he economic rebound that began as the pandemic-related lockdowns started to end in the states is producing strong results throughout the United States despite the considerable rise in inflation. While higher prices are wiping out the income gains workers made during the pre-COVID boom, the surging stock market helped the amount of money held in private retirement accounts reach some of the highest levels on record.
The number of 401(k) and IRA millionaires have hit all-time records, CNBC’s Jessica Dickler reported Thursday, suggesting good times may still be ahead even though the perception is growing that President Joe Biden and his economic team are mismanaging the economy. In the most recent IPSOS poll, 55 percent of those surveyed said they were “pessimistic” about the direction of the country, an increase of 20 points over late April when the question was last posed. Pessimism, the polling firm said, was rising across all age groups and income levels and was even down among Democrats.
The Biden economic plan includes higher taxes and increased spending despite the recurrence of notable inflation. If it passes, it would likely cause a contraction in an economy that has appeared to be growing again since people started going back to work after many of the nation’s governors – mostly from the so-called “Red States” – stopped the pandemic-induced unemployment emergency bonus payments that more than one prominent economist identified as a significant disincentive for people to get back on the job.
For retirees and investors, meanwhile, the surging stock market and the steady increase in retirement account balances is welcome news considering how badly these holdings fared during the government-imposed lockdowns, losing considerable value in many cases. According to data provided by Fidelity Investments, the nation’s largest manager of 401(k) savings plans, their overall average balance was up 24 percent from a year ago and hit $129,300 at June’s end. Individual retirement account balances were also higher, CNBC said, reaching $134,900, on average in the second quarter, up 21 percent from where they were a year ago.
American workers across the economy are participating in the wealth creation, not just the so-called “ultra-rich.” According to Fidelity, nearly 12 percent of workers increased the contributions they made to their plans over the period while a record 37 percent of employers also automatically enrolled new workers in their 401(k) plans.
This growth in the number of workers joining the investor class is a political problem for Biden and the progressive Democrats who control Congress. The tax, borrow, and spend plan they are trying to pass over an apparently unified Republican opposition includes, for the first time in decades, serious proposals to increase the tax on capital and returns on investment.
This step back towards the economic policies of the 1970s that produced high unemployment and high inflation – something the economic theories dominant in government and academia at the time said was an impossibility – would be a job killer. Yet, even above that, some Democrats are talking up the institution of a “wealth tax” assessed annually on total holdings rather than income as a “pay for” for policies progressives say they wish to enact like tuition-free community college, free pre-K childcare, and the transition of the U.S. to an economy based entirely on renewable energy. With Fidelity reporting the number of its plans “with a balance of $1 million or more” jumping to a record 412,000 in the second quarter of 2021 and the number of IRA millionaires also at an all-time high, the savings amassed in these accounts may prove an irresistible target for the wealth taxers if their proposals begin to gain momentum in Congress.
We have not just lost our minds, but given them up voluntarily.
It was never just a mask, it has always been a way of thinking. “Mask” is just shorthand.
I got dumped from my volunteer work at the Hawaiian Humane Society for choosing not to wear a mask outside while walking their dogs. Neither science, the CDC, nor the state requires a mask outdoors, and I’m fully vaccinated. Some staff bot saw my naked face and informed me of their “policy.” I asked why they had such a nonsensical policy, and her only answer was “it is our policy.” The conversation ended like an ever-growing percentage of conversations in America now end, with her saying, “Do I need to call security?” I didn’t enjoy it, but I think she did.
I was left with no good to do this week, and a simple, real Covid-19 question. Why are fully vaccinated people treated the same as the unvaccinated? Everyone on the plane wears a mask and goes through the same mock social distancing. Everyone at a restaurant, office, concert, etc., does the same. The answer is at the heart of whether public policy in America will shift and allow us to crawl back into our lives.
The biggest reason for treating vaxxed and unvaxxed people the same miserable way is the claim that vaccinated people can still get Covid enough to pass it on. Funny thing is you can actually “get” the measles even after being vaccinated. The vax is actually only 97 percent effective, similar to the Covid ones. But nobody talks about measles or demands we wear a mask to prevent their spread. We simply accept and deal with the risk.
The next question is really, really hard to find an answer to. How many vaccinated people actually get Covid, the so-called “breakthrough” cases?
That exact number is critical because it is the pivot point for the risk vs. gain decision our society needs to make. If we cannot make a wise choice we will be struggling with and fighting over the restrictions on our lives and livelihoods forever. If we assume we’ll never have full vaccination and that breakthrough cases are a non-zero number and likely always will be then we need to make an informed decision about risk. So is it a non-zero number like, duh, “smoking causes cancer,” or a non-zero number like “very few people die from meteor strikes (or from the measles)?”
The current public policy decisions on risk are haphazard. All 50 states have different rules, many large cities, too, and each and every company. There are different rules if you take a bus or want to go dancing. One grocery store demands masks, another does not. It makes no sense. It becomes not a considered decision but an example of lack of public policy leadership. Into that leadership void enters superstition, pseudoscience, politics, voodoo, and most of all, fear.
So what are the chances of a fully vaccinated person getting a breakthrough infection? It turns out this pivotal question is not clearly answerable, but we act as if it is, with consequences for our lives, mental health, education, commerce, and more. Even for our stray dogs.
I started with Google and “What are the chances of getting COVID after being fully vaccinated?” expecting the answer in 0.0039 seconds, like when you ask what year some historical event happened. Nope. AARPsays “less than one percent of fully vaccinated individuals have been hospitalized with, or have died from, COVID.” That’s a small number but does not fully address the question.
Over to NPR, which reports, “On rare occasions, some vaccinated people infected with the delta variant after vaccination may be contagious and spread the virus to others.” What does rare occasions mean? This is supposed to be, you know, science, so we finally get some numbers from the CDC: Out of 159 million fully vaccinated people, the CDC documented 5,914 cases of fully vaccinated people who were hospitalized or died from Covid-19, and 75 percent of them were over age 65. That means only 0.0000037 percent of vaxxed people were hospitalized or died, most of them elderly. That is a very small number. It is a lot less than one percent and a lot less than rare. Chances of dying in a car wreck are many tens of thousands of times higher and yet we drive on.
However, it still does not answer the question of how dangerous the vaxxed but unmasked are in terms of transmitting the virus. No one really knows. Recent scare headlines calling for reinstated restrictions and vax mandates are based on a single outbreak, 469 cases, in one city in Massachusetts, that appears to show (at variance with existing studies) 75 percent of those infected had been vaccinated and oddly, almost all of those people (87 percent) were male. Most of the infected were asymptomatic or experienced mild symptoms. No deaths.
What is believed is the a) Delta variant of Covid makes a b) temporary home inside a vaccinated man’s nose or upper respiratory area, c) outside the immune system. It waits there to be d) blown out and then be e) received by an f) unvaccinated person. So, all these things have to work out for it to matter. It is not simply a chore of toting up how many vaccinated people tested positive and then hitting the panic button. As one doctor put it, “We really need to shift toward a goal of preventing serious disease and disability and medical consequences, and not worry about every virus detected in somebody’s nose.”
Bottom Line 1: We need to stop the obsessive, simplistic, and misleading counting of positive tests and focus on real world consequences.
Requiring everyone wear masks again based on one outbreak may seem as if it can’t hurt, but it does. Organizations waste time and credibility enforcing measures that have limited if any impact (consider how many masks are so old, dirty, improperly worn, etc., to be fully useless.) To simply dismiss the reality of numbers with a blithe “well you can’t be too careful” only works if you imagine Covid restrictions have no secondary or tertiary effects.
Economies have been devastated. Education has disappeared for large numbers of kids. Despair grows menacingly. Suicide attempts by teen girls increased 26 percent during summer 2020 and 50 percent during winter of 2021. We are killing children to save them.
Economic inequality got a booster shot. The power of government has grown alarmingly. The ability to shape how we live, shop, work, and eat has been handed randomly to a near-endless range of actors, from the president to governors empowered with “emergency edicts” to clerks ever-anxious to call security not on shoplifters but on an exposed nose.
Americans’ irrational fears were created by politicians and the media, and have become a profit center. The New York Times for months ran columns saying Trump’s vaccine was another government syphilisexperiment. The vice president refused to take the shot during the campaign. Biden took it, then went right on masking as if it didn’t work.
It was a very successful campaign to propagate uncertainty for a political purpose. It is all their fault vaccine acceptance now varies by political party, where we live, and how much education we have. It’s a form of blowback—the information operation worked too well.
So we won’t concede the reality kids are unlikely to get sick and should go to school. That the vast majority of deaths occur among the elderly with comorbidities, not the general population. That ill-fitting masks and wiping down groceries with Clorox are theater. That the debate has become a political argument instead of an evidence-based one. That everybody agrees the CDC has lost credibility until one side needs it for some partisan purpose. That previously healthcare decisions started with the premise of “first, do no harm,” while today there is no conversation allowed about the balance of benefits and damages. That we simply tally the collateral damage while the virus remains unaffected.
Bottom Line 2: If we are to heal as a society there is only one answer, at some point we must simply ask what works and do that.
But we lack the political leadership to say what’s true, so we’re going back to “let’s just argue about masks and mandates.” Meanwhile the virus continues to find unvaccinated hosts. The economy won’t snap back. Biden is facing a mini civil war over required vaccinations and restarting lockdowns but has no plan. Things will hit the fan in September as Hot Vax Summer sputters, when every school district does something different, and federal unemployment supplements run out.
People have grown weary of being afraid and grown weary of being subject to the paranoid demands of safety fetishists. Many did what they were told to do—get vaxxed—only to find themselves stuck inside the same dysfunctional loop of mask/unmask. We are killing ourselves. Somehow that must be factored into our Covid response.
Bottom Line 3: We can’t resolve the pandemic until we end the panic and the politics. Can Biden do that?
Dr. Anthony Fauci has become increasingly defensive and evasive in answering legitimate questions posed by members of Congress.
This is a problem.
Fauci has no statutory authority to preside over a public health crisis. Nonetheless, he has become the nation’s de facto doctor in chief during the COVID-19 pandemic. He clearly relishes the attention — making an astronomical number of media appearances that promote himself, but not public health. Unfortunately, Fauci has been a horribly ineffective doctor in chief.
Fauci started off the pandemic by telling us that “people should not be walking around with masks.” This initial dismissal of masks was fact-based and rational. But now, Fauci advocates wearing two masks even after vaccination. Where are the reliable scientific studies proving that masks save lives? Or that they are necessary after vaccination?
The idea that those who’ve been vaccinated or have natural immunity should still wear masks for the next year or two on a seasonal basis is one of the most insanely idiotic and anti-science statements made since some worry-warts on Christopher Columbus’s crew expressed concerns that they might sail off the edge of the Earth.
I’d like to hear Fauci explain what he has been doing for the last 50 years to avoid contracting or spreading the deadly smallpox virus or polio. Answer: He’s done nothing because vaccines work.
But Fauci advocates people get vaccinated while also suggesting that it won’t actually help. We still can’t return to normal life, he says. It is little wonder that many question why they should get vaccinated. It is the logical result of Fauci’s anti-science approach!
Here’s the truth — Fauci isn’t a serious doctor or a serious scientist. He’s just a serious government bureaucrat who happens to have a medical degree and often wears a white lab coat.
However, Sen. Rand Paul is a real medical doctor. Even as a senator, he performs eye surgeries for at-need patients around the globe. Paul has asked some very good questions of Fauci. But it is Fauci who sounds like the consummate politician with his bureaucratic two-step of word games and obfuscation. His answers have often been dismissive, combative, and evasive. He defiantly tells Paul he’s wrong but doesn’t bother to explain why. We are simply supposed to take his word for it. That’s not very scientific.
Consider what happened this week when Paul asked Fauci about U.S. government direct and indirect grants (via third party Eco-Health Alliance) to the Wuhan Institute of Virology. Since the Wuhan lab may have been where the virus escaped from, taxpayer funding of the lab is an important question. Yet, Fauci flatly denied funding any Chinese “gain-of-function research” — a risky and controversial approach that involves making pathogens more infectious and deadly. But Fauci also admitted he funded “gain-of-function research” in the United States. He also admitted he couldn’t account for how the Chinese used U.S. taxpayer dollars.
If Fauci doesn’t know how the WIV spent U.S. money, he cannot categorically deny that this money was used to fund risky research.
We can draw a lot of conclusions from the way the totalitarian Chinese regime has blocked and interfered with investigations into the origins of this pandemic. That is precisely how the guilty behave. Likewise, Fauci’s answers to Paul give rational people good reason to question his credibility. If Fauci wants to be taken seriously as a doctor and scientist, he should act like a doctor and scientist rather than a politically motivated bureaucrat.
Michigan Democratic Gov. Gretchen Whitmer, whose poll numbers continue a downward slide over her handling of the COVID crisis, faces new questions after it was learned an outside entity has paid for her use of a private jet owned by influential businessmen to visit her father in Florida during the lockdown.
Whitmer aides have carefully stated repeatedly that no taxpayer dollars were used to pay for the chartered flights, which occurred during a period she was discouraging Michigan residents to stay in their homes because of COVID and while emergency rules kept families from visiting hospitalized loved ones.
“It’s been 62 days since the secret trip. The story from the governor’s office keeps changing,” said GOP Communications Director Ted Goodman. Previously the governor has said she paid for the flight out of her own pocket. Now, her office admits, she only paid for her seat, leaving others to cover the rest of the expense.
No one is yet suggesting Whitmer broke any laws by taking the $28,000 trip which is becoming a continuing political embarrassment. According to several sources, the flights were paid for by a social welfare not-for-profit group – Michigan Transition 2019 – to handle expenses related to her 2019 gubernatorial inauguration. In general, the use of funds by politicians coming from groups designated 501c(4) by the U.S. Internal Revenue Service to cover expenses like non-official travel is generally frowned upon.
Complicating matters more, the Detroit Free Press published Monday a report revealing Air Eagle, LLP – the air travel company operating the plane Whitmer used to visit her father in Florida – is not authorized by the Federal Aviation Administration to offer charter flights. Agency spokesman Elizabeth Isham Cory told the paper companies seeking to operate such flights must have a Part 135 certificate.
“The Gulfstream G280 Whitmer’s office confirmed she flew on ‘is not on a 135 certificate and Air Eagle does not have a Part 135 certificate,’” the Free Press reported, citing an email from Cory.
Whitmer and her staff have repeatedly attempted to tamp the scandal down by asserting extraordinary accommodations must be made to keep her safe because of threats made against her in the last year. “I have received an incredible number of death threats over the last year and a half. There are a lot of reasons we don’t discuss how I travel and when I travel,” the governor previously said.
This is not the first incident to raise questions about Whitmer’s management of state affairs during the pandemic. Michigan First Husband Marc Mallory reportedly tried to have his boat placed in the water before Memorial Day weekend in 2020 in violation of what some called “the most draconian stay-at-home orders in the nation.”
Her apparent fall from grace may not be as precipitous as New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s but it is just as self-inflicted. Before last summer’s BLM riots, Whitmer was believed to be atop Joe Biden’s list of potential running mates. Now she finds herself peppered with questions about why she went to Florida unvaccinated despite the number of times she expressed concern that residents there were not taking proper safety precautions and bringing the virus to Michigan. As issues of this sort mount, strategists in both parties are wondering how vulnerable she’ll be when seeking a second term in November 2022.
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.