Tuesday, April 28, 2020

Fox news is not conservative enough for Donald Trump

It came as news to me, but apparently Fox News is not a right-wing propaganda factory, but is in fact a shill for Democrats.  Donald Trump said it, so it must be true:
President Donald Trump demanded an "alternative" to Fox News over the weekend as he accused the right-leaning network of disseminating Democratic talking points "without hesitation or research."
Oh, and don't forget to get your drink your Lysol to fend of the corona virus.

Friday, April 17, 2020

No, Fox News, the First Amendment does not protect false speech

Salon reports:
Fox News has moved to dismiss a lawsuit filed by a Washington state group accusing the network of "deceptive" coronavirus coverage by arguing that the First Amendment protects "false" and "outrageous" speech.
Fox News is, as usual, wrong.  It is well established that the First Amendment does not confer an unlimited right to say whatever you want whenever you want to.  Libel, for example, is still a thing, the First Amendment notwithstanding.

The most canonical example of speech that is not protected by the First Amendment is shouting fire in a crowded theater.  And yet, you obviously do have the right to shout fire in a crowded theater in at least one circumstance, namely, if the theater is in fact on fire.  You are allowed to shout fire in a crowded theater.  What you are not allowed to do is deliberately lie about it.

Which is exactly what Fox News is doing.

Actually, what Fox News is doing is more akin to shouting, "There is no fire, everyone stay in your seats" in a theater that is actually burning, but the principle here is the same: they are spreading information that they know to be false for the express purpose of coercing people into dangerous, potentially fatal behavior.  The First Amendment should not protect them from liability when people die as a result.

Tuesday, April 14, 2020

Trump advisor Peter Navarro gets owned by 60 Minutes's Bill Whittaker

Trump's gaslighting is getting more egregious, easier to debunk, but sadly also more plentiful.  In fact, it's one of the few things that isn't in short supply.  Here's a lesser-known example from 60 Minutes Overtime:
Navarro scolded 60 Minutes host Bill Whitaker, saying, “I challenge you. Show me the 60 Minutes episode a year ago, two years ago, or during the Obama administration, during the Bush administration that said, ‘Hey, global pandemic’s coming, you gotta do X, Y and Z, and, by the way, we gotta shut down the economy to fight it.’ Show me that episode. Then you’ll have some credence in terms of attacking the Trump administration for not being prepared.”
And so he did.  It's fun to watch.

Not so much fun is reading about how Trump is cutting funding for the World Health Organization.  Yeah.  Cutting WHO funding is definitely what you want to be doing in the middle of a deadly global pandemic.

Never forget: the corona virus is a democratic hoax.  And the press was in "hysteria mode" about it. 
“So far we have lost nobody to coronavirus," Trump said [on February 28], suggesting the growing global panic was due to the press being in a "hysteria mode."
Then, a month after complaining about the press's hysterical predictions Trump complained that "no one could have predicted it".  Except that, of course, they did -- again and again and again and again.

And of course Trump has "absolute authority" but takes "no responsibility".  But that didn't stop him from having his name printed on the disaster relief checks as if he personally issued them.  That is some serious banana-republic dictator shit right there, folks.  He's taking your tax money and putting his name on it.

Oh, and he also sent 18 tons of personal protective equipment to China in February 2020.  Now that's putting America first!

Once again I have to ask: can you imagine how Republicans would have reacted if Barack Obama did all these things?

Things must really be getting desperate

Sunday, April 12, 2020

The "very stable genius" is no match for the corona virus

Apparently, Donald Trump has not yet fully plumbed the depths of moronic idiocy (and yes, I know that's repetitive and redundant, but I really think it needs to be emphasized and highlighted).
Asked by a journalist about the level of testing for the coronavirus across the US, the president answered: “This is a very brilliant enemy. You know, it’s a brilliant enemy. They develop drugs like the antibiotics. You see it. Antibiotics used to solve every problem. Now one of the biggest problems the world has is the germ has gotten so brilliant that the antibiotic can’t keep up with it.
Wow.  If the very stable genius of Donald Trump is no match for the corona virus's brilliance, what hope do we mere mortals have to stand against it?

The staggering irony of the situation is that Trump once bragged about being able to kill someone without losing any votes.  We are now quite literally putting that prediction to the test (make no mistake, Trump's "policies" -- or, more to the point, the lack thereof -- are and will continue to be directly responsible for many thousands of deaths).  So far, Trump's boast seems to be holding up pretty well, though some Trump supporters are starting to see through the charade.  I just wonder how high the body count is going to have to get before his prophecy actually fails.

Thursday, April 09, 2020

Don't take too much comfort from the stock market rally

The Washington Post reports that 6.6 million Americans filed for unemployed benefits last week, bringing the coronavirus total to over 17 million.  Here is a sobering quote from that article:
“It looks like the unemployment rate is headed to 15 percent,” said Chris Rupkey, chief financial economist at MUFG Bank, in a note to clients. “This isn’t a recession, it’s the Great Depression II.”
And yet you may have noticed a sustained rally in the stock market over the past two weeks.  If you had bought at the bottom on March 23 you would have made a 30% return by now.

All this might lead you to experience some cognitive dissonance.  If we're headed for another Great Depression, why is the stock market rallying?  Wasn't the great crash of October 1929 and subsequent bear market one of the hallmarks of the original Great Depression?  Might it be that this time the market knows something that Chris Rupkey and the Washington Post don't?  Well, it's possible, but I doubt it.

There is one enormous difference between what is happening today and what happened in 1929, namely, that in 1929 the Fed didn't intervene to try to fix the problem and today it is staging the biggest intervention by a central bank ever in human history.  In a nutshell, it is offering essentially free money in the hopes that people will take it and use it to keep the economy from collapsing during the pandemic.  As the same time, Congress is also pumping vast amounts of cash into the economy through what appears likely to become a series of stimulus programs.  At the moment all this appears to be working.  Supermarket shelves are still reasonably well stocked (except for toilet paper).  There is no widespread civil unrest.  The churches and the gun stores are still open, at least they are if you lucky enough to live in a red state (and yes, that was intended to be ironic).

So maybe it's working this time.  It is certainly working as a temporary stop-gap.  Things would certainly be much worse right now if not for these measures.  But there is a very, very big danger for the medium-to-long term.

The problem is that the stock market is being propped up by cheap credit which is exactly what led to the crash of 1929.  Banks are borrowing money from the Fed and using that money to buy stocks, which are cheap by historical standards.  If the economy were functioning normally they would be a bargain, having dropped 37% from their peak.  (And note that percentage drops don't combine intuitively with percentage gains.  A 37% drop followed by a 30% gain is not the same as a 7% drop, it's a net 18% drop.)  But the economy is not functioning normally.  Vast sectors of it -- travel, entertainment, restaurants, pretty much the entire hospitality industry -- have been completely shut down overnight, with ripple effects into other sectors that supply the hospitality sector.  So the actual value of the U.S. economy is dropping like a stone at the same time that cheap credit is pumping up the price of stocks.

This is not the same as October of 1929.  This is much, much worse.  In 1929 the U.S. economy was basically sound.  There was just as much productive capacity after the October crash as before.  What amplified the crash into the Great Depression was the Fed's failure to relax credit which in turn led to a cascade of bank failures.  A similar thing happened in 2008, except that lessons were apparently learned and we kinda sorta dodged a bullet.

Today there is not as much productive capacity as there was a month ago.  There is a lot less.  So there are only three ways that this can play itself out:

1.  We find a way to end the lockdowns and return to work before too much time goes by.  The only way this could be done safely is through the discovery of an effective treatment for covid-19, or more widespread testing so we can be more selective about who we isolate.  The other possibility is to just throw in the towel and let a million people die.

2.  The Fed continues to prop up the market for as long as the crisis continues.

3.  The banks who borrowed the money realize that they now hold overpriced stocks and begin to sell in order to lock in their profits.  Once prices start to drop, panic selling sets in.

At the moment the Fed has indicated a willingness to do #2 but whether they are really willing to stick with this in the long run is unclear.  Artificially propping up prices by pumping money into the economy is no panacea.  Germany tried that during the Great Depression and it did not end well.

We dodged Great Depression 2 in 2008 by the skin of our teeth.  We did that in an era when the crisis was driven entirely by policy and not by any underlying physical factors, and when the people in charge were mostly competent and honest.  Today none of those things are the case.  We have an actual significant drag on the economy, and the country's leadership is both corrupt (really really corrupt) and incompetent (really really incompetent).

We Americans are a resilient and resourceful people and maybe we'll figure out a way to make this all work out somehow despite the headwinds.  But I wouldn't bet my life savings on it.

[UPDATE] If you were pinning your hopes on the prospect that the Trump administration is not rampantly incompetent but rather perhaps just a little slow on the uptake, and that now that reality has set in they will finally do the Right Thing and deal effectively with the crisis, well, I wouldn't count on that either.

Saturday, April 04, 2020

When the going gets tough, the Trumps go golfing

We may not have enough masks, personal protective equipment, or ventilators, but at least the Secret Service has been able to complete an emergency procurement of 30 golf carts at one of Donald Trump's resorts in order to "protect a dignitary."  At least the Trump administration has its priorities straight.

(Can you imagine the outcry from Republicans if Obama or Hillary had done this?)

Wednesday, April 01, 2020

A Modest Proposal

With the dawning of a new month and the as-yet-not-entirely-fulfilled promise of Spring I have decided to combat the melancholy of sheltering in place with some out-of-the-box thinking.  Towards that end, I have resolved to re-examine my core beliefs and embrace the Great Wisdom embodied in the Very Stable Genius (VSG) of Donald Trump and those who were wise enough to recognize from the beginning that he was sent by God to deliver us from liberals.  I am abandoning the principle that one of the jobs of government is to ensure that people have access to certain basic necessities like safe food and clean drinking water, and adopting instead the ethos of the conservatives: if someone is making money, everything else will take care of itself.  And more to the point, if *I* am making money then I must be doing everything right and fuck you.  If you're not making money, well, maybe you should have signed up for Trump University.

The best way to make money, of course, is to create a product that meets someone's needs.  But that by itself is old-fashioned thinking.  Even liberals can get on board with that boring old idea.  In order to really win in today's world you have to go big.  In particular, it's important to recognize the following truths, which should be self-evident to any thinking person:

1.  Donald Trump, VSG has never made a mistake in his entire life.  Everything Donald Trump has ever done, is doing now, and will do in the future, is Perfect.

2.  Everything good that has ever happened to you or anyone you know is a direct result of the wise and bold leadership of Donald Trump and the Republican Party.  If you are not falling on your knees daily to praise their names then you are the most ungrateful and undeserving person who has ever lived.

3.  Everything bad that has ever happened is the fault of liberals.  If they had not advanced their bogus impeachment of Donald Trump, VSG, the Very Bad Chinese Wuhan Chink-chink Virus would never have escaped from that shithole country where it originated and invaded our homeland.

4.  Where are the emails?  Where is the server?  Lock her up!

Looking forward now it seems clear that the thing to do is to boldly embrace the power of free enterprise.  Accordingly, I am here to let you in on the ground floor of my next venture.  Like I said, the best way to make money is to make a product that meets a need.  But casting about for people's actual needs is too much work.  The real way to make money is to create demand by anticipating a need that people didn't even know they had.

So what is the thing people need most right now?  A vaccine for the corona virus!  It's probably too late to catch that particular wave.  Lots of people more capable than me are working on that already so there's going to be too much competition.  They key is to create the vaccine for the next killer virus before it arrives, and the best way to do that is, obviously, to create the Next Big Virus.

So here's my business plan: we're going to take the Covid-19 virus and genetically engineer it to make it even bigger and badder than it already is.  We're going to keep this new virus, tentatively dubbed Covid-21, under tight wraps as a corporate trade secret.  At the same time, we're going to develop a vaccine for it.

Now, mind you, we are never going to actually release Covid-21.  That would be highly unethical.  But you never know when an unfortunate accident might happen and people will want to be prepared this time.

How much is advance immunity to Covid-21 worth to you?  How much would you pay to not have to shelter-in-place next time?  $100?  $1000?  If you are one of the people with the foresight to protect themselves, then you could be one of the privileged few who gets to go out while everyone else has to stay home.  You'll get to keep your job, go to the beach, take that cruise (probably at a substantial discount).  If you buy a gift vaccination for your grandparents you might even extend their lives, and all life is precious (unless of course it stands in the way of making a profit.)

But I'm no asshole like Martin Shkreli.  I'm not going to squeeze people for every penny they can pay (although I probably could).  I want everyone to have my product, so I'm going to price it very modestly: just $10 a month, or $100 a year if you renew annually (you never know when the virus might mutate!)  That's still a pretty lucrative business model.  Even with only 10% market penetration world-wide that's still over $50B a year in revenue, almost all of which will be pure profit.  Such are the rewards of altruistic free enterprise.   All hail The Donald who hath showed us The Way!

I am offering you a very exclusive very limited opportunity for readers of this blog to buy an advance subscription to the Covid-21 vaccine.  Supplies may be limited at first so you'll want to reserve your priority slot now!  Don't wait, leave your contact information (or your credit card number) in the comments below, and we will contact you within 24 hours!  And, for the truly visionary and deep-pocketed among you, I am also raising a friends-and-family-and-soon-to-be-immune-people investment round, terms to be disclosed upon execution of an NDA.  But trust me, if you don't get in on this, you'll regret it for the rest of your possibly-soon-to-be-abbreviated life.

Who's in?