Game over

Johan Giesecke

It’s hard for people to change their mental models when confronted with new information. But it helps when the source of that information is an authority figure — the more authoritative, the better. So, for those who are still not seeing the obvious, here is an article in the esteemed medical journal The Lancet by the former state epidemiologist of Sweden, which I assume should satisfy most people’s requirements for credibility. The key paragraph is below:

These facts have led me to the following conclusions. Everyone will be exposed to severe acute respiratory syndrome coronavirus, and most people will become infected. COVID-19 is spreading like wildfire in all countries, but we do not see it—it almost always spreads from younger people with no or weak symptoms to other people who will also have mild symptoms. This is the real pandemic, but it goes on beneath the surface, and is probably at its peak now in many European countries. There is very little we can do to prevent this spread: a lockdown might delay severe cases for a while, but once restrictions are eased, cases will reappear. I expect that when we count the number of deaths from COVID-19 in each country in 1 year from now, the figures will be similar, regardless of measures taken.

My takeaway: all of the radical interventions to contain this virus — from the Stalinist lockdowns in China and India, to the high-tech public health panopticon in South Korea, to the police-state hilarity in England, to the mass business closures and “social distancing” rules in the US — all of it, absolutely all of it has been completely and utterly pointless in terms of its stated purpose of containing the virus. The virus can’t and won’t be contained.

From the above, it follows that the interventions should stop — immediately! They never should have been done in the first place — except, of course, for protecting nursing homes (which New York State and other places infamously failed to do). Furthermore, all the scaremongering needs to end — the live updates of death and infection figures, the media and social media hysteria, the alarming headlines about the mysterious damage this disease might or might not do — which is pointless to dwell on, because people can’t avoid being exposed to the virus, and the chances of dying from it are so very low.

All the talk about mass testing and contact tracing is a totalitarian absurdity. There are 1.37 million confirmed cases in the US. Expanded testing will reveal millions more cases. Assuming we can successfully contact trace all of those millions of people, this theoretical (and impossible) process will identify tens or hundreds of millions of contacts. We are not going to forcibly quarantine, say, 100 million people, or make them stay home from work. To attempt such a thing would require inconceivable, Maoist interventions that would destroy American society. But without large-scale quarantines, what’s the point of testing everyone? There is none.

While we’re at it, let’s drop the talk of a “new normal.” No, we are not entering a new normal, we are going back to the OLD normal where Americans are allowed to leave their homes for any reason or no reason, eat at restaurants, worship at churches, gather, congregate and interact with their fellow human beings, minus the face coverings and the bizarre and complicated social-distancing rituals — except, of course, for those who prefer to cover their faces and stay isolated. But they will be a minority — hopefully.

Above all, the new cult of “social distancing” should be resisted. Treating every American like a disease vector is not going to save us. Forcing shoppers to stand six feet apart from each other and curbing elevator occupancy is not going to stop this virus. Making normal, everyday social interactions impossible or de facto illegal is not going to improve public health. Individuals must reject this intensifying campaign to atomize and destroy society through pointless, humiliating behavior controls that create distance between human organisms but, in reality, cannot meaningfully contain the virus — and in the long run will kill more people than the alleged pandemic itself.

We need to be clear that these measures are stupid and counterproductive. If you doubt this, please read the above article by Johan Giesecke again and think through the implications. We are all going to be exposed to this virus. The only way to avoid it, perhaps, is to become an anchorite in a distant cave or desert — but by the time you get there, you will have been exposed anyway — unless you wear a hazmat suit en route. But you won’t do that, because that would be insane.

The famines cometh

You thought WuFlu was bad? WuFlu is nothing. The global death toll as of this writing is 258,295. LOL. Tuberculosis kills 1.5 million people every year.

Hunger, though. That’s going to be a bitch:

Major world disasters produce multiple ripple effects. Like a powerful tsunami, they trigger one shock wave after another, each producing injury and mayhem. In the case of Covid-19, the first wave was the global health crisis, still spreading around the world. Next came the stay-at-home requirements and the resulting shutdown of the world economy, resulting in massive job layoffs everywhere. These, in turn, are producing a third wave, possibly even more catastrophic in its outcome: the collapse of global food-supply systems and widespread human starvation.

Who could have predicted this? Well, here is what I wrote on March 30:

We don’t know if the repressive measures that are being taken to “flatten the curve” in the West, such as turning Britain into an Orwellian dystopia where you are only permitted to walk your dog once a day, will be beneficial overall, given the speculative nature of the epidemiological models used to justify them and the (unaccounted-for) public health costs of putting hundreds of millions of people under de facto house arrest. But it seems obvious that if these mega-interventions continue for the duration that is apparently required for them to be effective, then they will trigger a violent collapse of the global economy, and with it, widespread immiseration, political chaos and a truly Biblical scale of human suffering and death.

Guess shutting down the global economy and confining billions of people to their homes was a pretty dumb idea, after all.

The lockdowns will continue until morale improves

The state of Connecticut (population 3.6 million) has had a grand total of 2,436 WuFlu deaths.

Hospitalizations (a lagging indicator of infections) declined for 11 straight days as of May 3.

Nursing homes account for some 55% of WuFlu deaths in Connecticut.

Yet the state must remain on full lockdown until May 20, at which point a phased easing will commence. Another brutal 16 days of little to no revenue until restaurants with outdoor dining areas, hair salons and nail salons will be permitted to open their doors again. If certain conditions are met.

None of this makes any sense.

Where is the pressure coming from?

Who or what is the source of the demented zeal to shut down society worldwide? If any of us survive the present crisis, this question will need to be investigated and the people responsible for this monstrous self-inflicted catastrophe will need to be named and shamed.

Here’s an illuminating article about the pressure on Japan to lock down its population of ~127 million, despite the fact that the country has suffered – are you ready for this? – 517 deaths from WuFlu as of May 2:

Under Japan’s coronavirus state of emergency, people have been asked to stay home. Many are not. Some still have to commute to their jobs despite risks of infection, while others continue to dine out, picnic in parks and crowd into grocery stores with scant regard for social distancing.

The horror!

On Wednesday, the first day of the “Golden Week” holidays that run through May 5, Tokyo’s leafy Shiba Park was packed with families with small children, day camping in tents.

The lure of heading out for Golden Week holidays is testing the public’s will to unite against a common enemy as health workers warn rising coronavirus cases are overwhelming the medical system in some places. Experts say a sense of urgency is missing, thanks to mixed messaging from the government and a lack of incentives to stay home.

Let’s see who is pushing to turn Japan into an open-air prison camp:

To get better compliance, the government needs stronger messaging, said Naoya Sekiya, a University of Tokyo professor and expert of social psychology and risk communications.

A tougher lockdown would also help. […]

“The message coming from the government is rather mild, apparently trying to convey the need to stay home while prioritizing the economy,” Sekiya said. Since people lack a shared sense of crisis, instead of staying home they’re hoping for the best and assuming they won’t get infected, he said.

No shared sense of crisis? Very troubling. Perhaps the Japanese media can start running breathless stores about how MILLIONS WILL DIE, even young and healthy people! Or perhaps Japan can begin holding regular clapping session for the poor frontline workers to create an impression of national emergency.

As elsewhere, meddlesome officials and panicky governors are among those leading the charge to make “stay home, save lives” the new operating principle:

Officials are trying to fight back. In Kichijoji, they patrolled shopping arcades carrying banners saying “Please, do not go out.” Local mayors appealed to the government to close the crowded Shonan beach, popular with surfers and families, south of Tokyo. Some prefectures have set up border checkpoints to spot non-local license plates.

“It seems not everyone shares the sense of crisis,” said Kazunobu Nishikawa, a disaster prevention official in Musashino city, which oversees Kichijoji. “Many people understand the risks of this infectious disease,” he said, but “others seem to think COVID-19 is nothing more than a common cold and don’t care as long as they don’t catch it.” […]

Abe did not ask non-essential businesses to close. But Koike, the Tokyo governor, fought and prevailed in requesting that schools, movie theaters, athletic clubs, hostess bars and other such businesses in the city be asked to close. Most restaurants and pubs still can operate from 5 a.m. to 8 p.m., and grocery and convenience stores and public transport remain open as usual.

With most of the world’s rich nations committing seppuku over this virus, Japan may emerge out of this crisis in a relatively strong position.

The almost total transformation of society

“As a historian, the almost total transformation of society scares me”

The Rabbi Hillel Goldberg is on the right track, although he has far too much faith in the people in charge and has failed to grasp the key point that the “current transformation” is not “meant for our good” and has nothing to do with a microbe. Nevertheless, his historical comparison is apt. Most people will find it ridiculous or even offensive, because they will take it literally and ignore the deeper point that the Rabbi is making, which involves mass psychology. The speed and scale of the societal change that has occurred worldwide is truly frightening and without precedent in all of human history. The fact that the supine people of the West have accepted it with barely a question or complaint really makes me wonder what further surprises may be in store for us over the coming weeks or months. If you are not disturbed by where this is trending, you are simply not paying attention.

He’s back!

Prof. Knut Wittkowski is back for a follow-up interview:

He says that the number of coronavirus infections peaked around March 8 in the US – before the lockdowns began.

“Shutting down schools and restaurants and he economy around 10 days later is something that is totally absurd.”

See the first interview with him here.

The manufacture of consent

Clap Because We Care NYCWhat is the purpose of “Clap Because We Care,” the nightly ritualized clapping and cheering for medical personnel and other essential workers* in New York City?

As far as I can tell, the function of this ritual is threefold:

1) To heighten the impression of total and permanent crisis, reinforcing the need for indefinite lockdowns;

2) To evoke traditional celebrations of military personnel and first responders, creating the impression that the viral outbreak is similar to a war or terrorist attack;

3) To generate a (fake) sense of community with strangers who are similarly confined to their homes (this being the only large-scale social activity still permitted), and therefore conditioning New Yorkers to accept, embrace and even enjoy their isolation and confinement as the “new normal.”

In summary, the purpose of these orchestrated clapping sessions – like the terrifying stories being spewed by the media and social media – is to manufacture consent for ongoing, massive political and societal changes that would otherwise be unacceptable.

Creepy stuff.

*(The category of “essential workers” is quite broad; based on the city’s definition of “essential businesses or entities,” it seems to include bankers and journalists as well as healthcare workers treating WuFlu patients. By some accounts, the clapping is primarily directed at medical personnel, but other reports mention truck drivers, grocery store workers, etc. The vagueness of what categories of workers are being celebrated is another creepy aspect of the ritual. At least in Airstrip One, the clapping is specifically for the NHS.)

The reset

In a couple of important blog posts, energy and economics researcher Gail Tverberg explains how the corona crisis has pushed an already strained global economy to the brink of collapse:

Economies won’t be able to recover after shutdowns

Citizens seem to be clamoring for shutdowns to prevent the spread of COVID-19. There is one major difficulty, however. Once an economy has been shut down, it is extremely difficult for the economy to recover back to the level it had reached previously. In fact, the longer the shutdown lasts, the more critical the problem is likely to be. China can shut down its economy for two weeks over the Chinese New Year, each year, without much damage. But, if the outage is longer and more widespread, damaging effects are likely.

A major reason why economies around the world will have difficulty restarting is because the world economy was in very poor shape before COVID-19 hit; shutting down major parts of the economy for a time leads to even more people with low wages or without any job. It will be very difficult and time-consuming to replace the failed businesses that provided these jobs.

When an outbreak of COVID-19 hit, epidemiologists recommended social distancing approaches that seemed to be helpful back in 1918-1919. The issue, however, is that the world economy has changed. Social distancing rules have a much more adverse impact on today’s economy than on the economy of 100 years ago. […]

If a large number of businesses are closed for an extended period, this will have many adverse impacts on the economy:

  • Fewer goods and services, in total, will be made for the economy during the period of the shutdown.
  • Many workers will be laid off, either temporarily or permanently. Goods and services will suddenly be less affordable for these former workers. Many will fall behind on their rent and other obligations.
  • The laid off workers will be unable to pay much in taxes. In the US, state and local governments will need to cut back the size of their programs to match lower revenue because they cannot borrow to offset the deficit.
  • If fewer goods and services are made, demand for commodities will fall. This will push the prices of commodities, such as oil and copper, very low.
    Commodity producers, airlines and the travel industry are likely to head toward permanent contraction, further adding to layoffs.
  • Broken supply lines become problems. For example:
    A lack of parts from China has led to the closing of many automobile factories around the world.
    There is not enough cargo capacity on airplanes because much cargo was carried on passenger flights previously, and passenger flights have been cut back.

These adverse impacts become increasingly destabilizing for the economy, the longer the shutdowns go on. It is as if a huge number of deletions are made simultaneously in Figure 1. Temporary margins, such as storage of spare parts in warehouses, can provide only a temporary buffer. The remaining portions of the economy become less and less able to support themselves. If the economy was already in poor shape, the economy may collapse. (…)

COVID-19 and oil at $1: Is there a way forward?

(…)

We seem to be reaching the limit of making our current global economic system work any longer. The only hope of partial salvation would seem to be if core parts of the world economy can be made to work in a more separate fashion for at least a few more years. In fact, oil and other fossil fuel production may continue, but for each country’s own use, with very limited trade.

There are likely to be big differences among economies around the world. For example, hunter-gathering may work for a few people, with the right skills, in some parts of the world. At the same time, more modern economies may exist elsewhere.

The new economy will have far fewer people and far less complexity. Each country can be expected to have its own currency, but this currency will likely be used only on a limited range of locally produced goods. Speculation in asset prices will no longer be a source of wealth.

It will be a very different world!

Speaking of which:

Inflation-adjusted gross domestic product (real GDP) is expected to decline by about 12 percent during the second quarter, equivalent to a decline at an annual rate of 40 percent for that quarter.
The unemployment rate is expected to average close to 14 percent during the second quarter.
Interest rates on 3-month Treasury bills and 10-year Treasury notes are expected to average 0.1 percent and 0.6 percent, respectively, during that quarter.

For fiscal year 2020, CBO’s early look at the fiscal outlook shows the following:

The federal budget deficit is projected to be $3.7 trillion.
Federal debt held by the public is projected to be 101 percent of GDP by the end of the fiscal year.

Greatest act of societal and economic self-destruction in history.

New Jersey police use Chinese drones to harass Americans

Remember when we laughed at China for using drones equipped with loudspeakers to enforce lockdown orders? Back in the good old days of… early February? Yep, those were the days.

Well, it didn’t take long for that dystopian innovation to reach America’s shores:

Police departments across the country are resorting to the use of drone surveillance to enforce social distancing in both public and private spaces during statewide shelter-in-place orders.

New footage shot by MSNBC shows police in Elizabeth, New Jersey using drones to look for people not social distancing in areas their patrol cars cannot access.

“The drones make it easier for people to see into certain areas where access by patrol car is more difficult,” Rehema Ellis, an NBC news correspondent said. “That includes tight spaces between buildings, behind schools, and in backyards.”

Elizabeth Mayor Chris Bollwage told MSNBC that cities need to get creative, and defended the intrusive tactic as potentially saving lives.

“If these drones save one life, it is clearly worth the activity and the information the drones are sending,” the mayor said.

Of course. That is going to be the justification for every outrage in the future. “If it saves ONE LIFE, it’s worth [… suspending your civil liberties, trashing the economy, dissolving society… forever].” One life. I wonder what the founding fathers would have made of this argument?

When a drone identifies a group of people collected together, such as individuals quarantined in their backyard, it says, “you should not be congregating in groups.” Consequences for refusing to abide by the drones in Elizabeth, NJ include a court summons or a $1,000 fine.

Here’s the kicker:

A Chinese company known as Da Jiang Innovations (DJI) donated these types of drones to 43 law enforcement agencies in 23 states. Last May, the Department of Homeland Security issued a memo warning that Chinese drones are possible security risks, ripe for the “potential use for terrorism, mass casualty incidents, interference with air traffic, as well as corporate espionage and invasions of privacy.”

Donated, seriously? And the police departments thought this was a good idea?

Wall Street always wins

The American Economic Liberties Project explains (PDF) why Wall Street loves the CARES Act, the galactic economic bailout signed into law at the end of March. In short, while it’s not an explicit bank bailout, the benefits are massively lopsided in favor of big business and big finance… again:

The Treasury and Federal Reserve programs — more commonly referred to as bailouts — were a controversial part of the legislation that the American Economic Liberties Project opposed as part of the immediate legislative response. While much of the discussion of the legislation focused on the $1,200 payout to workers, the $4 trillion of credit in this bill that will go to big business and Wall Street is equivalent to a $13,000 loan to every single man, woman, and child in America.

Now that the bailouts are law, these provisions represent a massive, enduring transfer of power to billionaires and big businesses. It’s critical to seek opportunities to blunt this power transfer and be clear-eyed about the economic and social implications for workers, small businesses, communities, and society over the longer term. […]

The Fed has, accordingly, opened a variety of new lending programs. Last week, it opened seven new ones, on top of what it had already put out. The Fed can make up to $2.3 trillion in additional loans through these seven programs. Some of the programs are meant to help cities, states, small businesses, and so on. But they will also bail out private equity funds, which invest in riskier companies in search of bigger profits for rich and powerful investors. […]

WHO EXACTLY WILL GET MONEY THROUGH THE FED’S NEW LOAN PROGRAMS?

1. Private equity investors. One of the Fed’s new programs provides $750 billion, or $2,500 for every man, woman, and child in the U.S., to a junk bond-buying program, which the Fed calls the Secondary Market Corporate Credit Facility. Junk bonds, or “high-yield corporate bonds,” are risky loans that powerful financiers known as private equity funds use to take over corporations. The Fed can also use this program to lend to safer, well-managed corporations.

2. Big corporations and businesses. The Fed will also provide up to $750 billion, or $2,500 for every man, woman, and child in the U.S., to corporations through a program called the Primary Market Corporate Credit Facility. Specifically, the Fed will lend money to large businesses by buying bonds from corporations.

Etc.

As Matt Stoller has written:

Large banks, private equity corporations, and foreign central banks get dollars through the capital markets, by trading bonds and stocks. It turns out that the Federal Reserve is very good at working in these markets, and can move trillions of dollars relatively quickly. So that’s why the real estate arms of the largest private equity funds in the world are skyrocketing today. They know that the Fed turned the spigot on, and that spigot is instant and functional.

However, the Small Business Administration, unlike institutions in the 1930s and 1940s, does not have the workforce or ability to make direct loans to businesses. They have to guarantee loans made by banks, who in turn are supposed to make loans. Or that’s the theory, but in America, commercial lending institutions have hollowed out dramatically. Neither the banks nor SBA nor anyone else have the people to originate loans. We can’t do it. And our unemployment offices aren’t much better. The only functional bureaucracy that touches business and people is the IRS.

Never let a virus go to waste.