Listen to the Experts

Posted By Elgin Hushbeck

The constant message these days in the media is to listen to the experts. But the problem quickly becomes which experts.  They do not all agree.  This is even more clear with the recent publication of the Great Barrington Declaration, which, at the time of this writing, was already signed by 5,872 Medical & Public Health Scientists and 11,893 Medical Practitioners.

These health professionals look at both the dangers posed by COVID-19 but also consider the impact of government policies.  These policies are not free of impact; nothing of any significance ever is.  They have “have grave concerns about the damaging physical and mental health impacts of the prevailing COVID-19 policies.” The dangers of COVID-19 needs to be balanced with effects of the shutdown. They write,

(to name a few) include lower childhood vaccination rates, worsening cardiovascular disease outcomes, fewer cancer screenings and deteriorating mental health – leading to greater excess mortality in years to come, with the working class and younger members of society carrying the heaviest burden. Keeping students out of school is a grave injustice.

As our knowledge of this virus has grown, and treatment methods improved,

we know that vulnerability to death from COVID-19 is more than a thousand-fold higher in the old and infirm than the young. Indeed, for children, COVID-19 is less dangerous than many other harms, including influenza.

It is just a fact that COVID-19 will continue to spread until the population reached herd immunity. The only thing shutdowns can do is drag out this process.  A vaccine can help, but a vaccine is not required. In the end, we will need to reach herd immunity.  As such, these experts recommend,

“The most compassionate approach that balances the risks and benefits of reaching herd immunity is to allow those who are at minimal risk of death to live their lives normally to build up immunity to the virus through natural infection, while better protecting those who are at highest risk. We call this Focused Protection.”

In short, theses experts argue that our response should be driven by looking at both side and seeking what will result in the least harm, and not just what minimize the virus. 

To see the declaration go to https://gbdeclaration.org/

Oct 9th, 2020
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The More Things Change

Posted By Elgin Hushbeck

Quick question, which party is seeking the ability to discriminate based on race?

If you answered the Democrats, you are correct.  They are doing so in California, a state they have solidly control for a long time.  What they are trying to do is repeal the following provision of a state Constitution,

The state shall not discriminate against, or grant preferential treatment to, any individual or group on the basis of race, sex, color, ethnicity, or national origin in the operation of public employment, public education, or public contracting.

This should not be a surprise. While they like to hide it, as I have written in the past,

The Democratic party still divides people into groups, where one is a member of a group before they are an individual. In recent years this has been formalized in the concepts of intersectionality. It is seen, for example, in Biden’s recent statement that a person is not Black if they don’t vote for him.  In short, the issue of race is still at the core of the Democratic party.

Voters added this provision to the California Constitution in 1996 with Proposition 209. I voted for that proposition, and it had the strong backing of Republicans, but faced opposition from Democrats.   In the upcoming election, Proposition 16 attempts to repeal it. Thus not too surprisingly, prop 16 has the strong backing of Democrats but opposition from Republicans. 

Prop 16 will allow Democrats to discriminate based on race, sex, color, ethnicity, or national origin. Of course, they dress all this up with language such as,

Prop. 16 expands equal opportunity to all Californians, increasing access to fair wages, good jobs, and quality schools everyone.

But how can this be true?  How can you increase access for everyone by discriminating based on race, sex, color, ethnicity, or national origin? When the Democrats did this to support slavery and then later segregation, such discrimination was called wrong, and properly so.

A core of this effort is the Democrats’ desire to play group-politics. They want to pick and choose between various groups those they like (i.e., support them) and those they don’t. They want to be able to tell you, as a member of a particular group, that you should vote for them because of all the wonderful things they do for your group.

In the old south, Democrats told whites they should vote for them to support slavery. Once Republicans abolished slavery, they ran on defending segregation. In the North, Democrats played group-politics with various immigrant groups to create and maintain political machines. By the 1960s, Democrats realized that segregation was doomed. So they shifted to a national machine model with the Great Society and pressed on.  

While a lot changed, the more things changed, the more they stay the same. Machine politics thrives on the ability to distribute tax dollars to friends and punish enemies.  Thus under the Obama IRS, Tea party groups had their applications blocked and held up for years, as their members faced audits.  Meanwhile,  friends of Obama had their applications fast-tracked sometimes in days.  Other government departments saw similar behavior.

Yet for Democrats, doling out such favors has been more difficult recently because of their focus on intersectionality. The bottom line is that they want to discriminate, but are finding it harder to do so. So now they want to change the law to make discrimination legal again. Discrimination, in the name of equal opportunity!  That is the upside-down world of the Democrats.  The sad thing is, given that California is a Democratic stronghold, it will probably pass.

Sep 1st, 2020
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A Party of Division

Posted By Elgin Hushbeck

Whatever they may have been in the past, it is becoming increasingly clear that the current Democratic party is a party of division and even hate. This attitude is clear in a provision of H.R. 7608 recently passed in the house which says,

Sec. 442. Notwithstanding any other provision of law or policy to the contrary, within 180 days of enactment of this Act, the National Park Service shall remove from display all physical Confederate commemorative works, such as statues, monuments, sculptures, memorials, and plaques, as defined by NPS, Management Policies 2006, §9.6.1.

In 2017 I wrote an article on, History, The Confederacy, and Monuments,  where I wrote,

 “when it comes to monuments in cemeteries or places like Gettysburg, I would be very strongly opposed to their removal. As for the others, I see them as much more problematic.” 

I see history as both interesting and important. It is hard to imagine what Civil War battlefields would be like without all the “statues, monuments, sculptures, memorials, and plaques” for the Confederate troops.  

I have been to Gettysburg several times. It is always a moving experience. I have stood where the southern troop massed for Pickett’s Charge and looked across the fields to the stonewall where Handcocks troops waited for them.  I have stood at the angle and looked in the opposite direction. There are monuments there, and throughout the battlefield to commemorate, the units on both sides. To remove all the monuments for the confederate troops would be a desecration and an act of hate.  

As I said in my 2017 article, “I view the Civil War as two things: A victory, and over.” Yet now Democrats seem to want to light the conflict anew and divide the country once again.  Yet this time, it will not be over those who support slavery and those who oppose it. This time the conflict will be over those who value history and those who want to erase it.

Another key factor is that the meaning of symbols shifts over time. Those wanting to erase the Confederate flag from memory see it as a symbol of the racist past.  For some, it is. But for many others, it is something else. It is important to note that what we call the Confederate Flag is not the flag of the Confederacy. Rather it is the Confederate Battle Flag. For many, this flag is a symbol of regional pride, valor, and honor. It says one is a bit of a rebel, a theme that runs strongly throughout America, not just the South.

Yet, Democrats ignore all this. They say the flag is a symbol of racism and want it erased completely. Yet, how is removing battlefield memorials any different than the Taliban destroying statues with which they disagreed? With the Taliban’ destruction,

Political and religious leaders, as well as preservationists and museum directors from around the world, have expressed fury and sadness over the actions of the Islamic extremists

There is an old Soviet joke: The future is certain; it is that past that is unpredictable. This joke seems to be the motto of the modern Democratic party. They are always predicting a glorious future of peace, prosperity, and harmony.  Yet if one looks at their record, they would see something quite different.

I can understand why Democrats want to erase the history of the Confederacy, for it is their history. The Democrats were the party of slavery. They now want to shift the blame to America and see this as America’s great sin. While that is partially correct, it was not all Americans. Many Americans opposed slavery and fought and died to abolish it. The Democratic party wanted slavery, argued for it, and then fought the Civil War to preserve it.  It is an ugly part of Democrat history, so it is understandable why they want to erase it. If we insist on getting rid of the Confederate Flag because of slavery, why don’t we get rid of the party that pushed for slavery, argued for slavery, and fought for slavery?

In my earlier article, I talked about the experience of two combatants, Corporal Charles H McConnell of the 24th Michigan and Colonel John R Lane, of the 26th North Carolina.  While it is unlikely that McConnell was the soldier who shot and seriously wounded Lane, he believed he had. Despite that, the two became great friends. A 1903 photograph shows them together near the spot McConnell believed he had shot Lane. Nor is this is the only story of soldiers from the North and South, putting past animosity behind them and seeking peace and friendship.

The existence of the battlefield monuments is not a glorification of the Confederacy in its struggle to preserve slavery. The war is over.  They lost.  It is an acknowledgment of history, of what happened, and who fought. It is a sign of reconciliation and resolution. That what was once a place of war is now a place of peace.

Some likened this to pulling down statues of Lenin, following the collapse of the Soviet rule, or Sadam, following his defeat in Iraq. However, there is a key difference. Pulling down a symbol of a ruler when overthrown is one thing. It is something entirely different to do so 155 years later, and well over 120 years since the combatants themselves reconciled and became friends.  

In the immediate aftermath of the war, it was bad enough when the more radical Republicans sought to punish the South.  Lincoln has sought a policy of quick reconciliation and forgiveness, but his assassination ended that possibility. It is sad to think that 155 years later, some still harbor the old divisions.

Though perhaps, the motive is not division, but simply virtue signaling. “See how virtuous I am? I want to remove confederate monuments.”  I am not sure this would be a better explanation. It would mean they are willing to stir up old animosities and strife, for personal gain, and that is hardly a sign of virtue.  

Aug 18th, 2020
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Why Voting By Mail is a Really Bad Idea

Posted By Elgin Hushbeck

How Voting by Mail Disenfranchises Voters

While there continue to be growing calls for nationwide voting by mail in November, it remains a very bad idea for many reasons.  For one, voting by mail, along with early voting, distort the election process. Ideally, we have the campaign then we vote on election day. Now some states allow early voting for as many as 46 days in advance, greatly increasing the cost and complexity of campaigns.  This problem led to the Trump administration’s request to move the debate schedule earlier. With this debate scheduled for September 29th, 16 states will have already begun early voting by this time. Early voting during the spring, effectively disenfranchised many voters because the candidate they voted for dropped out before the day of the election.

Most people do not follow politics very closely. Frankly, this is a good thing. Political campaigns focus on educating the voting public on the benefits of their candidate and the weakness of their opponent. At the same time, the opposition does the same for their candidate. An effective campaign requires building a strategy and then executing it. Doing this for a single fixed point, i.e., election day is hard enough. The larger the window for voting, the more difficult and costly this becomes.  For incumbents, this is a huge advantage.  The more difficult and costly campaigns, the safer incumbents are from challengers.

Problems With The Mail

While both voting by mail and early voting share this problem, at least with early voting, there is the security that if you vote, your votes will be received and counted.  Voting by mail has additional problems in both of these areas.

The problem with receiving your ballot is that the process relies on the mail.  In short, that you mailed your ballot does not mean your ballot will be received or received in time.  Recently, CBS News in Philadelphia create 100 simulated ballots and mailed them to a P.O. box from various locations around the city. This simulated people voting by mail.    A few days later, they repeated this with a second group of simulated ballots.

A week after mailing the first batch of ballots, three were missing. For the second batch, only 79 had arrived, although the P.O. Box did receive other pieces of misdirected mail, such as a birthday card.  Even the 3 percent rate of missing ballots from the first set is larger than the margin of victory for Trump or Clinton in 9 states. These states accounted for 98 electoral votes, nearly three times Trump’s margin of victory.

Receiving Is Not Counting

Another issue with voting by mail is even if your ballot is delivered, it still can be rejected.  In the recent spring election in California rejected 70,000 ballots because they arrive too late.  Another 13,000 rejections occurred because people forgot to sign the ballot.  Officials rejected an additional 14,000 ballots because the signature on the ballot did not match the signature or record. All totaled, officials rejected 102,000 ballots, and California is a state that routinely processes large numbers of absentee voting.   It is important to remember that these are problems that do not occur with in-person voting. This margin of error is well beyond the margin of victory of many races. 

Election Night Becomes Weeks

The increased use of voting by mail is also dragging out election night and threatening to turn every election into the chaos of the 2000 presidential election. In New York, six weeks after the primary election, the results remain undecided, and legal disputes raged over 12,500 absentee ballots.

Increasingly there is the candidate who wins on election night, and the candidate who wins after counting all the absentee ballots, sometimes weeks later. These are not always the same candidate, which undermines confidence in the electoral process. When the election is close, the deciding factor is often the courtroom and lawyers, rather than the ballot box and voters.

Fooled by Randomness

While it is tempting to think that such errors would be random, and thus affect both sides equally.  Even if the first part is true, the second is probably not.  That is not how randomness works. For example, with a roulette wheel, there is an equal chances for each number. But it is a fallacy to think that these numbers will come up equally in the short run.  Over a very long period, the number of times a number comes up will be the same as the others. But, in the short term, one number might come up several times, while another number does not come up at all.  Similarly, while possibly equally distributed in the long run, in any given election, there will almost certainly be a preponderance of these errors that favor one candidate or another.  

To make matters worse, the errors will most likely not be completely random.  A given mail carrier may be more careless; a given machine may have a problem.  Problems such as these will result in rejection rates from some areas that are higher rates than others.

The Growing Problem Of Fraud

All these problems occur before we even consider the potential for fraud, which is a real problem and a growing one. By its very nature, voter fraud is difficult to prove or is only suspected. It often goes unnoticed. But not always.  The Heritage Foundation keeps a database of voter fraud, which currently has 1290 proven cases of fraud resulting in 1113 criminal convictions.  The cases for absentee ballots often involved multiple ballots. In some cases, the number of fraudulent ballots exceeded the margin of victory.  

Finally, there is the potential problem that a foreign power could use the voter rolls to print large numbers of counterfeit ballots. They could overwhelm the system invalidating the election, or they could selectively add just enough votes to change the outcome.

A key issue here is many locations have bloated voter rolls. A recent study found 378 counties where “voter registration rates exceed 100% of the adult population.  A sophisticated data operation could identify the voters on the list by error and submit counterfeit ballots under their name. If done correctly, it would be virtually impossible to detect.  Again this is a problem that cannot happen with in-person voting.

Limit Mail In Voting

Given all this, states should restrict absentee voting to those who cannot go to the polls on election day.  If nothing else, this will reduce the effects of these problems.  There is an issue of scale here. Handling a small number of absentee ballots does not proportionally have the same problem as handling a larger number.  The problems and difficulties increase faster than the number of ballots. If nothing else, a 3% – 5% error rate is unlikely to affect an election when there are only a very small number of absentee ballots. It could very well affect the outcome if most or all of the ballots are absentee. Voting by mail is a bad idea. It make sense only as a last resort for those who cannot otherwise make it to the polls.  

Aug 12th, 2020
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COVID-19: Is Reason Possible?

Posted By Elgin Hushbeck

A sure sign that the worse of this phase of the COVID-19 pandemic in the United States is behind us is that things are returning to normal.  No, I do not mean we no longer need masks, or that we are opening up. Rather many are focusing less on the pandemic itself and more on politics and trying to score political points by casting blame.

I wrote last month that, “Trump, the Governors, Republican and Democrat, and health officials are doing the best they can in a very difficult situation where there are a lot of unknowns.” That still generally remains my position today. Sure, some have attempted to play politics from day one, nor am I naïve enough to think that politics could ever be eliminated from the actions of politicians. This is an issue of degree and prominence.  After all, as I wrote in that post, the reasons we changed the standard naming convention and now refer to the virus as COVID-19 was entirely political.  

Still, for the most part, the President and the Governors in both parties put politics on the back burner, or at least a side burner, and focused on the problem.  Did they get everything right? Of course not, but they focused on the problems and made the best decisions they could with the information they had. We can always play Monday morning quarterback, but overall, they did a good job.

The main goal at the time was to flatten the curve.  The pressing concern was that the number of cases would rise so quickly that the medical system, particularly hospitals, would be overwhelmed. We needed to “flatten the curve” to give them time to catch up.  The CDC records the first U.S. COVID-19 death in the week of February 8th. Deaths peaked during the week of April 18th at 17,005. They then began to decline to the mid 3000s by the end of June. The curve was flattened. They did what they set out to do, and thus my conclusion that they did pretty well.

Perhaps it is a sign of the age we live in, but many find success and good new difficult to take.  Doom and gloom must always lurk right behind the next bend in the road. This attitude is particularly true of those in the news, whose product is more fear and hype than news.  It was always expected that as we opened back up, the number of cases would rise, as would the number of deaths. How could they not?  The goal had been to flatten the curve, not eliminate it.  

Some states opened up and, and as expected, the number of cases rose. But something strange happened. The ground rules changed. Hospitalization and death cease to be the focus; after all, they were still declining.  The number of infections became the major focus.  As the number of reported cases rose to new records, claims that we opened too soon became common. These were often accompanied by demands for mask mandates and new lockdowns.  Also, a huge controversy erupted over whether or not schools should reopen in the fall.

Two factors make this all problematic. The first is that record numbers of deaths or hospitalizations did not match the new records for cases per day. While deaths did increase some, they remained well below the highs of April.   Undoubtedly this is because many people who contract COVID-19 show little or no symptoms. Increased testing was finding more of these people. The second and somewhat related factor is this disease does not affect all age groups equally. According to CDC data, as of August 6th, 92 percent of deaths were in the age group 55 and above.  While everyone can get the disease, for those under 55, COVID-19 poses a very small danger.

A huge problem is the lack of perspective.  For example, in the age group 1-4 years,  only 15 children have died.  Each death is a tragedy, but during that same period, 8803 children in the same age group died from other causes. The normal deaths from flu season are between 60,000 to 80,000 depending on how well the flu vaccine works. The Asian flu of 1957-58 killed 116,000 in the U.S. Adjusting for differences in population, that would be a death toll of 220,000 today, significantly higher than the current number of COVID-19 deaths.  

It may be a fact that many do not want to hear, but as the saying goes, life is a sexually transmitted condition, the outcome of which is 100% fatal. Baring some medical miracle, death is a part of life and will remain so in the future.  During the COVID period, nearly 1.6 million people died from all causes. Demanding that politicians from either political party stop the virus is about at reasonable as King Canute commanding the tide of the ocean to stop.

According to CDC data, the number of new cases per day peaked about July 23rd and started to decline.  It looks like deaths may be following. As unpopular as it may be, this good news. We are not over with the virus, and it certainly could mutate into a deadlier form.  But still, it remains good news. But many cannot seem to accept this.

Finally, it is irrational to only look at things from only one side.  COVID-19 is a serious problem that is killing people. But there are many other things, including the shutdown, that are also killing people. Some see only economic effects from the shutdown.  Yet, we know that economic downturns have a human cost beyond economics and these result in increased deaths.  Social Distancing and Isolation also take a toll on people’s well being and health.  The Washington Post reported in early May that,

Three months into the coronavirus pandemic, the country is on the verge of another health crisis, with daily doses of death, isolation and fear generating widespread psychological trauma. Federal agencies and experts warn that a historic wave of mental-health problems is approaching: depression, substance abuse, post-traumatic stress disorder and suicide. 

For the third world, the problems of lockdowns are far worse, as they have interrupted normal supply chains. As Time reported on an Oxfam report,

Disruption to food production and supplies due to COVID-19 could cause more deaths from starvation than the disease itself…  The report found that 121 million more people could be “pushed to the brink of starvation this year” as a result of disruption to food production and supplies, diminishing aid as well as mass unemployment. The report estimates that COVID-19 related hunger could cause 12,000 deaths per day: the peak global mortality rate for COVID-19 in April was 10,000 deaths per day.

For those wanting to help, I would suggest a donation to Food For The Poor.

Yet as the number of new cases, hospitalizations, and deaths decline, fear and finger-pointing dominate the news, and the whole issue is becoming increasingly political.  That will help no one, except those who profit off of fear.

Aug 7th, 2020
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