All too seldom, you come across an article that is so on target and so well written, you feel pangs of envy. This is one of them.
As if to demonstrate its perfection, the article contains, among a multitude of brilliant observations, just one tiny error, which I will mention at the end.
Farewell to 2021, the stupidest year in American history
Los Angeles Times
One year ago, we were looking forward to a safer and sounder 2021.
The Food and Drug Administration had granted emergency authorization to the Pfizer-BioNTech and Moderna vaccines against COVID-19.
A new presidential administration was poised to take office in the next month, armed with a commitment to bring together a nation cleaved by four years of divisive policymaking.
It was not to be.
Instead of unity and immunity, this year has brought us stupidity and insanity on an unimaginable scale.
In the categories of public health, education policy, fiscal policy and investment options, we appear to have taken leave of our collective senses.
Certainly there are other years or periods in which stupidity or heedlessness brought civilization in general close to eradication.
Consider 1914, when most of Europe dived hellbent to war for no discernible reason. (Read Barbara Tuchman’s book “The Guns of August” for the full horrific picture.)
The Dark Ages were a period benighted by scientific ignorance.
Some individual countries and national leaders stand out for tempting fate, to their and their citizens’ misfortune. Britain in 1938 under Neville Chamberlain.
Russia’s warmongering with Japan in 1904-1905. Louis Napoleon poking a stick into the Prussian bear’s cage in 1870-1871. Saddam Hussein invading Kuwait in 1990.
The perpetrators of some of these errors might assert in their defense that they were brought low by circumstances they didn’t know at the time.
But America in 2021 can’t plead that it didn’t know. Didn’t know that vaccines representing stupendous scientific achievements were the solution to the COVID-19 pandemic?
Didn’t know that Donald Trump wasn’t joking when he demanded that government officials overturn a fair presidential election?
Didn’t know that bitcoin, NFTs, SPACs and meme stocks were destined, even designed, to take unwary investors to the cleaners?
Of course we knew, and know. We don’t seem to care.
In reviewing the most intellectually demoralizing events of 2021, I’ll leave aside a few discrete outbursts of asininity.
So I won’t go into detail about the conservative movement’s lionizing of Kyle Rittenhouse, the self-confessed but acquitted killer of two unarmed men at a protest rally in Kenosha, Wis.
Or the openly antisemitic ravings by former President Trump.
Or the ugly, dishonest attacks that forced the withdrawal of Saule Omarova, one of the most qualified nominees for a federal banking regulatory job in memory.
Or the shameful behavior of congressional Republicans, who cowered in safety during the Jan. 6 insurrection, pleading with Trump to help quell the riot, only to claim ever since that the violence of the crowd was no big deal.
Or the posting of Christmas cards by politicians showing their families hoisting assault weapons, as Rep. Thomas Massie (R-Ky.) did just four days after a gunman killed four students at a Michigan high school.
He was followed by Rep. Lauren Boebert (R-Colo.).
Instead, we’ll focus on a few of the bigger pictures.
So, as Virgil said to Dante before guiding him into the Inferno, “Let us descend now into the blind world.”
The pandemic is surely the focus of the most obtuse and ignorant public reactions and state and local policy responses to any crisis in American history.
It’s as if the grown-ups have all been beamed up, and we are left in the hands of people like Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis. (I am paraphrasing a line from the great pandemic movie “Together.”)
In any rational world, the refusal or failure by some 50 million adult Americans to take a vaccine of known efficacy against a deadly disease would be inexplicable.
But this is not a rational world, and the situation is even worse.
Vaccine refusal is seen in many benighted corners of the United States not merely as the exercise of personal choice for personal reasons but as a means of showing moral superiority over the vaccinated.
A conservative critic of anti-pandemic measures writing from rural southwest Michigan for the Atlantic bragged absurdly and selfishly, “I am now closer to most of my fellow Americans than the people, almost absurdly overrepresented in media and elite institutions, who are still genuinely concerned about this virus.”
The author may think he’s remote from virus concerns, but that’s not the case at a hospital visited by CNN in Lansing, Mich., which can’t be much more than 100 miles from his location and where “the latest COVID-19 surge is as bad as health care workers there have seen.”
Its effectiveness is scarcely disputable: The Commonwealth Fund estimates that the vaccine averted about 1.1 million American deaths from COVID-19 and more than 10.3 million hospitalizations this year.
The answer lies in politics.
Trump drew the line first, dismissing social distancing steps and refusing to speak up for vaccination.
He established these steps as partisan choices, and his political acolytes followed him over the cliff.
DeSantis has been a leader in this descent into the Inferno.
He’s chosen to make Dr. Anthony Fauci, head of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases and America’s most respected authority on the pandemic, a target of partisan calumny.
He’s appointed a vaccine doubter as his state’s top public health official.
What is the outcome? Florida currently ranks eighth-worst among states in its COVID-19 death rate, with more than 62,000 Floridians having perished from the virus.
Of the seven states with worse records, six are red states like Florida.
Corporate America has not showered itself in glory. On Dec. 18, Boeing announced that it was dropping its requirement that all U.S. employees be vaccinated.
Its explanation was that a federal judge had blocked the enforcement of a federal executive order that employees of government contractors be vaccinated.
This is absurd. Nothing in the ruling required Boeing to drop its requirement.
The company announced its step back just as the omicron variant was about to produce a surge in infections.
The pusillanimity of American corporations on this subject continues to astound. (The Times, which is owned by a physician and biomedical entrepreneur, is requiring all employees to be fully vaccinated by Jan. 31.)
To its credit, on Dec. 17 the Biden White House issued an uncompromising warning about the dangers of remaining unvaccinated.
“For the unvaccinated, you’re looking at a winter of severe illness and death for yourselves, your families and the hospitals you may soon overwhelm,” White House Chief of Staff Ron Klain said.
“So, our message to every American is clear…. Wear a mask in public indoor settings. Get vaccinated, get your kids vaccinated, and get a booster shot when you’re eligible.”
In May, I asked whether we were experiencing a peak in investment absurdity.
The examples then were bitcoin, dogecoin and nonfungible tokens (NFTs), as well as meme stocks, the prices of which were not tied to sober reflections about their issuers’ business prospects but to internet-fueled speculation.
Assets like these, which are priced in accordance with the “greater fool” theory (they have no intrinsic value beyond what you can cadge from a bigger fool than yourself), have only proliferated since then.
Or perhaps it’s only the absurdity that has ballooned.
NFTs, for instance, are tradable digital files that confer no ownership to anything but the digital file, which may be an image of an object that is actually owned by someone else.
Someone has parodied the NFT market by purporting to sell NFTs of images of individual Olive Garden restaurants, but it’s the kind of parody that gets at the essential truth of the target.
You don’t get to own the restaurant or the photo. You don’t get a discount on menu items or a guarantee that the photo is even accurate.
You supposedly get to own something on the Non-fungible Olive Garden Metaverse, whatever that is, and you can try to find a greater fool to sell it to.
NFTs generally don’t confer ownership of the underlying asset or even the digital representation of the asset. The market doesn’t exist for any reason except to produce activity to suck in greater fools.
The best clue that there’s something hinky about these markets is that the Trump family is going all in. A purported media company started by Donald Trump, for instance, is merging with a special purpose acquisition company, or SPAC.
As I reported, the deal promptly came under the scrutiny of financial regulators. In any case, no discernible business plan of any substance has emerged for the Trump company.
People appear to have invested because of his name.
Now Melania Trump has gotten into the act, hawking NFTs of paintings of her eyes — “an amulet to inspire,” the pitch says, though obviously you don’t get to own the eyes or even the original watercolor.
Software developer Stephen Diehl, an established skeptic of these things, writes that we are entering upon “a hustler’s paradise … where the market now provides a financial token game for every meme, every celebrity, every political movement, and every bit of art and culture.”
The old saw applies about how if you’re looking around the poker table and can’t identify the mark, it’s you.
Inflation and Build Back Better
Republicans and conservatives have never cottoned to spending on programs that assist the middle and working class.
President Biden’s Build Back Better program was destined to get their backs up.
How could they attack a program that provides for universal prekindergarten education, assistance with child care, caps on the price of drugs such as insulin and better access to health care?
Simple: Raise the old bugaboo of inflation.
That’s been the approach of Sen. Joe Manchin III (D-W.Va.), who recently announced — via Fox News, of course — that he couldn’t support the plan in any way.
He’s since backed off a bit from his adamantine opposition, but the core of his position was concern that the measure would add to inflation.
As we’ve reported, that’s just wrong. Not even former Treasury Secretary Lawrence Summers, who sounded an inflation alarm about the pandemic relief package enacted this year, thinks it applies to this measure.
The provisions of Build Back Better are paid for and represent investments in the economy, so they’re anything but inflationary.
Indeed, Wall Street views Manchin’s resistance as an economic negative.
According to MarketWatch, Goldman Sachs cut its growth forecast for the first quarter of next year to 2% from 3%, for the second quarter to 3% from 3.5% and for the third quarter to 2.75% from 3%.
That’s not counting the direct impact of Build Back Better on Manchin’s own state, which is among the poorest in the nation and one in which government programs are crucial.
That’s well understood on the ground: The United Mine Workers union publicly urged Manchin to reconsider his opposition to a program that would have “a meaningful impact on our members, their families, and their communities.”
Much more happened in 2021 that prompts one to hold head in hands. To be fair, however, there were also glimmers of hope.
Biden on Dec. 21 announced steps to strengthen the country’s response to the Omicron variant, including mobilizing troops to help staff overwhelmed hospitals, opening thousands of vaccine sites and sending 500 million free testing kits to households.
The Build Back Better plan is not entirely dead, and a revival effort will start in January.
Whether 2022 will be as stupid and insane as 2021 won’t be known until we can view it in a rearview mirror 12 months from now. We can only hope.
Michael Hiltzik is a columnist for the Los Angeles Times.
Brilliant in all respects.
As for the tiny error, it comes in the sentence, “The provisions of Build Back Better are paid for and represent investments in the economy, so they’re anything but inflationary.”
Mr. Hilzik is correct that BBB is not inflationary (Inflation is caused by scarcity, not by spending), but the “paid for” phrase seems to hint that taxes fund the spending.
Otherwise, why specify “The provisions of Build Back Better” as being paid for, when in fact, every penny of federal spending always is and always has been paid for, not by taxes, but by newly created dollars.
But my comment is like complaining about the impurity of one raindrop in a rainstorm.
Mr. Hiltzik’s article is, in my view, a masterpiece.
Rodger Malcolm Mitchell
Facebook: Rodger Malcolm Mitchell
THE SOLE PURPOSE OF GOVERNMENT IS TO IMPROVE AND PROTECT THE LIVES OF THE PEOPLE.
The most important problems in economics involve:
- Monetary Sovereignty describes money creation and destruction.
- Gap Psychology describes the common desire to distance oneself from those “below” in any socio-economic ranking, and to come nearer those “above.” The socio-economic distance is referred to as “The Gap.”
Wide Gaps negatively affect poverty, health and longevity, education, housing, law and crime, war, leadership, ownership, bigotry, supply and demand, taxation, GDP, international relations, scientific advancement, the environment, human motivation and well-being, and virtually every other issue in economics. Implementation of Monetary Sovereignty and The Ten Steps To Prosperity can grow the economy and narrow the Gaps:
Ten Steps To Prosperity:
- Eliminate FICA
- Federally funded Medicare — parts A, B & D, plus long-term care — for everyone
- Social Security for all
- Free education (including post-grad) for everyone
- Salary for attending school
- Eliminate federal taxes on business
- Increase the standard income tax deduction, annually.
- Tax the very rich (the “.1%”) more, with higher progressive tax rates on all forms of income.
- Federal ownership of all banks
- Increase federal spending on the myriad initiatives that benefit America’s 99.9%
The Ten Steps will grow the economy and narrow the income/wealth/power Gap between the rich and the rest.
6 thoughts on “A brilliant article I wish I had written.”
These are not random events. WE ARE BEING PLAYED. They keep the tRump flame alive. This is why Joe Biden carries a contrite demeanor. Powerless swamp creature that he is. We are all being played by arrangement. When John McCain ran for prez, he knew it’s a for-show affair: His own campaign advisor was doing business with Putin in Ukraine as McCain openly advocated against Putin. How would such a thing be possible if the elections were not rigged and the democracy a show-job. Biden is setting up for the dive just like Hillary did in 2016. It’s all a big psychopathic joke. The same neocon/evangelicals that pulled strings during W’s Iraq now change their mask and give us this new production.
RE: The same neocon/evangelicals that pulled strings
Are you referring to the prayer breakfast cult also known as ‘The Family’? https://www.rollingstone.com/culture/culture-features/netflix-the-family-jesse-moss-secret-christian-cult-washington-dc-869396/
I agree with some of what this bloke said yet he allowed his political bias into the article which kind of diminished it.
“..People appear to have invested because of his (Trump’s) name.”
That right there would scare the hell out of me.
Merry New Year, Rodger. I hope it’s a healthy and prosperous one for you and yours.
There is, indeed, a lot of good stuff in Hiltzik’s column. However, I am going to take issue with his section on the COVID pandemic and his praise of Dr. Anthony Fauci.
From the very beginning in early 2020, the CDC, the WHO, and other public health agencies have totally dropped the ball and their actions, or lack thereof, have sentenced untold numbers of Americans to death and severe illness, notwithstanding the partial success of the vaccines.
There is so much wrong with the government’s response to the pandemic that I hardly know where to start. One of the first mistakes was Fauci’s “noble lie” that we didn’t need masks, based on a purported need to save limited stocks for health care workers (HCW). Even cloth masks provide some protection.
Another debacle was the CDC’s failed attempt to create an accurate rapid test for the virus. Instead of letting anyone with the knowledge and experience to develop tests, they insisted on doing it themselves and failed while at the same time refusing to approve anyone else’s that showed effectiveness. The left the US without an effective at-home test for many months.
Next on my list is the failure of these government agencies and much of the medical community to accept the now well-proven fact that the primary mode of COVID transmission is by aerosols that float in the air for hours, depending on ventilation, just like cigarette smoke does. They are still recommending hygiene theater even though there are no documented cases of infection from fomites (virus particles deposited on surfaces from coughing or sneezing, etc.). Whenever you see recommendations for preventing transmission, see where in the list you find ventilation. If’s it’s even included, it’s most likely to be at the end. And, the use of plexiglass barriers to prevent droplets (which don’t float in the air) from getting to others is actually detrimental because they interfere with the free flow of air that can clear the room of virus aerosols.
The only plan offered by the government is Vax Vax Vax.
Then we get to the government’s and Biden’s statements that vaccination means you’re protected and don’t have to worry and can do without masking in most places. The vaccines are not sterilizing and research has shown that vaccinated and unvaccinated individuals have approximately the same viral load in their mouth and nostrils. That means that vaccination does not reduce transmission. Of course, the vaccines were never developed for this purpose. They are efficacious at reducing the probability of severe illness and death. Nothing more, nothing less.
Yet, the CDC and others, especially Biden, are telling us to go back to work because we’re protected. We’re starting to find out how wrong that whole idea is now that the Omicron variant is spreading so fast. Just look at the daily case count in the US and elsewhere. It’s gone exponential. And, the word from doctors on the ground is that hospital admissions and infections are hitting the vaccinated and unvaccinated at about the same rates, regardless of what some media and government have been saying.
Several countries, including China, Vietnam, Chile, Ecuador, New Zealand, and others have successfully brought infections down to zero, at least for awhile. Why hasn’t the US adopted some of their strategies, such as widespread testing, immediate contact tracing, isolation and quarantine (in dedicated facilities, with income support and food delivery), closing (really closing) borders? It’s because of the 2 rules of neoliberalism: 1. Because Markets; 2. Go die.
One more question. Why hasn’t the administration invoked the Defense Production Act to produce the PPE and tests that we need. Just the other day Biden said the federal government has no solutions, it’s up to the states. I think the absurdity of that is obvious, starting with who pays for things we need.
When Psaki was asked about sending free tests to all Americans she mocked the idea, including the cost. Then, after a few days of uproar the administration said it’s going to buy 500 million tests to distribute. Yet, they still haven’t signed the contract. (It’s supposed to be signed this week, but will take a while to produce and distribute.)
I could go on, but this is too long already. I recommend, Rodger, that you take a look at Naked Capitalism. They have been linking to all of the research on COVID since the beginning in January, 2020. Perhaps more importantly there are some commentators there, especially IM Doc, who are on the front lines and have the best view of what’s happening. Please take a look at what he has to say.
This link will give you a good start:
Be well, stay safe.
Over time, the situation has changed markedly.
Initially, it would have been possible to prevent the vast majority from encountering the virus, simply by masking. At that time I wrote:
Sadly, the delta and omicron variants have changed the situation. Now, every human being in America, if not everyone on earth, will come in contact with the virus. Masking no long will prevent that. All masking can do is delay encountering the virus, and not by much.
With that in mind, I wrote:
The ONLY solution now involves vaxing to prevent deaths. Masking and social distancing will not prevent you from inhaling those viruses.
For a time, the anti-vaxers were endangering themselves and others. Now, they only endanger themselves. We others absolutely, positively will inhale the viruses, no matter what the anti-vaxers do.
All we can do is pray the much-maligned pharmaceutical companies will continue to develop life-saving vaccines.
As for the anti-vaxers, they now are benefiting the human genome by winning Darwin Awards, so we should appreciate their ultimate sacrifice.