xi Jinping announced that China “will actively consider” joining the Comprehensive and Progressive Agreement for Trans-Pacific Partnership (CPTPP). Chinese Premier Li Keqiang’s in May noted that “China has a positive and open attitude toward joining the CPTPP”. Were this to be accomplished it would add Canada, Chile, Mexico, and Peru to China's trade group partners.

For Americans who don't remember as far back as four years ago (most Americans), the CPTPP evolved from the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP), which failed due to the withdrawal of the United States after Trump took office. Twenty-two TPP provisions that were priorities of the U.S., but not other negotiating partners, were suspended or modified in the CPTPP.

President Barack Obama's push to pass the TPP in 2016 was resisted by the 2016 presidential candidates in both major parties. Clinton and Trump opposed the deal, arguing that it would hurt American workers.

The problem for Clinton was former 2016 presidential candidate socialist U.S. Sen. Bernie Sanders rallied his supporters to urge the Democratic National Committee (DNC) to include language in their platform rejecting the TPP. CNN reporter Eric Bradner wrote, "By keeping specific opposition to the Trans-Pacific Partnership out of the platform, Democrats avoided embarrassing President Barack Obama." Although the DNC's decision was a disappointment to Sanders, he, along with U.S. Sen. Elizabeth Warren, continued to spearhead efforts in the Senate to get their colleagues to vote against Obama's trade deal.

This year, President-elect Joe Biden stated: "When it comes to trade, either we're going to write the rules of the road for the world or China is – and not in a way that advances our values. That's what happened when we backed out of TPP – we put China in the driver's seat. That's not good for our national security or for our workers. TPP wasn’t perfect but the idea behind it was a good one: to unite countries around high standards for workers, the environment, intellectual property, and transparency, and use our collective weight to curb China’s excesses."

What Biden did not foresee was the RCEP, the EU-ASEAN agreement, and China's positive outward reach to the CPTPP.

The problem for the U.S. is that while two-thirds of the original chapters remain in the CPTPP,, among the 22 provisions set aside include such things as investors’ ability to litigate disputes under investment agreements and investment authorizations - which are used mostly for mining and oil investments - are more limited.

Further regarding intellectual property the length of patent protection for innovative medicines has been shortened, technology and information protections have been narrowed, and copyright periods for written materials have also been shortened. Particularly, the stringent requirements that the United States pursued in technological protection measures, rights management information, encrypted satellite and cable signals, and safe harbors for internet service providers have all been removed.

Effectively, the American-East-Coast oriented ignoramuses handed a massive international trade win to China. They didn't protect any American interests or American workers. As Biden said: "We put China in the driver's seat."

The 46 nations within the CPTPP, RCEP, and EU-ASEAN are home to 38% of the world's population and control 50% of the world's Gross Domestic Product (GDP) - 51.64% of the 2019 Nominal GDP, 50.03% of the 2019 Purchasing Power Parity GDP.

The map below with the countries in white (most importantly the United States, India, and Russia) representing non-participants will shape our future Extended Economic Distortion:

The fact that the EU has chosen to get its foot in the door should be a clear warning that the United States no longer has the "collective weight" (to use the term Biden used) it had in the 20th Century. Americans made significant choices at the beginning of the Millenium, choices which will continue to hang over the U.S. economy in complex ways for decades.

Wednesday, December 2, 2020

Covid-19, unemployment, & realigned world trade: Extended Economic Distortion begins to take shape

We are nearing the end of a year of pandemic after four years of the Trump Administration. It is not surprising that Covid-19, unemployment associated with changes in consumer habits, and a realignment of world trade towards the Pacific-Southeast Asian nations are creating a picture of a probable Extended Economic Distortion within the U.S.


The Pandemic

The Covid-19 pandemic has worsened severely. As of November 30, here in California's hospitalizations exceeded the previous high as can be seen in this chart...

...while the 7-day death rate climb has just begun - 133 days after the hospitalization rise exactly as last time. These charts do not reflect Thanksgiving infections and, with Christmas and New Years coming up, hospitalizations will continue to skyrocket probably through February. (It has become clear that Californians are no better than any others waiting for the vaccine while protecting the vulnerable among them.)


Unemployment

Expanded unemployment has, and will continue to, create difficult economic pressures. Obviously, a runaway pandemic is going to put pressure on businesses directly serving the public. Many restaurants and retailers have closed. But that isn't the major issue.

The most immediate issue is the impact of expiring expanded unemployment related benefits enacted to reduce economic losses from the Covid-19 pandemic. By the end of December the last of the aid will be paid out that Congress provided through a series of emergency measures in the spring.

Direct checks of $1,200 per person to most U.S. households, $600 a week in supplemental unemployment benefits and hundreds of billions of dollars in support for small businesses reduced the effects through the summer. But according to U.S. employment data the number of people out of work for more than six months (the indicator of long-term unemployment) rose 1.2 million in October, to 3.6 million - a rise - and is likely to continue to increase well into 2021. In addition, workers are facing these realities:

  • Nearly four million Americans are receiving benefits under the pandemic compensation program, a number that doubled in the past month and which will keep rising as more people reach the end of their 26-week state benefits.
  • There are 9.3 million people receiving Pandemic Unemployment Assistance, a program to cover people left out of the normal unemployment system, such as freelancers and self-employed workers, as well as those unable to work because of pandemic-related child care issues and similar obstacles.
  • Tens of millions of workers will lose access to federally mandated paid sick and family leave from the Families First emergency program which required many employers to provide workers with two weeks of coronavirus-related sick leave at full pay and up to 12 weeks of family and medical leave to care for family members at two-thirds pay.

All this must be viewed in the context of an October 2020 report titled Household Financial Fragility during COVID-19: Rising Inequality and Unemployment Insurance Benefit Reductions which makes us acutely aware that even in January 2020 when our economy was thought to be booming a large majority of American households were dependent upon that next paycheck to cover their cost of housing and food.

In theory Congress could extend, modify-and-extend, or create new programs. Recent headlines indicate a compromise bill proposed by nine Senators has some support. But the divided national political scene as reflected by the Republican Senate versus Democratic House - Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) versus Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) - will not make that easy.

We will know by the end of January 2021 the level of success of McConnell's election 2024 goal to make Joe Biden seem responsible for an economic disaster by minimizing benefits to unemployed workers.


21st Century Economic Restructuring

As noted here in a September 1 post, the first 20 years of the 20th Century and the first 20 years of the 21st Century solidified major transitions in the economy.

The most significant of the changes was brought about by the embracing of the internet for communications, entertainment, and sales of goods and services. Consider this story:

    US ecommerce sales will reach $794.50 billion this year, up 32.4% year-over-year....
    “We’ve seen ecommerce accelerate in ways that didn’t seem possible last spring, given the extent of the economic crisis,” said Andrew Lipsman, eMarketer principal analyst at Insider Intelligence. “While much of the shift has been led by essential categories like grocery, there has been surprising strength in discretionary categories like consumer electronics and home furnishings that benefited from pandemic-driven lifestyle needs.”
    “There will be some lasting impacts from the pandemic that will fundamentally change how people shop,” said Cindy Liu, eMarketer senior forecasting analyst at Insider Intelligence. “For one, many stores, particularly department stores, may close permanently. Secondly, we believe consumer shopping behaviors will permanently change. Many consumers have either shopped online for the first time or shopped in new categories (i.e., groceries). Both the increase in new users and frequency of purchasing will have a lasting impact on retail.”

The numbers in the table below reflect that changing market when comparing the 2019 financial statement total revenue to the most recently reported current esales:

The likelihood that gains in internet sales after Covid-19 will revert to in-store sales is not great. And expected holiday sales will shift further to online. The impact on local retail sales cannot be overstated.

Further, as mentioned in the article above, the real surprise is that online grocery sales have skyrocketed as noted in this Atlanta Constitution article:

    Recent numbers show the pandemic pushed online grocery sales in the U.S. to extraordinary heights. In August 2019, sales were $1.2 billion, according to data gathered by the companies Brick Meets Click and Mercatus. In June 2020, they were $7.2 billion.
    Meanwhile, online sales grew from 3.4% of the grocery buying market in 2019 to 10.2% a year later, according to Mercatus and consumer data firm Incisiv.
    The change is creating thousands of new jobs in Atlanta, from high-tech positions to warehouse and delivery workers.
    Online shoppers will see improved delivery services and a better online user experience as companies compete for their share of the $1 trillion annual U.S. grocery market, industry analyst David J. Livingston said. But some smaller grocers likely won’t be able to keep up and could end up closing as behemoths like Walmart and Amazon continue to take bigger chunks of the online grocery business.
    Grocery store chains are staying competitive by throwing more resources into the fight. Kroger, for instance, has hired the British company Ocado to build a $55 million warehouse in Forest Park where robots will help sort online grocery orders. The chain will begin delivering in the metro area in 2021.
    “We’ll all look back on this year as being possibly the most significant inflection point for online grocery shopping,” said David Hardiman-Evans, Ocado’s senior vice president for North America.

One must also note that the "shoppers" are gig workers reflecting another shift in our economy.


China's Crucial Win in World Trade

China clearly has has offered a 21st Century non-military challenge to U.S. economic strength with a crucial win in world trade, along with a manufacturing focus shift inward.

This must be viewed in the context of China's relative success at suppressing Covid-19 outbreaks. China's one-party unitary national government can impose mandatory lockdowns, testing, and vaccination more effectively than in an undisciplined multiparty federation such as the United States.

China's one-party unitary national government can, and has, turned inward to promote its own consumer economy with the context of the 14th Five-Year Plan and the 2035 Vision to be taken up by the Party Congress next year. Consider this news story:

    President Xi Jinping called on the nation in May to rely more on domestic demand for future growth – dubbing it a dual circulation strategy – and his directive requires significant changes in both internal supply and demand.
    “The pandemic has made it difficult for us to sell abroad, but we do feel as though Chinese customers are less … enthusiastic for foreign brands, especially mid-level products,” said a sales manager at a fashion jewellery brand with shops all over the country.
    “Frankly, it may be becoming fashionable and more politically correct to make and consume good-quality Chinese goods,” he added, asking not to be identified.
    That sentiment seems to be felt by a growing number of Chinese export manufacturers, some of whom say they have started shifting investments to the domestic market even as their exports have seen a huge resurgence recently.
    Orders have been returning to China as other producing countries are still being ravaged by the pandemic, but manufacturers know the trend is most likely unsustainable.

However, China's one-party unitary national government can, and has, turned toward the Pacific-Southeast Asia to join with Australia, Brunei, Cambodia, Indonesia, Japan, Laos, Malaysia, Myanmar, New Zealand, Philippines, Singapore, South Korea, Thailand, and Vietnam to create the Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership (RCEP). The RCEP, signed November 15, includes almost one-third of the world’s population and about one-third of its gross domestic product. It is the first ever free trade agreement between China, Japan and South Korea – Asia’s largest, second-largest and fourth-largest economies. It's goal is to progressively lower tariffs and aims to counter protectionism, increase investment and allow more free movement of goods.

Brunei, Vietnam, Laos, Cambodia, Thailand, Myanmar, Malaysia, Singapore, Indonesia and the Philippines are members of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) trade group. It was announced December 1 that the European Union has joined with the ASEAN group in a strategic partnership to "stand up for safe and open trade routes and a free and fair trade" according to German Foreign Minister Heiko Maas after a virtual meeting with his EU and ASEAN counterparts. "Together, we represent more than a billion people and almost 25 per cent of global economic power," noted Maas.

Then, to the surprise of many, President Xi Jinping announced that China “will actively consider” joining the Comprehensive and Progressive Agreement for Trans-Pacific Partnership (CPTPP). Chinese Premier Li Keqiang’s in May noted that “China has a positive and open attitude toward joining the CPTPP”. Were this to be accomplished it would add Canada, Chile, Mexico, and Peru to China's trade group partners.

For Americans who don't remember as far back as four years ago (most Americans), the CPTPP evolved from the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP), which failed due to the withdrawal of the United States after Trump took office. Twenty-two TPP provisions that were priorities of the U.S., but not other negotiating partners, were suspended or modified in the CPTPP.

President Barack Obama's push to pass the TPP in 2016 was resisted by the 2016 presidential candidates in both major parties. Clinton and Trump opposed the deal, arguing that it would hurt American workers.

The problem for Clinton was former 2016 presidential candidate socialist U.S. Sen. Bernie Sanders rallied his supporters to urge the Democratic National Committee (DNC) to include language in their platform rejecting the TPP. CNN reporter Eric Bradner wrote, "By keeping specific opposition to the Trans-Pacific Partnership out of the platform, Democrats avoided embarrassing President Barack Obama." Although the DNC's decision was a disappointment to Sanders, he, along with U.S. Sen. Elizabeth Warren, continued to spearhead efforts in the Senate to get their colleagues to vote against Obama's trade deal.

This year, President-elect Joe Biden stated: "When it comes to trade, either we're going to write the rules of the road for the world or China is – and not in a way that advances our values. That's what happened when we backed out of TPP – we put China in the driver's seat. That's not good for our national security or for our workers. TPP wasn’t perfect but the idea behind it was a good one: to unite countries around high standards for workers, the environment, intellectual property, and transparency, and use our collective weight to curb China’s excesses."

What Biden did not foresee was the RCEP, the EU-ASEAN agreement, and China's positive outward reach to the CPTPP.

The problem for the U.S. is that while two-thirds of the original chapters remain in the CPTPP,, among the 22 provisions set aside include such things as investors’ ability to litigate disputes under investment agreements and investment authorizations - which are used mostly for mining and oil investments - are more limited.

Further regarding intellectual property the length of patent protection for innovative medicines has been shortened, technology and information protections have been narrowed, and copyright periods for written materials have also been shortened. Particularly, the stringent requirements that the United States pursued in technological protection measures, rights management information, encrypted satellite and cable signals, and safe harbors for internet service providers have all been removed.

Effectively, the American-East-Coast oriented ignoramuses handed a massive international trade win to China. They didn't protect any American interests or American workers. As Biden said: "We put China in the driver's seat."

The 46 nations within the CPTPP, RCEP, and EU-ASEAN are home to 38% of the world's population and control 50% of the world's Gross Domestic Product (GDP) - 51.64% of the 2019 Nominal GDP, 50.03% of the 2019 Purchasing Power Parity GDP.

The map below with the countries in white (most importantly the United States, India, and Russia) representing non-participants will shape our future Extended Economic Distortion:

The fact that the EU has chosen to get its foot in the door should be a clear warning that the United States no longer has the "collective weight" (to use the term Biden used) it had in the 20th Century. Americans made significant choices at the beginning of the Millenium, choices which will continue to hang over the U.S. economy in complex ways for decades.


The Undercurrent in U.S. Politics Enters the Limelight

The future of the United States is currently bound up in a (almost) fanatical dispute between three points of view. Most certainly the socialists versus the libertarians (recently in the persons of Bernie Sanders versus the Koch Brothers) have chiseled their ideological way into the electorate as reflected in Congress and the state capitols.

But added to that is a formerly "silent" significant minority.

Speaking in Madison, Wisconsin on April 15, 2011, Sarah Palin said everything that needs to be said about that significant minority: "And speaking of President Obama, I think we ought to pay tribute to him today at this Tax Day Tea Party because really he's the inspiration for why we're here today. That's right. The Tea Party Movement wouldn't exist without Barack Obama."

Palin epitomizes what appeals to the significant minority:

  • Of English, Irish, and German ancestry, she was born February 11, 1964 in Sandpoint, Idaho, to "Chuck" Heath (a taxpayer supported science teacher and track-and-field coach) and "Sally" Sheeran (a taxpayer supported school secretary), the third of four children.
  • When she was a few months old, the family moved to Alaska where her father had been hired to teach,  settling in Wasilla, Alaska in 1972.
  • She attended Wasilla High School, where she was head of the Fellowship of Christian Athletes and a member of the 1982 Alaska state champion girls' basketball team and cross-country running team.
  • In 1984, Palin won the Miss Wasilla beauty pageant and she finished second runner-up in the Miss Alaska pageant, where she won the title of "Miss Congeniality".
  • In 1987 she received her bachelor's degree in communications with an emphasis in journalism from the University of Idaho, and then worked as a sportscaster for Anchorage TV stations and a newspaper sports reporter.
  • In August 1988, she eloped with Todd Palin, her high school sweetheart, and they have five children, the youngest of who born in 2008 was prenatally diagnosed with Down syndrome.
  • Todd worked for the oil company BP as an oil-field production operator, retiring in 2009, and owns a commercial fishing business.
  • They are now divorced.

Simply, Palin is a celebrity who foreshadowed the successful candidacy of Donald Trump. It is unclear what would have happened in 2008 had her fame and experience not been limited to Alaska, the third least populous state ahead of only Wyoming and Vermont. Of course, social media such as Twitter and Facebook had not yet completely replaced traditional news sources in 2008 when she ran for Vice-President.

In today's political reality, political candidacy favors celebrity contestants and the significant minority accepts its beliefs from the likes of sportscasters and reality show hosts. The Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership (RCEP) signed in November 2020 was introduced as a concept in 2011 during the 19th ASEAN Summit. The original proposal for the Trans-Pacific Partnership was made in 2008 with the final agreement stalled by the U.S. disinformation machine in 2016. Sportscasters and reality show hosts cannot compete on a world stage that depends upon 8+ years of informed participation in detailed economic negotiations.

Whatever else you may think, Barack Obama was a well-educated, experienced politician who also was young and black. Future elections will tell us if the U.S. is destined to be a bystander in the world.