By The Hill•
Americans are anxious to get back to work and to send their children to school. The science backs them up. We have learned a lot over the past months, and we are putting that knowledge to use. We are capitalizing on the advanced capabilities that we have developed, as we redouble our efforts to protect vulnerable populations and deliver new and effective treatments in record time.
Here’s what we now know:
We know who is at risk. Only 0.2 percent of U.S. deaths have been people younger than 25, and 80 percent have been in people over 65; the average fatality age is 78. A JAMA Pediatrics study of North American pediatric hospitals flatly stated that “our data indicate that children are at far greater risk of critical illness from influenza than from COVID-19.”
We may see more cases as social interactions pick up, because this is a contagious disease. However, the overwhelming majority of cases are now occurring in younger, low-risk people — decades younger, on average, than seen in the spring. And the vast majority of these people deal with the infection without consequence; many don’t even know they have it.
While we saw more cases in July and August, we are not seeing the explosion of deaths we saw early on. An analysis of CDC data shows that the case fatality rate has declined by approximately 85 percent from its peak.
That is partly because we are much better now at protecting our most vulnerable, including our senior citizens. States have learned from those that experienced outbreaks before them, and they have implemented thoughtful policies as a result.
We are doing much better with treating hospitalized patients. Lengths-of-stay are one-third the rate in April; the fatality rate in hospitals is one-half of that in April. Fewer patients need ICUs if hospitalized, and fewer need ventilators when in ICUs.
We are progressing at record speed with vaccine development. This is due to eliminating bureaucracy and working in partnership with America’s world-leading innovators in the private sector.
Despite these gains, our economy has yet to fully reopen. At least 16 states have travel warnings and quarantines in place that are not consistent with Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) guidelines; in most states, retail stores are limited to pick-up or reduced shopping capacity. Even in states where cases are low, restaurants are often take-out only, and 42 states and territories have seating capacity limited to 25 percent or 50 percent. Fitness centers and gyms have largely reopened, but at reduced capacity.
Beyond those business limits, schools in many cities and states will be opened this fall on a delayed or limited basis. According to the U.S. Department of Education’s tracking, of 5,425 major school districts (about one-third of districts nationwide), almost half plan to operate on hybrid models and another 20 percent plan to operate online-only. That not only harms children, it prevents many parents from working.
A key – but flawed – assumption driving these restrictions is that the number of cases is the most important metric to follow. Yet, whatever effect these restrictions may have on cases, they don’t eliminate the virus. And they impose harms on the country and its citizens, particularly when they require the isolation of large segments of the low-risk and healthy, working populations.
Unlike his critics, who have focused on the wrong goal and engaged in unfounded fear-mongering, President Trump has been implementing a three-pronged, data-driven strategy that is saving lives while safely reopening the economy and society, averting the disastrous calamities of continued lockdown.
First is protecting the high-risk group with an unprecedented focus. This is being done by relying upon highly detailed, real-time monitoring; a smart, prioritized, intensive testing strategy for nursing home staff and residents; deployment of massive extra resources, including point-of-care testing, personal protective equipment (PPE), infection control training and rapid mobilization of CDC strike teams for nursing homes; and extra PPE and point-of-care testing for the environments with elderly individuals outside of nursing homes, like visiting nurse in-home care and senior centers.
Second, we are carefully monitoring hospitals and ICUs in all counties and states with precision to prevent overcrowding, and rapidly increasing capacity in those few hospitals that may need additional personnel, beds, personal protective equipment (PPE) or other supplies.
Third, we are leveraging our resources to guide businesses and schools toward safely reopening with commonsense mitigation measures. We must safely reopen schools as quickly as possible, and keep them open. The harms to children from school closures are too great to accept any other outcome.
While the lockdown may have been justified at the start, when little data was known, we know far more about the virus today. It’s time we use all we have learned and all we have done to reopen our schools and our economy safely and get back to restoring America.
Former Vice President Joe Biden may think it’s nice to have Washington on his side. That’s his world, the one in which he’s lived since the early ’70s, when he first entered the U.S. Senate. He may have been commuting much of the time back and forth from Delaware, but it’s inside the beltway that has been his home.
That’s a liability going into the November election. Biden has lived in a bubble all those years. He may be from Scranton, Pennsylvania, originally, but it’s doubtful he has a feel for what the folks living there now think and feel and how many of they view the government as impeding what they want to do with their lives. His ad guys may understand “real America”—and some of the spots they produced have been masterful—but it’s doubtful he does.
By contrast, and many people will no doubt find this surprising, it’s Donald Trump who has his finger on America’s pulse. The just-concluded Republican National Convention, truncated though it was, made that clear. The folks who spoke in support of his second term were surprisingly, even refreshingly diverse. They all had stories to tell that not only fit Trump’s narrative but the country’s, representing one nation in which we are best defined by those things that make us similar.
The speakers at the Democrats’ convention, on the other hand, ranked gender, race and economic status above their “Americanness.” Almost everyone who took to the podium at the DNC took great plans to place themselves in a category or categories before launching into a denunciation of the president and an articulation of what he’d done that was offensive to his or her particular group. They had four days to make Trump seem like the devil incarnate—and used virtually every moment of their program to do so.
Where this approach fails, and there are already polls suggesting that’s what’s happening, is that Trump and company had four days over the following week to argue that’s just not so.
Moreover, the Democrats’ decision to spend more of their convention talking about why Trump is wrong for America than why Biden is right is highly risky. Once the fall campaign moves to a discussion of issues—and there’s no way to prevent that from happening—character becomes an ancillary consideration for many voters. There’s an argument to be made that shouldn’t be the case, that character should always count, but as the GOP found out in the Clinton v. Dole contest, it generally falls on deaf ears. And, unlike in 1996, the 2020 race will play out with the mainstream media and most of the pundits saying over and over again it’s the most important issue in the race.
It will help the GOP if some of the president’s supporters get together on an independent ad campaign in which rank-and-file Republicans explain why they’re voting for Trump even if they don’t like him or have concerns about his conduct. That message—that what Trump does is less important than what a Biden-Harris administration would do to America over the next four years—would likely resonate with independents who are still unsure which way to turn, as well as with dissident Republicans who can still be brought home.
These same voters can likely be moved on the two issues you didn’t hear the Democrats talk about much during their convention: China and the protests, which, despite abundant evidence to the contrary, Biden continues to describe generally as “peaceful.”
The American people understand instinctively the folks engaged in the rioting, the ones occupying sections of major cities, and whose demands increasingly resemble threats to disrupt the day-to-day activities of law-abiding businesses and their customers are a political force the Democrats can ill afford to offend. Democratic Party leaders continue to distort what Trump said about what happened in Charlottesville, but when it comes to Portland, Seattle, Louisville, Washington, D.C., and now Kenosha, they’ve had little to say. Biden’s recent condemnation of “needless violence” hit with all the impact of a wet noodle and came only after the issue of the riots, as Don Lemon observed, started showing up int eh polls.
Likewise, while the president has promised to get tough on China, not just on trade but because it needs to be held responsible for unleashing the novel coronavirus on the world and then lying about it, Biden and company seem ready to hold hands with President Xi Jinping and sing “Kumbaya,” while getting back to business as usual as quickly as possible. That’s not going to sell with Americans either—especially when they realize the former vice president’s plan for handling the virus and his willingness to consider another lockdown owes more to Beijing than he’s probably willing to admit.
The Donald Trump Show
The 2020 political conventions have drawn to a close with the dramatic (and late night) end of the Republican Convention. And what a show each party presented.
Last week we discussed the Democrats’ effort based on two criteria, technical and content. We’ll do the same for the Republicans.
The Republican National Committee (RNC) broke new ground technically with this production. The bulk of the time for the first 3 ½ sessions was a series of testimonies by a vast variety of people, mostly non-politicians, who told their personal stories. All were interesting, many were gripping – like the widow of the retired police chief in St. Louis who was killed by the rioters, or the young Congressional candidate, who rose from his wheel chair to salute the flag, or the young ex-Planned Parenthood staffer who was appalled by what she saw in a live abortion – and the list goes on.
From a technical point of view, the variety of settings for each presentation, the musical interludes, and, most of all, the pacing of the program was exceptional. The only way so many speeches could have been packed into the time allowed depended on strict discipline of timing, variety of material, insertions of video clips to dramatize the speaker’s prose, and of the settings – all of which were exceptional. This discipline included even time limits on usually long-winded politicians – one of the more impressive features of the program.
The program ended with a brief but spectacular fireworks display and a closing few songs featuring tenor, Christopher Macchio, although the lateness of the hour may have made this segment harder to appreciate.
In all, the technical framework of the convention set a new standard for this type of program, using many of the techniques of documentaries for live presentations. Actually, it is hard to imagine anything but a state-of-the-art production for a man who topped TV ratings for years.
Like last week’s content, the content of either party tends to be controversial, appreciated by the advocates, scorned by the opposition. So, it is with this convention. As a sympathizer with the Republicans, my vies are colored by my own preferences.
That having been said, I was very impressed by the messages of this convention. Among the most impressive features were the number and variety of the presenters. Most were ordinary Americans, whose stories varied in content, tone, accent, and perspective. All, of course, came to the same conclusion – they were voting Republican. The interesting part was the individual starting points. Especially interesting were the Black endorsements, some from Democrats. Also impressive were the young men and women who are the future of the party, led by Nikki Haley, Rand Paul, and Tim Scott, among several others.
The last half of the last evening was devoted to Donald J. Trump, sitting 45th President of the United States of America. The earlier testimonials were a mixture of endorsements of the President, criticisms of the Biden/Harris ticket, and explanations of generic preference for either the Republican party or specific issues, especially reasons for Black support for Trump over Biden. This last segment was devoted to endorsements of Trump by a variety of people, ranging from ordinary Americans to politicians. Finally, the President himself gave his acceptance speech for the Republican nomination for the presidency.
The speech was an indictment of the Democrats’ prospective policies, Mr. Biden himself, based on his half century record of public service, recap of Mr. Trump’s own record of the past three+ years, and his plans for the future. His agenda is mostly well known, although he supplied a surprising detail of some of the planned initiatives. His tone was somewhat subdued compared to some other speeches, but he covered a wide range of subjects. As expected, his speech was very long.
While we on the subject of Mr. Trump, here are some observations I would like to share. I recently had occasion to watch some of his 2015-16 debates. There is no question that he was a brutal, bullying candidate. Never have I seen such behavior before in a formal setting like a presidential debate. It was prompted, I believe, by his distain for all politicians, especially in national office, although he also criticized Dr. Ben Carson as being “low-energy”. Looking back, I think that it was this behavior which gained him a bad reputation among many otherwise open-minded people. I believe he is still paying for that period, even though it did not stop him from winning both the nomination and the election.
I believe that Donald J. Trump has experienced some significant changes since he became President. One of the most significant changes has been his attitude towards politicians. He quickly realized that he needed their support in order to get done some of his most important priorities. He has succeeded in converting some of his most offended victims (but not the Bushes) as well as virtually all the Republicans in Congress from enemies into fervent advocates. Prime examples are Ted Cruz and Marco Rubio. He even persuaded Dr. Carson to join his cabinet. Since taking office, he has turned into a great advocate of the Republican Party, campaigning religiously for Republican candidates throughout the country. He has accepted the mantle of head of the Party and pursued it with his characteristic vigor.
Another area of his life has also seen change in my opinion. That is his private life, particularly his personal conduct and his religious practice. Like many other presidents, (not all) he has “grown into the job”. His life is now lived in a glass house – everything he does or says is noted and publicized. He cannot afford to be seen in any questionable behavior. He has become a straight arrow.
He also has, I believe, become more aware that he depends on a force beyond his or anyone’s control. Never known to be particularly religious, he is now seen praying in church and in public, seen as a strong advocate of freedom of religion, and generally deserving of the strong support he received from the evangelical community. Some would say he is masquerading. I believe he is sincere, influenced perhaps by Melania. Sincere or not, it is hard to contest the behavior.
The case for a Trump electoral victory was strengthened by the 2020 Republican convention, with its message of hope, prosperity and equality. We will see how long it lasts.
Voter skepticism of politicians remains high, according to a new survey released Friday yet President Donald J. Trump gets high marks for keeping the promises he made in his first run for the White House. According to a new Rasmussen Reports poll, nearly half of all voters believe he “has delivered more than most” on the pledges he made in 2016.- Advertisement –
The survey, conducted by telephone and online, found general disappointment widespread with elected officials when it came to them doing what they said they would do when running for office. Just 16 percent of those surveyed viewed successful candidates as promise keepers while a whopping 70 percent said they were not with the remaining 14 percent undecided on the question.
Rasmussen Reports called the results “a noticeable improvement” over voters’ response to the question in previous years. In November 2009, the first year the question was posed, only 4 percent of those surveyed said winning politicians “kept their campaign promises.”
Trump fares better than most in this latest poll. Of the voters who participated, 45 percent said they believed he “has kept his campaign promise more than most presidents,” up from 38 percent in a March 2018 survey.
Unsurprisingly, Democrats were more critical of Trump than Republicans, with 66 percent saying Trump had kept his promises “less than most presidents” while 68 percent of Republicans said he’d kept them more. Nearly half of the unaffiliated voters in the survey, 47 percent, sided with the GOP.
Overall, Democrats are “a lot more likely” than either Republicans or independents to believe politicians follow through on their campaign commitments after they are elected. Just 14 percent of those in the GOP and 9 percent of unaffiliated voters believe most politicians can be counted on to govern on the platform they ran on compared to 23 percent of Democrats who agreed with the statement.
The lack of confidence the American electorate has in Washington is probably explained to a considerable degree by these numbers. Neither party finds the political class trustworthy.
The results should be a boon for Trump who, according to every recent national survey, is trailing Joe Biden by as much as double-digits in their battle for the presidency. In his speech accepting his party’s nomination Thursday night, the former vice president seems to say repeatedly he wanted voters to base their vote on how they felt about the character of the men running for the nation’s highest office.
In a contest of competence versus character, a theme likely to underscore the GOP fall campaign, Trump may have a narrow lead. Among voters who think most politicians don’t keep their campaign promises, 48 percent said “Trump is doing better than most presidents” while 38 percent disagreed.
The survey of 1,000 Likely U.S. Voters was conducted August 18-19, 2020 by Rasmussen Reports and has a +/- 3 percent sampling error at a 95 percent level of confidence.
Is he St. Joseph or Joe the Terrible?
The Democrat Convention, held last week, was the first time in American history that a major party convention was held on television with no live crowd in attendance. Being the first to do anything is always a uniquely difficult challenge which requires imagination, originality and the courage to risk failure. All these attributes are magnified substantially when your new, experimental product will be seen for the first time – with no trial runs – by tens of millions of people for four days — with the outcome likely to have a major impact on the future of the most famous nation in world history.
This is the nature of the challenge which faced the planners of the recent Democrat convention. They deserve a lot of credit for meeting that challenge with imagination and courage. Their product has been judged on two levels: technical and content.
Technically, the production was excellent. They chose to utilize their Hollywood connections for a news broadcast format, where a host/anchor introduces a series of guests. The hostesses were young, attractive actresses, who performed their commentaries and introductions flawlessly. The “guests” were a mixture of children and ordinary people with a personal story to tell, celebrity entertainers who performed very hip music, and, as the nights advanced, an increasingly dominant collection of politicians, both obscure and prominent. All seemed well-rehearsed and the programs flowed smoothly through every night’s performance –logistical and technical difficulties well in hand.
In all, the technical accomplishments deserve a great deal of recognition and credits to the planners, organizers and implementors of the week.
The content and overall message of the four days was always bound to be controversial since it was designed to present one of the two major political visions. While the major theme of the convention was proclaimed to “unify America”, there seemed to be a sub-text of “dump Trump”. The truly vicious attacks and name-calling of the President did not seem conducive to joining hands with his followers. In fact, it seemed intentionally aimed at infuriating them. The overwhelming impression of the entire program seemed to have been an obsession with defeating Mr. Trump – to the extent of omitting any details of their plans to bring about the unity they originally set as their goal.
They did detail some of their perceptions of the Americans who have suffered in various ways in recent times, including prejudice, police brutality, and loss of medical insurance. The net impression of this emphasis on the evil Donald Trump and of white racism with its effects on the poor African American community was a very dark picture of present day America, accompanied by promises to make it all better, but no attention to how they intend to do it.
If the final criterion of success is audience ratings, then we have to point to the fact that the ratings of this year’s Democrat Convention were down from 2016 by 18% at 22.6 million households according to early estimates. It is impossible to tell how many additional viewers watched on live stream computers. Also, there is no way to evaluate what this means, since there is no similar program to compare it with. The first comparable program will start on Monday evening, when the GOP convention goes live.
The Joe Biden Show
The unquestionable star of the convention was former Vice President, Joseph Biden, enjoying his day in the sun after nearly 50 years in politics. Not only were many of the politicians praising him in the most glowing terms, but they were joined by his wife, children and grandchildren. The praise was most extravagant even by his former rivals, who a few months ago were telling us how deficient he was for the nomination. But then that is politics – all for the party, including setting aside personal opinions of winners. The most prominent critic of Biden in that group was Kamala Harris, who called him a racist (as she does all her enemies). This time, as his Vice Presidential nominee, she professed him to be a man of so many talents and accomplishments that he sounded like a candidate for sainthood.
Everyone was waiting anxiously for Mr. Biden’s acceptance speech on Thursday night, some with trepidation that he would make one of his well known bloopers. He has been accused by many critics of being in the early stages of dementia, but there has been no clinical evidence to support this judgement, even though some unscrupulous physicians have contributed public diagnoses of dementia — or reduced mental capacity – without ever having examined him or even encountered him socially. Such allegations should be discounted immediately and totally.
Another factor may figure in his lifelong tendency to make mistakes in diction, and that is his battle against stuttering. A person who stutters may learn better diction, but the attention that effort requires is a constant distraction from what he is saying. This distraction can cause losing one’s train of thought, hesitation while trying to remember a name or a word or a fact and mispronouncing some word – to name a few of the hazards unique to stutterers. (For more on this, read John Hendrickson, “What Joe Biden can’t bring himself to say”, The Atlantic, Jan-Feb 2020). Stuttering cannot, however, be equated with low intelligence or dementia, no matter what popular opinion dictates.
So, what about the Biden speech of his life last Thursday evening? My first impression was that it was very well done and very effective, the best speech of his long career. It was very much an answer to “Who am I?”, very emotional and personal. It was a testimony to his intent to do his best to achieve the goals of the campaign, in the most compassionate and comprehensive way possible.
What it wasn’t was an illustration of his solutions to the challenges so urgent in American life at this troubled time in our history. There was no mention of China, of Iran, NATO, Al Qaeda, North Korea or any other foreign policy issue. Nor was he specific about internal American affairs – the riots in our streets, the COVID-19 pandemic, the trade deficit, American manufacturing, the current supply chain, among many other issues. Blaming Donald Trump is not an answer. It raises a question, what would you do?” At the end of Mr. Biden’s speech, along with 22.8 million other viewers, we couldn’t answer that question.
Saint or just another corrupt Democrat?
We will close this reaction to the 2020 Democrat Convention with a comment on Mr. Biden as a public servant. There are sharply contrasting views of his history. On the one hand, the praise he received for four long convention sessions left the overall impression that he possesses every virtue a public servant can exemplify. He is a family man, a survivor of terrible personal tragedy, a dedicated public servant, skilled in crossing the aisle in the Senate, a listener, compassionate, with a deep knowledge of all the functions of government, including the Oval Office, selfless and sinless.
On the other hand, his critics cite his record of complaints of illicit touching and fondling of women – bolstered by TV clips of his unduly familiar hands on various women – and then the accusations of his unethically paving the way for his son, Hunter Biden’s, profiting from transactions with Ukraine and China. These accusations are yet to be proven in court.
It is, however, a matter of public record that he has accumulated a net worth estimated by CBS to be $9 million. Peter Schweizer’s book, Profiles in Corruption (2020) details Biden’s actions as Vice President to benefit five members of Biden’s family, although no specific steps have been taken to prove that Schweizer’s charges, even if true, were illegal or criminal. Nevertheless, even such detailed accusations begin to tarnish the saintly profile ascribed to Mr. Biden by the Convention. If proven, they would mark the end of his career as a politician. We will see what happens.
The coronavirus has wreaked havoc on Americans’ health as well as the health of our economy over the past several months. The real estate industry is certainly no exception. Due to challenges and unpredictability ahead, combined with record unemployment and cost-cutting layoffs, many Americans have put their plans to purchase a home on hold.
At the pandemic’s onset, new home sale listings dropped by as much as 70 percent in some markets but the April numbers suggested some recovery was underway. Web traffic to real estate portals like Zillow plunged by almost 40 percent. Further, nearly 4 million homeowners are in the midst of forbearance plans – delaying payments on their mortgages – making up almost 8 percent of all mortgages.
While challenges presented by the coronavirus introduce uncertainty, a competitive real estate market and an environment that rewards fair competition and promotes collaboration within the industry will help foster a faster recovery.
Today, key industry partnerships and collaborations between mortgage service providers or banks, fintech and realtech developers offer products and services that bridge the gap between the huge swaths of available data and informed consumer decision-making. These innovations empower home buyers or sellers to make more informed decisions, at a time when few can afford to spend more or sell for less than they should based on constantly fluctuating home markets. A prime example is how Amrock, one of the nation’s leading title insurance, property valuations, and settlement services providers, has focused on developing innovative solutions, such as their eClosing platform, to improve the real estate experience for all parties involved. Because of the rapidly evolving and highly dynamic nature of the industry, partnerships have become key to finding innovative ways to use data to provide the best product for consumers.
Regrettably, such ingenuity and the necessary B2B collaboration faces challenges that predate the current pandemic raddled housing markets. The real estate industry and those who rely on it all pay the price for the increasing onslaught of litigation abuses by the hands of legal profiteers seeking to exploit our courts and our industries for financial gain.
Fortunately, on June 3, the Texas 4th Court of Appeals issued a decision offering hope that the trend of increasing abusive litigation, particularly that within the real estate industry, may not be so inevitable.
This ruling marks a milestone for homeowners who pay title insurance, which protects both real estate owners and lenders against loss or damage occurring from liens (mortgage loans, home equity lines of credit, easements), encumbrances, or defects in the title or actual ownership of a property. Critically, title insurance offers buyers and sellers the assurance they need to buy, sell, and reinvest, all critical components of a recovery.
The Texas 4th Court of Appeals follows a March 2018 decision by a Bexar County, TX, jury who awarded HouseCanary, a software developer, nearly three-quarters of a billion dollars after mistakenly believing Amrock allegedly stole their trade secrets. In truth, Amrock had hired HouseCanary on a $5 million contract to develop an automated valuation model (AVM) mobile application for use by appraisers in the field – a key development in streamlining the real estate buying/selling process. AVMs are formulas that are used to appraise real estate property based on key variables like historical price data, tax assessments, sales history and past lending transactions. However, after HouseCanary had failed to deliver a functional application after more than a year and no clear progress, Amrock sued for breach of contract, and built their own AVM for appraiser use.
The facts of that case – and the weakening standard of what makes up a trade secret – painted a distressing picture for the future of American innovation.
In an effort to cover their inability to develop the application they were hired to produce, HouseCanary countersued – alleging Amrock had stolen their trade secrets and used proprietary information in the development of their own AVM. After ignoring key facts and employing several faulty legal arguments and highly questionable calculations, HouseCanary was able to convince the jury that Amrock had misappropriated their trade secrets – and that such information was valued at $235 million dollars – more than 100 times HouseCanary’s total revenues for all product sales during the period in question.
Beside the fact that the ruling was 150 times the value of the initial $5 million contract, there is another piece of fundamental misinformation the entire ruling hinges on: HouseCanary had no trade secrets or any proprietary information – hence their inability to produce the mobile AVM application Amrock contracted them to create.
This was confirmed by four HouseCanary executives-turned-whistleblowers, who, alarmed by the massive damages figure, testified that “there was never a working version of the App,” and that HouseCanary had deceived Amrock by “representing that the App was more functional than it actually was.” In a then-anonymous email to Amrock CEO Jeff Eisenshtadt, former HouseCanary Director of Appraiser Experience Anthony Roveda wrote “housecanary never had any proprietary anything…”
The original 2018 decision, as it stood before June 3, established a dangerous precedent for the future regarding what was classified as protectable “trade secrets,” which deterred innovation and the partnerships needed to provide the best product for consumers.
As the nation emerges from the coronavirus pandemic, the government – from policymakers to judges – have a duty to provide stability, create meaningful policy, uphold our justice system, and provide clarity where needed. The Texas appeals court decision to overturn Amrock v. HouseCanary sent a loud and clear message that this kind of frivolous litigation has no place in our courts – providing a reassuring and much-needed signal to innovators and developers that collaboration remains welcome here in the United States.
A disconcerting amount of energy has been devoted to battling parents who are trying to solve the problem that’s been dumped on their doorstep.
The kitchen table will once again serve as a makeshift desk for millions of students when they head “back to school” in the next few weeks. Seventeen of the nation’s 20 largest school districts have said that they’ll reopen with zero in-person instruction. Nationally, only about 40 percent of schools have announced plans to reopen in-person (with another ten percent planning for a hybrid model that includes some in-person instruction).
In short, close to half the nation’s K–12 schools may begin the new year remotely, a figure that will be far higher in the systems serving the most students. This painful reality, combined with teacher resistance to reopening and parental concerns about student safety, has prompted districts to work overtime promising that remote learning will be much better this fall.
While we’re big fans of making the best of a bad situation, we fear that this misplaced optimism has made it easier than it should be for school leaders to keep the doors locked this fall and has undermined commitment to the contractual arrangements, training, supports, and instruction needed to ensure that remote learning is more than an oxymoron. To be clear, remote learning is wholly in order where the public-health situation has rendered classrooms untenable. But it’s critical that parents, teachers, and school administrators in those locales proceed with no illusions.
This spring’s virtual-learning experiment was underwhelming, to say the least. Researchers at NWEA, Brown, and the University of Virginia have estimated that students will begin the coming school year already woefully behind, with just two-thirds the learning gains in reading and as little as half of the gains in math that we would normally expect. This is hardly a surprise, given that nearly a quarter of students were truant and that, even as the spring semester ground to an end, only a fifth of school districts expected teachers to provide real-time instruction.
Despite assurances from district officials that this fall’s remote instruction will be much improved, there’s a lot of cause for skepticism. For one thing, the evidence is pretty clear that, for most learners, virtual learning today is significantly less effective than classroom instruction. Research suggests that is likely to be particularly true for disadvantaged students.
Moreover, there’s little evidence that school systems worked out the kinks of virtual learning over the summer. Consider New York City’s dismal experience with summer learning. In the nation’s biggest and biggest-spending school district, despite New York City schools chancellor Richard Carranza’s pledge that the city’s summer learning plan would get kids “ready to hit the ground running come September,” the program was plagued by the same problems that befell schools last spring — from technical glitches to poor curricula to sky-high truancy rates.
Less than half of districts offered any sort of professional development to their teachers over the summer, and just 20 percent have plans to provide support to teachers in a remote-learning setting. Parents have expressed frustration about the dearth of communication or guidance from their schools, and educators themselves have fretted that they’re not sure, after a lost spring, how they’ll convince students that this fall’s remote learning should suddenly be taken seriously. And, however tough it was for teachers to connect with students this spring, they’d already had six months of in-person instruction to build from; things are going to be exponentially tougher this fall for those teachers who know their students only as pixels and email addresses.
Meanwhile, teacher unions have served as another impediment. Even when the concerns sometimes seem exaggerated, one can appreciate why teachers may be hesitant about in-person schooling. Extraordinarily troubling, however, is that — once schools have gone fully virtual — more than a few union locals seem to be intent on pursuing provisions designed to hinder remote teaching and allow teachers paid as full-time educators to operate as part-time employees.
In Los Angeles, the “tentative agreement” between the district and the union stipulates that teachers will only need to deliver one to three hours of live instruction a day, with the exact amount determined by a complicated distance-learning schedule that incorporates grade level and, weirdly, the day of the week. In San Diego, the tentative agreement between the union and the district calls for three hours of live instruction a day, one “office hour” a day, and two hours of prep time for teachers (during which students are supposed to be doing “asynchronous” work, i.e. watching videos or filling out worksheets).
All of this leaves parents in a tough spot as they contemplate another lost semester, knowing their kids need more than the two hours of Zoom calls and busywork that many schools are offering. Some parents have been found a solution in “learning pods,” small, parent-organized classrooms led by a tutor or teacher that deliver a lot of the benefits of in-person schooling while minimizing risk. Others have turned to virtual charter schools with more purposeful, robust online programs. Still others have sought to transfer to smaller private schools offering some form of in-person learning.
Yet far from celebrating these attempts to do what many schools won’t, the nation’s scolds have apparently decided this a good time to upbraid and obstruct parents who dare to do more than sit and fret. Parents who form learning pods have been lambasted in the New York Times for choosing “to perpetuate racial inequities rooted in white supremacy” and criticized in the Washington Post for “weakening the public education system they leave behind.” Those trying to move their kids to virtual charter schools have been fought by union leaders who, in Oregon, pressured state officials to block such transfers. And in Montgomery County, Md., parents who’d turned to private schools found local officials striving to shutter these options just weeks before the start of school.
When the public-health situation warrants it, remote learning is better than nothing. But, even before we turn to the crushing impacts on working parents and children’s mental health, it’s crucial to appreciate just what a dismal substitute today’s remote learning really is. And, while it’s far from clear that district and union leaders are focused on putting in place the measures that might help, a disconcerting amount of energy has been devoted to battling parents who are trying to solve the problem that’s been dumped on their doorstep.33
The takeaway is pretty straightforward. In most places, remote learning is going to be a mess this fall. School and system leaders should be doing all they can to reopen schools as rapidly and thoughtfully as their local health context permits. And, in the meantime, educators, community leaders, and policymakers should do all they can to help families find solutions that will work for them.
In Ecclesiastes 1:4-11, the author muses over the eternal cycles of human existence. Among the many examples that he brings up, the most compelling one states the following: “What has been is what will be, and what has been done is what will be done, and there is nothing new under the sun.”
To illustrate the sagacity of this insight, it should suffice to examine the history of minority rules. From times immemorial, all forms of minority rules have been based on mutual fears. Majorities have been afraid of their kings, emperors, dictators, and despots. In turn, the rulers have feared the people, because their reign has been based on oppression and not the consent of the governed. Ultimately, these cycles of mutual fears have always grown exponentially until they have led to violent and all consuming political explosions.
Belarus (in Russian: Belorussia), ruled with an iron fist since July 20,1994, by President Alyaksandr Ryhoravich Lukashenka (in Russian: Alexander Grigoryevich Lukashenko), is no exception. Prior to being engaged in politics, President Lukashenka was the director of a Soviet-style collective farm, called kolkhoz. Before this job, he became a member of the Communist Party of the Soviet Union (CPSU) and a uniformed guard of the Soviet Border Troops. Having been appointed as a deputy to the Supreme Council of Belarus, he earned the dubious distinction of having cast the only vote against the 1991 dissolution of the Soviet Union.
Having been labeled “Europe’s last dictatorship,” President Lukashenka has steadfastly prevented Belarus to even begin its transformation as a sovereign state from a Soviet-style dictatorship to a more Westernized pluralistic country. However, like Stalin’s constitution of 1936, the Constitution of the Republic of Belarus of 1994, are modelled in its language after the Western constitutions and at least formally entails all the institutional as well as the personal guarantees, rights and freedoms of a normal, pluralistic state. Accordingly, Section One solemnly declares that the government of the Republic of Belorus belongs to the people. The government is defined as a multi-party representative democracy. While the government guarantees the protection of rights and freedoms of all citizens, Section One also states that the individual citizen “bears a responsibility towards the State to discharge unwaveringly the duties imposed upon him by the Constitution.”
During Lukashenka’s reign, there were three crucial Amendments to the constitution. All Amendments were designed to significantly enhance the powers of the presidency. Approved by a fraudulent national referendum in May 1995 by a majority of 77%, the First Amendment authorized the President to unilaterally disband the Parliament.
The Second Amendment, unilaterally initiated by President Lukashenka, further strengthened his powers. The unicameral parliament, fittingly named the Supreme Soviet, was simply abolished. It was replaced by the National Assembly, a bicameral parliament. Demonstrating President Lukashenka’s increasing arrogance and megalomania, this Amendment was allegedly approved by 84% of the electorate. As a result, all opposition parties were excluded from the new parliament. To wit, due to the lack of transparency as well as ballot stuffing, the United States of America, the European Union, and many other states refused to acknowledge the legitimacy of either Amendment.
Finally, the Third Amendment abolished the presidential term limits in its entirety in 2004. Again, approved by a national referendum, 77.3% of the people consented to President Lukashenka’s demand to serve in the highest office for life. As with the 1996 referendum, the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) called the legitimacy of this referendum into question. The organization bluntly declared that the referendum did not meet the requirements of “free and fair elections.” To add a final political insult to the death of legality, the Minister of Justice of Belorus and almost all the legal scholars in the country came up with a completely novel interpretation of the rule of law. In their opinion, laws are constitutional if they follow the will of President Lukashenka and the people. Those laws that do not fall into this category are non-existent and shall be ignored. As a result, the Constitution and most of the legal provisions are in contradiction.
Similarly, the economy of Belarus, which is the world’s 72nd largest, is almost totally controlled by the state. Dubbing his economic policies “Market Socialism,” he reintroduced in 1994 a purely Socialist economy in Belorus. Politically motivated Russian oil and gas deliveries have rendered Belorus completely energy dependent on the Kremlin. President Lukashenka’s feeble attempts to flirt with the West only made him another East European political prostitute of the region.
The most recent Soviet-style presidential election, held on August 9, 2020, delivered the expected result. Proving that in an orderly dictatorship there are no miracles, President Lukashenka beat the stand-in candidate of the opposition for her jailed husband Sergey Tsikhnousky, Sviatlana Tsikhanouskaya by 80.10% to 10.12%. The opposition cried foul, while President Lukashenka declared that “You speak about unfair elections and want fair ones? I have an answer for you. We had the elections. Unless you kill me, there will be no other elections.” The ensuing protests have been answered with brutal and ruthless crackdown. Calling the protesters “bands of criminals” and “rats,” President Lukashenka has pleaded with Russian President Putin to come to his rescue immediately. Meanwhile, thousands have been detained and at least two persons have died. More importantly, however, President for life Lukashenka has proved again that the mentality of the Soviet Union is well alive and kicking strongly in the eastern part of the continent.
His soulmate in governance, Russian President Vladimir Putin has been strangely silent throughout President Lukashenka’s ordeal. Clearly, he must have learned something from the events that surrounded former Ukrainian President Yanukovich’s dismal performance at the end of 2013 and the beginning of 2014 in Kyiv and across Ukraine. President Putin’s restraint might have also been motivated by the potential threat of additional sanctions against his country. Be that as it may, Russia would only save President Lukashenka’s hide if Belorus would move decisively into the orbit of the European Union and NATO. Otherwise, a relaxation or even the demise of President Lukashenka’s severe dictatorship would not rattle the Kremlin.
Yet, the people of Belarus deserve the sympathy and support of the rest of the world. Russia’s eventual intervention should not discourage the United States of America and the European Union to provide political and any other support for the people who have unequivocally expressed their desire to finally live free in a democracy. Clearly, President Lukashenka’s days are numbers. Politically, he is done and not even Russia could save his dictatorship. In the Kremlin, President Putin and his colleagues must finally comprehend that the days of dictators in Europe are coming to an end. In case they would resist, their countries would become not only the graveyards of failed ideas, but also the economic catastrophes of the rest of the world.
Everyone who has considered universal mail-in ballots for any length of time knows it would be disastrous.
With the upcoming presidential election, the left is increasingly dispensing with logic and common sense as they push for universal mail-in ballots. It doesn’t take much to see what a disaster this election would become under such an approach. As Attorney General Bill Barr rightly responded when asked if he had evidence that a mail-in ballot election could be rigged, “No, but I have common sense.”
The same logical fallacies that plagued the ridiculous 2+2=4 controversy are now repeated ad nauseam to convince Americans they should adopt universal mail-in ballots to ensure a fair and safe election. In states such as California and Nevada, residents have received mail-in ballots automatically.
Many have gone along with universal mail-in ballots because “experts” endorse them, not necessarily because they have examined the reasoning behind the movement. Arguments from authority, a popular logical fallacy these days, will successfully sway many people who have no interest in looking into the matter. If a so-called fact-checker such as Snopes labels “mostly false” the claim that universal mail-in ballots are vulnerable to fraud, many will agree and assume the issue is closed.
For those who bother to examine the reasoning for universal mail-in ballots, they will find more logical fallacies behind it all. Beyond relying on arguments from authority, many advocates of universal mail-in ballots will primarily mix up the terms to muddy the waters and derail the conversation, conflating absentee voting, early voting, and universal mail-in voting and treating them all alike. As a bonus, they then accuse President Donald Trump of being a hypocrite for applying for a mail-in ballot himself, and pop-star pundits such as Taylor Swift will stridently condemn his refusal to increase funding for a dysfunctional U.S. Postal Service.
To be clear, an absentee ballot requires an application and various forms of authentication from the person making the request. Universal mail-in ballots do not require an application or much authentication from the voter, so no one can say where they go or who is filling them out. Early voting is simply another option for people to vote before the Election Day rush. Each method works differently, so no one should equate the success of one method with the others. Trump successfully mailing his ballot to Florida doesn’t somehow justify sending a random mail-in ballot to a deceased cat.
Another tactic that abuses the same fallacy is to equate one state’s experience with that of every other state. Mail-in voting proponents love pointing to Utah’s universal mail-in ballots — and what conservative American could argue against anything Utah does? Utah, however, has built up the infrastructure to distribute and collect universal mail-in ballots while other states, such as New York and California, have not, which explains the long delays in tallying votes and innumerable ballots being voided.
If those opposing universal mail-in ballots can make it through these bad arguments, they will then run another one: that mail-in voting has shown little actual evidence of fraud. This statement begs the question because few people ever explain how fraud is detected for a mail-in ballot. In most cases, ballots are verified by a simple signature. If election officials detect a difference between the signature on the ballot and another signature presumably on file, they can report an instance of fraud, which a court can then arbitrate.
This means a person counting votes has every reason to accept a signature and no reason to contest it, unless he wants to go through a messy legal process he might not be able to win. If this is the case, there could be many instances of fraud in mail-in voting, but no one would ever really know.
Furthermore, instances of election officials losing ballots or throwing them away, which happens often, does not actually count as fraud. Even if one-fifth of ballots from New Yorkers might never be counted, that doesn’t necessarily translate to massive fraud in universal mail-in ballots, but massive incompetence. This distinction thus allows Trump’s opponents to attack him for using the word “fraud” when “failure” would be a much more accurate term.
Using universal mail-in ballots would be like giving a test to a class without bothering to proctor it, count out the number of tests correctly, nor even pass it out to the correct students. No one reports any cheating — not the students, the random kids who have a copy of the test, nor the negligent proctor. When the administrator collects the test, he finds many copies in the trash. In the end, however, everyone involved claims the test was fair and that changing this method of testing would be unwarranted and discriminatory.
That’s why everyone who has considered universal mail-in ballots for any length of time knows it would be disastrous. As Barr said, common sense strongly argues against universal mail-in ballots.
Nonetheless, common sense means little when so many people accept the false dilemma of risking their health to exercise their right to vote. As House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, a woman who said marijuana could be used to treat COVID-19, declared without a hint of irony, “People should not have to choose between their health and their vote, and that’s very important.”
Pelosi is right to say voting is important, but she’s wrong to say it’s a choice between health and voting. It really a choice between accepting reason or succumbing to insanity.
We’re in uncharted territory: lockdowns, social anarchy and violence, virtual campaigning, and a heap of known unknowns.
We’re in uncharted territory: lockdowns, social anarchy and violence, virtual campaigning, and a heap of known unknowns.
The nation has never seen an election like this. A mysterious virus from China has terrified the country, killed perhaps 180,000 Americans, and is now weaponized as a political asset to neuter the president. Half the country is still in de facto quarantine. Governments — national, state, and local — for the first time have induced an artificial but severe recession.
The country is convulsed by riots, looting, and urban violence, but with the novelty that many governors and mayors have either turned a blind eye to the anarchy or contextualized it as a legitimate reaction to social injustice.
Joe Biden has been incommunicado for nearly four months, so much so that the Democratic Party believes that his vice-presidential running mate may well be the next president much sooner than later. And the media seek to shield Biden from himself by aborting normal journalistic scrutiny — on the unspoken surety that he is not cogitatively able to conduct a normal campaign and, indeed, in one unguarded moment of confusion and bewilderment, might well sink the entire 2020 progressive agenda.
The result is a virtual candidate, with virtual issues, and a virtual campaign. How then can we adjudicate what issues will matter?
1) The Lockdown. More or less, Americans followed the March–June lockdowns that seemed at least for a while to slow the viral spread. Of course, “flattening the curve” to prevent hospital overcrowding soon insidiously morphed into the impossible task of stopping the virus by shutting down the economy and quarantining the population. I suppose the theory was “we had to destroy the health of a society to ensure it was healthy.”
We know from Sweden and the gradual diminution in cases in the hardest hit states of the U.S. Northeast that the virus has a say in such policies. It seems determined to have an initial spike followed by a lull and yet another lesser spike, before it finds it harder to infect more vulnerable victims, as antibodies and T-cells increasingly ensure either growing de facto immunity or asymptotic infection, all while herd immunity rises and the virus plays itself.
We will soon, perhaps in a year or so, learn of the real tally of forced quarantines — the substance abuse, child abuse, retrogression in millions of young students denied K–12 learning and supervision, missed health diagnostics and preventative care, and delayed or cancelled surgeries. And the tab will likely be far higher than the coronavirus death count and the post-viral fatigue and morbidity of stricken but recovering patients. In other words, there were never blue/red choices or Democratic/Republican ones, but only bad and worse and all in between.
Fairly or not, the lockdown as a political issue is now crystalized as back-to-school/not-back-to-school for millions of the nation’s students, the vast majority of whom are either going to be immune — or asymptomatic if infected. To the degree Trump makes the moral argument that in such a lose/lose scenarios we have far more to forfeit by keeping kids home than at school, and that we can protect vulnerable teachers through reassignments from classroom teaching, he will win the issue.
Biden’s insistence that schools remain closed is likely a losing issue, because voters know that locked-in families are increasingly not viable —economically, physically, and psychologically, and in a way that outweighs even their fear of the virus. As a grandfather of a special-needs child, I can attest that the months without skilled teaching and classroom stimulation have been disastrous — they’ve now wiped away much of the stunning progress achieved in the past year by skilled and emphatic classroom teachers.
2) COVID. Like any other natural or manmade disaster — from 9/11 to Katrina to the 2008 financial crisis — the sitting president gets praised or blamed depending on whether the catastrophe is seen as waning or waxing, even if it is well beyond a president’s ability to either worsen or mitigate any such disaster.
COVID up until now is a he said/she said, dead-ender, as data can be adduced that the U.S. did better than the UK or Spain but worse than Germany, or should have/should have not issued the travel ban, quarantines, or earlier/later or not at all. The point is not the past status of the virus, but that the trajectory from October 1 to November 3 — Election Day — will become political. If the second spike deflates, the virus seems to decline, and people instinctually regain confidence, with news of impending vaccines and far better treatments, then Trump will benefit from that reality. If we see a third spike at this time — say, one that falls heavily on teachers who returned to work in some states — then Biden will claim “I told you so.”
3) The Economy. Even Biden cannot argue that the pre-viral economy was inert when he knows it was booming by any historical marker. Its weakness — huge deficits — is neutralized as an issue because Biden and Harris, to meet their fantasy agendas, would borrow far more than even Trump has. Polls understandably continue to suggest more voter confidence in Trump than in Biden on economic issues. Whether the economy — rather than the lockdown and virus — is the news will hinge on whether it continues to recover or suffers a sudden debt/financial/liquidity crisis.
4) The Violence and Social Anarchy. The wreckage of the inner core of our major cities should be Trump’s greatest issue, given that even blue-city mayors and the network and cable news industry cannot censor all the sickening and nihilistic violence. The Left and its appeasers own the violence. Initially, they proudly enabled the demonstrations in hopes of weaponizing the outrage over the death of George Floyd into another “Charlottesville” writ against Trump.All Our Opinion in Your Inbox
The meme that Trump’s “stormtroopers” want to take over cities is now a stale joke, given that Antifa seems eager to roast Portland police personnel in their barricaded precinct, while looters in the million-dollar mile of Chicago greedily target Gucci and Nikes as “reparations” justice.
If Trump frames the issue that he is the only sane impediment between all that and civilization, he will be helped enormously. Biden’s recourse seems to be to stay quiet about the violence and to outsource support for the demonstrators to Harris, while he now and again nods to law and order and claims he wants to defund the police without defunding the police. In a larger sense, Biden seems fixated on past May-June inert issues that often drove down Trump’s polls, but seems baffled that the real challenges are August-October issues that are quite different, fluid, and breaking in Trump’s direction.
5) The Strange Case of the Biden VP. In Democratic terms, Harris was the only viable pick once Biden explicitly limited his running-mate selection to a woman and implicitly to a black woman. The other younger, more woke candidates were unvetted — and for good reason given their now exposed pasts. The only other candidate with stature is Susan Rice, who has never been elected to anything; but, more important, seems incapable of telling the truth, and she tends to alienate everyone with whom she deals.
But Harris has problems of her own that explain why she exited the Democratic primaries early with nonexistent support. She is rude, often ill-prepared, demagogic, and seems to think her role as VP is threefold: a) Trotskyization of her recent hard-left social persona that failed so miserably in the primaries; b) a wink and nod “centrist” rebirth, by carefully referencing her career as a California prosecutor (when in fact she was a vindictive DA), and c) privately reassuring leftists, donors, Sandernistas, and the Antifa/BLM crowd that if they elect Biden now, they will be very soon be electing Harris, who will revert to her hard-core leftist essence, since she will not have to face voters as she did in 2019. In sum, her appointment prompted short-term giddiness; but in retrospect, her long-term negatives will start becoming an issue.
6) Socialism. The new old Joe Biden is not really a socialist convert. He is a naïve Menshevik who has no idea of the nature of those who are telling him what to say and do. So far, he has mixed the message that he is impaired and personally fearful of the coronavirus — understandable given his age and health — with his usual platitudinous phrases (“first, second, . . .”; “come on, man”) and calls for patriotic obeyance to the quarantine. Throughout, he avoids telling America what he is for and what he is against— and whether the agendas of Bernie Sanders, AOC, Kamala Harris, and Elizabeth Warren are his own.
Whether before or during the debates, Biden will have to answer yes or no to fracking, reparations, government confiscations of semi-automatic guns (even the U.S. government cannot buy “back” what one never “owned”), Medicare for all, the end of border-wall construction, decoupling with China, free health care for illegal aliens, a wealth tax, a 40 percent-plus income-tax rate on higher incomes, and getting back into the Iran deal and the Paris climate accord. The strangest thing about this strange Biden campaign is that we all know what the hard Left was for in the primaries, we all know that Biden and Harris have embraced that losing message, and yet we known that no one will simply say, New Green Deal? Hell, Yes! Reparations? Of course! Open borders? Why Not?
Never have such contortionist candidates disowned the very issues that they bragged would usher them to victory, while reinventing themselves as something they are not — with the surety that they’d revert to what they are if they were elected.
7) Tweeting versus Mental Confusion. The proverbial swing voter in the ten or so states is the key to the election. Without much sweat, Trump will fire up his base and the old Perot/Reagan Democrat/Tea Party voters who previously hid in 2008 and 2012 or voted Obama. He may well capture 10–15 percent of the black vote and 40 percent of the Latino vote. But he could still lose, given lots of new variables, like mass mail-in voting and third-party vote harvesting like the kind that destroyed California’s quite accomplished congressional incumbents and candidates in 2018.
Conventional wisdom reminds us that Trump needs to win a majority of independent suburbanites in these key purple states. The issue is simple: Do they fear getting only a recorded message when calling 9/11, an Antifa punk showing up at their corner park, a BLM looter across the street from their Costco, or another no-bail, turnstile, parolee carjacking — more than they are turned off by Trump’s tweeting, his epithets, and his shouting about “fake news”?
What bothers these pivotal voters most: Trump on the rampage whining about how biased reporters spin fake news, or ten seconds of dead silence as Biden looks in vain for his wife, or a toady reporter, to steer him back to his prompt and his place in the script? In contrast, Trump’s most able cabinet members and advisors—Barr, Pompeo, and the recently arrived Scott Atlas—are increasingly appearing in high-profile, visible roles, and proving invaluable to the campaign
8) Known Unknowns. In the next eight days, all sorts of breaking news can change the pulse of the election. Will other Gulf Arab states join the UAE in recognizing Israel? Will Russia intervene in Belarus? Will China provoke an incident with Hong Kong or Taiwan or unleash its pit bull North Korea to embarrass Trump? Will the health of the septuagenarians Biden and Trump stay constant? Will John Durham flip a wannabe fixer like Eric Clinesmith to snare the principles in the veritable coup to destroy Trump? Will Kamala Harris go full Antifa/BLM? Will a mysterious tape, recording, intercept of a long dormant scandal appear in Access Hollywood/George W. Bush DUI style? Will Biden or Trump go full Howard Dean/I have a scream and shout “YAAAAHH!” to wreck his campaign? We all know some sort of attempted October surprise is coming, we just don’t know its magnitude and effect.
9) The Virtual Election. No one knows either how we can elect a president through virtual campaigning, virtual conventions, and perhaps virtual debates and virtual voting by mail. We suspect that Joe Biden’s cognitive challenges are the stimulus for the left-wing effort to cite the virus as grounds for changing the rules. But even when rules change, they don’t always change as the changers anticipated.
10) Sleeper Cells. In 2016, money didn’t matter. Hillary Clinton vastly outraised and outspent Trump in nearly every state. Polls of the Electoral College were way off. Voters do lie to pollsters because they don’t want their names on electronic lists, or they decline to say out loud what they like about Trump, or they’re just amused by the idea of screwing up left-wing analyses.
Worse in 2016 were the silly quoted odds that Clinton would win — often reaching absurd disparities such as a 4–1, 5–1, or 10–1 sure thing. In 2016, “organization” didn’t matter. Robbie Mook was declared a genius and proved a fool; Trump’s campaign was said to be foolish run by a bigger fool Steven Bannon, plagued by government subversion and serial firings and hirings — and yet it proved far more sophisticated in its analytics and strategies. Do record gun sales, crashing ratings for the woke NBA, weird outlier polls, voters’ own belief that Trump will win or that their neighbors will vote him in, etc. mean anything? Is right now August 2016, when the polls just can’t be wrong — again?
In sum, the more Trump talks about his empathy for the suburbanite and inner-city dweller, both deprived of their civil rights to safety and security by deliberately lax, blue-state law enforcement, the more he expresses his bewilderment but undeniable compassion for Biden’s tragic, steady cognitive decline, and the more he seems too busy to tweet about much other than the landmark Israel–UAE deal, an impending COVID vaccine and therapy breakthroughs, unexpected economic uptick indicators, and his efforts to save the nation’s children from the disaster of two lost two school years, all the more likely swing voters will break in his favor.
And all the more likely he will confound the learned-nothing/forgotten-nothing polls.
By The Hill•
Video app TikTok, which has come under intense scrutiny from the U.S. government, sidestepped Google policy and collected user-specific data from Android phones that allowed the company to track users without allowing them to opt out, according to an analysis conducted by The Wall Street Journal.
The report released Tuesday comes on the heels of President Trumpsigning an executive order that targets Beijing-based ByteDance, the parent company of TikTok. The order essentially gives the Chinese tech company 45 days to divest from the app or see it banned in the U.S.
“The spread in the United States of mobile applications developed and owned by companies in the People’s Republic of China continues to threaten the national security, foreign policy, and economy of the United States,” the executive order states. “At this time, action must be taken to address the threat posed by one mobile application in particular, TikTok.”
The White House has grown increasingly wary of TikTok, with the administration claiming that TikTok is selling American user data to the Chinese government. TikTok has repeatedly said that it has not and would never do so.
The data that was taken from the Android phones is a 12-digit code called a “media access control” (MAC) address, according to the Journal. Each MAC address is unique and are standard in all internet-ready electronic devices. MAC addresses are useful for apps that are trying to drive targeted adds because they can’t be changed or reset, allowing tech companies to create consumer profiles based off of the content that users view.
Under the Children’s Online Privacy Protection Act, MAC addresses are considered by the Federal Trade Commission to be personally identifiable information.
A 2018 study from AppCensus, a mobile-app firm that analyzes companies’ privacy practices, showed that roughly 1 percent of Android apps collect MAC addresses.
“It’s a way of enabling long-term tracking of users without any ability to opt-out,” Joel Reardon, co-founder of AppCensus, told the Journal. “I don’t see another reason to collect it.”
Back in 2013, Apple safeguarded its phones’ MAC addresses and Google did the same with Android phones in 2015. However, TikTok got around this by accessing a backdoor that allows apps to get a phone’s MAC address in a roundabout way, the Journal’s analysis reveals.
The Journal says that TikTok utilized MAC addresses for 15 months, ending with an update in November 2019.
“We are committed to protecting the privacy and safety of the TikTok community,” a TikTok spokesperson told The Hill in a statement, citing the “decades of experience” of company chief information security officer Roland Cloutier.
The spokesperson added: “We constantly update our app to keep up with evolving security challenges, and the current version of TikTok does not collect MAC addresses. We have never given any US user data to the Chinese government nor would we do so if asked.”
Google told the Journal that it was “committed to protecting the privacy and safety of the TikTok community. Like our peers, we constantly update our app to keep up with evolving security challenges.”
Microsoft, which has said that it is actively working to purchase the wildly popular app, declined the Journal’s request for comment.
The pressure to reopen schools is on everywhere now that New York is doing it. This means something else big: Their hard opposition to school reopenings is politically devastating for Democrats.
Prominent Democrat politicians have started making huge concessions on reopening schools. Back in May, Democrats pounced after President Trump supported reopening. Despite the data finding precisely the opposite, it quickly became the Democrat-media complex line that opening schools this fall would be preposterously dangerous to children and teachers.
In July, when New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio unveiled a plan to put the city’s 1.1 million school kids back in schools half the week and “online learning” the rest of the week, New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo picked a public fight with him, saying, “If anybody sat here today and told you that they could reopen the school in September, that would be reckless and negligent of that person.”
Then on Friday, Cuomo cleared schools to open this fall, just a few weeks after making uncertain noises about the prospect as teachers unions breathed down his neck. That same day, New York Sen. Chuck Schumer, the Senate’s minority leader, joined the Democrat messaging reversal:
House Speaker Nancy Pelosi tucked the posture shift into a Saturday response to Trump’s latest executive orders, saying “these announcements do…nothing to reopen schools,” as if Democrats have been all along supporting school reopenings instead of the opposite. Just a few weeks ago, Pelosi was on TV bashing Trump and Education Secretary Betsy DeVos for encouraging school reopenings, saying, falsely, “Going back to school presents the biggest risk for the spread of the coronavirus. They ignore science and they ignore governance in order to make this happen.”
What gives? For one thing, New York’s richest people have fled during the lockdowns. If their kids’ tony public schools don’t offer personal instruction or look likely to maintain the chaos of rolling lockdown brownouts, those wealthy people have better choices. They can stay in their vacation houses or newly bought mansions in states that aren’t locked down. They can hire pod teachers or private schools.
And the longer they stay outside New York City and start to make friends and get used to a new place, the less likely they are to ever return. Cuomo is well aware of this.
“I literally talk to people all day long who are now in their Hamptons house who also lived here, or in their Hudson Valley house, or in their Connecticut weekend house, and I say, ‘You got to come back! We’ll go to dinner! I’ll buy you a drink! Come over, I’ll cook!’” Cuomo revealed in a recent news conference. “They’re not coming back right now. And you know what else they’re thinking? ‘If I stay there, I’ll pay a lower income tax,’ because they don’t pay the New York City surcharge.”
Reopening means swimming against their anti-Trump base and teachers union donors’ full-court press to amp school funding and slash teacher duties. That means the below-surface financial and political pressure Cuomo, Pelosi, and Schumer are under to make this kind of a reversal must be huge. It’s likely coming from not only internal polling but also early information about just how many people have left New York and New York City, as well as interpersonal intelligence from their influential social circles.
This means three things. First, the pressure to reopen schools is on everywhere now that New York is doing it. Second, Democrats’ hard opposition to school reopenings has been politically devastating. Third, all the push polls and media scaremongering promoting the idea that most parents shouldn’t and wouldn’t send their kids back to school have failed.
One of the most significant reasons it failed is that parents’ experience with online pandemic schooling was a horror show. Another is that private schools have clearly outpaced public schools’ response to coronavirus. That’s both in offering quality online instruction when forced to close, and in seeking to remain open as much and as safely as possible, all while teachers unions have been staging embarrassing tantrums over people on public payroll actually having to do their jobs to get paid, even though epidemiologists have noted “there is no recorded case worldwide of a teacher catching the coronavirus from a pupil.”
Public schools have been so clearly shown up by private schools during the coronavirus panic that state and local officials have begun to target them specifically, and have carefully included them in all onerous government burdens on school reopenings, to reduce their embarrassment and bring private schools down to the public school level as much as possible.
The most prominent recent example is in Maryland, where a local bureaucrat in one of the nation’s richest counties specifically banned private schools from safely teaching children in person, and is now battling with the state’s Republican governor over the edict. In North Carolina, many private schools are offering safe, face-to-face, five-day instruction, while most public schools are not.
Part of this is just that government bureaucrats hate individuals making their own decisions based on their own circumstances (a major reason for mask mandates, by the way). But also they’re scared because the coronavirus panic is expanding the massive fault lines inside public schooling. And public schools are a feeder system for Democrat support.
Before coronavirus hit, a near-majority of parents already thought a private school would be better for their kids than public school. People really are not happy with public education. Mostly they do it because they think it’s cheap.
But politicians’ handling of coronavirus has shown that public education is actually very expensive. The instability, the mismanagement, the lying, the public manipulation, all of it has tipped many people’s latent dissatisfaction with public schooling into open dissatisfaction. It’s a catalyst. Now many more people have decided to get their kids out of there, either by homeschooling, moving school districts, forming “pandemic pods,” or finally trying a private school.
Like all the rich people leaving locked-down locales, parents removing kids from locked-down public schools have scared public officials. If just 10 percent of public-school kids homeschool or join a private school for two years, that is a watershed moment for the social undercurrent of animosity towards public schools. That is especially true in the government funding era we’re entering, in which government debt and health and pension promises are set to gobble up education dollars faster than ever, a dynamic that was already ruinous before it was accelerated further by the coronavirus.
This is dangerous to Democrats’ political dominance because the education system tilts voters their way through cultural Marxism, and because public education is a huge source of Democrat campaign volunteers and funds. Now Democrats have detached people from their conveyor belt. The consequences will be huge.
Reopening public schools the way Democrats are doing is not going to stave off this tsunami, either. New York City’s “reopening,” for example, includes several days per week of distasteful online instruction, as well as a rule that a school will close for two weeks any time two inmates test positive for COVID. That’s a recipe for endless school brownouts that will drive parents and kids nuts. Humans simply can’t live under this manufactured instability, by the pen and phone of whatever self-appointed petty little dictators feel like changing today.
Democrats are trying to have it both ways. They’ve learned that parents are not going to put up with putting school indefinitely on hold when everything from swimming to climbing stairs is more dangerous to children. But they also want to maintain the fiction that coronavirus is an emergency situation that requires tossing trillions of dollars in deficit funding out of helicopters, keeping people cooped up and restive as an election nears, and purposefully choking the nation’s best economy since before Barack Obama got his hands on it.
Democrats are their own worst enemy. The problem is, the rest of us are so often their collateral damage.
The COVID-19 experience helps us decide what is essential and what isn’t
One effect of the lockdown is that we find ourselves with frequent decisions as to what is essential to our survival and happiness and what isn’t. Life gets stripped down to essentials, with all the extras becoming secondary, if that. Here are some ideas along these lines.
The first essential is food. The availability of food for us to buy entails a massive industry. First, there is the source which is the farmers and ranchers who provide our meat, fruit and vegetables. Their activities require thousands of acres of land and huge amounts of water for crops and livestock, which in turn depend on favorable weather. Bad weather can bring both floods and droughts.
Then there is also a vast capital expense required for equipment and labor to plant, cultivate and harvest the crops which feed both people and animals.
Ahead is the immense supply chain which involves the transportation, processing and ultimately delivery to the thousands of stores and restaurants which will make our food supply available to all of us. It is important to remember that this entire industry and all its parts must continue to operate at all times in order for us to survive. Any significant disruption could have disastrous consequences.
Closely related to food is water. Humans can survive longer without food than without water. The availability of water involves another massive industry as well as favorable weather. When we turn on a faucet and water appears, it is well to remember what has gone into that daily miracle.
The moral of these reflections is that 1) we are all radically dependent on the proper functioning of extremely complicated and expensive sources and supply chains for the very fundamentals of our existence, and 2) that the survival of the human race depends on factors which are mostly beyond our control.
Among other things, these essentials remind us that they depend entirely on people working, pandemic or no pandemic.
The subject of “work” brings up another consideration: buildings may not be as universally essential as we thought. Specifically, our housing is essential. If we never thought about that before the “shelter in place” mandate appeared, staying home for three or four months certainly showed us the importance of our house.
For many, however, the experience also demonstrated that “office” is not essential to work. We have been forced to discover that, thanks to all the modern communication technology, much of the work we do can be as easily preformed at home as in an office. So, offices are not really on some lists as essential.
But work really is essential. We have discovered what we always knew – that our work is what keeps us going, defines our place in this society, which, if we are not satisfied with the way things are, provides alternatives for us to test and follow. Work is also critical for society as a whole because it constitutes the means by which all those complex supply chains are sustained. Combined, they are the “economy” which is followed so thoroughly by the news – and Wall Street.
Another essential which has been forced to the front of our attention span by the pandemic is our family. In many cases, parents who work hard in often stressful circumstances have re-discovered the importance and the joys of marriage and parenthood by staying home for extended periods. They have become re-acquainted with their spouse and children, and spouses and children have in turn made their own discoveries.
Fathers especially sometimes become almost mythical figures to children who see them only for short periods, often in a disciplinary circumstance. The rest of the time their father is talked about but not there. Getting to know each other better is beneficial to all.
Hygiene is another subject which has drawn more attention in the last few months than in the last few years. We have been told ad nauseum how to wash our hands and sterilize every surface in sight. Like it or not, cleanliness – of person and environment – has become a new essential.
Shopping, restaurants, sports events and sports teams have fallen to lower placed priorities. All are missed – acutely by some – but there are other ways to get exercise and to prepare and consume food and drinks, other ways which involve much less risk of contracting disease.
Among the essentials most missed, however, are social events and interactions with other people. Some have discovered that the absence of crowds and gatherings is so important that being deprived has led to depression or worse. Others – often a significant number – have decided to seek communal activities, whether parties or protest marches, in spite of advice and even prohibitions to the contrary. To them, a full social life is essential, damn the consequences!
Just some contemplative thoughts (while working at home!).
President Trump has repeatedly warned of potential voter fraud associated with mass mail-in ballots for the November election, but a bigger threat might be sheer incompetence. Can we really rely on the U.S. Postal Service to handle a nationwide influx of mail-in ballots beginning next month?
So far, there’s not much reason for confidence. Last week in New York City, the Board of Elections threw out more than 84,000 mail-in ballots for the June 23 Democratic primary. That was out of a total of nearly 319,000 mail-in ballots, which means about 21 percent of all mail-in ballots were invalidated.
The New York Post reported, “One out of four mail-in ballots were disqualified for arriving late, lacking a postmark or failing to include a voter’s signature, or other defects.” What’s more, it took six weeks to declare a winner in two closely watched Democratic congressional primary races, largely because of delays associated with a surge of mail-in votes.
Elsewhere around the country, similar problems are cropping up. In Pennsylvania, mail-in ballot problems kept tens of thousands of residents from voting in the June primaries. In California, more than 100,000 mail-in ballots were rejected in the March presidential primary, mostly for missing the postmark and arrival deadlines.
Missing deadlines is turning out to be a real problem. A recent NPR analysis of 2020 mail-in primary ballots found significant rates of rejection because of late arrival. In Virginia, for example, more than 5.6 percent of all primary mail-in ballots were thrown out for arriving after the deadline. The numbers themselves are not large, but in a close election they can make all the difference—after all, Trump won in 2016 because of just 80,000 votes in three key states.
All these problems suggest the Postal Service isn’t prepared to handle an influx of voting by mail this November, as well as the possibility that no winner will be declared on election night because of mail-in ballot delays.
Postmaster General Louis DeJoy last week said the Postal Service is expecting “an unprecedented increase in election mail volume due to the pandemic,” yet insisted it “has ample capacity to deliver all election mail securely and on time in accordance with our delivery standards.”
Based on all the mail-in ballot problems we’ve seen so far this year, that doesn’t seem to be the case. The Postal Service has been bleeding money for a long time—its losses this year reached $1.5 billion, compared to $1.1 billion last year—and the coronavirus pandemic has made things worse as the volume of mail sent by businesses has plummeted. Last month, the Postal Service agreed to a $10 billion loan from the U.S. Treasury Department after congressional negotiations to give the service as much as $25 billion fell through.
DeJoy’s efforts to manage these losses, which include a hiring freeze for leadership positions announced last week, have been denounced by Democrats who sound increasingly like conspiracy theorists. Rep. Gerry Connolly of Virginia, the Democrat who chairs the committee overseeing the postal service, accused DeJoy of “deliberate sabotage to disrupt mail service on the eve of the election—an election that hinges on mail-in ballots.”
Democrats complain that DeJoy, a Republican and a Trump supporter, is a “partisan” postmaster general, and that his efforts to shore up the Postal Service are really a ploy to steal the election.
But to the extent the Postal Service has a political bias, it certainly isn’t DeJoy’s fault—and in fact, it goes in the other direction. Last month, the American Postal Workers Union’s National Executive Board endorsed Joe Biden, saying in a statement that Trump is “a serious threat to our decent postal jobs, our unions and to the right of the people to a public Postal Service.”
That’s not to say there’s a conspiracy in the other direction, that Postal Service workers are going to mishandle mail-in ballots on purpose to hurt Trump. Only that relying on a failing government agency like the Postal Service to ensure the integrity of a presidential election might not be a good idea, especially given all the problems we’ve already seen with mail-in ballots in primary elections this year.