Im-Politic: A Rapidly Mounting Case Against Fauci – and His Former Boss

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Dr. Anthony S. Fauci must be one of the luckiest people in the world, with Dr. Francis S. Collins not far behind. President Biden’s chief medical advisor and the recently retired head of the National Institutes of Health (NIH) have been leading charmed lives because evidence keeps emerging of their incredibly shady and quite possibly corrupt and illegal behavior in dealing with the China angle of the CCP Virus pandemic, and so far they’re getting off scot free.

As known by RealityChek readers, overwhelming evidence exists that Fauci, longtime head of NIH’s National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases (NIAID) lied to Congress when he denied under oath that his agency funded gain-of-function research at a Chinese virology lab in violation of federal government guidelines at the time. Such deceitful statements are criminal offenses and Kentucky Republican Senator Rand Paul has rightly asked the Justice Department for a criminal investigation. But how anxious do you think this Biden administration cabinet agency will be to look into someone whom the President himself has repeatedly touted as the world’s greatest expert on handling the pandemic?

This Fauci decision on gain-of-function funding, by the way (as opposed to misleading Congress about it) should be enough to put him in serious legal jeopardy. And ditto for Collins if he knew about Fauci’s action.

In the last month, however, recently released emails suggest two more major reasons for investigating Fauci and Collins.

The first concerns statements by both in their correspondence during 2020 and 2021 that they not only tried to suppress public discussion and consideration of Chinese responsibility for loosing the virus on the world – which has been clear enough from the numerous times they described as “fringe” and “conspiracy” thinking positions arguments made in support of the lab leak theory made by numerous eminent virologists and epidemiologists.

Now, thanks to a new group of emails – released by Republican members of the House Oversight and Reform Committtee – we know that the agencies for which Fauci and Collins have worked are trying to cover up the reasons that scientists tasked by the former during the pandemic’s early U.S. stages to examine the virus’ origins switched from viewing as solid and even convincing both main versions of the lab leak theory (that a naturally occuring coronavirus escaped due to Chinese carelessness, and that the pathogen that leaked was man-made) to staunch opponents of these ideas.

If such a cover up wasn’t taking place, why were virtually all the contents of the communications that could have shed light on the specific reason for this dramatic change redacted? Like scientific and medical information should suddenly be treated as a state secret?

Second, these emails also speak volumes about the motives of Fauci and Collins. Their sole aims, the wording strongly suggests, weren’t to make sure that pseudo-science didn’t distract and inhibit the nation’s response to the pandemic. Instead, they were also concerned with maintaining “international harmony” (as Collins put it in a February 2, 2020 message) and not doing “unnecessary harm to science in general and science in China in particular” (according to one of the experts involved in the electronic discussions on the same day).

There’s nothing wrong with scientists worrying about the state of science worldwide and about dangers to the international cooperation that drives so much scientific progress. But there’s everything wrong (although it’s probably not a crime) for such scientists, and especially government scientists who have been appointed and not elected to their jobs, trying to stamp out any discussions – both inside and outside the government – involving an entirely possible danger to public health in order to advance the above aims, or for any non-scientific reason. In the American system of government, that call – which involves major and complicated scientific and non-scientific tradeoffs – must be made by elected officials. The appointed technocrats should be providing input reflecting their paticular expertise, and nothing more.

Third, two conservative-leaning news organizations (see here and especially here) have obtained NIH documents showing that some of the scientists who changed their minds and indeed began leading the charge to debunk the lab leak theories got big increases in grant funding from Fauci’s NIAID (and by extension, Collins’ NIH). In other words, these experts could well have done these government scientists’ bidding in exchange for a payoff.

None of this new material is enough to declare anyone guilty of anything. But it’s full of information demanding a far-ranging probe. During the Watergate era, Congress rightly sought to determine whether there was a “cancer on the Presidency.”  Especially as an era of pandemics may well be starting, the possibility of a cancer on the public health establishment should be equally alarming. 

Im-Politic: The Best Way Forward in Ukraine

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This is by no means what I want to happen – in fact, I find the prospect pretty troubling (as should you), But I can’t help but wonder if the current Ukraine crisis will end peacefully with the United States putting tripwire forces permanently in many of the relatively new Eastern European members of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO), in order to protect them against possible Russian designs, along with throwing Russian leader Vladimir Putin some kind of a rhetorical bone concerning his opposition to Ukraine joining NATO.

As known by RealityChek readers, tripwire forces are relatively small numbers of U.S. troops stationed on the soil of a vulnerable ally whose purpose is to deter attack by an aggressive, heavily armed neighbor. The idea isn’t that these U.S. forces will be enough to defeat the enemy – Washington has never been willing to pay for the manpower and weaponry to accomplish that goal. The idea is that the fear of killing American soldiers will greatly reduce the odds of an attack in the first place, since it would greatly increase the pressure on a U.S. President to respond with the only measure that could prevent their imminent, total defeat (and possibly many more U.S. casualties) – using nuclear weapons.

I don’t like the idea because, especially today, it exposes the American homeland to the risk of nuclear attack (by far the worst national security disaster that could befall it, and likely the most destructive event in the nation’s history) in order to protect countries less than vital to the United States, and which could easily defend themselves if they weren’t such defense skinflints and free-riders. (South Korea has been a prime example, although, as I’ve written, its semiconductor manufacturing prowess has made it more important lately.)

At the same time, the tripwire strategy may arguably played some role in keeping the Soviet military on its side of the Iron Curtain for decades during the Cold War, and it’s certainly conceivable that the kinds of deployments that President Biden seems to be thinking about could produce the same results in places like the Baltic states (which used to be Soviet republics) and Poland.

Not that this course of action would be risk-free. Sending lots of troops and heavy weapons like tanks would amount to stuffing lots more soldiers and lethal hardware into a relatively small area, and very close to major Russian military forces. As I’ve written, the odds of an accidental conflict would inevitably rise.

That’s why it would be much better for the United States to come to an agreement with Putin recognizing the need for limits on Western military deployments on Russia’s borders, and on future NATO expansion.

But Mr. Biden doesn’t seem interested in serious negotiations. Maybe that’s because he honestly believes that geography shouldn’t matter in world affairs and that countries should be free to make any security arrangements they like regardless of what powerful neighbors think. Maybe that’s because he’s afraid of further charges of weakness from domestic critics and voters in the wake of his botched withdrawal from Afghanistan. Maybe it’s both. But at this point the reasons for his position matter much less than his position itself..

Boosting the U.S. military footprint in Eastern Europe, especially in a steady, methodical way, would project an image of strength that he so desperately seeks now, and in theory enough to offset the effects of his decision (for now) not to use force to save Ukraine (which in my view will at the very least increase Moscow’s dominance of the country, either through a military occupation, attacks that enable Putin to peel off regions of Ukraine’s east, or a coup or other machinations that install a puppet government in Kyiv).

And although Moscow will huff and puff, the presence of Americans in places like the Baltics in particular are likely to keep the Russians out – and in ways that the presence of, say, Danes and Spaniards won’t.

Some big questions would remain. For example, what if Putin tried to destabilize the Baltics by stirring unrest among their sizable Russian populations? And will Germany, which is actually blocking the efforts of NATO countries to strengthen Ukraine’s armed forces apparently and in part for fear of antagonizing Russia further, be OK with using the American bases on its soil to help maintain U.S. forces stationed on NATO’s easternmost front lines?

I don’t have the answers here. But worrisome as the tripwire strategy is, unless Washington is ready for some significant give-and-take on Eastern Europe’s future, it’s much better than some of the alternatives I can imagine:

>like a Russian takeover of Ukraine without any offsetting steps that really could create big doubts about American reliability in places unmistakably vital to the U.S. future – especially global semiconductor manufacturing leader Taiwan – and tempt more aggression by China (mainly against Taiwan);

>like so many foreign weapons flooding into Ukraine that they could either trigger a Russian preemptive attack on their own, or give Kyiv enough confidence to mount the kind of full-scale resistance that following an invasion that would produce fierce enough fighting to spill over into neighboring countries. Alternatively, such a conflict could push President Biden into more active U.S. military involvement that might become particularly dangerous because of its very haste.

After his summit with Putin in Geneva, Siwtzerland last June, the President said “I think that the last thing he wants now is a Cold War. Unfortunately, largely because he’s painted himself into such a tight diplomatic corner, for now, that may be the best of a series of bad outcomes for Americans. And for Europe East and West, it’s certainly better than the other kind of conflict.

Im-Politic: Race and the Virus

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What role, if any, should race play in medically treating Americans who have contracted the CCP Virus or could be likely victims? The question has gotten awfully important given that the virus’ highly infectious Omicron variant is greatly multiplying the number of cases (though because of asymptomatic spread and a shortage of reliable tests, no one knows how greatly); because for reasons ranging from those much higher case (and therefore hospitalization) numbers to the impact of illness and vaccine mandates on healthcare workers, the hospital system is strained; and because of shortages in treatments.

And the answer that seems best supported by the data is “some role” – because the most comprehensive data does show that race (along with ethnicity) does significantly affect the odds of suffering the most serious infection outcomes (symptoms severe enough to require hospitalization, along with of course death). But by no means should race or ethnicity play a major role – because so many other factors, and above all age, are much stronger determinants of the worst virus consequences.

The argument for prioritizing age begins with the aggregate data – which comes from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). Here’s what’s shown by the latest numbers measuring weekly CCP Virus deaths per 100,000 Americans for the week of January 15 by age group (for the most vulnerable) and by race and ethnicity for non-hispanic whites, non-hispanic blacks, and hispanics (the country’s three largest groups according to this typology).

By age group:

75-plus: 3.00

65-74: 0.79

50-64: 0.37

By race/ethnicity

non-Hispanic whites: 0.22

non-Hispanic blacks: 0.35

Hispanics: 0.41

As is obvious, senior citizens (65 and over) of all racial and ethnic groups are by far the most likely to die from the virus – which argues strongly for focusing prevention and treatment tightly on them.

The same holds for CCP Virus-related hospitalizations (keeping in mind what should be the well-known qualification that the government does a lousy job of making the critical distinctions between deaths and hospitalizations caused by the virus, and deaths and hospitalizations of infected victims that were caused by something else).

In this case, the CDC offers not weekly admissions figures per 100,000, but total statistics for the period March 1, 2020 to January 8, 2022 per identical numbers of Americans belonging to these categories. And helpfully, breakdowns are provided for both age and race/ethnic group. Here are the results:

non-Hispanic whites 65-plus years: 1,938.5 

non-Hispanic whites 50-64 years: 811.9

non-Hispanic whites 18-49 years: 287.4 8

non-Hispanic whites 0-17 years: 46.9

non-Hispanic blacks 65-plus years: 3,835.4

non-Hispanic blacks 50-64 years: 2,165.0 

non-Hispanic blacks 18-49 years: 886.3 

non-Hispanic blacks 0-17 years: 126.7

Hispanic or Latino 65-plus years: 3,550.1

Hispanic or Latino 50-64 years: 2,053.3

Hispanic or Latino 18-49: 924.6 6

Hispanic or Latino 0-17: 115.0

The clear conclusion is that a national public health policy focused on preventing CCP Virus-related hospitalization would focus not on any single racial or ethnic group as a whole, but on the following groups in this (descending) order: Non-hispanic blacks over 65, hispanics and latinos over 65, blacks between 50 and 64 years, hispanics and latinos between 50 and 64 years, and non-hispanic whites over 65.

But these figures make another, comparably important point: The differences between blacks over 65 and hispanics and latinos over 65 are pretty modest. So even between these highly vulnerable groups, targeting treatment or prevention strategies according to race and ethnicity doesn’t seem to provide very useful advice. The differences between blacks among blacks from 50 to 64 years of age, hispanics and latinos of the same age group, and white 65 and over are even smaller, and therefore focusing on racial and ethnic considerations seems that much less warranted.

The CDC has also presented mortality data by age and racial/ethnic group simultaneously, but in a slightly different way – with these statistics showing how their virus-related deaths as a percentage of all deaths for these categories compare with that group’s share of the U.S. population overall. Groups whose shares of virus-related deaths are higher than their shares of the population as a whole are more vulnerable than average, and groups whose shares of virus-related deaths are lower than their shares of the total population are less vulnerable than average. Here’s that breakdown for senior citizens (the over 65s), drawn from Figure 3b in the link above) along with their total numbers as of 2019 (from the Census Bureau according to Table 1 in this link):

85-plus years: 5.89 million

non-Hispanic whites: 0.6 percent below

Hispanics: 1.3 percent higher

non-Hispanic blacks: 1.0 percent higher

75-84 years: 15.41 million

non-Hispanic whites: 7.6 percent below

Hispanics: 5.0 percent above

non-hispanic blacks: 3.8 percent above

65-74 years: 31.49 million

non-Hispanic whites: 14.60 percent below

Hispanics: 8.5 percent above

non-Hispanic blacks 6.7 percent above

As should be obvious, when it comes to the oldest seniors, non-Hispanic whites, non-Hispanic blacks, and Hispanics are experiencing CCP Virus-related deaths closely related to their shares of the overall population, there’s little if any reason to discriminate along racial and ethnic lines for virus-fighting policymakers.

The spreads are wider for Americans between 75 and 84, but mainly for non-hispanic whites. The difference between Hispanics and non-Hispanic blacks is anything but dramatic.

The situation changes more dramatically for the younger seniors, but again, mainly for non-hispanic whites. Hispanics’ and non-Hispanic blacks’ seem in the same ballpark.

Interestingly, if you look at the charts, black over-vulnerability stays level from there on for the 55-64 and 45-54 age groups, but keeps rising for Hispanics until the 25-34-year cohort . Non-Hispanic whites’ under-vulnerability stabilizes at the same point.

Even more interesting – for a change, the (rightly) embattled CDC seems to have gotten it about right.  Although the agency notes urge healthcare providers and the state governments that regulated them to “carefully consider potential additional risks of COVID-19 illness for patients who are members of certain racial and ethnic minority groups,” it specifies that “Age is the strongest risk factor for severe COVID-19 outcomes” and its relevant guidance on major risk factors for severe virus outcomes concentrates on medical conditions.

CDC also recommends paying some attention to those who “live in congregate settings, and face more barriers to healthcare,” among other “social determinants of health” that can influence risk, and that “include neighborhood and physical environment, housing, occupation, education, food security, access to healthcare, and economic stability.” 

Such Americans of course are disproportionately black and Hispanic. At the same time, the agency also admits that “we are still learning about how conditions that affect the environments where people live, learn, and work can influence the risk for infection and severe COVID-19 outcomes.” Plus, there’s no shortage of whites facing similar challenges.

Given those uncertainties, the aforementioned healthcare provision shortages, and given that Census pegs the numbers of Americans over 65 at nearly 53 million, it’s clear that protecting the elderly – whatever they look like – should be the unquestioned Job One for U.S. healthcare policy and healthcare providers.              

Our So-Called Foreign Policy: Biden’s Foreign Policy Pillar is Looking Hollow at Best

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What’s worse than “terrible”? It’s an important question because if that’s a term that accurately describes President Biden’s last week or so in office, then something even stronger is clearly needed for the setbacks suffered recently by multilateralism – the foundation of his foreign policy. And most troublingly, the idea that U.S. foreign policy success requires the cooperation of major allies has been failing most conspicuously when it comes to dealing with America’s two biggest global rivals – Russia and China.

Let’s deal with Russia first, but not because I view it as the biggest threat to the United States – or even much of a threat at all. In fact, I’ve long and repeatedly written that the fate of Ukraine has no importance for America’s national security, and that Washington should accept some form of the kind of spheres of influence-type deal in Eastern Europe that Russian leader Vladimir Putin has proposed.

But the Ukraine crisis is making the most headlines right now, the subject dominated his long press conference last Wednesday, and Mr. Biden is nowhere near taking my advice. Indeed, that presser added powerfully to the evidence that the United States and its allies are deeply divided over how to respond to actual and possible Russian moves against Ukraine.

As the President made clear, “[I]t’s very important that we keep everyone in NATO on the same page.  And that’s what I’m spending a lot of time doing.  And there are differences.  There are differences in NATO as to what countries are willing to do depending on what happens — the degree to which they’re able to go.”

Indeed, that very day, France’s President Emmanuel Macron proposed that the European Union seek separate from U.S. efforts a new security agreement with Russia. Macron did state that “It is good that Europeans and the United States coordinate” but added “it is necessary that Europeans conduct their own dialogue, We must put together a joint proposal, a joint vision, a new security and stability order for Europe.”

Since Europe is a lot closer to Russia and Ukraine that the United States, and will be much more dramatically affected by events in that region, this French position seems entirely legitimate to me. At the same time, it’s tough to believe that Macron would place such importance on a Europe-only effort if he was completely happy with what he knows of American diplomacy so far.

Germany’s views seem even farther from Washington’s. Its new government has not only refused to join some other European countries (notably, the United Kingdom) in supplying defensive weapons to Ukraine. It’s blocked at least one NATO country – Estonia – from sending its own Made in Germany arms to bolster Kiev’s military.

Moreover, trade-dependent Germany, whose trade with Russia in energy and other goods is substantial, doesn’t even seem very keen on deterring or punishing Moscow for invading Ukraine with the kinds of sanctions that are widely viewed as the strongest – cutting Russia off from the global network used by almost all the world’s financial institutions to send money across borders for all the reasons that money is sent across borders. At least Berlin is sounding more open to halting final approval of the Nordstream 2 natural gas pipeline if Ukraine is invaded.    

Asian countries seem more prepared to resist aggression from China, especially the military kind (as opposed to Beijing’s economic efforts at intimidation). Since this post last September reporting on steps they’ve taken to transition from U.S. protectorates to countries more closely resembling genuine allies, some have made even more encouraging moves.

For example, Indonesia reportedly “is preparing itself militarily” to deal with Chinese moves against islands located in its territorial waters and major straits through which much of its (and the world’s commercial shipping) travels. The Philippines – another Southeast Asian country embroiled in maritimes disputes with China, has just bought cruise missiles from India, and reportedly some of its neighbors are interested in these devices, too.

At the same time, despite a virtual summit between President Biden and Japanese Prime Minister Fumio Kishida, Japan’s policy on using its forces to help any U.S. attempt to defend Taiwan from a Chinese attack remains ambivalent at best. South Korea looks more hesistant still.

Nor is Japan backing the United States to the hilt on sanctioning Russia economically following a Ukraine attack, or even close. After the Biden-Kishida session, an anonymous U.S. official said (in a briefing posted on the White House website) that although the Japanese leader “made it clear his country would be ‘fully behind’” Washington on the issue, his response concerning economic responses Tokyo would support was “We did not get into the specifics about possible steps that would be taken in the event that we see these [potential Russian] actions transpire.”

The refusal of so many U.S. allies and others to join the Biden administration’s diplomatic boycott versus the upcoming Winter Olympics in Beijing also casts major doubts on the President’s emphasis on multilateralism. Can any countries declining even to keep their officials alone out of China for the games (as opposed to their athletes) be counted on to push back more concretely and powerfully against future provocations from China?

Athletes and sports fans know well the expression “Change a losing game.”  For all you others, it means that if a strategy or approach is failing, switch to an alternative.  But for the future of American foreign policy, the most important part of it remains unspoken, and the one that the President needs most urgently to heed:  “Change it before you’ve lost.”   

 

Im-Politic: Bad Polling News for Both Biden and Trump

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A major shift in American politics may be in the works according to some recent polling results about President Biden and Donald Trump. Specifically, they could mean that the American public has had it with both of them.

Let’s start with the President’s results…since he’s the President. Astonishingly, no fewer than three surveys during the last week show not only that his popularity and job approval are way down, but that huge and in one case slightly growing percentages of the public doubt his overall mental fitness to handle his job.

Two days ago, Politico and Morning Consult consult released survey findings reporting that only 22 percent of all registered voters “strongly agree” that Mr. Biden “is mentally fit,” 18 percent “somewhat agree,” 12 percent “somewhat disagree,” and 37 percent “strongly disagree.” So a plurality (49 percent) are in the “disagree” camp (versus 40 percent agreeing that the President is mentally fit), and the most popular answer, by 19 percentage points, was “strongly disagree.”

Of course there was a partisan split. But when it comes to political independents, those who overall disagreed that President Biden is mentally fit outnumbered those that agreed by 48 percent to 37 percent, with 33 percent choosing “strongly disagree.”

More worrisome for the President: Politico and Morning Consult asked the same question in November, and since then, those disagreeing that he’s mentally fit has inched up from 48 percent to 49 percent, and those agreeing that he’s mentally up to snuff has fallen from 46 percent to 40 percent. About the same deterioration appeared among independent voters.

Similarly, a poll this week from NBC News asked American adults (a group somewhat different than registered voters) how they would rate various Biden traits on a scale of 1 to 5 with 1 being “Very Poor” and 5 being “Very Good.” No party affiliation-based findings were provided. But on “Having the necessary mentally physical health to be president,” here are the Biden scores:

5: 18 percent

4: 15 percent

3: 16 percent

2: 9 percent

1: 41 percent

In other words, 4 and 5 (those believing Mr. Biden is mentally and physically healthy enough) add up to 33 percent. One and 2 (those who don’t) add up to 50 percent. And “Very Poor” leads the pack by a mile.

The Associated Press (AP) and National Opinion Research Center (NORC) reported better views of the President’s capacities – but not much. Here the question (again, for adults) was “How confident are you that Joe Biden has the mental capacity to serve effectively as president?” There was no political affiliation breakdown here, either, but here are the results:

Extremely confident”:   11 percent

Very confident”:            17 percent

Somewhat confident”:   25 percent

Not very confident”:      18 percent

Not at all confident”:     29 percent

AP-NORC concluded that those lacking confidence in Mr. Biden’s mental fitness outnumbered those with confidence by 47 percent to 28 percent – figures not far off those published by NBC News. And once more, the biggest individual category contained those with the least confidence.

The news isn’t any better for the former President, though. Since early this year, I’ve been trying to keep track of whether Republican and Republican-leaning voters are more loyal to their party, or to Trump. And the new sounding from NBC News makes clear that Trump has been losing ground on this score.

As the survey reports, since January, 2019, although the results fluctuated some, the “supporter of Trump” position consistently registered a plurality and often a majority. (Those answering “both” never made it out of the single digits as percents of the whole sample.) Even last January (not a great month for Trump politically or in any sense), the “supporters of Donald Trump” and “supporters of the Republican Party” were tied at 46 percent.

But as of today? The percentage of “Republican supporters” topped that of “Trump supporters” by a whopping 56 percent to 36 percent. That’s the biggest such margin ever in this data series.

One other (non-poll) possible straw in the wind worth noting in this respect. In a magazine interview this month, Fox News talker Laura Ingraham said that “I’m not saying I’m there for him yet,” when asked if she would endorse a 2024 Trump presidential bid.

As is well known, Ingraham remains a fervent backer of Trump’s presidential record and policies, as well as an admirer of the former president personally. Less well known – Ingraham was dissenting in a Trump-ian/populist way from the old Republican Party orthodoxy for several years before Trump declared his first White House candidacy, especially on China-related issues. Given her wide following, that’s a clear signal that what’s been called Trump-ism without Trump is a distinct possibility for the Republican future.

But on the subject of the future, the worst news for both the President and his predecessor came from the AP-NORC survey. By a gaping 70 percent to 28 percent margin, respondents didn’t want Mr. Biden to seek reelection. That was almost identical to the 72 percent wanting Trump to stay on the sidelines and only 27 percent supporting a third White House bid.

We’re still very early in political cycle for this year’s Congressional elections, much less the 2024 presidential race. But so far, the polls are saying pretty clearly that Americans want new faces to choose from when they next choose a Chief Executive – and pretty ardently.

Glad I Didn’t Say That! Biden Does and Doesn’t Believe the Polls

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Q Do you need to be more realistic and scale down [your] priorities in order to get something passed?

“THE PRESIDENT:  No, I don’t think so…. your networks and others.  You’ve spent a lot of time, which I’m glad you do, polling this data, determining where the — what the American people’s attitudes are, et cetera.

The American people overwhelmingly agree with me on prescription drugs.  They overwhelmingly agree with me on the cost of education.  They overwhelmingly agree with me on early education.  They overwhel- — and go on the list — on — on childcare.”

President Biden, January 19, 2022

“Q [H]ow do you plan to win back moderates and independents who cast a ballot for you in 2020 but, polls indicate, aren’t happy with the way you’re doing your job now?

“THE PRESIDENT:  I don’t believe the polls.” 

President Biden, January 19, 2022

 

(Source: “Remarks by President Biden in Press Conference,” Briefing Room, Speeches and Remarks, January, 19, 2022, Remarks by President Biden in Press Conference | The White House )

(What’s Left of) Our Economy: Another Big Demographic Blow to Those Chinese Century Forecasts

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China just came out with its final – for now – 2021 population growth figures, and they strengthen the case against the People’s Republic becoming rich and powerful enough to dominate the world before too long. Indeed, combined with stunning recent figures on Chinese performance on a key measure of prosperity, they add to the evidence that far from becoming a “Chinese Century,” the 21st century is likeliest to become one of Chinese stagnation and even relative decline.

The demographic figures show that China’s population during 2021 increased by only about 480,000 – or 0.03 percent. For comparison’s sake, the U.S. population last year rose by about 392,600 – or 0.10 percent. That rate is widely viewed as alarmingly slow (see, e.g., here), but it’s triple that of China’s. Moreover, China’s population growth has been historically sluggish for the last decade. Its last decennial census revealed an increase of only 72 million between 2010 and 2020 – the smallest rise since the first such headcount in 1953.

Even worse, these developments are entirely consistent with recent authoritative predictions that, if not somehow reversed, China will experience a population bust for the rest of this century that will be nothing less than mind-blowing. Specifically, by 2100, it will fall by fully one half – and be just twice as large as the projected U.S. population (as opposed to being 4.24 times bigger today).

These population trends debunk the Chinese Century forecasts because of a related economic trend – China’s growth in per capita gross domestic product (GDP). This statistic gauges how much total economic output (GDP) a country is generating divided by each one of its inhabitants. If a country’s per capita GDP is growing, then its economy is growing faster than its population, and therefore the average individal is generating more wealth every year, and that therefore there’s more wealth (in theory) to spread among the population each year. If per capita GDP is shrinking, then there’s less wealth being created per person and therefore less available to share.

China’s per capita GDP isn’t shrinking. But according to the International Monetary Fund (IMF), it hasn’t been growing very rapidly, either, for the past forty years despite the country’s very fast overall growth. More important, when it comes to those Chinese Century forecasts, it’s been growing much more slowly than U.S. per capita GDP; the gap has widened greatly; and it’s forecast to continue widening for the next few years at least. And of course, China’s wealth per head as of 2020 was less than one-sixth of America’s to begin with.

If this forecast is correct, and China’s population and per capita GDP keep falling relative to their U.S. counterparts, the strategic and economic implications, as I’ve discussed, are game-changing. They mean that even measured by total size of economy, far from turning in China’s favor, or even narrowing, the U.S.-China gap would double in America’s favor. So the United States would have many more resources to devote to its millitary, or to improving its technological competitiveness, than its chief rival. (Whether Americans wind up spending this money wisely is another question altogether).

Economically, the implications mean that the United States would become a much more promising growth market than China, both in terms of the total sizes of their GDP and in terms of how much wealth the average Chinese and average  American could actually spend.

Interestingly, moreover, these trends played out between 2020 and 2021 alone. On a quarter-to-quarter basis, the United States has been growing faster than China. And America slightly widened its per capita GDP lead.

China of course remains a huge market in absolute terms, and its massive military buildup and impressive technological progress will enable it to keep mounting major and worsening threats to American security, ranging from an attack on global semiconductor manufacturing kingpin Taiwan to the cyberhacking of U.S. government agencies and private businesses (along with their customers). Nor is there any guarantee that Americans will avoid catastrophic policy mistakes or other problems.

But it’s hard to escape the notion that much of America’s China policy in recent decades (the Trump years excepted) was heavily influenced by defeatist attitudes on the part of its leaders (that is, those that weren’t in effect on Beijing’s payroll in one way or another). China’s latest Census results make clear that such gloom, which produced so many decisions that enriched and strengthened China because “There was no alternative,” is getting ever harder to justify.

Those Stubborn Facts: How Badly Economists Whiffed on Inflation

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Number of Federal Reserve policy-making Open Market Committee

members* who expected 2021 U.S. inflation to top 2.5 percent: None

 

Median 2021 U.S. inflation forecast of private sector

economists surveyed in May of last year: 2.3 percent

 

Likely final 2021 U.S. inflation rate: 4.5 percent

 

* who number 18

(Source: “Why Did Almost Nobody See Inflation Coming?” by Jason Furman, Project Syndicate, January 17, 2022, Why Did Almost Nobody See Inflation Coming? by Jason Furman – Project Syndicate (project-syndicate.org) )

Im-Politic: A Colleyville Media Terrorism Cover Up

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Here’s something I don’t often say – and may never have ever said: Congratulations to ABC News. As of this writing (just shy of 4:30 PM EST yesterday), they’re the only national news outlet I’ve looked at that’s mentioned  the distinct possibility (based on a claim from “a U.S. official briefed on the matter”) that the person who took hostages in a Dallas, Texas area synagogue was “claiming to be the brother of convicted terrorist Aafia Siddiqui” and was “demanding to have the sister freed.”

According to ABC, here’s who he wanted freed: Someone with “alleged ties to al-Qaida” who was “convicted of assault and attempted murder of a U.S. soldier in 2010 and sentenced to 86 years in prison.”

The ABC News report must have come out before 3:18 PM EST because it was referenced in a Fort Worth Star-Telegram posting at that time. (As of posting time – Sunday morning – this link and those appearing below have been superseded by updates, so it appears you’ll have to take my word for the following information having been accurate when I grabbed them yesterday at the URLs presented at which they were found then.)

But here’s where I haven’t yet read about the suspect’s possible identity (in the order in which I checked these news sites out):

CNN as of 4:32 PM EST.

The New York Times as of 4:36 PM EST.

The Washington Post as of 4:37 PM EST.

CBS News as of 4:45 PM.

NBC News as of 4:46 PM.

Even Fox News as of 4:44 PM.

The Associated Press as of 4:32 had mentioned a Fort Worth Star-Telegram report that “The man, who used profanities, repeatedly mentioned his sister, Islam and that he thought he was going to die….”

Reuters as of 4:47 PM mentioned the Siddiqui angle.

It’s still possible that the reported Siddiqui connection proves to be completely wrong, as it’s officially unconfirmed, or somehow tangential to the hostage-taker’s motives. But can anyone doubt that if any claims of a white supremacist angle or a Trump-supporter angle – as opposed to a Muslim or a jihadist angle – had surfaced that these descriptions would have been shouted from the rooftops, and immediately?

In fact, there can’t be much reasonable doubt that Mainstream Media articles also would have prominently reminded readers of the Biden adminstration’s recent decision to set up a new domestic terrorism unit in the Justice Department, in line with the President’s declaration that “domestic terrorism from white supremacists is the most lethal terrorist threat in the homeland.”

(It’s similarly revealing that a President and Vice President quick to jump to racially charged judgment regarding several recent violent incidents – see, e.g., here – were much more cautious this [Sunday] morning. The former simply stated that “There is more we will learn in the days ahead about the motivations of the hostage taker.” The latter echoed this reticence practically word-for-word.)  

Last Wednesday, Gallup published the results of a poll presenting American respondents’ views of 22 professions, ranking them from most honest and ethical to least. Newspaper and television reporters came in fifteenth and seventeenth, respectively. The early coverage of the Colleyville hostage situation adds to the abundant evidence why.

 

  

 

(What’s Left of) Our Economy: An Omicron Bump in the US Manufacturing Recovery

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The big takeaway from today’s Federal Reserve after-inflation U.S. manufacturing data (for December) is that it may show domestic starting to suffer from the arrival into America of the super-infectious Omicron strain of the CCP Virus and the renewed economic curbs and behavioral changes it’s spurring, along with the spread of vaccine mandates in the ranks of U.S. businesses (of course, before yesterday’s Supreme Court decision striking down such policies for the private sector).

And especially discouraging: Just as Omicron began taking off, inflation-adjusted domestic output of medical equipment and supplies – including all the protective gear and treatment devices needed to fight the virus – fell sequentially at its fastest rate since the worst of the spring, 2020 pandemic-induced depression. Indeed, monthly real production in this category is now lower than in February, 2020 – the last full data month before the virus’ first variant began distorting the U.S. economy.

December’s 0.28 percent monthly decline in price-adjusted American manufacturing output represented industry’s first sequential retreat since September’s (hurricanes-affected) 0.52 percent drop. But the solid growth of recent months stayed largely unrevised.

The December results (which will remain preliminary for several more months) brought 2021’s yearly improvement in inflation-adjusted manufacturing output to 3.71 percent. That’s the best growth since 2011’s 6.48 percent, but as known by RealityChek regulars, it’s important to look at possible baseline effects nowadays. And this strong performance in part reflected the virus-fostered 1.94 percent fall-off in such growth in 2020.

The December downturn stemmed in part from problems (like the global semiconductor shortage) in the automotive sector, which shrank on month by 1.29 percent – following sequential expansion in November of a downwardly revised 1.69 percent. But even without the drag from vehicles and parts, domestic industry’s constant dollar production would still have been off by 0.22 percent.

Aside from automotive, the most important December real manufacturing growth loser by far was miscellaneous durable goods – a category that includes those pandemic-fighting essential medical devices and equipment industries. Its price-adjusted output slumped by 2.68 percent – the biggest downturn since April, 2020’s18.43 percent, during the worst of the CCP Virus’ first wave. Even so, measured by real production, the sector is 2.49 percent larger than in February, 2020, right before the pandemic’s initial major economic impact.

Other big December losers included:

>printing and related support activities, whose 1.82 percent slide was also the worst since April, 2020 (23.94 percent), and whose real output is now down by 5.14 percent since February, 2020;

>plastics and rubber products, whose 1.78 percent decrease was the worst since April, 2020 as well (19.12 percent), but that also followed seven months of strong gains. As a result, its real production is off just 1.08 percent since February, 2020; and

>petroleum and coal products, whose 1.58 percent fall-off was its worst since February’s seven percent, and whose after-inflation production is 4.49 percent lower than in February, 2020.

The biggest December winners were:

>non-metallic mineral products, which not only generated a 1.49 percent increase, but whose November inflation-adjusted output advance was revised all the way up from 1.25 percent to 3.03 percent. All the same, this sector’s constant-dollar production is still 1.32 percent lower than in February, 2020;

>wood products, whose 1.18 percent real increase in production was its best since March’s 4.05 percent, and which is now 3.03 percent bigger by this measure since February, 2020;

>the big chemicals sector, where real growth hit 0.69 percent following an upwardly revised 0.65 percent in November (from 0.50 percent), and which has grown by 7.93 percent in real terms since just before the pandemic; and – most encouragingly –

>machinery, a manufacturing bellwether because its products are so widely used throughout both industry and big non-manufacturing sectors like construction and agriculture – not to mention many services sectors. Its price-adjusted output increased by 0.68 percent sequentially in December – its best such result since July’s 2.85 percent, and revisions were unchanged on balance. Machinery production is now 5.20 percent higher than in February, 2020.

As for manufacturing industries that have been prominent in the news during the pandemic, they had a lousy December generally.

Aircraft and parts saw its monthly output down by 0.38 percent, and in stunning news, November’s initially reported 1.90 percent increase is now judged to be a 1.04 percent decrease. With October’s after-inflation production rise downgraded, too, aircraft and parts output is now just 10.71 percent higher than in February, 2020. As of last month’s Fed manufacturing data, this figure was a much higher 15.86 percent.

In pharmaceuticals and medicines, December’s 0.13 percent real output dip was the third straight monthly decline, and November and October revisions were fractionally negative on balance. Consequently, in price-adjusted production terms, these sectors were 13.42 percent larger than in February, 2020 – as opposd to the 13.54 percent calculable from last month’s industrial production report.

And as mentioned at the outset, the December results for medical equipment and supplies sector were awful – especially considering that for the next few months at least, Omicron’s metastasis will greatly increase demand for face masks, protective gowns, ventilators, and the like.

Real production of these products tumbled seqentially by 2.75 percent – the worst such performance since April, 2020’s 15.97 percent, during that first CCP Virus wave. Revisions for November and October were mildly positive, but whereas last month’s report revealed that inflation-adjusted production in these sectors was up since just before the first wave struck in force (though by a bare 0.65 percent), it’s now down by 1.50 percent. 

And let’s add another sector to the pandemic industries list – semiconductors and related devices. As implied by the category name, the numbers include more than the microchips that have been in such global short supply in recent months – and whose U.S. production revival has been such a high stated Washington, D.C. policy priority.

Still, it’s noteworthy that constant dollar output in this grouping rose a mere 0.12 percent on month in December, But it is up 16.86 percent since the pre-pandemicky February, 2020.

So far, betting against domestic manufacturing during the virus era has been a losing bet, But the headwinds for the near future at least look especially strong, topped of course by the spread of Omicron not only in the United States but in all the countries to which its manufacturers sell exports. Add to the list the apparent death of President Biden’s Build Back Better bill – which whatever its long-term economic wisdom and other effects, will certainly reduce government support for domestic economic activity – what seems like greater odds of more monetary policy tightening by the Federal Reserve sooner rather than later; and inflation that might be getting high enough to dampen U.S. consumer outlays.  

Tailwinds are by no means absent – like the beginning of spending made possible by the infrastructure bill, the still considerable amount of stimulus being provided by the Fed, and the easing of global supply chain knots. But even this last depends heavily on the medical, regulatory, and behavioral effects of Omicron in the United States and, perhaps even more important, in China, where the regime’s Zero Covid policy looks like a formula for ever broader lockdowns that will paralyze its ports and other infrastructure systems

Domestic manufacturers keep telling major surveys that they remain optimistic about the future.  (See here and here for the latest soundings.)  If anything’s certain about the circumstances they’re heading into, it’s that they’ll need every bit of this optimism to keep succeeding.