Democrats won the White House and a (tenuous) Senate majority thanks to runoff victories in Georgia. In both cases, it would probably be more accurate to say Donald Trump singlehandedly lost the White House and the GOP majority in the Senate. Beyond that, the Democratic Party’s performance in 2020 was almost shockingly poor.
Another shockingly poor aspect of the Democratic Party’s performance of late is leadership at the state level. The Democratic governors of the biggest, most reliably blue states are an especially sordid cast of characters. Nevertheless, they are an appropriate reflection of the party’s character.
The following five white dudes have received more votes than almost any other Democratic politician over the past four years. They represent almost 90 million Americans and are significantly more consequential than their grandstanding colleagues in Congress. They are the Democratic Party in 2021, and they’re doing a heckuva job.
California: Gavin Newsom
The governor is likely to face a recall after Newsom’s opponents appeared to gather the more than 1.4 million signatures required to place the measure on the ballot. Proponents of the recall point to the governor’s disastrous handling of the COVID-19 pandemic, which involved some of the most onerous lockdown restrictions in the country, and widespread dysfunction in the early stages of the vaccine rollout.
Earlier this week, Newsom attempted to identify with California parents enduring the “brutal” difficulties of virtual learning as many of the state’s schools remain closed. Newsom told CNN’s Jake Tapper he has been “living through Zoom school,” even though his own children returned to in-person learning at their Sacramento private school nearly five months ago.
Newsom has repeatedly come under fire for flouting his own COVID-related guidelines. In November, the governor attended a maskless birthday bash for a longtime lobbyist friend at a posh Napa Valley restaurant. Around the same time, he blamed the state’s rising caseload on residents “letting their guard down” by “taking their masks off” and gathering “outside of their household cohorts.”
Last month, Newsom did not wear a mask while taking part in an indoor bill-singing ceremony at a Sacramento restaurant still banned from serving patrons indoors. He is, perhaps most notably, the ex-husband of Kimberly Guilfoyle, paramour of Donald Trump Jr.
New York: Andrew Cuomo
Where to start? Democrats love political dynasties. The Cuomo family has governed New York for 22 of the last 38 years. Andrew Cuomo would like to do what his father couldn’t by winning a fourth term as governor, but first he’ll have to stay in office long enough to stand for reelection in 2022.
Cuomo is under fire on multiple fronts. State officials are investigating his administration’s deliberate undercounting of COVID-related nursing home deaths in the state, as well as its controversial policy directing nursing homes to admit COVID-positive patients into their care.
Cuomo, aka the “Luv Guv,” is also being investigated for sexual harassment after multiple women accused him of inappropriate behavior. He hired Harvey Weinstein’s lawyer to lead his legal defense. He has a longstanding reputation for fostering a toxic workplace environment and for bullying just about everyone who crosses his path. Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer (D., N.Y.) and Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D., N.Y.) are among those calling on Cuomo to resign.
All of this is taking place just months after mainstream journalists (and other Democrats) elevated Cuomo to celebrity status based on his PowerPoint presentations in the early days of the pandemic. He published a book on leadership, won an Emmy Award, and at one point was considered the frontrunner to secure the Democratic nomination for president in the event of a Biden brain malfunction.
Nevertheless, nearly two-thirds of New York Democrats continue to support him, according to a recent poll.
Illinois: J.B. Pritzker
Who better to lead the nation’s third-largest reliably blue state than a multibillionaire scion of a Big Hotel? Before becoming governor in 2019, Pritzker (net worth: $3.5 billion) served as national co-chairman of Hillary Clinton’s first failed presidential campaign in 2008 and led a special innovation council at the behest of Rahm Emanuel, the controversial former mayor of Chicago.
During his campaign for governor, Pritzker was excoriated for removing all the toilets from his second Chicago mansion to avoid hefty property taxes by having the residence declared “uninhabitable.” Federal investigators are currently looking into whether his actions constituted tax fraud. He is at risk of becoming the seventh Illinois governor to be charged with a crime during or after his time in office.
Pritzker’s Democratic colleague, Mike Madigan, recently ended his 36-year tenure as Illinois speaker of the house amid allegations he accepted bribes and favors from ComEd, the state’s largest utility.
New Jersey: Phil Murphy
Murphy, a former Goldman Sachs executive who previously served as finance chair of the Democratic National Committee, has presided over the worst COVID-related death rate in the country. (Cuomo is a close second.) His controversial immigration policies—establishing New Jersey as a “sanctuary” state, providing college tuition and legal support to undocumented immigrants—sparked a recall effort that ultimately failed in 2020.
Murphy led the Goldman Sachs Asia office in the late 1990s, when the firm was raking in profits from a shoe manufacturer notorious for inhumane labor practices. He compared his role at the “elite” firm to that of a Marine serving in combat. Most damningly of all, Murphy has served on the board of the U.S. Soccer Foundation.
Virginia: Ralph Northam
It’s been more than a year since Northam apologized for appearing in a medical school yearbook photo wearing either a blackface costume or a Ku Klux Klan robe—he did not specify which. During the first press conference after the photo surfaced, Northam also acknowledged darkening his face as part of a Michael Jackson costume at a dance competition. His poor wife had to stop him from showcasing his “moonwalk” in response to a reporter’s question.
Nevertheless, he’s still the governor. That is mostly due to the fact that the person who would have succeeded him, Lt. Gov. Justin Fairfax (D., Va.), has been credibly accused of sexual assault. Fairfax didn’t lose his job, either. In fact, he’s running for governor. It’s no wonder Cuomo thinks he can simply run out the clock and avoid facing consequences for his actions.
The People’s Republic of China (PRC) has consistently revealed itself to be a rogue regime. China operates “re-education camps” where unpopular minorities are systematically imprisoned, tortured, raped, and killed.The communist regime defends the existence of these camps while denying the atrocities committed in them. These denials are without even the semblance of credibility.
Over the years, China has been caught shipping children’s toys that had been painted with lead paint — decades after it was well known that lead paint is poisonous and particularly harmful to children. China has also poisoned baby food and pet food with melamine — which in nutrition testing gives the food the appearance of having a higher protein content. But the food doesn’t have higher protein, and melamine can cause serious illness, organ failure, and even death. China has also been caught producing vitamins with dangerous levels of toxic heavy metals.
Of course, the PRC consistently denies any wrongdoing — just as it did in 2020 with the COVID-19 virus.The totalitarian regime lied about the virus, misled the world in important ways that cost millions of lives across the globe, and blamed others — all while never accepting any responsibility for the harm that they had done. That’s how dictators and totalitarians roll.
Why does China behave like this? Because the totalitarian regime seeks not only to control and dominate its own population, but to ensnare the rest of us in its web of control. The PRC has a comprehensive plan to make itself the world’s most dominant power and it intends to use that power globally, as it has within its own borders. The PRC’s goal isn’t just to become the world’s largest economy or even to have the world’s largest military. The regime’s objective is to force compliance with its world view, its goals and its preferences.
The PRC is rapidly seeking and building a military and naval force; a space presence; economic, trade and shipping dominance; and technological supremacy. The PRC considers everything to be part of its plan to achieve world governance and control — everything from pet food to 5G wireless technology, from children’s toys to trade agreements and shipping, from software and apps to economics, from artificial intelligence to military force, from space exploration to infiltration of American academia.
The same PRC totalitarians who spy on their own people and systematically punish, imprison, torture and even execute them for having the “wrong” views, opinions, religious beliefs, friends, or family, want to expand the circle of their power. And they want you within that circle so that they can have the same control over you.
One of the PRC’s chief plans is to dominate world shipping — because it will give them both economic and military power. The global trade fleet is about 41,000 ships. China builds almost 1,300 ships a year. The US builds only 8. China has become the dominant player in ship building and operating ports around the globe.
But China does not currently dominate shipping within the borders of the US. That is thanks to the Jones Act which requires that ships used to transport goods between two American ports, must be American ships and American crews. Notably it does not prohibit foreign ships from making a stop in American ports. But between US ports, the Jones Act requires American ships and crews.
The Jones Act was designed to ensure that we have the shipping capacity, trained mariners, and the ship building and ship repairing capability required to meet our national security needs. The Jones Act also turns out to big a huge help in protecting the American homeland.
Some argue that the Jones Act is outdated and that it harms American competitiveness. But ask yourself these important questions — if we abolished the Jones Act, would you be comfortable with Chinese ships sailing up and down the Mississippi loaded with spies and high-tech electronics gathering intelligence and intercepting communications? Would allowing China to have a constant presence in America’s heartland on the more than 25,000 miles of inland waterways make America more or less secure? Would abolishing the Jones Act help or hinder China in achieving its goals of world domination? These are a few of the things that America must consider before listening to those who say the Jones Act should be repealed.
One thing is for sure — China would support the repeal of the Jones Act. China’s totalitarian regime seeks to become our master. We should not help them achieve that goal. That’s why we must have a robust and capable defense that is second to none. That is also why we need the Jones Act.
About a month ago, news consumers were belatedly informed that New York governor Andrew Cuomo was not a pandemic hero, the Lincoln Project was not filled with noble Republican idealists who were effectively persuading conservatives to stop supporting Donald Trump, and progressive policies were not helping the least fortunate in California. This week, the media belatedly recognize that the evidence for soaring hate crimes against Asian Americans is much less reliable than initially reported, that the survey data reveal that liberal perceptions of police shootings are wildly at odds with the verifiable facts, and that recent headlines exaggerated the conclusions of a CDC report on government mask mandates.
Some days I feel as if I might as well rename this newsletter, “Here’s what the data actually say . . .”
A Lot of What the Media Told You Was Wrong, Part One
The New York Times, February 27: “Hate crimes involving Asian-American victims soared in New York City last year. Officials are grappling with the problem even as new incidents occur.”
USA Today: “Hate crimes against Asian Americans are on the rise.”
Jay Caspian Kang, writing in the New York Times op-ed page, Sunday:
There are claims of a huge national spike in anti-Asian hate crimes, but they largely relyon self-reported data from organizations like Stop AAPI Hate that popped up after the start of the pandemic. These resources are valuable, but they also use as their comparison point spotty and famously unreliable official hate crime statistics from law enforcement. If we cannot really tell how many hate crimes took place before, can we really argue that there has been a surge?
There have also been reports that suggest that these attacks be placed within the context of rising crime nationwide, especially in large cities. What initially appears to be a crime wave targeting Asians might just be a few data points in a more raceless story.
There have also been condemnations of Donald Trump and how his repeated use of the phrase “China virus” to describe the coronavirus and his invocation of white supremacy might be responsible. But how does that explain the attacks by Black people? Were they also acting as Mr. Trump’s white supremacist henchmen? Do we really believe that there is some coordinated plan by Black people to brutalize Asian-Americans?
It is also worth noting that a report that generated the frightening headline, “Hate Crimes Targeting Asian Americans Spiked by 150% in Major US Cities” showed wildly different circumstances in different cities. The report identified 122 incidents of anti-Asian-American hate crimes in 16 of the country’s most populous cities in 2020. Almost a quarter of them, 28, occurred in New York City. The top four cities — New York, Los Angeles, Boston, and Seattle — were the location for 57 percent of all cases in the study. In Cincinnati, the number of hate crimes targeting Asian Americans increased from zero in 2019 to one in 2020, and San Diego had the same figures. Chicago stayed level with two each year. Denver and Houston increased from zero to three. Washington, D.C., declined from six to three.
Every crime is worthy of investigation and prosecution, and even one case of someone being targeted for a crime because of their race, religion, or heritage is one too many. But in this situation, it appears that the existing spotty statistics are being shoehorned into place to support a narrative of a worsening crisis. The headline “Hate Crimes Targeting Asian Americans Spike in a Few US Cities, Rare in Others” wouldn’t attract quite so much attention.
Of course, the only way society can investigate and prosecute hate crimes is with an effective police force, and there’s not exactly a broad political consensus in support of the police now, is there?
A Lot of What the Media Told You Was Wrong, Part Two
That deep political division about the quality of American policing stems from wildly disparate beliefs about what the police do.All Our Opinion in Your Inbox
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The Civil Unrest and Presidential Election Study (CUPES) survey, completed last month, asked 980 adults two questions. The first was, “If you had to guess, how many unarmed Black men were killed by police in 2019?” Options ranged from “about 10” to “more than 10,000” The second question was “If you had to guess, in 2019 what percentage of people killed by police were Black?” Respondents could choose any number from 0 to 100.
According to the Washington Post database, regarded by Nature magazine as the “most complete database” of its kind, 13 unarmed black men were fatally shot by police in 2019. According to a second database called “Mapping Police Violence,” compiled by data scientists and activists, 27 unarmed black men were killed by police (by any means) in 2019.
The CUPES survey found that “over half (53.5 percent) of those reporting ‘very liberal’ political views estimated that 1,000 or more unarmed black men were killed,” and 26.6 percent of those identifying as “liberal” believed it was “about 1,000.” Fourteen percent of those identifying as “very liberal” believed “about 10,000” unarmed black men were killed, and almost 8 percent of those identifying as “very liberal” believed that more black men were killed by police in 2019.
The study noted that, according to peer-reviewed research, 26.7 percent of the victims of police-shooting fatalities between 2015 and 2020, were black. Another source, BBC News’s “Reality Check Team,” reported that in 2019 specifically, 23.4 percent of the victims of police-shooting fatalities were black.
The second question found similar results. “Those who reported being ‘liberal’ or ‘very liberal’ were particularly inaccurate” in their guesses of what percentage of people killed by police were black, “estimating the proportion to be 56 percent and 60 percent, respectively.”
If you walked around believing that 1,000 or 10,000 or even more unarmed black men were killed by police each year, with minimal if any consequences, you would probably distrust the police and want to see them abolished or defunded or, at minimum, torn down and rebuilt from the ground up with a completely different culture.
A Lot of What the Media Told You Was Wrong, Part Three
Before we go any further, I’m pro-wearing masks. I don’t think they provide perfect protection. I think KN95s are more effective than cloth masks, and cloth masks are better than nothing. I think wearing your mask on your chin is ridiculous. And while we’re still collecting data, the evidence we have is that full vaccination makes people much less likely to spread the virus — so there is little reason for groups of vaccinated people to wear masks around one another. And if you’re going to go into a restaurant, it’s best to try to maintain that six-foot distance between you and members of your household and everyone else, particularly when unmasked and eating.
You probably saw the headline, “CDC study finds in-person dining bans and wearing masks make a difference.”
The CDC compared county-level data on mask mandates and restaurant re-openings with county-level changes in COVID-19 case- and death-growth rates relative to the mandate-implementation and reopening dates. When you dig deep into the actual CDC report, you find:
During March 1–December 31, 2020, state-issued mask mandates applied in 2,313 (73.6 percent) of the 3,142 U.S. counties. Mask mandates were associated with a 0.5 percentage point decrease (p = 0.02) in daily COVID-19 case growth rates 1–20 days after implementation and decreases of 1.1, 1.5, 1.7, and 1.8 percentage points 21–40, 41–60, 61–80, and 81–100 days, respectively, after implementation (p<0.01 for all) (Table 1) (Figure). Mask mandates were associated with a 0.7 percentage point decrease (p = 0.03) in daily COVID-19 death growth rates 1–20 days after implementation and decreases of 1.0, 1.4, 1.6, and 1.9 percentage points 21–40, 41–60, 61–80, and 81–100 days, respectively, after implementation (p<0.01 for all).
Notice the decrease was in the case- and death-growth rate, not the number of overall cases or deaths. And the difference in that rate of growth of both cases and deaths added up to less than 2 percent over a three-month period. That’s not nothing; we obviously want to prevent every death that we can. But that’s also not a particularly dramatic difference.
A mask mandate may mitigate the death toll in a state, but not by much. The state that ranks the worst in COVID deaths per million residents is New Jersey, with 2,654, as of this writing. New Jersey was the first state to require masks at all businesses starting April 10, 2020, and outdoors in circumstances where social distancing is not possible since July 8, 2020. More than 90 percent of the state’s 23,557 deaths occurred since the former mandate was implemented.
The second state to enact a mask order was New York, which enacted a mask requirement April 15, 2020, and that state ranks second worst in COVID deaths per million residents, at 2,497. The states that rank at the bottom in deaths per million residents are Hawaii (mask requirement), Vermont (mask requirement), and Alaska (no mask requirement).
In two Defining Ideas articles in 2009, “Who’s Afraid of Budget Deficits? I Am” and “Furman, Summers, and Taxes,” I criticized Lawrence Summers and Jason Furman, two prominent economists who worked in the Obama administration, for their dovish views on federal debt and deficits. They had argued that we shouldn’t worry much about high federal budget deficits and growing federal debt. Of course, that was before the record budget deficit of 2020. Now even Summers is worried. In two February op-eds in the Washington Post, Summers argues against the size and composition of the Biden “stimulus” bill.
Summers makes a solid argument, on Keynesian grounds alone, that the proposed $1.9 trillion spending bill is much too large. He also, to his credit, digs into some of the details of the bill, pointing out how absurd they are. Had Summers looked at more details, he could have made an even stronger case against the measure. For instance, one major provision of the bill, the added unemployment benefits through August, will actually slow the recovery. And other provisions of the bill, like the bailout of state and local governments, are bad on other grounds. The fact is that this is not your father’s or your grandmother’s run-of-the-mill recession. It was brought about by two things: (1) people’s individual reactions to the threat of Covid-19 and (2) politicians’ reactions, in the form of lockdowns, to the same threat.
First, though, let’s consider Summers’s big-picture case. A standard way that Keynesian economists, including Summers, evaluate a spending program to stimulate the economy is to consider the difference between the actual output (gross domestic product) of the economy and the potential output, that is, the GDP that would exist at full employment. They then advocate an increase in federal spending to close this gap. The typical increase they favor is less than the gap because of the so-called multiplier effect, the idea that when the feds spend a dollar the increase in spending in the economy is more than a dollar. Such multipliers, you might or might not be surprised to know, are difficult to estimate in advance, a fact that many Keynesians readily admit. But whatever the multiplier is, we know that if the difference between potential and actual output is $x billion, the stimulus spending, in the Keynesian view, should be less than $x billion.
Now comes the shocker. The stimulus spending in the Biden bill is a multiple of x. Summers quotes an estimate from the Congressional Budget Office that with the $900 billion measure Congress enacted and President Trump signed in December, the gap between actual output and potential output will fall from about $50 billion a month at the beginning of 2021 to only $20 billion a month at the end. He then notes that the Biden measure would spend about $150 billion per month over many months. So the spending is three times the current shortfall and over seven times the expected shortfall in December.
A major problem with the Keynesian model is that in its simplified form, which, amazingly, is still the one that Keynesian economists use to decide on the amount of spending needed, a dollar that the feds spend on item A is the same as a dollar they spend on item B. Summers, disappointingly but not surprisingly, does not challenge that view directly. He regards the $150 billion per month as overly stimulative whatever it is spent on.
However, Summers does grant the basic fact that one dollar spent on one item could be better or worse than one dollar spent on another item. And he finds much that is bad or, at least, inappropriate. In his February 7 op-ed in which he replies to critics and questioners, Summers notes, “Proposed expenditure levels for school support exceed $2,000 per student.” To put that in perspective, per-pupil spending in K–12 schools in academic year 2017, the most recent year for which we have data, was $13,094. So $2,000 is a huge increase in federal spending on something that, in the government sector at least, has been largely the preserve of state and local governments.
Summers also points out in his February 4 op-ed that the ratio of proposed spending to income loss is even greater for low-income families. He writes:
In normal times, a family of four with a pretax income of $1,000 a week would take home about $22,000 over the next six months. Under the Biden proposal, if the breadwinner were laid off, the family’s income over the next six months would likely exceed $30,000 as a result of regular unemployment insurance, the $400-a-week special unemployment insurance benefit, and tax credits.
Disappointingly, though, Summers doesn’t point out that if the purpose of a stimulus program is to stimulate, paying people an extra $400 a week as long they’re unemployed is a bad idea. This omission is all the more striking given that Summers, in the late 1980s and early 1990s, was prominent in arguing that paying people to be unemployed will cause many of the unemployed to stay out of work longer. Indeed, in his article “Unemployment” in my 1993 Fortune Encyclopedia of Economics,later renamed The Concise Encyclopedia of Economics, Summers wrote:
The second way government assistance programs contribute to long-term unemployment is by providing an incentive, and the means, not to work. Each unemployed person has a “reservation wage”—the minimum wage he or she insists on getting before accepting a job. Unemployment insurance and other social assistance programs increase that reservation wage, causing an unemployed person to remain unemployed longer.
Economists since then have done a number of studies of the effect of extending unemployment benefits beyond the traditional twenty-six weeks, and the bottom line is that the effect is large. For example, Rob Valletta and Katherine Kuang, two economists at the San Francisco Federal Reserve Bank, wrote in November 2010:
By easing the financial burden of long-term unemployment, extended benefits reduce the incentives of eligible workers to search for jobs and fill vacancies. Research by Valletta and Kuang (2010) suggests that the impact of extended insurance benefits on the unemployment rate in late 2009 was only about 0.4 percentage point. Updated estimates for all of 2009 and the first half of 2010 suggest a larger impact of about 0.8 percentage point.
More recently, economists Marcus Hagedorn of the University of Oslo, Iourii Manovskii of the University of Pennsylvania, and Kurt Mitman of Stockholm University, in a 2016 study published by the National Bureau of Economic Research (“The Impact of Unemployment Benefit Extensions on Employment: The 2014 Employment Miracle?”), found that 2.1 million people got jobs in 2014 due to the ending of the extended unemployment benefits.
Of course, what we would really like to know is the effect of the double whammy of extending unemployment benefits through August and increasing them by $400 per week. The latter measure would cause millions of unemployed people to make more money by being unemployed than by being unemployed. My own admittedly intuitive guess is that if the bill passes with those benefits, at least two million workers who would have been working will be out of work. That one provision of the “stimulus” bill, in short, would create a drag on the economy.
The other major absence from Summers’s critique is any mention of the huge bailout for state and local governments. Last June, in “Just Say No to State and Local Bailouts,” I noted the Federation of Tax Administrators’ estimate that the combined effect of the pandemic and the state government lockdowns would be a loss of $152 billion in state government revenues through the end of their fiscal years. I also pointed out that the state governments’ rainy-day funds plus their year-end balances totaled $90 billion. So the needed cuts in spending to stay within the states’ balanced-budget requirements would have been $62 billion, which was only 7 percent of the prior estimated tax revenues.
These numbers, it turns out, were overly pessimistic. The Committee for a Responsible Federal Budget estimates that state and local government tax collections by the end of 2020 were over 2 percent higher than in the fourth quarter of 2019. It should be even easier for Congress to “just say no” to state and local bailouts. Unfortunately, the $1.9 trillion bill contains $350 billion for state and local governments, territories, and tribes.
Why doesn’t Summers mention the state and local government bailout? I don’t know, but here’s a hypothesis. He wants to get Democrats to listen to him but he knows they’ll turn off if he is too critical. Thus Summers softens his criticism of the bill by writing, “Its ambition, its rejection of austerity orthodoxy, and its commitment to reducing economic inequality are all admirable.” Senator Elizabeth Warren, in her book A Fighting Chance, recalled the advice that Summers had given her in a dinner conversation early in her time as a US senator:
Larry’s tone was in the friendly-advice category. He teed it up this way: I had a choice. I could be an insider or I could be an outsider. Outsiders can say whatever they want. But people on the inside don’t listen to them. Insiders, however, get lots of access and a chance to push their ideas. People—powerful people—listen to what they have to say. But insiders also understand one unbreakable rule: They don’t criticize other insiders. (Italics in original.)
I don’t know if this is true, but it fits. Larry Summers has been an insider for a long time and it’s probably hard for him to criticize his allies. That makes his criticism of this bill all the more credible.
I’m an outsider and so it’s easier for me to call them the way I see them. Here are the two major things I see, both of which undercut the case for any stimulus bill.
First, the economy is recovering. In January, the International Monetary Fund predicted that real GDP will grow by 5.1 percent in 2021. Possibly that’s because the IMF understands that this is not a typical recession. The slump we’re in was due initially to people’s fear of the virus, a fear whipped up by Dr. Anthony Fauci and others. But now it’s due mainly to lockdowns. As the percent of the US population that has had COVID-19 rises and the number of people vaccinated rises, we are getting closer to herd immunity. Then people will feel even safer going out and governments will have fewer excuses to keep their economies locked down. We can all become Florida or Florida-Plus. That will all happen without any stimulus bill.
Second, the $1.9 trillion bill represents government taxing us or our children in the future to spend money in places where we the people have chosen not to spend it now. The bill is, in essence, a huge instance of central planning with government officials’ preferences overriding ours. The bill, for example, contains $28 billion for transit agencies, $11 billion in grants to airports and airplane manufacturers, and $2 billion in grants to Amtrak and other transportation. How does the government know that those are the right amounts? What if, as I predict, when the pandemic and lockdowns end we will still have fewer people wanting to ride transit because they and their employers will opt for a hybrid model of some at-home work and some in-office work? The effect of this misallocation of resources won’t necessarily show up in GDP because GDP measures government spending at cost rather than at value. But this spending will make us somewhat worse off. It’s far better to rely on people having the freedom to make their own allocations.
If the government gets out of the way, the economy will recover. Maybe it takes an outsider to see that and to say that. I just did.
At their peak, unions represented more than a third of American workers. Now, after several decades of continuing decline, less than 10% of workers in the private sector are part of organized labor. And with so much of American manufacturing having moved offshore to escape the less-than-friendly business climate the politicians created, that’s not really news.
What some people don’t know is how union leadership has continued to cozy up to progressive politicians pushing policies that are antithetical to the interests of the rank and file.
On his first day in office, President Joe Biden – who campaigned as a moderate — signed an executive order killing the Keystone XL pipeline and, with it, more than 10,000 good-paying union jobs. Among Democrats, that’s par for the course. The vocal progressives dominating the Democratic Party these days are in command of the agenda.
In another case, the United Food and Commercial Workers’ Union has been pushing for at least ten months for “hazard pay” that doesn’t mesh with the interests of its members. UFCW International President Marc Perrone is demanding some of the nation’s largest grocery chains commit to the pay bump because of COIVD.
Initially, he wanted $2 an hour. Now he wants $4, even $5 an hour in several West Coast cities. For this, he’s finding support from city and county politicians whose campaigns are union-funded.
Shortages caused by the lockdowns have made it challenging for grocers and their frontline employees. The UFCW’s on them, after they’ve already invested billions to improve safety measures ignores the facts and smacks of ingratitude. Some grocery chains, like Kroger, are already offering $100 bonuses to employees who get a COVID vaccine.
But what of what the union wants? A letter to the editor recently appearing in the Los Angeles Times said it well: “I fully agree that the grocery store workers are heroes. However, how does requiring them to be paid more solve the problem here? Are we saying to workers that it’s OK if you get sick, so long as you are paid more?”
Whatever the companies agree to give, it will probably never be enough for the union leadership The UFCW and Marc Perrone care more about proving they’ve got muscles to flex than the effect these demands will have on working families. In Long Beach, California – which has already mandated hazard pay for grocery workers – Kroger was forced to announce it would close two underperforming stores because the move increased labor costs by more than 20%.
How does that play out? A California Grocers Association study recently found the state’s hazard pay ordinances could raise grocery costs for the average family of four by $400 a year while hundreds of workers, most of them UFCW members, will lose their jobs. It’s a pyrrhic victory that may be repeated regardless of the impact on workers because it generates good headlines for the unions.
Ironically, Perrone and other UFCW leaders won’t suspend the collection of weekly dues payments during the pandemic, a move that would help an awful lot of households stretch their budgets and increase purchasing power.
Perrone seems to think more of non-union chains like Trader Joe’s, which he has praised for boosting so-called “hero pay” to $4 during the pandemic but that may be because of the pressure it puts on chains like Kroger and Albertson’s.
What he doesn’t mention is that Trader Joe’s CEO admitted the pay bump takes midyear raises off the table and that it might not last if cities “continue to increase the hourly rate above $4 or have the premium remain after the pandemic.”
There are grocery chains like Kroger, Albertson’s, and Ahold that recently made multi-billion-dollar investments to secure and stabilize the pensions of more than 50,000 unionized grocery workers. It was a pro-worker move that not only put people over profits but was made necessary because the UFCW plan was significantly underfunded. Most grocers provide their employees fair wages, industry-leading benefits in pensions and healthcare, and COVID-19 vaccines. What does the union do? It’s time for the workers to start asking.
Before his death on February 6, George P. Shultz, a former US Secretary of the Treasury and Secretary of State, co-authored a final commentary warning of the dangers posed by the vast increase in US government spending in recent years, including during the COVID-19 crisis.
STANFORD – Many in Washington now seem to think that the US federal government can spend a limitless amount of money without any harmful economic consequences. They are wrong. Excessive federal spending is creating grave economic and national-security risks. America’s fiscal recklessness must stop.
The COVID-19 crisis has provided the latest impetus for government spending, even to the point of steering the American mindset toward socialism – a doctrine that has always harmed people’s well-being. But some say there is no need to worry about excessive spending. After all, they argue, record-low interest rates apparently show no sign of increasing. The economy was humming along just fine until the pandemic hit, and will no doubt rebound strongly when it ends. And is there even a whiff of inflation in the air?
This thinking is dangerously short-sighted. The fundamental laws of economics have not been repealed. As one of us (Cogan) demonstrated in his book The High Cost of Good Intentions, profligate government spending invariably has damaging consequences.
High and rising US national debt will eventually crowd out private investment, thereby slowing economic growth and job creation. The Federal Reserve’s continued accommodation of deficit spending will inevitably lead to rising inflation. Financial markets will become more prone to turmoil, increasing the chance of another big economic downturn.
Financial markets’ current relative calm and low consumer-price inflation are no cause for comfort. Previous periods of sharp increases in inflation, rapidly rising interest rates, and financial crises have followed periods of excessive debt like a sudden wind, without warning.
Shultz and Taylor’s book Choose Economic Freedom shows that economic indicators in the United States gave no hint in the late 1960s of the subsequent rapid rise in inflation and interest rates in the early 1970s. Likewise, financial markets during the years immediately preceding the 2007-09 Great Recession provided little indication of the calamity that would ensue.
So, what should today’s US policymakers do? Higher tax rates are not the answer. Even before the pandemic hit, every federal tax rate would have had to be increased by one-third in order to finance the current level of federal spending without adding to the national debt. Such an increase would have harmful effects – similar to those of mounting public debt – on economic growth and job creation.
Congress may be tempted to reduce defense spending to help close the deficit, as it often has done in the past. But these previous efforts demonstrably failed. Rather than reduce the budget deficit, Congress instead used the savings from lower defense outlays to finance additional domestic spending.
Unless policymakers abandon their misguided beliefs about budget deficits, cutting defense expenditure now would produce the same result. More importantly, it would be a grave strategic mistake, weakening US national security and emboldening the country’s foreign adversaries – particularly now that China is flexing its muscles in Asia and investing heavily in its military.
Throughout US history, the federal government’s ability to borrow during times of international crisis has proven to be an invaluable national-security asset. Two hundred years ago, the ability to borrow was instrumental in America maintaining its independence from England. During the Civil War, it was crucial to preserving the union. And it proved decisive in defeating totalitarian regimes in the two world wars of the twentieth century.
The US government’s careless spending is jeopardizing this asset. If the country continues along its current fiscal path, the federal government’s borrowing well will eventually dry up. When it does, America will be far less able to counter national-security threats. As hostile foreign governments and terrorist organizations recognize this, the world will become a far more dangerous place.
US policymakers’ mistaken belief that deficits and debt don’t matter is the sad culmination of a long downward slide in fiscal responsibility. From 1789 to the 1930s, the federal government adhered to a balanced-budget norm, incurring fiscal deficits during wartime and economic recessions, and running modest surpluses during good times to pay down this debt. This prudent management of the federal finances was instrumental in establishing America’s strong position in world financial markets.3
President Franklin D. Roosevelt’s New Deal broke this norm, and deficit spending has since become a way of life in Washington, with the federal government outspending its available revenues in 63 of the 75 years since the end of World War II. At first, elected officials were deeply concerned about the adverse consequences of their excess spending. But over time, this anxiety gradually lessened. Annual deficits grew so large that by the mid-1970s the US national debt was growing faster than national income.Sign up for our weekly newsletter, PS on Sunday
During the last decade, any remaining fiscal concerns in either the Democratic or Republican parties have seemingly vanished. Freed from a belief that rising deficits and debt are harmful, policymakers unleashed a torrent of new spending. By fiscal year 2019, the federal government was spending $1 trillion per year more in inflation-adjusted terms than it had a dozen years earlier. In fiscal year 2020, the federal government added nearly another $2 trillion of new spending in response to the pandemic, raising the national debt to 100% of national income. This year, another trillion dollars of new spending – if not more – appears to be on the way.
The momentum toward more spending and exploding debt may currently appear unstoppable. But sooner or later, people will look at the facts, see the destructive path fiscal policy is now on, and recognize that they and the US economy will be better off with a different approach. At that point, America’s democratic system will say the expenditure growth must stop.
How many Deaths is an elected official allowed before he/she is assigned an accurate but less than complimentary Nom De Plume which reflects his/her accomplishment ? If you are Ron DeSantis of Florida the number is probably zero. However, If you are Andrew Cuomo , the number is in the thousands.
The exact number may never be known since the quality of the recordkeeping and reporting is suspect – but published reports of the effect of the his now infamous March 25, 2021 order, put the number into the thousands. For those who don’t remember, Gov. Cuomo ordered Nursing homes to accept, without testing, medically stable patients without regard as to their COVID 19 status. Nursing homes were specifically prohibited from requiring testing of a hospitalized resident determined to be medically stable.
The stated reason for this policy was the urgent need for hospital beds, yet , the Javits Center opened with a 1,000 bed capacity two days after the order was issued. The USNS Comfort , with an additional 1,000 beds arrived March 30. It left New York waters on April 30 having cared for 282 patients, less than 30% of it’s capacity. Yet the order stayed on.
The Javits center closed on May 8, 2020. The order requiring Nursing Homes to take COVID 19 positive patients remained in place until May 27, 2020 after NY had registered one of if not the highest death rate in the Nation.
Now many are suggesting that Gov. Cuomo be investigated for attempting to cover-up his handling of the news concerning his lethal order.
The time is overdue for Mr. Cuomo to receive a Nom De Plum worthy of his actions. Henceforth he shall be known as The Butcher of Albany.
Serious consideration should be given to criminal prosecution for the untold number of persons who died because of his infamous order. Their cries for justice are deafening.
The number of new COVID infections is declining rapidly, suggesting to some that the novel coronavirus pandemic may be on the verge of ending. Nevertheless, even with the advent vaccines that apparently prevent its transmission from person to person, most Americans believe the protective measures adopted over the last year like mandatory masking will continue for some time.
A recent Rasmussen Reports poll found that nearly three out of every four Americans over the age of 18 expect the requirement that masks be worn outdoors will remain in place for at least another six months. Almost a third – 36 percent – said it would be more than 18 months before it would be acceptable to be barefaced in public once again.
“It’s an indictment of the media that so many people expect mask mandates to persist for months,” said the Committee for Prosperity’s Phil Kerpen who has for months been crunching the numbers related to the pandemic and its spread.
Kerpen and his group produce a free daily hotline that provides short and timely insider updates on what is happening with the economy and the virus. It was one of the first to notice that New York’s Democratic Gov. Andrew Cuomo seemed to be fudging the numbers connected to COVID-19 in nursing homes, a story most news outlets missed.
With Vice President Kamala Harris and others inside the Biden Administration claiming, falsely, that they’ve had to begin the fight against the coronavirus “from scratch,” the recent acknowledgment by Dr. Rochelle Walensky, the director of the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention that the number of new cases and hospitalizations are indeed coming down.
“We continue to see a five-week decline in COVID cases, with cases decreasing 69 percent in the seven-day average since hitting a peak on January 11th. The current seven-day average of approximately 77,000 cases is the lowest recorded since the end of October,” Dr. Walensky said during a White House briefing Friday.
“Like new COVID-19 cases, the number of new hospital admissions continues to drop. The seven-day average of new admissions on February 16th, approximately 7,200, represents a 56 percent decline since the January 9th peak,” the doctor continued.
The problem remains what to do until what many medicos refer to as “herd immunity” is reached. Some, like Biden COVID advisor Dr. Anthony Fauci, have suggested it may be prudent to double up on masks while the CDC’s latest recommendation is “placing a sleeve made of sheer nylon hosiery material around the neck and pulling it up over either a cloth or medical procedure mask.” Others, like Kerpen, suggest the best possible thing would be for states to open up and for people to be allowed to go about their business once again, and for children to be permitted to return to school on a five-day-per-week schedule.
“More governors need to exercise the leadership of Florida’s Ron DeSantis, the Dakota’s Kristi Noem and Doug Burgum, and Kim Reynolds of Iowa and proclaim a return to normal now – now, forever, months in the future,” Kerpen said.
His suggested approach appears to be the wise one. Recent comparisons of the spread of COVID-19 in Florida and California show little difference in how things have turned out. This would seem to deflate the dire predictions Gov. DeSantis’s decision to re-open the economy in the nation’s third most populous state would push the number of infections and death off the charts.
None of that seems to have happened. What is different is that Florida’s been open for business for some time while California’s economy, which for months has been in a lockdown state, is floundering badly. The performance of the two economies, which are about as different at this point as night and day, are worth further study. There may be valuable clues regarding the best ways to fight a pandemic hidden in the data, waiting to be unmasked.
Presidents sworn in during crises are popular at first. But unforeseen events can soon change that.
A president elected at a time of deep national crisis generally has an advantage over one elected when things are going fairly well. Franklin D. Roosevelt was sworn in shortly after the Great Depression reached its nadir. Harry Truman became president in the final, bloodiest phase of World War II. Richard Nixon inherited Vietnam and domestic turmoil from Lyndon B. Johnson. Barack Obama entered the White House in the depths of the global financial crisis.
All four had their ups and downs, but all were re-elected. If you take over at a dark time — especially if it’s just before the dawn — the chances are you’ll be able to play “Happy Days Are Here Again” when you run for a second term.
In a similar way, Joe Biden took the oath of office last Wednesday as the third and biggest wave of the Covid-19 pandemic appeared to be nearing its crest, a year after the Chinese government belatedly acknowledged the seriousness of the disaster that had begun in Wuhan. Like many new administrations since Roosevelt’s in 1933, the Biden administration now seeks to impress us with a hundred days of hyperactivity, beginning with 17 executive actions on Inauguration Day. Coming soon: a $1.9 trillion stimulus bill.
In truth, the vaccination program already underway, combined with the naturally acquired immunity of people previously infected with the virus, would probably get the U.S. close to herd immunity by the summer, even if Joe Biden spent the next six months just riding his Peloton. And the economy would roar back to something like normal service as the pandemic ended even if Republicans had retained control of the Senate and blocked further fiscal support.
In short, Joe Biden, who starts out with a 68% approval rating, according to Gallup, ought to be even more popular by Memorial Day — not just twice as popular as Trump was throughout his term, but up there with the most popular presidents since polling began: Truman on VJ Day, John F. Kennedy in his first 100 days, George H.W. Bush after the Gulf War, George W. Bush after 9/11 — the exclusive 80%-plus Approval Club.
I suspect it won’t happen. Why? According to legend, the British Prime Minister Harold Macmillan once replied to a journalist who had asked what his biggest problem was: “Events, dear boy, events.” (The phrase Macmillan really used, according to the historian David Dilks, was “the opposition of events.”) The Donald Rumsfeld equivalent was “stuff happens” — stuff like the chaos into which Iraq descended in 2003, dragging his boss’s popularity down with it.
Sometimes events are beyond a new president’s control. Sometimes they are unforced errors of his own making. But presidents don’t simply make history. Often, history comes at them fast.
So enthusiastic are most journalists about the new administration that much coverage of last week’s inauguration recalled late Soviet Pravda. Indeed, I have never been more persuaded by the historian Harold James’s mischievous suggestion last year that the U.S. has entered its “late Soviet”phase. (The young Oxford philosopher Jacob Reynolds nailed it.) Example:
Reporter: Will [Biden] keep Donald Trump’s Air Force One color scheme change?
Biden Press Secretary Jen Psaki: This is such a good question!
In the hope that it won’t get me banned from Twitter and Facebook for sedition, I am going to suggest some of the events that could plausibly blow the Biden administration off course in the coming months.
First, a few past examples. No sooner had Truman achieved victory over Japan than the U.S. was gripped by a wave of strikes by everyone from oil workers to elevator operators, as the unions seized the opportunity of peacetime to flex their muscles. Workers at General Motors downed tools for three months. “The Congress are balking, labor has gone crazy and management isn’t far from insane in selfishness,” Truman complained to his mother. Speaking at a Gridiron Club dinner in December 1945, Truman half-joked that William Tecumseh Sherman had been wrong: “I’m telling you I find peace is hell.”
Not long after turning the White House into Camelot with one of the great inaugural addresses, Kennedy was persuaded by the director of central intelligence, Allen Dulles, to launch Operation Zapata, an attempt to overthrow Fidel Castro in Cuba. The venture ended in abject failure at the Bay of Pigs on April 20. “We really blew this one,” fumed Kennedy. “How could that crowd at CIA and the Pentagon be this wrong?” The administration had been “revealed as if no more than a continuation of the Eisenhower-Dulles Past,” lamented Kennedy’s court historian, Arthur Schlesinger Jr. “We not only look like imperialists, we look like ineffectual imperialists, which is worse; and we look like stupid, ineffectual imperialists, which is worst of all.”
Having succeeded to the presidency following Kennedy’s assassination, Johnson soon embarked on an escalation of the U.S. involvement in Vietnam. The authorization Johnson sought from Congress after the Gulf of Tonkin “incident” in August 1964 — to take “all necessary measures to repel any armed attack against the forces of the United States and to prevent further aggression” — was a crucial step down the path that would destroy his presidency.
Exaggerating the evidence that the Navy destroyer Maddox had come under attack, Johnson seized the opportunity to outflank his Republican rival Barry Goldwater. “I’ll tell you what I want,” he snapped at a breakfast with congressional leaders. “I not only want those patrol boats that attacked the Maddox destroyed, I want everything at that harbor destroyed; I want the whole works destroyed. I want to give them a real dose.”
Escalation in Vietnam was one the greatest unforced errors in American history. It might not have happened if Kennedy had lived. Conversely, think how different history might have been if Ronald Reagan had not survived the assassination attempt by John Hinckley Jr., which occurred just over two months after Reagan’s inauguration. Events, dear boy.
Often the first year of an administration is marred by turf wars and infighting. In Bill Clinton’s case, there was a turbulent contest for influence between those, such as the Democratic strategist Paul Begala, who had been close to Clinton on the campaign trail the previous year, and those, such as the former Republican David Gergen, who were brought in to provide some administrative experience midway through the first year in office.
The great unforced error of Clinton’s first year, vividly described by Bob Woodward in “The Agenda,” was the decision to let First Lady Hillary Clinton drive health-care reform, which she proceeded to do — into a brick wall of congressional opposition. Barack Obama arguably made a similar mistake in his first term when he opted to prioritize health-care reform instead of focusing exclusively on economic recovery.
Joe Biden has one advantage over all his predecessors: No one has come to the highest office in the land with more experience than the man who was first elected to the Senate in 1972, at the age of 29. Re-elected six times to represent Delaware, Biden also served two terms as vice president.
It therefore seems reasonable to assume that he will know to avoid at least some of these pitfalls — especially as he must be keenly aware of how historically slim his party’s control of Congress is. Naive analogies between Biden and Roosevelt or Johnson overlook the stark reality that the Democrats had 59 Senate seats and 313 House seats in 1933, and 68 Senate seats and 295 House seats in 1965 — compared with just 50 Senate seats and 222 House seats today.
Given these narrow majorities, and after an inaugural address that featured the words “unity” or “uniting” no fewer than 11 times, you may be looking forward to a glad, confident morning of bipartisan cooperation. I am sorry to disappoint you, but that’s not going to happen, either. Not only do the Republican Senate and House minority leaders, Mitch McConnell and Kevin McCarthy, almost certainly intend to rerun the successful Obama-era strategy of opposing every move the Democratic administration makes. Team Biden has also lost no time in providing them with ammunition.
Some of Biden’s executive actions on Day 1 were unobjectionable, but the fact that six out of 17 were essentially measures to liberalize the immigration system was telling, as were the remarks on that subject made last week by Biden and Vice President Kamala Harris. Announcing a plan to give all illegal immigrants a pathway to citizenship seems like one easy way to reunite an opposition party that Donald Trump seemed to have divided irreparably by his reckless rabble-rousing just two weeks ago.
Two steps in the same direction are the “woke” executive orders announced last Wednesday. The one “On Advancing Racial Equity and Support for Underserved Communities Through the Federal Government” tells all federal institutions and agencies “affirmatively [to] advance equity, civil rights, racial justice, and equal opportunity … [by] embedding fairness in decision-making processes.” The other, “On Preventing and Combating Discrimination on the Basis of Gender Identity or Sexual Orientation,” will (according to some conservative commentary) require federally funded schools to allow transgender athletes who were born male but identify as female to compete in women’s sports and for women’s scholarships.
For the people who hate Trumpism and wokeism in equal measure, last Wednesday was pure whiplash.
These are not so much forced errors as conscious choices born of the Biden administration’s central policy dilemma. The fiscal and monetary policies favored by its economics team — deficits and quantitative easing as far as the eye can see — will widen the country’s already wide inequalities by cranking up further the prices of real estate and financial assets. Conveniently for Biden, the left wing of the Democratic Party cares more about identity politics than working-class living standards, so they will be fed a steady diet of green new dealing, critical race theory and transgender rights. Welcome to the ESG administration, where environmental and social virtue-signaling will provide a smokescreen for the inexorable growth of shareholder value.
That Republicans will oppose all this is a predictable “gray rhino,”something Team Biden must see coming. The same applies to another impending Harold Macmillan event, namely the deterioration of the public-health crisis in the coming weeks as new strains of SARS-CoV-2 spread across the U.S. The B.1.1.7 variant, first detected in England late last year, has already been found in 12 states. It is between 50% and 70% more infectious as earlier strains of the virus. On Friday, U.K. Prime Minister Boris Johnson suggested it may also be more deadly.
Michael Osterholm, director of the Center for Infectious Disease Research and Policy at the University of Minnesota, and a member of the Biden transition team, spoke last week of “a perfect storm,” telling Bloomberg: “When this B.1.1.7 takes off, it’s going to be hell. That’s what they’re walking into right now. I hope I’m wrong. God, I hope I’m wrong.”
Biden’s public health team will be scanning anxiously the data from the U.K. and from Israel, where races are currently underway between high-speed vaccination programs and the rapidly spreading new strain of the virus. They will be watching even more nervously the news from South Africa, where another new strain has been re-infecting people who had previously had Covid.
According to a sobering report published on Jan. 18 by the South African National Institute for Communicable Diseases: “People who have recovered from SARS-CoV-2 infection are usually protected from being infected a second time … because they develop neutralizing antibodies that remain in their blood for at least 5-6 months … These antibodies bind to specific parts of the spike protein that have mutated in the new variant (K417N and E484K). We now know that these mutations have allowed the virus to become resistant to antibody neutralization. The blood samples from half the people we tested showed that all neutralizing activity was lost.”
It is too early to tell just how bad this news is. What is clear, however, is that SARS-CoV-2 is evolving in ways that threaten our current strategy of vaccination, and that it will continue to do so for as long as the southern hemisphere countries lag behind the developed northern countries in the quantity and quality of vaccines available.
One president, Trump, has already caught Covid-19. Even under normal circumstances, Joe Biden’s health would be a concern. At 78, he is older than Ronald Reagan was at the end of his presidency. The most recent Social Security Actuarial Life Table (for 2017) states that a man Biden’s age has a 4.8% probability of dying within a year. Around two-fifths of his contemporaries are dead already. Now add Covid into the mix. Thus far, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, 59% of U.S. deaths from the pandemic have been of people older than 74.
Events, dear boy, events. What happens when you announce your plan to relax immigration restrictions and give illegal immigrants a pathway to citizenship? The answer is that the flow of would-be migrants increases. The number of detentions on the Arizona-Mexico border was already rising last fall. A “caravan” of 9,000 Hondurans is currently making its way northward through Guatemala.
What happens when you come to power after a wave of protest in support of Black Lives Matters that was marred by violence, vandalism and looting, and when at least some members of your party expressed sympathy with slogans such as “Defund the Police”? The answer is that you inherit a wave of violent crime that has seen homicide numbers jump by more than 50% in six major cities: Atlanta, Boston, Chicago, New Orleans, Portland and Seattle.
Finally, and perhaps most importantly, what happens when, despite your obvious contempt for your predecessor, you largely adopt the single most important part of his foreign policy? For all his manifest defects of character, Trump was right to change the direction of U.S. policy toward China — to abandon the fantasy that integration into the global economy was going to liberalize the Chinese Communist Party, and to mount a multifaceted challenge to Xi Jinping’s bid for world power.
On this issue, the Biden administration intends to continue where Trump left off. Incoming secretary of state Antony Blinken told senators at his confirmation hearing last week, “There is no doubt that [China] poses the most significant challenge of any nation-state in the world to the United States.”
Asked if he agreed with his predecessor Mike Pompeo that China was committing genocide against its Uighur population, Blinken replied: “That would be my judgment as well. I think we’re very much in agreement.” Was he open to imposing trade sanctions in connection with that genocidal policy? Yes. Did he support the move by Pompeo to relax restrictions on official dealings with Taiwan? “I want to see that process through to conclusion if it hasn’t been completed,” replied Blinken.
Even more remarkable was the article published by Kurt Campbell in Foreign Affairs on the eve of the announcement that he would be the “Asia czar” on the National Security Council. “The United States needs to make a conscious effort to deter Chinese adventurism,” wrote Campbell and his co-author, Rush Doshi, who is also contending for an NSC job:
This means investing in long-range conventional cruise and ballistic missiles, unmanned carrier-based strike aircraft and underwater vehicles, guided-missile submarines, and high-speed strike weapons. … [The U.S.] also needs to work with other states to disperse U.S. forces across Southeast Asia and the Indian Ocean … [and] to reshore sensitive industries and pursue a “managed decoupling” from China. … Washington will have to work with others to … collectively design penalties if China decides to take steps that threaten the larger order.
The first Cold War was not the stable equilibrium of mutually assured destruction it now appears with the benefit of hindsight. It was one damned crisis after another, with the worst over Korea in 1950, Berlin in 1961 and Cuba in 1962. Something similar will be true of Cold War II. Even when Chinese-American relations were good — back in the days of “win-win” economic interdependence — there were crises.
On April 1, 2001, when George W. Bush was just 10 weeks into his presidency, a U.S. Navy signals intelligence aircraft collided with a Chinese fighter jet about 70 miles off the island of Hainan, where the American spy-plane was forced to land. The 24 crew members were detained for 10 days, during which they were interrogated. The Chinese fighter pilot was killed in the collision.
Twenty years ago, both sides had strong incentives to defuse the crisis, and American expressions of “sorrow,” interpreted by Beijing as “sorry,” sufficed. But would the same be true today in the event of a comparable collision in the air or at sea? I think not. In 2001, the Chinese economy was 13% the size of the American in current dollar terms, compared with 75% today. And unlike Cold War I, which was fundamentally a transatlantic conflict, with Europe as its major battleground and the Caribbean as a sideshow, Cold War II is transpacific, with East Asia as the major battleground.
At some point in the Biden presidency, I expect, there will be a crisis over Taiwan, North Korea or the South China Sea. And that will be the main event — the moment when we discover if the strange pageant we saw last week was morning in Joe Biden’s America, or the twilight of the late-Soviet United States.
Despite admin pledge to reopen schools, nominee sides with unions to keep San Diego public schools closed
President Joe Biden’s pick to be deputy secretary of education is still fighting to keep students out of the classroom in San Diego, where she’s school superintendent.
Cindy Marten, the longtime superintendent of the San Diego Unified School District, has been a vocal opponent of bringing back in-person instruction for public school students. The district had pledged to give a timeline for reopening on Jan. 13, but Marten failed to follow through, announcing after the deadline that no date for return will be set.
“Despite the progress that is being made and all of the best efforts of all of our employees, it’s important that we recognize that the virus continues to spread and it’s out of control in our communities,” Marten said. “This is not the time to let up on our efforts to defeat this deadly virus.”
Marten’s refusal to set a timeline for schools to reopen is in direct contradiction with Biden, who has vowed to have schools reopen within the first hundred days of his presidency. Dr. Anthony Fauci, Biden’s chief medical adviser, has said the government’s “default position” should be to get kids back in the classroom.
Recent peer-reviewed studies confirm that transmission of COVID-19 in schools is “extremely rare,” but teachers in some of the biggest districts in the country continue to resist going back to the classroom until there is mass vaccination of both teachers and students.
Former San Diego county supervisor Kristin Gaspar, a Republican who lost her district race in November, praised Marten’s “passion” for her work but said she has been hamstrung by her commitment to pleasing the unions.
“Superintendent Marten should be praised for her passion at the reins of San Diego schools,” Gaspar told the Washington Free Beacon. “Unfortunately, Marten has consistently favored the loudest voice at the decision-making table, and that is the teachers’ union. It’s alarming to us as parents to witness the strong influence of labor unions on the continued closure of public schools.”
As she works to keep public schools closed, Marten, who also serves on the board of the California Teachers Association benefits organization, continues to make over $300,000 in the taxpayer-funded role, between salary and benefits. While San Diego’s public schools continue their restrictions on in-person education, a majority of their private counterparts have opened their doors for in-person learning. A November survey found that 84 percent of San Diego students in private schools are attending in person to varying degrees, compared with only 32 percent of those in San Diego public schools.ADVERTISING
The actual curriculum of San Diego Unified School District’s classes may pose additional hurdles to Marten’s nomination. A report from the City Journal found that, amid a global pandemic, the district has prioritized abolishing deadlines for homework, mandating diversity trainings where teachers were told they are guilty of “spirit murdering” black children, and instituting an ethnic studies curriculum.
Five years into her tenure as superintendent, a Voice of San Diego report found that “gains have been incremental and difficult to measure” and that “the achievement gap Marten pledged to tackle at the outset has gone virtually unchanged.” Katrina Hasan Hamilton, the local NAACP education chair, criticized Marten’s “historical pattern of allowing the excessive suspension and expulsion of black students in San Diego.”
Marten has received support from her fellow California Democrats, including Tony Thurmond, California’s superintendent of public instruction, who has made institutionalizing sex education a priority from kindergarten onward.
Gaspar said she hopes Marten will reverse course if confirmed as deputy secretary of education and make the well-being of children her top priority.
“The inability to open our schools has led to severe increases in anxiety, depression, higher incidences of child abuse, doubling of child sex trafficking, and a rapidly growing socioeconomic divide,” she said. “As deputy secretary of education, may Cindy Marten find the strength and grace to first prioritize the well-being of students across this country that will be entrusted to her care.”
Marten’s confirmation hearing has not yet been scheduled. Neither Marten nor the White House returned requests for comment.
Last year, 621 people died of drug overdoses in San Francisco. To put this in perspective, 173 people died from COVID-19, which is identified as the primary public health crisis in the Bay Area.
For years, San Francisco has tacitly encouraged drug abuse with remarkably lenient policies, and those policies are now inadvertently killing hundreds of people annually. San Francisco uses a policy approach called “harm reduction,” which stresses “culturally competent, non-judgmental treatment that demonstrates respect and dignity for the individual.”
But this approach, as it is practiced within San Francisco, is inhumane and cruel. It is destroying the dignity of the lives that some could have with more sensible policies. In addition to overdose deaths skyrocketing, drug abuse has increased in San Francisco, and it is becoming more difficult for addicts to affect positive change.
If you spend much time in San Francisco, you know this, as several areas of the city have become de facto open-air drug bazaars, with drug abuse and drug sales taking place for all to see. Harm-reduction policies are expanding drug use among youths through the dispensation to homeless adolescents of “safe snorting kits” and “safe smoking kits” for crack use. As if any crack use could be considered “safe.”
There are an estimated 25,000 drug users in San Francisco, which if anything is too low of a count since that estimate is nearly two years old. This exceeds San Francisco’s high school population by more than 50 percent and works out to about 522 drug users per city block. Sadly, thousands of human tragedies unfold every day, eviscerating those who use drugs, and forever affecting the lives of those who see it daily, including many children.
Drug abuse is challenging to treat, but a recent handbook of best practices for substance abuse treatment by the Department of Health and Human Services shows that targeted treatment can be very effective, particularly when intervention occurs early.
But a drawback to San Francisco’s acceptance and facilitation of drug use is that it prevents early intervention. Unless San Francisco completely changes how it views drug abuse, these numbers will become even worse. The country’s most progressive city needs to understand that their policies are creating implicit death sentences for many who could be helped with a different policy approach.
Understanding this begins with the simple economics about drug use, which highlights why harm reduction has failed. On the demand side, drug users come to San Francisco from elsewhere because they know the city tolerates and facilitates drug use, which includes providing free hypodermic needles. While giving away nearly 5 million clean needles annually (which boils down to nearly 6 needles for every San Franciscan) admirably reduces communicable diseases, it has created a public health hazard, because about two million used needles are disposed of on city sidewalks. Over $30 million has been spent on dealing with drug abuse within the public transit system, but one could hardly tell this by viewing transit stations that anything has been done to deal with this issue.
On the supply side, selling drugs in San Francisco has become extremely profitable, given a demand side of 25,000 consumers and the city’s tolerant policies. In contrast to most other cities, the drug trade in San Francisco operates within what is almost a normal marketplace setting, where buyers and sellers can find each other easily, and with a relatively small chance of being arrested. Both of these factors promote relatively low prices, which stimulate demand, and high profits, which stimulate supply.
By normalizing drug abuse, San Francisco has created a perfect storm of a vibrant, well-functioning market of buyers and sellers who trade drugs much like a basket of fruit is traded at a farmer’s market. Unfortunately, the basket that is being traded in San Francisco’s drug bazaar is increasingly becoming the opioid Fentanyl, which can be 100 times more powerful than morphine.
Fentanyl is sufficiently strong that much less than one milligram is used as general anesthesia during major surgery. Just two milligrams—the equivalent of about 25 grains of sand—can be lethal. Emergency personnel responding to a Fentanyl overdose must take precautions so that they do not accidentally inhale Fentanyl. And yet Fentanyl is now being widely traded every day in San Francisco, driving up overdose deaths to about two daily.
What to do? Drug addiction can be treated medically and compassionately without viewing it as part of normal, everyday life, which is what is being practiced today in San Francisco. The city currently allocates over $5 billion to community health and human welfare.
Surely those budgets can be repurposed to treat drug abuse using best practices as outlined by the Department of Health and Human Services in conjunction with greater efforts to identify family members who can assist with treatment and support. At the same time, the city must reduce the amount of Fentanyl and other lethal drugs that are being sold routinely in open-air markets.
Many of San Francisco’s drug users have lost control over their lives. The last thing that drug addicts need is another drug pusher, but this is what San Francisco’s policies have created. Lives can be saved, but not unless policies are changed.
States should broaden policies to support the school choice parents are demanding.
Nothing in the historical record has disrupted American schools quite like COVID-19. Millions of students will lose more than a year of classroom instruction. Only the most hopeful think schools will return to normalcy before next September. An entire generation can expect a drop in lifetime earnings of 5% to 10%, economists tell us. Even worse, social and emotional development have been stunted. Schools no longer provide eye and ear exams, nurse office visits, and ready access to social services. Children from low-income backgrounds are suffering the most.
Parents desperately search for alternatives. In affluent communities, neighbors have formed learning pods, with tutors and fellow parents sharing the instructional burden. Home schooling is on the rise. Families are shifting their children to private and charter schools. Entrepreneurial high school seniors are taking dual enrollment courses, hoping to finish high school and begin college at the same time. But too many children are occupying their time in other ways, with ever more high school students simply dropping out. Enrollment at public schools is falling by 5% or more. The opportunity gap is almost certainly widening between rich and poor children.ADVERTISING
But what happens after the vaccine arrives and the virus has been cornered? Will parents return to the status quo? Or are they going to demand more choices and greater control over their child’s education? Before COVID-19, nearly a third of all students attended a school of choice, including district-operated magnet schools (7%) other district options such as vocational and exam schools (6%), charters (6%), home schooling (3%), and private schools (8% using family and other private funds and 1% with school vouchers or tax-credit scholarships).
If parents have any say, the demand for choice is almost certain to increase. During the pandemic itself, parents reported teachers at charter and private schools were more likely to provide direct instruction. Loss of learning occurred everywhere, but it was less, parents said, at these schools of choice.
What state policies should govern choice practices in the coming decade? How can states ensure that choice facilitates, not hinders, equal educational opportunities? There is no one answer, as every state has its own history and geography. But as the COVID storm has raged, researchers at Stanford’s Hoover Institution came up with a few principles and recommendations that might serve as a guide.
Most important, school choice should reduce the achievement inequalities the pandemic has aggravated. Traditionally, choice has been mainly available to those who could afford to rent or buy a home in a neighborhood that had good schools.
Magnet schools were the first to break this connection between school and residence. To foster school desegregation, they offered specialized programs — math and science, performing arts, bilingual instruction, career and technical training — to attract students from all ethnic groups from all parts of the school district. Most studies indicate that, on average, students are learning more at magnets than in other district schools. In many cities, including Miami, Denver and New York, the magnet concept is being broadened to encompass the entire district. Every school is a school of choice. The schools that go unchosen are earmarked for special attention or may be closed for lack of enough students. States should facilitate more of these districtwide choice programs.
Charter schools — publicly authorized schools that operate under private auspices — are also broadening family options. In 2018 Texas charters served more than 330,000 students at nearly 800 schools, about 6% of all public school students.
Initially, studies showed little difference between the performances of students at charters and district schools, either in Texas or elsewhere. But recent studies show that cohorts of students who attend charters in Texas and nationwide are improving at twice the rate of students at district schools. The biggest strides forward are among African American students.
To facilitate their expansion, states can authorize more schools, but limit fiscal harms to school districts. In Texas and most other states, funding follows the child when the student moves either to a charter school or from one district to another. Although the fiscal policy makes sense, districts that lose enrollment still bear legacy costs, most importantly, pensions and medical benefits for retired employees. States can mitigate the political controversies by absorbing more of these legacy costs.
Some worry that charters undermine district-operated public schools by attracting the most engaged families. Fortunately, that has not happened so far: Recent evidence shows gains in student performance at district schools when they are competing with charters.
School segregation is another concern. But even though racial isolation remains widespread in most metropolitan areas, a recent study by the liberal Urban Institute finds that choice has little effect on the racial composition of schools, one way or the other.
Still, there is much that state policymakers can do to make sure that school choice enhances equal opportunity. Charter schools can be placed in locations that foster integration. States can fund transportation costs for all students, no matter what school they attend. That is both efficient and equitable. And once legacy costs are protected, choice of school should not be skewed by favorable funding for one type of school rather than another.
Going forward, states should focus on middle and high schools. Research tells us that students in fourth grade public schools have been learning their letters and numbers as well or better than in the past. The challenge schools face comes with the onset of adolescence.
Achievement slippage is well underway by eighth grade, and it becomes increasingly severe as students proceed through high school. Rising high school graduation rates are mostly a function of easier grading practices and undemanding credit recovery courses, as shown by the astoundingly high dropout rates at community colleges. Half of all students just out of high school leave a two-year college within the first year.
Choice by itself will not solve the malaise that continues to plague too much of our educational system, especially in the middle and high school years. But if students are given a wide range of options, leading to multiple types of meaningful certificates, chances improve that young people will become more adequately prepared for what comes next. The COVID-19 crisis can become the equal opportunity moment.
By giving comfort to China's evil regime, the New York Times is showing its true colors.
The New York Times has a long, sordid history of being in bed with brutal authoritarian regimes. From Walter Duranty praising the goodness of the Soviet Union to the Times’ gentle treatment of Adolf Hitler, the paper of record is always on board with tyranny. The current generation of gatekeepers at the Gray Lady is no exception. In a shocking and sickening article this week, author Li Yuan celebrates Chinese “freedom.”
The article beams about how China has gotten its society back to normal after unleashing a deadly plague on the planet and lying about it. They eat in restaurants, they go to movies, and they are free from fear. They have the freedom to move around, the Times proclaims, assuring us this is the “most basic form of freedom.” Really? Do the 1 million Uighurs currently in concentration camps have “freedom of movement”? They must have been unavailable for comment, as they aren’t mentioned once in this advertisement for the Chinese Communist Party.
It would be one thing if the New York Times were dedicated to offering space for a wide range of opinions, even borderline evil ones such as this absurd article offers. But this is the same newspaper that took down a piece by Sen. Tom Cotton because it suggested using the National Guard to protect cities being burned and looted by leftist radicals. That opinion was a bridge too far, but shilling for a regime that does not allow free speech and forces sterilization is just asking questions.
Freedom from fear. My God. Is this what America has become? Are we ready to take the advice of our nation’s most powerful newspaper and throw away our right to speech, religion, democracy, and family in the sad search for some impossible form of perfect safety? The behavior of many Americans during the lockdowns suggests that some are. The rest of us, those who love liberty, must fight back.
It’s not just the New York Times; take a look at this gem from The Economist.
A “more Chinese-style global industry”? What does that mean? Slave labor? It’s efficient, it lowers prices, and the slaves might well be kept free from disease so they live long productive lives doing exactly what their government tells them to do. This is a warning. Those in power in the media, so wedded to big tech and multinational corporations, seem just fine with a world in which you have no freedom and they use your labor to make billions in the name of safety and freedom from fear.
This is America, God dammit, and the New York Times can go to hell. These people have lectured us for four years about Donald Trump supposedly trampling the norms of American democracy, and now they turn around and tell us we should be more like China? This is much more than a culture war at this point. This is a fight for the very soul of the greatest nation on earth — which, even though the Times doesn’t know it, is the United States, not the People’s Republic of China.
Useful idiocy is reaching new heights. China’s hooks are so deeply embedded in our media that it can’t even call out slavery and concentration camps. Meanwhile, in China, printing even a gentle gibe at Xi Jinping can get you killed. Is that the glorious new form of freedom that our betters want for us? Does the New York Times want the government to tell them what to publish? I honestly don’t know the answer to that at this point.
Let us be clear, the Chinese Communist Party is an evil, repressive, and murderous regime. It is not the future of freedom. It is not setting an example that free people should or will follow. And we won’t. Unlike in China, Americans have 400 million guns, and if our government tries to take the New Times’ advice and crush our freedoms, they will hear them roar. This is a time for choosing. This is a time to stand up and say that our rights come from God, not the government or the New York Times. Stand up, America, before it is too late.
How much is enough? It’s a question America is going to have to answer, and soon, lest the need for additional COVID relief packages overwhelm the nation’s ability to pay for them. The national debt, which was close to a single year’s gross domestic product when Donald J. Trump came into office four years ago, has more than doubled, thanks in no small part to efforts to alleviate the impact of the economic lockdown used to prevent the disease from spreading.
As the numbers show, it didn’t work. The states with some of the most severe restrictions on commercial activity, like California and New York, continue to lead the rest of the states in deaths per capita and new infections. It’s almost as if the wearing of masks, the requirements that people stay six feet apart from one another and not venture out into public and the closures of small businesses like restaurants and churches have done almost nothing to keep COVID-19 from spreading.
There are more than a few commentators who’ve been bold enough to suggest that outright. It’s going to take a lot more study of the data to determine if they’re right but what we now know is sufficient to suggest there’s more truth to these presumptions than many of the so-called experts driving the national dialogue are willing to entertain may be the case.
All that is for later. What matters now is whether the latest COVID-19 package is enough or, as President Donald J. Trump, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer believe, if the American people need another round of so-called stimulus checks from Washington to make it though.
They don’t—and Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell was right when he stopped the bill to do just that from moving forward. If he erred, and it is not clear he did, it was in offering his own version of the bill that, along with the $2000 checks would eliminate a provision of federal telecommunications law that conservatives say allows major platforms like Twitter and Facebook to censor posts with impunity and establish a federal commission to make recommendations to combat voter fraud.
The Democrats could never vote for such a measure—big tech has invested too much in the party’s electoral success for them to sign on—so offering it as an alternative is a crafty way for McConnell to kill the so-called stimulus while making it look like the fault of Schumer and company, not the GOP. Some of his partisan colleagues up for reelection in 2022 may need the political cover his effort provides but, in all honesty, he should have stood his ground and just said “no.”
It’s not that the money would go to families that don’t need it. The economics of the distribution algorithm would allow families making several hundreds of thousands a year declared eligible to receive a check, perhaps for more than $2000 depending on marital status and number of dependents. They don’t need it but—as both Sen. Schumer and Speaker Pelosi have many constituents among the caviar-consuming, designer-ice-cream-eating, Louis Vuitton-carrying crowd who would qualify, it’s little surprise they’re on board. They probably also appreciate the optics associated with seeming like Santa Claus while McConnell comes across as Scrooge.
Except McConnell isn’t, at least not as far as the economics are concerned. A one-time payment of $2000 may help some families clear some debts but it won’t do anything to get the economy going. What we know from the available data is that the open states, most of them red states, are doing better than the mostly blue states where the lockdowns continue.
If the lockdowns aren’t doing much to mitigate the impact of COVID, if the disease is still mostly passed from person to person in home and family settings, and if most all the people who die from it would have shortly died from something else—all things much of the available data show are true—then the best stimulus the economy could have would be for the shuttered states to reopen so everyone could go back to work.
If stopping the checks means more people clamoring for a return to normalcy, then McConnell has done the nation a great service. Larry Summers, the liberal economist who served as Bill Clinton‘s treasury secretary and director of Barack Obama‘s National Economic Council has said: “There is no good economic argument” for universal checks. The economy is roaring back, in fits and starts, with third-quarter 2020 growth at a never-before-seen 33 percent, adjusted on an annualized basis. The checks Trump, Pelosi and Schumer want can’t improve on that. They can put our children and grandchildren deeper into debt than they already are.
McConnell should maintain his hard “no.” As Ronald Reagan said, “The best welfare program is a job” which, expanded out, means the best form of stimulus—and what we need right now—is to let the American people get back to work, not subsidize their continuing to stay home.
Last Sunday I plopped a steaming hashbrown casserole and a bowl of freshly sliced oranges down on one of a row of endless folding tables covered in those flimsy plastic tablecloths you get at the dollar store. The casseroles were outnumbered only by the pans of homemade cinnamon rolls, and the fruit section was meager: it was a good Southern Baptist potluck.
Church ladies buzzed around, removing tin foil from tin pans and putting serving spoons in each dish, while others flipped pancakes on a portable griddle. Rows of chairs and tables were set up under the oak trees and the typical Florida December weather made me regret wearing a sweater. I loaded my plate with food and it wasn’t until I sat down that I had an epiphany: I had missed potlucks. Thanks to coronavirus, I guess buffet-style anything has become terribly unstylish in some places.
Until recently, I’ve been at school in Loudoun County, Virginia, where Gov. Ralph Northam has been busy inflicting harsher shutdown orders. Masks are required almost everywhere up there, and big gatherings are out of the question. Multiple friends had to cancel their wedding receptions this month due to the new restrictions.
I got so used to wearing a mask that every time I watched a movie it seemed odd for the actors to be bare-faced. Leaving a store, sometimes I’d make it all the way to the car before even realizing I still had my mask on.
It wasn’t until I came home to Florida — where COVID-19 restrictions are much freer and usually left to local government — that I noticed how different life was. On my flight home, I reached from my seat by the window to hand my snack wrapper to the flight attendant. The older gentleman next to me took it from my hand to pass it along. It caught me off guard: this stranger was willing to touch something that I had eaten from? He wasn’t afraid of my germs?
Thoughtful gestures that had always been normal suddenly seemed surprising — which made me realize how many of those everyday connections we’ve lost this year. Since I’ve spent some time in Florida, life has felt incredibly normal. It’s also revealed how abnormal the lifestyle I followed in Virginia really was.
For one, I didn’t realize how much I was missing by not seeing people’s faces. I don’t object to people wearing masks if they feel safer; it’s their personal health decision. But when I arrived at the airport to see my family for the first time since August (mid-semester breaks were another COVID casualty), I could actually see their faces.
I went to a café to study the other day and walked past a young pregnant mother with her toddler in tow. None of us were masked, and the toddler and I got to smile and wave at each other as we passed.
Even things that used to annoy me reminded me of what I had missed. I had to slow down for a school zone the other day because kids were actually in school. I never knew I could feel so much joy at slowing down to 20 miles per hour. There were elementary school kids running around the playground for recess.
The downtown scene here is even further proof that people are living their normal lives, unobstructed by fear. My family went out to dinner the other night at a patio bar overlooking our downtown square, all lit up for Christmas. Families took Christmas photos in front of the lighted trees, and others caught rides in horse-drawn carriages circling the block. The patio was packed with guests from a wedding that had just taken place; it was a huge party, unlike the sweet but limited ceremonies my friends were forced to have in Virginia.
While the chain coffee shops like Starbucks and Dunkin’ are closed to indoor patrons, my favorite local coffeeshop is open and more popular than ever. (And why buy overpriced, mediocre chain coffee anyway?) Looking around, I only see one customer wearing a mask, and only one of the baristas.
There’s a sign taped to the door that says, “The city council feels it is at their best interset to infringe upon your personal constitutional right and feel they can manage your life better than you. We will not do this…we will not force you to wear a mask!”
“All are welcome and we appreciate your supporting local,” the sign adds. I went Saturday morning with my family and we had to wait for a table; we ran into an old friend while we were there. That same day, we went to the downtown farmers’ market. Vendors offered free samples and sold fresh produce, a live musician sang “Folsom Prison Blues,” and no one told me to wear a mask.
I’ve flown in and out of the Orlando airport all my life, and I’ve never seen it half as crowded as it was this month. I can only guess that people are coming down to Florida because it’s open here. People are taking precautions, sure, but they’re also continuing to live their lives.
We’re having friends over and going to church. We’re going out for dinner and drinks, and supporting local farmers and artisans. We’re celebrating marriages and smiling at strangers. And we’re eating a lot of hashbrown casserole.